Judgment Day: Assessing Your Service

Many businesses are looking at this year as the time when they finally ramp up their
service delivery. They have realized that service is the great differentiator in business.
They understand that the products or services they offer are available from a variety of
other sources. They know that if they want customers to return, and to bring their
friends, family, and colleagues with them, that they have to create a special customer
experience that shines in comparison to the competition.

The question is: where do businesses start when trying to build world-class service? As
with any sort of new initiative, the best place to start is with a full assessment of where
your business currently stands. You must have a baseline with which to compare any
improvements you make.

An assessment of customer service must be viewed from at least three separate angles:
The Customer, The Business, and the Service Delivery Team. That is, you must view
your service through the eyes of those who receive the service, those who pay for the
service, and those who render the service. To focus on one of these groups without the
other two is akin to rowing a boat with just one oar; you will find yourself going
nowhere but around in circles.

Assessing Customer Service through the Eyes of the Customer

Contrary to popular belief, all customers are not looking to strike a huge payday
through some loophole in your service policy. In fact, very few of them are. Most
customers simply want the product or service they seek, delivered to them at a fair
price, served to them with some courtesy, and maybe a smile. They are spending their
money, or their company’s money, and they just want to feel good about doing it. They
want to be assured that they are making the right choice, not just regarding the product
or service, but in the vendor, as well.

Is your service meeting or exceeding your customers’ needs? Ask them! Not with a
generic “How are We Doing?” survey, where the customer gets to check off little boxes
next to categories that the business decides should be important, and where one lucky
respondent will win an MP3 player or a laptop bag. Instead, truly ask your customers,
human being to human being, when they call in, or email, or visit you. Or, if you have
not heard from them in a while, take the initiative to call them, and ask questions like:

  •  “How well have we been handling your orders?”
  •  “What things we can do better?”
  •  “What things are we not doing that you wish we would?”
  •  “What things are we doing that you wish we wouldn’t?”

Invest the time to engage your customers in dialogue on these matters. It’s worth it.

At the same time, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. We all have experience as
customers; we all know what good service looks like from the customer’s
viewpoint. Look at your business as a customer: would the service you provide
satisfy you? Be brutally honest – answer with your customer hat on, not as the service
provider. You might be surprised at what you discover.

Assessing Customer Service through the Eyes of the Business

If providing world-class service was easy and inexpensive, all businesses would deliver
it all of the time. But it goes much deeper than just remembering to smile when
speaking with a customer. You must ask yourself tough questions, like can you afford
to provide the level of service you want to? What level of service can you afford to
provide, and is that enough to distinguish your business? Are there cost-effective
things that your organization can do to enhance your service offerings? Hey, it doesn’t
cost anything to smile at the customer, and make eye contact or call them by name. But
is that enough?

Strategically speaking, you must decide how far you are willing to go to resolve a
customer complaint, before the problem occurs. Then, you must decide how much
leverage you will give your front-line reps to resolve those issues on their own. If a rep
is empowered to resolve an issue on the spot, whether it is offering a discount or
replacing a defective product, or exchanging the wrong product for the right one, or
simply apologizing for late delivery by giving something extra to the customer as a
gesture of goodwill, it speaks volumes for your business and how much you care about
your customers. On the other hand, if reps have to find a manager to approve
everything they do, it screams of mistrust – of both the customer and the employee.

Do you have a clear understanding of how much you will do to please a customer? It is
imperative that you do, because all the front-line service training in the world will not
help if your business is not committed to the swift and thorough resolution of customer
complaints. Don’t wait for problems to arise to figure out what you will do to remedy a
customer crisis. Give your reps the opportunity to be problem-solvers by giving them
clear guidelines on what they can do to satisfy customer issues without bringing in a
senior staff member to make decisions.

Assessing Customer Service through the Eyes of the Service Delivery Team

Providing memorable customer service is not an instinctive task; a strategy must be
designed and planned, and service providers must be trained on its execution. The best
service strategies in the world will not make for happy customers unless those
strategies are put into practice by the service team.

Service reps must be trained thoroughly and consistently. They must be taught
everything from proper courtesy and protocol to products and pricing to problem
solving and trouble-shooting. They must be empowered to resolve issues, and
therefore must understand how far the company is willing to go to satisfy its customers.

In-depth product training is imperative, and not training from the developer’s view or
the marketer’s view, but from the customer’s view. The service team needs to
understand what the customer does with the company’s product or service, how they
use it, how it serves their needs, and the role it plays in their lives. Only then can they
be sure to provide the level of customer service appropriate for the matter at hand.

It is also necessary to evaluate the tools your service team has to work with. How many
different systems are needed to fully address customer needs, orders, history,
preferences, and pricing? The ease with which your service reps can put their hands on
pertinent customer data plays a huge role in the level of service they deliver. Do your
systems talk to each other? Do they convey and share customer data and information
with marketing and sales, as well as customer service? Are all customer-facing
departments getting the same information? Even the smallest gap in customer
knowledge can show your company in a negative light. Give your people the right tools
for the job.

Fine-tuning your company’s service delivery is a worthwhile but complex task. In
order to fully appreciate where you want to take your service going forward, you need
to have a good understanding of where it stands currently. Take the time to honestly
assess your service delivery, from top to bottom, before reorganizing, or making tweaks
to a part of your service team. You will make better decisions, and you will have
valuable benchmarks against which to measure your improvements.

— Charles Dennis
© Knowledgence Associates, 2006 / All Rights Reserved

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