You Know Your Customer Service Is Broken. Here’s Where To Start The Repairs
Mark Twain famously said (or did he?) that “the secret of getting ahead is getting started.” So, if you’re looking to get started on a customer service initiative, I want to encourage you, rather than being complicit in giving you any excuses for delay. Here are five places that could each serve as the starting point for your customer service initiative; I’m not going to push you to choose one over another because, most of all, I want to make sure you start somewhere. I know it’s important–and so do you: If you’re reading this article, you already know that your customer service needs improvement.
1 The employee toolbox (the tools that your customer-facing employees, and those who support your customer-facing employees behind the scenes, use to make their daily go smoothly). The employee toolbox is a great place to start for two reasons: because it can make a difference to customers and because it is guaranteed to make a huge difference in employee morale. I consulted with a healthcare organization not long ago where several employee-survey responses were along the lines of “Want to improve our customer service? Repair our office printers and copiers so the discharge papers I give patients didn’t look like hell–or like we didn’t want them to read them in the first place!”
Well, yes. Point taken.
One caveat: Make sure you invest only in changes that have been requested (or demanded, as in the above survey response!) by employees, and that are right-scaled for the work you do. If what you spend on infrastructure improvement is over the top or lacks a clear justification, your efforts and financial investment will just make things worse; the sentiment meter will get locked in the “couldn’t they have spent this money on employee salaries?” zone, which was probably not your intention.
2. Customer-facing technology, for example “MyAccount” (online account management and project tracking that customers can use on a self-service basis), messaging (texting) and other new channels for customer contact, tablet-based systems that replace traditional cash registers (like this one from Accumula), keyless-entry systems (for hotel guest rooms) like OpenKey, You can get a lot of customer service bang for your buck here, as long as what you implement is actually something that customers are looking for, or will be looking for soon. (Another great quote, this one proven to be apocryphal: Henry Ford: “If I’d asked my customers what they were looking for, they would have said faster horses.”)
3. Formally framing your customer service principles, philosophy, and guidelines. If this were a prescriptive article, and I felt like being bossy, I’d tell you to start here. The great customer service organizations tend to have very powerful statements on service to which they adhere companywide, and you should have these documents as well. However, if you look at these great organizations, these documents weren’t always part of the company’s origin, but may have been developed later on, for example, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ four Golden Rules of service, which were developed many years into the company’s lifespan. Still, these are important, and at whatever point you decide to work on these, make sure they’re:
- Short enough to be memorable
- Complete enough to be meaningful
- Written in English rather than consultant or industry jargon
4. Training. This might be the quickest of wins and most direct. However: To leverage the “training moment” further, consider coupling it with at least a draft of your principles and guidelines (i.e., item 3), so there is clarity on what the goals of the training should be. [Here’s a recent article on what matters in customer service training.]
5. Talent Management. There is nothing that effects customer serviced quality more than the way that you hire and help employees advance within your organization. If you have the wrong recruiting, selection, and advancement processes for employees, your service is undoubtedly suffering. [Here’s a recent article on the subject of talent management.