Unconventional Measures of Customer Service Excellence

By Julie Rains on 20 April 2011 0 comments
Photo: nyul

I’m baffled by the standard measures of customer service performance. Numbers surrounding talk time, productivity, and customer-service satisfaction seem to tell the story of how adequately customer service representatives conform to a set of rules and not how well they engage, charm, understand, and enjoy serving the customer.

My techniques for evaluating service ignore the traditional standards that many embrace. Certainly, I don’t dismiss the value of giving quick, accurate responses to customers or requiring employees to show results for their efforts. But I can detect customer service greatness, the sort of interactions that please customers, nourish relationships, and sustain profitability, through methods other than statistical scorecards, and so can you.

Do they love the CEO?

Ever see employees smile at the prospect of meeting the CEO? I have.

When I was shopping at my favorite grocery store chain one day, the staff seemed to be unusually upbeat. Perplexed at the excitement, I paid attention to each employee’s reaction and then made the connection between the CEO’s visit and employee happiness.

The service has been great, consistently, over a span of more than 20 years at many locations and cities. There are a couple of service hallmarks, which remain unchanged: 1) if there are more than a few people waiting in the check-out line, a cashier opens a new line; and 2) all customers are offered assistance in getting groceries from the store to their cars. Plus, the focus on appreciating customers extends to store policies and employee interactions.

To create a work environment where the CEO is loved because employees’ needs are met and serving the customer is uncomplicated

  • Set high standards for employees at all levels. Hire the best people;
  • Find one (or two) things that customers truly value and do these things, every time;
  • When a customer has a concern, don’t require employees to categorize the problem and follow a flowchart to reach a solution. Let them solve the problem. This approach is easy if you “hire the best people” (hint: they have empathy and common sense);
  • Treat your employees well. Well-treated employees are kind to customers. They also tend to stick with a well-run organization and sustain customer-focused attitudes, which become embedded in the culture.
  • How intuitively customers use company products and services.

When I think of simple, intuitive interaction with businesses, Skype comes to mind. The company could have a complex system to deliver its innovative, technology-centric services. But it doesn’t. Sign-up is easy, installation is straightforward, and real-life use involves responding to a series of prompts.

Similarly, my state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office has aligned its website navigation with its printed reminders about renewal of vehicle registration. Customers follow a three-step process that takes just a few minutes to complete.

However, many businesses are clueless about normal customer thought processes. These organizations require customers to learn, grasp, and conform to atypical procedures. These trigger a slew of inquiries from customers for basic interactions.

Make it easy to handle transactions with your company:

  • Chart a clear path for the customer to follow;
  • Design company processes, including website navigation, using industry standards and protocols familiar to your customer;
  • Use everyday language in communications with the customer, not industry lingo or legal terminology;
  • Test your processes to see if they match a reasonable person’s approach to interacting with your business; refine as needed to assure easy-to-follow procedures;
  • Never condemn customers for being slow to understand your system. Adapt to their needs.

Do they believe in the business model, values, and policies?

Shopping at one of the many Walgreens in my area is refreshing. One of the employees proudly and expertly manages about 50 sq. ft. of space, and acts as a resource for the rest of the store. While employees in other drugstores reluctantly answer questions about the location of certain items, this Walgreens’ employee engages, listens, and makes recommendations based on her knowledge and customers’ collective wisdom. She also keeps up with special offers and dispenses relevant coupons. These actions all seem genuine, unrehearsed, and consistent with the company’s creed.

Likewise, financial transactions are pleasant at my local bank. Lines are never long. Front-line employees recognize customers. Most are able to confidently apply and explain banking regulations in a way that elicits understanding from customers rather than antagonism. Customer service associates grasp the company’s mission of serving the community and growing volume by providing excellent service.

To get employees to act like they truly care

  • Explain your business model to employees so that they can understand how your business is differentiated from its competition, and what values they should never compromise;
  • Train employees on policy specifics as well as underlying rationales. Show them how to apply policies to actual scenarios when questions arise or customers complain (see Teachable Moments for training techniques);
  • Design processes, policies, and procedures that reflect company values. Encourage employees to apply these values to day-to-day decisions and interactions with customers;

More Unconventional Measures

  • The degree to which customer ignorance (lack of expertise) does not affect service experience;
  • How well staffing models support service standards, rather than productivity goals;
  • The amount of pleasure shown by employees when they solve a customer’s problem.

What do all these unconventional metrics have in common? They are utterly conventional. None requires spreadsheets or surveys or focus groups. What they do require are managers and owners who are willing to look for them — and recognize how they reflect the organization's customer service effectiveness.

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