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helloVoice of the Customer
Voice of the Customer – Attributes of an Effective System – Part 2

In our last voice of the customer discussion, we focused on four attributes of an effective system according to John Goodman, author of Strategic Customer Service :

1. Unified Management of the Program

2. A Unified Data Collection Strategy

3. Integrated Data Analysis

4. Proactive Distribution of the Analysis. In this article, we’ll discuss Goodman’s four remaining attributes.

1. Assessment of Financial Implications and Priorities

Goodman stresses the importance of realizing how customer expectations and behavior impact revenue and profits. The main goal is to determine what is the cost of inaction. In order to get a true view of the customer service data, Goodman believes that it’s necessary to translate customer satisfaction, loyalty, and word-of-mouth data into general financial impacts. The Voice of the Customer initiative must provide the economic impact information required for management to make the proper decisions. Properly assessing the financial impact creates an avenue for creating improvement priorities and actionable steps.

2. Defining Targets for Improvement

In addressing this attribute, Goodman identifies two roadblocks to success:

1. The person responsible for fixing an issue identified in the data analysis process is held accountable for doing so in addition to his/her day-to-day responsibilities.

2. A successful outcome is rarely defined for this person. Now we all know how important it is to have achievable targets when tasked with improving a situation. Goodman suggests one also refrain from the common exercise of “satisfaction planning”.

An example of this is when a company is at a satisfactory level of 76 % and decides to raise next year’s acceptable level to 80% because 80% is higher than 76%. Goodman instead recommends using the Market-at-Risk analysis to identify which improvements to make, assign responsibility for implementation and suggest the expected rise in loyalty and satisfaction along with estimated cost and return on investment. This method allows management to develop rational plans for reaching satisfaction levels and loyalty goals.

3. Tracking the Impact of Actions

Goodman strongly suggests the development of a process to ensure that things in fact do get fixed. This is the follow-up step to the creation of an action plan. Companies should be interested in knowing what percentage of issues identified by the voice of the customer initiative are actually addressed.

Goodman feels that this information should be passed on to finance and senior management. The voice of the customer initiative can virtually die if this process is not put into place. Should this be allowed, what’s the financial impact of gathering data, man-hours utilized to gather the data, analyzing the data, and preparing reports, but not developing a follow-up system? Hopefully, the importance of tracking the impact of actions is very apparent.

4. Linking Incentives to the VOC Program

When the voice of the customer initiative is accepted as having the goal of proactively responding to customer needs and increasing customer loyalty, Goodman feels that the organization has accepted that the voice of the customer initiative must be linked to both strategic and day-to-day decision-making.

The organization can accomplish this by senior management linking incentives to suggested actions and providing funding for those incentives. Goodman states that in his work with various organizations, he has found in order for the voice of the customer initiative to make a positive impact (meaning that management addresses most of the identified issues) at least 20% of incentive compensation must be linked to identified voice of the customer initiatives.

When developing your voice of the customer initiative, remember it’s important to perform an Assessment of Financial Implications and Priorities, then Define Targets for Improvement, follow that up by Tracking the Impact of Actions and insure the success of your initiative Link Incentives to the VOC Program.

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helloSometimes You Can’t Say Yes
Sometimes You Can’t Say Yes – Shep Hyken

In a perfect customer service world, we would never have to tell a customer “no.” But in real life, there are situations in which it is unavoidable. No one likes to be told “no,” and it can create a negative environment that has to be overcome.

Karen Leland and Keith Bailey address some reasons you might have to say no in their excellent book, Customer Service for Dummies. Let’s discuss Sometimes You Can’t Say Yes – the main situations and how we can handle them.

To uphold the law

This one is obvious – when you are asked to do something that is against the law. Any reasonable customer will understand why you can’t comply.

Company policy

If you are telling a customer that you can’t do something because of “company policy,” there should be a sensible reason behind the policy. Sometimes it seems as if “company policy” is simply used as a blanket excuse for a business to avoid putting any thought or effort into customer service.

If I visit a restaurant and am not permitted to make a substitution in my meal order – corn instead of green beans, for example – please be able to tell me why it is policy to not allow such changes. I will be a happier customer if I understand that inventory is specifically allotted – or whatever reason – than if you simply claim “company policy.”

Out of stock

In spite of a company’s best efforts, there may be times when an item that a customer wants is not available. Perhaps a product sold better than was expected, or a shipment from the manufacturer was delayed.

How far are you willing to go to keep the customer happy? Legend has it that this situation occurred at Nordstrom, and the employee asked the customer to return in 15 minutes. In the meantime, the employee ran to another store, purchased the item at retail price, returned to Nordstrom’s, and when the customer came back, was able to offer the item for sale.

That might not be practical as a business model, but it does show a great dedication to customer service. Some retailers, if they are out of stock, will direct customers to a competitor, perhaps even calling the other store and having the product held for the customer.

It definitely does show customers you are interested in their needs, not just the bottom line, and they are usually appreciative. If it is necessary to simply tell the customer when the item will be back in stock, make sure it is there when you say it will be. Keep your promises.

It’s impossible

There’s impossible, and then there’s impossible. What I mean by that is, that some items truly are impossible to get; however, others may be obtainable if you research other sources. Or, perhaps there is a suitable replacement? If it really is not possible, educate the customer as to why you can’t get what they want.

A reluctant “yes”

It is not good customer service when you reluctantly tell a customer “yes” after a bout of argument. I pulled up to the entrance of a parking lot recently only to be told by the attendant that the lot was full. I argued that I had seen empty spaces in the lot from the street while driving by.

The attendant insisted that it was full, and refused to actually check for open spaces for a full five minutes. When he finally did and waved me in, it was more like an angry gesture. Even though I was able to park my car, I was not happy with the service. A forced “yes” is not a positive thing.

Good customer service would have been knowing that the spaces were open, or listening to what the customer was saying and checking for parking spaces sooner.

Turn the “no” around

Many times when you are forced to tell a customer “no,” you still have options to present to keep good customer service alive. Often, substitution is a viable solution. If you are working behind the counter at an ice cream parlor and a customer orders a variety that is out, suggest another flavor.

The 7 p.m. showing of a movie is sold out? Give the customer options for other films that are showing, or the time of the next screening plus recommendations for nearby dining or shopping to enjoy in the meantime.

At times it may take a creative approach to change the “no” into a “no, but …” However, if you have the right attitude and a dedication to customer service, it can usually be done.

Remember these ideas the next time you have to tell a customer or client “no.” Be flexible and stay on your toes and you can create Moments of Magic in even the most challenging times.

Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession.

Shep works with companies and organizations that want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to http://www.hyken.com.

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