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The People or the Process?

When issues arise when a customer is dissatisfied or a mistake occurs, it’s commonplace to blame employees for the customer’s discontent. Now I’m in the mindset that most people come to work to do a good job. I believe that most people do not get up in the morning thinking “I’m going to purposely create chaos for customers and peers at work today!” Every once in a while you’ll find a knucklehead employee that just wants to do what they want to do, but that’s rare in my opinion. I’m more inclined to believe that it’s more than likely a process issue vs an employee issue.

When speaking of processes as the culprit, I’m thinking of two processes in particular:

The process/processes connected to the issue.
The employee training process for the process/processes connected to the issue.
Let’s take a look at each of these.

The Process/Processes Connected to the Issue
Identify and examine the process/processes connected to the issue. Are there gaps that create customer dissatisfaction?. Employees create work arounds (Yep, I’ve done it too!) to bad processes. Employees also create processes when an adequate one does not exist in attempt to make sure things go smoothly. Remember, most people come to work to do a good job and often go to these lengths to do so.

The Employee Training Process for the Process/Processes Attached to the Issue
Now let’s say that the process is well defined and contains all of the necessary elements of a good process. The next question to ask is – What does the employee training process look like? It doesn’t matter that you have a great process when the employee training process is lacking. It’s imperative that employees are provided with the proper training to ensure that their actions do not negatively impact the processes in which they operate. Training should include verification that employees comprehend the training and can demonstrate the ability to correctly perform their process tasks.

When customer discontent presents itself, be more inclined to focus on processes. It’s not always a people issue.

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Think Long Term When Servicing Your Customer

When I receive or am told of sub par customer service, I often wonder if the service provider is thinking about the long term impact of this type of performance. Providing a service or product to your customers requires one to always think long term. Customer service decisions made today impact your company’s future.

Thinking long term first of all should mean that the customer is at the forefront of your business strategy. Interactions with your customer should be done in a manner that promotes repeat business. Customer service personnel must be trained to think long-term and provided with options that allow them to resolve customer issues from a long-term perspective. A good friend here in Houston called me while he waited for service at a big box retailer. During our conversation, he paused to ask a store employee “So you’re going to bring another person in front of me? You have yet to ask me what I need!” What the store employee didn’t know was that my friend planned to purchase a laptop for his daughter. Well, he didn’t after this encounter! An acknowledgement of my friend’s presence along with an explanation of the employee’s actions may have led to the purchase of the laptop. Just a moment to consider the long-term impact of ignoring a customer may have led to my friend becoming a long-term customer.

Thinking long-term requires one to consider how to handle a customer complaint. The old adage of “the customer is always right” is not necessarily true in all situations. The customer may have misunderstood, misinterpreted, misread, or just plain wants to have his/her way. What’s important for the long-term is the handling of the situation. Your demeanor, voice tone, body language during phone or face to face interactions and verbage utilized when interacting via chat or email play a huge role in retaining this customer. Think long-term when formulating solutions to the issue. Preserve the customer’s dignity when you know that they are just plain wrong. Don’t allow your ego to enter into this interaction. Go into your INP mode. INP means It’s Not Personal. Take a deep breath and think long-term! Weigh the cost of resolving the situation in the customer’s favor against the possibility of losing long-term revenue.

Think long-term when considering changing your service concept of product. How will your customer be impacted by your decision? Is the change the result of customer input? If not, have you considered getting your customer’s feedback on your proposed change? I think we all remember what happened when a famous soft drink company changed the formula for its popular product. Although focus group results appeared positive before launching the change, customers in the southern U.S. held the original formula dear to their hearts. The backlash from this region was tremendous. Who holds your product or service dear to their hearts? Long term thinking will help you to ask the right questions of the right people when you’re considering making changes to your service concept or product. The trash service provider for my subdivision sent out a letter stating that they were changing the truck type from one that requires a crew of three to one that only requires a one person crew. Now I think that’s great for the expense categories of their budget, but how will this change impact the customer. The new truck’s retractable lift arms called for the customers to utilize a new garbage can – one that is specially made for the lift arms. I called the company and asked is the customer responsible for obtaining the proper garbage can or will one be provided by the company. That was six months ago – I’m still waiting for an answer. If the answer comes back that requires customers to purchase the new garbage can, the company will more than likely lose the contract. My subdivision is small with only 87 homes, but that contract represents about $17500.00 of annual revenue. Long term thinking is required by the company in making the decision as to who is responsible for purchasing the new garbage cans.

The willingness to think long-term when servicing customers is one of the most important business strategies that you can incorporate into your day-to-day operations. Make sure everyone within the organization is thinking long-term in regards to customer service. Thinking long-term requires one to always ask – “If I proceed in this manner, what is the long-term effect for both the customer and the company?”

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The Impact Of Performance Goals On Customer Service

Does this sound familiar? “I can’t possibly complete all of this work and meet the goals to receive a raise. It just doesn’t seem fair. I don’t think management understands what it takes to actually do this job”. Employees today are experiencing more stress than ever in this era of economic uncertainty. It’s very important to align workload and performance goals for long term positive employee morale, long term profitability and long term productivity. Your customers (both external and internal) are impacted by your performance goals. Here are a few issues to consider.

Performance Goals – Is That The Right Number?
When establishing performance goals, take into consideration the total process required for task completion. Base goals on outcomes over which the employee has control. Where the employee has accountability for additional tasks, factor this into goal setting for the employee’s primary responsibility. This will lead to setting realistic goals. Spend time with the employees as they actually perform their duties to get a “real world” feel for what it takes to perform the job. Include the employees who actually perform the job in establishing goals. An environment of mutual respect will exist as the employees will feel that they were able to participate in creating their own goals. The level of service provided to the customer is higher when employees are not overly concerned and stressed out daily about meeting performance goals. Taking these steps has a three-fold effect: 1. Improvement in employee morale. 2. You may be able to create a better process. 3. You should be able to determine if the stated goal is the right goal.

Quality Vs Quantity – Which Is Primary?
Does your reward system encourage quality work? A reward system based on unrealistic performance goals tends to promote quantity over quality. As employees struggle to meet the stated goals, quality will surely suffer as short cuts become the norm in completing tasks. This can lead to poor work audit results, rework (how much does this cost at your company?) and customer dissatisfaction. Employees are prone to display a sense of hurriedness when interacting with customers if the workload and performance goals are not balanced. Those employees choosing quality over quantity will become frustrated as their efforts to perform the job properly are rewarded with inquiries regarding their inability to reach the stated goal. In the quantity over quality environment created by unrealistic performance goals, long term productivity is sacrificed for the short term goal. Focus on systemic thinking and make this a high priority when designing reward systems. Reward actions that insure fluid cross-functional handoffs. This helps to build a culture of wholistic, systemic minded employees who understand the impact of their work to the product/service system.

Work Environment – Is This A Healthy Place To Work?
It is very important to create a positive work environment as your bottom line is directly impacted by employee morale. An environment where performance goals are fair and obtainable fosters an atmosphere of teamwork as employees do not feel the need to protect their “numbers”. Unrealistic goals lead to either unwillingness – for fear of not meeting their own goals or inability – due to unrealistic work load – to truly work as a team. Long term employee frustration usually results in a lower quality of work which ultimately impacts the external customer. Stress levels increase possibly leading to health issues. Employee turnover increases as well as some will seek relief from an atmosphere they deem unfair and unhealthy. This directly impacts your bottom line as the level of customer service delivered suffers via productivity lost to the need to hire and train new employees. How much does a dissatisfied customer cost your company? Promote employee quality of life versus “my work is my life” mindset. Give employees a reason to feel good about coming to work.

Performance goals and reward systems are key components of the business environment. Strive to base both on a “real world” workload. Your long term success depends on it. Your customer will feel the impact of performance goals and the workload. Balance these two in order to insure that the customer is positively impacted and gets great customer service.

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Filling the Gaps for Better Customer Experiences

Creating a great customer experience hinges on one’s ability to develop a well oiled system. Two key factors of the system are the people working within the system and the people served by the system as both have expectations of the system. When expectations go unmet, gaps exist. Let’s talk about several of these gaps.

What Does the Customer Expect vs What is Provided? – When what the customer receives does not measure up to what’s expected, a gap exists. This gap may pertain to the quality of the product or the level of service provided by your company. How does one determine customer expectations? Simply ask!! Utilize market research to get clarification on customer expectations . For example, when customers visit the post office during their lunch break, they expect to find an ample number of post office employees available to provide service at the front counter. If the majority of the post office employees themselves are on lunch break, a gap exists in the level of service the customer expects to receive vs the level of service they actually receive. Talk with key clients about their expectations. Regularly review your customer complaints to identify what needs to be addressed within your organization. Get feedback from employees who spend the majority of their time servicing customers. The information provided by these sources will certainly identify what’s important to the customer and assist in closing the expectation gap.

Who’s Committed to Service – Delivery Quality? – Commitment to quality is paramount to creating customer experiences. When leadership is more concerned with cost reductions and short-term profits, the focus on service-delivery quality is usually not a high priority. While companies may focus on quality from an internal point of view – production schedule or production efficiency for example – the customer has no interest in the internal measurements. What about your product or service is important to the customer? Is it the ease of operation of your product? Or maybe it’s the timeframe between ordering and receiving your product? Is it the ease to access product or service information on your website? What about the timeliness of your response to their service or product inquires? Might it be the quality of the interaction when being serviced by your company’s employees? These are just a few measurements to consider when setting quality standards for service – delivery. Fill this gap by focusing on customer – centered measurements vs producer centered measurements. When service – delivery quality is a high priority, one can almost count on improved profits via developing loyal long-term customers.

Can You Standardize That Task? – There is a belief in the service industry, that task standardization leaves no room for the provision of a “personal experience” for the customer. There are however, routine tasks that lend themselves to standardization. Consider the task of opening a new personal bank account. While there is a need to have a personal conversation with the new account holder, the tasks required to actually open the personal account are probably the same for each customer. Task standardization can actually help to insure that every customer receives the same level of service. Focusing on standardization can close the gap created when the customer interacts with different service providers within your organization. When all service providers are required to adhere to the standards, the customer is the beneficiary. Are there routine tasks within your company that lend themselves to standardization?

Identifying and closing customer experience gaps within your company is critical to long-term success. Understand your customer’s expectations. Commit to the quality of service-delivery. Consider standardizing routine tasks for consistent customer interactions. Focusing on closing these gaps will prove to be profitable endeavors for your company.

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