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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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Sales Tactics Do Create Customer Experiences

How often have you heard this statement from customer service personnel within your company – “I wish those salespeople would think about what they’re doing when making promises to customers. I’m tired of being yelled at for something that’s not my fault.” It’s important to remember to only promise what can be delivered when interacting with potential customers – especially when they are purchasing big-ticket items. Here are a few things to remember when using promises as sales tactics to sell products and services to customers.

Promise Only What Can Be Delivered
During my years in the corporate world, the issue of “Why did the salesperson promise that without verifying if we could meet that commitment” would often arise. That statement was usually followed up with “They only think about their commission!” While it’s understandable that salespeople are motivated by potential commissions, it’s critical to make sure that sales guidelines are in place to ensure a positive impact to those persons within the organization that have to service the customer. Whether it be customer service, accounts receivable or any other department that interacts with customers, salespeople must understand and adhere to the policies and or procedures when in the sales mode. Should the need arise for special consideration in order to “get the deal”, check in with those persons who will be impacted by whatever the consideration is before making promises to the customer. Remember – customers view the people within your company as “the company”.

Develop Internal Relationships
Years ago when beginning a corporate stint as an account manager/project manager, my first week was spent meeting those persons with whom I impacted in performing my role. My first question was – “How does what I do impact you?” That question was followed by this one – “What is it that you want me to do to make your job easy?” This question was followed by this one – “What is it that you don’t ever want me to do?” Asking these questions allowed these persons to elaborate on what they were held accountable for and how performing my job could either bring positive or negative consequences for them. By taking time to develop internal relationships, one communicates “We Are A Team” to others within the company. Yes, it takes additional time to ask these questions, but it’s well worth it later in the relationship!

Be Accountable for Your Actions
Should issues arise due to sales methods, it’s the responsibility of the salesperson to be accountable. I think salespeople should be kept abreast of every issue related to promises made, but not kept, that arise with their customers. Doing so would assist in understanding the impact of one’s actions. Persons required to service the customer after the sale should know that they will receive the same internal considerations afforded to the paying customer. When salespeople are held accountable for their sales methods, the level of employee morale increases as one does not fear having to regularly interact with customers who were provided unfulfilled promises during the sales process.

The sales component of a company’s business model is most likely the original experience for potential customers. Make sure that your salespeople understand their impact to the total customer experience by making sure they Promise Only What Can Be Delivered, by requiring them to Develop Internal Relationships and by encouraging them to Be Accountable for Their Actions.

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Angry Customer Prevention

Having been in the customer service industry for 25+ years, I’ve heard, seen, attended and listened to various programs/seminars regarding “how to handle an angry customer”. Most often, these programs/seminars are very informative and provide excellent guidance on dealing with a not so happy customer. My question has always been – Why is the customer unhappy and is there anything that can be done to diminish the number of unhappy customers? My instincts say take a proactive stance in the battle to prevent angry customers. Here are a few ways to do so.

Why Are Customers Unhappy?
Is there a pattern to the reasons that customers are unhappy? Is anyone in your organization tracking these reasons? It’s been my experience that if you have one customer complaining about an issue or situation, more than likely there are others complaining about the same things. During one call center stint, it was common for customers on certain billing cycles to experience problems with their bills – improper amounts, additional charges, etc. We all know that this issue will certainly create angry customers and additional phone calls. While it’s important for the agents to be equipped with “how to handle angry customers” skills, how about determining what’s causing the “angry customer” issues. Identify external and internal issues that might be contributing to your customers’ unhappiness with your organization. Doing so will surely diminish or even eliminate the need for the customers to call and for customer service personnel to exercise their “how to handle angry customers” skills for these particular issues. Oh yeah, be sure that your customer facing personnel are equipped with the proper customer interaction soft skills – voice tone, empathy, body language, etc. – so that they do not inadvertently create an angry customer!

Why Are Front Line Personnel Unhappy?
It’s been my experience that unhappy employees are an indicator that there may be organizational issues that negatively impact customers. Customer facing employees become frustrated and angry when it appears no one is interested in addressing issues which contribute to the creation of angry customers. Check with your customer facing employees regarding their experiences when dealing with customers. Are processes both customer and employee friendly? Is the training received sufficient to allow for successful customer interactions? Can employees count on the “system” functioning properly so that they can provide a great customer experience therefore preventing the need to exercise their “how to handle angry customers” skills? Take the time to get and act upon feedback provided by customer facing employees. You might be surprised by how doing so can assist in reducing the number of angry customers for your organization.

How Many Credits or Refunds Are You Issuing?
Another possible indicator of angry customers is the amount of products/services given away, account credits or refunds issued by your organization. Is anyone attaching a reason for these actions? Does your organization’s system allow for logging the reasons for refunds, account credits or other actions taken to appease angry customers? It’s important to monitor these areas as they may be an indicator that customers are not happy with your products or services. Allow your customer facing employees the ability to provide reasons for taking these actions. Analyze these reasons and identify ways to prevent their continuance. Determine how much these refunds, credits or provision of goods/services costs your organization. Spend time with customer facing personnel during their interactions with angry customers to get first hand experience of what appeasement actions are utilized. One’s willingness to take these steps will surely lead to a decrease in the number of angry customers.

It’s a great idea to equip customer facing personnel with “how to handle angry customers” skills. Doing so gives them the confidence to properly handle the situation. Take an additional step by proactively identifying and addressing issues which contribute to the number of angry customers your customer facing personnel encounter. I can guarantee both customers and employees will love you for that!

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3 Reasons To Listen To Your Front Line Employees

During my customer service career, I have often heard the statement – “It doesn’t matter what I think, no one’s listening to what I have to say anyway.” More often than not, these words were verbalized by a front line employee. It’s important to appreciate and listen to your front line employees. Here are three reasons not to take them for granted.

They Are the Face of the Company
Whether face to face, on the phone or web chatting with customers, front line employees are the company to your customers! By the very nature of the position, front line employees are able to provide invaluable insights into how customers really feel about your products/services. Remember to treat them in the same manner as they are required to treat the customer. Your willingness to do so sends the message that they are an important component of the organization. Sooner or later, it will be pretty easy to spot an unhappy employee – body language, voice tones, customer complaints, attendance or all clues to employee morale. It’s important to keep morale high as happy employees create happy customers.

They Have Solutions
It’s common for front line employees to create “custom” resolutions for reoccurring issues. Through personal experience, I have witnessed front line employees put their “custom” resolutions in motion in order to deliver a great customer experience. Maintain open communication with front line personnel as this encourages the sharing of information. Their solutions keep customers happy which contributes to the profitability of the company. During a corporate stint as an operations analyst, it was common to conduct process analysis projects. I often found that front line personnel knew the process and its shortcomings much better than their respective managers. Upon further examination, more often than not, a communication gap existed between management and front line personnel. The communication pattern was one of “do this because it’s your job” vs “if we ask you to do this, how does this impact your job?” When more of the latter exists, the customer benefits as frontline personnel feel that their opinion matters, which leads to the provision of a better customer experience.

They’re Human
Probably the most important reason to listen to your front line personnel is a simple one – they’re human. Front line personnel want to feel valued and respected for what they do. Not everyone is capable of servicing customers. I repeat – not everyone possesses the ability to provide customer service day after day, minute by minute. It takes patience coupled with a good attitude and a highly developed listening ear to consistently meet customer expectations. I often hear people say “Anyone can answer a phone.” or “It’s pretty simple to take customers’ orders.” Yes, anyone can answer a phone or take customers’ orders – the key is, do you know what to do next? Not everyone has the personality or demeanor to turn an angry customer into a long-term purchaser of the company’s products/services. The next time you feel like your front line personnel are not performing to company expectations, carve out some time to get in their shoes. Take on their duties. Ask questions and really listen to the replies. You might be surprised by the knowledge gained from this simple exercise.

Are your front line personnel an untapped information reservoir? Remember – They Are the Face of Your Company, They Have Solutions and They’re Human. Spend time with your front line personnel today!

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