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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 the Goodman’s four remaining attributes.

1. Assessment of Financial Implications and Priorities – Goodman stresses the importance of realizing how customer expectations and behaviour impacts 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 where a company is at a satisfaction 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 methods 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 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 provides 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 to insure the success of your initiative Link Incentives to the VOC Program .

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“We Only Update The Website Once A Month!”

I received this customer service story from a member of a local organization here in Houston, Tx . This member volunteers as a liaison between new members and the organization. She received a phone call from a new member regarding the location for an organizational committee meeting. It appears that the new member was at the wrong location. The liaison member conferenced the new member to the organization’s phone number in an attempt to get the correct meeting location. When the new member advised the organization’s receptionist of her dilemma, the receptionist asked “Where did you get that information?”. The new member advised the receptionist that the information was retrieved from the organization’s website. The receptionist then asked “When did you get the information?” to which the new member responded “A few days ago.” The receptionist responded “Well that’s the wrong information.” The new member already knew this! The receptionist then stated ‘We only update the information on the website once a month!” The liaison member was still on the line and interjected at this point with the question “Wait a minute. Are you saying you knew the information was wrong on the website, but you didn’t update it?” The receptionist again stated “We only update the website once a month.” She then proceeded to provide the correct meeting address in such a rapid manner that the new member had to ask for the address to be repeated. The call ended without an apology to the new member for the error and the inconvenience.

It’s important to correct errors on your website quickly as your customers can view the site twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Your customer is depending upon you for the correct information. On another note, the most important step to take when a customer is inconvenienced through no fault of their own is to apologize. The receptionist acted as though the new member was responsible for being at the wrong place. To go a step further, the organization should send a card entitled Oooops! Add a few lines offering an apology for the error and perhaps include an inexpensive gift certificate for good measure. Remember, the customer acts upon provided information. Make sure the information on your website is current. Oh yeah, make sure your customer contact personnel have some basic customer service skills!

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“You Have To Be More Considerate Sir!”

A good friend of mine here in Houston recently underwent hip replacement surgery. He’s recovering at home now where he receives both physical and occupational therapy. For a while both therapies took place on the same day of the week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My friend is comfortable with this schedule as it allows for a day of recovery between therapy sessions. He also has doctor appointments during the week as well. A few days ago, the occupational therapist advised my friend that they would have to perform therapy on Tuesday and Thursday. After communicating his reservations with this schedule to the occupational therapy provider, my friend was told – “You have to be more considerate sir!”

This scenario brings a couple of questions to mind – Who’s the patient here? Where’s the empathy for the patient’s situation? I understand that my friend’s request for a day of rest between therapies may create internal issues for the therapy provider, but patient comfort and satisfaction should be the primary focus. If the therapy provider placed himself in my friend’s shoes, perhaps more consideration would be shown for my friend’s situation. It’s important to remember that all situations are different. Is it possible to customize your products or services to meet the needs of your customer? Perhaps the “team” mentality could assist with this issue whereas the doctor and therapy providers could meet with the patient to develop a therapy schedule that addresses the patient’s recovery requirements and patient concerns – in this case a day of rest between therapy sessions. Take a look at your customers’ requests to identify possible customization opportunities. Customization leads to happy and more often than not loyal customers. Remember, you the service provider should be vigilant about meeting the needs of your customer.

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Do The Unexpected

Every entrepreneur or business owner strives to get the attention of potential customers and to retain existing customers (You do have a retention strategy right?) I often hear business owners discussing what’s required to separate themselves from their competitors. A word of advice that I offer is to do the unexpected. Now I know someone is asking “What does that mean Errol?”. Let me explain.

Doing the unexpected means taking positive action in a manner that sets your business apart from your competition. It could mean following-up immediately after service delivery to gauge your customer’s satisfaction level. How about contacting your customer a few days after they purchase your product to say thank you and to inquire about their usage experience. Did your cable service provider call you after installation of their product in your home? Think about sending a personal handwritten ‘Thank You” note to your customers. How many of these have you received lately? If your business provides services at your customer’s site, call to make arrangements for an onsite inspection. These are all simple yet effective ways of “doing the unexpected.” Recently, it was necessary to hire a new lawn care company. After choosing a company, I was a little surprised that no communication was received after the initial service. It didn’t help their cause that I in fact was not exactly pleased with their service. I quickly changed to a different lawn care service provider.

Doing the unexpected will assist in creating loyal customers. My wife Theresa is a virtual assistant here in Houston, Tx. I remember her personally delivering a small gift to each of her clients as a way of saying “Thank You” for being my customer. Imagine their response to this unexpected act of customer appreciation. Is it possible for you to personally thank your customers? If yours is a large organization, I would suggest upper management spend time calling customers just to say thank you for being a customer. Can you think of many large companies where upper management actually takes the time to randomly call customers – no matter the size of the customer’s business or the size of their revenue contribution? Have you ever received a random phone call from upper management of a company to gauge your level of satisfaction?Imagine the impact of such an “unexpected” phone call.

There may be situations when your customer is unhappy with your product or service. After resolving the issue to the customer’s satisfaction, how about refunding the cost of your product/service and providing the next purchase/service rendering for free. A month of free service to a monthly subscriber who’s experienced an unwarranted service interruption is a way to express how important that customer is to your business. I believe that most customers are not expecting an offer of this type. Hopefully you don’t have very many unhappy customers, but think about the resulting impression of taking this “unexpected” step. The signal sent says “We want to retain you as a customer.”

Most customers have a particular method for communicating. Some prefer a phone call or email while others prefer a text message. Instead of asking the customer to fall in line with your preferred method of communicating. Do the “unexpected” by determining their preferred method of communicating. How many of your service providers asks for your preferred method of communicating? Doing so tells your customer that you’re willing to communicate in a manner that’s comfortable for them – the customer. Now I know attempting to communicate in your customer’s preferred method may be a little difficult for large companies. Is it possible to place the customer’s preferred method in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool? Your customer contact personnel can utilize this information when attempting to connect with the customer. Communicating with your customer in their preferred manner will certainly set you apart from your competition.

There are situations that arise which may cause your customer to wait to be serviced. What can you do for your customer during this pause in the service experience? Is it possible to offer a free beverage if your business is a restaurant? If you’re in the retail business, can you offer a ten or 20 percent off coupon for your customer’s next visit as a way to say “Thanks for being patient with us!” If your customer orders online and incurs a delay through no fault of their own in receipt of your product, in addition to resolving the current issue, do the “unexpected” by offering free shipping on their next order. More than likely, you’ll get a positive response (repeat business) for your “unexpected” goodwill gesture.

When it comes to satisfying your customer, do the unexpected to increase the possibility of a higher level of customer retention. Think for a moment about how often you are the recipient of “unexpected” gestures from service providers. Very often or not at all? Are there opportunities to do the unexpected for your customers? Take a look around. I think you can come up with a few!

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