helloVoice of The Customer
Voice of The Customer – Attributes Of An Effective System Part 1

In last month’s issue, we discussed three methods of gathering data relative to the Voice of the Customer methodology – internal metrics, customer contact, and surveys.

In his book, Strategic Customer Service, author John Goodman tells us there are eight attributes necessary for an effective Voice of the Customer system. Let’s discuss four of the attributes here.

Unified Management of the Program

One key factor of any successful program is the assignment of responsibility for how well the program functions with the goal of ensuring the realization of the desired outcomes – in this case – collecting data in a unified manner. Program responsibility should assist in determining the best format to use for collecting data across the organization. According to Goodman, without someone at the helm of the Voice of the Customer program, departments tend to collect data in the format that’s easiest and most useful to them. One main goal of the program is to collect the data in a format that allows for easy reconciliation later in the process. Putting it simply, someone must be in charge of the program in order to:

1. Define the goals.

2. Provide direction,

3. Ensures that the program stays on track,

4. Assist in identifying what actions are necessary as a result of the data.

5. Using the data to persuade senior organization officers of the need to act.

A Unified Data Collection Strategy

Knowing that there are unlimited ways to describe a problem, it’s important to develop problem classification schemes that lead to the collected data fitting together and easily reconciled. We all know that departments speak different languages – shipping/receiving labels customer issues in one way while the customer service department describes them in a completely different manner.

A unified system requires a cross-functional mindset where one can create a scheme with compatible problem and experience classifications. Doing so allows for the development of a clear picture of what the customer experiences along with the identification of areas of opportunity.

Integrated Data Analysis

Now comes the fun part. How do you put all of this data together so that customer issues are apparent, the causes are identified and the overall impact on the organization becomes apparent? Goodman suggests that this challenge is two-fold:

1. The data categorization schemes must be compatible – Customer interaction, internal metrics, and survey data must be coded in uniform ways across the organization as this is crucial when it’s time to combine, analyze and attempt to act on the data.

2. In order for the customer contact data and operations data to be compatible with the survey data, they must first be extrapolated to the marketplace as survey data normally describes what’s actually unfolding in the marketplace – Goodman explains that it’s important to know what percentage of your customers who experience a problem go to any particular touch point. In other words, when there is a service problem, to whom and by what method does the customer report their unhappiness?

Proactive Distribution of the Analysis

It’s been my experience that oftentimes everyone within an organization does not have critical information that can contribute to the creation of a better product or service. It’s also been my experience that someone within an organization possesses information that can make someone else’s job easier or assist in eliminating service delivery problems.

The key is to make sure information is proactively delivered. Goodman says that while it’s important for employees to be able to pull data as needed, it’s even more important that the data is pushed out to those who need it most. I’ve also found that not everyone needs to receive all of the available information.

Often as a result of people receiving too much data, it’s ignored which usually means lost opportunities for improvement. It’s crucial to determine who needs what information, then filter the data and provide it proactively. A summary report would be nice for all to receive along with a report containing pertinent data related to the recipient’s specific function.

Well, that’s four of the eight attributes required for an effective Voice of the Customer system. In the next Voice of the Customer article, we’ll continue with the remaining four attributes.

Get your copy of John Goodman’s book, Strategic Customer Service. It’s great reading if you were interested in providing great customer service!


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helloWays To Get Your Customer To Help You Provide Great Customer Service
3 Ways To Get Your Customer To Help You Provide Great Customer Service

In our efforts to provide great customer service, we often forget to remember that it’s important to get the customer to participate in helping us to do so. In some situations, customers can assist in the quest if given the opportunity.

Here are three ways to proactively do so:

Tell your customers what you need them to provide

It has often been my experience that if I had been advised of what was needed when calling or visiting certain businesses, the interaction may have been more efficient for myself and the customer service employee. Post contact requirements on your website’s contact us page, on your snail mail information, in your emails when appropriate, in your interactive voice response system (IVR), at customer service counters, and at other contact points.

If your customer has an appointment to visit your business, advise them of what they should bring in order to make the experience a positive one.

Doing so prompts your customer to have all of the necessary information readily available, which in turn assists the customer contact personnel in promptly and efficiently servicing the customer.

Before having minor knee surgery a couple of years ago, I was advised by a representative from the surgical facility what information and documents to bring when arriving on the morning of the surgery. The interaction was very smooth and efficient upon my arrival for surgery.

Tell your customers what you need them to do

Recently I visited the post office to retrieve a certified document. I stood in the line for 10 minutes before catching a glimpse of a sign stating – “Customers picking up certified mail form a line here.” The sign was located behind, to the left, and above the front counter, in a recessed storage area, thereby increasing the possibility of one not seeing it when entering the post office.

I would recommend placing the sign near the post office entrance and once again at the entrance to the main area where most transactions take place. This would aid the customer in going to the proper counter, thereby eliminating the unnecessary time spent in the wrong line. Strategically placed signage assists your customer is going to the proper locations for service. Anxiety and frustration levels tend to rise when the customer is not sure where they need to be when entering your facility.

Make sure the signage is clear – During a visit a few months ago to a local car wash, I noticed the signage had changed, but the new signage was a little confusing. As I pulled forward and asked the attendant which line was the correct line for someone on my specific wash program, he bluntly stated that the information was on the sign.

After reminding him that I can read, but the signage was a little confusing, he gruffly advised me that I was in fact in the correct line. In both situations, a little time taken to become the customer in regards to the sign location and language may have prevented the negative interactions. By the way, the car wash employee was the recipient of my “Secret Service Agent” stare after his remarks.

Tell your customers how to help themselves

Not all customers require a personal touch. Some prefer to do things themselves – not necessarily because they fear the level of service they may receive when interacting with customer service personnel – it’s just their preference. When a customer chooses to utilize your “self-service” channels, make sure that instructions are readily available. Place clear instructions on your website, in your interactive voice response system (IVR), and at your self-service counters.

Make it a point to regularly check your self-service systems to insure smooth functionality for your customer. Once again, become the customer to make sure your instructions are clear and to insure your systems are customer friendly.

Your customer depends upon you for a great customer experience. Get them to assist you in doing so by proactively:

1. Telling them what they need to provide.

2. Telling them what they need to do.

3. Telling them how to help themselves.

They will appreciate your attention to detail and your front-line employees will benefit as well via increased interaction efficiency.


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helloHe Just Handled It
He Just Handled It!

My son drove in from Austin a few days ago and his car’s exhaust was a little louder than normal. He stated that he was scheduled to take it into the Houston dealership, Russell & Smith Ford, where it was purchased on the next day which happened to be a Saturday. At his request, I tagged along.

The car was checked in at the service department with my son was told that the service person would contact him in about an hour with an update. We took a short walk to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. After about an hour, we arrived back at the dealership just as they were notifying my son of his vehicle’s status.

It seems that the repair person felt that he could not properly make a repair weld and didn’t want to perform a substandard repair. The service advisor, B.J. Villareal advised my son that the repair should be done by one of their vendor muffler shops as they are experts with exhaust repair, but he did not have access to purchase orders on the weekend.

Without a purchase order, the vendor muffler shop would not perform the repairs. When B.J. was advised that my son lived in Austin, he called his manager at home to get authorization and then called the muffler shop to make sure that they would do the repairs without the purchase order. He then advised my son to take the vehicle to the muffler shop for the completion of the repairs.

We arrived at the muffler shop a short time later and the repairs were completed within 40 minutes. Now B.J. could have easily told my son that without having the ability to create a purchase order, he couldn’t authorize the repairs until Monday or he could have said just take it to a dealership when you get back to Austin. He didn’t do that! He took the necessary steps to get the repairs done and for that, he is a recipient of the “Now That’s Customer Service!” Award. Congratulations B.J.!


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helloCustomer Service
Customer Service – It’s Not Rocket Science

Over the years that I’ve spent in and around the customer service industry, lots of changes have occurred. Methods of interacting with the customer. The variety of ways customers interact with companies. Monitoring and measuring employee performance. Metrics and more metrics. This methodology vs that methodology.

These changes have often helped in creating a better service experience for the customer. It seems that some of these changes, however, make it difficult for some people to understand what they mean and how they impact customer service.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for change – where would we be if everything stayed the same? The one thing that I’ve learned is that customer service is not rocket science. There’s a question that keeps running around in this analytical brain of mine – What would we rely on to provide great customer service if these changes were non-existent? The answer that I get is – We would rely upon basic human interaction principles. Let’s turn all of the tools off for a minute while we look at a few of these principles.

Principle of Respect

Every person by the fact that they are a human being deserves a measure of respect. In my opinion, the same holds true regarding customers. Every customer deserves a measure of respect, even when their actions are somewhat callous and uncaring, it’s still possible to show basic respect during these encounters.

It’s been my experience that when one remains respectful during customer interactions, there’s usually a positive outcome to the interaction. How many of you have received a callback or return visit from a blatantly disrespectful customer to apologize for their actions? This would not be possible without a conscious decision to always give every customer a measure of respect.

On another note, some companies give priority based on customer size or revenue. While it’s smart to know how much a customer contributes to the bottom line, be careful not to make your smaller customer feel unimportant. Treat all customers with respect – make sure they know how important they are to your organization’s success.

Employees should treat each other with respect across the organization. One’s position or status does not exempt one from this principle. Internal respect becomes respect shown to the customer. Make sure this principle is very apparent within your organization as the failure to do so will most certainly impact customer service.

Principle of Service

It seems to me that the main goal of any organization providing a product or service is to be of service to those that call, visit – in person or via the web or are visited by a representative of that organization. Service is defined as “an act of helpful activity; help; aid”. How can those of us in the customer service industry be more helpful to those that we serve? Can we take the time to really help our customers or are we more concerned with being measured while helping the customer?

Are our actions really “helpful activities” or are we providing just enough help to satisfy the customer for the short term because our metric says it’s time to end the interaction? Customers expect to be serviced in a timely manner, with a certain measure of respect by someone who is interested in doing what’s best for the customer. Organization leaders are responsible for developing a culture whose main purpose is to properly service the customer.

Principle of Integrity

I think that I’m safe in saying that most organizations seek to operate with a high level of integrity. Integrity is defined as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” This principle requires an organization to ask itself “Are we doing what’s right for our customers.”

“If we follow through with this decision, what will the impact be on our customers?” “If we chose to ignore what we know about this situation, what is the long-term impact on our company’s reputation with our customers? This principle requires one to be above board at all times with customers.

It is imperative that customers feel that they can trust your organization. Today’s customers can create a whirlwind of negativity via social media channels. Numerous examples exist where an organization was not forthcoming with information that impacted the customer – in some cases the situation was life-threatening! Once again, leaders are responsible for setting the tone here.

Principle of Pride in Workmanship

One’s satisfaction in providing the best possible service to a customer is a form of pride in workmanship. It’s no secret that a lot of front-line people feel they’re unable to provide the best experience due to time constraints imposed by organizational metrics. It’s important to be able to go the extra mile in servicing the customer without the fear of negative repercussions.

This principle in action creates both customer and employee satisfaction. Customers benefit greatly when employees take the time to do what’s necessary to provide a customer service experience that fully satisfies their reason for contacting the company. Most employees feel good about their ability to utilize their skills to fully meet a customer’s needs, especially when it involves resolving an issue that could mean the difference between losing or retaining a customer.

When given the proper time to service a customer, it’s my belief that most employees will do what’s necessary to make sure the customer is satisfied at the end of the interaction. Most people like to feel good about the level of service they provide – it’s just something about knowing that your actions resulted in a positive outcome for another person.

Set your metrics to afford your service providers enough time to properly service the customer. If it’s possible, measure how many of your customer interactions are the result of their not being serviced the first time properly.

There’s one thing that I’ve noticed about principles – they don’t change. Principles should guide how you service your customer. Principles should determine how you treat your employees. Principles should be the benchmark for running your organization.

Set your principles first before placing your metrics. Your customers and employees will love you for that! Okay now turn all of your tools back on!


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