Many companies spend millions of dollars on their customer service and contact center departments. Despite this, few have a reputation for stellar service, even though delivering an outstanding customer experience is viewed as a top priority by many executives.
After years of analyzing exceptional service organizations, it's clear to me that the organizations that deliver great service do something that others don't—listen to their customers and apply what they learn. They don't issue surveys to customers, prospects, and, possibly, partners to solicit feedback about their performance, only to disregard it.
Some of the worst offenders in the area of customer service frequently survey their customers, but for the wrong reasons. They reach out to make their customers think they care, but never use or respond to the feedback. Others survey for marketing purposes, hoping for good results so that they can claim they have a high Net Promoter Score. Still others survey because they feel they have to. The common element in all of these companies, which unfortunately represent a majority of organizations, is that they feel compelled to survey even when they are unlikely to use the findings. The end result is a cynical customer population that treats surveying as noise.
Change Is Hard
Knowing an issue exists is not the same as fixing it. Employees are generally not empowered to act beyond prescribed and limited processes. Front-line employees and managers are typically evaluated on a set of goals (such as productivity and cost control) instead of their ability to deliver a great service experience. Pro-customer actions that cross departmental boundaries are not encouraged. And rarely is any single person in charge of responding to customer feedback by making permanent policy, procedure, and systems changes. So, while CEOs may believe that delivering an outstanding customer experience is essential, they are going to have to be willing to make changes in corporate culture, policies, and personnel if they want their corporation's actions to support their statements.
Winning companies listen to their customers in a variety of ways, and for the right reasons. Although surveying is a best practice when done properly, it is not the only way these companies listen to their customers. In organizations committed to great service, all employees view themselves as customer advocates, and are empowered to make a difference. These organizations listen to and act on the information that customers share with them. Complaints are seen as gifts, and an opportunity to do better. Mistakes can and will happen. More often than not, it's what a company does after a mistake occurs that leaves the lasting impression.
Characteristics of Outstanding Service Providers
It doesn't take money to deliver outstanding service, although it helps. What it does take is a commitment from the top supported by actions and goals. The companies that deliver great service share the following characteristics:
1. Customer service is a priority and integral to the company culture.
2. All employees and managers have customer service goals that are measured, and outstanding performance is recognized and rewarded.
3. All employees view themselves as customer advocates.
4. Senior executives frequently interact with customers, solicit feedback, and address it.
5. The customer service, support, or contact center group reports to a senior executive.
6. Customer issues are quickly escalated and must be resolved within a predetermined amount of time.
7. Recurring causes of customer complaints are identified and fixed.
8. The organization listens on an institutional basis.
9. Employees are treated with great respect.
It's great that senior executives are finally acknowledging that outstanding service must be a priority. Now it's time for them to turn their thoughts into action by changing their company's culture and building a structure that supports this mission. The key to success is learning to listen to what customers have to say, and then immediately putting this information to work. It's a simple concept that is tough to implement, but has proven successful for companies large and small.
Donna Fluss (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics research, marketing analysis, and consulting.