Not too long ago, one of our long-time professional friends reached out to us ask for guidance and suggestions in the wake of an initiative designed to improve customer service that had been rolled out the previous year throughout his organization.
His company, an equipment manufacturer, is a global industry leader in a variety of product lines. In fact, they enjoy a #1 or #2 ranking in most of the markets in which they compete.
Despite the company’s industry leadership and profitability, the company’s customers were becoming increasingly frustrated – long lead times, missed deadlines, unkept promises and overall deteriorating service levels had been building gradually for some time. Unfortunately, the customer service initiative had not been effective in creating the kind of customer-focused actions and behaviors necessary to align the service side of the business with the superior quality of the company’s products, technology and practical solutions.
What happened? Why was the initiative not as effective as it could have been? Why didn’t it produce the intended results? Why did it lack sustainability?
After taking a closer look at the initiative and engaging in some rich discussions with our friend and his colleagues, some themes emerged, and I thought I would share them below in an effort to assist anyone who has been tasked either with designing their own internal customer service initiative or exploring potential outside solutions.
The initiative rolled out in our friend’s organization was not devoid of quality, benefits or value, and my objective here is not to “Monday morning quarterback” someone else’s program or denigrate their work. Rather, my goal is to provide what I hope will be some helpful, high-level themes that I believe need to be considered before pulling the trigger on a customer service program or initiative.
Here it goes:
- Employ a methodology that engrains, not just trains. Training that is input-based (driven by the training content) rather than output-based (driven by the desired business outcome) may permit you to check the “provided customer service training to our people” box, but it will not create real lasting change inside your organization.
- Widen the frame to capture the overall customer experience. Increasing customer loyalty and profitability requires extraordinary customer experiences at every touchpoint, not just good customer service. A customer service initiative will be inherently limited in its effectiveness unless it takes into consideration all of the individual touchpoints that map a customer’s interactions with the company, as well as the customer’s cumulative overall relationship with the company.
- Add a focus on internal customers. External customer experience outcomes are highly dependent upon day-to-day internal customer-focused actions and behaviors. Employees who do not regularly interact with external customers can and often do significantly, even if indirectly, impact the external customer experience outcome.
- Insist on leadership participation. It is critical for sustainability that leaders learn and apply practical coaching and motivation skills and other supportive actions and behaviors. Any customer service initiative lacking this component faces an uphill battle at a minimum and more likely is doomed from the start.
- Identify and address root causes to customer issues. Meaningful customer experience improvements occur only when the underlying systemic issues causing customer frustrations are explored and strategic solutions creating low-effort experiences for the customer are developed and implemented. The success of your customer service initiative depends in large part on the quality of the discovery (due diligence) that must be conducted before the training is developed.
- Connect the training to the employees’ current business reality on the ground. Participants understandably have a difficult time engaging (or even paying attention) when training is provided in a vacuum or otherwise generically. Facilitate the training in such a way that allows your employees to draw immediate connections among the learning, actual on-the-job behaviors and the optimal customer experience for external customers and internal partners.
- Align your customer experience metrics with the business outcomes you wish to achieve, and review and act on your metrics regularly. Temkin Group just released a compelling new research report [link] showing that companies with stronger customer experience metrics are more likely to be customer experience leaders and outperform their competitors from a business results standpoint. Choose your metrics carefully and make sure those metrics and your customer service initiative are driving toward the same goals.