Recently, one of our long-time professional friends asked us for guidance and suggestions about a customer service initiative which 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. 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 growing increasingly frustrated as they experienced long lead times, missed deadlines, unkept promises and overall deteriorating service levels for some time.
Unfortunately, the customer service initiative did not create 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.
- Why was the customer service 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 customer service initiative and engaging in some rich discussions with our friend and his colleagues, some themes emerged which can assist anyone tasked to design their own internal customer service initiative or explore potential outside solutions.
Before pulling the trigger on any customer service program or initiative, I believe there are some high-level themes that must be considered.
1. 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.
2. Widen the frame to capture the overall customer experience. Increasing customer loyalty and profitability requires excellent customer experiences at every customer touchpoint. 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.
3. 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 impact the external customer experience outcome. Their impact may even be indirect.
4. Insist on leadership participation. It is critical for sustainability that leaders learn and apply practical coaching and motivation skills as well as other supportive actions and behaviors. Any customer service initiative lacking this leadership component faces an uphill battle at a minimum and more likely is doomed from the start.
5. Identify and address the 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) conducted before the training is developed.
6. 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.
7. Align your customer experience metrics with the business outcomes you wish to achieve, review and act on your metrics regularly. Temkin Group just released a compelling new research report showing 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.