This past week, the U.S. celebrated Independence Day, commemorating both the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of the U.S. as a separate nation. Over a decade later, the Constitution would follow, setting the laws of the land, followed later by its first ten amendments: the Bill of Rights.
This idea of establishing a formal set of rights continues to this day. Over a year ago, in light of the struggles in the airline industry, an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights was proposed. Arising out of regular stories of delayed flights and stranded travelers, it seemed necessary as many airlines were unwilling or unable to get a handle on the distress they were causing their passengers.
Unfortunately, the airline industry is not alone–they just happen to have had enough highly-visible incidents to make it into the news. The truth is many companies struggle with providing quality customer service. Rather than involve Congress, I would propose companies adopt their own Customer Service Bill of Rights. I have some ideas for what this could look like. Though short and not complex (with a brief preamble and only five “articles”), it is very aspirational and would be challenging for most companies to ratify and deliver. All the same, I offer it here for consideration.
Customers don’t expect to have problems with the products and services they purchase or subscribe to. The unfortunate fact is that issues will occur with said products and services. Accepting that fact does not mean ignoring those problems or making it difficult for your customers to find solutions. Instead, when customer assistance is necessary, that experience should require as little effort as possible on the part of the customer, ensure a fast response and resolution, and efforts should be made to prevent issues from occurring in the future.
Article I: Set and exceed expectations
Every company’s customer service is a bit different. Though Amazon might set a certain level of expectation, the fact is most companies will struggle to attain this level of customer service. While they should seek to continuously improve, they can limit customer frustration by setting expectations.
One business day to respond to email messages on average? Five minute average wait time in the telephone queue? Two customers ahead in the chat queue? Let the customer know what to anticipate. Even when service is overloaded and response times are bleak, setting the expectation upfront can reduce (though not eliminate) customer frustration.
Then do everything possible to exceed those expectations. Even when the contact volume is high, when a set expectation is exceeded most customers will appreciate it.
Article II: Offer self-service
Customers want you to value their time. They are also demanding the means to solve their own problems anytime, anywhere rather than email or call a service center during business hours and wait for an answer.
The answer is to provide self-service. It takes many forms, including:
- Searchable knowledge bases
- Online communities
- Automated solutions
- Online case management
Each has its own requirements and not all are appropriate for every customer and their customer types. Continuously evaluate what types of self-service make sense as needs change and better options become available.
Article III: Privacy protections and control
Personal data protection and privacy is a hot topic, in light of numerous data breaches and social media data misuse. Now more than ever, customers need more control over their personal information. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) moved to address this for Europen Union citizens. The GDPR conveyed several key rights that can be summarized as follows:
- Must have explicit consent to use a citizen’s personal data in any manner
- Must allow citizens insight into how their data is used and granular consent controls.
- Must be able to send the data to the user or other organizations if they request.
- Must be able to update/correct incorrect information.
- Must be able to delete all personal data if requested.
- Must promptly notify citizens if a data breach occurs.
These rights are probably just the beginning and are a move in the right direction to better protect individuals’ information and privacy. Though the GDPR only covers EU citizens, other countries are also evaluating similar legislation. Many companies around the world have voluntarily chosen to extend those rights to their non-EU customers, as well; this is the customer-centric approach to take.
Article IV: Connected customer service
Responding to the same issue over-and-over is a bit like Sisyphus. Unfortunately, many companies choose to work this way: never address the core problem to not only eliminate that volume of calls, emails, and chats, but also to further improve the customer experience.
Rather than roll the boulder the up the hill each day, customer service should be driving permanent solutions to problems. This is only possible when customer service is connected to other parts of the company like finance (for billing problems) and manufacturing or development (for product issues). Working collaboratively, customer service should hold these other teams accountable to eliminate these problems and improve the overall customer experience.
Article V: Proactive and preventative service
A company that is aware of an existing or potential problem should preemptively notify its customers. It might be to alert them they might encounter it, that a solution is under development, or how to fix the problem. A simple email that informs customers of an issue and how to avoid it is a powerful action that shows concern while also eliminating unnecessary contacts into the service center.
Proactive service isn’t difficult, but it does require planning. Customer service should use analytics to monitor service activity for patterns. Connected devices and services can be monitored using the Internet of Things to identify potential problems or get early notice of failures.
In the same manner, some products and services require periodic maintenance. Make this clear to the customer and set the expectation for how often this should be performed either by the customer themselves or a skilled technician. Schedule these events so they can plan for that brief interruption rather than face unplanned downtime.
The right to great service
Addressing unexpected problems is not how a customer wants to spend their time. With customer experience now the competitive battleground for companies, getting service right is critical. The circumstances the airline industry has found itself in serve as a powerful lesson.
A formal Customer Service Bill of Rights creates a strong statement of commitment to customers. It also sets the bar high and will challenge most companies. The results are worth it, though: a set of rules to consistently serve customers well and continuously improve the customer experience.