Goal Setting Mistakes That Will Crush Your Service Culture

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The new executive looked with dismay at the list of strategic goals the CEO had shared. They were designed to help the organization create a service culture, yet she knew the list was not very strategic nor did it contain actual goals.

One goal was “provide customer service training for employees.” Merely ticking the box to show she completed the training task wasn’t going to create a service culture. 

The CEO either didn’t understand or didn’t care since the goals had already been shared with the board. His chief concern was making sure the training happened sometime during the fiscal year.

Unfortunately, this executive is not alone. I periodically ask individuals and leaders to share their goals with me; they are rarely well-written. 

Goals are intended to focus behavior and motivate people to give extra effort towards achieving them. Good goals can reinforce a service culture by getting everyone to work together towards a specific achievement.

In many cases, poorly-conceived goals can crush a service culture by focusing employees on uninspiring tasks such as “provide customer service training.” 

Here are five common goal setting mistakes and how to avoid them.

Five Common Goal Setting Mistakes

Look carefully and you’ll see these are all connected to the SMART goal model. Here’s a quick review:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Mistake #1: Not Specific

Goals are often written in vague terms that make it difficult to understand exactly what the organization or team is trying to achieve. Here are some real examples:

  • “Improve customer service”
  • “Continue drive towards standardization”
  • “Increase support capability”

Vague, non-specific goals don’t effectively focus behavior that because people aren’t really sure what “improve customer service” means.

The fix is to make it specific. For instance, think of why you want to improve customer service and what specific impact that might have on the organization. Examples might include:

  • Reduce customer churn
  • Increase first contact resolution
  • Improve the net promoter score (NPS)

Mistake #2: Not Measurable

Many goals lack a specific measurement, which makes it impossible to tell whether or not the goal has been achieved. None of these have a specific number connected to them:

  • Reduce customer churn
  • Increase first contact resolution
  • Improve the NPS score

It’s hard to focus our performance if we don’t know what counts as success. The fix here is to put a number to it.

  • Reduce customer churn by 5 percent
  • Increase first contact resolution by 10 percent
  • Improve NPS score to 55

Mistake #3: Not Attainable

A stretch goal may get employees to give a little extra effort. When that goal feels completely out of reach, employees may either give up or engage in unethical behavior.

It hurts a service culture when employees stop trying. It kills a service culture when employees do things like enter fake survey results or deliberately alter their numbers.

Wells Fargo provides a recent cautionary tale of what happens when you set unrealistic goals. Thousands of employees collectively opened more than two million phony customer accounts in an effort to meet a sales target of eight financial products per customer.

The fix is to set goals that require some effort to achieve yet are well within reach if employees work hard and execute correctly. Improving the NPS to 55 is probably unrealistic if it sits at -10 right now. It’s probably attainable if the current score is 50.

Mistake #4: Irrelevant

Goals can cause problems when they are connected to something other than the customer service vision or the organization’s strategic plan.

Here are a few real examples:

  • “Improve reporting”
  • “Win an award”
  • “Expand staff”

Keep in mind that goals are intended to focus behavior. So behavior may focus on something other than the customer service vision or strategic plan if they aren’t expressly aligned.

The fix is to choose goals that represent progress towards the customer service vision. One way to do this is by asking the question, “Why?” to a non-aligned goal statement.

For instance:

  • Why do you want to improve reporting? Perhaps you want to spot trends more easily. 
  • Why do you want to spot trends? So you can identify problems and fix them.
  • Why do you want to fix problems? So you can reduce customer churn.

In that case, you might set a SMART goal around reducing customer churn and outline specific ways you want to improve reporting to help you achieve that goal.

Mistake #5: Not Time-Bound

I know a lot of people who want to write a book. Most never do. 

One of the reasons they never do is they don’t set a specific time by when that book will be written. That makes it easy to avoid creating any concrete plans. 

My goal was to write a bestselling book in 2017 and I set a book launch date of April 4. Having this specific target caused me to write a detailed action plan designed to help me achieve my goal. And I did—The Service Culture Handbook hit the 800-CEO-READ bestseller list for April.

In a customer service context, let’s say you want to reduce repeat contacts by 20 percent. A SMART goal should specify when you hope to achieve this by so you can set some specific plans to get there. For example:

Reduce average monthly repeat customer contacts by 20 percent by July 31, 2018.

Take Action!

One immediate step is to review your goals against the SMART model. You can learn more about SMART goals and download a helpful worksheet here.

If you want to go deeper, make sure your goals align with these good goal characteristics.

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