The blessing (or curse) of running a customer service operation is that you always seem to see things from a different perspective to the rest of the business. For example whilst marketing, sales, product development and even IT are spending small fortunes on increasing market share, launching new products and implementing new systems, customer service is constantly under the hammer to reduce operating costs.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record, saying the same thing over and over again. “Customer service is the customer experience. It’s where the rubber hits the road and either reinforces the marketing message, sales promise and product expectations, or it damages your reputation forever.” In my experience, very few companies have a clear customer strategy. Instead they have a set of functional strategies, driven by different objectives and measured in different ways. The result is inconsistent customer experiences, and internal conflicts as well as poor ROI.
Investing in the customer service operation and bringing into alignment with the marketing and sales operations is the single most valuable investment you can make. These investments take the form of culture, skills, competences, improved management and metrics as well as the systems and customer information required to make use of increased decision-making authority. The business case is compelling. Not only will the satisfaction of both customers and employees increase, operating costs will actually fall by eliminating all the errors and inconsistencies created by the functional strategies. That’s a win-win if ever I heard of one.
So why aren’t more companies doing it? The main reason is the misalignment of the management team. This week I was speaking to the COO of a company that is constantly held up as a shining example of customer service excellence. He told me that over the past 2 years the average tenure of executives had fallen, mainly because they had to remove several because they either did not understand or fully embrace the customer service ethos. In most companies those executives would have remained in place, causing rifts and splits and damaging both morale and the customer experience. The CEO of this company is an ex customer service VP. To me, that says it all.
As a result, they invest heavily in customer service skills, competences and especially culture. People are lining up to work there. The best product and services suppliers desperately want them to buy their products. I bang the alignment drum all day, every day. So it was rewarding to see this paragon of service reinforcing the message. A recent study of the management team by a leading consultant showed they were the most aligned management team he had ever seen. Q.E.D. So take a look at your management team and ask: are they aligned or pulling in different directions?