What Drives Great Customer Service?

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I hear a lot about the importance of handling different customers differently. That is after all what lies at the heart of CRM. But I think we need to move beyond the idea that all customer contacts are full of variation and thus need different customer-driven handling. Reality, even in a service call centre full of thousands of customer contacts per day, is often very different.

There are generally three different types of contacts. Each should be handled in a different way:

REGULAR CONTACTS
Many, if not most contacts are about the same old things. Handling these routine contacts should be standardised around what has been shown to work most effectively. If a customer is calling for a credit card balance request, staff shouldn’t be given leeway to answer the question in many different ways. As earlier work on SERVQUAL shows, customers prefer consistent service above all else.



IRREGULAR CONTACTS
But not all contacts are as routine or regular as a balance request. These irregular contacts should be handled through documented process best practice through decisions support systems and staff given the appropriate on-the-job training to carry them out. Staff should be given the leeway to apply the best practices, but shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

RARE OR NEW CONTACTS
Some contacts only occur rarely or are new. For example, contacts about a new marketing campaign. These should be handled through defined policies, process frameworks and knowledgeable, skilled, experienced staff. These obviusly, require creativity on the part of staff, but again, they shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel again. Very few marketing campaigns are radically different from those that have gone on before.

It goes without saying that each of the contacts should be learned from and Kaizened to improve them the next time round. That means making the contacts deliver better outcomes for customers, making the processes that deliver them more efficient and effective, and making it easier for staff to deliver first-class service.

As staff start on customer-facing duties, they should be given enough on-the-job and process training to start with standardised contacts. This is absolutely critical for success. Second-class, skimpy training results in third-class contacts. When staff have gained the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience with these sort of contacts, they can safely be moved up to the more difficult contacts.

Sounds easy. So why is it so hard to get right? Often it comes down to a combination of having the wrong people (low IQ or much worse, low EQ), not having properly defined customer handling processes and frameworks, not giving staff anywhere near enough on-the-job training, and plain stupid performance measures that encourage raw throughput rather than quality which only create further additional calls.

I work alongside a financial services call centre that takes thousands of calls per day and handles every one of them through this three-tiered approach. It has the highest customer satisfaction, highest staff satisfaction and independently measured call handling quality ratings in its industry. Proof that you can standardise most customer contacts and deliver a vastly superior customer experience at the same time.

What do you think? Can customer contacts be standardised and deliver the highest quality? Or is cutomer service still a craft industry?



Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

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