If you ever have a great customer service experience, what thoughts go through your mind? Given the generally low standard of service these days it was probably “WOW!” The key question is ‘Was it a one-off or is this level of service consistent for the supplier?’ The former means you spoke to someone who overcame the normal customer service processes, policies and metrics or was someone with whom you had a natural rapport. This is known as ‘service by default’. However the latter means service quality has been institutionalized within that organization and this is known as ‘service by design’. This is what separates average companies from great ones. But how is it achieved?
It starts with an understanding that great service experiences contribute to customer loyalty and long term value. They also lead to high employee morale. In these enlightened organizations service is part of customer management and measured in the same way as sales and marketing activities. Customer processes are designed around customer needs and, where necessary, cross functional boundaries. But processes are not enough. The culture of the service operation must be consistent with the processes; including decision-making authority, team management style, reward & recognition, training & development, knowledge sharing and, of course, performance metrics are all part of the jigsaw puzzle that is service culture. If any of these are out of alignment with the goals, the result is inconsistency – and inconsistency is the enemy of great service.
One company I know spent millions of dollars re-designing their processes. They gave their frontline people a high level of decision-making authority and trained them on how to apply this increased level of flexibility. However when they rolled out the new processes both customer and employee satisfaction went down. Why? Because they hadn’t changed the performance metrics and the reward & recognition for the frontline people, both of which were transactional and focused on minimizing call handling times. Many of the frontline people couldn’t resolve the ambiguity of higher customer expectations with the way they were managed, measured and rewarded and so decided to opt for the old way – getting off the phone as fast as possible. No-one gets fired for doing that.
Culture is a complex matter. I see many companies with wonderful values printed on posters around the offices and on the walls of its call centers. But it’s the management behaviors that really count. That’s what people see and emulate. It defines ‘What it’s like to work round here’. I don’t know who said “I judge people by their actions, not their pious statements of intent” but it’s a great mantra for developing a strong service culture and is the very essence of leadership.