Make Sure Your Entire Organization Is on the Same Path


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Company XYZ (a real company, whose name I’m withholding) has an extensive toll-free customer service program. The company makes a technical product, and its 125 major customers can lose a lot of income if the product fails. Thus, when any of these 125 major customers call, they are supposed to receive exceptionally attentive service. The key measurement of success, as defined by the management of the customer service program, was the time to the restoration of performance for the equipment. They focused on getting the product working, even with fixes that were known to be only temporary until a more permanent fix could be delivered or shipped. They did everything they could to get the customer “up and running” as quickly as possible.

But, like too many organizations, Company XYZ’s metrics were not predictive of its success with customers.

Sure, over time, the numbers improved significantly. Customer service cut the time that the product was down by a huge amount relative to what it had been before. Executives couldn’t wait to see the results of their next customer satisfaction survey to witness the accolades of their customers. The data arrived. The customers had not noticed! Their votes did not reflect the change in performance!

What went wrong?

I conducted some interviews of XYZ’s customers to try to find out. They indicated that their primary need was to have the product performing as quickly as possible when they called. They had often tried repairs and maintenance to restore product service on their own before they called XYZ, so by the time they called, it was costing them a significant amount of money. It sounded as though management had identified the correct metric: the time to restoration of performance. So where was the disconnect?

By the time they called, it was costing them a significant amount of money.

The customers indicated that their frustration with XYZ began with the first person who answered the call. The representatives asked for the customer’s contract number, the product serial number and other details to make sure customers were entitled to service and to make sure the XYZ engineer had access to the appropriate information. The customers were very concerned with restoring performance, and the delays in establishing entitlement were very frustrating and costly. It was only after they were shown to be entitled that an engineer received the call and got to work restoring performance.

As far as the customer was concerned, the clock started when the product went down. As far as Company XYZ was concerned, the clock started when the call was transferred to the engineer! XYZ did not count the time and resulting frustration for the entitlement part of the call!
Thus, the engineers had greatly improved the time it took them to restore product performance, but the customer had not noticed because that part of the service call was preceded by a lengthy entitlement process, often lasting more than 15 minutes! There were only 125 of these customers, but they were being treated as if there were thousands. The customers wondered how hard it would be to have an alphabetical list of the 125 customers with the associated contract numbers.

When Company XYZ looked into redesigning the entitlement process, it turned out that the people who answered the call and executed the entitlement process did not even report to the same vice president as the service engineers! Thus, the issue of measuring and improving their performance was a difficult issue to control. What was their motivation? To save Company XYZ the cost of servicing equipment that was not entitled to coverage, not to service the customer as quickly as possible.

Thus, the metrics for success were not defined in the same way within the company as they were by the customers. The company had two different metrics for success on the different parts of the call: one to save money (entitlement) and one to service the customer quickly (the service engineer). These very frustrated and unhappy customers were their best customers! Once the company addressed the issue organizationally and with internal metrics that were aligned, the scores began to reflect what the internal metrics had predicted: satisfied customers.

Chris Stiehl
Chris has helped companies save money and sell more by understanding their customers better. He once saved a company $3 million per year for a one-time research expense of $2K. What does your competition know about your customer that you don't know?


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