Painting A Customer Service Strategy: session 6

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This session explores continuity and capability.

The first is about staying on track with your customer service strategy even when those in charge keep leaving.

The second explores the likely range of options for developing your customer service strategy in the first place.

Achieving Strategic Continuity Even When Leaders Go AWOL

Let’s deal with continuity first. Do a search on Linkedin for director level people with ‘customer service’ in their title. Pick a random selection from the search results and review their CVs. You will find that most trade jobs within a 24 month period. Good for them maybe. Bad for strategic intent.

So what’s to be done? If previous customer service strategy can get wiped so often, can the organisation develop a coping strategy? I believe so and here it is. Untried as far as I am aware. Waiting for the first innovative brand to make the most of the idea. This is it in a nutshell.

Q. How can organisations reconcile careerism with the need for continuity and long term commitment to excellence?

A. Curate a ‘Magna Carta‘ that is inherited by each generation of leadership, who could refresh but not nullify that strategic direction

In tandem with this idea is a recalibration of how these AWOL leaders should be motivated.

If an organisation’s rate of attrition mirrors the trend described here, then a better way to fund this is to make the job a project based one, calibrated against the next set of strategic milestones in the ‘Magna Carta’ plan. Thus they are paid handsomely on deliverables not duration.

Help! Customer Service Has No Tradition Of Strategic Thinking

Back in the first session of this series, I stated from my own frequent polling of conference and best practice audiences that less than 10% ever claimed to having a customer service strategy. To state the blindingly obvious, that means the overwhelming majority of service teams have no practical experience in either design or use. And that probably includes the new director who turns up every two years!

The management implications are pretty clear. So what’s to be done? Here are some ideas you can build on.

  • If the culture of strategy development and execution is foreign to Customer Service but thrives elsewhere in the organisation, then the transfer of best practice through mentoring and ‘field visits’ to strategically driven functions should be encouraged by the executive.
  • If strategy is an unknown throughout the business or if the ability to transfer that expertise is not practical, then external expertise ought to be considered with the proviso that the development of a customer service strategy is a shared task and a future in-house planning process is put in place as one of the key deliverables.
  • If none of the above proves possible, then the questions and suggestions provided in this series could be used as a template for a self run workshop by the customer service leadership. The only cost is their time and the necessary biscuits!
  • For those starting out, it is worth repeating that it is more effective to build your plan in stages over the course of a year than achieve an unfinished masterpiece superseded by market events.
  • The framework for business cases in customer services ought to be reviewed in the light of whether they incentive successful change. This can be established by digging out the last few years’ worth of business cases and comparing the intended benefits with whatever has been realised. The gap will almost inevitably raise questions.
  • The way in which tasks in the annual planning process are divided up amongst functions should be reviewed to establish if this helps or hinders the cause of joined up customer management. Possible candidates for closer collaboration are Sales, Marketing, Customer Service (both call centre and online). Alternatively the executive could provide a visionary set of unifying guidelines to align these plans if there is anyone at that level capable of such articulation.
  • Once a strategic plan emerges, revisit everything that is affected. Job profiles, competency development, remuneration, business case logic, budgetary allocation and so on. Avoid the mistake of having a perfect plan being undermined by tactical misalignment.
  • Finally the litmus test of a customer service strategy is to become a customer of your own organisation. Live and breathe the experience. If it makes you proud, then you are on track. If not, learn and get back to the drawing board.

I hope something in that list sparked off a useful idea of your own. Let me know.

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