The American Customer Service Index recently released fourth quarter results. The good news is the index is at its highest overall level since 1995. Does this mean that the focus on customers is finally successful? Only if you think a score of 74 out of a possible 100 is acceptable. At best, it is a C grade; at worst, it is a C minus.
One would think that the billions of dollars spent on customer service initiatives from customer relationship management (CRM) to loyalty programs would result in a much higher grade. The primary problem is that companies are addressing service issues from their perspective. They should be focused on understanding and fulfilling their customers’ needs and wants. Admittedly, it is much easier to seek pricing and technology solutions than it is to identify and resolve service issues. Low-price leaders capture marketshare quickly. They also lose it unless they can continue to offer low prices or convince customers that there is another reason to remain loyal. Technology promises immediate resolution of service challenges. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.
For example, customers complain that it takes too long to receive their orders. Instead of seeking an internal solution by identifying and eliminating constraints, companies offer the customer real-time order status information. The only time that the order status matters to the customer is when the company is not fulfilling their promise.
Customers want seamless service. They want to place an order and know that it will arrive when (or before) promised. If an order is delayed, they want to be notified as quickly as possible. They do not want to remember that the order was due two days ago, log on to the Website and navigate to an order status report.
Tomorrow’s market share belongs to the companies that offer seamless service. Ironically, improving service often reduces costs and increases productivity. Some tips to get you started:
- Identify the worst customer service issue in your company and work to eliminate it. Then move to the next issue and continue until you have seamless service.
- Always utilize internal resources before seeking external solutions. It will empower your employees, improve your service and reduce your costs.
- Strive for consistency in all areas of your business. Start with consistency between marketing and operations. This means that the fulfillment will always meet or exceed the promise.
- Set realistic goals and reward your team when they are met. Goals give purpose; rewards encourage repeat performance.
- Think from your customers’ perspective when implementing solutions. Inspiring customers to act is challenging. (Ask any marketing director.) If any solution requires an increase in customers’ actions, then seek alternatives. The objective is to minimize customers’ involvement in the service process.
Debra Ellis is founder of Barnardsville, NC-based Wilson & Ellis Consulting, a marketing and operations consultancy.