Six keys to exceptional customer service
I am about to co-present at the SAP World Tour 2010 event in Toronto, tomorrow, with Illumiti customer Joanne Hodge, VP and CIO at TheMIGroup - a global provider of Relocation and Assignment Management programs. The topic of our presentation is "Redefining Exceptional Customer Service" and I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to summarize my perspective into six key points.
Is it important?
While each of the six points plays a crucial role in achieving customer service excellence, one might ask if such a high level of customer service is actually crucial to the achievement of great business performance. An Aberdeen Group report, "Executive Dashboards - The Key to Unlocking Double Digit Profit Growth", published May 2009, provides interesting data points and analysis based upon a survey covering 285 companies of different sizes. The Aberdeen Group clusters the surveyed companies into three levels - Best in Class (20%), Industry Average (50%) or Laggard (30%). This is based on their practices and achievements in the areas of Process, Organization, Knowledge, Technology and Performance.
An analysis of the surveyed companies' business performance shows a strong correlation between modest improvements in Customer Service and Sales Performance and drastic improvements in Operating Profit. The Best In Class companies clearly also exhibit the best level of YoY improvement in customer service.
- Identify and address the factors that really make a difference to your customers
How often do you come across customer service departments optimized to keep customers off the company's back rather than being designed to effectively address customer needs?
The Aberdeen Group found a staggering difference between the level of end-user satisfaction in Best in Class companies and the corresponding level in all other companies. This is illustrated by the chart below.
- Identify your different customers and prioritise investments
For a business to enjoy long-term success and continuous growth, its entire eco-system needs to be successful. This, in effect, means that the customers of the business are not only those who pay for its products and services - but also its own employees, corporate management, business partners and suppliers. This view may even extend to its paying customer's customers or employees. Having built an understanding of who all these customer categories are and what they might expect of you as your customers - you're in able to prioritise related service improvement initiatives.
- Empower your customer-facing employees to go the extra mile
In an article published by Canadian Business Magazine in the September 13th, 2010 issue, Richard Branson tells the story of a Virgin Atlantic agent. She went out of her way to turn a stressed-out angry passenger into a grateful and happy customer, only to be reprimanded by her supervisor for not adhering to a standard procedure. According to Branson "No company can train its front-end people to handle every situation, but you can strive to create an environment in which they can feel at ease 'doing as they would be done by." The supervisor was later reminded how important Virgin thinks it is to "catch people doing something right."
- Run the full life-cycle
Excellent business performance is achieved through a closed-loop cycle of strategy & prioritization; planning & execution; monitoring & analysis; and finally modeling & optimization - feeding back into the strategy. This cycle enables organizational learning and continuous improvement, which are just as critical to Customer Service as they are to other areas.
- Turn data to information and action in real-time
There was a time when successful businesses could execute the life-cycle described above over very long durations. Monitoring and analysis might be quarterly, weekly or daily. Modeling and optimization might occur annually or even less frequently. The pace of business today is such that more and more companies need to implement real-time monitoring and analysis to be able to modify the execution of day-to-day business operations "mid-flight." Automated alerts and escalations; dynamic resource allocation; real-time routing; dynamic sourcing; and fraud prevention are only a few examples where the ability to make both machine and human decisions in real-time is a competitive necessity.
Transactional systems, customer-interaction channels, document management, reports & dashboards, event-driven alerts, data warehouses and analytics all need to be integrated to enable a business to run real-time closed-loop processes. Richard Branson said that "A weak link can break the chain of good service." I'd like to suggest that in addition to the five other key factors mentioned above, a weak level of integration between your IT systems can break your drive to provide excellent customer service - while a well-integrated environment can enable it!
The full Aberdeen Group report mentioned in this post is available for download here.