By Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst, Strategies For Growth
“Best-in-class” customer service and support is what all services organizations strive to achieve. However, many experts suggest that attaining best-in-class status in all aspects of customer service is – well – impossible. Even the very best customer service-focused organizations typically have one or more areas where they are not able to provide best-in-class customer support. However, whether a best-in-class organization really does – or can – exist, one thing remains absolutely clear: your organization must do everything it can to be perceived by its customers as being as close to best-in-class as possible.
In order to effectively move toward attaining best-in-class status, service organizations need to rely heavily on the formulation, development, and implementation of best practices to support their customer service operations. The United States Government, General Accounting Office (GAO), defines best practices as “the processes, practices, or systems identified in public and private organizations that perform exceptionally well and are widely recognized as improving an organization's performance and efficiency in specific areas.” The agency goes on to say that, “successfully identifying and applying best practices can reduce business expenses and improve organizational efficiency.”
However, in order to actually know whether your organization is currently performing at – or near – a best-in-class level, you will first need to benchmark exactly where your company stands with respect to the customer service performance of other organizations both in and outside of your field. This, of course, is commonly known as benchmarking. The American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) defines benchmarking as “the process of improving performance by continuously identifying, understanding, and adapting outstanding practices and processes found inside and outside the organization.”
We like to define best-in-class primarily as “customer service performance that successfully addresses the gap between the organization’s performance and the customers’ needs and requirements, and taking the necessary steps to close that performance gap.” While this may not take you all the way to a best-in-class level compared against all industries and all other service providers, it will at least take you to where you are providing the highest levels of customer service and support you possibly can.
The GAO suggests the following guidelines as to what best-in-class is all about, based on the results of the benchmarking research it has conducted in the private sector:
1. Make it easy for your customers to voice their concerns, and your customers will make it easy for you to improve.
Nobody likes to receive constructive criticism or have someone complain about their customer service performance to a supervisor. However, you should accept every customer-voiced concern or complaint as just another one of your marching orders to improve – or fine-tune – your organization's customer service and support skills.
2. Listen to the voice of the customer.
Customer service leaders demonstrate their commitment to resolving customer concerns by listening directly to the voice of the customer. By investing your time in communications with your customers, the payoff will be an easier path to get the job done – regardless of whether it is a service call, responding to a customer request or inquiry, or anything else that the customer feels is important.
3. Respond to customer concerns quickly and courteously with common sense, and you will improve customer loyalty.
Customers tend to reward providers who can quickly – and repeatedly – resolve their problems by remaining loyal customers. Quick problem resolution can add greatly to the foundation that you are trying to build in support of customer loyalty.
4. Resolve problems on the initial contact - build customer confidence, and save money.
A customer callback that requires two or more company personnel to follow-up will typically cost much more than a call that was handled right the first time. Resolving a customer problem on the initial contact can also significantly build the level of confidence your customer has in your organization’s ability to get the job done. And once you earn this level of trust, it will be difficult to lose it.
5. Technology utilization is critical in problem resolution.
Your company probably already uses a number of technology-based tools to support your field engineers’ ability to quickly resolve customer problems – but they need to use them! These tools should be used – as a matter of course – as support in providing customers with quick and effective service.
6. Continue to train your employees in customer service and support.
Regardless of what customer service training you may have provided to your employees in the past, chances are they already need more training in order to remain effective. There are always new technologies and tools being developed to support their ability to provide best-in-class customer support.
7. Focus on getting the job done; not just dealing with the symptoms.
If routine equipment and/or customer problems are effectively being resolved initially at the front-line, company management can focus more on improving the core processes, policies, and guidelines that drive customer service performance and customer satisfaction throughout the organization. Best-in-class companies use formal processes to, first, identify the problems and then to empower their employees to resolve them as quickly as possible.
The main lessons to be learned from approaching customer service from a best-in-class perspective are as follows:
All of the tools you need to become a best-in-class provider are already in your hands, but you have to make them available to all of your employees – along with the empowerment to use them!