Solving a problem that a customer encounters is quintessential to a good service organisation. Answering this query in the most efficient manner is often the way that businesses measure their customer service experience. Does this make any sense? Is there some study conducted that I have yet to come across that suggests low handling time correlates to good customer experience?
Is there a business out there than measures true customer handling time? What I mean by this is that I have yet come across a company that truly measures the time it takes a customer to have their issue resolved - and holds themselves accountable to this metric.
True Customer Handling time (CHT) is the time a customer spends in a queue awaiting to be served plus the time they talk to a customer representative plus the time in transfer and the length of the next interaction and so on. Traditionally, AHT is the measure of the talk time and possibly some 'wrap up time'.
If you are not measuring Customer Handling Time then you are not really focused on the customer.
Choosing a new role as an up and coming leader can be a very difficult process and is one of those areas where I notice often paralyses normally decicive people. Most leaders are very good at objectively looking at new roles in comparison to status quo but often leave out some critical objectives which may make the decision making process must more effective.
The comment that I provide all of my mentees is "make sure you are the dumbest person in the team you are about to join". We all know the retention statistics tell us that the number one reason for people leaving a role is the relationship that person has with their manager. However, did you know that if you only look at 'leaders' and retention then the second most documented reason for leaving is the intellectual challenge that the role provides.
If all of your colleagues are not challenging you or provide you little peer learning, then you will find yourself in 6 months looking again for a new role. It's fascinating how much you grow when you are surrounded by excellence - Make sure you add that to your interview questions!
A leaders role in an organisation is to make important decisions that will benefit the business moving forward. One of the most important decisions leaders make regularly is choosing partners and employees to work with to help successful deployment of initiatives being undertaken. These decisions are critical and take much courage and intuition as well as good solid process to maximise the success of the outcome.
As a coach of many current and future leaders, I am amazed of how poorly these decisions are made. Not only are they made in a rush and without a structured process, they are also made with very little factual information.
Recently I was working with a leader who was making decisions on a provider of consulting services worth over $1M per year. The process to choose this partner was to submit a lengthy tender document answering almost 30 different topics and then a short list was to present face to face their value proposition.
This process was moving fine when I suggested that the evaluation committee really knows very little about the companies they are about to choose. Was there really any transparency in what the experience would be like as soon as the contract was signed? Did the team really understand what the experience would be like? And more importantly, had they had a chance to view the people who would be doing the work and working with their high potential team?
You see, these days it is really easy to look professional and talk a good game. Its now very cheap to have a WOW website and a professionally bound proposal document. The clues that were available in the past to show whether a company has viable credentials are now gone - its now a level playing field. It may look like you are getting amazing resources to work with (with all this fantastic experience) however when the contract is signed, this may be far from the truth.
On my advice, the evaluation team asked for their tenderers to present one more time with the person that will be conducting the service. Well, wasn't this a eye opener. The potential companies that seemed so sharp and polished in their 'sales' presentation crumbled under the pressure of a simple presentation and showed that it really is about the person you work with and not about the company name that sits on the proposal cover.
So, if you are hiring a consulting company to work with you or hiring a new person to join your team, don't be fooled by the 'sell job' - make them perform for you - it will save an awful amount of pain and management in the future.
I was amazed a few weeks ago to see one of our major airlines claiming 'we get you there on time'. Wow... when did doing what you are supposed to do become superior customer service and possibly a business differenciator? Have we become so average that just doing what we are in business to do becomes something to market ourselves... come on!
Amazing customer service comes from doing something that surprises and delights customers. Its a sad day if just doing what you are supposed to do delights your customers. If it does, then pick up your game and make a real difference.
As customers of all types of products and services, lets make a pact not to reward companies that just turn up. Lets reward those who take their role seriously and WOW us .... and make sure you let so many people know. Together we need to teach all organisations to get serious about us, the customers... or find something else to do..... and do it with passion!
As a manager, we all know that overused cliche that our time is precious. There are always more things to do in a day than there is time to complete these tasks. When you look at the activity we do as managers it predominantly is made up of making decisions. In any one day, scores of decisions get made. Some of these decisions are easy and rely on your strength as a manager, and others rely on group consensus due to the complexity or broad nature of the issue. Either way, your business relies on you making decisions, and the RIGHT ONES!! As business becomes leaner and fewer resources are expected to deliver more, decisions need to be made faster to keep up with the workload. Smaller amounts of time to make decisions are expected without compromising on the decision quality. As managers find themselves running out of time to make decisions, the era's of ‘empowerment’ and ‘workforce engagement’ echo down the corridors. “Allow the one’s with the knowledge to make the decision”. Business upon business felt the pain of poor decisions. ‘We empower them and all they do is take advantage of the situation and make the decision suit them’. So where does that leave us? Managers took back the responsibility and added hours to their day to suit. Was empowerment the wrong strategy? Why are there so many different opinions for the same decision? The solution is simple, get your people to make decisions like you do!! Sounds tough? ‘How do I get them all to think like me?’ Well firstly, lets analyse how you make decisions…. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, good managers all go through a systematic process to make a decision. Initially, they are very clear on what decision has to be made. From there they mentally list out what are the benefits to the business this decision must uphold. Almost automatically they weigh these benefits to ones that are very important to others which are ‘nice to have’. With these weighted benefits, options can now be rationally evaluated to their ability to satisfy the business need. And finally, a risk assessment of making this decision is run to ensure nothing drastic can go wrong. So, if this is the way you make decisions, what needs to be done to make your people do the same? Lets run through some basic steps that will bring back your faith in empowerment and provide you with spare hours in the day:
This type of decision making process can be documented on one sheet. Not pages and pages of supporting data, reports, road tests and salesman glossies! It’s direct, to the point, completely focussed on your business direction and rational. What else could you ask from your employees? There are many examples of where this system works extremely well and allows an empowered workforce make the decision like the manager would. Some that come to mind are: Capital Expenditure:- Imagine how easy it would be if your CAPEX system followed this path. Forget the pages and pages of ‘justifications’. Just one page (with supporting data if necessary). Objectives for the purchase (in line with the business), options to satisfy the business needs scored up and risks on choosing any of the options. What an easy way to signoff!Suppliers:- ‘There isn’t a month that goes by where some salesman is trying to get me to change my supplier of product X’. Now you have a system to evaluate these potential ‘opportunities’. Rationally put the new supplier against your current supplier to see if their offering holds true to your business objectives. Your Purchasing personnel may not even have to bother you as they are making decisions in line with best business practices!Project Choices:- With 50 projects on the run at any one time, its no wonder your people do not have time to keep the business ticking over! Now you have a way of choosing projects to work on that fit the business objectives. How do the projects rate? How many projects do we need to run to satisfy this years targets? Ordering projects in line with business objectives is one of the best ways to ensure that you are working on the right things to make a difference. And if another project arises? But it through the project prioritiser and see if it does need to start immediately or wait its turn!! Hiring personnel:- What are the business objectives for the hire of this new position in the company? What data do you need to be able to evaluate each candidate rationally? What is the risk of taking this particular candidate. Again, following a rational approach will not only allow you to evaluate candidates in terms of the business objectives, it ensures that whoever is doing the interviewing comes out with the same outcome as others. You have taken out the ‘bias’.
- Make it visible:- Often, the reason why your people do not make decisions the same way you do is that they never see it! The process you use to make decisions is all in your head! Making your thinking visible is the first step in allowing your people to get an insight into the way you do things and sets the expectation of what is expected from them.
- Formulate a Decision Statement:- Be very clear to your people what it is you want decided. Sounds easy but you would be surprised on how many times decisions are doomed from the start because what needs to be decided is unclear.
- Be clear on the objectives or benefits of the decision:- This is the critical step which will make or break the process. Formulation of objectives for the decision will not only ensure that a consistent focus on the business is held constant, it will also ensure bias on options are minimised and the best option for the business will emerge.
- Rate your objectives to the business goals:- Some objectives are worth more than others. For instance, minimise ease of operation may rate much higher than maximise transportability. If this is so, it should influence the decision more and hold greater influence in the decision.
- Evaluate Options to weighted Objectives:- Now is the time to be rational!! Look at the options that will satisfy the decision and evaluate them to your objectives. Doing this will ensure that options which satisfy objectives important to your business will rate higher than those who don’t. Now your business is deciding on the best option, not the personality!!!
- Check for adverse consequences:- Even though the option satisfies the business objectives perfectly, does not mean that this is the best choice. There may be some very logical reasons why this option will fail. For instance, imagine that you buy some equipment from a new supplier which looks great and comes at a great price. You change from your current reliable supplier and find out that 3 months after your purchase, the model you purchased is out of date and no longer supported. If this was a risk at the start, you may not be willing to take that risk for the short term gain.
- Make the best balanced choice:- Now is the time to make the choice. You have your options scored and the risks documented. Are you willing to accept the risk on your top scoring option? What about the option that scored second? Its all about benefits verses risk.
I just love going down to my local shopping centre and watching pure, honest, undiluted customer service act itself out right in front of my very eyes. It's just fantastic and I cannot get enough of it. Minute after minute moments of truth are played out without any owner noticing, without any financial transaction occuring but activities that will shape that business for the next 12 months!
Stores that are opened 10 minutes late after keen customers are lined up. A store assistant that saw a man struggling to get a product promptly help him and offer a smile and a conversation that made his day. A manager that compliments a customer on their choice and asks whether they have a passion in this particular area. All actions that will shape the future of these organisations.
As managers, how do we allow these moments of truth to slip under our radar. Oh yes, we were ensuring the cash register was stocked or the emails from overnight from our manager were promptly answered. Are we for real?
What drives a business to greatness? Yes, its those transactions that happen day in, day out that make a customers day who in turn, tells every one they meet that day and the weekend how great an experience they had. And who remember that transation FOREVER!
Its not about amazing offers, quirky store fronts or flyers promising 50% off (on selected items) - it's about connecting with your customers and providing them an experience. Caring about their needs and listening to their desires. If you start to know your customers (really know them not what an inventory report tells you), your whole life and business will change. No longer will you stress about the next stock line and what will work - you'll know. No longer will you worry about next months sales - you'll know. No longer will you ponder whether that decision was the right one - you'll know..... because the very people you are trying to predict and guess their next move will tell you!!!
Make sure you are listening and not out the back of the store!
I read the most disturbing article recently about one of the major airlines deciding to focus on Customer Service as it was costing the airline over $1oo million each year in complaints and refunds to disgruntled customers. It was particularly sad as it looked from the outside that the motive for Customer Service was loss of money (cost savings) rather than happy, fulfilled customers.
The more I thought about this article, the more it dawned on me that businesses view Customer Service from the wrong angle. Saving costs and linkage to customer service is a very short term strategy and one almost certain to fail. As you reduce the costs associated with the customer to a level where the successes get smaller and smaller what happens next? Focus will move from Customer Service to something else and back comes the cost.
Is Customer Service activity really just masquerading cost savings? Are companies who pronounce so loudly that they are all for the customer just trying to reduce what they give a customer? Have we all moved so far away from how we should treat each other (customers and neighbours alike) and just reverting to generic policy & procedure type rhetoric?
Then there are the loyalty programs - truly customer centric companies do not need such gimmicks as they know that the customer will not be leaving them or recommending someone else any time soon. Loyalty programs are the 'lock them in' programs that allow for all poor customer experience to be traded off for monetary reward….. it's sad how it has got to this.
My real estate agent has locked me in for life. His brand of service, loyalty and expertise has ensured that I will always use him for moving and buying. Similarly the recruitment agent I use and the car salesman where I buy my cars. All of these individuals have changed companies that they work for but I never worry about the brand on their business card or the Mission Statement that greets me when I meet them in their office. What brings be back is utterly brilliant customer service.
Let me give you a challenge for the next year. I want you to look at your business and your revenue forecasts and have a sales target in each month for 'loyalty'. What I mean by this is that there should be a silent sales person working for your business that is driven by truly great customer service. Get this right and they will outsell any of your current staff - hands down!
I am always amazed that customer service is a differenciator. It's like saying that collecting payment and managing stock levels is a differenciator. Arn't all of these fundamental business processes?
Recently I had an experience that suggests customer service is optional and if you find a company that really provides exceptional service then never leave.
The experience was with a major utility supplier. I have been a customer with them for many years and really had little to do with them as my billing seemed ok and the service was reliable. Recently, a door to door sales person approached me and asked whether I might like to switch over to their organisation as they could provide a better price than my current provider (about 10% cheaper) and loyalty programs etc. Whilst this sounded great, I thought I would contact my provider (as we have had a long relationship together and I am a firm believer of give everyone an opportunity to save a customer) to see if they were truly interested in my business and could remind me of all the reasons why I have been happy for years. Well, after one hour of unsuccessfully trying to find a contact number to call them I resorted to using their customer service 'drop box'. I am guessing they call it this as it drops off the face of the earth!
Five days later (yes five!) I get an email in my inbox titled "Response to your Enquiry - Ref ENET-22333TW". In the body of the email, I kid you not it says:
"Thank you for your enquiry. I have passed your information onto our Customer Service team for processing. If you require any further customer service support please do not hesitate to contact us at our website dropbox".
You must be kidding me! Five days to tell me you have passed my request from a Customer Service Rep to another Customer Service Rep and please contact us if you require any more support! Well, yes I do need some more support - answer the question! It is now Day 10 and still no contact ..... wow!
Lets break this issue down a little (as I am sure you have many examples like this as well). I have emailed a company virtually saying "I am about to leave you - would you like the chance to save me". If this was your business at what urgency would you take this request? Imagine one of your customers says, "I am about to go to your competitor but I wanted to let you know so that you could help me stay 'cause I like you". Talk about a clear signal. I bet all of you would be on the phone within the half hour or more probably with them face to face to work through the situation.
Have we got so fat and lazy that even when our customers say "I am going" we think "ok, whatever.... you'll be back because the competition is not much better". How big is the opportunity in our world to be amazing?
Being placed in a Leadership role is a real honour. Lets break it down, you are being now responsible for the development, direction and ultimately success of your direct reports .... how amazing is that. In most cultures and even in the animal world this responsibility is given only to the best.
One thing that just blows me away is how little we think about the honour that has been bestowed upon us. This is a big deal and many leaders really only see this as a wrung in the ladder to getting to the top (whatever that means). Being a true leader means making a difference to a whole group of others lives. The old adage 'its all about me' does not fit here - its all about them!
Imagine turning up to work tomorrow and the only thing that was on your 'to do' list was - Make a significant difference to the lives and careers of all your direct reports. I can tell you now, all the goals you have set or been set by your manager would be achieved twice over.
Real Amazing Leaders harness the skills and passions of their people and make them reach for the stars - its your job to allow them to do it.