Communication is the Key to Customer Service Excellence
If you are a regular reader of our blog you will know by now that we love a good process!!!
We have invested huge amounts of energy to build our service operation on solid processes which are scalable and repeatable; allowing us to take on new customers, new staff members and new challenges with the minimum of fuss. That said, however, I really believe that process counts for nothing without first-rate communication… and that first-rate communication is the key to Customer Service Excellence.
Strong processes are like the foundations of a building – they have to be there or the whole thing will collapse. You may get away without them for a while, but in time everything will crumble. Especially in Service Delivery!
But just like foundations are to buildings, strong processes are not the end product in themselves. They underpin the final product – they enable a quality outcome – but there is a lot of work to do on top of the process to deliver what customers want, which is great service… and that always comes down to the staff you have and how well they communicate.
For the purposes of this article, let’s take the staff’s technical capability as a given. The real key to delivering a level of service that delights customers is excellent communication at all levels. If you put two companies side by side both with identical processes to deliver the work, the one which would excel hands-down every time is the one which best communicates both with their customers and internally.
We make sure that every member of staff understands that they have a responsibility to handle customer interactions properly – that means listening first to understand what the customer wants before offering up solutions.
If the role is Sales or Account Management, our staff obviously have targets to meet… but those targets will take care of themselves if a proper relationship is established where we always listen to our customers and respond to their needs, without trying to push forwards a product or feature-set at every interaction.
Sometimes the customer just wants to open up and offload their stress, other times they want to let us know that there is an opportunity for us to improve if we make a tweak to a process for them and then there are the times where they need a solution. Don’t prejudge – engage with the customer in an open way every time you interact and you’ll soon establish a relationship based on trust which results in win-win outcomes…take the long term view.
If the role is more technically oriented, in Solutions or a Service Delivery capacity, again it’s about listening first and then working through the options with the customer to get to a successful outcome.
If a user calls the Service Desk and feels like the process is too scripted and that the attempts to resolve the issue are too “playbook” the actual customer-experience won’t be great – it may be functional and get there in the end, but our many years of service delivery experience have taught us that we solve problems for customers more efficiently AND effectively if we listen first and then adapt our resolution process to meet their needs. It helps us get to the root of the problem faster and makes the customer feel part of the process… that way we end up with happy customers that stay around for the long-term – which is what it’s all about really.
When communicating internally there are a few important points:
1) Consistency. It’s clear and obvious that in any organisation performance improves if everyone pulls in the same direction. That direction is set by the Leadership Team and requires ALL levels of management to cascade it down consistently, and enforce it with positive supporting action. As soon as someone in the management structure, whether senior or mid-level, acts in a way that is inconsistent with the message a huge amount of damage is caused that takes more than twice the effort to repair it.
2) Honesty. All staff need to feel that they can honestly voice their opinions and speak up when things need improvement. Directness (with Respect… see the next point) should be encouraged in a professional environment as the best way to get results is by openly addressing problems and then working together to overcome them. If, for whatever reason (usually based on fear… fear of not being listened to, fear of upsetting someone, fear of being wrong, etc.) staff don’t feel like they could or should call out then things tend to stay broken. When delivering Services, this element is vital – someone somewhere will always know how to solve a technical puzzle… it’s usually simply a case of getting the right people involved. But if the individual that’s been assigned the problem doesn’t feel like they can shout for help without it reflecting negatively on them then the process will be extremely inefficient and (most crucially) the customer experience will be terrible.
3) Respect. This goes hand-in-glove with the above point on Honesty. If someone is going to speak up and criticise something, they need to do it constructively and with respect. If someone has asked for help, those responding should do it respectfully – the person asking for help has been brave and honest enough to put their hand up so now those helping out need to act positively too. It’s these behaviours that encourages staff to voice their opinions and work openly together to achieve the best outcomes… ultimately leading to great customer experiences.
4) Reward. Finally, the Leadership and Management team(s) need to actively reward and encourage positive demonstrations of the above behaviours. This completes the circle and makes sure all staff feel encouraged to act in the way the company wants and, most importantly, in a way which delivers excellent customer service.
As with all of our articles, I hope you have found that interesting and useful. If you would like to discuss any other the points join in the discussion below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org