Revolutionizing Customer Service

Getting customer interactions right has never been more important, especially since social media has given disgruntled customers a stronger voice. many companies want to raise their level of service, but the question is, how?

the typical response is to rewrite frontline employee scripts and pilot projects. those tactics can lead to gradual improvement, which is fine for a company whose customer service operation is doing reasonably well. But if the deal breaks down badly, or the company’s industry is disrupted and customers suddenly have a wider range of choices, Singapore-based researchers and consultants Jochen Wirtz and Ron Kaufman recommend a deeper culture shift. . Based on 25 years of work with global customer service operations, they suggest discarding four conventional practices, alone or in combination.

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don’t start with customer-oriented employees.

instead, make sure they get enough support. After all, customer service representatives generally understand the importance of satisfied customers; often the real problem lies in the logistics, that or some other back-end function that doesn’t meet the needs of front-line colleagues. When that’s the case, efforts to retrain customer-facing employees can waste time and lead to frustration. so include everyone in service training and pay special attention to internal service providers.

In 2009, Nokia Siemens Networks started a training program for its frontline sales and service representatives, to no avail. Their efforts to be more responsive to customers depended on greater responsiveness from the company’s software developers and factory employees, who saw little reason to change and found many of their colleagues’ requests unreasonable or unreasonable. unnecessary. after several unproductive months, the firm also included those functions in the training program. over the next year, their satisfaction scores increased by up to 20% among key customers.

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do not focus training on specific skills or scripts.

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educate employees more generally on what “service excellence” means.

Businesses spend large sums of money training employees to follow procedures and flowcharts when interacting with customers. (“if the customer says x, reply with y”), they can then monitor phone calls or use “mystery shoppers” to ensure compliance with the new rules. but heavily scripted employees are often less able to be imaginative or empathetic about a customer’s true needs.

a better approach is to persuade employees to commit to a holistic definition of service: creating value for others, inside and outside the organization. teach them to appreciate customer concerns first and only then to take action. They must continually ask themselves, who am I going to serve and what do they need and value most?

“people were wondering, is this guy crazy?”

Mauritius-based Naiade Resorts was struggling with low occupancy rates and mounting losses when the global recession hit. Paul Jones, who became its CEO in 2010, changed the company name to Lux Resorts and initiated a focus on creative personalized service. Instead of training workers to take specific actions, he launched an educational program aimed at getting them to anticipate and understand guest priorities and maximize service opportunities. two years after the initiative began, four of the five luxury properties in mauritius were on tripadvisor’s top 10 list for that country. financial results followed suit, with revenue, profit and profit increasing by more than 300% in three years.

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do not pilot changes.

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conventional wisdom calls for limited experiments that, if successful, are then implemented more widely. that can work for small adjustments, but for more radical reforms, companies need to build momentum quickly and set their sights high.

in 2012, air mauritius could not afford gradual change: in addition to $30 million in losses, low customer service ratings and low staff morale, it faced union dissatisfaction, increased competition from middle eastern airlines and rates unfavorable exchange rates. The new CEO, Andre Viljoen, knew that his goals (a return to profitability and a four-star rating) required him, in the words of the researchers, to “go big and go fast.” he conducted leadership workshops for senior managers, “train-the-trainer” programs for select employees, and a two-day course on service problem solving for all workers. an interdisciplinary team conceived and implemented new actions, including improved food and liquor service and inflight entertainment, improved inflight provisions for children, and a new airport lounge. Not only were viljoen’s profitability and rating targets met, but air mauritius made skytrax’s list of “10 Most Improved Airlines”, the ratio of customer praise to complaints increased 12-fold and churn of employees fell below 5%.

don’t track traditional metrics.

Instead of worrying about typical measures of customer satisfaction, such as portfolio share and net promoter scores, organizations should look at the number of new value-added service ideas being put into practice. It’s not that conventional metrics are unimportant, the researchers say, but because they are “lagging indicators,” they can bog down efforts to achieve rapid and dramatic change.

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For many years, Nokia Siemens Networks measured customer satisfaction with a survey, one that eventually grew to more than 150 questions and produced far more data than the company could understand or use. “So we started over,” says Jeffrey Becksted, former global head of service excellence. In 2010, the company abandoned the quantitative approach and asked customers for open assessments of the most recent service month and desired service actions for the following month. The change shifted the employees’ focus: Instead of trying to hit a specific satisfaction score, they thought of ways to make customers happier. says becksted, “it’s not how well you did but how [the client] sees you in the future.”

Not all businesses require the radical overhaul that these approaches are intended to achieve. At Disney, Zappos and Ritz-Carlton, for example, service excellence already permeates every level. and counter-intuitive approaches generally won’t work if not strongly endorsed by top leaders. “It’s not a coincidence that many of these projects have been started by a new CEO,” Wirtz and Kaufman point out. But for companies looking to differentiate in service, whether it’s because of competing products, shrinking margins, or changing consumer expectations, these strategies can make the difference between slow, temporary progress and rapid, sustainable success.

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