This fourth session in the series on Customer Service Strategy looks at real world deliverables.
By this I mean what you actually deliver to your customers as a portfolio of services. In previous posts we have talked about:
- How to re-frame the perceived value of Customer Services to the rest of your organisation – session one
- The impact that service needs to have on customers – session two
- The importance of people and culture in the delivery of service excellence – session three
However we are still missing something. In fact something pretty crucial. It’s clarity and definition around what we are offering to customers. Before you pooh pooh this as only an issue for rank amateurs, stop and have a think. This is not as easy as it sounds because we seldom think in these terms.
Can You Define Your Service Proposition?
We might think we know what we offer but is this the case? I agree that from management information we can define what we offer in terms of the volume and type of activity that flow through our customer service centres. From other feedback systems, we also know about current issues, customer satisfaction scores, scheduling, budgeting, new technology deployments and so on.
But we do not often pause to think what all this adds up to as a menu of services that the customer has clear visibility of. In other words what are we offering them beyond the obvious that we are a customer service function?
Think as a restaurant owner. They don’t communicate their value proposition as food. That is far too vague to generate customer interest. Food is just the raw materials of their service. First they choose a style of cuisine. And if they are to survive, they also strive for something that is unique in terms of combination of ingredients, presentation or some ‘secret sauce’. Once decided on, it is the menu that communicates these ‘deliverables’. (let’s ignore service, ambiance etc for the moment).
So using that as an analogy, what are you actually offering your customers? Can you talk as clearly as a menu communicates what is on offer? Can you write a service menu that you would feel confident to give to your customers as an honest and accurate description of what you can offer? I know from asking this frequently at the best practice forums I hosted over a five year period that no-one ever claimed to have done this, despite understanding the logic for doing this. In fact let’s pause for a moment and pursue why this is a good idea and how it benefits both you and your customers.
Why Expectation Setting Works
Any productive relationship is a two way street. Both sides need to understand how and when to relate. So an effective way in which we can reduce customer frustration and manage expectations is help them understand the scope and function of our customer services. Yet we run away from making this easy or obvious.
- Why does online customer service traditionally hide contact details of the call centre despite much research that shows traffic is triggered from online customer service now looking for a source of live assistance?
- Within the call centre, we usually fail to actively promote new self service functions so that customers can avoid having to queue
- We don’t tell them when we are open and how they can still get help when we are closed
- We don’t commit to standards of service or make ourselves accountable when we fail to deliver
In short we don’t think service in the way a customer would.
Let’s go back to the topic of menus and how this would work in a service context. For instance, what exactly is your claims service if that is your line of business? Or the complaint service? Or the application service? Or the problem solving service? Can you describe to me how it works, the options I have to access it. When it is operational. What to do outside of hours. What to expect in terms of right first time, effort, and time.
Hopefully you are getting the point.
However before you trot off and start publishing glossy service brochures and mailing them, let me remind you about one criteria I mentioned earlier. Honesty. It is not worth pretending to be something you are not or cannot fulfill. If all you provide is a voice service that can only be accessed by queuing within certain times then concentrate on setting service standards and consistently beating them within that scope. But let me know about them! At least I will know what to expect as a customer. If you can do more then promote that.
I suspect that once you start working this out as a menu, you will discover holes in the customer journey, gaps in service provision and escalation links you had not previously considered. Most of which should not cost you more than time and creative care to fix.
Why The Service Sector Needs To Catch Up
By means of drawing this session to a close, let’s think about the service industry as a whole. Unlike products which we can see, touch and in general more easily test if it ‘does what it says on tin’, choosing a professional service and knowing what to expect is much tougher because it is less tangible.
But there is no reason why this should be the case. Apart from what appears to be the collective fright of the service industry. Anything is definable and can be made understandable.
I offer a final observation. I know from offering out this challenge before that in the main service leaders are nervous about defining customer facing deliverables and committing themselves to standards upfront. It is of course more dangerous to do so and tests the ability of the support team in a much more public and accountable way. But my point is that it is a trouble worth taking because as a customer I would welcome being better informed about how to interact with you. Don’t you feel the same as a customer of other organisations’ customer services? You never know, I might even become more tolerant in the process.
Describing what is on the menu is the very least of what we need to be doing as every successful restaurant owner will tell you.
Ready for more? Session five is here. It’s all about ensuring a successful launch once your customer strategy is ready to go.