LESSONS FROM THE PAST FOR CUSTOMER
By Graham Williams, Centre-ing Services (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Technology then and now. On my first business visits to Durban many many years ago, I got into the habit of staying at the Edward Hotel. The manager always greeted me by name on arrival and made sure that my preferences regarding room location, daily newspaper, and other services were met. I felt important. He recorded these needs and expectations on a manual card ‘system’. It worked!
information and communications technology has become very sophisticated: IVR
scripting, CTI implementation, skills-based routing, queue management, call
tracking, workflow support, knowledge engineering, multi-media blending/
prioritising/ processing, CRM systems, Internet to phone click-ons, workforce
management. It doesn’t always work!
In the midst of such complexity, it’s easy to become obsessed
with “tangible” metrics that can easily be attributed to bottom line costs
and productivity indicators (often ”sold” to organisations by technology
vendors): average speed of answer, talk time, abandonment rate, and other
measurements that impress management. But sometimes in the process, customer
“focus” becomes blurred. Really successful customer service centre managers
are those that truly know what it is to care about employees and customers
alike. They know what is needed to build trust and gain the loyalty of
customers. Without trust (which can’t be hardwired into technology), business
transactions become mired in petty details and complaints – the bane of any
customer interaction. In this hi-tech age of the often invisible customer, too
many forget that hi-tech must be complemented with high-touch.
then and now. In the days of the Pony Express in the Wild West , the letter or package
would often arrive late, as well as torn and dirty, perhaps because one of the
horse riders had been ambushed or even killed along the way. It was the customer
perception that the employees of this
company were actually risking their lives that guaranteed its place as a service
legend. In wild South Africa today post is often lost or damaged [whatever
postal or courier service you use] yet our perceptions are quite different!
We don’t feel secure about the process outcome.
more and more cases, the modern customer service centre is becoming the pivotal
link in the entire business supply chain AND performing a centralised sales
function AND fulfilling orders AND supporting self-service functions AND
answering inquiries AND distributing marketing information AND solving problems
and complaints. The service center
is at last assuming the “caseworker” role and status (the
single-point-of-contact process) envisaged by Hammer and Champy in the 1960’s.
Yet many still fail their customers by employing lowly paid service providers in
sweat-shop atmospheres, to conduct only routine, repetitive, soul destroying
work. Mundane processes that don’t add much
caution: You have to first decide whether you are in the business of creating
actual long-term relationships with
customers or whether you just need to provide efficient, inexpensive,
convenient, friendly customer service on an as needed basis. These are two very
distinct processes. While one-to-one relationship
building is often touted as a customer service solution for all companies, no matter what their product or service offering, this is simply not true. An
important distinction must be made between efficiency-based and
relationship-based customer service. There are certain situations in which we
expect and want nothing more than efficiency and convenience: buying a meal at a
fast-food restaurant, shopping for light bulbs, buying petrol, purchasing a
toaster. By trying to follow the one-to-one
relationship philosophy, many efficiency-based companies have been lured into
developing what have been termed “pseudo-relationships” with customers, and
this inappropriate process can actually damage customer perceptions of the
relationships then and now. The owner of the corner village store could assess customers at a
glance. He or she became very familiar with our buying habits: How often we
returned to the store, what kind of purchasing ability we possessed, how open we
were to cross-selling and other profit-making suggestions, what our personal and
economic situation at any given time might be, and so on. Our lifetime value was
very evident to the village-store owner, as was our influence over others, our
complaint power and even our nuisance factor. As a pillar of the community, the
corner store owner gained our trust and custom by respecting our self-worth.
The average customer service centre service provider, on the other hand, certainly doesn’t know that Jim is anxious because he’s just lost his job, or that Laura is exhausted because she just had a baby. Even since the emergence of integrated Customer Relationship Management systems, service providers in medium to large size call centers often view every customer in much the same way.
neglected area in service provision has been the building of service agent
competence in focused, evaluative listening. For example, although deprived of
visual cues and clues, the perceptive and competent telephone service provider
is able to "see" smiles, hear the subtle unsaid and accurately
‘read’ between the lines - in a way without the "distraction" of
the visuals present in face to face communications. Evaluative listening can
demonstrate empathy, which in turn contributes to relationship. (Technology can
provide visuals to telephone-based conversations these days - but that's another
subject). Good language proficiency, allied to meaningful historical and
contextual information can also assist the competent service agent in the
similar evaluation of other forms of communication, for example email. For
example, a phrase in an email: "and you call this good service!" can
be completely misinterpreted (by both humans and the most sophisticated
automated e-mail interpretation software) without proper knowledge of language
usage – in this case, sarcasm.
Service then and now.
In a frenetic, fast changing, hi-tech business world, it behoves us to
remember what remains constant: That the customer is ultimately the sole
arbitrator of business success. Not costs, not productivity, not shareholder
demands, not technology vendor panaceas. These lessons from the past, in the
areas of technology, process and people illustrate that service success comes
from a genuine, unrelenting focus on what is best for the customer. From the
basic business truth that the customer continues to make a buying decision in
your favour if you meet his/her primary needs – their importance, their self
worth and their security.
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