Imagine waiting in line for service for 12 minutes and then just as you reach the window the employee leaves for lunch without explanation. Surprisingly, events like these happen too often, in fact I had such an experience the other day. Could it have been at your place of business?
I’ve worked in service businesses for more than three decades and now as a consultant to them I often hear familiar verbiage. “Our customer conversion numbers have reached ‘x.’" “We survey our customers to ascertain their approval of our methods.” “The patient experience is of prime importance and we monitor..,” blah, blah, blah. The fact is too many organizations are following and beholden to data (which we know can be suspect) and blinded to very basic problems in customer service.
For example, the other day I had the “pleasure” of scheduling a specialty medical procedure and after working through the maze of press "number___ for___" presumably reached the correct area. The recorded message informed me that I was caller number eight and I could leave a message if I wanted. Having limited time and being difficult to reach, it was best for me to wait for the "next available representative." After working my way down to being "caller number two," (more than twelve minutes later,) and now anticipating my “arrival,” I was suddenly force to leave a message with no option of waiting any longer. Wait. What just happened? Really? Calling back, I found that the staff had gone to lunch. They had flipped the proverbial switch, forcing me to lose my ascended place in line and requiring that I leave a message. So, what's wrong with this picture? A follow-up contact, via the organization’s website went a day and a half with no response. Back to the phone maze I went. Do you think I was a satisfied customer?
On the other side of the equation, there are likely perceived, "justifiable" reasons for the process. However, they are typically not customer-focused. If there is a known issue, in rare cases, or through LEAN processes, a team of employees will try to resolve the “problems areas.” However, more than likely the organization is not asking the right people to be involved in these efforts.
Your customer, the most important person in the transaction, should not only have a say, but can help you in crafting a solution for the problem that insures a successful resolution. How? These are perfect opportunities to convene a focus group to provide input, which is why we suggest their usage in a communications audit. A communications audit can analyze all your customer communications from phone, to e-mail, wayfinding signage, and more. Customer involvement in an internal committee can also help bridge the gaps.
In the interim, you can take your own steps to head off issues and for the sake of this discussion I'll use AUDIT as an acronym that points you in the direction of improving your customer experiences in difficult circumstances.
As a business owner or manager, one must assess where the critical access points to your services lie. Where are the entry points, the first impressions made, etc. etc. As our firm walks through communication audits that's usually our first question. You need a good feel for the key opportunities that exist to later provide a WOW customer service moment. Analyze how you’re doing.
You must fully understand what your customer and their navigation processes look like. How do your customers interact? What types of inquiries are they making? When are the peak volumes expected? What could make it more pleasant? Where would a WOW customer service moment be most impactful? What would I want if I were the customer?
Put yourself in the customer’s place. Walk through the delivery process and insure that your perceptions are the customer’s reality. Make a blind call to your company yourself or employ a firm to do that on your behalf. Where could the delivery be streamlined or improved? Communication audits are the perfect time to vet these processes.
Investigate the realities of the fumbles, those times when you failed on customer service. Too often it's easy to place the blame on the customer and ignore major problems within the system. "That customer is always demanding." "They always come in at the last minute." "They like to call just before lunch." We've heard them all before. However, we are guilty of seldom looking at the situations from the customer standpoint. We are there to serve them and not the other way around. More than likely, there's a valid reason for their behavior and we may need to alter ours to meet their needs.
It's obviously much easier to stay where we are when it comes to service delivery. Making transformational changes may cost some money. Some new signage, a new process, more staff. They're all options that should be on the table as you seek to improve customer access.
Transcending the “average” and delivering exceptional customer service (as many of us claim we want) requires a transformational moment and commitment. It may require reaching out to your customers, your staff, and maybe even a consultant.
The evolution is most likely to occur when you realize it's not okay to put your customers in an aggravating situation or not give them another option that meets their personal needs. Remember, it’s not about pleasing you, your staff or your business. If you want to grow and thrive then it must be about your customer and their service.