Since I graduated from college, I´ve worked for five employers in the business and nonprofit sectors. As I look back, I realize that the one of the things they have in common was that they all shared an emphasis on setting goals.
Setting goals should imply some sort of planning process, although I have seen sales people and managers arbitrarily pick a goal (say a 10% increase) and go for it when they had absolutely no data to back it up. Since I was a manager for at least two years before I became perfect, I probably engaged in some flawed goal setting and planning myself. (Grin.)What´s that got to do with the customer service experience, you ask? I believe you can break the planning and goal-setting process into four parts. First, you assess the situation. Second, you create a plan, third, you execute the plan, and fourth, you evaluate the outcomes.
No, I´m not about to go into each of those four steps. But I do want to discuss what I believe to be a critical part of that process. It´s when the plan has been created and you segue into the execution step. This is perhaps the most dangerous time if you have not made allowances for feedback.
Let´s say management has just decided to "upgrade" or "enhance" customer service. I remember being in the jewelry business, half way across the country from my corporate office, when they mandated a new customer service program. We were all enthusiastic, but to make a long story short, management didn´t seek feeback from our customers or us in the period immediately after the program was started. It turned out to be a flash in the pan. Another failed plan.
I´ve also seen managers create unreasonable goals for their sales people, which brought the law of unintended consequences into play. More sales pressure meant the employees would go to greater lengths to make a sale and customer service suffered as they couldn´t deliver on their promises. Your decisions should be supported by data.
Then there were the plans that were good in theory (especially at headquarters) but in the harsh light of day (out where the sales were being made) their flaws were gigantic. Include frontline staff when designing customer service plans. Not only do they have a valuable perspective, they will also help you market your new plan to the rest of your employees.
To overcome these pitfalls, management has to continually seek feedback from the frontline employees and customers. (Remember New Coke!) Don´t just put the plan into execution and walk away washing your hands of it, monitor its progress.
Another tendency is to junk the plan when something goes wrong. The assumption is that the plan is no good. Wrongo! Let me quote the US Army, "No plan survives the first contact, intact!" Your plan, whether it has to do with customer service, marketing, or whatever, is eventually going to come up against the unexpected. Unless, it´s catastrophic, stick with the plan and just modify it. Since I´ve quoted the Army, now let me quote the US Marines who say, "Adapt and innovate!"
Now go out there, assess your business environment and how you deliver customer service. Then create a plan to deliver even more legendary customer service. Execute the plan, and then continually evaluate your progress, adapting the plan as necessary. Listen to your employees and your customers. Use their feedback to enhance your plan and its execution. Modify as needed.
To quote Monty Python, "And now for something completely different! If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that I post on Monday and Thursday evenings. Be sure and catch Thursday´s post when I do a Q and A with Scott Gross, author of many books on customer service including Positively Outrageous Service, Why Service Stinks"?¦And Exactly What To Do About It, and, When Customer Talk"?¦Turn What They Tell You Into Sales.
Customer feedback should always be acknowledged by the highest officer in the company. Why? Because it communicates to the customer that the complaint was heard by someone who can DO something! Remember, the purpose of most legitimate complaints is to you help them remain a customer.
–T. Scott Gross from "When Customers Talk"