Thursday, 3 April 2014

Developing Your Customer Service Strategy

Tough times force new tough decisions that people would otherwise avoid. Councils attending a workshop of developing a Customer Service Strategy with Carol Lewis (pictured below), HR expert and Principal Consultant at The Human Equation, hosted by the National Local Government Customer Service Network had to consider trade-offs in customer service excellence in the face of budget cuts. 

Where all the talk was once been of excellence, many now looked at customer expectations and what tolerances they had to work within to deliver acceptable levels of customer service within their budget. Use of cheaper online service delivery channels (website request forms, mobile reporting apps), a review of over-staffing to meet KPIs at peak call times, and the judicious use of outsourced call overflow services are all options to rein in costs. But, unpalatable as it may sound, service levels such as call or service response times may need to be moderated, too.

However, it was clear that rather than wait for a consultant to tell you that things need to change, all Customer Service Managers would do well to prepare the groundwork ahead so that they can influence their own destiny rather than just react to events

These key tips were imparted for Customer Service Managers in local government, but they apply broadly to the private sector, too, inasmuch you should have clear goals of what you are trying to achieve for your Customers; what the costs and processes are to achieve these goals; and be able to communicate this to both your internal staff, and your customer base. 

This workshop was actually delivered in two parts over six months, which allowed participants to orient to the task, start work, and review their progress with peers - all very hands on. As a private sector observer to the second part of the process I think that the toughest part for customer service managers - as people whose work relies on delivering customer satisfaction to others - was selling their vision of how to proceed. My summary of the process for the record is as follows:

Developing your Customer Service Strategy 

 1. Research 
  • What are your customers' expectations?
  • Gap analysis - where are you failing to meet these expectations?
  • What are the costs of meeting different service standards?
  • Determine what you can afford
2. Consult with internal Stakeholders
  • Are there common goals that can be achieved to help buy-in? 
  • How can their investment decisions and operations impact on your ability to deliver the strategy?
 3. Structure
  • Your Policy - aims, what is to be done, measurable indicators of its success
  • Your plans - how will it be implemented? Who is responsible for what? What feedback loops will be in operation?
  • Your Customer Service Charter - what are you promising your customers?
  • Your Complaints Handling Policy - how will you handle these fairly?
4. The Customer Service Strategy Document
  • The result is a marketing document that clearly explains to internal stakeholders what you are aiming for, why it is the best course of action for the organisation, how it is to be achieved and assessed, and what benefits the strategy will bring to the organisation and its customers.
It never hurts to be clear about what you do and how you do it. Even a start up business has to think through their business processes and be honest about what they will and won't do. It's a document in progress, and having identified the gaps it at least puts you in a position to look for ways to address these over time, if not immediately.

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