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Building Your Infrastructure to Sustain Your Service Strategy

Building Your Infrastructure to Sustain Your Service Strategy

Ever wonder why so many customer service strategies are either short-lived or fail before they even get started? I mean think about it: how many companies do you patronize where you consistently (the operative word here is “consistently”) receive a positive and memorable buying experience?

The type of buying experience that you’ll remember and influences you to return to that company. So how many companies did you come up with?

Two points I’d like to make here:

1) I bet it took you awhile before a particular company came to mind. I doubt very much that a flood of companies blitzed your mind when you thought about that question, and

2) I bet the number of companies that you came up with can be counted on one hand…and I’ll bet you’ll have a few fingers left over. The sad reality is, consistently receiving great customer service is the exception, not the norm. So why is that? I can cite many root causes, but without question the biggest one is a lack of an organizational infrastructure.

Customer Service Infrastructure:

A customer service infrastructure is an organizational structure, which includes: systems, processes, policies and procedures that facilitate and support a continuous focus on the customer.

It all starts by building your organization from the customer backwards: not the other way around. An organizational structure that ensures a continuous, relentless and laser-like focus on the customer. An infrastructure is necessary because when it comes to a customer service strategy there is a distinct and marked difference between implementation and execution.

Implementation is all about “getting ready” to launch a strategy, whereby execution is about consistently performing to a desired standard. Take for example a soda promotion at your local convenience store. The implementation phase would include activities such as: ordering the appropriate levels of product, getting promotional signage in place, advertising, perhaps creating a store incentive program, and communicating and training store personnel. Once the soda promotion kicks off, the execution phase kicks in.

Execution involves: ensuring the signage stays fresh (and up!) throughout the duration of the promotion, product displays remain full and attractive, inventory levels are maintained, and most importantly, store employees consistently (there’s that word again) promote and suggest sell the product to every customer every time they come into the store – not sometimes, every time! (*)

Just imagine how much more soda convenience stores would sell if they excelled at the execution phase of the strategy? Good companies implement well, but great companies excel at both implementation and in particular execution. The ability to consistently execute is what separates the great companies from the good companies.

Unfortunately, most companies fail miserably at execution. Why? Because a customer service strategy unlike a product strategy is process driven vs. program, and a process requires a support system to succeed.

Paradigm Shift:

To launch and sustain a successful customer service strategy the first step in the process requires an organization to undertake a drastic paradigm shift. Most organizations are program oriented vs. process. Programs have a start and end date.

Metrics are developed and results are easily tracked. And at the end of the program period you know if it was a success or not because you can clearly see the results. A customer service strategy on the other hand takes time before you can readily see results.

Customer service is a process not a program. And a process requires patience and discipline. Because of this program mentality among many companies, patience and discipline unfortunately is not exactly part of their DNA.

I want to introduce 10-key infrastructure components that are required in order to facilitate, support and sustain a long-term customer service strategy. Noticed I used the words: long term and sustain, not short-term and program.

If you really want your company to stand for great customer service then you must think in terms of process not program.

Customer Service Infrastructure Components:

1. Commitment:

You need to make a conscious decision – you’re either going to be committed and stand for customer service or you’re not. You can’t be half pregnant with a customer service strategy.

Companies who stand for customer service have every fiber of their organization focused on the customer; it’s part of their corporate DNA.

Customer service is their north star providing direction, guidance and dictating behavior within the organization.

2. Appoint a Champion:

You must drive customer service ownership throughout your entire organization: every person at every level.

Ultimately, everyone must own the customer, not just your frontline team who interacts with your customers – everyone! But as you can well imagine, ownership will take time to permeate throughout your organization, and in most cases it can take years. That’s why in the interim, until you achieve customer service nirvana, you need to assign a Champion within your organization to carry the flag, lead the charge, and drive the process.

The individual you assign should have a high-level position that has the respect and clout within your organization to make things happen. The higher the level, the easier the road, because it sends out a strong message to your organization that customer service is important.

3. Identify your Moments of Truth:

Moments of truth or “touch points,” are contact points that a customer has with your company.

Customers are constantly making both conscious and unconscious value judgments about each of the moments of truths they encounter. These value judgments are then recorded into a mental report card on your company.

Identify each of your company’s moments of truths: stores, employees, answering the phone, delivery trucks, etc., then develop a strategy around each one that will ensure a consistent world-class customer service experience.

4. Assess: Policies & Procedures – Systems & Processes:

Outward thinking vs. inward: start with the customer and work backwards.

Do your policies and procedures serve the customer or your organizational bureaucracy? Are your policies and procedures customer friendly? Are your systems designed to make it easier for you to do business or for your customers to do business with you? Do your processes put your frontline employees in a position to succeed or fail in the eyes of your customers? (*)

5. Develop Meaningful Metrics:

If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it! Meaningful, meaning those metrics that your frontline employees have direct control or influence over.

Things like: store sales, appearance and retailing, mystery shopper scores, and customer comments are meaningful frontline metrics that drive customer service behavior.

6. Scoreboard your Metrics:

Whatever metrics you decide on, communicate them throughout the entire organization via a visible scoreboard. If your business includes retail stores, purchase one of those large white poster-boards, the kind that kids use for school projects. These white-boards can be purchased at any office supply store.

A scoreboard is critical because it communicates to the employees what is important and how to achieve it. We tell our employees to go out and win, but we tend to keep the rules of how to win and the score a secret. The bosses know what the score is – their scoreboard is the P&L or management reports. Just like in sports, keeping score makes it more: interesting, engaging, challenging and enjoyable. Who plays golf or tennis and doesn’t keep score?

7. Training & Skill Development:

You have to prepare for victory otherwise you’re just practicing. And in today’s unforgiving marketplace practice isn’t going to cut it. The phrase: “The customer is always right” is not motivating to employees because it doesn’t tell them what to do for the customer. This phrase is more a bumper sticker than an operating principle.

Training and skill development ensures your employees are prepared to succeed. (*)

8. Communication:

Communication is the lifeblood to any strategy. You simply cannot over communicate. Just like infrastructure component #2: Appoint a Champion, assign someone to own the communication strategy throughout your organization, from headquarters to store-level. You must drive communication throughout every corner of your organization. This will provide focus and align activities. Communicate things like:

* Sales results * Mystery shopper score
* What’s working/not working * Customer comments: good & bad
* Performance expectations * Areas for improvements
* Lessons learned * Customer service stories

9. Recognize & Reward:

Recognize and reward the behaviors you want to see more of. Why? Because what gets recognized and rewarded gets repeated.

But be sure to only recognize and reward the right performance and behavior. And remember, recognize and reward results, not efforts. At the end of the day it’s results that matter.

10. Celebrate Success:

Consistently delivering a great customer buying experience is hard. If it were easy, great customer service would be the norm not the exception. And if you think being a frontline employee is easy, then takeover their job for a day.

I’m confident you’ll walk away with a much greater appreciation of what our frontline employees go through on a daily basis. When goals are achieved and good things happen, make the time to enjoy and celebrate the moment with your employees that made it happen. After all, life’s too short not to, right?

Keys To Success:

In addition to the 10-infrastructure components I’ve outlined, you’ll need to possess: patience, discipline and a laser-like focus to succeed. A customer service strategy takes time to see results. So have patience and the discipline of staying power to not abandon your customer service strategy midstream.

* For a free report: “Motivating Non-Performers: 20 Do’s & Don’ts of Employee Motivation” go to: http://www.eps-i.com