Over the past month or so, Laura, my wife, and I have been traveling throughout the Midwest visiting clients and prospects. The visits have been great, and it is always helpful to get out of the office and learn about the real issues in trying to create a better customer service experience.
One common refrain heard from the companies I met with is “our performance has stalled! We don’t seem to be able to move the performance needle up” even after we have steps taken to improve processes including customer service training.
When talking further with managers in these companies they pinpointed two reasons they thought they were stalled.
- Senior Management Inactivity (what senior managers were not doing)
- A typical response from managers is “I don’t have the time to contact the customer to let her know about the change in service completion date, cost, or other changes to what the customer was expecting?”
- Middle Management Role (front line supervisors and next manager up)
- From the observation of several managers, they acknowledge their front line managers were not good coaches. In the rush to get things done they simply do not take the time to recognize the good work done by a technician or coach the person when the service could have been completed
Keep in mind that my frame of reference is an environment where technicians or going out to repair industrial equipment or repairing it in the shop. It is expensive equipment and uptime is critical to equipment owners.
What can improve the situation?
Let’s start at the top with the senior management team.
In many industrial companies, service has been delivered much the same way for many years. Customer contacts service provider; the technician is scheduled to come out, or equipment is scheduled for service in the shop.
However, customer expectations about what happens between the call and the completion of service have changed. They usually want to know more details (e.g., how much will this cost, when will it be finished, and what other things should I be aware of?), which helps the customer do a better job planning their work.
What is missing is a “line in the sand” statement from senior managers about what the ideal service experience should look, and, yes, feel to the customer. Some may call them brand promises but the name of the statement doesn’t matter as much as being clear, concise and to the point (short).
Each person in the organization should be able to look at the statement and know if the service they deliver measures up to the expectations implicit in the brand promise.
Why does such a brand promise matter?
If you want to change your service experience, everyone in the organization has to possess a clear picture of the ideal customer state. If you have been doing it one way for many years, and it appears to work in the minds of employees, something and somebody has to communicate the changed expectations.
The second thing senior managers must do is establish clear performance accountability.
A governance process in place allows the management team to evaluate performance by division, location, etc., on a regular basis. Top performers are recognized, and those not performing identified and action plans put in place to improve results.
Oh, I mentioned that middle managers sometimes present a barrier to change. They sometimes do. However, a significant number of issues with middle management will get solved if the senior management team takes the time to lay out clear expectations for service performance. Middle management takes their cues from higher ups. If they perceive that better service is truly not that important, then it will not be important to them.
I would be interested in receiving your brand promise/line in the sand statements about service.
I want to read how companies are communicating the desired state for the customer experience in their organization.
Please write your brand promise in the comments section below.