Putting customer service first

Putting customer service first{{}}When faced with the challenges of dealing with increased customer demand, many businesses become internally focused as they work out ways of coping. But all too often in these situations, more attention is paid to push through new customer orders, and less attention on the quality or customer experience.So what should you do? Derek Bishop shares his advice

When you are busy dealing with increased customer orders, it is easy to fall into the trap of letting your customer experience deteriorate and falling out of line with your brand, proposition and service commitments. This can be a false economy as a poor customer experience can lead to complaints and compensation payments, or worse still for customers to look elsewhere. Even when the pressure is on, maintaining your defined customer experience is critical.

Quality vs speed

Often, adherence to processes and quality standards suffer as staff seek ways of 'processing' customers as quickly as possible. Short cuts are taken and processes often not fully completed, particularly 'internal processes', which don't affect the customer immediately, but link internal processes. In the staff's desire to keep customers happy they sometimes create a separate problem with a delayed impact as these incomplete processes are stored up and come back at a later point and bite badly. If the process does permit separation between customer-facing and non-customer-facing elements, one option is to look at separating your resource allocation but in doing so you need to ensure it is cost effective, otherwise your costs will rocket and margins will be slashed.

A mindset of speed over quality often sets in and errors will start to creep in which leads to rework as well. These errors will be a mixture of customer impact ones and internal, some of which may not be identified. So find ways of maintaining your quality checks.

I'm often presented with the challenge of "that's great, but I don't have the money to be able to do that at the moment, so how can I put more resources in place". The challenge in these situations is to look at where your operating costs are and identify other areas where you may be able to temporarily cease activity as it doesn't impact on the customer experience and re-direct those resources to your customer service area. In most businesses there are areas where non-critical activities are taking place and the impact of temporarily suspending (or just decreasing) that activity will have less risk than allowing the customer service area to suffer.

First impressions count

First call resolution rates can often be hit with the pressure of handling significantly more customer orders/queries - keep an eye on these rates and repeat calls/queries from customers to ensure that you're not damaging your customer experience and creating a different problem.

It's very easy to get caught up in our own internal world in order to 'firefight' a recovery situation. Actively think about how you can keep the customer and get the voice of the customer heard, despite the internal operational challenges.

In a rapidly growing environment, good process, controls and governance are absolutely essential. Responding to huge demand and growing a business without suitable controls is commercial suicide. You'll spend so much time trying to work out what's actually going on, and putting out mini fires within the overall crisis, that lots of time and energy will be lost, and worse still future problems will be building up. So, when you hit the growth spurt if you don't already have good processes, controls, management information in place - make sure you rapidly implement some in order to maintain overall control of the situation.

If you get it wrong, the negative impact on the customer experience (including the errors and rework, etc) will limit your growth as resources will be allocated to fixing problems rather than accepting new customers. Worse still, you will be losing customers.

Communication is key

Communicate with your customers appropriately, tell them what's happening and manage their expectations but think about how you will do this and the words you will use. The number of businesses that play messages of "you're in a queue, your call is important to us" but that can actually be more damaging as it fuels emotional reactions with customer such as "if I was that important to you then you would have enough staff to deal with my call". So carefully think about the messages.

Keep your staff and rest of the business updated on what's happening as well. If you're a organisation with a sales team that is being challenged by customers about the service they are receiving and the team isn't aware of what's actually going on, they are not in a position to help you and manage customer expectations. No matter how difficult the internal challenges, share and discuss them with other critical business areas and agree how you can work together to manage through the growth pain.

If you're launching a new product/proposition or going for a growth surge develop some 'what if' scenarios of the range of possible things that could happen when you launch. Having identified possible scenarios, develop some contingency plans for each scenario so that if/when one of (or a combination of) the scenarios arises, at least you have already planned your options and can get into action quicker. In contingency planning before hand, proper consideration can be given to the customer experience without the heat of the problem hitting you here and now - this way you are more likely to sustain your customer experience.