Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

6 Ways to get Your Customers Saying – Please take my Money!

by Himanshu Jhamb on December 10, 2012

Right. You don’t hear that very often. In fact, you probably don’t even think it! In fact, the reverse is usually what we hear – in stories, from our friends, from our colleagues and pretty much every where from customers.

“Please don’t take my money”

“It was not worth it”

“It’s too expensive”

… and many variants of the above.

But, this post is about great customer service. No, wait! It’s about excellent customer service.

I was recently in Peru with my better half and it was the first time I had set foot in the continent of South America – different people, different language, different food – everything was different and yes, being that it was a self planned trip, the “different” was expected. We had planned to be in Lima for a couple of days and like typical tourists, were looking to do the touristy things – experience the food, the people, visit the historical landmarks ‘et al. Yet, at the same time, we wanted to do something that would give us a taste of Peru; something the locals would do. And that happened on our 2nd day when we met a local couple – Sam & Lucas. OK, it was no accident that we met them; they run a culinary tour company, called Capital Culinaria Lima Gourmet Tours and I found them from their almost perfect TripAdvisor reviews.

It’s true that there are many lessons in business one can learn from others, only if we observe them. And observe I did  and here is what I learnt about great customer service:

  • Make a promise… and then keep It. They promised on the experience (which, I believe is what the adventurous traveler seeks the most) and then delivered on it… multiple times over in the tour.
  • Listen. And get to know your customer. Their tours are designed to listen to the customer. For instance, they do not take more than 6 people at one time so that they can create the space to listen to the customer.
  • Give Personal Attention. Lots of it. Well, there is no dearth of that given that they run quite a few tours themselves and I am sure the ones they are not able to, are no less personal!
  • Run Smooth Operations. Given that it’s a 5-6 hour culinary tour, it can be a bit of a tricky proposition to time 3-6 touristy stomachs for that time! Also, since they visit quite a few establishments in the tour – the timing needs to be exquisite with the local providers, too.
  • Be Nimble. They are immensely flexible. Even though they hit an issue in the morning and had to quickly readjust plans – Lucas was right on time to pick us up.
  • Win the Customer. Yes, with the great stories (they have a fantastic entrepreneurial story on how they started off), the mouth watering cuisine, and (ahem) the fabulous Pisco – it is a sure shot recipe to win the customer.

To be brutally honest, they had won me over as a customer half way through the tour. The rest of the time, they were just winning a friend! Now, how do you put a price on something like that…

Himanshu JhambThis article was contributed by Himanshu Jhamb, co-founder of ActiveGarage and co-author of #PROJECT MANAGEMENT tweet. You can follow Himanshu on Twitter at himjhamb.
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Ready to be Enchanted?

by Himanshu Jhamb on March 2, 2011

Enchantment, as defined by dictionary.com.

“to delight to a high degree”

We all have felt enchantment at some point of our lives. Be it the moment when we were the recipient of fantastic customer service, or perhaps the moment when we did something that changed someone’s life forever or it be as simple as an impromptu shoe-shine that the founder of a fortune 500 company gave, that won Guy Kawasaki as his customer for life, from his competition.

Yes, Enchantment is the new upcoming book by Guy Kawasaki. Guy does not need any introductions, in general, let alone in the entrepreneurial circles so I won’t get into that. If you’d like to read about him, he has an official bio published on his own website.

Enchantment is Guy’s 10th book and according to him,

“Enchantment is about transforming situations and relationships to invent new possibilities; ones that you probably did not think were possible.”

After reading it cover to cover, I can testify that until I had read the book, I could only understand the dictionary definition of enchantment (To delight to a high degree), but after having read & reflected upon it, I “Get” Guy’s definition as well.

Here are 5 things that Enchanted me in the book:

  • Something for everyone.  Being an entrepreneur, writer and an editor, I could see where I could infuse some enchantment for my customers by simply following some of the insightful recommendations by Guy. If I put my project management hat, I could see how I could enchant my customers on the projects I manage… and that’s not all. I could also see how I could enchant my primary customer – my spouse! Remember, it’s all about “delighting to a high degree” and no one can do with or have enough of it!
  • How To’s. The book is full of practical advice that can be applied “painlessly”.  Each chapter is titled with “How to… (do something)”. That, to me, is a direct call-to-action; action being the space where all possibilities are eventually manifested!
  • Personalization. The book ends each chapter with a personal (true) story of a real person on how he/she has achieved or experienced enchantment. That helps the reader establish a strong connection with the content (I was personally touched, moved and inspired by a personal story at the end of Chapter 1).
  • Edgy & Engaging. The book was edgy at times… with a somewhat “WYSIWYG” (sorry, couldn’t hold back the techie in me!) attitude… and was Engaging, pretty much all the time!
  • Fun & inspiration. It was clear to me that Guy had a lot of fun while writing the book. The fun rubbed off of me as the reader as he relates certain incidents (again, real incidents) with a pinch of humor and a generous dose of inspiration!

I could go on, but I’ll defer for now, as an actual review of the book will be coming out on Active Garage, on March 08, 2011 – the official release date of Enchantment.

Needless to say, if you are ready for Enchantment or simply cannot wait another week to know who the founder was who Enchanted Guy with an impromptu shoe-shine and won him (as his customer for life) from his competition, go right ahead and pre-order your copy right away!

Himanshu JhambThis article was contributed by Himanshu Jhamb, co-founder of ActiveGarage and co-author of #PROJECT MANAGEMENT tweet. You can follow Himanshu on Twitter at himjhamb.
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7 Key Strategies for designing an Analysis based Company

by Linda Williams on February 16, 2011

In today’s fast changing environment being an analysis based company is critical to survival and profitability. Different industries will have different needs for analysis but there are some key components of an analytical strategy that are foundational to the majority of businesses. Here are the top 7 strategies for designing an Analytical Strategy:

  1. Taking an existing business model and innovating against it: Some of the most successful companies over the last decade have been innovators in their space: Netflix, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Priceline. Each took an existing model and made compelling technological and structural changes. This model can be used by other sectors to take advantage of emerging trends and technologies.
  2. Keeping aware of changes in the technical environment and quickly growing your offerings to take advantage of newly emerging trends: The pace of technological change has been steadily increasing and businesses that miss these trends miss opportunities to thrive. For example, Netflix moved from postal delivery of movies to downloads on laptops and WII based systems and now is moving into offering content on iPhones and iPads. Its competitors are scrambling to catch up as evidenced by Blockbuster’s recent filing for bankruptcy.
  3. Developing an easy interface for customers, customizable to their interests: Customers have come to expect near instant response to changing orders, tracking, and complaints. Using technology is part of this equation but it should also include value- added services such as presenting relevant suggestions on what else they may find valuable either in products or shipping options. This is seen in the use by Amazon and Netflix of making recommendations or suggestions for new orders given past orders.
  4. Focusing on listening to the customer to develop and improve your service; capitalize on complaints customers have with your competitors: One of the key differentiators for companies is their real (or perceived) focus on the customer. People have come to expect superior service and are quick to go to a competitor when they don’t get it. It is critical to develop robust customer service capabilities for handling questions, complaints, and surveying customers on speed of delivery. Social media blogs are now an expected forum for customers to use to exchange ideas and suggestions.
  5. Offering a variety of service plans/products at several price points: This feature was a key to Netflix’s initial strategy which was to get customers to try their new delivery service – who can’t afford $4.99 per month. Then there is a simple upgrade plan with many levels that is flexible to meet anyone’s needs. Again, the pricing plans are very customer focused. This same approach could be used for pricing services for a support service giving various price points each with a higher level of services.
  6. Designing logistics so as to ensure cost effective, fast delivery: Logistics are pivotal to any business providing a product especially as the business expands internationally. Any product business must be able to deliver their goods/services in a timeframe that not only meets their customer’s needs but exceeds them.
  7. Having a data-driven culture that supports your strategy, direction, and profitability: Successful companies rely on using data-driven information to strengthen their product offerings and emerge ahead of the competition. This includes being able to identify top purchasers based on profitability, sales by market segment, or potential. Having a robust marketing analytics program has now become indispensible to providing valuable insight to drive the company’s strategy, direction, and profitability.

In summary, the increasingly competitive environment makes it critical to gain the advantages that an analytically focused strategy can give to your company’s success

Written by Linda Williams who is partnered with Datacenter Trust and also has a Business Intelligence consulting practice where she provides businesses with assistance in performance measurement, process improvement, and cost reduction.
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In a recent trip to Hawaii, I had the most amazing customer service experience in the First Class seating of United Airlines.

Firstly, it is just exhilarating to be going to Hawaii.

Secondly, being upgraded to First Class at the last minute – simply mind blowing.

Finally, having the customer experience that is just outstanding – that takes the cake. If you have been on flights where the personnel are rude, unfriendly, where you are treated like cattle and the service is rubbish, you will get what I am going to say.

As I got on the flight, I saw this pleasant face that greeted me with a smile at 9:30am. She took my jacket and gave me a glass of champagne. Yes, that is one of the reason why Hawaii is a popular destination…As I sunk into the seat and saw the plane take off, I saw miles and miles of ocean underneath. And then before the meal was served the captain had a plan to play a game where the passengers were given Distance and Speed and they had to calculate the Hawaiian time (precisely to the second) when the plane would be mid-way. Then he offered a CD to the winner as a reward. Me and my husband, got into it – the engineer in both of us took over the lazy traveler.

We got our heads into it and the air hostess kept smiling as she saw the passion and the energy with which we were feverishly making calculations. She came to us when we were done and simply smiled and said, “I am going to take your answer to the captain, I want it to be on the top. I am confident you are the winners”. We smiled and just wished that other people will be in a vacation mood.

The time flew, we got done with our meal service and as the plane was about an hour from destination, at that time the captain announced the winner. Alas! we had lost.  We were short by one second to the correct answer. We both smiled at each other as we heard the air hostess break the news to us. Then, all of a sudden, she came over to us and said, “You both deserve a prize”. And then she left. When she returned she had a Chilean Red wine bottle with her and she said, “You were short by one second, you are winners, this is your prize”.

I was amazed at her and thanked her. Her graciousness was commendable. I guess she made me a loyal customer of United. I asked her “How long have been working for United?” She said, “Twenty Years”. I was enthused to see that not only United had retained an employee for twenty years, but also nurtured them to be relationship ambassadors.

Social Media Advantage

And this story becomes part of my series since social media now allows me to thank United and Susie Burns for their extraordinary service. I will be sending a personal email to Susie with a link to this article. Just my way of acknowledging her in today’s social media world. Moreover, @unitedairlines is the twitter handle for United and as I tweet this article with their handle they will get to see this it, so no need to send a “thank you” letter to the customer service department. And it is possible, they might RT it for their ~ 135K followers on Twitter to read – that is pure word of mouth web 2.0 marketing.  Moreover, my FB. twitter and LinkedIn networks will see this.

There is no better PR than a compelling customer service story and this is an example of how customers are sharing their experiences. And that too FREE of charge to United – now that’s what I call a Home Run!

DD-new-pic-headshot Contributed by Deepika Bajaj, President and Founder, Invincibelle, LLC and co-founder, ActiveGarage (the company behind 99tribes). Deepika is also the author of the book DiversityTweet: Embracing the growing diversity in our world and Pink and Grow Rich:11 Unreasonable Rules for Success You can follow Deepika on Twitter at invincibelle
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The next installment in the QUALITYtweet series is: 7 tips for acting on customer feedback

Here are the first fourteen posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…
  11. Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership
  12. Quality #12: Middle Management and Quality Culture
  13. Quality #13: Reviews can be fun (if done right)
  14. Quality #14: Process improvement and 3E’s

#QUALITYtweet Critical Question:

You have taken your customer’s feedback; have you REALLY acted upon it?

Formal Customer Feedback is a proven tool for bringing about meaningful improvements in your business and offerings. Typical methods of collecting customer feedback include surveys, feedback forms, listening to customer in one-to-one meetings or just watching customers use your products and services. But all improvement starts when you start listening to the voice of your customers and act upon it. It is easy to analyze customer feedback and create good looking charts, but the key is to identify what feedback really means to you as a business.

A few years back, I interviewed a candidate for a process improvement position. His resume’ indicated that he had worked on designing a customer feedback collection system. I was impressed and curious to know more. Further in the interaction, the candidate revealed that his boss (Quality Manager) treated “customer feedback collection” as a task. Once feedback came in, he would send a report to the top management and strike the task off from his task list.

Collecting customer feedback and not acting upon it is a huge waste – as it might appear that you collected the feedback to make the other party feel good about it, which is flattering, but not meaningful. Smart customers will remember their feedback and take a notice when you serve them next time.

Mature organizations devise an integrated customer feedback program which includes both internal customers (people) and external ones. Internal customer feedback program ensures that you identify improvement areas from within.

Here are a few ideas for you to ensure that your integrated customer feedback initiative delivers what is intended to – i.e. meaningful business change:

  1. Seek feedback on overall experience: Most companies seek feedback limited to a product, service or department. Ask the right questions to gauge the overall experience including communication, systems, ease of use and pricing. With the right questions, customers will think broadly and give more constructive feedback.
  2. Acknowledge the feedback and thank them: Once customers share their feedback, acknowledge the receipt and do not forget to thank them. Make it personal. This is the starting point of post-feedback communication.
  3. Reward: A lot of companies offer discounts or freebies when customers share their feedback. This is a good way to ensure involvement and initiative. This works even better when seeking feedback from internal customers.
  4. Keep them involved: Share feedback with customers about their feedback and what you are doing about it. Most companies make the mistake of never going back to the customer after the first feedback cycle. If customer spares valuable time sharing the feedback, it is your obligation to inform them about your follow-up actions and status. In case of internal customers, you can also involve them in solution definition.
  5. Treat Customer Feedback Program as a project: This is very crucial to ensure that actions are followed through. After feedback is received, create a mini-project on improvement actions with defined deadlines and expected outcomes. Creating action log helps maintain momentum and focus on improvement actions.
  6. Ship Results: Show customers how their feedback has helped you improve your processes, delivery methods and service offerings that positively impacts their business. Implement improvement actions on your customer projects and allow them to experience change.
  7. Consider a follow-up feedback: Now that your customers have experienced improvements, consider a follow-up feedback to ensure that they acknowledge your efforts and share their comments.

Customer feedback is never a one-way street – but a two way lane that can allow your customers to become your partners in process improvement.

Tanmay VoraTanmay is a Software Quality Management professional based out of India. He hosts QAspire Blog and tweets as @tnvora. He is also an author of the book #QUALITYtweet – 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Deliver Quality in Every Project
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Customer is King

by Guy Ralfe on April 14, 2010

As I continue to share my experiences in the journey from corporate jockey to being an owner and entrepreneur it amazes me how similar business is, irrespective of which vertical or market sector you operate in.

I have moved from the high tech IT solution delivery to application of specialty coatings in the construction world. What is very apparent is that business seems to be the same at successful companies. Contrary to conventional understanding business is not about the product. Yes product is important but not fundamental in a way that customers are.

There is a saying “Take care of your customers and the business will follow

I have found this to be true looking back at the various companies I have worked at and when business has been good. Where I see the challenge is that most people don’t stop and think who the customer is for them or their organization.

This last week I watched a TV program Undercover Boss, which featured Chris McCann, President and COO of 1-800-Flowers.com going undercover to visit franchise stores to get a better understanding of what they could improve.  What became very clear is that they had lost focus of who their customers were – yes ultimately it was the consumer of their product but along the way the franchise store is actually their primary customer. What was amazing to see was that even though the product (arranged flowers and chocolates) were the same for the stores the individual stores success hinged on the relationships the staff created with the customers. And by the same measure the challenges that the franchise stores were facing was as a result of a neglected relationship with the central franchisor management.

In reflecting on how we transact, think about the people that you socialize with and who you call for help or favors in your network. Without giving it much thought you go out your way to take care of them and maintain the relationship. These relationships work in a symbiotic or balanced manner and just as when you feel down they help you through. So too should you be doing the same for your customers, both internal and external.

As another quote I found says – “If you don’t take care of your customer, someone else will….

Guy RalfeThis article was contributed by Guy Ralfe, co-founder of Active Garage and co-author of the upcoming book ProjectManagementTweets. You can follow Guy on Twitter at gralfe.
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Lessons From Our Past

by Guy Ralfe on February 3, 2010

I have been riding the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Commuter rail service for 5 years and the service has not changed much in this time, but year on year the cost of a ticket rises, often more than inflation. In addition the daily parking rates received a 100% increase a year ago supposedly to help cover MBTA staff costs and yet the only way you can pay at most stations is by stuffing one dollar bills through a slot – no monthly contracts, pay by credit card etc that are commonly available in many municipal parking lots across the country.

I am moaning but I am trying to make a point here too – on February 1, 2010 a new rule has been put in place where commuters must only board where there is a conductor present. In effect about a 30% reduction in the number of places to board a train that already only has an entrance at each end of the carriage. I doubt in the history of rail service, its  origins date back to 1889, has this situation ever been the case and it is sad that our modern day educated commuter cannot let themselves on or off a train unescorted.

Most commuter systems around the world are being redesigned to eliminate the human element and to abstract the ticket management to before the actual commute, which is the prime purpose of the conductors on the MBTA. Even the T, the metro system in Boston, running alongside this same service operates with just a driver.

What I observe happening is that people with power today are making decisions because they operate in the vacuum of state/municipal organization, thinking they are immune to the consequences of the value their organization produces. At the end of the day the leaders of the MBTA are exposed to the same market pressures as any other free market business.  When the marginal utility or value does not exist passengers will consider alternative means of transport – it has happened before. When the cost of operation exceeds the value paid by customers and from the state taxes, it will draw significant attention by both disgruntled commuters and non-commuters who will see it as a waste of their tax dollars. It will not be perceived as a necessity but a problem.

Where there are problems there are opportunities… successful businesses thrive on the vulnerability of these sorts of problems. When opportunistic businesses, observe organizations entwined by their own history, they quickly swoop in with fresh ideas not constrained by the existing historical standards and cultures. Today’s impossibilities will become tomorrow’s opportunities. These options will sound welcoming and fresh to a disgruntled commuter and tax base. Although things generally move slowly in state/municipal processes once a movement starts it is hard to stop the momentum of the masses.

When this shift takes place it will become quickly apparent that even the state/municipal organizations are competing in a global marketplace irrespective of if the infrastructure is immovable such as in a train infrastructure. People and organizational practices can always be changed – it depends who holds the most compelling and valuable story at the time, which is what business is essentially. There are many transport service companies all over the globe that given the opportunity, and having no sentiment for existing established policies or traditions, will gladly start anew – possibly without a conductor or possibly one to keep all the doors open for their valued customers.

No customers  = no service, the value has to be there, and if you are not producing value with existing assets and opportunities there are a lot of companies out there determined to make better use of established assets like a rail network. Of late has been the acquisition by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment company of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the nation’s second-largest railroad for $34 Billion, their biggest acquisition yet.

Surprisingly this lesson has not been learned by the MBTA where this situation has already transpired in Boston’s Transportation History to quote

“The West End Street Railway had a virtual monopoly on all streetcar lines in greater Boston, but high profits, poor service, high fares and a general lack of concern for the public had resulted in alienation of the West End’s management from its customers. On December 9, 1897, under the supervision of the Transit Commission, a lease was entered into with the West End Street Railway by which the property of that company was leased to the Boston Elevated Railway Company”

Remember I told you so!

Guy RalfeThis article was contributed by Guy Ralfe, co-founder of Active Garage and co-author of the upcoming book ProjectManagementTweets. You can follow Guy on Twitter at gralfe.
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You Can, but you shouldn’t Can’t

by Guy Ralfe on December 16, 2009

cant textHave you noticed in business how you react when people tell you something CAN’T be done? For me it lights my fuse and I then become driven to find the solution, almost to prove them wrong. I question the persons qualifications, their intent and any optimism that my problems are going to be solved by this individual/team/organization vaporizes.

A few years back I was the person delivering this news, time and again the customer was asking for help and because we didn’t have the skills we continually told the customer it can’t be done. Looking back it was a difficult time as this approach only added fuel to the fire and caused unnecessary conflict on projects at the time.

Customers employ staff and engage companies services primarily because they lack the skills and competence themselves. Clients are there to make requests, otherwise we would not be there servicing them, so always provide an option to move the client forward – let the client be the one to decide to quit a particular request not you telling them.

To do this I see two possible routes;

  1. Let the customer know why you believe this to be risky/difficult but that you could perform a little exploratory work and then they (the customer) can make a decision.
  2. Demonstrate to the customer why it is not feasible/possible etc

In both instances you have to show that you can lead the client through the process. This builds the trust in your capabilities and, generally, they will work with you to find a mutual outcome.

Another situation that I caution is “sandbagging” your risk by making something seem overly complicated. Take two situations:

  1. Consultant advises client he is unsure if it is possible, will do some investigation / proof of concept then provide an estimate to complete.
  2. Consultant advises client this is a major technical challenge and that it will take 40-80 hrs to attempt a resolution.

When consultant A comes back after 4 hours and advises he has a potential solution and it will take a further 4 hrs to develop, the client will work with the consultant. If consultant B comes back after 6 hrs and reports the task completed and that it is available to test – the client is left overjoyed by the result but regarding your competency and skill, it will be judged as low, and you may not get the next business request.

Clients pay to receive services, that requires knowledge, expertise and a leadership offering to facilitate realizing their requests. Can’t is not a powerful option so look to see how you can make positive possibilities for your customers, even if one possibility makes them realize this is not an option – you just should not be the one saying can’t in response to a request.

A couple of years on and I have a team that has great skills, are open and engaging with our clients and our business is thriving as a result. Best, our customers keep coming back for more.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing.

Guy RalfeThis article was contributed by Guy Ralfe, co-founder of Active Garage and co-author of the upcoming book ProjectManagementTweets. You can follow Guy on Twitter at gralfe.
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Quality #2:“Cure” precedes “Prevention”

by Tanmay Vora on November 10, 2009

Cure or preventionThis is the second part of a 12-part series titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture. This series will provide 12 relevant insights on how organizations can improve their quality culture through people, processes and leadership.

#QUALITYtweet Never let your processes

come in the way of solving your

customer’s immediate problems

I recently saw a very popular and award-winning Indian movie where a goon decides to become a doctor to fulfill his father’s dream. He cheats in entrance test and gets into a medical school, only to notice the impersonal attitude of doctors and their bureaucratic relationship with patients.

On the first day of his college, as he walks towards the class room, he notices a patient in critical condition waiting to get admitted to hospital. He is in a critical condition and his relatives are struggling to get the admission form which needs to be filled as a mandatory process for getting admitted. This deeply annoys the protagonist who then proceeds to the induction session. When the Dean’s introduction lecture gets over, the protagonist asks him in front of all other students, “When a patient is in a critical condition, is it necessary to fill up the admission form? If the patient lost his life, who will be responsible?” This agitates the dean who walks out of the room without giving any answer.

This movie sequence contains a great lesson for the organizations – “Never let your processes come in the way of solving your customer’s immediate problems.”

Your processes should have flexibility to allow your people to solve customer’s burning problems. “Cure” precedes Prevention”. You can think of prevention after you have learned how to solve immediate problems of your customer.

How do we achieve this? Here are some pointers:

  1. Constantly review processes to identify redundancies that can be removed to simplify the process.
  2. Identify processes that are designed to “save the turf” but not related to actual customer service or value.
  3. Create an action plan of how these processes can be changed to simplify.
  4. Automate critical processes in form of applications that are easily accessible and easy to use.
  5. Train middle management to develop a customer-oriented mindset.
  6. Lead the team from front and set right examples of what customer-orientation looks like.
  7. Once immediate customer problem is solved, assess the opportunity to improve process and prevent similar occurrences.
  8. Make people nearest to customer accountable for customer satisfaction. Base your rewards on customer satisfaction and not on metrics.
  9. Keep doing these activities continuously.

Process is a tool that we use to deliver better services. The same process, if applied rigidly, can become your biggest obstacle in solving customer’s burning problems. In business critical situations, empathy towards customer’s business is as important as having a process. That is the hallmark of a customer-centric process culture.

Tanmay VoraTanmay is a Software Quality Management professional based out of India. He hosts QAspire Blog and tweets as @tnvora. He is also an author of the book #QUALITYtweet – 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Deliver Quality in Every Project
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Rules for the sake of Rules

by Himanshu Jhamb on November 3, 2009

rules sake rules“I am really sorry, sir. It doesn’t matter what you have to say about why you need this specific service because it is against our policy to provide this. I want to save you the time of going over why you need what you need as we simply cannot provide it.”

I was told this at a local Walgreens a few weeks ago.

All I could do was stare confoundedly at the store representative. I mean, what can you, the customer, really do when the provider tells you that they don’t even want to LISTEN TO YOU? You do what I did – stare confoundedly at them.

I have come across so many instances of this that I am led to believe this is no trivial matter or a one-off instance. This is a serious issue plaguing the customer service industry and if you think you are perhaps not impacted by this, well… then you are probably not in the business of making money. The solution to this issue, ironically, comes from within the company itself. All it takes, in most of the cases, is another “more helpful” representative of the company who simply and genuinely wants to “help” the customer. Even if they end up with the same result i.e. not being able to provide what the customer is after, they try and try and try until they exhaust all possible options. They don’t tell the customer that they don’t want to hear them out because they care for the customer’s time. That is, in fact, complete bullshit. All that tells me is that the representative wanted to save HIS/HER time and it surely sounds a lot better if he/she said it was about saving the customer’s time. In my specific case, I simply went to a neighboring branch (of Walgreens, again) and got what I needed from a “more helpful” representative who found a way to help me, without breaking the rule… and he found a way by just spending an extra 10 minutes listening to my problem. Heck! Even if he had not been able to help me after the 10 minute of my cathartic problem-telling, I would’ve still come out a happy customer – a customer that was at least heard out.

The lesson to learn here (for me and perhaps for you) is to consistently question the rules and the rule-enforcers in your organization to ensure the purpose of the rules (i.e. helping your customer) is not being lost in the process of upholding the rules. Here are a few good ones to ask:

  1. Are you or your employees following the rules blindly and in fact, turning customers away OR are they putting some thought into the situation and EXPLORING if there is any way they can help the customer without breaking the rules?
  2. Are you or your employees enforcing the rules with a level of rigidity that is in fact hurting your customers or are you looking to “help” the customer, even if it means you might have to “bend” the rules a little from time to time.
  3. Most important one: Are you turning the customer away with a big fat “NO” the moment you sense a rule might be broken if you help them in the way they need help OR are you at least, starting out with a magnanimous YES and are willing to HEAR THEM OUT!

The next time you remember a RULE, think of why it exists and see if the RULE itself defeats the purpose of why it exists… that’s a sure shot giveaway of a rule that needs to be inspected and perhaps, overruled!

Himanshu JhambThis article was contributed by Himanshu Jhamb, co-founder of ActiveGarage and co-author of #PROJECT MANAGEMENT tweet. You can follow Himanshu on Twitter at himjhamb.
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