Most companies that I work with claim to have great customer service. After all, who would say they don’t have good customer service. And yet, the extent to one invests in and executes customer service is a strategic decision and not all companies are investing at the same level.

Customer ServiceOne of the worst things a company can do is claim to have the customer at the heart of their business and then act inconsistently with that. I will never forget when my phone carrier, Verizon, years ago, ran a campaign that claimed “my problem was their problem”. So, when I had a problem and their procedures didn’t support my need (needed a replacement phone FAST because I was going to be traveling), it was clear my problem was still my problem. It underscored that they didn’t try to solve the problem as much as execute on policies that maintained profitability. For example, they could have given me a better grade of phone that they had in stock instead of insisting I get a refurbished phone out of central inventory that would have to be shipped. Or they could have agreed to expedite the shipping to my first travel location but that meant they would need laser precision in logistics. Neither of these were an option.

I have experienced two recent examples of customer service “whammys” where the situation was poorly handled. One company came back later and tried to make it right—offering coupons for future service—much more than they would have had to offer if they had done it originally. The other company called to apologize but offered no remedy. While one fared better than the other, both came out worse than they would have if they dealt with it right the first time.

Why Customer Service Issues Are Occurring

The new strategic framework, GrowthDNA, offers insights into how to diagnose why customer service issues are occurring and how to make customer service more effective.

ConfidenceDNA: By taking the time to understand what matters most to customers, organizations can design their investment in customer service to address the problems that are deal breakers or add/detract from value. For airlines for example, one of the biggest issues for passengers to get where they are going on time. Anytime they don’t, airlines would benefit by stepping up and taking responsibility—not required when it is a force majeure—but it could be a differentiator. And yet, they often don’t. At the very least, airlines should understand that missing life events or spending nights in airports is horrible and it would endear them to their customers if they did something to make it less so. Does it cost more money—yes. Does it create greater loyalty—absolutely. How much should be invested? That is what data analysis can tell you. Once with a few hours’ delay, one creative crew held a singing content for $50 vouchers; another time they had a paper airplane flying content. If passengers must spend the night, could airlines pass out pillows and blankets? Set up a coffee station? Things don’t have to be expensive to show empathy. You can’t accommodate every need but major in the ones that matter most.

ClarityDNA: This is the strand that would lead to the decision about the role customer service plays for an organization. It is critical to Nordstrom but not a differentiator for Walmart. That needs to be translated into practices. Nordstrom has more flexible policies, empowers employees to go outside of them if necessary, and believes satisfaction is the goal. Walmart is a low-price competitor and the “contract” with customers is that low price comes with tradeoffs. Walmart still strives to be friendly (greeters at the door) and provide inexpensive ways to get the job done (from price checking machines to self-scanning check out). What Walmart must decide and communicate to their employees is how to solve for unusual problems—where Walmart made a mistake and a customer was inconvenienced. They won’t know what to do if no one tells them.

CommitmentDNA: Customer service needs to be uniformly delivered to every customer—regardless of what level of service is included in the strategy. Customer value propositions are only achieved through consistency. Leadership must establish goals, clarify expectations, and train in customer relations interactions. The most important aspect of training, especially for companies like Walmart that don’t offer extensive service, is empathy. Often that can go a long way to derailing issues and doesn’t really add cost. The golden rule should always be in play no matter what level of service is built into the strategy.

CultureDNA: Many organizations who depend on customer service for their business understand that hiring the right people is often key—people who are naturally empathetic, good listeners, and creative problem solvers. Armed with important information (see ConfidenceDNA) they know when to apply more comprehensive options and when simpler solutions will do. In organizations that have less of a strategic investment in customer service, care must be given to finding a balance that supports the customers’ and company’s goals and building that into processes that can be consistently delivered. Even when solutions are limited, how they are offered and the degree of concern expressed regarding the customer’s situation is always appreciated. How often have you had a customer service representative say “I am sorry” and sound like they just said “I am so bored with my job”? We know that there are too many disengaged employees and it is often because they feel undervalued. Organizations who don’t invest a lot of in customer service still need to engage employees enough that they can work with customers enthusiastically.

Summary:

  1. ConfidenceDNA: Know what is most relevant to customer’s definition of value and focus customer service solutions—and investment—there.
  2. ClarityDNA: Define the role customer service plays in your strategy and whether it is a competitive advantage or essential to the value proposition. If it isn’t, be clear what the value proposition delivers. No smoke and mirrors.
  3. CommitmentDNA: Do what you say you will do. Regardless of the level of customer service, deliver it consistently day in and day out through training, values, and process.
  4. CultureDNA: Engaged and empathetic employees go a long way to helping customers resolve problems regardless of company investment level in the solution.