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Can’t get no satisfaction

Written by Martin Reed on Thursday, 04 April 2013. Posted in Audience, Sales & Marketing

Just a quarter of businesses have a strategy for improving customer service. But mega customer experience should be at the heart of every business, says Martin Reed

Can’t get no satisfaction

If there was one guaranteed way to give your business a competitive advantage regardless of the size of your enterprise or the industry you operate in, it would surely make sense to ensure your company was focusing on and prioritising that idea, wouldn’t it? 

However, customer service – proven to be the single most important competitive advantage for businesses across all industries – is often something that is left to chance. 

According to the Econsultancy Multichannel Customer Experience Report, only 26% of companies have a well-developed strategy in place for improving customer experience, meaning 74% are simply crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. It’s entirely possible that this apparent disregard for the importance of customer service comes from the fact that many senior-level managers see themselves as removed from the day-to-day customer-facing part of the company. Yet in any organisation, the commitment to customer service has to begin at the top. Of course, the end result is how your company deals with customers and clients at the coalface, but the emphasis on the importance of outstanding customer service needs to be ingrained in company culture. 

In today’s consumer-driven society, competitive advantages derived from having a unique or cost-effective product tend to be short-lived as your competitors are often able to duplicate what you offer, or offer it more cheaply, making customer service a vital differentiating factor. Most UK businesses believe that customer service has become increasingly important over the last year and will continue to be even more important in the future, so it makes sense to pay attention to how your company is performing in this area.

Every employee must understand what is expected of them when interacting with customers and that ethos needs to be laid out by senior management. Companies need to be very clear about what ‘great service’ looks like for their particular business – what are the competencies you need to see your staff demonstrating? For example, do you need them to use more initiative and take ownership of situations more regularly? Do you need them to work on building long-term relationships with clients? Do you need to see them integrate more fully with their team to  ensure the group is working as a whole?

One of the tools used by many companies when evaluating the experience they offer their customers is to bring in a mystery shopper but our experience in working with hundreds of companies highlights that this isn’t the best approach for everybody. While there are clearly benefits to using a mystery shopper, there are also drawbacks to auditing this way – namely the limitations of the information collected. While mystery shopping highlights any specific flaws in an employee’s performance, a more in-depth method can help you discover the root cause of the issue and how to address the problem. Simply criticising behaviour rather than providing a more well-rounded view of a particular employee’s overall performance doesn’t encourage productive communication between manager and employee when addressing the issue and can demoralise employees. Instead, using a more focused assessment and looking into individual competencies, such as clear communication, customer focus or team work, allows you to pinpoint exactly which areas of the employees’ performance need improvement and create a development plan to address the issue head on.

Our experience shows us that the most productive approach to assessing how well your company delivers customer service is to help your employees develop self-awareness about their interactions with other people and their impact on them. It’s not about finding fault, but about helping an employee understand how their perception of themselves compares to other people’s. Poor customer or client relations aren’t necessarily about bad performance or laziness on the part of an individual, but could simply be a lack of awareness of how they come across or a lack of understanding of what is expected of them. 

Using a tool like the Thomas 360, where you can decide which competencies to focus on, allows you to gather quantifiable data on soft skills and gives employees performance feedback from those they work with, enabling them to compare it with their own perception of their performance. Our approach allows employees to rate themselves on a set of competencies and then compare their ratings with those given by other people including their managers, peers, subordinates, customers and external suppliers to help them understand how they come across to other people. Instead of picking holes or finding fault, businesses we work with find helping employees increase their self-awareness has a greater positive impact on performance.

As a leader, you need to be very aware of the standards you’re setting, and then take the time to assess how well your employees are meeting those standards with a fully rounded approach. Taking a holistic view of how far employees are meeting the company standards and the areas where further development is needed is a more productive approach than simply pointing out where they are failing. 

Whether you choose to utilise a tool like 360 or simply change your approach to customer service, being clear about what your customer service standards look like and taking an all-encompassing view of an employee’s performance in relation to those standards, highlighting the difference between how individuals see themselves and how others see them, has proven to be the best way to address any customer service performance issues. By addressing how your business provides customer service, its quality and its consistency, you can face the coming challenges, and the increasing importance of customer experience, with confidence. 

About the Author

Martin Reed

Reed has been at the helm of psychometric testing company Thomas International since 2007, after being appointed as chairman two years earlier. As well as penning this regular column for Elite Business he is also a founding member of the Bucks Business First and a fellow of the Institute of Directors.

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