Francis Wade | Solving those nagging customer complaints that never go away
If your company has over 100 employees and faces difficult customer service problems, it’s likely that they have become intractable.
They aren't fixed easily because the solution does not reside in the hands of front-line personnel. Instead, they exist because your organisation is too big for small-scale solutions.
Every company which grows above a certain size discovers a new class of stubborn problems which can’t be solved by tinkering with customer service representatives, or CSRs.
Take the case of a call you make to complain about the inaccuracy of a bill. No matter how nice, empathetic or professional the CSR is, she is far removed from the source of the issue. All she can do is record the fact that it exists.
If you suspect that the fault originates deep in the bowels of the organisation, you may be right. For example, the three departments who must cooperate to resolve the problem report to different people who each have their own agendas. From their personal point of view, you are collateral damage; not a priority. As far as they are concerned, their boss believes they are doing a great individual job.
In such a situation, further training of front-line staff makes no difference. Neither will hiring new CSR's. How do the best companies go about resolving these issues systematically?
ILLUMINATE THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY
In a simple operation like a patty shop, it’s easy for managers to monitor the flow of experiences you have as a customer from entrance to exit. However, as companies become more complex, your ‘customer journey’ grows to span multiple organisations and more people. Before long, no one can see, let alone manage your end-to-end experience. It's ignored.
As you get handed off from one department to another in a game of ‘royal runaround’, it’s possible to meet some very nice employees along the way. It’s just that no one is responsible for the entire length of the abominable process you are stuck inside.
Unfortunately, most companies are only equipped to handle single fires. Process problems require a different approach.
I recall one of my clients who sincerely believed that it took a mere seven days to handle a new application. In fact, investigations revealed that the actual elapsed time from the customer's point of view was closer to a shocking 15 days.
Companies who fix this particular kind of poor service start with an appreciation of your journey as a customer. It’s defined as the sequential flow of touchpoints you experience and it can only be discovered when employees walk in your shoes. This is the first step, but these kinds of changes don't happen in a single corrective intervention.
SYSTEMATIC PROCESS IMPROVEMENT
Only a few firms go further and set up a permanent, cross-functional team to manage the processes that make up the customer journey.
They undertake the following minimum business process management, BPM, activities:
-Baseline the current process/customer journey;
-Find and execute quick wins;
-Establish and monitor performance metrics;
-Use the new data to implement process changes.
This cycle is repeated ad infinitum, often with the help of a coach. However, each change is limited in duration in the absence of proper governance outside the team.
MAKING IMPROVEMENT PERMANENT
Sometimes, the team makes terrific progress just by empowering itself. Unfortunately, their success hastens the moment when further time, money, technology and additional human resources are needed. Now, the endorsement of the company is required.
A good place to start is to establish a new position in the organisation: a ‘process owner’.
This individual must possess a blend of technical, political and communication skills to lead the team through the four BPM steps shared earlier.
They also are held accountable for the ongoing improvement of the customer experience and process performance. To be successful, they pull together people from different departments who have competing interests.
Process owners make sure that the company pays attention to the space between silos, tying the customer’s piecemeal experiences into a single whole.
It’s hard work. But their very existence is important as it highlights the precarious nature of the customer’s journey through a complex organisation.
These three changes may sound easy to implement but they fly in the face of cultures which promote loyalty to one’s manager over loyalty to the customer. As such, preventing service abominations and royal runarounds requires a shift in power from line managers to process owners. Most resist such changes.
The fact is, this process transformation is required if a company is to scale to the next level and meet its service aspirations. Now, it must think about the customer quite differently and embrace the challenge of being a complex but successful organisation.
- Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of “Perfect Time-Based Productivity”. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: firstname.lastname@example.org