Michael W. Kublin and Jan Mayer-Rodriguez
We all have customers: internal or external, public or private sector, investors or shareholders. Regardless of who our customers are, we need to not only provide them with an excellent product or an exceptional service, we must also understand their needs and expectations, and build a valued relationship.
Customer Care = Providing Quality and Value
How committed are you to providing exceptional customer care? Do you have a means of knowing if your customers are satisfied? Do you have a measurement system that rates how effective you are? What about a process for reporting and tracking issues and complaints, and for soliciting feedback?
If you don’t have a scorecard in place, consider creating one. We used to measure ourselves, and get measured on, service level agreements. We needed to know exactly what each customer needed (e.g., hardware, software, deliverables, availability, turnaround time, services). We needed to know which elements were critical for our customers to run their businesses, and the impacts of each element. We also needed to know if certain days were more urgent than other days for deliverables, and which times of day were more critical than others. (We found Monday’s were “hot,” and that even in the middle of the night disruptions were costly).
A key dimension that is sometimes overlooked is understanding the impact on our customers when we don’t deliver. Other than diminished satisfaction levels, there could be penalties assessed for failure to deliver or expenses for unproductive workers. And, of course, we could lose the customer.
We created a scorecard template for each customer, including their key components, and we asked them to rate us every month. It wasn’t always a feel good situation, particularly if there had been issues with products, service, or deliverables, but our customers were fully engaged, and they appreciated that we cared enough to understand their needs and asked them to share their feedback. Talk about building good will!
The ability to provide consistent quality and value is huge. Most often we think in terms of a service, a deliverable, or a product, but what about cost-saving recommendations, ideas for increasing revenue, or assisting with the attainment of goals? Or what about enhancements for how your customer services their customers?
We need to understand what’s expected of us and take the time to validate that we’re meeting (and hopefully exceeding) those expectations. We need to understand the critical roles and processes that best support each customer, and we need to anticipate their needs and expectations.
What happens when the power goes out? When phones don’t work? When servers are down? When email is blocked (or goes into spam folders and is never seen)? We never really know the total impact on our customers (although many are more than happy to express their feelings), and so we never know what opportunities we may be missing.
We once saw a department of 500 individuals sitting idly for several hours because of nondelivery of a product. If we truly know our customers, we understand their dependencies on us, we can equate our lack of service to their loss of revenue and other downstream impacts, and we are cognizant of the fact that they could look elsewhere for service or product providers.
Knowing our customers, being customer-focused, delivering what we commit to, and listening and responding to their needs will lend itself to a sustainable and strong customer relationship—and isn’t that what we all aspire toward?
In order to deliver quality and value to our customers, we must be aware. One tool we use is our Leadership COMPASS. The points on the COMPASS are:
C – Communicate Effectively
O – Optimize Differences
M – Manage Change
P – Plan, Persist, and Organize
A – Appropriately Handle Conflict
S – Sustain/Enhance Relationships
S – Skillfully Influence Others
Think about a key customer or a potential customer: How would you score yourself in your interactions with them in regards to communication, understanding and reacting to differences, managing, promoting, and accepting change, overall planning, having healthy conflict/disagreements, building strong relationships, and being influential and listened to?
If you scored high, well done! If not, it’s time to go deeper.
- What do you know about your customers, their needs, and the team members that support them?
- Who could you ask for information and feedback in regards to their expectations and desired results?
- In what way could you be more open to building the relationship and improving your delivery and expectations?
- How could you more creative/innovative to enhance delivery and expectations?
When former president George H.W. Bush created National Customer Service Week in 1992, he recognized that:
The most successful businesses are those that display a strong commitment to customer satisfaction. Customer service professionals work in the front lines, where a firm meets its customers, where supply meets demand. With responsive policies and procedures and with simple courtesy, customer service professionals can go a long way toward ensuring customer satisfaction and eliciting the next round of orders and purchases.
Do you have any idea what your customers’ vision and goals are? Do they invite you to participate in their quarterly, semiannual, or annual reviews? If the answer is no, how can you possibly know how to best support them?
- What are their target growth areas? How can you support them?
- What are their problem areas? How can you support them?
- What changes are anticipated? How can you support them?
- What are their priorities? How can you support them?
Understanding your customer and leveraging the strengths of the individuals/teams that support them promotes responsiveness, quality deliverables, and well-established relationships. Building a high-performing team requires ongoing development, knowledge sharing, coaching, motivation, inspiration, and the courage to leverage individual passions and strengths.
- What type of communication is most effective for each customer contact?
One size does not fit all. Some want all the details, facts, perceptions, and timelines. Others only want brief updates. Some want those updates via email, some via phone, and others in person. It’s up to you to understand your customers and make every attempt to interact with them in the style that works best for them.
Consider if there are trouble spots in your communication. Is it too detailed? Too high level? Not timely enough? Not directed to the right person? Impacts not shared? George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Replace uncertainty and ambiguity with clarity!
We all benefit when we assess how we provide value to our customers, our organization, and, when applicable, our shareholders. It’s also not a bad idea to assess the value we provide to ourselves.
Given today’s economy, it’s important to review what we do and how we’re doing it. Gone are the days of “job security,” for individuals and organizations. So, what can we do?
Awareness improves success! Know your expected results, understand your constraints, build trust and hold one another accountable, collaborate, communicate, and respond to challenges, and leverage your strengths. Be true to your mission, values, and goals. Be customer-focused and deliver on your commitments. When things don’t go as planned, don’t beat yourself up; rather, think in terms of what could be done differently to provide customer excellence!
Michael W. Kublin is the founder and president of PeopleTek, Inc., a training, development, and coaching company that specializes in enabling technicians, professionals, and their teams to examine behaviors to determine what is effective and identify what may be inhibiting desired results. Previously, Mike worked for EDS and American Express in a variety of leadership roles, managing technical teams and interfacing with internal and external business partners and vendors. He’s also the author of twelve books, including 12 Steps for Courageous Leadership.
Jan Mayer-Rodriguez is the VP of operations at PeopleTek, Inc., where she oversees infrastructure growth, and process, tracks the progress made against operational targets, monitors customer relations, and identifies developmental opportunities for organizations and individuals. Previously, Jan worked for American Express, where she focused on improving internal/external customer and employee satisfaction levels, delivering superior products, and building effective cross-team behaviors.