In the May/June issue of SupportWorld, I presented an upside-down strategy for creating a quality customer experience. In this article, I’ll outline a three-step process for implementing a customer quality environment (CQE).
Many companies rely on their service management organizations (SMOs) to manage customer requests for products and services. A well-managed SMO understands its clients and works with them to create a quality customer experience. Through the implementation of a CQE, the SMO can set customer experience standards for internal business groups and manage customer expectations, all while increasing customer satisfaction and creating communication efficiencies throughout the company.
To deliver maximum value to your company and optimum levels of satisfaction to your customers, follow this three-step process when implementing your CQE:
Understand and align. A clear understanding of the current environment promotes transparency between groups and opens up lines of communication.
Architect the solution. Once a company understands how it will handle communication and develop a CQE, architecting the solution becomes a very tactical exercise. This is where a formal plan is created to shape the existing environment into a true CQE. When architecting the solution, it’s important for company stakeholders to understand what will be expected of them and how “delivering value” will be defined.
Manage delivery. There should be a clear understanding of how implementing a CQE will change the behaviors of the organization and how success will be measured. This is essential for executing flawlessly and with the utmost integrity.
Understand and Align
The first step in implementing a CQE involves evaluating the current environment and defining what customer service means to the company. During this exercise, questions will arise about the differences between internal and external customer satisfaction. It’s important to be clear that external customer satisfaction is the priority, bearing in mind that creating strong customer-centric relationships externally drives positive behaviors internally. And since company alignment is one of the CQE’s primary goals, senior executives should be key stakeholders in the decision-making process. Their support will help rally the company around the idea that customer satisfaction is an integral part of the company’s strategic and tactical plans.
While functional and communicative alignment is imperative, defining customer satisfaction in the products that are developed and deployed is also important. From the ideas stage to the “generally available” stage, customer satisfaction should be addressed throughout the product development lifecycle. The SMO represents the customer in the product development lifecycle and provides standards of excellence that reduce costs and increase efficiency. The SMO also develops a communication plan to ensure proper management of the customer experience. Product development, IT development, quality management, sales and operations: all are responsible for delivering products successfully, and all should be aligned with the SMO’s standards.
It’s also important to clearly establish who will be responsible for addressing customer satisfaction and who will be responsible for implementing business processes around quality customer service. In terms of customer accountability, this is where the rubber meets the road. The SMO will need to rely on internal management to define roles and responsibilities for the company’s customer champions, those individuals empowered to be the voice of the customer.
While the SMO drives the implementation of customer satisfaction standards, the champions will interface with their groups and organizations as they implement customer satisfaction. They’ll also develop a customer satisfaction plan that provides guidance for business process owners (BPOs), particularly with regard to taking customer satisfaction into consideration when aligning business processes. BPOs are primarily concerned with the balance between process quality and efficiency; each company must determine how the scales tip for their products and services. The most advanced operations have highly efficient processes that also provide the highest levels of customer satisfaction.
A gap analysis will highlight discrepancies between where the company is and where it needs to be to meet customer needs; it will also reveal how customer satisfaction was taken into consideration at each stage of every business process. Once the gap analysis has been performed, each group will be able to draft timelines and set milestones that will enable it to align with the SMO’s overall plan to drive customer satisfaction. Each group should also take care to engage their staffs by setting specific goals at the individual contributor level. This will give employees a sense of ownership, and when employees are engaged in this way, they do their best work.
To determine whether you’ve successfully closed the gaps identified in your gap analysis, track metrics related to customer satisfaction. The HDI Practices & Salary Reports are an excellent guide to industry trends in both metrics and customer satisfaction, and there are many other resources available in HDI’s archives. Other organizations, like Gartner, provide equally valuable insights into these topics. It’s best to consult several different references, both to gain a wider perspective and to mitigate bias.
There are many customer satisfaction tools on the market, and they’re all slightly different. When deciding which tool is right for your environment, consider the following:
- Price (licensing)
- Implementation (customization and configuration)
- Training needs
- Company alignment with the tool
- Automation, integration, and workflow design
As you evaluate different tools, be mindful of how advanced operations will be supported (e.g., managing customer satisfaction metrics) and how the technology will be integrated within the SMO environment. Full transparency is imperative, and the tool you select must support that objective. This is what it means to have a true CQE.
Architect the Solution
In this case, the “solution” is increased external customer satisfaction. The architecture of the solution is the overall process that results from the environmental and gap analyses undertaken in the first step. Whether the path to the solution involves implementing a business process, installing a piece of software, or something as simple as setting new expectations for how groups interact with each other, there should be no hidden agendas (this may require appointing a mediator or facilitator). Full transparency and proactive customer service breed trust, and trust, in turn, feeds growth.
The first step in getting buy-in for creating a CQE is to form a steering committee. This committee should include representation from each major area of the company that’s responsible for creating high levels of customer satisfaction. The steering committee should also include representatives from the company’s most trusted customers, and they should be encouraged to share their perspectives on how the company can best meet their needs.
The committee’s responsibilities include reviewing the project plan and milestones and staying engaged throughout the implementation to provide governance and manage risk via the following:
- The establishment of SLAs and metrics
- Quality interactions between business processes
- Procedure development
- Preemptive, proactive communications
When kicking off internal projects related to the overall implementation, start with those that will have the most immediate effect on customer satisfaction. Better yet, pick an area where there’s dual benefit (i.e., where automation will help the external customer as well as the internal organization). Some groups will decide to tackle the low-hanging fruit first, while others will want take on the biggest issues facing the organization. Regardless, all objectives must be achievable within the time frames set by senior management.
Change management is an art, and one that touches many areas of the company. There are many dependencies in a CQE implementation, and the SMO should be responsible for managing these dependencies and the change management process overall. “Fix it once and forever” and “Nothing is left to linger” should be the SMO’s mantras. In essence, this means that issues will be addressed promptly, and once an issue has been resolved, it should not recur. This promotes thought before action, which, in turn, promotes internal harmony and sets solid external expectations. If your customers get what they expect, satisfaction goes up.
Once a solution has been developed and your company is ready to implement, a deployment plan will identify operational readiness. When managing the release of a product or service, whether internally or externally, the SMO should always align the needs of the customer with the release management process. Customers should to be notified before, during, and after changes are implemented, in accordance with the marketing organization’s communications plan.
While the steering committee drives customer service standards, an internal SMO project team manages the completion of the projects and tasks required to meet those standards. The project team ensures customer service continuity across the company, and emphasizes the importance of driving high customer satisfaction standards. The framework below outlines the foundation of a solid project plan.
Customer satisfaction is collaborative. Changes can’t move forward without the buy-in of all parties involved. Each group should always be looking for ways to improve their own department and others, constantly measuring and challenging the status quo to raise the standard of excellence.
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Achieving high customer satisfaction is a challenge for many companies, but it can be attained by adopting a managed approach. With the help of a steering committee, project teams, and a sound implementation framework, the SMO can become a center of excellence for customer satisfaction—the true voice of the customer.
Robert Kleier has been driving technology solutions since 1991. He joined CDI in September 2007 as a subject matter expert in the IT solutions business development group. He is currently the director of solutions development, responsible for crafting solutions for clients and supporting the sales organization across the United States. Robert received his MBA from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College and his BS in computer science from Northern Kentucky University.