For companies large and small, achieving high customer satisfaction is a challenge. One common obstacle involves revamping normal business operations and implementing change that improves the quality of the customer experience. However, by implementing an upside-down strategy where the customer drives the customer experience through the service management organization (SMO), companies can create an environment where customer focus drives every decision they make.
Creating a quality customer experience starts with a clear understanding of the current environment. Once the company understands the environment, it must decide how to drive a quality customer experience and standards from the front lines of the organization back through the various areas of the company where customer satisfaction principles are lackluster. By focusing on the customer experience, companies can improve customer loyalty, which can, in turn, increase organic growth. The SMO can drive product and process efficiencies between groups and reduce costs while increasing customer service, creating value for both the company and the client.
The complete reinvention of company processes is not the answer. Instead, it’s a matter of tweaking the existing systems and processes by creating a mission and changing the rules of the game.
The Customer Quality Environment
The customer quality environment (CQE) embodies and promotes the guiding principles of customer satisfaction. Its mission is understanding the client and ensuring clients are proactively informed, their needs are responded to effectively, and their business risks are minimized. Expected results include high client satisfaction, a reduction in service desk cycle times, and reduced operational costs.
The goal of the CQE is to eliminate redundant, inconsistent operations and collaborate between product lines while transparently displaying data in a manner that drives knowledge out into the organization. To create the CQE, companies must follow six guiding principles. These six principles change the rules of the game and set new organizational expectations, both internally and externally.
1. Instill a “fix it once and forever” mentality across the company.
No problem should occur more than once without performing root cause analysis and taking the proper steps for knowledge management. To ensure proper closure and communication of the resolution internally and externally, the problem resolution group, development organization, product group, and marketing organization must be aligned.
2. Ensure nothing is left to linger.
An incident needs a champion to drive it through to resolution. Every step of the way, the champion should monitor the incident’s progress, communicate throughout the organization, and mitigate road blocks.
3. Promote complete transparency for key metrics, both internally and externally.
Metrics are imperative for understanding where the company can improve. The more people can view and understand the metrics, the more ownership they will assume and the more care they will take to improve them.
Real-time data transparency should be driven throughout the organization, via support personnel, internal leadership, etc., to the clients and the company’s network of providers. By ensuring the all parties have insight into the company’s performance, it’s easier to focus on facts. Making the unknown known changes the way people respond to issues. Hidden agendas fall away and an environment of trust is created. Once everyone has “skin in the game,” they begin to take ownership for service quality.
4. Communicate with clients succinctly and frequently.
Clients want solid, direct communication and sound delivery. This requires a properly aligned communication path, which, in turn, requires informed staff. Your staff should have insight into everything from the company’s strategy down to the tactics that drive customer satisfaction. This will increase their level of commitment and drive other positive behaviors, like clearer communication, increased collaboration, and increased efficiency.
5. Ensure complete alignment between business requirements and technology capabilities.
While communicating with customers is essential, having properly aligned technology is equally important. Aligning technology is not just about matching applications to products; it’s much more complex. Technology alignment entails focusing on people, processes, and power.
Technology organizations must have, at minimum, a three-year forecast to make sure they have the right staff for the right products. It can take many months to develop a staff that can provide value, and it’s an ongoing, transitional process.
There should be a very clearly defined process for how a product moves from concept to production. There are many project and product development lifecycle methodologies that handle this, but the main priorities are organizational alignment and the flow of communications between each group in the organization.
A clear understanding of when and how information flows within the various business and technology processes can mitigate many of the inefficiencies that plague project success. Clarity—of expectations,of communication, of understanding—is one characteristic of a well-aligned CQE.
Applications and machines get faster and cheaper each year. Organizations must strike a balance between costs and functionality. But there’s more to power than just technology. There’s also the power to make decisions and the power of suggestion. Staff members who have the capacity to create efficiencies must be empowered to do so. Bottom-up decision making also drives a more creative work environment. Finally, no question should go unheard. Organizations must continuously reinvent, reeducate, and reevaluate their processes and people to deliver improvement year over year.
6. Put systems and people in place to proactively detect and resolve issues.
Systems and people must be put in place to proactively address issues before they happen. A reactive approach to managing client issues creates an environment of negativity that leads to poor customer satisfaction. All clients know problems occur; their experience is defined by how their problems are handled. The key is finding and communicating (or correcting) the problem before the client does. This creates an environment of trust that increases satisfaction, decreases miscommunication, and reduces “bad press.”
CQEs, SMOs, and Communicative Leadership
Driving customer satisfaction initiatives throughout the company takes buy-in from senior leadership and a commitment to communicative management. Each initiative affects the internal and external perception of the company, which is why communicating openly and candidly is so important. This enables the SMO to develop partnerships and shape expectations.
When clients are involved in decision making, customer satisfaction scores also go up. Client advocates or advocacy groups drive customer satisfaction, and by creating products with client input, companies can set proper expectations, which can mitigate the negative effect of problems on customer satisfaction.
SMO-driven innovation also creates, without additional cost or effort, a knowledge center that’s accountable for continuous improvement. The SMO becomes the voice of the product for the client, the research and analytics hub, the system and tool integrator, the client data management expert and, most importantly, the business process improvement specialist that drives efficiency throughout the company.
Analytics are another key to the customer experience that should be shared throughout the organization. Implement omniscient systems that provide insight into industry analytics, sales, systems performance, SLAs and metrics, and other client-specific information. This will promote alignment, from sales to the service desk, and paint a more complete picture of the total customer experience picture. More importantly, this kind of transparent, immediate knowledge transfer can happen virtually, without the need for physical interaction, which can save the company time and money.
Knowledge management, business intelligence, data mining, and cross-industry analytics are important, but they need an audience to be useful. In companies that communicate through multiple channels—emails, dashboards, calls, pages, bulletins, texts, etc.—preemptive, proactive communication are the norm. And the closer to real time the communication is delivered, the more integrated the organization will be, from the service desk to the C-suite.
Building alignment starts with creating the CQE. In the July/August issue, we’ll look at implementation considerations and sketch out a framework for making decisions based on the clients wants/needs. As with the CQE, you must begin with an understanding of the current environment, including communication hand-offs. Then you can develop a formal plan, designate a facilitator to drive success, and implement a continuous improvement process to ensure that the organization continues to serve its clients’ best interests.
As companies look to set themselves apart from their competitors, they must turn their customer service model upside down. This will prove to the customer that the business is totally customer-focused, and not the other way around.
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.