5 Steps to a Better Customer Service Experience

Donna Stevenson takes us on a journey through the five Stages of the Customer Satisfaction Practices Continuum.

Customer presentation

Delivering consistent and reliable customer service can be a challenging task and sometimes, it seems like a nearly impossible task.

With all the communication vehicles available to our customers today, the bar on customer service delivery has been raised. Customers’ expectations are high, particularly as they relate to response time—how quickly you respond to their needs, questions, issues and concerns.

However, we can manage the customer experience by creating a customer service plan that aligns well with our business management and growth plans.

James Heskett, Thomas Jones, Gary Loveman, Earl Sasser and Leonard Schlesinger of the Harvard Business Review, in their article “Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work” found that a 5% increase in customer loyalty delivers a profit increase of 25–85%. Companies such as ING, Banc One, Service Master and Build-a-Bear Workshop have increased their profits by improving the loyalty of their customers.

They do this by:

– carefully selecting the customers they will serve;

– understanding and meeting individual customer needs and interests;

– engaging customers in delivery of their product or service.

Within the organization, they are organized as cross-functional teams. They have identified the company purpose (values and vision) and the critical behaviors and actions necessary to deliver on this purpose and build a loyal customer base. They work diligently to create an ownership mentality with their employees. And they measure effects and results, frequently.

Fred Reichheld, in his book The Ultimate Question 2.0, says “You can’t be the best place to buy, if you’re not the best place to work.” Bain and Company, working with Reichheld’s concepts, has developed and implemented The Net Promoter System to measure customer satisfaction. They believe that traditional customer satisfaction measurement tools fail because the results do not make it back to the front line employee in a timely fashion. Their research determined one question, in particular, that correlated strongly with repurchases, referrals and other actions that contribute to an organization’s growth.

What is the likelihood that you would recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?

In 11 of the 14 industry case studies that the team compiled, no other question was as powerful in predicting behavior. In two of the remaining three cases, other questions won out, but the likelihood-to-recommend question was so close to the top that it could serve as a proxy for the leaders.

“Very few companies can achieve or sustain high customer loyalty without a cadre of loyal, engaged employees. Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work and their company. Their enthusiasm is contagious. It rubs off on other employees, and on customers. Employee promoters power strong business performance because they provide better experiences for customers, approach the job with energy — which enhances productivity — and come up with creative and innovative ideas for product, process and service improvements.”

This system also measures employee satisfaction that helps organizations to match the employee behaviors, actions and attitude to customer loyalty. They effectively tie together both sets of feedback—from employees and customers. They posit that loyal customers buy more, stay longer, refer their friends and, provide feedback and ideas. Engaged employees provide better customer experiences, influence other employees and, provide feedback and ideas. Engaged employees build relationships with customers, customers in turn become loyal to the company due to these relationships.

A few years ago, as a member of the Customer Satisfaction Consultants Network, I conducted interviews with 30 leading Canadian organizations —those interested in both improving their level of customer service as well as being able to measure any improvement. These organizations had a profound interest in growing, and keeping, a loyal customer base. As a result of this research, we developed the Customer Satisfaction Practices Continuum—a set of five stages for customer service and customer satisfaction and the Customer Satisfaction Practices Inventory assessment tool. We utilize the assessment tool with those companies seeking to establish a more effective customer service culture where employees and customers build loyal relationships.

The five stages of the continuum were developed based on the interviews and the research. Movement along the Customer Satisfaction Continuum is a cumulative process of adding new practices. Organizations continue to utilize those practices that aided their performance in the first stage but now they adopt new practices from the next stage, to advance further along the continuum.

Here is an overview of the five stages on the continuum and the steps to take to create a better customer experience:

1. Minimize hassles by keeping your customers under control

The focus is on fixing things for customers involving occasional acts of exceptional customer service. The business owner is interested in pursuing short term results as the business is most likely volume driven.

2. Manage discontent by listening to the customer voice

The focus is on creating and maintaining a customer service vision. The customer’s voice is part of the business planning undertaken by the company.

3. Link employees to customers by empowering both customers and employees

The focus is on pleasing the customer by building customer trust. There are customer enabling systems and processes in place and the employee has the information they need to build good customer relationships.

4. Promote community by creating a sense of community with your customers

There is a high level of customer touch. Customer needs are anticipated and you are focused on becoming the ‘best’ leader in customer satisfaction. At this stage, you are able to bring like-minded customers together and they help you to grow your business.

5. Build a customer-focused culture where everyone knows what to expert and is constantly delighted

Focus is on both the employee front line as well as the customer and the customer’s customer. There is a well developed and defined balance between profitability and customer loyalty.

About the Author

Donna Stevenson is the owner of Boomer Match to Business (BM2B). She is an expert in leadership development and employee engagement, working effectively with all three generations of employees, Boomers, Generation X and Y.

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