How to Design Your Perfect Customer Service Plan

CSR Planning

In an excerpt from his book, Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service, John Tschohl provides a guide to preparing a plan for customer service success.

When organizations know what is important to their customers and when they realize the shortcomings of their current service, then they are ready to write a Customer Service Plan.

The foundation of a Customer Service Plan must be clear. You need a strong vision of the values of service to your organization and a coherent, well-executed plan for achieving those values.

All the pieces of the puzzle must be present. A Customer Service Plan describes your customers, reports their evaluations of different aspects of service, estimates budget for achieving customer satisfaction, and projects profit increases.

Without a plan it is difficult to develop a concept of service that rallies employees, or to resolve conflicts between corporate strategy and actual customer service, or to come up with ways to measure service performance and perceived quality. In short, without a strategy you cannot get to first base.

Developing a Customer Service Plan is an essential step toward choosing an optimal mix and level of service for different customer groups. Provide too little service or the wrong kind and customers will become more responsive to the blandishments of competitor sales messages. Provide too much service, even the right kind, and your company might price itself out of the market and struggle to balance the books at the end of the year.

One of the major weaknesses of most organizations is the top management’s lack of support for the Customer Service Plan. They fail to realize the strategic opportunity on how to use superior service as a vehicle to build market share and market dominance. Top management must walk the talk daily.

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, once the world’s most powerful retailer and largest business in the world, built a service role model. Few companies in the world have been willing to match Wal-Marts’ service strategy. Before his death, Walton was the wealthiest man in the world. I have trouble understanding why others do not copy this service strategy.

However, during the last few years Wal-Mart forgot how it built its company and the service strategy. The result has been a dramatic reduction in the value of the company and a loss of brand. Today its focus is solely on price.

In Lead and Disrupt, Charles A. O’Reilly III and Michael L. Tushman said “Every business we could think of died because they were too cautious. In today’s world, firms that miss a transition or fail to respond to a disruptive innovation quickly find themselves out of business. Management is ensuring that the trains run on time: leadership is about ensuring that they are headed to the right destination. Management is about execution: leadership is about strategy and change.”

A Customer Service Plan is a proper part of every new marketing plan. A new product never should be introduced until service has been thought out and tested. Service is not an afterthought. It is an important original part of a marketing plan. Every corporation that acquires another corporation ought to plan how it will achieve customer satisfaction and allot money for that purpose at the same time that it is preparing financial and operating plans.

What often happens, however, is that millions are spent on brokers’ fees and on new signs, new uniforms, and golden parachutes, but not one red cent is spent on the organization’s implied service responsibility to the customers who will make or break the organization’s financial plan.

Use these guidelines in making decisions about the features of your Customer Service Plan:

  1. Under-promise and over-deliver. Set customer expectations at the right level.
  2. Research customer needs thoroughly. Only the customer knows what he or she wants.
  3. Segment the market and design core products and core services to meet the needs of the customer base. Not all customers who buy the same service or product have the same service needs.
  4. Continue to drive the plan strategically.

Gather Information

Describe your customers in terms of their needs and wants. If you do not know who it is you are trying to satisfy and what their needs are, it will be difficult, indeed, to satisfy them. Gather information needed to set goals such as average revenue per customer and the market share you seek. In planning sessions ask and answer questions such as:

  • What do our customers want and need from us?
  • What services can we provide customers that the competition does not?
  • How can we improve existing service?
  • How can we improve customer awareness of good service? (Service loses impact when customers do not know about it or notice it.)

Set up a system for on-going information gathering from customers and for assigning ratings of service performance. Rate:

  1. Time spent resolving typical problems.
  2. Ease of access to the corporation and to its services.
  3. Quality of employee performance.
  4. Customer satisfaction with action taken.
  5. Degree of difficulty experienced by customers in attracting attention of employees and obtaining responses.
  6. Content of the company’s response to the customer in terms of accuracy, completeness, and effectiveness.

In addition, each of the foregoing attributes of service must be broken down into component parts. The elements of “Ease of access,” for example, may be seen, from the customer’s point of view, as:

  • Ability to get through with the first phone call.
  • Being placed on hold.
  • Time on hold.
  • Awareness of the number to call to get the desired service.
  • Availability of service when needed — including evenings and weekends.
  • Being assisted by the first person reached versus being transferred one or more times.

In the Customer Service Plan specify action called for by each of the component parts in your attributes of service. Evaluating the current level of performance is a legitimate part of this information-gathering phase. So is establishing a means of keeping your finger on the pulse of your Customer Service Plan. Observe and evaluate continuously by asking questions such as:

  • Is the company really making and delivering the quality product or service it says it is?
  • Do customers see it that way?
  • How can we do it all better answering customer needs in a way that grows the business?

Make it a priority to proactively develop a long-term Customer Service Plan that becomes embedded in your company’s culture and vision of success.

This article is based on an excerpt from “Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service” by John Tschohl.

About the Author

John TschohlJohn Tschohl is a customer service strategist and is the founder and president of the Service Quality Institute. John has been described by USA Today, Time, and Entrepreneur as a ‘customer service guru’ and has written several highly acclaimed customer service books.

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