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The Key to Great Service is How You Respond to What Customers are Saying

Many enterprises have invested and continue to spend millions of dollars on their customer service and contact center departments. Despite these investments, there are very few examples of companies with a reputation for stellar service, even though delivering an outstanding customer experience is now viewed as a top priority by a large number of executives. What’s wrong with this picture?

Why is Service Poor?

While we can and will debate the reasons why companies are not delivering effective service, few will deny that service is universally perceived as poor, and it appears to be getting worse. Sure, there are exceptional organizations that do it right every now and then and give us hope, but unfortunately, these are rare.

Surveying is Not the Answer

A few noteworthy organizations demonstrate that it is possible to deliver great service. (The government’s citizen service issues are a different story, which I’ll save for a future column.) After years of analyzing exceptional service organizations, it’s clear that they do something that others do not – they listen to their customers and apply what they learn. I don’t mean that they just issue surveys to customers, prospects and, possibly, partners to solicit feedback about their performance. Some of the worst offenders in the area of customer service frequently survey their customers, but do it for the wrong reasons. They reach out to make their customers think they care, but never use or respond to the feedback, and surely never close the loop by getting back to the respondent. Others survey for marketing purposes, hoping that they’ll get good results so that they can claim they have a good Net Promoter Score. Still others survey just because they think they have to. The common issue in all of these companies, which unfortunately represent a majority of organizations, is that they feel compelled to survey even when they know that they are unlikely to use the findings. The end result is an over-surveyed and cynical customer population that treats surveying as noise.

Change is Hard

Knowing about an issue is not the same as fixing it. Employees are generally not empowered to act beyond prescribed and limited processes. Front-line employees and managers are typically evaluated on a set of goals (such as productivity and cost control) instead of their ability to deliver a great service experience. Pro-customer actions that cross departmental boundaries are not encouraged. And rarely is any single person in charge of responding to customer feedback by making permanent policy, procedure and systems changes. So, while CEOs may believe that delivering an outstanding customer experience is essential for the success of their company, they are going to have to be willing to make changes in corporate culture, policies and personnel if they want their corporation’s actions to support their statements.

It’s Time to Listen and Act

There are winning companies that listen to their customers in a variety of ways, and for the right reasons. Although surveying is a best practice when done properly, it is not the only way that these companies listen to their customers. In organizations that are committed to great service, all employees, regardless of their titles, view themselves as customer advocates, and are empowered to make a difference. These organizations listen to and act on the information that customers share with them. In these enlightened companies, complaints are seen as “gifts”, and an opportunity to do better. Let’s face reality – mistakes can and will happen. More often than not, it’s what a company does after a mistake occurs that leaves the lasting impression.

Characteristics of Outstanding Service Providers

It doesn’t take money to deliver outstanding service, although it helps. What it does take is a commitment from the top that is supported by actions and goals. The companies that deliver great service have the following characteristics:

  1. Customer service is a priority and integral to the company culture
  2. All employees and managers have customer service goals that are measured, and outstanding performance is recognized and rewarded
  3. All employees view themselves as customer advocates
  4. Senior executives frequently interact with customers, solicit feedback, and then address it
  5. The customer service, support or contact center group reports to a senior executive
  6. Customer issues are quickly escalated and must be resolved within a pre-determined amount of time
  7. Recurring causes of customer complaints are identified and fixed
  8. Complaints are viewed as “gifts” (in most cases)
  9. The organization listens on an institutional basis
  10. Employees are treated with great respect

Bottom Line

It’s great that senior executives are finally acknowledging that outstanding service must be a priority. Now it’s time for them to put their thoughts into action by changing their company’s culture and building a structure that supports this essential mission. The key to success is learning to listen to what customers have to say, and then immediately putting this information to work. It’s a simple concept that is tough to implement, but has proven to be successful for companies large and small.


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Ask the Experts

We are seriously thinking about buying a cloud-based ACD. If we do, how can we mitigate risks and ensure that we maintain our operating standards?

Once you select a vendor, it’s necessary to establish a vendor management program to position your organization to hold the vendor to pre-established and agreed-upon goals. A solid, well-defined vendor management program allows you to develop a positive and strong working relationship with your cloud-based contact center infrastructure provider. It lays out the services that the vendor has agreed to deliver for the price you have agreed to pay, and also documents the length of the agreement and any other relevant terms. A well-defined vendor management program also helps to ensure that the service provider is aware of the quality and dependability of service that they need to deliver. It should also set forth any penalties that the vendor would be required to pay if they fail to meet their service level agreements (SLAs) and any other documented requirements.

Vendor management for cloud-based contact center infrastructure contracts should address the following issues: technology, performance, prices, responsibilities, communication, and service levels. The vendor management program should include mechanisms for monitoring and measuring adherence to goals, and a process for communicating this information on a timely basis. It should also document a process for both parties (the end user and vendor) to follow when there is a performance issue.

Here are a few vendor management best practices that can help build a solid working relationship with your cloud-based service provider:

  1. When making your vendor selection, price should not be the primary decision criteria. Select a solution provider who can meet all of your required technical and functional requirements and has a good reputation for support.
  2. Once the vendor is selected, share your contact center strategy with them and ask them to come up with suggestions on how to best use their solution to help achieve strategic goals… Read More

DMG Consulting LLC is a leading independent research, advisory and consulting firm specializing in unified communications, contact centers, back-office and real-time analytics. Learn more at