Certain ingredients that will work in their favour is to provide employees with enough freedom and empowerment to take decisions, make them approachable and ensure that organisation’s values and culture is a part of their DNA
Structured and non-structured are two ends of a continuum. In just about anything. Be it thinking, creating, writing or cooking. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of either. However, one is more effective than the other depending on the situation and nature of job on hand. While a structured thinking and process driven way of working is hugely beneficial (especially to scale up), I believe that when it comes to customer service – rules, manuals, processes, and metrics – none of them by itself work. And don’t count either. In this article, I’d like to list down the ingredients of the entrepreneurial secret sauce for Customer Service and explain why that is the best way to achieve customer service nirvana.
Let me start with a simple example. My wife had previously used international roaming services and then discontinued it. Month after month, the service provider billed her for roaming charges. Repeated calls to the service provider explaining the situation proved useless. One fine day I decided I had enough. I called the service provider and told them that I am terminating their services. That pushed the panic button and then they started wooing me. What I would have liked to see was a simple email stating that they have noticed the problem and would rectify it. Unfortunately, that did not happen, leading to a lot of frustration and waste of time trying to reach the customer service agent.
While organisations, especially the non-entrepreneurial type, talk about customer service and WOW factor, they fail to put their money where their mouth is. Having dealt with several of these across the globe, I see that most of these organisations are rigid and focus on control of resources and processes. Some organisations, however, on the other hand (entrepreneurial), deal with this differently. They seem to know the secret of engaging and keeping customers. Being a first generation entrepreneur, I understand these traits and want to spend a few minutes highlighting carefully cultivated and handpicked ‘ingredients’ that blend together to form the entrepreneurial secret sauce for customer service.
Flexibility – Processes and metrics are only guidelines. If there is an opportunity to provide positive customer experience, employees must have the freedom to take decisions. For example, if a customer has called repeatedly about a billing complaint, the customer service personnel should resolve the problem and could perhaps give a ten per cent discount on the next bill. One may ask, what about the business impact if every customer service personnel start giving discounts? If numerous customers are calling about billing complaints, then the problem is elsewhere and that needs to be fixed!
Empowerment – I think employees must be empowered to take decisions which may sometimes not be within the stipulated norms of the company. For example, once in a while in case of customer emergency the employee must take decisions in the absence of the reporting manager to provide a positive customer experience.
Approachability – Employees must be approachable and must do whatever it takes to delight a customer. I am reminded of the Zappos example, where a customer called and ordered for a pepperoni pizza. We all know that Zappos deals with shoes and clothing. However, the customer service personnel listed five closest places in the Santa Monica area that were open and delivering pizzas at that time.
Shared values – I think values, ethics and culture of an organisation are very important to provide a positive customer experience. The organisation’s values and culture must be part of an employee’s DNA. Even while recruiting employees, any organisation must pay particular attention to the values the individual brings and see if those values are in line with the organisation’s values. After recruiting an individual, proper training must be given to inculcate and orient the individual with the organizations values. And if after all the training that is given, there is a compromise made on the values the organization must let go of such individuals.
To sum up, the challenge lies in living and breathing these thoughts day in and day out, focussing on this effort, constantly evolving, quickly adapting to changing needs and fine tuning what is most important for the customer.
K Balakrishnan is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Servion, a Chennai-based global consulting led specialist in CIM (Customer Interaction Management)