How To Keep Getting Better At Customer Service
Crimson & Clover
A wise man once said to do something over and over the same way and expect different results each time is the definition of insanity. While that may seem extreme, it is not too far from the truth. We spend extraordinary amounts of time developing processes for our business operations then set them free to be implemented. Why do we often not take the time to ensure they are working properly, 100% of the time?
There are more ways to approach the task of process review than there are fish in the sea. The common thread all methodologies share is known as continuous process improvement or CPI. Simply put, CPI is the act of regularly collecting information on how our processes function, reviewing that data, and looking for opportunities to improve the way things work. The most popular CPI term thrown about in all methodologies is the Japanese word kaizen. Kaizen means change for the better and improvement. The principles behind the methodologies involving kaizen have their roots in post-World War II manufacturing in Japan and are now recognized in all aspects of business. From Wikipedia:
[Kaizen] refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, game development, and business management. It has been applied in healthcare,psychotherapy,life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions, and involves all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. By improving standardized activities and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste (see lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country. It has since spread throughout the world and is now being implemented in many other venues besides just business and productivity.
Depending on your business, you may already have a CPI method in place that has its core based on the principles of kaizen. A key element of kaizen is the concept that everyone involved in the business, up and down the food chain and anyone outside the core who may have an effect on operations, is responsible for how the business works and for helping it change for the better. Essentially, that means even the most junior associate can identify an opportunity for change, develop and implement that change.
In a past life I worked for a large financial institution on the east coast. It was a well established form, with a broad and varied collection of businesses under its umbrella. We were taught from the first moments of new hire orientation that kaizen or CPI was going to be present with us for every moment of every day while with the company. And it was. Opportunities for beneficial change were identified regularly, and tweaks to the many processes made so as to improve efficiency, quality, and overall customer satisfaction, as well as help the company's bottom line. Everyone was involved in the process of improvement. Granted there were often times changes made that appeared to be just for the sake of change, but tot he trained eye, one would realize that the changes being implemented brought great benefit.
In my role with the company, customer satisfaction was my primary driver. I was always on the lookout for ways to improve the services we offered and the methods through which they were delivered. Our numbers were taken from a service level agreement we had with our internal clients. Several parts of our service were monitored and the data gather was analyzed to spot trends in service delivery, product quality, service quality, and customer satisfaction. Downward trends meant something was wrong. Upward trends meant something was right. We looked at both areas. The downward trends were analyzed to see where we could improve and reverse the trend. Upward trends were analyzed so we could see what we were doing right and use that information to help in areas that needed improvement.
Care & Feeding
We have forests full of trees that grow tall and full and healthy with no help from us. Can we expect to plant a sapling and have it mature the same way? No. The sapling we plant is not just any tree, it is our tree. and our goal is to grow the perfect tree. To grow the perfect tree we must provide water and nutrients and attention that the trees in the forest do not get. If our customers are looking for just any old tree, there are plenty out here. If we grow just any old tree, we will have stiff competition. We want to grow that special tree, the tree that customers will flock to and stay with.
In order to have the perfect tree - in this case a customer service tree - we need to change the way that tree develops to make it stand out from those in the forest. we need to identify what our customers want and make it part of our customer service tree. We need to identify what might cause our tree to hiccup or worse case, fail, and make sure that we adjust our process to eliminate the problems and the potential for problems.
What is our present customer experience, what does it look like? Does it mirror what the customers want their experience to be? How can we make it better? More efficient? More effective? More profitable? Do we need to prune it, or feed it, or water it?
Do You Follow The Principles of Kaizen In Your Business?
Process review sessions are sometimes referred to as postmortems. Postmortem means after death. I would challenge the notion of a postmortem, as it infers that the subject being analyzed is dead. Do we really want to be performing an autopsy on our business? It may be to late to find out why a process failed - or died - once it is already dead. Rather than performing an autopsy, send your processes to the doctor for a regular checkup. This does not have to be complicated. regular checkups can help identify problems and potential problems before they become serious. For example, as part of the checkout process at the local supermarket, the clerk at the register moves soft items off to the side so they are not crushed by other products. You find that you have an increase in customer complaints regarding squashed bread. You can see this because as part of your CPI process, you monitor the suggestion & complaint box as well as gather feedback from appropriate store personnel who may field such feedback from customers.
You may find that this data shows the increase in complaints coincides with the hiring of new associates to work the registers, or that it begins at the same time new equipment was installed. Further analysis of the potential problem sources will lead to determining the exact issue. A plan for correcting the problem can be developed and implemented before the problem becomes worse and the customer experience passes away. The extra time spent on a regular review will pay off in the end. The review process does not need to be complicated. You can review your process by asking your associates for feedback on the processes, by gathering data around the process, and by surveying customers.
Businesses of all sizes benefit from a process improvement plan. Regular reviews of your processes identify potential problem areas. Implementing changes for the better lead to increases in customer satisfaction, improving your overall customer service experience. The only thing you need to start is the ability to recognize the need for growth, and you can not grow without change.