Customer Service Improvement – The First Step

Posted December 29th, 2009 by dsnow and filed in Importance of processes, Service Analysis
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Over and over we see customer service initiatives stall because of impatience. The key players involved in the improvement process take on too much at one time, overwhelming themselves as well as the organization. Everyone ends up frustrated, the initiative is abandoned, and employees are rightly skeptical of subsequent initiatives.

A planned, step-by-step approach dramatically increases the likelihood of success of a service improvement initiative. Most organizations should plan on 2-5 years before feeling that the elements of the service initiative are “inculturated.” While that may seem an unreasonably long time, the reality is that the organization’s current culture took years to evolve and expecting instantaneous change is simply unrealistic.

In practice, once management agrees a change is needed, they want the change to happen right now, with no fuss. But change with no fuss is probably no change at all – at least not one that is going to result in a significant improvement. Real change has moments of confusion, pain, doubt, argument and even tears. Letting go of the “old way” is never easy. And the more angst the change is causing, the more likely the change is needed. Complacency in today’s marketplace can be fatal to an organization.

Take the time to plan each phase of the initiative, following the chapters of Unleashing Excellence as a guide. While the chapters aren’t strictly linear, they’re pretty close. Do the work of each of the Leadership Actions in the order presented; you’ll be rewarded by an improvement initiative that actually results in improvement.

Innovation Stimulation

Posted December 22nd, 2009 by dsnow and filed in Service Analysis, Tips for Improving Customer Service
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Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting article, “Entrepreneurs Seek to Elicit Workers’ Ideas.” The premise of the article is that a company’s employees are often a vast and untapped reservoir of ideas for improving the business. One company CEO is quoted as saying, “Wow, we have a lot of smart people back here, and we’re not tapping their knowledge.”

We heartily agree.

A company’s employees deal with the same challenges, issues, and complaints day in and day out and typically know exactly what ticks off customers. The problem is that many organizations simply don’t ask their employees to help identify and solve the issues. Or they do ask (because the employee survey said that management never asks for input) but never take action on the suggestions. Which is too bad, since our experience shows that employee solutions are usually MUCH less expensive than management’s solutions.

The one quibble we have with the WSJ article is the bias for offering cash incentives for submitting ideas – $50 per implemented idea; $100 for 100 innovative ideas, etc. We like money as much as anyone, but we believe that improving the organization should be part of the organization’s culture and participating in the forward movement of the company should simply be part of the job description.

We’ve seen many organizations implement a “bounty” for ideas only to find that employees begin hording ideas out of fear that someone will steal them for the bounty, or become enraged that “Joan got $50 for her stupid idea, and I got nothin’ for my great idea.” And how about the employee who gets $50 for an idea that saves the company $10 million? Trust us; someone is going to feel shortchanged.

Check out the WSJ article, but also know that we feel collaboration is the name of the innovation game. The Service Obstacle System described in Unleashing Excellence provides several tools for getting your employees involved in identifying and eliminating (or alleviating) barriers to excellence. The Continuous Service Improvement Meeting Agenda is a good place to start.

Do your employees view innovation as a part of their jobs?

What Can Your Business Learn From the Holiday Shopping Season?

Posted December 1st, 2009 by dsnow and filed in Service Analysis, Tips for Improving Customer Service
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The busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, is now behind us. If you were one of the multitudes who braved the crowds, my sympathy is with you. My wife and I long ago decided that since shopping and crowds are two of our least favorite things in life, we would NEVER shop the day after Thanksgiving.

But, we will be doing some holiday shopping during the next couple of weeks. And we know that we’ll have to face the crowds. According to the National Retail Federation, November and December account for 25 to 40 percent of many retailers’ annual sales. So, like it or not, the crowds will be there.

On the bright side, holiday shopping provides a wonderful customer service laboratory. You get to see which companies perform well under pressure and which ones collapse in a showcase of unpreparedness. And our businesses can learn from both scenarios.


Chapter 5 of Unleashing Excellence discusses the assimilation stage of communication. During this stage, it’s important to come up with creative ways to keep the service excellence message in front of your team. In your very next staff meeting (or via email if you don’t have a meeting scheduled soon), ask your team to be especially aware of their shopping experiences during the holidays. Even if they’re not shopping for holiday gifts, they’ll likely be doing some kind of shopping. Let them know that in a meeting immediately following the holiday season you’ll ask for a summary of their experiences, and what your organization can learn from those experiences. (Note: this is all strictly voluntary – not a work assignment. You don’t want to get into the “are you paying us for this?” quagmire).

During their shopping adventures, your team should observe:

  • The quality of their interactions with employees – What are some examples of things employees did particularly well? What are examples of things employees did poorly? What could they tell about the quality of hiring, training, and accountability from the organizations they observed?
  • The quality of the physical environment – What are some “good show” and “bad show” examples they observed while shopping? How effective were companies at keeping the facilities organized? If a company was good at it, what were they doing?
  • The quality of company processes – What are some examples of processes your team members experienced that were designed more for the company’s convenience than the shopper’s? What are some examples of process that were impressive?

Keep in mind that the assignment doesn’t just apply to brick and mortar stores. Each of the above three points can apply to online and catalog shopping. For some of you, online examples may be the most applicable.

Ask your team to come to the post-holiday meeting prepared to share what they experienced (again, strictly voluntary). During the meeting, dig for learnings that come out of those experiences, good and bad, that you and your team can leverage in improving the experience YOUR customers have with the organization.

Because your team members lived through these situations themselves, their emotions will be engaged in the discussion, providing a foundation for frank discussion of what your organization can do to improve.

You’ll want to act quickly on getting this “assignment” out, since we’re right in the middle of the busy season. Don’t let it go by without learning from it!