Why Your Customer Service Must Absolutely Not Move to a Higher Level

There’s one good reason you shouldn’t consider revamping your service strategy with the objective of taking your service to the next higher level.

It assumes you are consistently delivering your service promise today, and that is generally a false assumption.

This is my assessment of how organizations are delivering customer service today:

1. Good intentions — Rhetoric and false declarations rule the customer service airwaves.

Every organization aspires to provide amazing customer service experiences for their customers, that they want to exceed their expectations. They declare that serving their customers in an exemplary manner is their number one priority and they claim that they are delivering it.

2. Call centers — Call centers continue to proliferate around the world. Organizations are outsourcing their call centers more than ever before with lowest cost as the main criteria for determining which outsourcer gets their business.

Call wait times are skyrocketing with customers often waiting an hour or so to speak to a service representative.

3. Stupid rules — Customers continue to be frustrated with the Rules, procedures and policies organizations impose on them.

Internal rules and policies today are generally used to control the customer engagement process rather than to enable it.

4. The run-around — Silo teams within organizations result in customers being passed around when they are trying to get their issue resolved. ‘Let me transfer you to the right department to handle your concern’ pervades customer conversations with the customer having to repeat their ‘story’ several times before getting any action.

5. The push upstairs — Escalation of customer complaints is alive and well these days with frontline employees having to get their supervisor’s approval to deviate from established procedure and ‘say yes’ to what the customer wants. Customers wait for ‘the boss’ to decide on their request and they get angry with the way they are treated.

6. Human dislike — There continues to be many customer facing employees that really don’t like dealing with customers. Rudeness, indifference, unresponsiveness, and indifference are still practiced widely in almost all organizations.

Employees with no innate desire to serve others continue to be placed into customer service positions.

7. Attention to ME! — Organizations, for the most part, still treat all customers the same notwithstanding their claims of providing ’personalized service’.

Service continues to be delivered in a one-size-fits-all fashion with little or no room for the unique needs and wants of any particular person.

Mass market thinking continues to dominate customer service thinking.

8. Screwups — Recovery from service mistakes remains abysmal in most organizations. Most are stuck in trying to fix the mistake (many with no apology) and are nowhere close to understanding how to turn the service OOPS! into a loyalty-building WOW! event.

9. Technology interference— Humans available to help customers are a dying breed as most organizations are trying to adopt new AI technologies such as Chatbots to handle customer queries and resolve their concerns.

The Chat function has been introduced to many websites and is a valuable resource as long as there is a service employee there to engage in the chat. Unfortunately, as with the Call Center challenge, the lack of human availability aggravates the good intentions of trying to make it easier for customers to engage with the organization.

10. Customer trust — The customer is generally not given the benefit of the doubt when they have a problem or complaint and the needs of the organization are put in the driver’s seat. In many cases organizations believe that customers try to ‘manipulate the system’ for their own benefit and don’t engage with an open mind to listen to the customer’s story.

My perspective

Most organizations lauding the great level of customer service they provide actually believe their own advertising.

They think that since they declare their intention to ‘blow the customer away’ with breathtaking service, it happens.

In my experience leading customer service organizations, amazing service doesn’t ‘just happen’ because of an aspiration to do so. There is, for the most part, an overwhelming chasm in organizations between what is intended and what is actually happening in the level of customer service being provided today.

What’s the next level of customer service?

There is no ‘next level’.

The words and music must go together.

Organizations need to bear down and deliver on their existing customer service promises before trying to move to a ‘higher level’ of service.

They need to display a consistency (as rated by their customers) that proves they are keeping their current level of service promises before planning to move on to anything that might be described as a higher level.

They should focus on:

  • Building a customer service strategy that defines exactly what level of service they intend to provide and the implementation tactics to achieve it with accountabilities assigned to leadership.
  • Defining a service strategy element that deals with how the organization intends to recover from mistakes that screw customers over. This element is essential to successfully deal with the loyalty in play when things go awry and the customer is left pissed off.

Figure out exactly how to fix mistakes fast (systems, processes and empowerment) and what the SURPRISE! element looks like.

Service recovery = fix the OOPS! within 24 hours and SURPRISE! the customer with something they don’t expect.

  • Treating customer service as an investment with resources required and payback expected. Expunge the idea that customer service is a cost to be managed (controlled) and adopt the philosophy that customer service is an investment in customer loyalty.
  • Maintaining control of the resources used to deliver customer service; insourcing the critical front end contact functions not outsourcing them.
  • Recruiting people that like taking care of others. Amazing customer service rides on the backs of people who instinctively know how to deal with humans so hire as many as you can and pay them well. Treat them as being on the top tier of the organization structure rather than buried in it at the lower levels.
  • Supporting frontline employees and frontline leaders to enable them to perform their role of delighting customers. Removing internal barriers, providing needed training and rewarding them for their performance are all critical in the service delivery chain.
  • Carefully balancing the use of technology with people to perform service functions. There are appropriate functions that can effectively be done by technology and there are others that require a caring, understanding human. Don’t mix and match them to manage costs - you’ll fail.
  • Maybe, just maybe, if work is applied to the promise then we’ll earn the right someday to define what the next level of derive looks like.

But for now, organizations need to do the hard work to actually keep their ‘mind-blowing service’ promise.

Related: Why a Business Plan For ‘Cults’ Can Be an Amazing Success