The Voice of the Customer

There are many ways of learning what is essential in your business.  However probably the most powerful and least practiced is that of Customer Feedback.  Having the greatest widget in the world is useless if your customers don't want to buy it and if it doesn't resolve a perceived need.  Getting that information from your customers can be accomplished in a variety of ways though and it pays to ensure that you are doing as many of them as possible.  (One point to note - conducting a survey is important, but if you don't actually do anything with those results, then you shouldn't have wasted the time or the money in gathering that information!)

Customer Feedback Is Critical

In order to drive continual customer service improvements, companies need to focus on obtaining the information from their clients, analyzing that information and acting on that information.  Remember, as stated earlier ... if no action is taken - don't bother!

Capturing customer feedback

Capturing what your customers want can be done via a variety of different means now a days.  Web and phone based surveys are common as are physical paper based surveys that are mailed out to customers.  Depending on the size of your business and your customer base, there are many large organizations that can assist in gathering, collating and analyzing this information for you, but if you are just starting out a simple spreadsheet with the feedback that you've received from your customers is a great starting point!  Listen to them NOT just in your surveys but also in your daily interactions with them via your support and customer service teams.

Another great way to get information from customers is via focus groups.  Often used at the beginning of a product stage to determine WHAT customers want, it is just as effective afterwards to determine HOW you are performing and if you are meeting or exceeding expectations.

Another point to note - DO NOT over survey your customers.  It is quite common for different parts of the same company to send out different surveys to the SAME customer.  While it is obviously important to that division, the information that is returned will not be as useful as the customer will NOT be providing an unbiased response. 

It is best if all survey's are done via a centralized team or department and then the results of that survey shared among the company as a whole. Customer feedback collected through surveys, e-mails, phone calls, online chat and other channels can be combined into a single instance, integrating both structured and unstructured data into a central platform and enabling companies to extract maximum insight from the information collected in a cost-effective and timely manner.

Analyzing the Data

Customer feedback is subjective.  It always will be and this needs to be understood by the group running the survey and appropriate steps taken.  Another very significant point is that when survey's are sent out it, it is essential that steps are taken to "tie" the response to a specific issue so that you are able to make the most use of this information.  In addition, decisions via survey should never be taken unless the sample size is large enough.

Solving the Issues

Once you've determined what your customers want, prioritize those issues based on the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) and let your clients know what you are doing to resolve the issues.  What your plan is, how soon you expect to have the issue resolved and what the benefits to them would be.  There is no harm in sharing a commonly perceived error with your existing users ... THEY ALREADY KNOW IT'S THERE! ... and if they see that you are going to take steps to resolve the problems they will understand that their best interests are in remaining with you.  Remember that these are already your customers - you just want to treat them the right way and sharing information with them is a simple and effective way of doing this.

Managing Technical Teams

Managing technical staff is becoming more of a challenge daily. Even more so, when your staff are MORE technical than you are - which to some extent is expected ... you are a manager and responsible for multiple area's of the company, they are specialists and able to focus on their area to the exclusion of everything else.

The Service Level Agreement SLA Guide - SLA book, Templates for Service Level Management and Service Level Agreement Forms. Fast and Easy Way to Write your SLAIn most cases technical staff are those who prefer to perform their work with little or no supervision and they often view Management "oversight" as a hindrance to their - getting the job done. They also quite often forget that at the other end of the phone line, there is a customer (or customers) that has been impacted and regardless of the fact that they "think" they can resolve the problem, there are timelines and SLAs in place to ensure that issues get escalated. Now, while "techs" are members of the team that managers depend upon heavily to resolve the problem, it is the managers responsibility to understand the "big picture" and also the challenges faced by these key members at a non-technical level.

Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service OrganizationThe manager is responsible for balancing the needs of the company against the needs of these key resources and obviously directing technical staff can be a challenge. It is made even more of one, by those managers that are unable to step back and release control (or delegating). The understanding between a manager and his team must be such that trust exists at either level. You trust them to get the job done in a timely manner and escalate those problems that they are unable to handle & they trust you to keep their best interests in mind, work with them to get more training (which is something a "true" techie will never have enough of), ensure that they have the resources and training to resolve the problems that you are assigning to them and in those instances where its necessary ... pull them back and away from a problem so that they do not get defeated. This mutual respect MUST be in place if the team and organization is expected to be effective.
Perfect Phrases for Customer Service: Hundreds of Tools, Techniques, and Scripts for Handling Any Situation (Perfect Phrases Series)
The manager of a technically oriented department MUST have a reasonable grasp of the technologies and issues that his staff will face. They should be able to understand it at a "high" level, but it is OK to let your staff know that they are smarter than you! Remember they are skilled in their unique discipline and while you could not do their job, they are not managers and could not do your job either. It is far more important for the manager to be able to direct the staff to the right resources, tools or training when working issues. If the employee cannot perform the task with his current level of knowledge, it is incumbent on the manager and the company to ensure that appropriate and relevant training is available in a timely (& frequent) manner. Technical skills "rust" when not used and with the plethora of new technologies constantly being developed and launched it is very difficult to always be current with the newest while maintaining a grip on legacy tools/applications and knowledge.

Customer Service Skills for SuccessManagers are constantly expected to do more, with less resources, regardless of the economy (think about it - in good times, the number of customers you have are increasing whereas your resources won't (at least not at a comparative rate) as the company is in business to make a profit ... in bad time, you lose staff and have to service what customers you have left with fewer and fewer resources) and unfortunately is probably one of the few constants in our world! Now, not only do you always have to do more with less, but you need to also ensure that the staff you have you KEEP! The cost of hiring/training and integrating new staff and making them useful is a topic for another day, but suffice it to say, if you have a "good 'un", you want to keep him! Its a fine line between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction and its a tightrope you'll be walking every day. I generally tend to err on the side of employee satisfaction - if you have good staff, doing a good job who are happy doing that job ... customer satisfaction just comes naturally!

Why Do Customers Matter?

Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but we want a large base of loyal customers as they are  a lot more profitable than just “happy/satisfied” customers. They consistently do business with us and on top of that they give free advertising to others to do business with us.

Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven WorldBesides that, we already know that is ten times easier to keep a customer happy than to gain a new one, so based on this, it sounds like a pretty good deal to just give customers the GREAT/MEMORABLE service they are expecting and keep their business coming “home”.

The question of course is - What is Memorable and What do customers want from us?

First we need to understand that customers these days are smarter, more demanding, less forgiving, harder to satisfy and most of all approached by competitors on a daily basis, therefore the extra mile we used to walk has now become “The Expected”.

Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless: How to Make Them Love You, Keep You Coming Back, and Tell Everyone They KnowIn order to gain Customer Loyalty we need to show them:
  • The value of our service. Let them know that they are dealing with  professionals that are willing to understand and help them. “We are here to help you”.
  • How assertive we are. We will provide the correct information exactly when they need it and in the way they need it. “We are here to inform you”.
  • The best attitude. Regardless of how you communicate with your customers be that email, voice or chat it is essential that your willingness to help is transmitted through the conversation.  “We are glad to help you”.
 Now like I said earlier - these three things are no longer going above and beyond but are rather the expectation, so if you do them the only thing you are guaranteed to have is satisfied customers.  To get to the next level you will need to demonstrate:
  • Reliability, as there is nothing better for a customer than to know what service to expect and always get it, over and over again, if you don’t believe me then take a look at how McD’s is doing regardless of the market.
  • Timing, because customers want it now, the faster the better. However, worse than late is wrong. If you ordered a pepperoni pizza, a potato salad and light coke delivered to your door three minutes after hanging up the phone would probably not improve your loyalty.
Now I don't think anyone would disagree that by providing these elements of service to your customer you are going to have a significantly happier customer out there.  However its really easy to say that you need to do it ... doing it is another question.  Here are some tips!
    What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and ServicesThe Customer Rules: The 14 Indispensible, Irrefutable, and Indisputable Qualities of the Greatest Service Companies in the WorldExceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization
  1. Every time you start working on an issue ask yourself the following questions in this order: How any issues is the customer bringing to my attention? Is it clear to me what the problem(s)  is(are)? What information do I need to solve the problem? What information do I have at this  moment? How can I get what I am missing? By doing this, you will improve your accuracy in  solving the customer’s issues, you will start to work smarter instead of harder as you will focus  your efforts and time on solving the problem.
  2. Let the customers know what you have understood, what information you are giving them and in which order. This will tell the customers that you are taking their concerns seriously and that you will address all their questions. Remember there is nothing worse than being ignored and  when you address two out of three questions you are basically telling the customer “your third  request is not important to me”.
  3. Get training on the things you find difficult to solve, the more you know, the easier your work will be, and the easier your work is, the faster you can provide the right answer to the customer.  It is like body building, the more you know the stronger you get. The difficult part of putting this advice in practice is to recognize what we don’t know and even harder to be humble and ask for help. In my experience every time I have asked someone to teach me, they have felt proud of passing their knowledge to anybody who approaches them with respect,  paradoxically this does not always work with teachers but has worked perfectly with  colleagues.
  4. I don’t have specific advice on improving your attitude, there is no method or technique to follow that guarantees an improvement in this area, however, I suggest you start doing some exercises, drink two more glasses of water every day, reduce caffeine, eat chocolate and most of all worry only about the things you can control, like your reaction to every day events.
Customers are human beings, as demanding and difficult to please as you and me. Think about the restaurants, pubs, stores, online sites, etc that keep you going back and spending your money there,  what have those places done to earn your loyalty and then think about what else can we do to keep  earning your customers loyalty.