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Celebrating National Customer Service Week (Part 2)

It’s National Customer Service Week (NCSW). Held every year during the first week in October, NCSW provides an excellent opportunity to explore ways to better serve your customers. A great starting point is ensuring your policies, processes and procedures are customer friendly.

What does that mean? Be a customer for a moment. What are the things that drive you crazy? Here is my list of pet peeves, along with a few suggestions.

Limited options – Every process begins with a trigger. For IT organizations, a common trigger is a call to the Service Desk to report an incident or submit a service request. Times have changed. Increasingly customers want the ability to use other channels such as email, self-help via the internet, chat, and in many cases, all of the above. There are currently four generations in the work place, all who have very different expectations and desires in terms of how they obtain support. Are your processes keeping up with the times? Surveys, focus groups and needs assessments are all effective ways to ensure you understand your customers’ current requirements.

Inflexible policies – One of the fastest ways to frustrate me is to use the phrase “That’s not our policy.” Don’t get me wrong. I understand that companies can’t be all things to all people and so need policies. What I would like to hear are my options. How about this: “what I can do according to our policy is…” Such an approach requires that you design flexible policies and empower (that means train) your staff. If there’s no room for flexibility (e.g., there’s a security or financial concern), make that clear up front and never, ever bend.

Inconsistency – I admit it, I’m human. If someone says “I shouldn’t do this, but I will to help you out,” I rarely say no. Having said that, I get very frustrated when a week later someone else, handling the same situation, refuses to bend the rules. Again, if there’s no room for flexibility in a policy, make that clear to your customers up front, and enforce compliance on the part of the your staff. If it’s okay to "bend the rules," change the policy and allow your staff to offer options; or change your process and add in the alternative procedures.

Lack of accountability – Any variation of “it’s not my job,” “what do you want me to do about it,” or “there’s nothing I can do” drives me crazy. What it tells me is that the organization has failed to design clear accountability into its processes. There’s always something you can do, even if that something is directing the customer to someone else for help. Ensure your processes have clear escalation procedures, including what people should do when they don’t know what to do. Also, push decision making to the level closest to the customer whenever possible, and train your staff on how to make those decisions.

Lack of communication – Thankfully, most organizations now understand they can’t just say “we expect service to be restored as soon as possible,” or any other variation on the theme, “go away, we’re working on it.” Clear escalation procedures tied to priority are critical, along with procedures for both customer and management notification. Technologies such as the e-mail, the web, and – dare I say it – Twitter, lend themselves nicely to periodic updates made within pre-defined time frames. Even when the status hasn’t changed, active communication eases customer frustration.

So ask yourself this, are your processes customer friendly? Better still, ask your customers!

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