Perfecting Service Management

Issue #19 Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Welcome!

topical index

Welcome to this edition of the Customer Centricity newsletter, where we explore ways you can improve the performance of your service organization.
 

In this issue:

Avoiding the Death Spiral While Reducing Operating Costs - Part 4

This is the 5th article in the series “Avoiding the Death Spiral While Reducing Operating Costs” covering approaches to reduce operating costs while maintaining customer confidence and increasing customer satisfaction. Topics in this series include:

  • Cease activities that provide no value-add
  • Implement efficient and repeatable processes
  • Focus on existing product quality instead of new features and functions
  • Enabling customers to self-serve
  • Perform elements of the work with lower cost labor
  • Segment the customer base and provide “appropriate” levels of support for each
  • Make informed, not random, cuts
  • Cease big, expensive projects with long-term ROI
  • Renegotiate vendor contracts

In this edition we will cover: Focus on product quality instead of new features and functions.

To make the most of the current economic environment you are encouraged to take actions that will directly benefit your existing customers. While your customers may have been originally “sold” on your features and functions they now have significant experience with the performance of your products and services. To the extent that you are meeting or exceeding your customer’s expectations on feature, function, quality and reliability you have some of the key ingredients necessary to establish a loyal customer-base and run a highly efficient organization.

If, however, the products you provide the market-place have quality and reliability issues (i.e., hardware malfunctions, software bugs, etc.) then you not only have a customer satisfaction issue, but your operating costs are higher than they need to be.

Is the following scenario all too familiar to you? Your company releases a new product (or version of an existing product). New customers buy it and existing customers upgrade to it. There are flaws that “could have been” caught within an effective quality assurance test (or prevented further upstream). Customers call-in to report the problem (they aren’t sure if they have installed it properly, are using it right, or if there is a quality/reliability issue). Your front-line team troubleshoots the issue, reproduces the outcome experienced by the customer and determines that the customer has properly installed and is correctly using the product. The call-center hands-off the issue to your Tier II organization. Tier II troubleshoots, reproduces the outcome and confirms that it is an Engineering issue. Tier II hands-off the issue to Engineering. Engineering must prioritize this problem report amongst others previously received and provide feedback to the call center to set customer expectations. This chain of events could take hours, days, weeks or months…

Back to the customer…Meanwhile, the customer cannot effectively perform their job, using your product. If the issue is causing significant impact and cannot be immediately resolved by Engineering the customer demands a work-around. This work-around could come in the form of identifying ways to accomplish the objective using an alternative function in your product, or it could require a temporary fix created by your Tier II or Engineering organization.
The impact of the above scenario includes, at a minimum:

  • Customers becoming increasingly skeptical about your products and their satisfaction will decrease.
  • Your call center, Tier II and Engineering teams spending time in “reactionary” mode, a highly inefficient way to use your resources.
  • Your Engineering team being required to ensure that the “next” product release includes the temporary fix(es) that have been implemented ensuring subsequent releases don’t reintroduce the problem(s).

The adage “get it right the first time” is what this lesson is all about. If you should find yourself in this scenario you are encouraged to:

  • Implement an effective quality assurance process and methodology through-out the product development lifecycle.
  • Put significant focus (senior management attention) on “plowing through” oustanding quality and reliability issues.
  • Let your customer-base know what you are doing, to set their expectations.
  • Do what you said you will do.

The above steps “may” initially have to come at the cost of delays in releasing new features and functions. In many cases you will find that your customers would rather have what they’ve already purchased working properly than new features and functions.

If the products you provide the market-place have a high-degree of quality and reliability then not only will your customers be more satisfied, but your operating costs will be lower than they otherwise would be if you are “subsidizing” inefficiencies inherent in organizations delivering poor quality products. Make no mistake, where there is software (for example) there are bugs. However, the ratio of problem reports, due to malfunctions or bugs, should represent a very small percentage of the total number of inquiries your call center receives from the customer.

Upcoming newsletter editions will cover additional items on the topic of “Avoiding the Death Spiral While Reducing Operating Costs”.

Previous articles in this series:

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

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The Call Center - Your Corporate Talent Pool

By Bill Tobin

“Is your Call Center a feeding ground for open corporate positions?”

If your answer to this question is no, then you are missing a huge opportunity to both provide career growth to your team and share awesome employees with the rest of your company. Let’s play a little “What’s My Line” to help prove the point.

  • “I am a product expert in multiple software, hardware and networking disciplines.”
  • “I know and understand our customers better than most employees because I answer their questions and solve their problems every day. If you ask them, they will tell you they have an excellent rapport with me.“
  • “I know how to work our internal service chain to get the correct answers from the right people quickly. If you ask my cross-functional peers, they will also tell you they have an excellent rapport with me.”
  • “I have confidence communicating with all levels of both corporate employee and our customer base because that is what I do all day.”

After reviewing those four bullets, there is only one employee that this could be – your “frontline superstar”. He or she can go by many aliases including analyst, representative or technician. One thing for sure, they belong to the one corporate team solely responsible and evaluated on their ability to quickly and correctly respond to your customer’s needs; the Call Center.

Your Human Resource and Management peers may be wasting valuable time and money working with headhunters, crafting help wanted ads and reviewing online resumes, when all they need to do is have a discussion with you, the Call Center Leader. There may be a perfect fit for their open position just down the hall. You have the power to provide them with a passionate customer service advocate, someone with great communication skills and above all – a proven corporate superstar.

Are you bought into the concept? If so, the next time you recruit for a Call Center position, guide the interview team to look beyond the next 18-24 months. Have the team ask the candidates what they would like to be doing in two years.

A standing topic in your monthly one-on-one meetings should be reviewing the employee’s progress against their career path. Help put the building blocks in place for your people. If John would like to become a Network Engineer, then have a discussion with the Network Manager on John’s behalf. Allow John to spend two-to-four hours every week working with that team. He could become the Call Center’s networking guru due to his cross training. He also may find out he doesn’t like it, or the Networking Team might not enjoy working with him. In either case, it’s better to discover that information up front.

You, as the Call Center Leader, should also be continually marketing your analyst’s accomplishments. When it’s time to hire an Associate Product Manager, the Marketing Manager should already know that Mary, from the Call Center, is interested in joining their team.

If you haven’t yet been promoting your team’s superstars to other departments, then why not start today. All it takes to get the ball rolling is to begin some career path discussions with your employees. Once they provide you with some ideas of where they would like to be down the road, some informal discussions with your cross-functional leaders will do wonders. Add to that a promotional email to another leader once in a while on that employee’s behalf, and you are well on your way to becoming a great coach and promoter of your people. Don’t forget to copy the employee you are touting in those promotional emails, they work hard on the frontlines and deserve some kudos now and then.

If you have any questions, or would like to bounce an idea off me, please don’t hesitate to contact Bill Tobin at (617) 909-6682 or billtobin@comcast.net.

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New White Paper Available

Customer Centricity is pleased to announce the availability of the whitepaper: ACTIVE - A guide to help your business become nimble and retain customers

 
 
 

More About Customer Centricity, Inc.

Customer Centricity is a business consulting firm that partners with companies to improve the performance of their service organizations. We leverage our real-world experience to help our clients manage their customer relationships in more effective and satisfying ways.

Customer Centricity delivers on this promise by optimizing the interaction between people, process and technology to achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction and increased operational efficiencies. We provide:

  1. Comprehensive assessments to identify the actions that will yield the greatest return;
  2. Skills Training to enable customer-facing personnel to deliver exceptional levels of customer service;
  3. Design and Implementation of business process techniques to serve the customer in efficient, effective and consistent manners; and
  4. Identification of the appropriate business processes to automate, enabling companies to get the most from their investments in technology.

In addition to our core practices, we also maintain a network of strategic partnerships to provide end-to-end consulting across your organization with a commitment to seamless execution.

Click on the following link to see what our customers have to say.

To learn more about Customer Centricity:

call: 603.491.7948

send e-mail to: info@customercentricity.biz 

or visit our web-site: www.customercentricity.biz

In Closing

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Copyright (c) 2003 by Customer Centricity, Inc. All rights reserved.