Perfecting Service Management

Issue #27 Monday, September 15, 2003


topical index

Happy Anniversary!

We are pleased to report that this issue marks the one year anniversary of the Customer Centricity newsletter. We hope you have found the information and articles helpful to you and your organizations. We encourage you to contact us at with feedback on what you have read or requests for material you would like to see presented in future articles.

In this issue:

What Do Your Customers Really Think of You?

By Harry W. Heermans, Jr.

Do you know what your customers really think of you? Ask them. Asking customers what they think about your products and services is called active listening. This can be a very effective tool to measure and enhance customer satisfaction. It can also be used to tap your employees for useful suggestions about how to improve customer service.

There are a variety of active listening techniques, each with strengths and limitations that we will review in future articles:

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups and panels
  • Service reviews
  • Analysis of existing data

The important thing to remember about active listening, though, is commitment. If you ask, you had better act. Suppose you’re in a restaurant and you peruse the extensive menu, which offers a variety of choices. You’re in the mood for a juicy steak, so when the waiter asks what you’d like, you order the T-bone, medium rare. When your order arrives, a hot dog is placed before you. You tell the waiter, "That’s not what I told you I wanted" and he says, "I know, but that’s all we offer." You ask about all the other items listed on the menu and he replies, "Oh, those items are not available. Hot dogs are all you can get here." You leave in a huff, vowing never to return.

Ridiculous, you say, that never really happens. Maybe not in a restaurant, but it is exactly what happens when you perform an active listening exercise and don’t deliver. You were asked what you wanted, you told them, your expectations were raised, only to be dashed. Perhaps you survey customers about potential changes or engage a focus group in a discussion of what they’d like improved. Implied in that exercise is the expectation that you will act on what they tell you and that they will see changes. If you do not follow through, you are serving hot dogs.

Make sure you act on what you hear:

  • Make changes that are obvious to all customers.
  • Make subtle changes that may not be obvious but then inform customers about them.
  • If you are not going to make changes, tell customers you heard what they said and list the reasons why you are not taking action.

One well-respected international software company, featured on a national T.V. magazine show, polls customers by asking them to rank suggested improvements and bug fixes. Then at their annual users’ group convention, they make a big splash of announcing poll rankings, what they have done to address each item, and what kind of improvements customers can expect. Imagine the good will this active listening technique creates. This crowd is eating steak!

This software company demonstrates its commitment to its customers by:

  • Mounting an active listening campaign, carefully designed to elicit actionable responses from every customer;
  • Analyzing the results, distributing them company-wide so each department sees the areas it needs to work on; and
  • Prioritizing the items, committing the resources, scheduling the work, and reporting the results. If an item requires cooperation among several departments, they get together to figure out how to work the issue.

None of this is possible without a shared philosophy among all employees that active listening is crucial to the company’s success. In the next newsletter issues we’ll look at 11 ways you can build a strong listening system that reveals what you are doing right, what needs to be improved, and how to go about doing it.


Driving Continuous Improvement Efforts - Part 2

By Craig Bailey

This is the second article in the series on driving continuous improvement efforts. If your company is like most, you have identified opportunities for improvement, designed to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. However, knowing what needs to be done and getting it done are very different things. There are several reasons a "change" project might not progress as well as expected. In the previous article, we discussed some of these in detail. We continue exploring reasons for delay in this article, and also discuss how an outside facilitator can help drive projects to completion.

Conflict with team member day jobs

Regardless of the business environment, when your personnel are participating in change initiatives, their primary job still needs to be done. If there is a choice between attending the next project meeting or addressing a burning customer issue, they will and must address the customer issue. In a phrase: "production must prevail." To address this issue, you need to consider identifying a dedicated resource from each function to participate in the change effort. Each person identified must COMPLETELY hand off his/her job to a subordinate or peer who will have complete authority to perform the necessary duties. The only permissible distractions from the project would be due to finance, human resources or personal matters that must be attended to immediately.

Lack of management / executive commitment

Make no mistake, significant change must be openly supported by executive management. This begins by the executive team "hand-selecting" the participants of the team. You want to make sure that you have the right mix of personalities on the team who are open to change, not afraid to speak their mind, and are willing to listen to the perspectives of others. The executive team should receive frequent (weekly or bi-weekly) updates from the project team. Finally, management must honor the assignment of dedicated resources to the team by leveraging the team members’ "stand-ins" to address day-to-day issues instead of continuing to call upon personnel that are assigned to the change effort.

Role of Outside Facilitator

Engaging the skills of an outside facilitator is often a very effective approach to improving the success of your continuous improvement efforts. An outside resource has no hidden agenda or individual loyalty, but rather cares only about the success of the project. Equally important, an external resource has no other commitments and can be completely dedicated to your change efforts. Tasks a facilitator would be responsible for include:

  • Defining the detail plan and keeping the team on track

  • Capturing key thoughts, ideas, decisions and issues

  • Ensuring daily deliverables and results are achieved

  • Blowing the whistle – That is, if/when ANY of the above issues or obstacles are getting in the way of the change effort, this person would make team members and (if necessary) executive management aware of it and provide direction on how to proceed.

The next article in this series will discuss setting up the working environment for the "change team."

Previous articles in this series:

Driving Continuous Improvement Efforts - Part 1

If you would like to learn more about how to ensure the success of your continuous improvement effort, feel free to give us a call.


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: 

or visit our web-site:

In Closing

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