Perfecting Service Management

Issue #30 Monday, October 27, 2003


topical index

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

In this issue:
Making Continuous Improvement a Success

By Craig Bailey

This is the fifth and final article in the series on effectively driving continuous improvement efforts. In previous articles, we discussed several reasons a "change" project might not progress as well as expected and how to avoid or overcome these obstacles. We also presented ideas for creating a productive work environment for the change team. We will now finish up the discussion on effectively facilitating the change effort to ensure that you realize the anticipated benefits.


As discussed previously, having a dedicated team of resources working together over an extended period of time brings a lot of focus to the effort. However, not all of the activities of the project team must be done during the working sessions. The facilitator should “mix it up.” That is, there should be a good balance of group working sessions and opportunities for sub-teams and/or individuals to go off and work on a specific aspect of the project. Expectations and deliverables of each assignment should be clearly articulated so that time is not wasted and forward progress can be made when the team reconvenes. The most effective items to handle within a group setting are things that require consensus. Items that are prime candidates for break-out sessions include detail-level analysis and/or documentation of a specialized area within the scope of the project. It may make sense to have a specialist of a particular area team up with someone who is a novice, so that as they perform the project assignment, the novice has the opportunity to ask lots of “why should we do things this way?” questions, which can help to minimize the specialist’s “inside the box” thinking.


A key exercise that you should consider doing is that of “processing” one or more case-study examples through your newly defined operating practices. Examples should range from simple, to ensure that there is not undue burden on simple transactions, to complex, to test the flexibility and/or rigidity of the new practices. Additionally, you should examine the most frequent transactions to confirm that the most common examples are handled effectively. Case-study examples can be a key to winning over those that you will be selling the new concepts and ideas to. That is, you will be able to demonstrate the benefits of the new operating practices and show “real-live” examples of transactions that have passed through your new processes.

Company-Wide Communications

In these times of corporate downsizing and restructuring, it is not uncommon for employees to be fearful of their jobs, or of an uncertain future. When you assign a group of senior resources to a “special project” rumors will immediately begin to fly. As far as continuous improvement efforts go, there is no such thing as “over-communication.” You must clearly articulate to the employee population what the scope and objectives are, who is assigned to the project and why, and what the high-level timeline looks like. You must also indicate what is NOT in the scope of the project. Subsequent to the initial communication, you should provide timely updates commensurate with the duration of the project. Anxiety grows in a vacuum. If you communicate frequently, using varying medium (town halls, corporate emails, etc.), you will minimize organizational anxiety.

Work Expands to Consume the Available Time

An important aspect of any change project is a realistic but challenging time-frame for completion. When establishing your time allocation, it is important to define the project scope, expectations and deliverables. It is common for the project team to develop anxiety when they learn of the milestones that they must achieve. However, with firm and focused project facilitation, daily progress can be made towards the achievement of the defined milestones. It is very likely that the team will come across issues or obstacles that were not originally planned for, that must be handled within the allotted timeframe. The reality is that the project team will deal with the issues and the project will complete on time. A word of caution, however: work expands to fill available time. Don’t let the project team get caught up in “polishing bullets,” spending undue time on items that just don’t add that much value. This happens frequently when the team holds a “group” discussion on a topic that would be better handled by 1-3 of the team members discussing it in a break-out and coming back to the team with their recommendations.

In closing, change is constant. You are either taking steps to continuously improve, or you are falling behind. Your company CANNOT simply coast. Effectively leading change efforts to achieve the desired outcomes can be very challenging. By taking the appropriate steps in the preparation and execution of your change effort, you will ensure that you achieve the desired results.

If you would like to learn more about how Customer Centricity can help you successfully achieve the goals and objectives of your continuous improvement efforts, feel free to give us a call.

Previous articles in this series can be viewed at:

What Do Your Customers Really Think of You? (Part 4)

by Harry W. Heermans, Jr.

This is the fourth article in the series, What Do Your Customers Really Think of You. We have been looking at formal approaches to active listening, the term coined by Leonard Barry in Discovering the Soul of Service to describe how to query your customers to find out their impressions and opinions of your service offerings. In this installment, we review: customer complaint, comment, and inquiry capture; total market surveys; and employee field reporting.

Customer complaint, comment, and inquiry capture

Description: This is a systematic method of capturing customers’ complaints, observations, and questions. These systems vary, all the way from sophisticated computerized Customer Relationship Management systems to penciled notes scribbled by front line staff. Regardless of the method, it is crucial to have a well-understood and rigorously followed procedure for recording, categorizing, tracking, and distributing these comments.

Purpose: These forms of communication are used to identify the most common sources of service failure, with the goal of improving service and strengthening customer relationships.

Frequency: This should be done continuously.

Limitations: Customers who are dissatisfied with service often do not complain directly to the company so the incidence of bad service may be underestimated. On the other hand, chronic complainers may unfairly skew the distribution in the other direction, so the analysis of complaints and comments is only a partial picture of the state of service.

Total market surveys

Description: The surveys cover both the company’s customers and the external market, which includes competitors’ customers. They measure customers’ overall assessment of customer service.

Purpose: The goal of a total market survey is to compare a company’s customer service against competitors, to measure improvement over time, and to identify service improvement priorities.

Frequency: These surveys are most often given semiannually or quarterly.

Limitations: These surveys do not assess individual service encounters.

Employee field reporting

Description: These are reports garnered from service staff in the field. To be effective, this must be a formal process, with a way of categorizing and distributing the results.

Purpose: To capture and share intelligence uncovered by field representatives about service expectations, perceptions, and performance.

Frequency: Field employee reporting can be done continuously or on a periodic basis, such as monthly or quarterly.

Limitations: Employees must be motivated to complete reports conscientiously and completely. The more the report is standardized and composed of multiple-choice selections, the more likely it is to be completed. Standardized reports, however, miss the richness that free-form observations can render.

In the next newsletter, we complete our series with employee surveys and service operating data capture.

Previous articles in this series can be viewed at:

Recommended Reading

We are introducing a new feature to the Customer Centricity newsletter, to provide exposure to even more service management information. This "Recommended Reading" section will provide links to other publications, such as books or online articles. We hope you find these additional resources equally useful to you.

This week's recommended reading is an article about the importance of serving your existing customers, not just your new ones, entitled "What Happened to Customer Service?" by Jeremy Lockhorn:


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 enabling customer-facing personnel to deliver exceptional levels of customer service;
  3. Design and Implementation of business processes and organizational structures to serve the customer in efficient, effective and consistent manners; and
  4. Identification of appropriate business processes to automate, enabling companies to get the most from their investments in technology.

In addition to our core practices, we 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.
Customer Centricity Customers


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