Perfecting Service Management

Issue #60

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

VoC Presentation Available for Download

Material from
Craig Bailey's presentation at the 7th Annual Voice of the Customer Conference in San Francisco is available on the Customer Centricity website. Click here to download the presentation.

Becoming Customer Centric - Obtain Input from Customer-Facing Personnel
by Craig Bailey

We continue our series on leveraging the Voice of the Customer as a key element to becoming customer centric with a discussion of the next aspect within the step of "obtaining the pulse of the customer": Obtain Input from Customer-Facing Personnel.

Obtaining input from customer-facing personnel at your firm can be a rich source of input to identify opportunities for improvement. After all, customer-facing personnel (sales/account management, service, etc.) "should" know the customer and their use of your firm's products and services better than anyone. Depending on the nature and complexity of the business, this could occur on an informal or formal, frequent or infrequent basis.

An effective, yet simple, approach to obtaining this input is to bring together a number of customer-facing personnel and ask key questions like:

  • What do you feel is working well in terms of how we relate with/serve our customers?
  • What are some of the most common/frustrating challenges that our customers have in working with our firm, products and/or services?
  • What do you observe as obstacles that prevent you from delivering the kind of service that you feel we should be providing to the customer?
  • If you were in charge of this company, what would you do differently?

Doing the above, however, requires:

  • Creating an environment of trust for providing this constructive feedback
  • Setting expectations with personnel about what may and may not result
  • Wading through anecdotes

Creating an environment of trust –The discussion outlined above should be facilitated/hosted by a senior manager of the firm - someone that is not "too close" to the action and can serve as an objective sounding board and recipient of this input. On the other hand, those that participate in this discussion will typically be the "front-line" personnel who often hold some of the lowest-level positions in the firm. As such, there may initially be some level of anxiety to openly sharing this feedback as personnel may fear that they will implicate themselves and/or their organization. The senior manager should position the discussion as critical to the success of the organization, where open and honest dialog is key and indicate that there are "no sacred cows."

Setting expectations – These discussions invariably yield volumes of thoughts and ideas. It is important for the senior manager hosting this discussion to set expectations about what will and will not be addressed, and (where possible) in what timeframe. Doing so will ensure that the personnel don't have inaccurate expectations such as "now that s/he knows about this, it will go away in no time."

Wading through anecdotes – An important aspect of this exercise is to balance the feedback received with quantitative information to back it up. If quantitative data is not readily available, yet the feedback received suggests a significant problem exists, it will be important to determine how to confirm the problem and/or scope of the situation.

In our next edition we will discuss the fourth approach to "obtaining the pulse of the customer" and in subsequent editions we will cover how to take appropriate and responsive action.

View previous articles in this series.

Support Manager's Top Ten Holiday List
by Bill Tobin

As the holiday season is upon us, support centers supporting the retail industry lead the way in watching their incoming call volumes skyrocket. At the same time, the incoming requests and problems reported to support centers in other industries may tend to slide downward. One of the most difficult tasks for a Support Center Manager is staffing during these potentially quiet times. The key word here is potential, as a Support Center Manager must always staff for the unexpected.

If you're a Support Center Manager whose incoming calls are reduced during the holiday season, this is the perfect opportunity to complete some of those projects that you haven't had time to get to during the past year. The projects you choose must be challenging and their value easily recognizable, not the mundane, time-fillers that the analysts may have witnessed in their past. This is a great reason to have your analysts pair off into teams and commit to a common deliverable. The ultimate benefit is that the chosen deliverables will keep their minds focused and their self-esteem high during slow times. The one gotcha you must look out for is not to try and change the world in six weeks. The goal should be to improve your Support Center's people, process and technology through some short-term deliverables.

Here are my Top 10 suggestions to get you started:


  1. Assess the quality of your job descriptions and update them based on the past year's responsibilities.
  2. Create a new-hire boot camp agenda, defining the technical, business and customer service training required for new frontline employees.
  3. Create analyst incentive programs for 2005. It doesn't have to be costly, but does have to be fun and effective.


  4. If you do not yet have an Operational Guide, documenting your workflow processes, service level agreements and troubleshooting techniques, why not get the ball rolling. If you have one already that's a little outdated, spend the time bringing it up-to-date.
  5. Create an escalation matrix, containing tier 1 and tier 2 contacts for each specific functional area supported by the Support Center.
  6. Create or update your Support Center marketing card, an important vehicle for informing your customers who you are, how to contact you, when you're available and what services you provide to them.
  7. Perform some workspace housecleaning; not just in your cubicles, but also in your team's physical area. Pick up clutter around the fax and printer, rearrange clogged aisles, play musical cubes and let your analysts get a new view and perspective for 2005.


  8. Evaluate your call tracking system's categories and sub-categories. Run a six-month query of all calls, sorted by those two fields. Eliminate those categories seldom or never used and add new ones that will enhance your trend analysis.
  9. Are you using standard solutions or closure codes in your call management system? If so, run a Closed Incident Summary Report for the past six months, sorted by closure code. Make adjustments eliminating those that are not used and add new codes where appropriate.
  10. Give the support area of your corporate web site a facelift. Start by taking thirty minutes at your next staff meeting and bring it up for all to see. Brainstorm improvements for twenty minutes and then look for a couple of volunteers to take the suggestions and run with it.

To Summarize:

  • As a team, identify the areas you want to improve
  • Ask for volunteers, or assign to teams of 2-3 people
  • Have each team report on their progress at each week's staff meeting
  • Provide feedback and guidance
  • Have the entire Support Center Team approve the enhancements
  • Document the changes and implement

Have a super holiday season and be thankful for the wonderful people you work with!!


+ Becoming Customer Centric
+ Recommended Reading
+ Support Manager's Top Ten Holiday List


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Recommended Reading
This week's recommended reading comes from the Ivey Business Journal. Robert Angel's article Sustaining Profitable Customer Relationships Requires Real Leadership focuses on the importance of strong leadership to create a truly customer-centric company culture, in order to build solid customer relationships. Too often, according to Mr. Angel, poor technology choices and poor technology implementation are blamed, when instead the leadership and culture should be examined closely.

Happy Holidays!
CCI wishes you and your families a happy holiday season and a healthy, prosperous New Year!

About Customer Centricity, Inc.
We strengthen overall company performance through better service delivery and management.

We boost efficiencies in front-line customer service and technical support teams, order processing, fulfillment, field service, logistics and other key operations functions.

In short, we align the resources of your organization to exceed your customers' expectations in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

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