Perfecting Service Management

Issue #67

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Who Knows Your Customers Best?
by Kurt Jensen

Along the lines of revenue production and retention, it is no secret that knowing how your customers feel about you is extremely important. Likewise, it certainly isn't news that efficient operations contribute to effective cost control – hence profitability, growth and all the other business goals we strive to achieve! What might be a shock is that people who know about your customers' needs, how they feel about your company, and opportunities to improve everything from process to profitability sit right down the hall: your front-line customer care team!


Simply put, your front line deals with what your customers like and do not like about your company – everyday. Your front line also continually sorts through inefficient process challenges, deals with variations of corporate culture and knows how to capitalize on the best while navigating the worst! Members of this team are the champions of finding the answers, enforcing policy (hopefully designed to benefit customers and your business), and doing it all with a smile. If you think that is easy, give it a try.

Lost in Translation

It would be pointless to debate use of information gathering programs or the "suggestion box" - all serve a worthy purpose of acting, at a minimum, as a facilitator. However, the difference between the interpretation of a submission and what was truly intended can easily be lost in translation. In fact, unless it is a simple 1+1=2 type suggestion, discussing it with the submitter is critical, to fully understand the context and (arguably more important) to acknowledge the act. By taking these two actions, you gain even if the submission was off the mark.

Building the Conduit

Outside of more formal methods of soliciting submissions mentioned above, building a conduit that promotes open discussion takes trust, credibility and ultimately an investment in time. Remember, your front line is perceptive; they understand communication nuances by the nature of their work. If you are simply going through the motions, these folks will know it and participation will be limited. Your credibility depends not only upon your sincerity, but your follow through by way of action on suggestions that make sense. In other words, if a suggestion is clearly on target and nothing is done about it, you can expect few, if any, additions. Conduit building takes an investment in time…less like a weekly meeting and more like time everyday. Everyday time should take the form of probing and clarifying conversation.

Experience It

If you are truly interested in an eye opening experience which will keep you thinking for while, spend a couple of side by side hours with your front line (listening to calls). In fact, line up four columns: topic, question, temperature and resolution. As you listen to calls, do your best to keep detailed notes, knowing you will reference them later. As you seek information about how your customers view you or opportunities for operational improvement, review the list. You will likely be surprised at how readily topics jump out! Don't be surprised, however, if you walk away wondering where to start taking action.

The bottom line is your front line team has so many answers; the challenge becomes asking the right questions. However, unless you already have relationships with your front line team that minimize items like typical chain of command hesitance, leveraging an outside firm (such as Customer Centricity) can accelerate the conduit building process. The benefits will rapidly contribute to employee morale, customer satisfaction, and ultimately the bottom line!

Becoming Customer Centric - Implement Customer-Focused Changes (Part 2)
by Craig Bailey

In the prior newsletter edition, we introduced the 4 steps to implementing customer-focused changes:

  • Management attention and commitment
  • Conducting formal cross-functional reviews
  • VoC tracking and reporting
  • Forecasting

We will now expand on the last two items above.

VoC Tracking and Reporting

In advance of the cross-functional review meeting (discussed in the previous newsletter edition), each functional area will provide its key customer-impacting performance metrics to the VoC program manager. The VoC program manager will then create a VoC dashboard that includes both high-level and detail-level reporting on monthly trends including: customer satisfaction and retention, revenue, contact center stats (e.g., inquiry volumes, hold times, answer times, etc.), customer problem reports (i.e., bugs), days sales outstanding (DSO), on-time delivery stats, average number products consumed/utilized per customer, etc. This will enable a comprehensive review of overall company performance as measured by metrics key to the customer experience.

Based on actual performance, the cross-functional team can then discuss or recommend the necessary continuous improvement programs that are either underway, or required, to achieve the desired results. These customer-impacting initiatives will then be included on the VoC dashboard to support the next step in the process, which is that of forecasting customer satisfaction and retention.

It should be noted that this reporting, once reviewed by the cross-functional team, should be subsequently distributed to senior management and all levels of management of organizations involved in the VoC program.


By achieving the cross-functional alignment discussed previously, one of the more sophisticated steps that can be taken is that of forecasting customer satisfaction and retention, as well as providing input to account planning activities to forecast anticipated account revenue.

The following provides an approach for forecasting customer satisfaction levels, but could also be applied to forecasting customer retention and revenue.

First, each area of the VoC program should have an established goal that is owned by the functional area whose performance will be measured. Also, each defined program needs to establish a quantifiable impact that can be tracked on a timeline. For example, let's assume that the Customer Care organization will be performing a customer service skills training program in the month of April. It is expected that this will have a measurable impact on customer satisfaction, for all segments of the customer base. The first step is to determine when the impact of this training will initially be felt by the customer, say May, for example. The second focus is determining when this impact will be observed in the customer satisfaction survey results. In this case, if the training will begin to provide positive impact in May, the full impact on the survey results may not show up until the June surveys are administered. Therefore, it will not be until the July timeframe, when the June survey results can be reviewed, that the organization will be able to see the full impact of this training.

The final focus is establishing customer satisfaction goals to identify the level of impact. For example, assume that customers are 78% totally satisfied with Customer Care, at the present time. The question to ask is "how many percentage points do we anticipate that customer satisfaction ratings will increase as a result of providing skills training to the Customer Care organization? How much improvement should we experience in May, and how much in June?" It may be decided that the customer satisfaction rating will improve by 2% in the May survey, and an additional 6% in June. This exercise is repeated for each functional area as they identify the impact that their customer-focused initiatives will have on the results for which they are responsible.

There is no silver-bullet. As such, it is important to try various programs designed to achieve the desired results, check against VoC metrics and adjust the program(s) based on customer feedback. Aligning cross-functional organizations to common goals and promoting awareness throughout the organization is a major step to achieving the benefits of a fully integrated VoC program.

The next area of the VoC program that we will cover could be considered the most important: Responding to the Customer.

If you'd like to review an outline of the complete VoC program, feel free to download the presentation recently delivered to PDMA's VoC conference.

View previous articles in this series.


+ Who Knows Your Customers Best?
+ Becoming Customer Centric
+ Recommended Reading

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Recommended Reading

This issue we highly recommend a humurous and all too real case-study on customer appreciation. We've all heard of the concept of customer segmentation, whereby customers are grouped according to certain criteria and provided a level of service commensurate with the value they generate to a company. In his CRM Magazine article A Sucker for Customer Appreciation , Michael King provides a witty look at indiscriminate customer appreciation. If you're in the mood for a chuckle, definitely check it out.

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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