Perfecting Service Management

Issue #73

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Customer Advocacy - Hostage Negotiator
by Kurt Jensen

As we've been discussing in this series, Customer Advocacy is a highly responsive process and/or role engaged to handle exception (even escalated) customer situations. This results from the reality that many companies have an acute need for such a process, role and/or function. Creating a Customer Advocacy process or organization requires a number of key steps, including obtaining enterprise wide commitment (and necessary air cover) and aligning people, structure, process and technology. In this issue, we will focus on some of the key skills and abilities of the highly successful Customer Advocate.

Building upon the reality that a Customer Advocate will frequently find him/herself in responsive/reactive scenarios, the two-word phrase we would use to describe this role is: "Hostage Negotiator." The Customer Advocate must have the ability to enter into emotionally charged situations between multiple departments of your firm, the customer's organization and potentially third-party vendors. The first thing that a Customer Advocate must do is "peel people off the ceiling" to get everyone to understand that the situation is recognized (the first step of recovery) and very important, so that the "team" can determine the best course of action to get things back on track.

We will now discuss some of the key skills to enable this. While each of these is deserving of its own seminar, we are only covering them at a high-level here.

Straight forward and honest The ability to deliver good news (easy) and bad news (not so easy) in such a way that demonstrates to the customer that their best interests are being represented, effort is being invested and forward progress is being made. This is vital to building chits, or credits, so to speak, which can be used (when needed) throughout resolution or at a later date.

Interpersonal Management and Communications - Customer Advocacy requires a high-degree of finesse in getting things done with and through other people. The Customer Advocate must not only demonstrate effective communications and interpersonal relations him/herself, but he/she must also make sure that all individuals involved in the situation are communicating effectively. While this is a subject deserving its own seminar, here is a crude example: The customer might say "I want a blue pen." Sounds like a simple request. The seasoned Customer Advocate would respond with "Would you like us to provide a pen with a blue case, a pen with blue ink or a pen with both a blue case and blue ink?"

Good business sense and judgment The Customer Advocate must grasp the concept that the enterprise is engaged in profit making activities. This may seem like a no-brainer, but at some point someone has to say, "Enough" or "Not Enough." That someone is the Customer Advocate. The Customer Advocate must be able to make decisions or drive the decision-making process as necessary, willing to assume authority when no one else can or will make a decision.

Organizational navigation The ability to navigate the organization is crucial. While coaching baseball, we teach the kids the following. When you are in position (say short-stop) you need to think about what you are going to do when the ball comes to you (prior to the pitch being thrown). Don't wait until the ball is hit, or in your glove. You will only waste time, create confusion and let down your team. This concept applies equally for the Customer Advocate. Additionally, your Customer Advocate cannot have any inhibitions about contacting the right person (in your organization, that of a vendor or a customer), regardless of rank, to engage on a situation.

Executive presence A reality is that a Customer Advocate will find him/herself interfacing with people at all levels of your, and your customer's, organization. An important area that a Customer Advocate must interface well with is the executive level. This requires the Customer Advocate to be a master at organizing what may be very complex information into business terms and realities, to support a business, not a technical, discussion. The Customer Advocate must also be well composed and confident, as he/she will be representing your firm in the eyes of the senior decision makers at your customer's organization.

Time management The ability to manage time and associated expectations is critical. The Customer Advocate must be prompt (the first one to the meeting) and follow-up by doing precisely what he/she committed to doing (complete tasks and activities on time, every time).

Project management The Customer Advocate is usually engaged when the many "moving parts" in your organization don't come together to meet the customer's expectations. As such, the Customer Advocate must put together and manage the customer's multi-faceted "get well plan."

Finally, the Customer Advocate must be empathetic yet firm; calm yet assertive; decisive yet respectful.

In our next article, we will discuss the process framework in support of the Customer Advocate so that there is a level of discipline, methodology and most importantly, continuous improvement. In subsequent editions of this newsletter, we will share how to take Customer Advocacy to the next level by getting into the hearts and minds of your customer to build long-lasting, mutually profitable relationships.

View previous articles in this series.

Southwest Airlines: Easy to Do Business With
by Craig Bailey

This article continues our series highlighting Southwest Airlines, a firm that demonstrates the characteristics of being customer centric and reaps the benefits of doing so. To review prior editions click here.

A key factor to becoming customer centric is being easy to do business with. Southwest Airlines has this "nailed." Here are some specific ways I find SWA easy to do business with.

1) I am able to select the modes of interaction for conducting business, and each is integrated with the other.

For example, I am able to book travel arrangements (flight, auto and hotel) ALL from their web-site. Even better, each component of travel (air, auto, hotel) provides Rapid Rewards points towards that free ticket. If I am on the road and need to make a change, I can phone them and they have ready access to my profile and itinerary. When I arrive at the airport, I can walk up to the kiosk (bypassing any/all lines), check-in for my flight, and print out my boarding pass.

Of course, if I have made my arrangements well in advance, I can check-in online and print my boarding pass. Doing so early enough ensures my "A" status, allowing me earliest boarding and best seat selection.

You might say, "Don't many airlines offer multiple modes of interaction, all of which are integrated?" Well, many (now) do. SWA was doing it before most of the others and continues to lead the pack on innovative ways to make it easier to do business with them. For example, I am presently participating in a beta program trying out their desktop applet "DING." You know, the DING in their commercials (prior to the "you are now free to move about the country"). This applet provides direct access to SWA information (i.e., travel savings opportunities) and services (booking travel arrangements, online check-in, flight status, ability to customize my real-time flight status messaging and more). Oh yeah, and in typical SWA fashion, they are awarding me Rapid Rewards points for participating in this beta program for 30 days...Only 2 weeks to go!

2) I simply don't have ANY hassles when I redeem my frequent flyer points.

When I've earned a free ticket, I get a free ticket. It is usable on any SWA plane at any time there is an open seat - period. Just think of the simplicity...SWA is not required to program and maintain complex algorithms for determining when frequent flyer points can be used nor do they have to spend ANY time explaining these things to customers and employees.

If you use online travel tools such as Orbitz or Travelocity, you will observe that SWA is not there. Why? Because they simply don't need to play in that game. All of the above ensures SWA that if I need to get somewhere, I check with them first. If they serve the city I need to get to, I'll fly SWA - no question.

By making it easier to do business with them, SWA is able to operate much more efficiently, and therefore more profitability. Hmm, is there a theme here? Do what is best for the customer which turns out to be best for the business. Does your firm GET THIS? Many don't. Instead, they do what is best for the department, functional unit, or product line. Why is this so? The reasons include politics (protecting of one's turf or power structure), a philosophy of "we've come this far, why should we change now" and a lack of knowledge of the benefits of doing so.

In closing, the next article in the series will cover how SWA helps my bottom-line. And, I look forward to sharing concrete evidence as to why other well-known airlines are in the toilet, learned first hand while traveling recently to a city that SWA doesn't (presently) serve...

View previous articles in this series.


+ Customer Advocacy - Hostage Negotiator
+ Southwest Airlines: Easy to Do Business With
+ Recommended Reading


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Presentation Available
Visit CCI's website to download Positive Power Influence, presented by Craig Bailey at the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Mass Bay Chapter Career Development Day on May 14, 2005.


Recommended Reading

CRM Magazine article Why Customer Service Needs Service Process Management by Ken Jochims reiterates the importance of business process, as well as tools and people. As Mr. Jochims writes: "An organization with the best tools, but poor processes, can fail if those tools do not help support the objectives. Conversely, organizations with the best processes, but inadequate tools, may not be operating in the most cost-effective manner, even if they have loyal customers." People, process and technology must all be aligned to the goal of best serving your customers, profitably.

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