Perfecting Service Management

Issue #81

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Embarking on the Journey to Customer Centricity

Check out the cover story of the latest edition of Sbusiness magazine (published by The Association for Services Management International)! CCI President Craig Bailey offers his insight on Embarking on the Journey to Customer Centricity - a subject already familiar to our faithful newsletter readers!

In addition, the people who bring you Sbusiness magazine present the Association for Service Management International World Conference this week in Nashville, TN. Craig Bailey and many other service management professionals will convene October 10-12 at an event that promises to be the world's largest gathering of executives and managers in customer service and support to connect and share real-life situations, experiences, best practices, case studies, and innovations in the service industry. Join them in Nashville to gain knowledge first-hand that you can take back and put to use immediately in your organizations.

Customer Advocacy - The Written Word
by Craig Bailey

Continuing on the topic of developing a culture of Customer Advocacy, this article provides approaches to ensure individual interactions that occur in written form are effective and support, rather than detract from, the overall customer relationship. While we provide useful advice for all written communications, special emphasis is placed on email. Email is a wonderful tool, but how often have we hit the send button only to wish seconds later that we could retract the message, either to delete or revise prior to sending. What follows are practical strategies to consider as you craft that next message.

The key points we will cover include:

  • Ensure your communication stands alone
  • Consider the audience
  • Read it "as if" you were the recipient
  • Acknowledge the "bigger picture"
  • Special handling procedures when emotionally charged

Ensuring your communication stands alone

The first step in preparing your written communication is to recognize that it must "stand alone." This is important for two reasons:

  1. There is no telling who may read your note beyond the intended recipient(s).
  2. People are busy and have likely lost context with regards to prior communications on the topic.

As such, it is critically important to ensure that complete context of the topic is provided. You can do this by providing an opening statement or paragraph (depending on complexity) that summarizes the topic, what has been previously discussed and/or agreed to, and the purpose of this specific communication.

Just as important is to provide a closing statement or paragraph with regards to next steps or your expectations with regards to the recipient's response (action to be taken, confirmation of receipt, etc.). Finally, depending on the nature and criticality of the situation, you will want to indicate something to the effect of "if I don't hear back from you within [the appropriate number of hours or days] I will follow-up with you."

Consider the audience

Think about the phrase "one size does not fit all" when drafting your communication. For instance, are you addressing your customer's management level, engineer or administrative contact? Following are brief strategies for addressing each:

  • Management - Ensure you relate the topic to the business challenge or opportunity, value expected or delivered, performance, goals, objectives and the "numbers." Be focused, get to the point and be as brief as possible. If you are requesting buy-in or a decision, clarify the options, business (not technical) benefits, drawbacks, your recommendation and why.
  • Engineer (including IT or technical individuals) - In addition to sharing the above information (as appropriate), you will want to provide relevant technical details to "bolster" your communication in support of continued dialog in which you may be seeking to collaborate on a solution or obtain buy-in or advice.
  • Administrative (including customer's front line/technical contacts) - Answer the recipient's (unasked) question: "What does this mean to me / my job?" Additionally, sharing how you arrived at decisions, conclusions and/or recommendations is helpful to maintain buy-in and overall support of the relationship. If you are asking someone to do something new or different, it is important to share details of the "how to." In fact, you are encouraged to offer the recipient the option of contacting you via phone to help with a walk-through of the process.

The above advice is very high-level and some communications may need to target an audience made up of multiple profiles. The main point is to consider the unique perspective(s) of your audience and address the needs of each recipient. Finally, while you may be the expert on your business or products, customers do not enjoy being told what to do or communicated to in a way that makes them feel inferior.

Read it "as if" you were the recipient(s)

Prior to sending your communication, you are encouraged to read it "as if" you were the recipient. This can be as simple as "rebooting" your brain and putting on the hat of your recipient. Alternatively, it may be appropriate for you to walk away from the computer or work on something else for a few moments. Upon your return you will want to review the communication ensuring no assumptions were made with regards to the recipient's level of understanding of the topic and overall context that it is being presented in. And, ask yourself: "If I were the recipient, do I get it and how would I feel about this?"

As you know, "it is not only what you say but how you say it." You will be surprised at how often you'll look back at your written communications through the lens of the recipient only to discover that your intent wasn't effectively communicated and/or the message does not stand alone as the information was shared "out of context." This can lead to a simple misunderstanding resulting in time wasted or the complete unraveling of a relationship.

Acknowledge the "bigger picture"

During any communication with the customer, especially in written form, consider the reality that it is part of a bigger (relationship) picture. You might ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does this communication relate to, impact (positively or negatively), support and/or evolve the relationship?
  • Do I have an opportunity to demonstrate or deliver value beyond the "immediate" need or expectation?

For example, your customer may have asked you a question. You are preparing a brief and concise response. You have heard the proverb "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." You are about to give the customer a fish. Is there a way, instead, that you can teach customers to fish, so that they might answer similar questions for themselves in the future? If so, spend the extra few minutes to do so. You will have exceeded their expectations by making them smarter and more self-sufficient AND you will save your company time and money in the future.

No communication is an isolated incident. It ALL relates. And, each is an opportunity to reinforce or detract from the relationship. Ensure that you acknowledge that this "bigger picture" exists.

Special handling procedures when emotionally charged

Have you ever drafted a letter or email while emotionally charged, sent it, and very shortly thereafter wished you could retract it? Have you even laid awake at night thinking about the impact it may have? If you are honest with yourself, you have probably done this. Following are 4 simple steps you can take to ensure that your communications are not clouded by emotion which may impact your (otherwise) good judgment, common courtesy and professionalism.

  • Write it
  • Walk away
  • Let it sit (24 hours, if possible)
  • Revise and send, or...delete it and forget about it...

In summary, this article shares practical (if not simple) strategies to ensure that your written communications effectively support the overall customer relationship. Consider them well, or expect to spend (waste) time clarifying prior communications, recovering from errors resulting from miscommunications and mending broken relationships.

View previous articles in this series.

Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down

This column is devoted to memorable customer experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This issue provides a less than satisfactory customer experience:

I recently took my car into the dealership to have them investigate a thumping sound that occurred while turning sharply at very slow speeds. I normally take my cars into the local garage, but this seemed to be more specialized and I thought the dealer would be able to fix the problem. Since the car was due for a 150,000 mile checkup, I authorized that service as well.

I made arrangements to drop off the car and juggle schedules with the remaining car. The next day, the front desk manager called to inform me that the 150,000 checkup revealed that I would need new brakes (at $700 for each of the four brakes -- $2800!) and a new fog light ($200!!). OUTRAGEOUS!!! The front desk manager was the consummate customer service professional – courteous, empathetic, understanding. Yet, due to the cost, I declined the services. Later that day, I was notified that that the car was ready and cost $1200 for new shocks/struts to take care of the thumping problem and $200 for the checkup (which amounted to an oil change). OUCH!

When I picked up the car, there was no difference in the thumping sound – it was still there. I called the front desk manager who was very eager to help me out; he told me to bring the car back the next morning to take the service manager out on a road test. The front desk manager was very apologetic yet professional. The next day during the road test, the service manager confirmed that the struts and shocks weren't causing the noise; the part needed was a propeller shaft – something that would take an additional $1600 to fix. DOUBLE OUCH!!! After negotiating with the front desk manager, I whittled the price down to $500.

With the new propeller shaft, the thumping problem was finally taken care of and the front desk manager displayed all of the skills of a highly trained and capable customer service professional. Yet, I will never go back to that dealership because I feel taken advantage of by the outrageous fees of the back end service department. My feelings of price gouging were confirmed when my local garage charged me $40 for the fog light and $1020 for the brakes.

Editor's note: In his submission to us, this customer hit the nail on the head: great front-end customer service doesn't compensate for poor back end service. The entire company must be aligned to the needs of the customer…that is the essence of being customer centric. For more information on how to become customer centric, check out the Sbusiness cover story Embarking on the Journey to Customer Centricity, written by CCI President Craig Bailey.

Have your own customer service experience to share? Email us.

View previous Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down articles.


+ Customer Advocacy - The Written Word
+ Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
+ Book Recommendation

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Recommended Reading
In her CRM Magazine article Striking the Right Balance, Andrea Ayers discusses the importance of a holistic approach to customer service, where both the bottom line and customer satisfaction are considered. Neither should be over-stressed at the expense of the other. As she writes: Losing customers because of a poorly thought-out plan can be much more costly than maintaining contact centers in markets with higher labor rates.

A Message from Craig Bailey:
Support Hunger Relief
Hunger is an issue that continues to be very important to me and I have decided to get involved! For the 3rd year in a row I am walking in the CROP WALK and I need your help. CROP WALK is sponsored by Church World Services (CWS), which has received a ranking of "Excellent" from the American Institute of Philanthopy.

Please consider making a donation to my efforts. Your donation supports programs that work to solve this world-wide challenge, including responding to relief efforts associated with such devastating events as Hurricane Katrina.

You can help by making a donation via my personal donation page where you can make a secure online credit card donation. If you would prefer to make an "offline" donation, let me know.

Thank you for your support in helping to solve hunger.

Support Craig and CWS

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

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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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