Article Revised: March 27, 2019
A number of the world’s most famous companies have products which are, objectively speaking, nothing special. In a way this is hardly surprising; truly extraordinary products are, by definition, rare. Most consumers will spend most of their money on everyday items with the occasional big-ticket purchase. Their purchasing decisions will be influenced by various factors including price and suitability for their needs. They are also likely to be influenced by the service they receive and companies which want to generate repeat custom either directly or through recommendations need to ensure that customers receive efficient and friendly service and that is where Six Sigma can help.
How to Achieve Excellent Service
Flicking through TV channels or any other sort of visual advert and any company which wishes to highlight its service credentials is almost guaranteed to show a picture of a smiling employee (usually an attractive one). While there is little doubt that most customers would prefer to be served by someone who is smiling as opposed to someone who is frowning, most people can detect the difference between someone who is smiling because they have been told to and someone who genuinely means it. Therefore the bottom line is that companies which wish to stay in business need to ensure that their employees are both genuinely motivated and enabled to deliver great customer service each and every time they interact with customers. Picking the right people is, of course, a key part of this and it extends beyond the front-line staff. Front-line staff tend to find it easier to understand the importance of keeping customers happy – they see them every day. As staff move further into the back office, it can be harder to make a direct connection between their work and the end customer. There are a number of ways to deal with this. It may be appropriate to send back-office staff to the front line from time to time, but this may not always be practical. Another option would be to undertake training to remind all employees (particularly back-office staff) of how their contribution leads to the company’s success. One of the best ways to make this more digestible is to draw an analogy between the company’s financial health and the health of a household’s finances. Customer income would take the place of wages. Providing great customer service is not only a strategy for growing income, but also a strategy for safeguarding it. It is a simple insurance policy to protect the company against customers going elsewhere.
At the same time, however, managers need to remember that even the most sincerely motivated customer service agent is going to become frustrated and disheartened if they find themselves continually battling inefficient processes, inconsistent policies and archaic infra-structure. Achieving excellent service is therefore a combination of picking the right people and ensuring that they are equipped with the right tools for the job.
Service Is A Process Not A Person
A good way to think about customer service agents is to view them as actors in a long-running play. Even though minor details may change from day to day, fundamentally each audience member each night should enjoy the same experience. Sometimes the cast members will change but the play will still stay essentially the same. While some plays take a minimalist approach, most of them require significant effort from the team behind the scenes to ensure that everything runs as it should. Applying this analogy to a customer-service environment, the dedicated customer-service team needs not only to know their own processes and how to implement them but to be supported by an efficient back-stage team who understand that their own livelihoods depend on keeping customers happy. They also need well-designed processes and policies and the infrastructure to implement them. In other words, there are a lot of similarities between delivering effective and consistent customer service and delivering a product which is produced efficiently and to the same standard time after time.
The starting point for delivering outstanding service is understanding what it is your customers actually want. In other words, measure their needs and then measure how well you are currently delivering on them. While organizations have placed increasing emphasis on soft-skills or people-skills over the years, ultimately business decisions need to be backed up by numbers. Customer satisfaction surveys have become a commonplace means of identifying strengths and weaknesses and on measuring improvement. Another way of looking at the issue is that instead of taking a product from raw material to sales process, you are taking an interaction from opening to resolution. Regardless of whether this is a simple purchase transaction, a request for information or a complaint, there will be a beginning and an ending and various stages in between. That means that there is a process and all processes are subject to variability. The process and the variability can both be measured and analysed so that the variability is reduced and the consistency of the process is as high as it can possibly be. This becomes increasingly important as the diversity of the customer experience increases. Companies which are essentially one-person operations have a very narrow service focus, but even they probably accept customer communications through a variety of channels and need to ensure consistency across all of them. As the payroll grows, so does the need to ensure that service quality is measured and managed as stringently as production quality and six sigma is acknowledged world wide as one of the best tools in the world for this task..