Claiming the Next Level of Service Excellence

By Raj Mruthyunjayappa, SVP and Managing Director, Talisma Corporation Pvt. Ltd.

By nature, customers are not loyal and when you factor in complexities attached with a ‘buy’ decision, the magnitude of the challenge that is customer retention becomes clearer. The only way to promote customer affinity that can lead to lasting loyalty is through customer service excellence. 

Plenty of online and offline discussions have been devoted to deciphering the riddle that is excellent customer service. It has often called the first step towards competitive differentiation.

Plenty of online and offline discussions have been devoted to deciphering the riddle that is excellent customer service. It has often called the first step towards competitive differentiation.

Our own research has shown that customer service expectations have grown significantly in the last few years. Some interesting trends are:
• Customers are now more unforgiving of brands that deliver below par service
• Call centers are fine, provided they are easy to use and provide quick results 
• Websites that do not offer online chat option are less preferred 
• Smartphones are fast becoming the medium of choice (for customers) when it comes to customer care
• Discoverability, knowledge management and customization of digital channels are important for customers 
• “Human qualities” of customer service agents are important

On a customer engagement evolution timeline, our conversation should have moved beyond customer service by now considering the amount of time, money and resources service providers have invested in evolving a customer-centric culture so far. 

There are no shortcuts to sustained customer engagement which is often an outcome of use of best practices within the organization and outside (vendors and other stakeholders). Focus on customer convenience often pays dividends for the brand and top line. A mix of best practices and convenience leads to service differentiation. Here are some practices you can follow to move up the service excellence charts:

• Define your service excellence drivers: What exactly drives your business to deliver better service? Is it profitability, customer loyalty, brand equity, competitive differentiation or simply a legacy that your business wishes to adhere to? Be clear about your drivers and also inform your employees about them. There is no need to bring in a sense of urgency, but it is essential to ensure that everyone is onboard. 

• Educate, encourage and use incentives to ensure employees align to your service excellence goals in their day-to-day activities. Empower employees to solve customer’s issues without escalation. 

• Measure the strength of your relationships, and fine tune your processes while proactively solving problems and preventing their recurrence. 

• Capture and document customer concerns: The customer should not be made to describe her problem on more than one occasion. By documenting the problem, solutions can also be documented and conveyed to customers who raise similar problems in the future. 

• Culture and value match: While hiring employees, look for people who radiate service values that your business lives by. This will make it easier to bring them onboard sooner.

• Customer engagement operations should sync with marketing strategies
• Offer experiences that are not delivered in a one-off manner and are consistent. 
• Promote customer service champions within the organization and service advocates outside the organization
• Leverage technology to the extent possible 
• Measure and improve; learn to figure out when your service standards slip
• Figure out how to bring back detractors and hold on to ‘drifters’ 

On the last point, technology can be among the most significant enablers of customer service transformation. When aiming at a higher level of service excellence, you need a technology roadmap to back you and ensure silo-less communication and collaboration across the enterprise for managing customer servicing. Needless to say you also need to engage vendors with mature solutions to roll this roadmap out and ensure you don’t lose out on competitive differentiation or customer wallet share. 

A robust service strategy that is supported by trained employees backed by technology can take your service standards to a whole new level. The gaps that currently exist in your service will hurt your brand in the long run so it is imperative that you address them before they cause trouble. 

Omni-channel – the next frontier

Omni-channel customer experience involves building an ecosystem that can handle customer expectations seamlessly across channels. This involves a greater degree of understanding of customer behavior and investments in systems and strategies designed to service the customer as she communicates and transacts across channels of her choice and convenience. 

The whole premise behind omni-channel engagement is that the sum of experience delivered is more than its parts. Thus, if your understanding of customers at a channel level (beyond transactions) level is not adequate, you will find it difficult to rollout an omni-channel experience which also places a huge premium on back-end-front-end integration of systems and the ability to identify the customer irrespective of channels. 

The rules of engagement remain the same – service, satisfy and retain. But succeeding in an omni-channel world requires unified systems, data flows, analytics, cross-channel visibility, customer information and knowledge management.

The service strategy you define today will decide how your customers interact with your brand a few months down the line. With brands becoming more competitive, the need for customer service innovation is no longer a matter of choice. A streamlined and well-conceived customer experience strategy backed ably by technology and customer inputs will pave the way for your brand to grow from strength to strength.

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