DEANS OF BUSINESS

Keeping customers beyond service excellence

Posted April 01, 2011, at 8:40 p.m.
Last modified April 02, 2011, at 9:54 a.m.

Be it Maine or Marrakech, staying in touch with your customers is necessary to achieve service excellence. In a marketplace rampant with cynicism, it is often necessary for even superior companies to reach beyond the excellence achieved by their point-of-encounter employees.

For no matter how perfect the execution, there are other factors that require a broader perspective, including: an ongoing assessment of the needs and expectations of the consumer; packaging services and promises to meet the identified needs and expectations of the marketplace; maintaining a “success” perception through examples of performance while conducting a realistic competitive and self-positioning analysis; and defining and designing valid and productive networking, rather than nonsensical association games.

In today’s marketplace there is a blurring of choices for the consumer. The cause may be the sheer amount of competition or it may be the consumer’s conditioned cynicism and indifference. So even if your service is excellent, competitors are probably offering a similar level of service, which means that to be the successful one you must go beyond the point of encounter, distinguishing your message and your service from that of the competition.

To improve the quality of service, you should:

  1. Recognize the problem-opportunities by putting yourself in the role of the customer.
  2. Identify what, who and where is causing the problem and look for opportunities to improve or introduce better levels of service.

•        Plan the actions needed to correct the problem or capitalize upon the opportunity identified.

•        Reallocate resources and, allocating capital or expense dollars, focus on point-of-encounter areas.

•        Prioritize your dollars to the most viable and-or disruptive areas related to delivery of services.

  1. Train and retrain the organization to think and manage with these steps in mind and with the focus on customer contact areas.
  2. Recruit winners, front-line people with a positive attitude who like to serve and who understand that success is inherent in good performance.

•        Communicate your improvements in the form of advertising, promotion and sales.  In addition to external marketing messages, you must also inform your organization that the new.  Improved service would be accompanied with a new esprit de corps.

•        Follow up to ensure the improved service is both perceived by the customer and delivered by the employee.

•        Begin again with this same 10-step methodology, as It will provide an ongoing quality-monitoring and correcting mechanism.

There is, however, more to being the best than having a fine-tuned service delivery machine. Being the best also requires a refocus of the traditional managerial thought process historically tied to such internal factors as production efficiencies, product-service quality, etc. This involves a transition from a “self” perspective to a “customer” perspective. Here are two exercises, which should be part of the identification and recognition steps you take:

Conduct a consumer perception audit, or CPA. The development of such an audit-checklist should begin with the presell encounters experienced by the consumer — your advertising, sales messages, direct mail, etc. It should continue from the phone call to inquire about purchase through the purchasing process. Further, the post-sell and complaint, or service after the sale, should be investigated.

While the customer perspective audit will be an indicator of your quality-service delivery  process, through a variety of research methodologies a reading also can be taken with respect to both your management’s perspective of its quality service delivery and the consumers’ perspective. Frequently, the two perception measurements are not the same. Then by such additional research techniques as focus groups, you can determine what actually needs to be improved upon.

If you’re unable to effectively convert your product-service story into a buy message, you’re not going to succeed.

Customer satisfaction is the result of expectation plus experience. If your marketing and operations personnel are not communicating with each other, there may be a high risk of noncompatibility between the message given to, and the delivery experienced by the customer. If your advertising message is promising 100 percent but your delivery is only 85 percent, the result will be disappointment and, in all likelihood, lost repeat business. But if the message promises 85 percent and delivery is 95 to 100 percent, you and the customer both win.

A cousin of the overpromise is the overpromo — making more of your service than can he supported. Don’t say you’ll expedite service and then expect the customer to stand in line.

In sum, many, being the best at delivering quality service requires an ongoing management methodology that focuses on the customer’s perspective and on complete communications to all audiences.  Moreover, the content of your messages must indicate expectations that can he met. The successful interrelationship of these will result in your being perceived as the best.

Ronald A. Nykiel is the dean of the College of Business at Husson University.  He is author of numerous books and articles on customer services and marketing, and has served as the chief marketing officer for major multinational and service sector corporations.

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