In order to project a consistently friendly, professional and competent image all members of an organization have to be prepared to interact with customers. That interaction can take place in a number of ways; through the written word, the spoken word, and/or through “body language”. Good customer service practices are seldom inherent in an organization. Customer service skills have to be actively learned and frequently practiced. The customer service “handshake” begins on the inside and then flows out.
Normally there is an expectation of good customer service when two people or organizations do business together. There may be a contractual agreement that one party can fall back on if the service provided is poor, but generally there is an implicit “handshake” expectation that, when the service is complete, both parties will be happy with value received. To the customer this “value” is generally provided through the entire service process, probably including sales, reception, operations, delivery and invoicing. The individuals performing each of those functions are part of the service chain.
Individual service providers at each contact point in the customer service chain must be linked through a common service language, product knowledge, readily available customer information, and the expectation that each member of the service chain will be supported by other members. The “handshake” expectation therefore, begins on the inside of the organization and flows out.
In order to ensure that the customer service chain is strongly forged, each point and method of contact with the customer must be identified, examined, critiqued and approved of. The approval process should include management of course, but more importantly must include the service providers themselves.
An excellent way to understand what type of customer service chain exits in an organization (and determining how to improve it) is through the process of “group learning”, where service providers interact with each other outside of their daily responsibilities with the intention of learning how each person’s job responsibilities impact others. During these sessions, a checklist consisting of factors important to a “values’ oriented system-wide customer service chain can be created, discussed and acted upon. The checklist may include:
the identification of the customer’s service expectations
the exploration of existing perceptions regarding departmental and/or personal responsibilities
an examination of existing standard procedures and guidelines
the creation of standard procedures and guidelines where none currently exist
the need for an interdepartmental service support structure
the development of a common service language and appropriate communication tools
In the never ending search for ways to improve the customer service a managed, bottoms-up approach frequently works best. All of the people inside of the organization impacting the customer’s perception of value received should be represented in the search. Participants will benefit greatly from a well-defined and on-going “group learning” process. When organizational insiders feel they are well supported by the others in the service support chain, the outside customers will reap the benefit and appreciate the value received.