Pursuing Service Perfection. How do you Get There?

by Jeff Wiener on July 2, 2013

I have been presiding over Digitcom for over 20 years, yet with every new day and every new customer I find that I still learn something new, and it is those new lessons that make me, as an individual, and us, as Digitcom, that much better. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t make us perfect.

Much as I would like to think that we have perfected the customer service experience, as all of us know, perfection is an elusive goal. The constant irony for me is that not only have we been servicing customers for over 20 years, Digitcom actually sells call center software and solutions, so considering that this is what we do for a living, perhaps we would have perfected it all by now, yet I’m constantly humbled by how much more work we have ahead of us.

It was six (6) years ago when we decided that Digitcom would eliminate all call centre queues from our operations: No more hiding behind a queue and playing that disingenuous “please hold, your call is very important to us” announcement. It was at that time I had a customer service epiphany, the best way to support our clients would be to answer all initial service calls as quickly as possible, and we would attempt to do so in five (5) rings or less. Providing excellent customer service extends well beyond just answering the phone though, it’s what you do with that call once it’s answered that really makes the difference.

The customer service experience starts the moment the phone rings, and what you say when you answer the line, whether it’s an automated attendant or a person, sets the stage for the entire interaction. To deliver the most consistent customer service experience possible, you should always provide your staff with a script, so that regardless of who answers, the client will always hear, “Good Morning, thank you for calling ABC, this is [blank] speaking, how can I help you?”.

It’s also important to find the right people for the job, as while reading a script is easy, doing so with a smile on your face is something you simply can’t mandate. Not only that, but that positive attitude becomes more difficult to maintain as the day gets long, especially when the customer on the other end of the line is calling from their cell phone because their phone system is down!

Following the initial connection between the client and your customer service staff, the second stage of every customer service interaction involves classification, and at Digitcom we employ a three (3) tiered severity classification system: Severity 1, Severity 2, and Severity 3, with Severity 1 marking the most critical (i.e. the entire phone system is down).

As simple as it sounds, determining the severity and urgency of the call is probably the most complex part of any customer service interaction, as making sure we get that right is the difference between a satisfying customer experience and a frustrating one. Equally as important as classifying the service need, however, is setting and managing customer expectations. What happens when we believe the customer’s call is a severity 2 when the customer believes it’s a severity 1? We fail in our customer’s eyes!

Managing expectations on both sides of a customer interaction is an exceedingly difficult, and vitally important, task, particularly as the onus is on us, the service provider, to understand the customer’s problem, often times in an environment where the customer might not understand the problem themselves. As an example, we recently had an incident where we failed to meet customer expectations, forcing us to rethink how we diagnose each issue and how we communicate our severity classifications to our customers so that expectations are met on both sides.

Several weeks ago we received a call for a longstanding client, and the call was received by a member of the Digitcom customer service team. While both sides were extremely pleasant, both parties misdiagnosed the problem. The customer’s PRI (main phone line) was down, and the PRI line was failing to the client’s two (2) analog lines. The customer didn’t realize the PRI was down, and they reported the problem as an incorrectly programmed incoming call route. The Digitcom service representative flagged the call as Severity 2, when in reality the call was clearly Severity 1, their PRI was down! As you might expect, the customer called back two (2) hours later, very upset that they hadn’t received a return phone call from someone at Digitcom.

While we might hope the customer understands the problem and acknowledges the severity of their need, it’s really not the customer’s responsibility to know such things, it’s ours. As the service provider it’s our job to ask the right questions, to go beyond the information the customer is giving us, to correctly diagnose and classify the issue. If a patient goes to the doctor complaining of a sore arm, the doctor needs to ask the right questions to correctly identify the problem and rule out anything more serious: It’s the doctor’s job, not the patients.

Then, even if we have correctly diagnosed the problem, we need to properly convey to our customer what to expect from Digitcom with respect to response time. If the client is expecting a call back in one (1) hour and our guarantee internally is two (2), and we call back in 90 minutes, in our eyes we succeeded, but in our client’s eyes we failed. Having learned from this incident, we now make a concerted effort to inform our customer’s about what to expect so that we’re both on the same page.

Providing an excellent customer experience, and figuring out the elements involved in doing so, is probably the most difficult part of running Digitcom. From the initial call, the on hold music they hear, the smile on the face of the person answering the phone, the level of detail we get into during the initial call, managing external expectation, and then of equal importance, managing internal expectations, after 20 years in business we’re still trying to get it right.

While we’ve already discussed managing external expectations, managing internal ones can be just as tough. Internal expectations include whether we manage to answer the phone quickly enough (inside 5 rings), opening the order properly with a clear understanding of the problem (i.e. diagnosis and classification), letting the client know whether the call is billable or not, dispatching a field tech or phone call, fixing the problem properly, managing expectations throughout, and then, getting the invoicing right.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I am constantly humbled by the Herculean task of providing an excellent customer experience, always learning, but ever thankful for the amazing people we have here at Digitcom. Great service extends well beyond the call center software and metrics it provides. Who cares if you answered the phone in 50 seconds when the customer expects 20? Running a service department isn’t just about the internal metrics, it’s about managing those metrics that matters, and to that end, it’s about making sure everyone is on the same page. I’m hopeful that I will be doing this for another 20 years, and certain that I will still be learning, always humbled, and always wondering what we can do to be even better.

Jeff Wiener

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The Cost of Bad Customer Service — TheTelecomBlog.com
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