Lessons From LeadingCustomer-FocusedOrganizationsCustomer Service InterviewStudyBy Mark Marone PhD       Developing the 21...
In late 2010, AchieveGlobal conducted 13 in-depth interviewswith leading customer service-focused organizations fromthe US...
“Customer experience is a little bit more about the quality   about some of their challenges in accomplishing this.    of ...
“More and more in the service experience, it’s that cross-   #6 Different segments of customers have differ-    functional...
were met. Customer-focused organizations measure                      “Everyone that enters the company is evaluated based...
Leaders keep the message alive, propose new direc-tions, and facilitate innovation of the customerexperience. In this way,...
About the AuthorMark Marone, PhD, has more than 15 years of academ-ic and private-sector experience in market researchand ...
About AchieveGlobalIn the 21st century, the level of human skills will de-termine organization success. AchieveGlobal prov...
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Lessons From Leading Customer-Focused Organizations: Customer Service Interview Survey


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In late 2010, AchieveGlobal conducted 13 in-depth interviews with leading customer service-focused organizations from the US, Europe, and Asia to uncover best practices and strategies for creating a successful customer experience.

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Lessons From Leading Customer-Focused Organizations: Customer Service Interview Survey

  1. 1. Lessons From LeadingCustomer-FocusedOrganizationsCustomer Service InterviewStudyBy Mark Marone PhD Developing the 21st century workforce TM
  2. 2. In late 2010, AchieveGlobal conducted 13 in-depth interviewswith leading customer service-focused organizations fromthe US, Europe, and Asia to uncover best practices and strate-gies for creating a successful customer experience. One-on-one phone interviews were conducted with organizationalleaders from a broad range of industries, including financialservices, healthcare, government, manufacturing, consumerproducts and services, and business-to-business industries.Once we recorded and transcribed the interviews, we began to searchfor common themes. Our analysis uncovered nine key lessons or bestpractices of customer-focused organizations. Although some compa-nies describe these lessons in different ways, the concepts neverthe-less represent common threads that run throughout each case. Thesenine critical success factors are presented here with a brief descrip-tion and supporting quotes.#1: Customer service is just one part of the customer experience.To gain a better understanding of how the terms and definitions ofcustomer service are evolving, we asked companies to discuss howthey describe and define the concept of customer service in theirorganization.Many companies use different terms to identify interactions with cus-tomers in different parts of the company. For example, while a compa-ny may refer to the “customer experience” as an organizational concept,their interactions with customers through the call center or CSR func-tion might be referred to as “customer care” or “customer relations”.Other terms describe interactions with intermediate customers, “agentrelations,” for example, or industry-specific customers, such as “patientexperience” or “guest services”.A clear distinction developed between how organizations think and talkabout service in the traditional sense (through a customer service func-tion) and the broader scope of “customer experience,” where the entireorganization is focused on meeting and exceeding the needs of custom-ers in all functions and across all touch points. Despite differences innomenclature, respondents share a similar definition and agree that theconcept of customer experience goes beyond just service. It involvesmeeting and exceeding the needs of the individuals that drive their busi-ness, regardless of whether customers are end users, internal customers,or agents. “It’s not just a matter of customer service as it used to be in years past. Now we want to be able to understand what customers need, how do we take care of it, do a great job of taking care of it, and determine is there something else we can do.”
  3. 3. “Customer experience is a little bit more about the quality about some of their challenges in accomplishing this. of interactions and the outside-in view from the customer A beverage company told us about the challenges of of what facilitates a great customer experience.” managing touch points where there are so many dif- ferent types of customers and different distribution#2: Customer focus is now front and center in an channels or ways of buying. An insurance company weorganization’s mission and values. interviewed discussed the challenge of maintaining their brand promise to customers through independentFor years, customer service belonged to the realm of agents. Successful companies are working to ensurethe customer-service function. When organizations their customers are provided an optimal experiencetalked about customer service, they most often re- throughout each and every channel.ferred to the department that supported customers.Today, since the focus on customers is permeating “Since we restructured, we’ve done a better job of takingother areas if not the entire organization, we asked care of our customers at each touch point, but customerscompanies to tell us how this effort is being communi- buy from us through so many various distribution chan-cated and promoted throughout the company. nels that it has been a challenge to manage.”Leading customer-centered organizations are making “We’re working to coordinate the experience at differ-customer experience a core component of their overall ent touch points. There are so many places we touch thecorporate mission and values. For most companies we customer, but we’ve come a long way in making sure theinterviewed, the concept of customer-focus is commu- customer has a consistent interaction online, in a localnicated from leadership and throughout the organiza- office, or when they meet a technician.”tion so that it is becoming ingrained in the culture. #4 Organizational alignment is critical for manag- “One of our values is stated as ‘we are committed to ing the customer experience. understand our customers’ needs and proactively deliver products and services to meet those needs’.” Many of the companies we spoke with discussed the challenges of transcending departmental silos and un- “We have four corporate values, and the first one is called derstanding the customer experience across functions. ‘our customers,’ and under that we explain that it means: Not only must each functional area understand how to I ask, I am accessible, I listen, I am responsive, and I am deliver value to the customer within their own area, but accountable.” they must understand how other parts of the organiza- tion meet customer needs. #3 Customer experience is what happens whenorganizations interact with the customer at any Alignment goes one step further to ensure that nottouch point. only is there awareness of how each function impacts the customer, but that customer data and feedbackOrganizations provide value to customers and meet are shared across the organization. Alignment ensurestheir needs through a wide range of channels. The that everyone makes customer focus their job and theycompanies we interviewed discussed how their custom- work together to ensure an optimal experience.ers interact with each of these channels, such as theirwebsites, phone centers, and different sales channels, “Everyone knows where they fit in and how, why, andin addition to third-party agents, resellers, or distribu- what’s needed upstream and downstream from them andtors. Other touch points include marketing, product how what they do effects what happens later.”development, and other functions that impact thecustomer experience. “The whole company is a service-providing company whether in selling, maintaining or upgrading; it’s allWhile customer-focused organizations understand that about service, so it’s important within each department.”customer needs must be met consistently throughouteach channel, the companies we interviewed talked Customer Service Interview Study, | 3
  4. 4. “More and more in the service experience, it’s that cross- #6 Different segments of customers have differ- functional knowledge that’s so important to create that ent needs and expectations. seamless experience.” Not all customers have the same needs, nor do they#5 Customer service fails when there are barri- have the same experiences with organizations—that is,ers to information. different segments of customers have different expec- tations and unique paths through various touch points.Every company experiences occasional failures in For example, some customers prefer to go online, whilecustomer service. In addition to defective products, others prefer conducting their business face to face oradministrative errors, or logistical problems, there are over the telephone.plenty of other things that can go awry that end upupsetting customers. Other than things outside of their Successful customer-focused companies know it’s dan-control, we asked companies to tell us what goes wrong gerous to treat all customers the same. While cateringwhen they are not able to meet the customer’s need— to every individual’s unique needs is not feasible, thethat is, why service fails. companies we talked with were clear about the impor- tance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather,With few exceptions, companies told us things go using customer data they segment customers basedwrong when there is a lack of timely information or on distinct needs, preferences, expectations, and theirinaccurate information when responding to a customer value to the organization.issue. Delaying resolutions to locate information orwaiting for authorization, or having the wrong infor- “We know each customer looks at us from a uniquemation, makes it difficult to correct problems quickly. perspective; they have different needs and experiences, soSharing information, eliminating silos, and aligning the what’s important to them is unique to them.”organization are critical requirements to reducing andexpelling service failure. “You can’t just assume every customer wants the same thing—we don’t treat them the same—if you took thatWhat’s more, successful organizations use bad custom- approach you’d have lots of unhappy customers.”er experiences as an opportunity to create loyalty bysolving problems in a timely manner and in a way that #7 Customer-centered organizations measureexceeds the customer’s expectations. Customers may more than just satisfaction; they measure the cus-remember the problem, but they will never forget how tomer experience.they were treated and how the problem was handled by Annual customer satisfaction surveys are no longerthe organization. sufficient to identify customer loyalty, and measure “Unusual product questions will come up and sometimes experiences and expectations throughout the organiza- your CSR people just kind of get caught in a trap and tion. Companies must gather feedback on experiences may provide some incorrect information or not totally relevant to all touch points. Rather than relying only on understand the question.” survey data, companies now collect data through vari- ous day-to-day interactions, such as web chats, buying “When we haven’t met that need, it’s because we have behaviors, and in-person feedback. not been able as an organization to work together to get information back to our customer.” The companies we talked with are focusing efforts on collecting data on the customer experience that “Promoters may have had a breakdown somewhere, but go beyond measuring the nuts and bolts of customer the recovery that was applied was so satisfactory that interactions to gathering insights on such things as how that made them a promoter for that company.” confident customers felt about their interaction, the professionalism, attitude, and empathy demonstrated by employees, and whether or not customers’ needs4 | Customer Service Interview Study
  5. 5. were met. Customer-focused organizations measure “Everyone that enters the company is evaluated basedwhat they want the experience to be and what their on the ‘customer-obsessed tool,’ because being customercustomers say they want it to be. obsessed is one of our four core values.” “The old customer satisfaction is actually too much of a #9 Leadership support and commitment drive macro measurement. We really need to get down to what continuous improvement. it is that customers really want.” Creating a customer focused organization begins and “We also look at things like return rates, customer ends with leadership. From establishing the mission to escalations, any source of feedback that would tell us aligning the organization to improving on the delivery somewhere along the continuum about the customer of value to customers through each interaction re- experience.” quires the support and attention of leaders. “We’ve got these touch-points feedback programs in place where the customer is able to give us a lot of insight on The Nine Best-Practices of Leading how they perceived their experience.” Customer-Focused Organizations#8 Incentive, reward, and training systems rein- #1: Customer service is viewed as only one component offorce that everyone is customer-focused. the Customer ExperienceCustomer-focused organizations measure individual’s #2: Customer-focus takes a central position in the organi-performance in delivering service, both to internal zation’s mission and valuesand external customers. Performance expectationsand standards of service delivery are integral to overall #3: The Customer Experience is viewed as the cumulativeperformance evaluation for these companies. Not only effect of every customer/organization interaction orare employees incentivized and rewarded based on touch-pointcustomer feedback data, they are evaluated through #4: Organizational alignment is critical to ensure effectiveobservations and other less tangible criteria. management of the Customer ExperienceHowever, rewards and incentives must be combined #5: Customer service fails when there are barriers to shar-with training to ensure that employees understand and ing of information between departmentsare committed to being customer-focused. In addition,training and coaching clearly defines what behaviors #6: Different segments of customers have different needsare expected. Only when employees are engaged and and expectationsbuy-in to the value of customer centricity can organi-zations improve the experience they deliver to their #7: Customer-centered organizations measure more thancustomers. just satisfaction; they measure the whole customer experience “Our new staff training called ‘customer college’ brings them into the culture and the expectations that we have #8: Incentive, reward, and training systems that are in delivering service to our clients. This philosophy has aligned, reinforce company-wide customer-focus gone beyond our call centers to other functional areas.” #9: Leadership support and commitment drive continuous “It’s not just a value that’s up on the wall, it’s not just a improvement in the delivery of the Customer class that gets taught, but it’s part of our annual perfor- Experience mance review system as well.” Customer Service Interview Study, | 5
  6. 6. Leaders keep the message alive, propose new direc-tions, and facilitate innovation of the customerexperience. In this way, there is not only executivesupport, but executive commitment. The companieswe interviewed are pursuing strategies of increasinginvestments in training, coaching, rewards, and otherenablers to create a culture of ongoing improvement ofthe customer experience. “Our CEO always talks about the need to go to the next higher gear on customer experience. We’re relentlessly pursuing it and taking it higher and higher.”ConclusionIn an ideal world, companies develop and executestrategies on each of these success factors to create anorganization that consistently provides an exceptionaland differentiated customer experience. The outcomeof this will continually increase customer loyalty, andultimately ensure a stronger market position. Althoughthe leading companies we interviewed have a clear vi-sion of where they need to be, or are well on their waythere, some are further along than others. Indeed, evenfor a few very large companies that are leaders in theirindustry, the ideal world, they admitted, is still a longway off.However, what sets these companies apart is not howadvanced they are in creating a customer-focusedorganization, but their understanding that meetingthese success factors requires a wholesale evolution inthe way their entire company must think and behave.Consequently, they acknowledged that this processrepresents a continuous journey, rather than a one-timestrategy. Given the magnitude of change in processes,policies and mindsets required to accomplish each ofthese nine success factors, this is a multi-year journeythat successful companies are prepared to travel.6 | Customer Service Interview Study
  7. 7. About the AuthorMark Marone, PhD, has more than 15 years of academ-ic and private-sector experience in market researchand consulting on issues such as business development,corporate strategy, and customer loyalty. Mark haswritten extensively on topics in sales strategy and salesbest practices, as well as trends in customer serviceand corporate leadership. He has been a featuredspeaker and presented research findings at numerousinternational academic and professional conferences.He earned a Ph.D. from Indiana University and heldseveral academic posts, including adjunct professor ofbusiness at the University of South Florida. Customer Service Interview Study, | 7
  8. 8. About AchieveGlobalIn the 21st century, the level of human skills will de-termine organization success. AchieveGlobal providesexceptional development in interpersonal businessskills, giving companies the workforce they need forbusiness results. Located in over 40 countries, we offermulti-language, learning-based solutions—globally,regionally, and locally.We understand the competition you face. Your suc-cess depends on people who have the skills to handlethe challenges beyond the reach of technology. We’reexperts in developing these skills, and it’s these skillsthat turn your strategies into business success in the21st century.These are things technology can’t do. Think. Learn.Solve problems. Listen. Motivate. Explain. People withthese skills have a bright future in the 21st century.AchieveGlobal prepares you for that world. World Headquarters 8875 Hidden River Parkway, Suite 400 Developing the 21st Tampa, Florida 33637 USA century workforceTM Toll Free: 800.456.9390 www.achieveglobal.com© 2011 AchieveGlobal, Inc. No. M01376 v. 1.0 (05/2011)