How should we approach customer service and deliver quality for users?

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Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” While most people in our business know that may be true, few know what to do about it.

Recent devastating articles in the USA about poor customer service in the cable TV industry have prompted many watercooler conversations about similar bad customer service experiences. We all have at least one. Whether you manufacture a product, delve into politics or provide a service, the 80/20 rule usually applies: 80% of trouble comes from 20% of problems.

The same holds true for toll operators’ customer service centers. The majority of our customers open accounts, travel the toll road and replenish their accounts or pay their bills without issue. It’s a small percentage of customers who are the most vocal, push customer service representatives (CSRs) over the edge, and include every government official they can find on the internet when emailing their complaint about the “horrible treatment they suffered as a result of using your toll system”.

So how do we respond to these complaints? Should we be firefighters waiting for a complaint and then try to fix the issue? Or should we look at what other industries do and be proactive? Compare Apple’s customer ratings with those previously mentioned cable companies. Other industries look at customer service from a different perspective. They see that your greatest way to constantly improve can come from objectively looking at your operation with a constant eye for quality improvement. They know that it is not just about customer phone calls and store-front processes, but the attitude within the entire operation. Sure, we all include the measurements of our business operating system or roadside key performance indicators in our contracts. But it is more than that – we need to take our operations from a requirement mentality to a total quality management program.

Often, quality control (QC) and quality management (QM) are seen as one-and-the same. In reality, QC plays an important role in our customer service centers but is reactive, requirement- filling and organization-focused. QM is a customer-focused process based on planning, prevention and being proactive. QM processes should constantly be updated to fulfill your customers’ needs.

If you are questioning the value of this, look at the press from those that don’t. Greater customer satisfaction and an enhanced reputation lead to more business and greater trust. We all need to treat our customers the way we would like to be treated. We need to recall the last time we phoned a customer service center to complain about a bad billing or product or maybe even called for information and the CSR was having a bad day, then so did you. We need to implement better ways to track our performance without relying solely on our customer service providers.

We need to find a way to track and record performance more independently, consistently and reliably so that we really know how we are doing prior to the phone calls. We need to avoid the fires as an industry, not just scramble to put them out.

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