Exceptional Service Doesn’t Start on the Front Line
Originally published: 03.01.15 by Jim Baston
Four Ways to Lead Your Team to Deliver an Outstanding Customer Experience
In the service business, you depend almost entirely on your front line personnel to deliver an exceptional service experience. An exceptional service experience helps your customers feel good about doing business with you and results in many positive outcomes.
It reassures your customers they made a good choice in selecting you as their service provider. It helps differentiate your service from your competitors. It’s valued by many who are willing to pay more to receive it. And, it creates a band for your business — a personality that attracts new customers and helps to retain existing ones
Because great customer service is executed by your front line personnel, you might be forgiven for putting responsibility for quality of its delivery upon them. You’d be missing the cause, however, and focusing solely on the symptom if you did.
A great service experience doesn’t start on the front line, it starts with you. As managers and leaders, you’re responsible for the actions of your employees and you have an obligation to ensure they’re equipped to successfully deliver upon it.
Here are four ways you can ensure your team delivers an exceptional customer experience.
Define the Experience
It’s imperative to be perfectly clear in terms of the service experience you want your teams to deliver. If you’re not, you may be responsible for as many different service experiences as you have employees.
Professors from Texas A&M University identified the dimensions of exceptional customer service, which have been published in the book “Delivering Quality Service.” They found five critical dimensions that defined service quality, and from their work emerged a customer service model called RATER. Their research indicated a service firm that can deliver on all five dimensions contained in the model can create an exceptional service experience.
The name RATER is an acronym, with each letter representing the first letter of each of the five dimensions:
Reliability: Your ability to provide what is promised, dependably and accurately.
Assurance: Your ability to convey trust and confidence.
Tangibles: Your physical characteristics, such as personal presentation, equipment, appearance of the work area, etc.
Empathy: The degree of caring and individual attention you provide to customers.
Responsiveness: Your willingness to help customers and provide prompt service
This simple, yet practical model is extremely powerful. It provides service companies with the framework needed to define the service experience they’d like to create.
You can do this by defining specifically how you’ll help your customers experience each dimension of the model through your front line employees.
For example, you can define specifically what you want your field service technicians to do when they visit a customer, what actions to take when they’re delayed and unable to attend to the customer on time and what specifically should be included in the work order resolution description.
The challenge is to ensure each customer contact communicates each dimension in the manner intended and does so consistently and correctly through the everyday interactions of your employees.
Keep in mind; a great service experience goes well beyond your ability to help the customer feel good about doing business with you. It includes your ability to help that customer be better off for having a service relationship with you.
You must ensure your definition of exceptional service includes your expectation that your technicians will take a proactive approach to identifying and recommending ideas to your customers that will help them make improvements. Those improvements will vary greatly, depending on the needs of each customer, but could include reduced energy consumption, better indoor air quality and improved productivity.
Identify Tools and Processes
Once you’ve defined the service experience you want to deliver, you need to consider what tools, training and processes are needed to support your team’s activities. Consider every aspect of your defined service experience and identify what needs to happen to deliver on the experience consistently over time and between front line personnel.
For example, you may wish to provide interpersonal skills training for your field service technicians to help them deal with emotional situations so they can be successful in bringing customers to a positive conclusion. Or, if part of your defined service experience includes the expectation that your technicians will look for and make recommendations to customers when they see opportunities to make improvements, you must have a fail safe process to capture those leads and follow them up in a timely manner.
Coach, Practice and Support
As managers, you’re measured not so much on what you do, but what your team does. As a result, you’ll have the greatest impact by focusing your attention on helping your team perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. Training, tools and processes are important, but they’re not enough.
You’re in a fast-paced, real-time business that often forces you to put coaching and development activities aside to address more urgent matters. When you allow this to happen too often, you’ll spend little or no time providing the critical support that will truly help your employees excel. And that can be costly in terms of your team’s effectiveness and, therefore, your overall performance.
Coaching isn’t the only factor that will determine how well your team adopts and contributes to an exceptional service experience. You must ensure you walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
Leading by example makes it clear that you’re serious and this isn’t simply another management fad. What you say about customers and your service, how you act during a dispute or whether you follow up and take interest in your team’s service experience delivery efforts are important indicators of the importance of this service experience initiative.
It also provides a reference for the team in understanding exactly what is expected of them. Without coaching and reinforcement, most of your front line personnel will simply revert back to their old ways and your efforts will be lost.
Think of coaching as a form of maintenance. You’d never expect a piece of equipment to run very long or very well without maintenance, so why would you expect your service team to perform well and consistently at new skills without coaching?
Measure Your Results
If you don’t have a customer satisfaction survey, think very seriously of creating one. If you use a customer satisfaction survey, look closely at the questions.
Do the questions get to the heart of how you’re performing on the five dimensions of the RATER model? What do the survey responses indicate about your customers’ perception of your Reliability, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy and Responsiveness?
Does the survey measure your ability to bring forward ideas that will help the customer be better off? Does your survey provide an accurate reading of how you’re progressing over time — are you continually improving, staying the same or falling behind?
To deliver an exceptional service experience for your customers, consistently over time, you must be diligent. To be successful you need to define what you want your teams to do and provide them with the tools, processes and skills to do it.
You need to continually reinforce and support those tools, measure your progress and make adjustments as necessary to continually improve.
Yes, the execution for your service strategy may be at the front line of your organization, but the responsibility for the success of your front line personnel is clearly yours. To paraphrase an old saying, “The buck starts here.” My apologies to President Truman.
Jim Baston is president of BBA Consulting Group Inc., a management consulting and training firm dedicated to helping technical service firms leverage the untapped potential in their business-development efforts. Contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bbaconsulting.ca.