Building Your Service Culture

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The CEM Telecoms Conference speaks with Jeff Eilertsen, UP! Your Service VP Client Success, to learn how companies can optimize service efficiency while also improving customer experience. Learn how you can achieve these goals simultaneously in this engaging interview.

What are the main ways companies can differentiate their offering based on the quality of their service culture?

This is a fundamental question that we challenge all clients to consider as they embark on building a “service culture” versus simply training customer service skills. But first, companies need to know WHY they are building a service culture. What is driving this as strategy? Here are the most common reasons:

Competition. The quality, speed or price of the product or offering is no longer enough to differentiate from competitors. We see many industries including IT, manufacturing, and telecom networking — not traditionally known to focus on “service” — using service as the last great differentiator.

Rising expectations. Customers’ access to information and their experience in other areas of commerce and life have created ever growing expectations of how they want to be served.

Employee engagement. A culture of service and adding value is not just for external customers. Internal colleagues and partners join firms that will add value to their personal career and work experiences. Building a culture of service is a key strategy for attracting and retaining talent. By the way, you will not find many organizations known for outstanding service to have poor employee engagement.

Customer loyalty. Keeping and growing existing customers is far more profitable than always finding new ones. Service experience is a key factor in customer loyalty.

Profitability. I work with numerous clients who are so squeezed for profit margins that the only way to future profit is to offer more service value that customers are happy to pay a bit more for.

Thus understanding WHY you are building a service culture helps you to see WHERE you can differentiate. Service is really about actions and behaviors that add value to customers and their experience. It is more than a fuzzy concept about being “more friendly” to customers or slogans such as “the customer is always right.” It is about finding what customers value throughout the process and relationships they experience with you.

We have companies analyze four key categories for service value differentiation.

1. Looking at the primary offering itself. What value is the customer really getting from your products? And does everyone on staff have strong product knowledge? Excellent “service” can only go so far if the primary product itself is poor.

2. What are the delivery systems used to move product offerings to clients? This ranges from sales and delivery staff, to call centers, to inventory control systems, to physical delivery vehicles to downloading goods online. What is the experience for customers? Where can you differentiate to add more value?

3. What is the service mindset of your people? Are they friendly? Ask questions? Empathetic? Creative in finding solutions? Do they follow up as promised? Do they believe in the service they are providing?

4. Do you build ongoing relationships with your customers? What actions and programs are in place to create customer loyalty? To truly understand the ongoing needs, concerns, fears and wins of your customers and colleagues?

I sat in a meeting with a company and its customer recently. The customer stated: “We appreciate that you have invested €150 million in your technology infrastructure to support our needs. But what’s missing is your people calling us on the phone to understand our concerns and to brainstorm ideas, even if you don’t have the answers yet.”

A successful service culture sees the importance of all four of these categories and works with customers to differentiate based on what they value.

Can you explain the ‘12 building blocks of service culture?’ and how this process can be implemented?

The 12 Building Blocks of Service Culture are areas of activity that enable and reinforce a culture of internal and external service improvement. These are the systems, policies, practices and language that exist in organizations.

The key is to ensure you are not only executing these Building Blocks well individually, but that all are aligned to support a service culture. A simple and common example? We communicate about the importance of service to our customers, yet recognize and reward our staff for something entirely different.

The activities in these areas shape the environment, experience, and enthusiasm of your team and that in turn impacts the experience you create for customers. We work closely with our clients to evaluate current activities, identify areas for immediate change, and develop a plan for both quick win improvements, and long term culture building success.

Is there a specific profile which an employee must adhere to if they’re to fit into an optimized service culture?

As I mentioned, service is “taking action to create value for someone else.” With that simple but powerful definition, all staff can have a mindset towards service. It doesn’t matter what role or what level they have in the organization.

Thus the most important “profile” is a person’s willingness to take personal responsibility for actions. Imagine if all staff in a company were continually looking for ways to add value to their customers and colleagues! Over and over we see organizations shift their service culture through the accumulation of many, many small acts of value each day.

A powerful story comes from a utility company. When asking several individual staff members how they created value for customers, one senior vice president described that “being a customer myself helped me revise and simplify the pricing structure we use.” How about the utility worker who checked meters all day? His response: “I now be sure to close the garden gate at every home I visit.”

How has the move to digital affected service culture?

Digital has expanded both the opportunities and the pitfalls for service to customers. There are more digital products to offer, which of course customers find valuable.

How we buy and receive goods and services via digital channels offers greater value as well. The experience of navigating a website or app, making purchase decisions or accessing help, all create the opportunity to give customers more value. And we have more opportunity for feedback and improvement in the moment through the digital world.

At the same time, digital means more customer’s expression of their experience is out of our control. Social media and web sites offer an abundance of channels for customer pain and pleasure. Thus it is far more difficult to steer perceptions. We now have to engage in the conversations as equal partners instead of dictating all communications. I have seen organizations with enormous digital command centers solely focused on managing social media interaction.

The key is for organizations to move beyond separating IT and digital from the more traditional mix of customer interactions. Service is not just about what we do in person or over the phone. It is looking holistically at the grand potpourri of interactions our customers have with our companies over the lifecycle.

What companies are you looking to hearing from at CEM Global? 

The truth is, I learn more from your attendees than they do from me. I am interested in any company or representative, no matter if they serve the user customer or the background infrastructure, who can share THEIR experience with service.  This is a fast-paced industry, central to the economies and lifestyles of people around the world.  Where else could “service” be so fundamentally important?

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