Bringing the voice of your customers into your boardroom and working practices

Effective Strategy And Leadership

Thursday Social Card

Today’s celebration of National Customer Service Week (NCSW) is focussed on effective strategy and leadership skills. Great customer services starts at the top and to be genuinely successful should be part of an organisation’s culture. When asked who is responsible for customer services within an organisation, the answer should be a resounding “everyone” and not the typical answer of “the customer service team”. That said, there should also be a customer services team. 

When working with clients I’m always keen to understand where in the structure the ‘customer services team’ sits - Operations or Marketing, as this gives me some insight into the strategy for customer service. When sat under Operations, the Leadership team is often focussed on streamlining the operation, making the processes work efficiently, identifying where cost-efficiencies can be made. If Ops also houses IT, there’s usually a healthy budget for “kit” too and there is a plethora of KPIs to achieve and metrics to be measured against. 

When sat under Marketing, it’s often less clear and I have found teams struggling for leadership and strategy as it’s not a traditional ‘push’ marketing channel. It’s not something we ‘do’ to customers or send them or share with them, instead it’s an interactive service that must happen in real time, making it a very different challenge.

The starting point is to have clarity on what is the role of customer services and how is their work contributing to the delivery of the organisation’s mission and vision? Are they complaint handlers? Do they take orders? Do they build relationships? Are they doing all of this? 

I undertook a major piece of work for a client a few years ago that revolutionised the company's view of customer service within just a few short weeks. When I first started working with them the customer services advisers were taking orders, handling enquiries and complaints and the infrastructure had been under-invested in for years. The software they were using was old fashioned, and about to fall off the supported versions list from the software vendor so something had to change. But deep down the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) understood that there was intrinsic value in this team, they just didn’t know how to release and realise the potential. 

I started by spending my time in the contact centre listening into calls, sitting in training sessions and understanding the role of the contact centre advisers. I read customer letters and emails and the replies they were sent. It was soon apparent that the team had been managed by Operations and as a result of streamlining, slowly but surely, the brand’s personality had been stripped away as the team had a lot to achieve within the allotted 4.5 mins duration per call (including wrap time). It was seen as a cost-centre by the SLT and whenever there was a need to cut back on spend, the customer services department was the first port of call. 

I was challenged by the SLT to put my money where my mouth was and prove to them that Customer Services could be a profit centre, generating extra income. The team stepped up and we delivered 18% additional revenue straight to the bottom line. And our change began within 4 weeks, and it was sustained over many of the following years.

You might be asking “how?”, and it’s a good question. We did that by focussing on customer experience and building relationships with our customers. We empowered the team to be able to make decisions and reasonable adjustments to be able to better support each customer’s needs.  We stopped being passive order takers and took on the role of trusted advisers. We up-sold, cross-sold and down-sold when necessary, to ensure that our customers had the right products for their needs and knew exactly how to use them and get the best out of them. As a result, Average Order Values increased as did order frequency. Customer acquisition improved too with a word-of-mouth recommendation programme and staff retention improved significantly as the staff felt valued and their skills respected. 

All of that happened because we connected Customer Services into the Mission and Vision of the organisation. The team AND the SLT could clearly see how the department added value to the business. We had a strategy and leadership that was implemented by empowered, well trained, well supported and happy staff. It was revolutionary. 

If you would like to unlock the potential of customer service for your business but aren’t sure where to start, please CONTACT US It’s part of our Customer Experience offering and our 30 years+ experience could be just what you’re looking for.

Elaine Lee

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