12 Steps to Improving the Quality of Customer Service in St.

One common principal held by ALL world-class companies is a recognition of the customer as their most important asset. Xerox, 3M, Motorola, Toyota, Federal Express, Walt Disney, and Walmart are all examples of companies who have used such a principal to increase market share, increase profits, and strengthen their competitive amour. Excellence in customer service, apart form being an effective competitive tool, provides a powerful way to align all of one's key organizational processes to achieve synergy - irrespective of whether or not the organization is for-profit or not-for-profit. The following 12 steps if followed carefully, can provide winning results for any organization. Step 1: Adopt a philosophy customers are the organization's most valuable asset and that their needs must drive the entire organization. Organizations cannot exist without customers. As such, the customer must be the central focus of the organization. Goals around market share and diversity, profit yield, and so on, are directly related to customer patronage. Consequently, they are subordinate goals. Part of Xerox's philosophy around customers state: ‡ we succeed through satisfied customers, and, ‡ we value our employees (internal customers). Step 2: Communicate and practice the philosophy throughout all levels of the organization. All too often, organizations have grand statements about customer service that sit in policy manuals on a dusty shelf. No one other than the general manager who retired some 5 years ago ever heard about it! All members of the organization must believe in and practice the policy. For want of a better expression, all members must be indoctrinated in the philosophy. It is the only way to ensure unison. Further, management must lead by example. They must treat employees with the same courtesy and respect that they expect the employees to bestow on external customers. Step 3: Establish external and internal customer needs through a consultative process. Use customer surveys, suggestion boxes, employee consultations to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. It is not possible to maximize the quality of service in any organization without the knowledge and understanding of the customers' perception of the quality of service delivered by the organization. "Management ego" which exists in many organizations is a major barrier to progress. Many managers are afraid to face the truth - that they not as good as they would like to think they are. They are contented to make assumptions about customer satisfaction. Hence they manage by suspicion not facts. I have yet been asked by any organization in St. Lucia to fill out a customer satisfaction survey questionnaire - this is not to say that it doesn't happen. I believe that such a practice happens mainly in hotels where the tourists (customers) are truly valued. In fact, this is the only time you hear our governments talk about valued customers - tourists! Step 4: Establish a system of measuring, monitoring, and tracking customer satisfaction. In order to plan for improvement, one must have tangible measures and factual data. Improvement based on speculation will result in failure.

Step 5: Train workers so that they can be of maximum assistance to customers. It is not uncommon in St. Lucia to be referred to three to four persons before you could get an answer to a simple question. This is a rather frustrating experience. Employees must be cross-functionally trained. For example, a cashier should also know something about the products on the shelves. It is also imperative that employees know and understand the process or processes within which they work. The person loading and unloading goods, for example, should know something about how orders are placed and received, as well as how to conduct an inspection of outgoing and incoming goods. Step 6: Empower workers to make some decisions within the locus of their work. Given proper training and clear guidelines on their level of responsibility, front-line workers can avert customer dissatisfaction and in many cases, improve the satisfaction and retain the loyalty of an about-to-be distressed customer. Putting customer through too many hoops before corrective action can be taken is bad for business. Step 7: Use employee teams to motivate and encourage worker participation. Worker participation is a major contributor to employee satisfaction and morale which in turn facilitates improved interaction between employees and external customers. It is not possible to sustain quality interaction between employees and customers simply because it has been mandated. A contented employee delivers good customer service. Step 8: Involve employees in strategic planning and decision-making activity. The views and ideas of employees can often be a lot more valuable than that of the manager who may be removed from the process targeted for improvement. There is absolutely no law which states that good ideas only come from management! A skillful manager sources ideas from all available sources. Step 9: Allow workers to participate in designing customer contact strategies. Form being in touch with customers on a regular basis, front-line employees are in a position to feel the pulse of the customers - their likes, their dislikes, their temperament, and so on. To maximize customer delight, front-line employees must be consulted on strategies for improving customer service. Step 10: Establish a written customer service guarantee policy clearly stating in lay person's language, the terms of the service contract between the organization and the customer. It must be ensured that ALL employees, management , and customers are fully familiar with the terms of the policy. A customer service guarantee policy sets the framework for addressing common customer complaints. It also facilitates the empowerment of customer service representatives to handle corrective action for common problems. Step 11: Cultivate a physical environment and organizational culture conducive to warm customer experiences. For example, some of our banks have a professional physical climate that contributes to a good customer experience. I cannot say the same for our grocery stores! Step 12: Avoid complacency at all costs!. Establish a mechanism to sustain improvement gains that are made in customer service, and entrench in the practice of the organization, continuous improvement activity around customer service. Several organizations treat improvement activity

as one-time events. The dynamism of the economy, the changing customer base, the fluid market structure, and onslaught of competitive forces, makes it imperative that organizations constantly look for ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and to stay abreast of the needs of customers. To achieve a quantum leap in service quality, these steps must be followed with determination and purpose. Planning a road map for customer service improvement is an achievable but non trivial task. It requires all hands on deck, a putting away of "management ego", and a strong constancy of purpose - that of guaranteeing customer delight. All other things will fall into place - profit, market share, competitive edge, and reputation. Trust me!

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