Assessing your customer service competitive edge

Assessing your customer service competitive edge

Moretti, Peggy

What CEO doesn’t claim to be dedicated to excellent customer service? Who wouldn’t say service is their competitive edge? It’s the Holy Grail of the Tom Peters business generation.

Although customer service is not a physical product, it can be taken apart, examined, tested and reengineered to go faster, last longer, cost less or perform new tricks. It’s multidimensional, comprised of different facets from attitude to infrastructure, all of which must be addressed in the quest for excellence. Too often corporate managers view customer service from the wrong perspective — looking at it from the inside, filtered through organization charts, budgets and corporate politics. To really know how good your customer service is, change views – take an outside look from the customer’s perspective.

When creating customer service programs that deliver clear competitive advantage, few things are more crucial to an organization than an effective call center. These customer service hubs are a business’s first line of contact, and often their only live communication with existing and future customers. Done well, your call center can be your most valuable asset in gaining customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention.

So, how can you best measure customer service performance? How sharp (or dull) is your competitive edge? Where should improvement efforts and resources be focused? The following self-examination uses a variety of indicators that will help you determine whether your customer service center is, or isn’t, competitive.

Solutions

Chances are you scored very well in some areas, poorly in others. Now that you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, the next challenge is doing something about them.

In this era of techno-hype, it’s easy to go for a “quick fix” newer, faster, bigger technology. But technology is rarely the core problem. In fact, most customer service problems are people and process related – even in the most technically advanced call centers. Without the right customer-focused attitude, processes and people, better technology delivers the same old mess -just faster and more powerfully!

So, how should you go about honing your competitive edge? The first step is developing a customer service plan that addresses all four critical components:

* Philosophy & Vision – A clear, crisp customer service message backed by companywide accountability for customer satisfaction.

* Process — Engineering, documentation, training and communication of customer service/call center processes and the mechanisms for integration with core business operations (i.e., sales, production, support).

* Personnel — Requisite skill sets, attracting and retaining talented staff and management, training, proper compensation, development and respected career paths.

* Infrastructure & Technology – Fast, flexible, automated, integrated and user friendly, designed to accommodate the people and processes…not the other way around.

To successfully bring about real improvement, you must have toplevel support. The planning and implementation process will require a concerted effort across all departments, led by an executive champion able to keep hold of the vision and effect change. Resources

Even with an executive champion, there will be problems the company cannot solve alone. In fact, for anything outside of your business’s core competencies, it is advisable to get outside help. Where you lack internal expertise there are a variety of external resources available. Staffing firms offer recruitment support, and there’s no shortage of outsourcing vendors who can take over your entire call center operation. The best approach for today’s complex call center environments is a hybrid solution that leverages your strengths and in-house resources combined with outsourced services. The result will be a wellintegrated customer service program that works for your company and your customers.

Vail Dutto and Peggy Moretti are co-founders of InTelegy Corporation. With more than 20 combined years’ experience in the teleservices industry, they are recognized leaders in the effective use of a call center to increase revenue, customer satisfaction and retention. Headquartered in Danville, California, InTelegy provides “on-site outsourcing” of call center staffing and daily performance management for corporations looking to improve and streamline their customer service opration.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Jul 1997

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