The Customer’s Voice: Electrical Devices
Customer service can mean different things to various people, but the focus should always be the same—satisfy the customer. The paths taken to achieve this goal vary, and along the way the focus is often lost, resulting in unhappy customers. Many procedures are defined, sophisticated systems installed, and departments created to perform the customer service function. However, when you ask the question, “What does your customer really require?” you may get a number of different answers. As relationships between the customer and supplier evolve, they settle into acceptable, not desired, performance levels. This acceptable performance becomes viewed as the customer’s true requirements. This may be acceptable for the short term, but if a new supplier arrives who can actually meet the true requirements of the customer, the business may be at risk.
Losing sight of the customer’s requirements is one common shortcoming of Customer Service Departments. Another common shortcoming is not tracking the levels of service provided to customers. This makes it difficult to understand whether or not the customer’s requirements are actually being met. In addition, measured fluctuations in service can alert an organization to shortcomings in their internal processes. By tracking service performance internally, any necessary corrections can be made proactively before they become major issues with the customers. Losing sight of your customer’s requirements and your own actual service performance can affect your business in many ways.
An electrical device manufacturer was in the process of reengineering the image of their company. The company was over 75 years old, and had a strong manufacturing focus. The beliefs of management had long been that if you made a strong product, the customer would buy it, regardless of the service provided. The company was smart enough to realize that this philosophy would no longer be viable in today’s marketplace. Large home centers, such as Home Depot, were taking over the market requiring superior service as well as excellent products. The company knew they had to improve their service performance, and began immediately examining their customer service organization.
As it turned out, the customer service organization was fragmented, with no single point of control. There were seven customer service centers which reported to five directors and vice presidents. The first step required was to reengineer the organization structure. These seven customer service centers were consolidated into one location at the company headquarters. All customer service functions now reported directly to a new executive, the Director of Customer Service and Logistics. It was very important that a new manager be responsible for the reorganized department. The older customer service managers were accustomed to the business practices that had been established over the last 75 years. The change in philosophy being instituted was enormous and required a new leader to champion that change.
The next step was to begin implementing new tools and training for the employees who would be working in the department. The company looked to make major changes to the telephone system, facility and type of training provided. This effort would signal the magnitude of change that would be occurring over the next year. In order for employees to be able to confidently state that customer service is a primary focus of the company, they had to believe it.
The old, antiquated telephone system was updated to a modern, state-of-the art system. The department was reconfigured so that all customer service and logistics functions were located close to one another. All employees, new and old, were trained on the new telephone system, layout and focus of the company.
A number of tasks were undertaken to improve the service provided to customers. The order cycle process was reengineered, streamlining the flow of product through the order entry system and on to the customer. The customer service reps were organized into groups, and assigned specific accounts. This built a familiarity with each customer and created improved efficiencies when handling a customer’s call.
Under the old system, no single person or department was responsible for technical questions. A help desk was created to respond to all technical questions. These calls frequently came from customers after they had installed the product. The desk was supported by an engineer, and was marketed to customers as an improved service feature.
After the order cycle process and customer service procedures were reengineered, the systems were upgraded to provide the increased support required. Customer service reps were given personal computers with individual access to the Internet, providing real-time information for tracking shipments from carriers to the customers. Performance measurement was an integral part of the new systems, allowing for complete tracking of many important service measures including fill rates and cycle times.
The company has taken significant leaps towards improving its customer service image and performance, with many changes already completed and implemented. The next step is to re-survey the customer base to confirm their important issues. From this survey, the future directions of customer service will be mapped. For many companies undergoing customer service excellence initiatives, the process is a continual one.