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Customer Service Not Lip Service

It is dangerous when companies confuse quality customer service with lip service. The first leads to customer satisfaction, while the latter reduces business and customer confidence.

Good customer service includes setting the right expectations, then meeting or exceeding these throughout the whole service process, from initiation through closure, and beyond.

When a company pays attention to only the superficial aspects of service, then it becomes lip service. The bulk of customer service is the service itself. Not to detract from the importance of friendly staff, cordial treatment, polite operators, etc., but these should never become more important than the service itself.

Which would a customer pick: A supplier who delivers quality work, but is unfriendly? Or one who is friendly but does not get the job done? Of course, if both can get the job done, everyone would pick the one with the better customer experience. In other words, the core service has to be complete for a customer to be satisfied.

It is sad to observe how misconceptions about quality happen when dealing with improvement initiatives. If we take, as an example, a service call a client places to a company’s call centre. The attendant answers the call very professionally and logs a ticket for a customer service request. By now the caller is impressed with the courtesy. The customer is now comfortable that he or she is in good hands, and waits for the promised service call to be fulfilled… but to no avail.

This is a sign that quality service does not exist throughout the service process. What the customer got was lip service. Another sign of the problem is when the call centre representative calls the customer back in a few days and is shocked that the actual service did not take place.

The rep. calls to proudly inquire about how satisfied the customer was with the service, which so far did not take place. By now the customer has lost patience and starts giving the rep. a piece of his mind, describing the service as “lousy” or “terrible.” The detachment of the phone rep. from the problem makes him confused about why the customer is angry.

He does not understand that the company’s service arm did not provide the service — which makes for an unsatisfied customer. The narrow operation, which focuses on one department alone, cannot see what is wrong; they, as a call centre department, did everything they were supposed to do, so why the customer is mad is beyond the department’s understanding and control. To the centre, the client should be happy and should accordingly be nice back.

As evident from the above example, lip service did not solve the problem for the customer. The company took care of the niceties like being cordial and professional on the phone, but they missed out on what the customer really wants the service 1.

The cause of such a common problem is the lack of integration between the different departments; each feels detached, and feels that they should be praised on their work alone, regardless if the other departments carried through their work.

In reality, the opposite is true. A customer cares about the service he gets, not how well each department is performing.

The whole chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The same applies to the service process, which is only as good as the performance of the worst-performing department involved. Trying to improve on the performance of anything but the weakest department is a waste of money and time. The customer’s problem will always stem from the most challenged department.

Instead, companies need to do a few things to resolve this issue. First, they need to focus improvement efforts on the areas that require it most. Second, they need to be aware that their delivery is not reflected by the work of their best, but rather by their worst department. Accordingly, they should not promise customers more than they can deliver, which means, that their promise for quality delivery to the client should be based on the performance of their weakest, not strongest activity. This is the opposite of what most companies do; they “sell” more than they can deliver. By being careful with promises, the company stands to gain more. The one thing an organisation cannot afford to lose is the customers’ respect and confidence.

Finally, the responsibility of the service process across departments should be handled by one entity; this could be a “case manager” or “service coordinator” with the primary responsibility to oversee its successful completion.

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