I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence but it was the first time we flew Continental, under United name and we had a bad overall customer experience.
I have been a loyal customer of Continental Airlines for many years now. My family and I use it for all our vacation and business travels. Although I could find other airlines offering more competitive air fares, I would still choose Continental. I have always found comfort and satisfaction flying Continental. The merger of United Airlines and Continental was announced in 2010. This union formed the largest airline in the nation, under the name United. I still patronized Continental during the post merger transition. I was remarkably surprised that they had maintained the consistency of their service level. I continued to be a very happy customer.
Last week, my family traveled to California for vacation. Of course, we chose to travel Continental. This time, the name on the plane was noticeably changed to United. Also, it said “Premier Access” on my boarding pass instead of the usual “Elite Access”. I expected our flying experience to be the same or better. A merger of two companies usually means the best practices of both established firms are retained. The outcome is usually the best of both companies.
I was wrong…
I flew back to Houston from Ontario, California last Monday. My wife and our twin infant boys were travelling with me. As can be expected when travelling with two infants, we had a bulky stroller with lots of baby stuff (formula, diapers, the works) in preparation for the three-hour flight.
What would you expect when boarding a plane with kids or infants? My expectation is to have a bit of consideration — maybe priority boarding. I understand that first class goes first (they paid for it), then military and passengers needing assistance — typically those in wheelchairs. But aren’t people with strollers and infant children also in need of assistance?
We were in boarding group 5. I don’t know if it was just me or because of the experience, but I feel bad about the number tag on priority boarding. This was printed prominently on the boarding pass. So groups 1 to 4 board before us. Usually, it does not matter to me if I were to board last; but since I am travelling with my twin babies, it certainly mattered now. I want them to be comfortable. So it became more personal.
More than half of the passengers were already boarded and we were still waiting for our group 5 to be called. My wife went to ask the gate service attendant because normally, in any flight (and not just with Continental), the people with infants were among the first to be boarded. But she got an unfriendly response and told to just get out of the way and wait for our group to be called. During our actual boarding, I asked the same attendant and got the same rude response.
I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence but it was the first time we flew Continental, under United name and we had a bad overall customer experience.
Here is another…
Arriving in Houston, we got our baggage and were surprised to see that one of our bags had a broken handle. The handle was destroyed in such a way that you could no longer use the luggage. It was a relatively new bag that we bought last January. It was only the second time that we used it.
We went to the United Baggage Service office in the airport. We were attended to and were given a reference number and a claim number. We were given a contact number and instructed to call it for follow-up and further assistance.
My wife called the number later, only to be referred to another office. That office asked her to call the United office at the airport instead but could not give her the contact information. On Monday, after we got home from the airport, she had received an email from the claim case that was filed and on it was contact information. She called that number and was told that the case was closed and she should call the United office at the airport if she had questions. At this point, my wife had to use a search engine to find another contact number for the Baggage Service office of United Airlines and get a clearer response to the status of our bag damage claim. She had to talk to several people and was passed on to several offices giving her conflicting information about the case. They damaged our bag and we had to go through all these just to get an answer that the claim is still in process. So far no resolution to it yet!
As you can imagine, this was such a frustrating experience for us flying United. The front-office customer experience was already bad and the after flight back-office service was just as bad!
One of the most difficult problems organizations face today is silo mentality. This is when an organization’s culture dictates non-sharing of knowledge and information between departments or groups. Imaginary walls hinder departments from working together for a shared purpose. There is a certain level of distrust that exists between departments that hamper cooperation. Silo mentality reduces efficiency and can be a contributing factor to a failing corporate culture.
Internal Customer Service Breaks Silos
Silo mentality is a big NO for IT organizations. In fact, IT needs to be the exact opposite – ingrain a culture centered on the internal customer concept. What everyone in a company does can be reduced to one of two functions: “to serve the customer or someone who does” (W. Edwards Deming). IT organizations in firms rarely serve external customers directly; it means that most IT people only work to serve internal customers. If IT is unwilling or unable to satisfy their internal customers, the organization has very little chance to achieve value creating activities. Take pride in helping your internal customers; enjoy your role in sharing information, enabling processes and providing services that help others get their jobs done.
Photo courtesy of Rawich
Satisfying internal customers means every employee must be constantly aware that customer service is everyone’s business in IT. That constant awareness generates genuine teamwork among all departments in the IT organization: Operations, Projects Department, Support Groups, IT Infrastructure, Business Applications, Process Management, etc. This challenge emphasizes the importance of internal customer service as an IT organizational accountability. Excellent customer service doesn’t just happen because IT teams and individuals want it to, it has to mandated by IT leaders into a service model that includes specific responsibilities to perform and a standard service level to achieve.
Revisiting your IT value proposition periodically is an important exercise for IT managers. This will help you understand the tangible and intangible elements that define and differentiate your services portfolio. For internal customers, the IT Value Proposition is the collection of services they receive upon investing in IT capabilities and services. We have to understand that it includes more than just the core IT services (like equipments, applications, and infrastructure), and even more than just good quality— it also involves the softer elements that differentiate the total service offering such as: responsiveness, innovation, collaboration and commitment.
These are two perspectives representing the two words of the terminology “Value Proposition” — “Value” and “Proposition” – broken down into:
- Value (Internal Customer’s Perspective) = The benefits received by the business upon investment on IT capabilities and services.
- Proposition (IT’s Perspective as Service Provider) = The total offering to the business in exchange for their investment.
Defining your IT value proposition is the first step to clearly identify how your IT services portfolio are different and better than your competitors. If you run an IT organization that is purely composed of internal employees and do not think you don’t have competitors, you are wrong. There are many 3rd party IT services providers out there who can offer the same type of service that you have. Some, I could tell you, may even offer the same level of service at a better cost than you. Outsourcing companies that provide IT services have increased and matured over the years. Advancements in technology and development of new operating paradigms have made them more accessible and acceptable. They are your competitors and they are out to get your job. If you can’t define some unique feature or benefit that makes you stand out, your internal customers may default to the other option – lower cost. And believe me, you don’t want to be forced to play the low cost game — even when you win, you lose.
Photo courtesy of Pakorn.
Read full article in Associated Content: Five Ways to Improve Your Customer Service Center
Gain Customer Loyalty by Improving Customer Services
Connecting to current and potential customers is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today. Significant resources are invested in creating and improving customer experiences. Even at this time of economic uncertainties, it’s hard to find a business that is not actively pursuing customer service improvements. The competition is stronger than ever as the economy begins to show signs of recovery. Initiatives related to customer relationship management are embraced by many companies as a critical component of their overall business strategy. Organizations continue to spend heavily on CRM — $11 billion annually starting 2010 according to Forrester. But how do you improve your customer service center besides investing in CRM applications and tools? Here are five ways:
1. Understand your Purpose and Establish a Clear Mission Statement
2. Set the Right Expectations and Be Consistent in Your Service Delivery
3. Develop Your Service Offer
4. Have a Culture of Continuous Improvement
5. Foster a “Customer First” Attitude and Strengthen Your Back-office Support Groups
Can you remember your most bizarre customer experience ever? Let me tell you mine. It just happened today! There are lessons to be learned in all experiences — even the most bizarre one. After reading this, I encourage you to write your comments or share your own customer service story.
I went to a Pep Boys car service center for routine service maintenance today. I parked my car outside and immediately proceeded to the service counter. When I walked in, there was only one service staff member at the counter and he was busy assisting another customer. So I waited in line. Soon after, he greeted me warmly and told me that he’ll attend to me shortly. As a customer waiting in the line, it feels good to be acknowledged. After a couple minutes, it was my turn. I told the service staff member that I was there for routine periodic maintenance. He asked me for pertinent information about my car, the mileage and went on to suggest maintenance work recommended for my car. He provided me with valuable information to help me decide on a service option. After that, we chose a service package. I didn’t have to spend time giving other additional information; they’ve got my data in the system from my previous visits.
Aside from taking my car for maintenance, I had another motive for going to Pep Boys today. I needed copies of my previous maintenance service documents. My car dealer, where I purchased my car a few years ago, needs proof of periodic car maintenance for a service warranty issue. So I asked the Pep Boys service member for my maintenance records in the last two and a half years. I was impressed on how he was able to quickly pull up information and print records. He even explained to me – one by one — the types of maintenance service my car has gone through. I thought it was really impressive service—above and beyond expectations. It was so much better than I thought it would be. I was a happy customer.
At the end of that initial interaction, the service member told me that my car will be ready in 45 minutes. I normally ask how much time it would take, but this time the service staff beat me to it. He gave the promise promptly and so I told him I will come back in 45 minutes.
When I left the service center, I was their happiest customer. I walked to the nearby Dunkin Donuts store to get myself some breakfast. I was so overjoyed with the customer experience that I even bought a dozen donuts for the service staff member who assisted me and for the other service crew working at Pep Boys. I thought it was the least that I can do to express my appreciation for the excellent service they provide their customers. If I can’t give monetary tips—for sure a dozen of donuts will express my gratitude.
While waiting at Dunkin Donuts, I wrote a tweet on my Blackberry that I intended to send shortly after I leave Pep Boys. I was tempted to send the tweet right away, but decided at the last moment to save it as a draft and wait. The draft tweet went like this:
“Today I bought a dozen Dunkin Donuts as a gesture of appreciation for the Pep Boys staff and service crew for their excellent customer service.” (Tweet that I never got to send)
I ended up staying an hour and a half at Dunkin Donuts as I enjoyed my cup of coffee and worked on my book. I got so preoccupied with writing that I lost track of time. I only realized that more than an hour had passed when my wife called me. She was at her baby shower, was packing up and ready to go. She told me that I could pick her up as soon as I was ready. Because I was so sure that my car was ready and waiting for me at Pep Boys, I told her I will pick her up shortly. It was almost two hours since I left Pep Boys and I was promised the car would be ready in 45 minutes.
I walked back with my dozen donuts and looked forward to giving it to the staff and service crew as a token of gratitude. Opportunities to affirm service personnel for their excellent service always make me happy. I always look forward to opportunities where I can affirm people for excellent work that they do. Upon entering Pep Boys, I noticed my car was parked just outside the store, so I was assured that the service was finished and the car had been waiting for pick up all this time. So I walked to the counter where two service personnel were talking. They were not assisting anyone but I thought they were discussing something work-related. Unlike earlier that morning, no one acknowledged or greeted me. I thought it was a big difference from that morning’s experience.
I just continued standing by the counter and observing the personnel carry on their conversation, with my dozen donuts now on top of the counter. I didn’t say a word. After a couple of minutes, I saw the same service staff member who assisted me earlier. He walked past me and went back outside. He didn’t acknowledge me and I thought that maybe he was just busy.
I decided to just stand there by the counter and wait (ever-patient customer that I am). Finally after waiting for several minutes, one of the service personnel (perhaps realizing that I have been waiting a while) at the counter finally asked, “Has someone attended to you already?” I answered, “No, but I am here to pick up my car that was serviced this morning.” She asked for my name and immediately tried looking for my paperwork. I had a feeling something was wrong when she could not find my papers on the pile of finished work. The lady started asking around if someone had serviced an Audi. It was only then that my original service person responded and told me that they haven’t even started work on it yet.
What?! I had reason to be mad as hell but I wasn’t. I could complain to the manager but I didn’t. Instead, I very patiently reminded the service person that helped me earlier that he promised the car will be ready in 45 minutes. It was now nearly two hours later. As a customer, I just expected an apology and explanation. But to my surprise, he became very defensive and explained that the service crew busy servicing other cars and 45 minutes was just an estimate, not a promise. He did not apologize and was very close to being rude.
I did not argue nor complained; I just told them that I will wait. So I took my dozen donuts and sat in the waiting area. I took out my tablet and proceeded to write about my experience – most of what is written here – and waited for another 45 minutes.
It was so strange. My customer experience form earlier that morning to what happened afterwards was as different as night and day. I thought about how things could change so abruptly in just two hours — how inconsistent and how bad. But this is not the end of the story—you will be surprised at how it concluded.
My plan was to just get my car after the service, drive home, eat my donuts and post this blog. I approached the counter after 45 minutes and a different service person arrived with my car key. He sincerely apologized. He told me that I did not owe them anything for the service and they were sorry for making me wait for so long. I thought it was a nice gesture. I surely did not expect to get something out of it because I kept my cool and did not even complain. How did they know that I was furious and so frustrated inside? I thought they read the situation well. I also thought that the last service person I spoke with responded well and turned things around a bit. I tried to explain to him what happened earlier that morning and even told him about the donuts intended as a token of appreciation for the excellent service I anticipated (but sadly did not get). In the end, I wasn’t completely satisfied but decided to give the donuts to the hardworking service crew (that did the actual work on my car) and left.
As you can imagine, this was such a weird customer experience—a definite roller coaster ride. I wouldn’t wish anyone to experience what I went through today but I learned a lot. I took the opportunity to observe rather than complain. I did this with the intention of writing about it and providing customer service insights to my readers.
From today’s experience, here are my customer service takeaways:
- Customer service delivery must be consistent. That is how you will win customer loyalty.
- Don’t make promises unless you will keep them. Be careful of what you promise to your customer. That will create the expectation of the service. Reliability is one of the keys to any good relationship, and good customer service is no exception. Try to keep your promise or exceed your promise as best possible. That’s how you wow customers with your service.
- When you fail to deliver, it is very crucial to acknowledge, empathize, explain and give a sincere apology. More importantly, don’t be rude and defensive.
- When a mistake is made, customers want it to be handled quickly and to their satisfaction. They want some kind of action that acknowledges a mistake was made and every effort is being done to correct it. When you recover, you may find that your customer is even more loyal than before.
What do you think about my experience today? What would you have felt or what would you have done if you were in my situation? Have you had the same bizarre customer experience before? Would you return to Pep Boys if this happened to you?
Photos courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
Why do your employees feel uncomfortable about being empowered? Why don’t they follow the instituted risk and change management processes? Why don’t they put customers first? The answers may lie in your control systems — and the fact that mediocrity is too easily accepted.
Whenever an IT organization excels in providing services to its customers, its customer service orientation is guaranteed to be deeply embedded into its culture.
Culture is one of the softer elements of an organization’s identity but it’s extremely important when you want your organization to improve its service delivery system.
Culture offers answers to some really difficult issues in IT services delivery, such as:
- Why employees feel uncomfortable and somehow do not want to be empowered (Review your control systems — your controls might be too tight to encourage empowerment. You might also be surprised to find that making mistakes is severely punished.)
- Why employees don’t follow the instituted risk and change management processes. (Check the extent to which anyone actually follows protocol.)
- Why getting employees to put customers first is so complicated and why there are so many complaints about poor service. (Review what happens when employees fail repeatedly in tasks and have so many complaints against them—most likely nothing! Mediocrity is tolerated!)
- Why critical IT problems are recurring. (Check approach to problem management. Most likely you are reactive in terms of issues resolution. You do not address the root causes of the problems. Do you have a culture of preparedness, contingency and proactive problem management?)
- Why employee turnover is so high even though they are paid competitively well relative to market standards. (Check the extent of camaraderie, teamwork and cooperation. Review learning practices. Are employees mentored or coached by managers and leaders of the organizations?)
If you want to improve the IT service culture of your organization, you have to understand that it is not an overnight endeavor.
Organizations don’t create culture overnight. Culture develops. There is no instant formula for creating culture or else you will end up with an artificial one with a weak foundation. Such type of culture is not sustainable. You don’t create culture by merely creating or declaring mission statements and rules. You don’t create culture by simply implementing new applications and best practices copied from other successful IT organizations. Culture happens through consistent behavior over time embedded and encouraged by leaders.
What does an excellent IT services culture look like? Like any culture, it is a collection of service traits, and behaviors that get repeated over time and embedded in the organization’s subconsciousness. The values, behaviors or traits you need to nurture and develop in your team to improve your IT services culture are as follows:
1. Customer First – Internally and Externally.
Fostering a “customer first” attitude means creating a work culture that values the customers. It needs to be applied internally and externally. Customer-friendly behavior should be encouraged. It is important for IT, at every level of the organization, to build a meaningful relationship with its customers. This practice will help IT to understand the requirements and needs of the business and allow them to align their services accordingly. Every interaction point — from frontline service desk personnel to managers handling customer engagements — should provide a consistent level of customer service.
This “customer first” focus must also be practiced at every unit of the group — and even between themselves. Customer service behavior should not only apply to the external customers of the organization. Each individual, department or function is interdependent. At any point in time, one could either be a supplier or a customer to the other. It is simple logic. If one part is a weak link, it will impact the service of the whole. If customer service behavior is practiced on a consistent basis, externally and internally, it becomes part of the IT group culture.
2. Collaboration and Teamwork
The best teams have a commitment to help each other. The culture of shared responsibility is all about teamwork and collaboration. Developing teamwork is about creating a group culture that values collaboration. With teamwork, no one completely owns an area of work or responsibility. It is shared by members of the team. Each member is encouraged to be involved and contribute to the attainment of the group objectives. In a group that has teamwork, members believe that working, planning and deciding is better done collaboratively.
3. Proactive Approach, Not Reactive
It is important to find or identify patterns and get to root causes of recurring issues. There has to be a strong drive to solve problems and stop recurring critical issues. In addition, teams need to prepare for critical incidents because these will happen. Problem management and disaster preparedness should be built into the IT culture. This is not an individual task. It should be managed collectively and involve all areas of IT.
4. Learning Organization
Learning is the best way to create culture and transmit culture. IT must have a culture of continuous learning. Employees who are well trained take more ownership and have an active role in operations. Attitudes become more positive and people aim to do things better. Learning in an organization should start early. This means starting the moment you hire an employee. An on-boarding program is one of the best ways to prepare employees and cultivate the kind of traits and behaviors you expect from them. In organizations with a strong service culture, new hires — who are selected in part for their service skills — quickly find out that the organization is serious about customer service.
5. Creativity and Empowerment
Creative people don’t accept standards as a given. They are obsessed with innovation and change. They are impatient for progress and will always look for ways and means to improve how things are done. For IT organizations to embed creativity and empowerment into their culture, IT leaders must learn to value negative results as well as positive ones. When you create something new, you don’t always succeed. The culture of encouraging creativity and empowerment will lead employees to be more collaborative, effective and innovative.
Being service oriented, or more specifically, being successful and excellent with providing services can’t be achieved swiftly. A service culture has many attributes that may be difficult to achieve. If you are trying to make your organization more customer-oriented, you need to assess what customer service traits are more prevalent and what needs more work. Creating a culture of service requires that you practice the service traits we covered earlier consistently in order to develop the attitudes and norms that will govern the behavior of all the members of the organization.
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
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Peter Drucker (November 19, 1909–November 11, 2005) was a writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist.” The Harvard Business Review honors Drucker’s contributions with a spread in its current November edition. The issue has a lot of interesting and insightful articles about the continuing relevance of his perspectives and wisdom in today’s turbulent times.
Drucker’s Influence in Asia
I remember my professor in the Asian Institute of Management who talked passionately about Peter Drucker’s perspective in business and management. Managers in Asia have described Drucker influence as essential in making their business successful and helping countries develop. Drucker frequently travelled to Asia, particularly Japan, throughout his life. He has profound influence there, not only as a management consultant to companies such as Toyota and retail giant Masatoshi Ito but also as a consultant to governments such as Japan, South Korea and China.
Many influential and revolutionary ideas have run through Drucker’s career and writings. He preached about decentralization, simplification, impact of knowledge workers, management by objectives, customer service, corporate compensation, need for community, organizational business processes among others. I have chosen two out of Drucker’s many ideas to discuss:
1. The Purpose of a Company Is to Create a Customer
A company’s primary responsibility is to serve its customers. Profit is not the primary goal, but rather an essential condition for the company’s continued existence. There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.” – Peter Drucker
Profits come when customers continue to buy your products and services. That is the reason why Drucker’s perspective always pointed out the importance of putting customers first. A.G. Lafley, chairman of P&G board of directors, always sought out Drucker’s advice during his tenure as CEO of the company. He attributes their corporate principle to Drucker’s customer service principle that the consumer – not the CEO – is boss. P&G have made it their purpose to touch more consumers and improve more of each consumer’s life. By putting customers first, according to Lafley, they have nearly doubled the number served, from 2 billion to 3.8 billion; doubled sales and tripled P&G profits.
2. Essential Condition for the Company’s Continued Existence
“The need for planned abandonment – businesses have a natural human tendency to cling to “yesterday’s successes” rather than seeing when they are no longer useful.” – Peter Drucker
Many companies focus on placing as many products and services as possible in the market and reap as much profits as possible. Their center of attention lies in what they have achieved in the past and what they are maximizing in the present. According Zhang Ruimin, CEO of the Haier Group based in China, sole focus on generating profits today could not ensure his company’s survival tomorrow. Early on, Haier’s profits were dwarfed by its competitors in China while Haier focused on quality. They could not compete with companies offering the same products in the market. But when supply-demand balance changed in China, according to Ruimin, lots of companies lost customers and went bankrupt overnight while Haier strengthened its position in the market. This is one of Drucker’s key principles – the assumptions on which the organization has been built and is being run no longer fits reality. Zhang Ruimin takes this to heart as a constant warning. He wrote, “All decisions I make must be consistent with the ever-changing external environment. If they aren’t, the consequences may not emerge right away, but once the danger show up, it will be too late.”
To read more about Peter Drucker’s perspectives and find out how his wisdom can help your company navigate these turbulent times, take a hold of the current November edition of Harvard Business Review with the headline: The Drucker Centennial – What Would Peter Do?
Photo courtesy of Harvard Business Review.