Customer Service Mistake #1

This is the first in a series of five posts in response to a client's question; "From your observations and consulting work, what do you think are the top customer service mistakes companies make?"

Customer Service Mistake #1 Not clearly defining what the customer experience is supposed to be.

Many organizations mistakenly believe that the products they sell define the customer experience. At a restaurant, it's the meal; at a car dealership, it's the car; at a law firm, it's the legal advice. Of course, this belief is partially correct - the product is important. The meal has to be good, the car has to run well, the legal advice has to be sound in order for the customer to be happy with the experience. But there are a lot of processes customers go through in order to purchase the product, the meal, the car, or the legal advice. They have to make a reservation or appointment, park their vehicles, enter the facility, wait in line, speak with a representative, pay the bill, etc. All of these encounters, in addition to the actual product, make up the "real" customer experience. And these moments of truth, touch points, or whatever you want to call them, are significant drivers of customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

When an organization hasn't clearly defined the customer experience, the customer is at the mercy of the representative they happen to be dealing with and that representative's interpretation of what constitutes a quality interaction (or the representative's mood that day). Inconsistency is a loyalty killer. When customers can't put their trust in how their experience will play out, they feel discomfort and even resentment toward the organization.

Even consistently average service is better than unpredictable swings in the customer experience. For example, K-Mart is an organization whose identity has taken a big hit in recent years. The problem is inconsistency. One day you might walk into the store and it appears neat and organized, the employees attentive and happy; but the next day, it looks as if a tornado has hit, and the employees are grumpy and unhelpful.

Now, K-Mart has never been known for "Ritz-style" customer service - that wasn't a part of their business model. But there was a time when you could count on low prices, clean stores, and nice employees. But now it appears that they have no clear definition of what the customer experience is supposed to be, so employees just make it up as they go along. And leaving the experience to chance is not a good policy.

World-class service organizations, on the other hand, carefully define each part of the customer experience so that everything is carefully orchestrated to deliver on the promise of their brand. And you can't deliver on the promise of the brand without first knowing what your brand represents. Does your brand represent fast and friendly, or does it represent elegance and ceremony? Does your brand represent wackiness and spontaneity, or does it represent precision and order. World-class organizations know exactly who they are and what they represent in the mind of the customer. Then they carefully orchestrate each part of the experience so that it consistently delivers on the promise of their brand.

Look at the process of doing business with your organization. What does the experience entail? Break it into the small components that truly make up the customer experience. In a bank, it might include parking, walking toward the branch, entering the facility, waiting in line, etc. Then, with your brand image in mind, define what you want the customer experience to be at each of those moments of truth. What do you want the customer to feel? What has to happen for the customer to feel that way? The outcome of this work provides the foundation for your service non-negotiables. And world-class organizations always have service non-negotiables.

For help with all of this, check out an earlier blog post, Expand the Product to Include the Entire Experience. Use the tool/activity described in the post to involve members of your team in defining the customer experience and in developing your organization's (or your department's) service non-negotiables.

To avoid Customer Service Mistake #1, clearly define what the customer experience is supposed to be.