Three Tips for Starting a Service Improvement Initiative

Starting a customer service improvement initiative is challenging for most organizations. I've seen countless leaders so frustrated over where to begin that they don't begin at all. The question of how to get things started freezes some initiatives in their tracks, and what could've been a successful improvement initiative never gets out of the gate.

Here are three ideas for getting started:

  1. Decide what metrics you want to affect with the initiative - A bank might focus on "share of wallet" metrics, or customer retention. A hospital can focus on patient satisfaction scores or market share. A restaurant might look at average ticket numbers or customer referrals.The point is to decide what business results you're trying to achieve with the service initiative. The metrics provide you with a North Star for decisions you make, and they keep you on course when things get rough (which they will).
  2. Define the desired customer experience - Without defining what the customer experience is supposed to be, you are left at the mercy of each individual employee's opinion of what it should be. There would likely be significant differences in those opinions.A good place to begin crafting a definition is to determine what you would want customers to say to a friend or family member after any experience with your organization. "They were so efficient;" "They made me feel safe;" "Everyone was so knowledgeable" are all potential statements that would indicate you're creating the experience you want to create.Then (and this is vital), determine what behaviors need to occur in order for customers to say those things. If a healthcare organization wants patients to talk about how efficient the organization is, then employees had better keep patients informed, manage expectations, and show respect for the patient's time.
  3. Review the success factors of previous successful initiatives - Most organizations have had success in implementing new processes, standards, or approaches. Your company might have created and sustained a safety culture in response to problems that had plagued the organization in the past. How was that initiative successfully executed? What were the steps? Follow the same path with your customer service improvement plans. Reviewing past successes can at least get you started with creating a plan.Some might say, however, that an issue like safety is easily measurable, whereas customer service is a bit (or a lot) more subjective. While this is true to a certain extent, the organization still had to take certain actions to improve its safety record and, therefore, change the culture. While the initiative may be different, the process can be the same.

Certainly there are other actions that can help with launching a successful service initiative, but these three are a good starting point. Looking at these three elements help you to define what you're trying to accomplish and to determine what can be done to increase the likelihood of success.

And, most importantly, these three elements can unfreeze you and get things moving forward.