WHEN was the last time a service company truly exceeded your expectations? As customer service professionals, we probably pay more attention to this question than others and with a more critical eye.

However, while the satisfaction (or utility, as an economist would put it) from purchasing a product often increases significantly from the moment you unpack and begin consuming it, I would argue that for many services, the increased satisfaction delivered is very rarely as high.

Nowhere is this truer than in the world of logistics. When a customer is paying you to deliver something within a specific timeframe, the upside, at first glance, is limited.

You can get it there on time and in one piece. But that’s what the customer expects. Even getting it there earlier might not be welcomed. At the same time, the risk to disappoint is huge. Delivering something late, not at all, or in worse condition than when it started the journey is almost guaranteed to create immense dissatisfaction.

And that’s not all. The numerous interactions a customer has with diverse interfaces in a service transaction often bring another important dimension into play: human relationships.

From the account manager who makes the pitch, the booking agent who takes an order and the operational employee who delivers the service, right through to the billing department that issues the invoice and follows up on payment, in most businesses (even in today’s digital, automated world) there are still likely to be numerous people who provide different aspects of the service a customer receives.

The professionalism and attitude of every one of them can have a massive influence on your experience as a customer and your perception of the service.

Thus, it is important to pay the same amount of attention to services as to operations, if not more. I have identified four core areas that are essential to delivering service excellence and these can be applied across different service industries:

 

Build a dialogue

Ensuring that the voice of the customer resonates throughout the organisation is essential to great service. To effectively measure service performance, service providers have to communicate openly with customers and proactively gather feedback from them to identify areas for improvement.

Customer surveys are effective tools to track customer satisfaction across all touch points where they interact with your company, from call centres through to the points of delivery.

 

Create a customer-centric culture

A bus arriving on time or a driver who simply smiles at you can have a huge impact on your perception of a journey on public transport. The only way to drive this perception in the service industry is through promoting a culture that is “insanely” customer centric, with the customer at the forefront of every activity.

As highlighted earlier, service is not just the responsibility of the customer service department. At the same time, the customer service function, given its expertise in this area, can play a key role in focusing the whole organisation on customers.

 

Set clear key performance indicators

While a service culture is largely an intangible thing, the “measurables” are still important. And while green scorecards aren’t an iron-cast guarantee of success, they are still extremely important.

When set properly, they help to focus teams on achieving a common objective and managers to identify areas for continuous, incremental improvement.

Performance indicators should be built around service quality from the customer’s viewpoint, and they should be constantly visible to top management.

 

Think global, act local

As a global service provider, every employee in your organisation has to speak one common language and offer customers standardised products and services which they expect to receive no matter which part of the world they are in.

The key lies in employee training and development.

Companies, especially multinational corporations with global operations, have to invest in training and development programmes that will equip employees with common standards and foundational skill sets.

On top of having consistent service quality, customer service employees have to also act local by offering tailored service to different customer segments based on their behaviours, opinions and responsiveness, to achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction.

The service industry, despite its name, can be one of the hardest in which to consistently deliver great customer service and to exceed customers’ expectations.

However, through focusing relentlessly on the little details that drive quality, listening intently to what your customers are telling you, and making sure that every individual in your business understands the impact they can have on the customer experience, you can deliver value beyond the “transaction” level and ensure long-term success.

 

Article by Nizam Agil, vice-president, customer service, DHL Express Singapore.