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Customer Caring

I’ve written about the impact and importance of customer service before. In my previous post titled Standard of Caring in Technology Services I use the example of a physician’s bedside manner and how this level of “caring” creates a perception, either good or bad, for the patient on how well they are being cared for. This is the difference between the ‘standard of care’ and the more important paradigm of ‘standard of caring’. The same paradigm exists for other service providers including technology services. As I stated in this previous post, “Too often technology support staff focus their full attention on the technology and forget to provide a strong level of caring to the person experiencing the technology issue.”

Customer Care trumps Customer Service. Click To Tweet

As technology experts we get so caught up in the technology that we often forget to focus on the human aspect of providing outstanding customer service. When we do that then we alienate the very person who most needs our help. When I wrote this post I was in the middle of a transformation effort to lead my team towards a greater degree of caring. This effort started after we received feedback from our clients that we were not meeting their needs. In fact, the feedback we received indicated that we were headed over a cliff when it came to our relationship with our clients. Even though, historically, we had had a good relationship with the people we served that all changed quickly because we lost track of that human factor.

In this post I will tell you about a success story about how we rapidly turned around our customers’ perceptions so that they now rate us very high in customer service caring. And how we have returned to a culture of ‘customer caring’.

Beginning in 2009 we began surveying staff and we asked them to rate us on a Likert scale to indicate their level of satisfaction with the quality of the technical support they received. They could rate their level of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) as:

Extremely Dissatisfied

Dissatisfied

Neutral

Satisfied

Extremely Satisfied

 

As you can see the results from 2009 – 2012 were very concerning and the trend was looking even more bleak by 2012. We had talked about the results as a team but the strategies we continued to employ focused on the technologies and the services we provided. We tended to dismiss the open-ended comments that individuals provided that pointed to our poor performance with the human (soft-skills) side of customer service. We weren’t willing to face the harsh reality that we had alienated our clients. But all that changed in 2012!

In 2012 the total percentage of dissatisfied clients had tripled to almost 16% and those that were satisfied with our service had shrunk to an untenable 70%. We were in trouble and I knew it. Something had to change quickly.

The first step was critical for our eventual success in turning this trend around. I brought the team together and through a very candid conversation a sense of urgency was created. In addition, the candor forced everyone on the team to accept the real truth behind why our clients were so displeased – our skills of connecting and caring were horrible. Our technical skills were fine but technical competence is not the biggest factor in thrilling people with regards to customer service. As a result of these very candid conversations, we now had two things in place as a team –  a strong desire to change in order to make things better and an acceptance of what the real issue was – us.

Next, we worked on defining what kind of behaviors and/or changes in behaviors we would have to exhibit in order to create a culture of customer care for our clients. It seems basic but during these discussions we put ourselves in the position of the clients and asked the question, “How would we like to be treated.” We brainstormed times when we experienced really great customer service. What did that look like? More importantly, what did it feel like? What behaviors were exhibited both big and small seemingly inconsequential ones? We also focused on defining the stressors that our clients experienced in their work and that helped us empathize with them. This was critical in helping us eliminated taking things personally during difficult stressful interactions.

Finally, we created a list to remind us about how we wanted to behave going forward with every client interaction.

  • We will greet each other and our colleagues in a friendly collegial manner.
  • We will listen carefully to the needs of fellow team members and staff, responding with patience, empathy, and concern.
  • We will convey respect for each other and our colleagues through our manners and expressions.
  • We are committed to improving our knowledge and skills.
  • We are always seeking ways to get better and improve at the work we do.

Notice that the first three items in our list are all about how we will interact and treat the people we provide service to.

So now we had created a strong sense of urgency and we have a plan for how we are going to change but we also needed to maintain momentum. We did this by creating an environment where each of us held ourself and other members of the team accountable for exhibiting these desired customer caring behaviors. Through exhaustive dialogue we made it unacceptable to not behave in the expected way. Every one of us felt empowered to hold individuals on the team accountable if they did not exhibit the positive behaviors when working with clients. We created an agreement that we all signed that stated how we conduct ourselves as team members and all of us signed it. It was taken very seriously as a contract between all of us.

Information Systems Operating Agreements1Information Systems Operating Agreements2

We had received informal feedback throughout the year in 2013 from clients that they had noticed the turnaround with our team. But we still held our breath in anticipation of what the 2013 survey results would show. When we got the results it was deeply satisfying. We had worked hard all year and committed to our own transformation. Our clients, as you can see,  certainly recognized our work and told us we were on the right path.

The 2014 survey showed additional improvement. We’re not done. When you get connected with the human ‘caring’ side of customer service and you ‘feel’ how gratifying it is to make a difference in the lives of your clients it is contagious. You want to find out and understand more about how you can make an even greater positive impact. So, we continue to create opportunities where we can learn about our clients’ needs.

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