Taking Responsibility for Customer Service

Customer Service’ has been one of the buzz words of the 90’s. Statistics have been
used to justify why business should put it first in all their dealings.
Strategies have been built around it; however, it still eludes corporates and small
medium enterprises alike. In Uganda, investments in training have oft yielded
disappointing results as there is usually no significant improvement in performance.
A customer in one of the guest houses in Kampala, on complaining to the manager
about the lack of hot water in her room was told “that is a minor problem. I thought
you were calling me for something more serious.”
Clearly the manager did not understand the customer expectations when they use
guest houses.
At one of the leading pubs, a customer enquired from a supervisor the cost of a tot
of vodka. She was told it was 4000/-, so she ordered a double. Later when the bill
came she found that she was being charged 16,000/- for the two tots.
On enquiring from the same supervisor how this had come to be she was rudely
informed that he had made a mistake and that was the price she had to pay.
The supervisor did not think it wise to first inform the customer of his mistake
before bringing the drinks. This left the customer suspecting and probably rightly
so, that there is some scum going on in the place.
This kind of scum has been reported in many places of entertainment where the
waiters keep using the same bill usually with higher charges than the actual cost. In
cases such as this the motive is to defraud the customer.
The additional money is usually pocketed by the hotel staff. To be able to pull this
off the waiter usually corroborates with the cashier.
This is symptomatic of organizations paying poorly or not paying their staff on time
or simply institionalized theft.
In order to make customer service work there is need to understand the roles of all
persons at the various levels.
PART 2: The Role of Management
With a strategy built on ‘customer service’, it is important that management
defines:
– The ‘customer expectations’ at all levels and what the organization is going to do
in order to meet these;
– The various roles and responsibilities;
– address system issues hindering achievement of customer expectations;
– monitor what is being achieved.
They should then be the exemplars ie: practically walk the talk.
Usually management organizes training only for the front office or the department
directly dealing with the customer and leaves the other departments out.
Therefore, it is not surprising to find the trouble shooting engineer not only rude
but also leaving the customer premises dirty after a routine maintenance session.
This is because he sees his job as a matter of ‘fixing what is broken’ instead of
‘ensuring that the customer’s operations do not come to a stand still’.
A customer service oriented engineer would first of all:
1. Call to make an appointment; explain the likely disruptions to be caused by his
work and how long this would take. The customer would then make an informed
decision when giving the appointment.
2. On arriving, he would greet, introduce himself, where he is from, what he is
going to do and how long it would take him.
3. Do a diagnosis.
4. Explain the problem and options he is going to pursue in solving it as well as the
advantages and disadvantages of each option.
5. Give a chance to the customer to provide feedback on the options and consent
on his preferred option.
6. Do the work in the time previously communicated. If there is a possibility of
requiring more time, then this should be communicated to the customer and a
formal request should be made for additional time to finish the work.
7. Finish the work.
8. Get the customer to verify that the machine is working to their satisfaction.
9. Clean the work area.
10. Thank them and leave.
Definitely NOT ‘rocket science’ but how come they do not do it. Possible reasons
may include: nobody told them and they do not think it matters; lack of
understanding of customer expectations; forgetting that it is the small things that
matter to people.
The Role of Middle Management and Supervisors
This is the implementing arm and sensor of management. Their role is to:
– Continually reinforce the message;
– Note the desirable behaviours and commend them;
– Practice what they preach;
– Report to management any hindrances to achieving their goals with suggestions
on how this could be addressed.
Usually this level is dead having been incapacitated by managers who keep giving
orders and expecting them to be executed without question. As a result people stop
thinking and just wait for orders.
Creativity and innovation is lost and usually for the managers the discovery that
their ideas were not good comes as a shock after an event causing huge losses to
the organization.
The Line Staff / Front Office
The staff at this level usually interact with the customer directly. Their role is to put
into practice what the organization has said it will do to meet customer
expectations and provide feedback to their supervisors on what the various
reactions are.
Together with their supervisor they are supposed to come up with solutions to
negative reactions which form part of the recommendations to senior management.
If the customer relations skills at this level are good. Then the shortcomings at the
other levels may be masked.
An integrated customer service promotion programme should seek to address the
following issues:
– Exposure of all staff to service requirements within the industry and how they
have been addressed not only locally but also at the international level;
– Removal of all bottlenecks in the system that hinder achievement of customer
service goals;
– Lack of knowledge and skills to provide excellent customer services;
– Negative staff attitudes;
– Provision of a monitoring mechanism visible to all; understood by all and sensitive
to the shortcomings of the system (ie: should be able to reveal the shortcomings of
the system);
– Provide scheduled reviews on customer service performance;
– Recognise the achievements of customer service goals by employees;
– Continually maintain dialogue with the customer in order to ensure that the
organization is still in tune with their needs both during and after the assignment;
– Strive to address directly arising from the culture of the organization and / the
people.

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