Measuring - and Improving - Your Own Customer Service Performance

(Originally published in the January/February 2006 issue of AFSMI's Sbusiness.)

By William K. Pollock

Whether your present customer service performance is good, bad, or anything in-between, one thing is certain - it can be made better! Even the best customer service or technical support personnel will admit that they have some shortcomings in some areas, and that there could, in most cases, be some improvement made. And if you can see it yourself, you can be assured that your customers see it as well!

Some companies monitor their employees' performance on an ongoing basis through the use of customer satisfaction surveys and/or field engineer skills assessments and performance evaluations. However, regardless of whether your company conducts these types of studies, it will always be your responsibility to measure your own (or your organization's) performance, and determine how you may be able to improve it over time.

There are some specific guidelines that you can follow, and we suggest that you use the following to conduct a self-assessment (or organization-wide assessment) of your current customer service performance levels:

  • Select the areas where you believe you can attain the quickest improvement - both on the basis of your own evaluation, as well as through the eyes of your customers. Be aware that you and your customers may not always agree on which areas of your performance need to be fixed first, or which will require the greatest attention. Still, it will be helpful to look at it from both perspectives as you prepare a "list" of the specific areas that you will need to improve.


  • Elect to do something about improving the areas you have identified on your list. This is not the time to go into "denial" if either your company's performance appraisals - or your customers - are telling you otherwise. Remember, there are no "perfect" service technicians out in the marketplace; everybody makes mistakes, everybody has some problems that need to be worked out, and everybody can stand to benefit from some improvement. But, no improvement can ever be made if you do not first identify what it is, and; second, elect to do something about it.


  • Leave behind any of the old conventions you used to use in the past if they are no longer applicable. If you have been in your job position long enough, you have probably seen how some of the things that used to work every time only work some of the time today; things that used to work occasionally don't work at all anymore; and things that only used to work "once in a blue moon", now, don't even make sense! For example, in the past, it was easy to tell a customer, "Sorry I didn't get back to you any sooner - I only just got your message late this afternoon after the close of the business day." This excuse used to work; however, with voice mails, e-mails, and cell phones, this is no longer an excuse in the customer's eyes - even when it really is! On the other hand, with new conventions that did not even exist 10 or 15 years ago (i.e., wireless communications, Internet, etc.), you have new opportunities to improve your customer service performance - but, again, only if you use them!


  • Follow the guidance provided to you by company management, your Human Resources department, and any of the various training programs you have been able to participate in over the course of your career. Listen to constructive criticism from those who are in a position to provide it; and take it to heart when you conduct your own self-assessment. Remember, it will be in the best interests of both the company and its customers for your customer service capabilities to improve. However, it will be difficult to improve your performance entirely in a "vacuum", and that is why you will need to continually follow the leads that are often provided by these key internal and external influences.


  • Assume that everything you do can be improved. You know it; your management knows it; and your customers know it. This does not necessarily reflect a shortcoming in your performance capabilities; all it means is that whatever you are doing, you can do it better. Sometimes this requires further education and training; sometimes it requires simply fine-tuning what you have already been doing; and sometimes it simply means doing some things better, faster, or "cleaner". Albert Einstein always felt that if he were "smarter", he could have gone well beyond the formulation of his theory of relativity. Nobody believes Einstein was a slacker when it came to physics - he just felt he could do better. And so should you!


  • Strive to make the necessary adjustments for improving your customer service performance capabilities. Some of these adjustments may be major (i.e., new training, re-training, taking additional courses or classes, etc.); some may be relatively minor (i.e., taking more notes or documenting what you do on a daily basis better, following up by telephone more often than you have historically, etc.); and some may just work themselves out as a result of your ongoing experiences with customers. But, whatever the case, you need to understand that the way you do things today will not necessarily be the way you do things tomorrow; that some processes will change, and some will be replaced by new processes. With this in mind, you will always need to be aware of the adjustments that will be required, and equally prepared to adapt them into your daily, weekly, and ongoing service performance routines.


  • Spend some time doing each of these self-assessment tasks. As a general rule of thumb, people won't tell you that you are doing something wrong until you've done it wrong at least once or twice -or more! Sometimes they won't tell you you've been doing something wrong until you've done it dozens of times! You cannot always rely on others to tell you when your performance is "off". Therefore, by routinely giving yourself (or your organization) a self-assessment appraisal - nothing too formal; just something that can keep you in check over time - you will not need to depend on others to tell you when you are going wrong, because you will already know it. Just as it is advisable to do prescribed medical self-checks at home so you can diagnose diseases before they can do you great harm, it is just as important to do these customer service-focused self-checks at work before poor performance harms your reputation among your company's customers.


  • Ease into a comfortable process that allows you to review, evaluate, re-evaluate, and adjust your customer service performance over time, as well as allow you to keep tabs on how well - or not well - you are performing at any given moment. The reason we emphasize the word "ease" is because if the steps you take to improve your customer service performance are not "easy", then you are not likely to do them - or at least do them well. Find a process that allows you to monitor your own performance over time, change the way you are doing some things, and introduce new ways of doing things better, thereby allowing you to "play" with the way you conduct your customer service activities until you can find a better way of doing so.


  • See how well the process works and adjust, re-engineer, or "tweak" it as often as necessary until it virtually runs all by itself. You will find yourself constantly changing things, adding things, or just doing things differently as you learn more and more about what your customers want and expect from you, and the two of you - your customers and yourself - will likely end up working together toward a common goal of improved customer service. From time to time, ask your customers how well you are doing, and where there may be areas that you could be doing better. Believe me, they will tell you! Also, from time to time, tell your customers what new things you have learned, what customer service training courses you have taken, or what other ways you have learned on how to improve the levels of service and support you are able to provide to them. They will want to know, and these joint interactions may ultimately make it easier for them to see - and acknowledge - how your performance has actually improved over time. The customer service process is an interactive one, and one where you may easily obtain input and feedback from a variety of sources; however, it will be up to you to find them - and use them.


  • Start the process all over again. And again. And again. In fact, whenever you think that the process is completed, that will probably be a good time to start it all over again. The self-assessment process, if done properly, will be a continuous one that keeps you (and your organization) current with your customers' needs, and provides you with the underlying tools to ensure that you can continually strive to improve the way in which you are able to support your customers. The good news is that you will never have to do it all alone; your customers will always serve as a source of checks and balances to ensure that you are focusing in the right areas; and your company management will continually be able to provide you with opportunities for improving your own customer service skills - and you should always take advantage of them. But most importantly, by dealing with your customers' needs on a daily basis, you will never allow yourself to become "inadequate" - or even just "dusty" - in your ability to support customers, and that is why the self-assessment process you develop will work for you.
By employing the use of these types of self-assessments on an ongoing basis, you will always know where you are meeting your performance targets, where you are not, where you need improvement, and where you have problems. Then, based on the results, it will be up to you and your management team to determine exactly how to fix the things that need to be fixed, and resolve any problems that are identified.

William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at wkp@s4growth.com.


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