The analysis of customer service

Customer service must be getting better. More responsive and, of course, helpful.

With a focus on SLA’s for waiting time, first-contact resolution, and canned responses for frequently asked questions. By establishing the structures for omni-channel engagement, through telephone, email and live chat.

And yet, I rarely hear shining stories of customer satisfaction.

Do you?

Customer service might be getting more helpful as we get more efficient, but we actually have little idea. We can’t be certain whether the outcome is better, because we’re not that customer.

But we can be sure that customers would like to experience us better.

Because customer service is for product customers. It’s the way it helps them build trust, the affirmation of their decision and satisfaction of belonging, the status of owning the product, and the generosity of advocating it.

Most customers want to spend more money to do business with a company that delivers outstanding service. Some are even willing to teach you how to make your product, service, and business better.

But let’s not get confused about who all this improvement is for. It’s not for us.

It’s for the customer.

A business analyst in a call centre might decide that the magic for better customer service is to route people through to specialist functions. But that requires the empathy to understand how customers think, and the grace to respond.

It turns out that the right formula is to actually provide the quality of service the customer purchased.

The point of this example isn’t to help you analyse customer service improvements. It’s to understand that there’s almost always a disconnect between operations and expectations. That the project sponsor’s choice of the best cost/operations combination is rarely the customers choice.

There are two narratives running through our heads. There’s the operations narrative, the one that doesn’t have a strong voice, but knows what is needed. And there’s the customer’s narrative, which is particular, expectant and noisy. It’s juggling multiple factors and is easily frustrated.

Like the customer who is making decisions based on dozens of factors (yet blind to SLA’s), the stakeholders you seek to serve care about the range of utility and service, not simply a metric for what’s internally optimal.

Choose your boundaries and choose your audience. And vice-versa.

  • Hi Joe.

    If you really want to get a handle on Service Quality, you need a framework for understanding what service quality actually is,

    The field kicked off in the 1980s with Luminaries like Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry at Texas A&M and Duke Universities collaborating to develop the framework they called “Servqual”. There was also a European researcher called Christian Gronroos leading in the field then.

    Quite a task because service quality is apparently an unstable psychological construct that the researchers characterised as the difference between a person’s expectations and their perceptions about the service they received. Note well that expectations vary hugely between individuals as well as their perceptions about even standardised service events.

    Servqual is adequately described in Wikipedia.

    It has been adapted for different sectors Of the economy and I have found it useful in raising awareness amongst managers and executives who dream up KPIs, measure these like mad and then struggle to make sense of the variances they observe – largely IMHO because they lack depth in statistics to know how to handle the data – as well as an approach to Identify what amongst different metrics actually matter to customers / clients.

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