Customer Service: Two words that can mean the difference between keeping customers and losing them to competitors; the difference between a good reputation and a poor one; the difference between being in business or out of business. And yet that’s not always true in some trading environments, often where choice and competition is limited, poor service can survive even thrive. Is this the case in Rwanda? Before answering that question, let’s consider some basic assumptions about customer service.

What is Customer Service?

The phrase is just one of many that tries to give a simple label to a positive experience you expect to have as a customer, where value is created for you from the first point of transaction throughout your dealings with an organisation. The first point is that customer service is end to end, not just the smiley face at the beginning.

Here are some other similar phrases: customer satisfaction, customer focused, customer care and customer centred. Are they useful if so how? Do any of them actually help an organisation, or more importantly help a customer get what matters to them?

I have reservations from personal experience and from helping leaders of service organisations improve. Though different, all of them have one thing in common – the customer – yet I often find that through a series of awkward ‘customer care’ policies and procedures the line of sight between leaders (those that can make service good for customers) and the customer is blurred, confused or even side-stepped. How is it then possible to routinely deliver good service? For example, the performance of many call centre operators is often measured against:

• The call duration where short is good;

• The number of calls answered in a day where many is good;

• The number of calls closed in a day where many is good.

Do any of these measures help the customer get better service? No, but they help the organisation think they are. They are just measures, things that can be counted and have some vague connection to the customer, but they’re meaningless. What the customer wants from a call centre is:

• Their problem fixed – “my modem doesn’t connect to the Internet”

• Their query answered – “how much does mobile banking cost me per month?”

• A service booked, time and price agreed – “can you fix my leaking roof?”

In any of these scenarios, it will not be helpful if the operator is rushing the call to get a short call duration and chalk up another call on the league table. This kind of thinking is based on the assumption that activity equals cost; therefore less activity (short calls) equals less cost. Sadly, what actually happens when leaders take a look is that the rushed call doesn’t gather all the information, or if it does, it’s not accurate. Problems aren’t fixed, mistakes are made and jobs have to be redone. All of these things actually do contribute to cost.

Back to the ‘Customer’.

He or she is often seen as a ‘buyer’ of goods or services. Other definitions use the term ‘consumer’. Yet it can also be someone who doesn’t buy, but just browses or has a potential interest in buying or consuming goods or services. Some organisations even consider people that accompany the buyer, consumer, or potential buyer or consumer as a customer. In the UK for instance, some shopping malls offer spaces for shopping companions to wait while partners shop. Facilities include seating, refreshments and entertainment.

In simple terms, a customer is a person or thing that an organisation has set out to serve.

Now what about ‘Service’?

More importantly, what is good service? The ways in which organisations measure good service is probably innumerable, here are a few:

• Sales renewal rates

• The number of queries or complaints about products or services

• The number of complaints about employees

• The number of damaged or faulty goods returned

• Average order-fulfilment times

• The number of contacts with a customer each month

• The volume of marketing material sent out and responses generated

• Time taken from order to delivery

The big question to ask is whether any of these things help define or measure good service. It really does depend on the situation and customers’ demands. There are better measures and these are derived from the customer and what matters to them. Again, few organisations take the time to work that out, so measure the wrong thing.

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