Instruments for a consistent client experience
It is commonly recognized that client loyalty is only created when the experience is in line with the expectation. The service experience is the one durable distinguishing factor with regard to loyalty, and sale by service is the only wise strategy for effective sales. A consistent client experience is a must.
The vision that many companies have, is increasing earnings and returns by offering an excellent service and thus bring about brand loyalty. But it makes even more sense to maintain existing clients and to increase their value. This is only possible when the company has built a close and trust-based relationship with the client. This also asks for the ability to realize a consistent client experience.
When companies launch a new product and create a new market, initially they will come across a very busy period of bringing in customers with little attention to the need for client retention. But eventually these companies need to obtain a set of new competences so that their clients will bond with them, especially the clients with big (potential) value.
For an increasing number of companies investing in CRM (client relation management) is an important responsibility where a strategy of continuous increase of the client value through cross-selling and upselling is followed. This is made possible by the use of advanced systems that can create a great effectiveness and efficiency in client service and sales. The is only problem is – according to Gartner – that about half of the CRM projects fail.
Why? Because of the non-funded idea that an advanced software package alone will create the desired results. A CRM-system is only useful in the holistic context; meaning culture, organization, processes, competences, etc. What is important, is that the client is satisfied because he deals with very competent and involved employees. A prominent financial institution discovered that the initial improvements that were created through the introduction of a big CRM-system in the average order values, were only granted a short life. Within 12 months, the company had lost most of the previous profits again. The reason for this was the lack of attention for the ‘things around them’, for instance performance norms, measuring and feedback.
A lot of companies outsource the client interaction partly or totally. There is an increasing awareness that service level agreements do not only need to measure ‘productivity’, but also the ‘client experience’ on the basis of the associations that determine brand values and brand character. This performance needs to be measured independently by using quantitative and qualitative date.
This requires the contact centres to have an effective performance management program for their personnel that receives the same priority and attention of the senior management as technology.
What most probably attributes most to the realization of a consistent client experience is quality control and coaching. To obtain the desired results some fundamental principles need to be taken into account when the program is introduced.
With every program concerning cultural change there is the desire to jump onto it and to develop a lot of activities without first creating the necessary basis for it. Consistency in client experience is not achieved by exhortation, slogans or general training courses on client care. The starting point is that the senior management determines in a realistic way the ‘costs’ that are necessary to realize a consistent performance (as well financial as personal).
The creating and maintaining of a culture that is based on continuous feedback and the gathering of knowledge is not cheap. That’s why the potential benefits and the necessity for action need to be expressed clearly. For instance, what are the benefits for each of the people involved, including the employees? How can this strategy distinguish the brand and obtain a competitive benefit? How does this kind of responsibility fit into the greater scheme?
Quality is not cheap; it requires a starting investment. This can for instance mean that – in order to satisfy the customer and to create loyalty – the production levels decrease. These are marginal costs that will yield a return through the increase of client value, mouth-to-mouth advertising, lower sales costs and so on.
The costs of doing nothing also need to be taking into account. Effective coaching is not cheap. It requires quality time, normally 45 minutes, that is preferably spend in a enclosed environment. Employees are not stimulated when the senior management is bent only half-and-half on quality. The worst that can happen is launching a program concerning ‘service quality’ with a lot of noise, raising expectations and – after the ‘honeymoon’ – returning to the way it was organized in the past.
The most important influencing factor to realize a consistent client experience can be found in the roles of and the relation between the agent and the team leader. Team leaders need to be role models and be able to inspire the agent to put up a better performance. Their main task is helping the team grow skills and trust and to strive for quality.
Coaching is a key competence for all managers, especially team leaders. But what are the means we give them? It is not about training courses, but individual support, especially from their manager. When asking team leaders about the kind of help they need the most, then regular coaching of their manager comes in second place, right after ‘less administrative work’.
If we prefer to ignore the needs of team leaders, then we are putting the entire program at risk. There should not only be a kind of contract between team leader and agent to coach regularly, but everybody, from the bottom to the top, needs to be convinced of this and make coaching to be a cultural norm.
Evaluation is an important part of a continuous process of learning and improvement. When the measurement is dubious, the use and possible benefit it could create is restricted. Ask a random agent what they nonetheless think of their evaluation and they will point to inconsistencies, dishonesty, lack of objectivity and favouritism. Ask the team leaders the same question and they will point to the differences in the scoring methods of team leaders. The possibility for internal benchmarking is then lost.
It is important to give realistic expectations about the degree of change. After all, the aim of an effective quality monitoring and coaching program is bringing the associations and client experience into line with the brand values. And while we are talking about time: when choosing an IT-system for quality monitoring, do not let the salesman blind you with science. What really matters, is the efficiency of the system to support the two main goals: the ability to analyse data in a ready-to-use way and to present these data as support for the coaching, and the ability to create a custom-made system. The performance management system needs to provide the agent with online and real-time performance data with regard to all the important aspects of the performance, like quality, productivity, presence, sales, client satisfaction, etc.
How is it possible that Michael Schumacher delivers top-notch performances with his Ferrari? The dashboard contains a set of instruments that gives him the information he needs to react pro-actively and because of this – and his competences and motivation – he delivers a top-notch performance. What we need to do, is provide agents with a real-time, online system for performance management that helps them to direct their own performances in a pro-active way. The team leader needs to present himself as a professional coach in this situation.
Jos Mittelmeijer is CEO Quality Support – firstname.lastname@example.org