The Customer's Voice: Battery Manufacturer
Customer service can mean different things to various people, but the focus should always be the same—satisfy the customer. The paths taken to achieve this goal vary, and along the way the focus is often lost, resulting in unhappy customers. Many procedures are defined, sophisticated systems installed, and departments created to perform the customer service function. However, when you ask the question, “What does your customer really require?” you may get a number of different answers. As relationships between the customer and supplier evolve, they settle into acceptable, not desired, performance levels. This acceptable performance becomes viewed as the customer’s true requirements. This may be acceptable for the short term, but if a new supplier arrives who can actually meet the true requirements of the customer, the business may be at risk.
Losing sight of the customer’s requirements is one common shortcoming of Customer Service Departments. Another common shortcoming is not tracking the levels of service provided to customers. This makes it difficult to understand whether or not the customer’s requirements are actually being met. In addition, measured fluctuations in service can alert an organization to shortcomings in their internal processes. By tracking service performance internally, any necessary corrections can be made proactively before they become major issues with the customers. Losing sight of your customer’s requirements and your own actual service performance can affect your business in many ways.
Our firm was asked to assist in the implementation of a new customer service and order management system that a leading battery manufacturer had recently purchased. The company had a customer service focus, and wanted to determine the requirements of the customers before implementation.
To determine the customers’ requirements, a large survey was undertaken, including personal, mail and telephone interviews. The results of the survey would insure that the functionality of the new system would meet their requirements. Modifications would be made where the system lacked the necessary functionality.
Customers were relatively satisfied with the company, viewing the service provided as equal to that of the competition. This was not the result a customer service-oriented company would desire, but it was not a terrible position to build on. The real issue was not with service, but how the new customer service and order management system would have provided the required support.
The company had committed a common mistake, purchasing the software before the business process was thoroughly analyzed and designed to meet their requirements. As a result, the new software was not capable of performing many of the essential tasks. If installed as is, the system would actually have been a step backward! With significant capital already invested, the company decided to modify the new software to better fit their needs.
Generally, significantly modifying software is not desired. In this case, the company spent significantly more than the purchase price of the software to obtain the necessary functionality. Upon completion, the company wished to use these new tools as a competitive advantage, providing superior service to the industry.
The next step was to make customers aware that the new tools could provide significantly better service and information. The company wished to maintain a dialogue with the customer base, so they performed annual surveys of the market. Surveys were completed each year, targeting both customers who had responded in the previous survey, as well as customers who had not been surveyed originally.
By continually polling the customer base, the company gained several advantages. The customers began to view the company as more customer service-oriented, partially because they continually asked questions about their service. To support this perception, changes were continually implemented that improved their service capabilities. Continued changes and annual surveys helped to further advance their image as a leader in customer service. Customers’ perceptions of their service improved to the point where they were now considered to have service superior to the competition.
The company did not rest on the good news received from the surveys. To remain on the leading edge, one of the industry’s first stand-alone customer service measurement systems was installed. This system provided the company with detailed service performance information that could be viewed by customer, market channel, region or any other slice of the business that was desired. The information was used to monitor the pulse of the business, allowing the company to make improvements to the operations that were adversely affecting service.
Upon conclusion of this five-year effort, the company had installed a new customer service and order management system, continually measured all aspects of their customer service performance, and performed annual surveys of the customer base. With the extremely competitive nature of today’s marketplace, service is a key differentiator of a company. While this company was an early leader in becoming customer service-oriented, they are not alone in this undertaking.