The One Thing You Gotta Fix Before You Fix Service

The new year is a time to start new initiatives.

Perhaps improving customer service is on your radar. Maybe there have been a few complaints. You might think your team is good now but they could be better. Or, it could be that your boss added "improve customer service" to your objectives.

I want to save you some time and a lot of headaches. There's one thing you must do before you work on improving customer service.

You need to improve operations. Read on to see what I mean.

How Operations Impacts Service

Customer service expert John Goodman examined the source of service failures in his book, Strategic Customer Service. Here are his statistics:

  • 20 - 30 percent are caused by the employee
  • 20 - 30 percent are a result of customer errors
  • 60 percent are caused by poor products, processes, and marketing messages

That last part is all operations.

Let's say you traveled over the holidays and rented a car. You arrive at the car rental counter after a long flight and are told that the car you rented isn't available.

Your experience suddenly turns sour. You might even be unhappy with the rental clerk's lack of helpfulness or empathy. But, it all started with your rental car not being there. If it was, the whole situation would have been avoided.

Cable companies are universally derided for their service quality, but most of their problems are operations. Technical issues are operational problems. You call for a repair technician and encounter another operational problem - the four hour service appointment window. (These happen because the company can't or won't manage to a tighter window.) When the repair technician still arrives late it's due once again to operations. 

Rude employees are a side effect of these poor operations, not the cause.

Here are just a few more ways that poor operations affect service:

  • Employees spend less time engaging customers and more time fixing problems.
  • Service failures continuously reoccur when the operational problem isn't fixed.
  • Employees lose motivation when the solution is out of their control.

Customer service training won't fix problems caused by poor operations. In fact, my own calculations make employee training responsible for just one percent of service quality.

 

What Can You Do About It?

This is a big challenge. Too big to tackle in just one blog post.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to publish a series of blog posts that explain how to improve both operations and service. I'll focus on ways you can spot operational problems, get buy-in from other leaders, and make a business case for improvement.

You can subscribe to this blog via email so you don't miss an installment.

For now, let me give you one suggestion: look for icebergs. These are problems that appear small on the surface, but are really much bigger. You can watch this short video explaining how an iceberg almost sunk my book, Service Failure.