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10 Tips for Improved Customer Service

Posted: 10/1998

10 Tips for Improved Customer Service
Test-drive your competition. How do you stack up?

By Peggy Moretti

Recent findings indicate that telecommunications service providers can ill-afford to be
complacent when it comes to providing customer care. According to J.D. Power and
Associates’ 1998 Residential Local Telephone Service Satisfaction Study, most of the
independent carriers, such as Sprint Communications Co., GTE Corp., Frontier Corp., ALLTEL
Corp. and Citizens Communication Co., rank below the industry average in most measures of
customer satisfaction.

As significant consumers of telecommunications services, we have many choices of
vendors for everything from local and long distance phone service to Internet hook-ups,
e-mail and wireless communications. We have come to the conclusion that there is no
discernible difference between telecommunications vendors in features (they are ample) or
in reliability (mediocre at best) in any product category, and prices are just about as
cheap as they’re going to get.

As a result, there is much opportunity to carve out competitive advantage through
superior customer care. There is no other arena left in which to compete for customer
loyalty.

Here are the top 10 tips for helping telecommunications service providers to provide
more than lip service to customer care:

  1. Take your customer service for a test drive. "Mystery shop" various service
    groups in a disciplined, organized way with a specific checklist of criteria to rank. Some
    factors to evaluate are: number of layers in your interactive voice response (IVR)
    programs; number of minutes holding in queue to reach a live customer service
    representative; and the professionalism and helpfulness of your customer service
    representatives.
  2. Then test-drive your competition. How do you stack up?
  3. Measure customer satisfaction with your customer service. After they complete their
    service transaction, transfer 5 percent of callers to an anonymous, automated
    "survey" to give feedback.
  4. Broadcast your customer satisfaction/customer care statistics to employees throughtout
    the company. Have every department identify what its role is in delivering customer care.
    As soon as the numbers are good, post them on your website.
  5. Since compensation drives behavior, tie significant bonus money to customer satisfaction
    ratings–and do that right up to the senior executive ranks.
  6. Insist that senior management spend time in your customer service call centers
    monitoring calls on a regular basis. It’s the best and cheapest way to hear what the
    customer is saying as well as to see your customer service center in action vs. filtered
    through reports.
  7. Make it a policy for every new manager to spend time in the customer service call center
    as part of new-hire training to lay a foundation of customer focus.
  8. Correctly value and invest in the position of customer service representative. They are
    the "ambassadors" of your company to your market. Are they compensated
    competitively so you can attract and retain the best talent? Are they trained with
    customer service skills to build customer relationships? Are their supervisors trained in
    the specific disciplines of customer care operations management?
  9. Make it easier to access customer service. Half the time customers have no idea what
    number to call for help because every business unit has its own gaggle of toll-free
    numbers. Consolidate!
  10. Use your website as a customer care and feedback channel. Load the most common service
    questions and answers–frequently asked questions or FAQs–on your website. Encourage
    input on products’ and services’ functionality via e-mail and respond to questions with a
    24-hour turnaround (funnel it through your call centers).

In addition, create a forum for customer service reps to provide anecdotal feedback on
the market’s response to product features, functionality, pricing and advertising. Nobody
knows what your customer is thinking like your own call center representatives do! It’s
better than a focus group and fosters pride and retention within this important resource.

Peggy Moretti is co-founder and executive vice president for InTelegy Corp., a
Danville, Calif.-based call center management company, which specializes in customer
service call center design, staffing and management. She can be reached at +1 510 736
4114.

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