Listen to your customers’ stories

richardIs it really so hard to get service right for customers? We all hear of and some of us may even experience a high profile failure. Yet whilst many organisations recover well from such incidents, they are often very damaging, not just at the time but for a long while afterwards. It is far easier to get a bad reputation than it is to lose it.

I’ve spent 25 years in and around organisations providing customer service in retail, aviation and contact services as well as more recently in the public sector. My time has taught me that whilst technology enables service to be delivered, it’s the people who determine the overall experience.

When you get great service, it is often so unexpected that you tell anyone who’ll listen to you. I booked a family trip at short notice earlier this summer and the experience provided by the apartment hotel on arrival was sensational for two reasons.

  1. The process worked. I dialled the telephone number I had been given for access, it was picked up immediately, I was told how to access the key and how to enter the apartment, before being given a virtual tour of the apartment and the building.The service was amazing because the process and the technology had been thought through and worked.
  2. The real difference though, and the reason that Happy Apartments Barcelona get a name check here, is that the lady on the other end of the phone was quite simply phenomenal.Her energy, her questions about my family’s likes and dislikes and our plans, her ability to listen and then make recommendations as to what we might see and do during our visit exceeded my expectation. Her attitude meant I’d have forgiven pretty much anything else

After I receive service at either end of the scale I often find myself wondering what is going on behind the scenes.

What attention to detail has gone into the process and who has been responsible for the recruitment of staff as well as their and motivation and development? Do the staff have a voice? Do they feel able to provide service to the very best of their ability or only able to follow a process and read a script, making sure to major on disclaimers and “the legal bit”?

Boss and Employee at Call Center

Service design

There are times when we experience service that feels really special because it was designed that way.

It feels serendipitous, but it has actually happened because of meticulous attention to detail. It has happened because somebody has thought through what it might be like to arrive in a foreign city for a short break with a family full of excitement.

The first thing my virtual host said to me as we entered the apartment was “I see from the system that you have two teenagers with you…if you check the card on the table you’ll be able to give them the Wi-Fi code so they should be happy whilst I walk you through everything else you need to know”.

Great service design starts with the customer at the heart and works out from there. When we start with the customer our service design starts to look dramatically different. My virtual concierge demonstrated empathy, trusted the room cleaner to have dressed the room according to the agreed process and moved swiftly on.

Although we did not experience any service failures during our stay, I’m certain that they would have recovered beautifully if something had gone wrong.

Let me encourage you to think about service design from this simple start point:


1. Write the story

How would the customer tell the story of their relationship and their interactions with you? Imagine them sitting down to be interviewed about the experience, or poised with the pen over the paper.

What is the great narrative? This is a story in which we don’t want the hero to triumph over adversity! We want the hero to safely and uneventfully navigate the journey meeting great people along the way.

We don’t want Hollywood disaster epics when we’re writing our customer service vision. Be careful to write your story – not somebody else’s.


2.Define the vision and values

What is the vision and what are the associated values of customer service that you want the entire organisation to hold? How easy can we make it for people to access our services? How do we embed the values of customer service across the organisation so everybody recognises they have a role to play?

Customer Service is too often felt to be only the domain of the frontline advisor on the telephone or in the face to face environment. Yet in successful organisations, customer service delivery is always a shared set of values that deliver the vision and enable the story to be written the way you envisaged it. As with your story, consider your vision and values, not anybody else’s.

If you’re a Local Authority, don’t try to copy and paste a luxury brand’s vision and values.


3. Walk the journeys

Get people from across the organisation in a room together and walk the journeys as customers. Identify the touch points, look for duplication and identify points of internal and external friction or failure.

Challenge yourselves to find the best route for the customer and identify ways to make the journey smoother and faster. One challenge here would be to refuse to say “that won’t work for this group or that group”. Instead build from the premise that if you get service right for the majority, you can unlock savings and efficiency to better invest in access for everyone.


Stop editing and start writing

It’s only by taking a customer first approach to service design that I believe organisations can improve the way they deliver services. There will be lots of people in an organisation that will explain to you why things can’t change. They’re effectively editing your customers’ stories.

Be brave and ask them to write the story from the customer’s perspective before asking them to help you write a different one.

Richard Hanrahan is a Director at Agilisys, the employee owned digital technology specialist. He has been involved the design, development and delivery of customer-focused transformational programmes for much of the last 20 years.

He led Agilisys’ Contact Services division for over four years and as a result has a broad and comprehensive understanding of customer lifecycle management, customer journey mapping and the design and development of integrated, multi-channel communication solutions with an emphasis on digital transformation.

You can follow Richard on Twitter @RichardHanrahan

This week is National Customer Service Week, and we’re  focusing on issues around customer services in the public sector.

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