5 ways to break down barriers to making customers happier

One way to ensure an excellent service experience is by ensuring that customer services take full, un-qualified ownership of issues, avoiding passing customers from “pillar to post”.

How do you achieve that, especially given challenges created by structure and hierarchy? Both these elements provide clarity, ownership and accountability. But they also come with a downside. More often than not, the walls that are built to help a business manage its activities in the best way can also become barriers.

When it comes to customer service in particular, it’s clear that there are two sides to the coin. On the one hand, creating specific roles, teams or departments responsible for customer service can help an organisation to manage these activities efficiently and effectively.

However, compartmentalising these responsibilities can also lead to a loss of customer focus across the rest of the business. It can become all too easy for employees and managers to assume it’s no longer their problem.

This doesn’t mean customer service shouldn’t be managed by trained professionals. Or that such a department shouldn’t exist (far from it!). It does, however, create an imperative for senior managers to overcome ‘silo’ thinking.

To help you “break down those walls”,  it’s worth considering five key activities:

1. Wear the shoes: make sure everyone in your business ‘thinks customer’ and understands how their decisions or actions can impact the customer experience. This is critically important. Simply ‘telling’ people often isn’t enough, so consider shadowing or job swaps. Have your customer service teams spend half a day in a different department, and have colleagues from marketing, sales or operations listen to or handle real customer calls themselves.

2. Lead from the top: ‘happy customers are everyone’s responsibility’. This may be a great mantra, but to avoid it becoming empty words, prove it. When you are seen to ‘walk the talk’, it can send a powerful message to your organisation and give the ‘happy customers’ mantra some meaning. Make sure the most senior people in your business make a commitment to spending time on customer service issues – meeting key clients, spending time in store/taking calls and sharing what they learn internally.

3. Turn anecdotes into insights: try to make every effort to capture insights from customer emails, calls or social media conversations. Sharing this with the right people in the business – in other words, across those structural barriers – can help lead to the right conversations between the people who develop your services and the people who support them. ‘How do we fix this problem for all our customers?’ ‘How do we pursue that potential sales opportunity?’ ‘How can we improve our overall experience?’

4. Bridge the gap between promise and experience: one of the big priorities for organisations in today’s customer-empowered, socially-driven world is to ensure that they bridge the gap between promise (their brand commitment) and experience (the reality of the service). Critical to getting this right is ensuring that marketers and customer service professionals work together to ensure that each and every customer interaction reinforces the distinct and compelling promise the organisation makes to its customers – whether that’s getting the service right, or fixing it when things go wrong.

5. Use social media wisely: whilst consumer use of social media as a customer service channel remains relatively low today, as evidenced by this report, social media usage is growing rapidly. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all businesses should provide customer service support via Twitter or Facebook. That takes resource and energy and needs real thought. What it does mean is that all organisations should be monitoring and listening to social media to understand whether and how your customers are talking about you, your category or your competitor. Armed with this information, you might just be able to break down a few more walls between your business and your customers – or even beyond that, your prospective customers.