Excellence in customer service is the objective of all organisations wishing to be successful. However, there is often a gap between customer expectations and management perceptions of customer expectations. Organisations often fail to get close to their customers and correctly read their expectations. Customers expect certain things when they walk into a business, and those with the highest level of service will know how to identify those expectations and meet them to the customer’s satisfaction.
However, this process is not as easy as it sounds – customer expectations are a dynamic feature that ebbs and flows regularly in accordance with a wide range of factors. However, when expectations are not met by the performance of your customer service representatives, customer dissatisfaction is the result. Customer Expectations + Service Performance = Customer Satisfaction The quality of your customer service is almost wholly determined by your ability to meet your customer expectations. You can have the greatest service team, but if your customers perceive their needs are not being met, your service reputation suffers.
By the same token, companies that don’t spend much time worrying about customer service – but manage to meet customer expectations consistently – are perceived as offering good customer service. Service quality is largely determined by customer’s perception, which is why meeting customer expectations is an essential part of the process. Identifying Customer Expectations Because customer expectations are an ever-evolving process, it can be very challenging to know precisely what those expectations might be.
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The best course of action is to take the question directly to your customer base through a variety of customer service research techniques. Have customer’s complete surveys about your products and service. Provide incentive for them to complete that survey, such as entry into a drawing for an enticing prize. Next time you see a customer, ask if his expectations of your business are being met. If not, find out why and what you can do to make your service better. Common Expectations to Consider Some of the most common and basic expectations customers have for most businesses included: • Fast, efficient and accurate service
High quality products at a competitive price • Friendly, helpful service staff to provide information and answer questions • Prompt responses to their inquiries, whether online, by phone or in person • Sufficient stock to meet their needs without long waits • A trained staff that can handle their questions without referring them on • A clean facility or easy to navigate website All of these expectations comprise the minimum of what your top-notch service should look like. Additional expectations may arise from your customer research, which you can address on an individual basis. Benefits of Meeting Expectations
When you are able to accurately identify and adequately meet your customers’ expectations, your customer service reputation will automatically be enhanced. Some of the benefits of meeting your customers’ expectations include: • Customers that transform from first-time visitors to loyal clients • Increased sales as customers feel more comfortable doing business with you • More referrals from satisfied customers who bring in additional business by word of mouth There is no doubt that adequately meeting customer expectations is an essential part of a robust customer service department.
By accurately identifying those expectations, and meeting or exceeding them consistently, your company is likely to enjoy happier customers and a healthier bottom line. Other reasons for customer service problems include:not listening to or collecting information from customers * poor, or no, focus on the actual design of processes to turn identified customer needs into products and services * gaps between what the organisation intends to produce for its customers and what its systems do actually produce * gaps between what the system is intended to deliver for customers and what it actually does deliver * cost constraints, or failure to set and meet realistic performance standards, which affect what the organisation can actually deliver * poor staff attitudes, training levels and working materials * gaps between what salespeople promise and the actual service or product quality The Voice of the Customer (VOC) is a process that ensures the customer’s voice is deployed throughout a product’s or service’s design, production, marketing, delivery, and after-sales service.
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Listening to the Voice of the Customer and incorporating the customer’s input is essential to obtain lifelong customers. The process is best started by bringing together a cross-functional team of managers who spend several days creating a set of matrices linking what internal management believes are customers’ wants and needs to a set of product or service matrices which a company can then measure, track and control. As a result of these meetings, a list of customer needs is organized and prioritized. During this phase, the customers’ requirements, warranty data, product measurements, and competitive offerings are assessed alongside the company’s technical ability to meet the requirements. The next phase is led by the product managers/engineering teams.
Product concepts are created and specifications drawn with the most important customer needs addressed. In order to organize and evaluate the data, simple tree diagrams are often used. The next step in the process is critical and often neglected: conducting one-on-one, in-depth interviews with the customers. This technique deploys a structured interview lasting 30 minutes to one hour. The discipline behind the interview is to ensure that all areas in the discussion guide will be addressed without limiting the input from the customer to predetermined formats. Customers will often organize and prioritize their needs differently than the “insiders.
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In new product development, it is critical to solicit the Voice of the Customer to correct undesirable feature sets, determine most desirable value propositions, and understand future uses and applications of a new product. This also gives the customer an opportunity to offer innovative product/service ideas into the development process. Not only does this result in new perspectives, it also increases customer satisfaction and loyalty when their ideas are implemented. Additional research and refinement occurs until the product is launched. Now the Voice of the Customer is needed to assist the company in ensuring it is exceeding customer expectations.
Exceeding expectations is extremely challenging as customers continually upgrade their expectations. The involvement in delivering products and services that exceed expectations is the responsibility of everyone in the company. In an on-going effort to dynamically measure customer commitment and track changes over time, Voice of the Customer tracking research was established. Telephone, mail and web surveys are the typical methods of collecting data from customers. Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages, all of which need to be evaluated. Speed, confidentiality and cost are the primary item trade-offs in the decision to use a specific method.
Questions are developed to obtain information on importance and the satisfaction associated with each performance attribute. A ranking model is then developed to help set priorities. Each customer rates a list of key factors in terms of importance when deciding which of the vendors’/suppliers’ products to buy. Second, each customer rates their satisfaction with the company’s products and services as well as competitors’ products and services on each of the key factors. Customers are usually guaranteed anonymity when responding to Voice of the Customer studies. Care must be taken in the drafting of the documents since an expectation of follow-up and improvement can be created and any lack of follow-up will increase dissatisfaction.
If response rates are not adequate, several procedures can be deployed to increase participation, including offering the customer an incentive for completing the survey. Some typical questions from a manufacturer/service provider include: * “Why did you choose XXX? ” This type of question gauges impact and retention of main advertising messages, including point-of-purchase messages. * “Have you had a problem with the XXX that required repair or return? If so, what was the general nature of the problem? ” * If a customer called for support, “What was the nature of your contact with us? ” * “How well did the experience match your expectations? ” A customer who has talked with others about their experience could be asked, “What did you say?
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” This type of open-ended question can be coded and then sorted into groups of positive or negative. A chart graphically depicts the overall results from the research. Each of the key satisfaction issues are plotted on the graph with the more important issues (as rated by the customers) being higher on the graph. In this manner, the key strengths and vulnerabilities are charted. An additional analysis is typically performed which determines which customers are likely to remain loyal and which are at risk. At risk customers are those the company is likely to lose because they are highly dissatisfied with the company. This gives a company a measurement of how many customers it may lose to competitors.
Over time, a comparison of the results allows a company to see how its situation has changed. Feedback on results, implementation of improvements and areas where additional progress is still desired should be communicated to all employees on a periodic basis. Demographic household information can also be asked and age, income and geographic region can be reported. Listening to the Voice of the Customer and acting on the customer’s input is the secret to maintaining continuous improvement. Clear, consistent and systematic improvement is necessary to retain customers for life. There are always gaps between what the organisation intends to produce/deliver for its customers and what its systems do actually produce/deliver.
So you should delivering products and services in line with customer specifications and the organizations’ business plan depends on: * Identifying customer specifications * Building business plans that will enable the organisation to meet customer needs and expectations * Developing, within the organisation, strategies to manage effective systems that will support delivery of products/service Sometimes organisations meet cost constraints, or failure to set and meet realistic performance standards, which affect what the organisation, can actually deliver. Organizational plans will therefore incorporate control elements designed to prevent disruption, overcome constraints and ensure product/service continuity, quality and consistency.
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The functions (processes) related to the organisation’s plans need to be of a robust design that is sufficiently insensitive to variation, so that the quality of products/services consistently, and on all occasions, meets customer expectations and needs. Knowledge of good customer procedures is not innate. An effective induction and training program, matched to appropriate performance appraisals will benefit you, your organisation and all the customer/supplier interface members. The best providers of customer service do not randomly employ people and leave them to interpret their employers’ philosophy in whatever way they see as appropriate. They do provide suitable training and support (resources) so that employees know what to do and are able to do it.
Organisations should dedicate resources (time and money) for training and reinforcement. Employees should be fully informed about company goals, the products and services. Emphasis and training should be focused upon the importance of listening and responding to the customer’s requests. People can only do the job if they are given the right tools and objectives. It costs money to train people. It will cost more if you decide not to train them. You also should analyze the following gaps: • Gap 1 is the lack of understanding between customer expectation and management perception, i. e. the management does not know what the customers need and expect from their service.
Gap 2 is the lack of development between management perception and service quality specification. Here managers are aware of customer expectations but are not committed enough to utilize the knowledge of customer needs and expectations as the basis for defining and specifying service quality standards. This may occur due to ignorance, lack of vision, limited resources. • Gap 3 indicates the gap between service quality specifications and service delivery where the management understands the customers’ desired level of service and specifies an appropriate set of standards. However, service delivery may be of poor quality owing to poor employee performance due to insufficient training.
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Gap 4 refers to the gap between service delivery and external communication which occurs due to pre-purchase promotional materials communicating unrealistic service levels which cannot be delivered in reality. Again it can stem from being poorly briefed about the service by the sales staff resulting in over promise and under delivery. • Gap 5 is the gap between expected service and perceived service Gap 1 can be closed by: • understanding customer expectations through research, complaint analysis, customer panels • increasing direct interactions between managers and customers to improve understanding • improving upward and downward internal communication
For closing Gap 2 it is imperative to establish the right service quality standards by: * communicating and reinforcing customer-oriented service standards * providing requisite training to the managers to enable them to lead employees to deliver quality service * rewarding managers and employees for attaining goals * measuring performance and providing regular feedback * establishing clear, realistic service quality goals * ensuring that employees understand and accept goals and priorities * becoming receptive to new ways of doing business that overcome barriers to delivering quality service. Gap 3 is addressed by ensuring that service performance meets standards through: * clarifying employee roles * ensuring that all employees understand the importance of their jobs * providing employees with technical trainingn developing innovative recruitment and retention methods to absorb the best talents and build loyalty * training employees about interpersonal skills for dealing with difficult customers * teaching employees about customer expectations, perceptions and problems * eliminating role conflict among employees by involving them in the process of setting standards * measuring employee performance and link compensation and recognition to delivery of quality service * develop reward systems for employees * empowering employees with decision-making along with accountability * encouraging teamwork * treating customers as partial.
Employees by clarifying their roles in service delivery, training and motivating them to perform well in their roles as co-producers. Gap 4 is bridged by seeking inputs from operations personnel when new advertising programs are being created * developing advertising that features real employees performing their jobs * allowing service providers to preview advertisements before customers are exposed to them * ensuring that consistent service standards are delivered across multiple locations * identifying and explaining uncontrollable reasons for short falls in service performance * offering customers different levels of service at different prices and explaining the distinctions * ensuring that the communication materials reflect those service characteristics that are most important to customers in their encounters with the organization * getting sales staff to involve operations staff in direct interaction with customers * managing customer expectations by informing them the possible and impossible options and the reasons. Gap 5 can be effectively closed by minimal promise and maximum performance.