Internal Customer Service – the beginning.

Of course, it is the second alternative approach that will work better. It does not need a great deal of thought to figure that one out. Unfortunately, most “Customers” lose out on excellent service by being the first type. Quarrelsome, rude and impatient. While the customer is always right, the customer need not be an obnoxious specimen.

I have repeatedly found that being polite and courteous to people who serve me, works wonders in terms of Customer Service. Quite why people do not practice this simple method when they want good customer service is beyond me. Having started off this topic in all its intricacies, as a customer more often than a service provider, I believe that this is a good place to start our adventure in improving the kind of customer service that we can hope to get from all suppliers of goods and services.

This brings me to a very important approach to Customer Service, which is what is known as internal customer service in many organizations. The principle is very simple. Each person or department in an organization treats each other person or department that he/she deals with as a customer and extends the kind of service that a customer would expect. The concept is simple but extremely difficult to apply in real life due to one simple factor. “That is not my job” attitude. In other words, staying focused on one’s own responsibilities without giving much thought to how one fits into the overall scheme of things, or the big picture. For instance, if the customer face of the organization, the sales person makes a commitment to deliver on a particular day, she will expect everyone else in the back up team to help her deliver on her promise. On the other hand, let us say the delivery section refuses to accept this as their own commitment, and go by their own formulae, it is inevitable that the promise will not be met and results in poor customer service.

Let me give you an example. Four days ago, I booked a replacement cooking gas cylinder, by telephoning the distributor. The lady who took the order promised delivery the next day and gave me to understand that the delivery will be around lunch time, or around 1.00 pm. The delivery did not take place till 3.30 pm when I had to go out for a meeting. I had to request a neighbor to keep an eye on matters and if the delivery came, to take it and keep it till my return. After I had left, the delivery took place at 4.00 pm, causing considerable inconvenience to my neighbor.

What do you think went wrong? Could the person attending the phone not have foreseen this, or did she not convey her commitment to the delivery persons, or was it a break down in some system somewhere?

Customer Service – Communication

We left off the subject with the power of communication overriding all the other aspects of this particular transaction in making a customer totally satisfied.

I offer you two possible scenarios for the very first transaction.

1. “What sort of a publishing house do you run? A book that has been reviewed well by a leading newspaper of the country is not available in any bookshop here? Can you do something about it?”

2. “Good morning. I wonder if I can trouble you with a small problem. I have not been able to source a book, published by you, that has received a favourable review this morning in the newspapers. Will you be able to help?”

Which do you think will work better? Who is now extending service to whom? Is there something that we can learn from these two approaches vis-à-vis customer service?

Customer Service – Attitude, Authority, Access to Information and Communication.

What really happened is that two persons from the sales department of a publishing house decided to be proactive with a customer.

Let us look at this a lit more in depth. The publisher’s Pune and Mumbai office is primarily set up to move their published books onto the shelves of booksellers in Maharashtra. Since they are very big in the field of educational books, they are very active in Pune where the Universities and other educational institutions have made it a very big market for their products.

In the normal course, these two gentlemen never come in contact with an actual end user. Their contacts are with libraries, educational institutions, and booksellers.

The normal reaction for someone in a similar position is to say “Sorry, this is not my job.” Now, why did these two gentlemen not take recourse to this route and went out of their way to help an ultimate customer for a book that would have cost about 165 rupees in retail?

Sitting far away from the scene of action and not ever having met either of the gentlemen, I can only guess the thought process of the first person – the Pune Representative. He must have thought to himself, “here is an opportunity to get to do something for an ultimate customer. We never get an opportunity to do so. Let me try and help him in some way.” Unusual, and exactly the kind of thinking, that any organization would expect from its employees. Mind you, this gentleman is an employee, not an owner. If I were the owner, I would expect to instill this kind of an ATTITUDE in all my employees. Quite whether this was done in this case, I do not know.

The next stage. The Pune Representative telephones his office in Mumbai after having found out that with his resources, he is unable to find out any bookseller with available stock in Pune. The Mumbai office has access to stock records and finds out that one shop, Landmark in Pune has stock. The Mumbai representative ensures that a copy is reserved, makes sure that the shop’s management will arrange for home delivery, and then calls me up.

What has happened? Here too it is a matter of ATTITUDE, tying up lose ends before making any kind of promise and then acting on solving the customer’s problem.

The third stage of the bookseller coming into the picture. Here again, it is a chain of bookshops and manned by employees. All the people involved here too, have taken steps to ensure that the publisher’s commitment and the customer’s requirement are met, without trying to pass the buck anywhere else. They could have easily said, that home delivery is not possible and that the buyer could come over and purchase from the stock. But, having agreed to oblige the publisher, they did not. Here, there is an ATTITUDE as well as, another very important ingredient, AUTHORITY. The management has given enough authority to the local staff to take unusual decisions in the interest of Customer Service. Such delegation of authority is rare and it has come as a surprise to me that this chain of bookstores has done so. My compliments to them.

There is yet another element, the third element of Customer Service in this case, and that is ACCESS TO INFORMATION. The smooth way in which the Pune office could access Mumbai Regional Office and they could locate stock, communicate with the stock point and persuade them to act in an unusual manner brings us to the last element of excellent COMMUNICATION. Me to Pune Office to Mumbai RO to Landmark Pune to Mumabi RO to me and finally Landmark Pune to me.

I doubt very much that all this could have happened if the communications between all the players had not been of excellent quality and purposeful.

We shall look at this aspect of Communication tomorrow.

Customer Service – The Hard and the Soft Elements.

Due to a viral infection I was laid low and was unable to blog the last few days. I am now back to normal and hope to get back to blogging regularly.

We now come to the bigger picture of achieving Total Customer Service (TCS). Having looked at the elements that go into all expectations of customers from suppliers of goods and services, let us look at the action part of the program.

There are two elements to running any endeavor, be it business, a non-profit, or even just a home. The basic elements do not change and the differences will be in the details. The two elements are the Hard Area of systems, procedures, processes and implementation; and the Soft Area of the human element involved.

The Hard Element:

There are a number of ready-made solutions available that put in the proper systems procedures etc, like Enterprise Resource Planning, Total Accounting Packages, International Standards Organization’s Certification process etc. All these follow the principle of documenting what is done and doing what is documented to bring about a system in the running of any endeavor. As one goes along gaining experience, fine tuning constantly keeps taking place to improve effectiveness and efficiency, which again are documented and implemented. This process enables efficient operations and all concerned are usually expected to study and be completely familiar with the processes and procedures as recorded in manuals of operations.

Such documented and scrupulously followed systems and processes can produce good results if somewhat mechanical ones. It is however to be appreciated that the implementation is by human beings and this is where we shall concentrate our focus on in our future posts. That aspect of Customer Service can be called The Soft Element.

The best way to go about doing this is to take some specific real life stories and study them.

I reproduce below an email that I sent to one book publisher’s Regional Office and the Bookseller through whom the service was extended to me.

“Dear Mr. Shinde,

I wish to place on record my sincere appreciation for the excellent service rendered by two of your employees.  I do hope that this message will reach them to convey my appreciation.

I recently wanted a book published by you, that was reviewed in a newspaper but was not available in any of the book shops that I normally buy from in Pune.  I went to your website, located your Pune office and spoke to one Mr. Santosh Joshi who assured me that he will do everything possible to see that I get the book.  I subsequently got a phone call from one Mr. Sachin Manjrekar of your Mumbai office who too assured me that a copy of the book will be delivered to me at Pune before too long.  The next thing I hear is from Landmark Pune that a copy of the book was being delivered to me at my residence and whether I would be at home to receive it.

The book was duly delivered in my absence after I had given instructions as to how it should be delivered.

I am truly amazed at this level of customer service.  I come across indifference to customer service everywhere and this experience has been truly impressive.

I am copying this message to Landmark Pune also to express my gratitude and appreciation for having taken so much trouble over a book the value of which is insignificant and the cost of delivering it to me would have perhaps even wiped out the margins on it.

Both your organizations and the people concerned have gained a loyal customer.  I hope that you will spread this message to everyone in your two organizations to highlight how a small gesture can create and keep a customer.  Not only that, I shall be an ambassador for you as a bonus!

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Xxxxxxxxxxxx”

We shall study this actual event and see what we can learn from it in the future blogs.

Customer Service – The hard and the soft aspects.

We now come to the bigger picture of achieving Total Customer Service (TCS). Having looked at the elements that go into all expectations of customers from suppliers of goods and services, let us look at the action part of the program.

There are two elements to running any endeavor, be it business, a non-profit, or even just a home. The basic elements do not change and the differences will be in the details. The two elements are the Hard Area of systems, procedures, processes and implementation; and the Soft Area of the human element involved.

The Hard Element:

There are a number of ready-made solutions available that put in the proper systems procedures etc, like Enterprise Resource Planning, Total Accounting Packages, International Standards Organization’s Certification process etc. All these follow the principle of documenting what is done and doing what is documented to bring about a system in the running of any endeavor. As one goes along gaining experience, fine tuning constantly keeps taking place to improve effectiveness and efficiency, which again are documented and implemented. This process enables efficient operations and all concerned are usually expected to study and be completely familiar with the processes and procedures as recorded in manuals of operations.

Such documented and scrupulously followed systems and processes can produce good results if somewhat mechanical ones. It is however to be appreciated that the implementation is by human beings and this is where we shall concentrate our focus on in our future posts.

Customer Service – The Right Place.

Meeting customers’ expectation at the right place is the most neglected area of customer service that all of us experience in a variety of ways. From illogical shelving of goods at self service stores to wrong routing resulting in having to reroute and consequent delays, in a variety of ways, things go wrong and cause annoyance, inconvenience and avoidable delays.

Simple instructions not followed for instance, like leaving milk in a particular spot so that it is inaccessible to cats is something that all of us have had experienced. Leaving news papers and mail in the open causing them to get wet in the rain and so on and so forth are all such relationship damaging actions that need to be eliminated and if at all due to some unavoidable circumstances, do take place, proper redressal mechanisms put in to resolve and satisfy customer expectations.