Practical Tips on Customer care

Over the 25 years we have been helping companies to create a customer-driven architecture, we have discovered that whenever a company embarks on a process to create a new culture that delights customers and creates loyalty, there are four very distinct phases in the process:

First there is awareness, where people at all levels realise that change is important and imminent. Managers usually start reading up and enquiring about what to do next

Then there is evangelism, with bands and balloons and a lot of “Rah! Rah!” It is usually during this phase that the company carries out lots and lots of activities, including a launch event, training for everybody, and lots of posters and communication. Many systems and processes are established, and there seems a “new way” to do just about everything.

This is almost always followed by frustration, where some of the enthusiasm wanes, many people return to old (bad) habits, and it just doesn’t seem to be coming together. Frustration is particularly hard for middle managers because they are caught between senior executives demanding to see better results, (“Enough with the preliminaries. Lets see a ROI now!”) and front-line staff who are uncomfortable with change.

With a lot of hard work, (and a little bit of luck,) the company will enter the performance and results phase, where big wins occur, and the company has achieved some real competitive advantage.

Now there are many reasons why many companies get stuck in the third phase of frustration, not least of which is the perceived lack of commitment of the management team. However, what is also common is the fact that people at all levels of the company lose their energy and enthusiasm. It all becomes quite routine, and complacency, even negativity and cynicism, sets in quickly.

How can your business avoid these problems, and how can you continue to sustain the initial excitement of delighting customers after the launch events? There are probably lots of strategies, including recognition and reward, innovation projects, and even visiting other companies. But there’s also nothing wrong with the fun of competitions. There are lots of ways to do these, and most of them do require some planning and preparation. But they really seem to bring out the best, (and sometimes the worst!) in people, and you can use them to reinforce learning that has taken place.

Here are some ideas that range from the “Been-There-Done-That-Ho-Hum,” to the really weird things that I have seen done in some companies:

“The Usual”
Includes: Crosswords, “send your answer to this question to…” tests and questionnaires, all done in the company newsletter or similar.

Treasure Hunt
Plan for and arrange an internal, (in the offices and surrounds,) or external, (at a conference venue,) treasure hunt, where the clues relate to all aspects of customer care. You can make it simple or cryptic, involve individuals or teams, and run it in an hour or over a longer time.

Customer Service Olympics
Initiate a contest with many events in which people and teams compete. The events are customer orientated, such as the fastest person to handle XYZ Activity, the politest and most courteous person with Mr Grumpy Customer, the team that best cooperates to solve a particular customer problem, the person that best displays an ability to use our computer system. (There are probably hundreds of possibilities.) You can also include internal processes which may not impact directly on customers, but which affect the success of the business: Fastest person to calculate correct values, person that cared most about sharing his/her knowledge with someone else, or best turnaround time for a particular process. Judges sometimes find their job easy, but sometimes have to be like the guys who score the ice-skating or gymnastics.

Many possible formats, but they could include standard questions and answers to a panel of contestants, and other formats like Telly-Fun-Quiz, The Weakest Link, Trivial Pursuit, Lirieke Raai, Noot Vir Noot, and any number of other formats that imitate popular TV shows. Of course, knowledge and skills can be measured, and you can include not only questions about customer care, but also legal knowledge, technical issues, product knowledge, company structure and history, and so on. (Many studios are willing to hire out the sets, if you have the budget.)

In-Basket and Other Simulations
Give each “contestant” or team, in a group of finalists, a set number of customer related things to do, letters to write, messages to return, questions and queries to answer, etc.

Best Designed
Here people enter to design activities or things which create awareness of customer issues. This could include examples like “Best Slogan for Our Campaign,” “Best Designed Poster,” “Best Customer Service Quote,” “Best Lesson Learned From Another Company,” “Best Designed Customer Website,” and so on. You can also have competitions for people who come up with ideas for recognition, for ways of adding value for customers, and so on.

The Customer Champions Club/Special Project
As before, but with some enhancements for lessons learnt. The bottom line is that teams of people work on specific and large projects that will enhance the experiences of your customers, and improve business practices or profitability. Recognition depends on a number of criteria, but participants are rewarded appropriately and proportionately. Many participants may also require raining on a rational problem-solving and prevention approach.

Lottery and Chance
The MD or an executive puts a pile of money in his pocket and walks around randomly, giving spot cah prizes to the first ten people who he hears answering the telephone properly, or similar. Taking photographs and publicising this can make for quite a bit of excitement. This type of approach can also enhance a suggestion scheme or similar employee involvement programme, where even if your idea is terrible, you still stand in line to win something.

Best Customer Care Stories
This contest requires participants to briefly write a short story on the best, most inspirational, most “extra mile” customer care experience they have ever had, or heard of, and another category for the best customer care story of something that happened in your business. This not only creates awareness of what is needed to delight customers, (“the extra mile” stuff,) but also encourages people to do the customer delighting things that they can report on later.

Board Games
With some creativity, board games similar to “Monopoly” can be readily designed, and with even more work, you can possibly include an electronic version played on computers.

Who Collected Most Vouchers or Points?
Letting people individually decide whom they want to give some form of recognition to. The idea is to have pre-printed slips or vouchers, or some other form of badge or symbol that people and customers can give to somebody who has gone the extra mile. These can be collected and swapped for presents, and the winner is the person who has collected the most.

These are just some of the possibilities. If you get creative, you can probably come up with many more. But just bear in mind that the purpose of these is to help the process of enhancing your customer-focused culture.

(To find out more about literally hundreds of ideas for motivating people to delight your customers, see the book Turning Ducks into Eagles in our website.)

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