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Posts Tagged ‘vision’

How many times in your life have you left a customer service agent feeling so good about how they handled your needs, you were ready to tell all your friends about the company and how good they treated you? These moments happen all the time in organizations that have established a culture of customer-centric celebration, and they reap the rewards that come with it every day.

In my experience, too many companies are leaving a tremendous amount of money on the table by not leveraging a business model that focuses on the customer. The cold, hard truth of the matter is that many businesses will never reach their growth potential if investments aren’t made in fostering relationships with the customer.

Being in the business of delighting customers for many years, I get a true sense of pride and satisfaction when customers speak highly of my organization’s service delivery teams, because this is the beginning of what can become legendary customer service. Developing a service organization that automatically responds to customers in a helpful manner is really the key to progress, so I thought I would share some of my favorite ways of accomplishing this.

  • Be proactive in your communications, regardless of the communication medium being used by the customer or your business.
  • If there are obvious issues contributing to a negative customer experience that can be corrected, triage them immediately to stop the bleeding.
  • Assess how easy it is for a customer to do business with your organization. If it’s harder than it needs to be, assess your alternatives and change it. Don’t forget to communicate the change to your customers.
  • Establish a baseline of customer satisfaction that comparisons can be made against in the future. Without a baseline, you have nothing to measure against.
  • Jump in with the service teams and understand how they work, what makes each person tick, where efficiencies are, and areas needing improvement.
  • Leverage competitive intelligence to learn what customers like and dislike about competitors. Buy competitor products and call or go online with their service team for help to see how effective they are. Analyze the results.
  • Partner with all areas of the business to establish relationships that will endure the test of time. Be helpful to them, and seek help from them when needed.
  • Set goals with your service delivery teams that are understood, realistic and measurable, and then establish KPI’s that people can support.
  • Determine customer loyalty in order to build action plans that will contribute to team success. One service I’ve used before was NetPromoter, due to how elegant and simple the solution was.
  • Adopt a customer-focused talent development program that incorporates role-play, such as Ron Zemke’s “Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service”. I’ve used it several times throughout my career, and it works.
  • Incorporate a personality assessment tool into your talent acquisition and management processes to help make informed decisions. I’ve used the Golden Personality Type Profiler and Predictive Index to accomplish this, and both work well.
  • Make use of data from every possible source, and analyze it, to look for valuable insights to improve and evolve your business and products. Common sources for this data include web forums, social networks, call center logs, diagnostic data, financial reports, Google alerts, customer email, and product databases.
  • Build a variety of team and individual incentive programs that reward hard work and encourage the delivery of memorable customer experiences. Think out of the box, and tie incentives back to what makes your team members tick.

When coupled with high achieving leadership and vision, customer service groups can generate incredible amounts of good will with customers, which in turn can result in top-line revenue growth from repeat business and simple word-of-mouth promotion.  When service teams are proactive at delivering game-changing contact center information about customer-requested features or product issues to internal business groups empowered to act on it, the organization as a whole can become a runaway locomotive no competitor can catch. If this level of customer focus is ingrained into the culture of the organization and sustained over years, customer loyalty will rise and your company will become known to deliver legendary customer service.

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There is a wealth of information about supplier relationship management on the Internet, but I can offer up some KPI’s I’ve used in the past to help evaluate IT provider ongoing performance:

(1) Projects delivered on time – does the vendor commit to delivery dates during project road map negotiation, and adhere to the dates? If there is a regular progression of slipped deadlines or missed deliverables, then the vendor likely won’t get the best score in this area.

(2) Staff training was effective – this is something commonly overlooked in negotiations, but critically important for knowledge transfer to staff if the supplier is expected to transition ownership to the company at some point in time. Did they prepare effectively? Were communications for signing up for the training laid out clearly? Was instruction provided clearly and competently? Did the vendor provide surveys for the trainees to fill out, and if so were the survey results shared and acted on to improve? Was the staff effective and competent on the products once they took ownership of them? All good questions, and it all plays into the overall score.

(3) Products met usability standards – another common mistake in the overall contract negotiations is leaving out the company definition of usability standards. Many times the standards will be something open to wild interpretation, like “make it easier to do business with us”. Keep in mind that one person’s “easier” can be another person’s “more difficult”. It’s really important to get out on the street and get to know your customers to determine what their expectations are relating to usability improvement. Is the vendor doing this? If they don’t know your target audience, then it could be that the vendor is trying to grand-stand and create something that they want to go down in the history books for. It may not make a difference at all to the bottom line of your company. Become a member of the Usability Professional’s Association to get a wealth of information related to this discipline.

(4) Application, database and/or infrastructure architecture delivered is scalable, maintainable, and extensible – The question to ask here is whether or not the supplier delivered a scalable, maintainable and extensible system to the contract’s specifications. If the contract, or subsequent artifact to which the contract refers, did not include specifications or standards to which the system would be built, then the entire topic is open to interpretation, and the waters are muddied forever. If the supplier didn’t include a section in the contract that talks to these topics, then I would simply put them down at the worst score. Suppliers should know enough about what you are trying to accomplish by at least asking the right questions when the project is being defined, particularly if they want to keep doing business with you.

(5) Inter-application integration met or exceeded required standards – Here is an aspect that can’t be overlooked in most IT shops of any size and age. If you have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of applications operating your business, then you must select suppliers that know how to operate in complex computing environments. I’ve never seen inter-application requirements in a contract, but I have seen them (and developed them myself) in specification documents which are referenced in the contract. Without this documentation, and a deep partnership between the supplier and your IT staff, it will be difficult for either party to be successful. So, in my experience the themost important things to measure here are supplier competency in complex computing environments, a well-written specification with expectations, and how well the supplier partners with IT.

(6) Provider staff competence – don’t underestimate the power of competent specialists. I’ve not met anyone in the field of IT yet that can do it all. Specialists are the people that always tend to get to the root of all problems, patch them, and follow up by putting long-term solutions in place.If your supplier is a small firm with a big contract, make sure they know how to obtain specialists should the need arise to leverage one. You don’t want them to run into a brick wall for several weeks while they are running up your bill. I’ve experienced this before, and it’s not a pretty site. Also, make sure your staff is competent at identifying and alerting you to gaps in the supplier’s knowledge. If your team can help identify the gaps early, then you can make sure your project managers are adequately mitigating the risk this brings to the project.

(7) Provider understanding of our product roadmap (vision capability) – Trusted suppliers who have been deemed business partners will need visibility into your product or platform road map in order to operate at their peak efficiency. Once they gain visibility into the road map, its up to you to listen to their comments about it. If they just go with the flow, then they are not being strategic. My expectation is that a supplier will want to understand your road map, and provide you with a variety of options, thoughts, and competitor/industry comparisons to show how they can add value by helping to formulate the vision. When I’ve engaged suppliers that have a deep understanding of how to do this, they really shine and add real value to help the organization grow.

(8) Industry reputation on social networks – what better way to determine how a vendor will interact with your company than to hear it from their other customers? Not just their hand-picked reference accounts, but the general public. If the supplier constantly gets good commentary on social networks about the quality of their work, then its likely going to be a safe bet to at least try them on for size. And, ask questions on the social networks that are pertinent to the type of engagement you would have them do, particularly when initiating a new engagement with an unknown supplier.

(9) Overall capability – This can encompass a number of subject areas, but in general I want to hire a supplier that can meet all of the immediate needs of the project equitably and under the deadlines set by the company. If the company can meet all of the project needs, I would typically give it a score of 5 (out of 10) and if they can go way beyond all expectations of what we may have a need for in the future, the score would slide up to 10. It’s important to note that overall capability can include things like strategic planning, writing specifications, application development, QA, database modeling, infrastructure design, hosting, and a whole lot more.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it can help you create a group of solid starting-point metrics that can be measured on a vendor scorecard if you need to create one. You can apply weighting to them if you want to add multipliers, but I seldom have needed to do this. It’s a good idea to collect both qualitative and quantitative data about your projects, so that in the end, a decision of whether to keep the supplier for future projects is supported by data. Just make sure the data you collect can result in an actionable outcome, such as vendor negotiations, consideration for further work, or release from duty.

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