Customers contact your utility every day. They have a problem. They need help understanding their bill. They’re interested in another product or service. If you asked every customer who called or walked into your customer-service office during the next week to rate his or her experience with your utility, how would you fare?
If you aren’t measuring your customer service, it’s tough to know how you’re doing and where you need to improve. If you aren’t measuring consistently, you’re only making an educated guess as to the quality of your service.
Set Customer-Service Standards. Written standards for how customers should be treated make it easier for your staff to understand what you expect from them. They also provide you with the means to measure employee performance. Communicate these standards to everyone in the company. Management should become coaches to make sure the standards are used during every customer interaction.
Here are some areas to include in your standards:
- How to greet a customer
- How to use the customer’s name during the interaction
- How to show appreciation to the customer at the end of the interaction by using their name
- How to deal with unhappy customers
- How to put customers on hold
- How to transfer customers from one party to another
Measure Your Existing Customers’ Experience. The only way to know if your standards are being used is to measure them. Hire a third party to survey a sampling of customers who recently interacted with your utility. Make the survey calls no more than three to five days after the customer’s interaction.
Having surveyed many utilities, I find it amazing what customers tell us about their experiences. Unfavorable feedback often reflects a desire for small things to be done differently. The customer usually isn’t asking for something unreasonable. Often, they’re concerned about poor communication and attitude.
Measure Your New Customers’ Perception. New customers come to your utility every month to establish service and purchase additional services. Many of them come from other utilities and they have may have their own ideas about good customer service. To measure their service experience, hire an outside company to walk into and call your company several times a month posing as a new customer.
Create Customer-Service Benchmarks. After we survey customers that have recently interacted with utilities, management immediately wants to know how the company is doing. When we conduct another assessment 90 days later, management asks if service has improved. Create a measurement for each of your customer-service standards that then serve as your benchmark. It is from this base that you should strive for improvement.
Survey a sampling of your customers monthly to evaluate the effectiveness of the skills your employees demonstrate in their interactions with customers. The only way to know if you’re improving is to measure the customer’s experience and your staff’s performance.
It’s critical that you share the results of these surveys with your staff. This will give them a clear picture of where they are and where they should be.
Use Measurement As A Coaching Tool. Feedback from your new and existing customers will often flush out inefficient processes and systems that may hamper your staff’s ability to perform at their best. It also helps you identify the people and skills that need the most improvement. Then it’s up to management to use these results in a positive manner to coach and educate your staff on how to improve. All coaching should be done in a positive manner to reap the greatest impact. None of us likes to be “wrong.” Coaching delivered with an attitude of an opportunity for improvement will be well received.
Measurement Reinforces Consistency. Public utilities want to provide excellent service and employees often believe they do. But when we share the results of our measurement with the staff, as well as feedback we receive from customers and potential customers, they develop a new awareness about improving customer interactions.
When your staff sees the areas where they’re doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement, when they see what customers actually say about their experience, employees’ perception of the quality of the service they provide begins to change and so does their behavior.
The key to excellent customer service is for every employee to follow service standards consistently in every interaction. Every customer counts every single time! Not just when the boss walks by or if the customer is polite, but with every single interaction -not matter what. The utility’s reputation and bottom-line are at risk. It’s critical that your staff consistently demonstrates the standards you have created.
Measure Your Internal Processes. A customer completes an application for service, someone needs an extension of service to a new residence, another person calls with a trouble ticket, a delinquent customer wants to pay their bill before their service is terminated – the processes behind each of these situations, along with others you perform daily, have an impact on your customers and the service they receive.
Step into your customer’s shoes and experience the way you do things. For example, measure the process when a new customer requires service to a new residence. What does the CSR do to make the customer understand and feel comfortable with how new service is established? When the work order is handed off to engineering and then to construction for completion, does everyone involved know the status of that order? Is someone checking to see if it’s scheduled for a timely completion? If not, then what happens? Are engineering and construction keeping the customer service department in the loop with any complications? Is your customer kept informed?
Examine your processes and measure their effectiveness. One of the best ways to identify opportunities for procedural improvement is to ask your employees what they would do differently. Your front-line staff has incredible insight, as they are the ones dealing every day with your customers and your procedures. They already know what could be done to make things better for customers.
So, if you called the last 40 customers who visited or contacted your utility and asked them to rate you on a scale of 1 – 4 with 4 being outstanding, how many of them would give you a top rating?
You can’t manage it if you can’t measure it!
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities.