Lessons in Customer Service from 'Most Improved' Companies

Ann All
Slide Show

Eight Telling Changes in Consumer Attitudes and Behaviors

Factors such as loyalty programs and the use of technology are influencing consumers' decision to stay with or leave their providers.

In January I wrote a post about the growing trend of companies appointing executives to lead their customer service efforts, reflecting their recognition that improving customer service should be a cross-functional, transformative effort rather than a collection of isolated departmental or divisional activities. I made the case that a CIO could fill this role, given that so many of the channels through which customers interact with companies, including websites and contact centers, are touched by IT. In fact, IT factors into most stages of the customer experience loop, from designing a product, to getting it to customers efficiently, to analyzing customer behaviors in hopes of making improvements.


It turns out that companies making this kind of a commitment to customer service are enjoying some big gains in customer satisfaction. Forrester Reseach analyst Harley Manning, writing on his blog, examines companies that have raised their customer satisfaction scores by at least five points over the past year, trying to identify some common best practices.


Improvements tended to fall into two broad categories: business process re-engineering and more targeted projects to fix or enhance specific experiences. In the re-engineering category, upgrading the customer experience governance process at the enterprise level was especially important, Manning writes.


He offers the example of Cox Communications, which consolidated all functions with material customer interactions into a single group led by a new senior vice president of customer operations. Manning says:

This is far from the first time we've seen the positive impact of creating or strengthening a centralized customer experience team. In previous studies, we've noted that companies with centralized teams are less likely to report common obstacles to success like lack of a clear customer experience strategy and lack of budget for improvement projects.

Sprint is another example of a company with a senior executive tasked with improving customer experience, as I learned when I interviewed DeeAnne King, the company's VP of customer care. King told me:

One of the things that was most successful was the top-down leadership model. Our Chief Service Officer Bob Johnson held weekly calls with the sites. He reinforced the importance of this and also clearly reinforced what his expectations were. Sometimes the calls were fabulous, and sometimes you didn't want to be on those calls. But that constant reinforcement and repetition from senior leaders is what I think really drove the improvement.

In the targeted projects category, Manning mentions some great examples of companies that empowered their front-line agents to better serve their customers. For instance, after Citigroup found that credit card customers who mistakenly dialed its bank call centers were almost always trying to get an answer to one of 10 fairly simple questions, it gave agents answers to those questions so they didn't have to transfer calls to a different call center. Unfortunately, this kind of empowerment remains all too rare in many companies.


Manning wraps with three suggestions:

  • Create a centralized enterprise-level customer experience team and, more important, give it some real influence. As Manning writes, "So many good things flow from that point on."
  • If your company is in the early phases of customer experience maturity, focus on identifying and fixing common customer pain points. Manning advises, "Don't start out by trying to delight customers, start out by not annoying them." I made a similar point in a post about metrics, encouraging companies to create specific objectives and appropriate metrics to measure performance against those objectives.
  • Create a voice of the customer program to make it easier to find the pain points. As Manning says, "Customers often don't know the root cause of their problems -- but they know when they're not happy, and they'll tell you if you listen appropriately."

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