Serving the American Public - Best Practices in Handling Customer Complaints
- Service & Complaints Guides
- A Practical Guide to Handling Consumer Complaints
- Best Practices in Handling Customer Complaints
- A Guide for Consumer Complaints Management
- 6 Steps to Achieve Customer Service Excellence
1. Executive Summary
The government's customer service revolution started in 1993 with a recommendation from Vice President Gore's National Performance Review team, followed by President Clinton's Executive Order, "Setting Customer Service Standards." The President directed federal agencies to survey their customers to see what kind of service people want and whether they are getting it; to get ideas from front-line workers who deal with customers day-to-day; to give customers choices and easy access; and to develop a way for citizens to complain and get problems fixed. He set a goal for the government to deliver service equal to the best-in-business.
In 1995, President Clinton reinforced his order to put customers first. It leaves no doubt that the goal is a revolution in how government does business so that customers are the focus. Customer service standards and measures are to be part of strategic plans, training programs, personnel systems, and anything else that ought to be changed to advance the citizen's satisfaction with government service.
To comply with the Presidents directive, teams of government agencies embarked on a series of benchmarking studies. For purposes of this study, Benchmarking means determining which businesses--public and private--are doing the best job of customer complaint resolution (request study), understanding the gap between the agencies' own performance and taking action to close that performance gap. When the best-in-business were identified, government teams set out to determine why they were the best and then set forth an action plan to make their agencies as good as, or better than, the benchmarked businesses in resolving customer complaints.
Some of the valuable lessons learned during this process are:
- Make it easy for your customers to complain and your customers will make it easy for you to improve. A dramatic lesson was learned by the teams involved in this study; the best-in-business want their customers to complain. Informed customers know how your services should work. If things are not working, customers are the first to know. Customers who are dissatisfied tell twice as many people about it as those who are happy with your service. The best-in-business use feedback from 1-800 calls, letters, and surveys to identify and resolve root causes of dissatisfaction and to change their services to ensure that the customer will be quickly satisfied.
- Respond to complaints quickly and courteously with common sense and you will improve customer loyalty. We found that customers reward companies that quickly solve problems by remaining loyal customers. A speedy response can add 25 percent to customer loyalty. Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc. has adopted a formula for customer satisfaction; doing the job right the first time + effective complaint management = maximum customer satisfaction/loyalty. Government agencies can develop the same kind of loyalty and trust from the public if we match or exceed the best-in-business.
- Resolve complaints on the first contact and (1) save money by eliminating unnecessary additional contacts that escalate costs and (2) build customer confidence. A call back which involves two or more employees just has to cost more than a call that is handled right the first time. Our research confirms that resolving a complaint on the first contact reduced the cost by at least 50 percent.
- Technology utilization is critical in complaint handling systems. Use your computers to develop a data base of complaints. See if you find a trend. Then fix it! We learned that the best-in-business electronically compiled customer complaint information and presented it to everyone, including management, so that the organization could better align services and products to meet customer expectations.
- Recruit and hire the best for customer service jobs. The customer service and complaint resolution specialist positions established by benchmarking partners tend to be highly sought-after positions. Complaint specialists learn the company so well they get promoted. Some organizations built the customer service position into a formal career ladder for advancement in the company. In all instances, front-line employees were valued for feedback in making decisions.
There is no reason why each government department cannot equal the best-in-business customer complaint resolution systems. The blueprint is in this book. Follow this simple plan and you will improve customer satisfaction and reduce your costs at the same time.
In a nutshell, a manager who wants to have a first-rate complaint system with results within six months should take five steps:
- Issue a policy statement that says our organization embraces complaints; we view complaints as opportunities.
- Establish an implementation team with representatives from each step in the complaint handling process and identify each step in the process.
- Establish a tracking system. Your staff should record and classify complaints which will allow them to analyze the complaint data and report to top management. The difference between your process and the best-in-business process is known as the gap. A gap analysis will show you what to improve.
- Develop recommendations to improve your core processes and empower front-line employees to resolve complaints on first contact.
- Implement. The team should put together an action plan for implementing the approved recommendations
Done right, your customer will notice changes within six months!
"All executive departments that provide significant services to the public shall provide a means to address complaints and make information, services, and complaint systems easily accessible."
President Bill Clinton
When Americans have a problem with something, they tell someone about it. They talk about companies that have overcharged them, provided poor service or who have rude employees. In fact, research shows that people who have a problem are likely to tell eight to ten people about it. However, fewer than one in twenty people who have a complaint will formally complain to the company itself. Best-in-class companies welcome complaints because complaints are customer feedback which can be used to improve service performance/reduce cost, thus improving the bottom line. They make it easy for customers to complain, even encourage complaints, and then they bend over backwards to set things right and make changes so that future customers do not experience similar problems.
In the past, too many Americans have found a deaf ear when trying to complain about a problem to a government agency. Consider one man's experience when he tried to get a problem solved: "I had written in February . . . and again in June . . . Now it is September. I still have not had a satisfactory response . . . what do I have to do to get someone to listen to me?"
This man--legitimately frustrated by his inability to get someone's ear--would be even angrier if he realized how much "handling" his complaint cost. One study estimates that a written response to a single complaint escalated to the Congressional level may cost the agency and the taxpayer over $1,000 in staff time.
Fortunately, government agencies are beginning to change the way they look at and treat citizens who have problems. Spurred on by Vice President Gore's National Performance Review and its September 1993 report, From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less, government agencies are working hard to make the federal government work better and cost less. Already, the recommendations have resulted in more than $60 billion in savings and elimination of some 200,000 government positions (noted in President Clinton's State of the Union Address, January 23, 1996).
Customer service is an important part of the reinventing government efforts. Directed by President Clinton, government agencies have conducted focus groups and surveys and set customer service standards to respond to customers' needs. Agencies are starting to eliminate unnecessary regulations, cut red tape and address other root causes of citizen complaints. And many agencies are taking steps to improve how they deal with complaints. For example:
- The U.S. Postal Service has established a Consumer Affairs Tracking System that records and reports every customer contact. It uses state-of-the-art imaging and database management technology coupled with highly sophisticated correspondence generation software. This system is comparable to our best-in-business models. U.S. Postal Service also established a Call Management Initiative that will begin later this year to create a single 1-800 number available 24 hours a day. It will provide a centrally-managed consistent interface to all customers seeking information or problem resolution.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers have two formats for complaint and complimentary data collection. One is ongoing complaint tracking, the other is the annual survey. Patient Representatives throughout Veterans Health Administration have a tracking system for compliments and complaints. This system identifies trends that are occurring by specific problem, by a service, and or by an individual. The complaint codes are correlated with the National Customer Service Standards, which provide ongoing measurement. Alerts are sent to Service Chiefs identifying more serious problems. This allows the Service Chief prompt notification of the problem and provides expeditious resolution. The National Patient Feedback program is also correlated with the National Customer Service Standards. Annually, surveys are sent to outpatients and recently discharged inpatients. These surveys are used to identify trends that are occurring. Medical Centers are responsible for improving the areas where problems exist.
- In 1993, the Comptroller of the Currency established an ombudsman for banks that had problems with the Comptroller's rulings on banking regulations.
Citizens are starting to notice as well and are even writing letters, not to complain, but to compliment the people who work in government:
"I wish to thank you and your department for your expeditious and thorough consideration and solving of my problem. . . .Mr. . . . was able to provide me with the necessary information. In addition, when Mr. . . . received additional information that he thought might be useful, he forwarded it also. Mr. . . . follow up was a surprise and a good example of real interest in my problem. This kind of thoughtfulness and follow up is greatly appreciated."
"I'm still in shock at how fast FEMA responded to my need. I thought FEMA was just a lot of red tape, to make people feel they could get help."
"Human nature, alas, often has us eagerly voice complaints but keep silent when praise is warranted . . . My hunch is I speak for a large number when passing along a deserved WELL DONE for the fantastic job you do--often with limited funds and staff."
Part of the reason for the change is that government agencies are holding themselves to a higher standard. This study represents the efforts of ten government agencies and other interested parties to learn from the best in America's leading companies and find ways to improve their own complaint processes.
Companies find that effectively handling customers with problems is critical to their reputations as well as their bottom lines. When customers complain and they are satisfied with the way their complaint is handled, they are more likely to purchase another product or service from the same company. Companies that resolve complaints on the first contact increase customer satisfaction and product loyalty, improve employee satisfaction, and reduce costs. Companies even encourage complaints. Most dissatisfied customers do not complain. By making it easy for customers to complain, more customers will come to you with their problems, giving you greater opportunity to correct your service delivery or production processes. Customers who get their problems satisfactorily and quickly solved tell their friends and neighbors, and they are not easily won over by the competition.
There is a bottom-line concern for government as well. As noted above, complaints can be costly. Repeated hand-offs increase costs and waste precious resources. When complaints are not promptly resolved, frustrated customers seek redress in different agencies or at different parts or levels of the same agency, resulting in duplicate effort and compounding costs.
Just as costs compound when there is a poor complaint system, trust also erodes as citizens become frustrated with a non-responsive bureaucracy. Indeed, there has been a cumulative erosion of public confidence in government. Thirty years ago, 70 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. In 1993, only 17 percent of Americans said that they trusted the government.(2) There are many factors contributing to this decline in trust and confidence, particularly the huge volume of regulations that did not make sense to the public and the high cost of government. However, we learned from our benchmarking partners that an effective approach to resolving complaints is invaluable in winning the trust and loyalty of our customers--the public.
There are costs associated with a poor complaint system and there are benefits associated with a good one. Studies have shown that handling customer complaints well can be a critical part of a turnaround strategy. If a complaint is handled well, it sustains and strengthens customer loyalty and the company's image as a leader. It also tells the customer that the company cares and can improve because of their contact. In government agencies, it promotes public confidence in government services.
Customer complaints also represent valuable information about recurrent problems. They can point the way to understanding the root causes of customer problems and help an organization target core processes that need improvement. If acted upon to improve core processes, customer complaints can be a source of information that can reduce costs as well as improve services.
Federal employees initiated and led this consortium benchmarking study to learn from the best-in-business how to design and implement a world-class complaint and customer response handling system. That's what benchmarking is all about--systematically learning from the best-in-business and using that information to improve one's own performance.
We asked some of America's leading companies to help and they did. They had a lot to offer. The customer service revolution means that, today, most companies strive to exceed the expectations of their customers with problems. The study team got a surprise when it looked for best practices; some best-in-business practices were found in government organizations that have practices that rival the best in the private sector. The team is grateful to each of the businesses and agencies for sharing their experiences.
Each study team member reviewed how their agency currently handles customer complaints and identified key areas where they wanted to learn how the best-in-the business did it. They reviewed written literature, met with experts, and identified benchmarking partners. A team member from each participating agency led one site visit and shared the results with the others; this way the team could benefit from visits to ten companies and agencies at the lowest cost.
The team defined a customer complaint as any indication that the service or product does not meet the customer's expectations. This definition reflects the fact that some companies do not even use the term complaints, they call them problems or opportunities. The team found variation in what companies did, but the best companies used similar approaches to handling complaints. They are:
- Train and empower their front-line employees to resolve most complaints during the first contact.
- Make it easy for customers to complain through the extensive use of centralized customer help-lines, 1-800 numbers, complaint/comment cards at the point of service, and easy-to-use customer appeal processes.
- Enter complaint data in fully automated and integrated information systems, and analyze and use data to identify and fix root causes of dissatisfaction and to determine future directions for product and service improvements. By centrally collecting the data, at the headquarters level, this valuable information can be incorporated into the strategic planning process, assuring future competitiveness.
- Consider complaints as customer feedback and opportunities to improve, alongside other measures of customer satisfaction.
- Use various organizational arrangements, but have important similarities, such as seeking to maximize resolution at first point of contact and dedicating a cross functional team to collect and analyze data and report complaint information to top management.
- Credit their overall success, at least in part, to a pending organizational crisis, normally related to their survival or significant loss of revenue.
Agencies that participated in this complaint resolution study are using its results to make changes in their own complaint handling systems. Indeed, benchmarking that consists only of field trips to world class companies is known as "industrial tourism." For a benchmarking study to be worthwhile, an organization needs to understand the gap between its own performance and best practices and take actions to close that performance gap. Already:
- The Patent and Trademark Office is using the study's findings along with reengineering efforts to design a Patent Assistance Center and redesign an existing Trademark Assistance Center as one-stop sources for Patent and Trademark information.
- The U.S. Postal Service is using what it learned from this study as a guideline to reevaluate its complaint handling function for 1996. U.S. Postal Service is also responding to inquiries and complaints received over the Internet.
- The Department of Interior, in several of its Bureaus has developed and used surveys to get customer feedback. They are incorporating lessons learned from this study in their ongoing Customer Service initiatives, i.e. Customer Service Standards and Customer Satisfaction Measurements.
- The Customs Service conducted a gap analysis, designed recommendations, and prepared an action plan for FY 1996 which includes two goals: (1) training for their Air Passenger Service representatives, and (2) automating an input system to improve the tracking of complaints and compliments.
- The IRS team prepared a FY 1996 action plan to develop cost estimates of processing the Problem Resolution Program (PRP) and Application Taxpayer Assistance Orders (ATAO) cases and to develop a network of Problem Resolution Program coordinators to better address cross-functional issues that cause problems for taxpayers.
Other agencies can make use of this benchmarking study as well, by answering the questions about your organization included in How Does Your Organization Measure Up? See Reinventing Complaint Resolution, Appendix 1, for how to use this book to strengthen the complaint system in your organization.
3. Leadership Strategies for Satisfying Customers"The philosophy indoctrinated by the leaders of the company is that every experience the customer has from the time of initial contact, during purchase, and throughout the life of the product, focuses on complete customer satisfaction. All employees have a part in customer relations and ensuring the best quality service and the best product. The emphasis is 'Customer First'."
Benchmarking Study Partner
There is little question that the leaders in the best-in-business companies see customers as their top priority. The leaders of these organizations practice the following initiatives.
One company knew they'd begun to hear the voice of their customers when they went from 10,000 letters a year, mostly complaints, to 4,000 a year, mostly compliments. The leaders followed two simple rules: make it easy for customers to complain and just as easy for employees to fix problems.
The leaders demonstrate their commitment to customer concerns by investing corporate resources--money for tools like state-of-the-art computers and phone systems, and support, training and recognition for their employees. They see their job as making it easier for employees to respond to customers. They partner with organized labor to achieve results. They invest a lot of their own time in communication, talking to customers and employees and recognizing results. They have flattened their organization to cut the number of layers between the customer and the chief executive officer (CEO)--usually no more than three management levels separate the front-line workers from the CEO. Leaders of customer service departments are part of the management team.
In all of the best-in-business organizations, customer complaints are seen as opportunities to improve. How complaints are handled reflects the organizations' overall commitment to customer service. Indeed, customer service is a core value in these organizations, reflected in mission statements, plans, performance measures, budget and personnel decisions and decisions about contractor selection and retention. Leadership communicates their commitment to customers so effectively throughout the organization that the value is pervasive. Customer service does not depend on a single leader; it has been built into the way these organizations do business.
It's not rocket science to realize that solving problems when and where they occur is not only better and faster, it's cheaper. If a teleservice representative or a front desk clerk can solve the problem, it saves time and money. Written complaints are similar. If the person who first reads the letter can solve the problem, it costs less and results in a faster response and fewer follow-up letters and phone calls trying to find out what happened. Audits by Technical Assistance Research Programs, Inc. (TARP) at over a dozen financial service companies shows that poor service and poor customer communication increase the total workload by up to one-third!(3)
Smart CEOs recognize that it makes good business sense to empower front line employees to do what it takes to satisfy customers, by ensuring their front line has the authority, the training and the responsibility for customer recovery. Customer recovery takes a lot of different forms. At one company, front-line employees can offer discount coupons that range in value from twenty to two hundred and fifty dollars. At one government agency, customer representatives can speed up lost refunds or waive penalties that have been inappropriately applied. Sometimes, a careful explanation of the reason for a decision or empathetic listening along with an apology is all that is needed.
If routine problems are effectively resolved on the front-line, leaders can focus on improving core processes that improve service quality and customer satisfaction. One team member likened the good complaint systems she saw in service organizations to a quality program in a manufacturing plant. "The sooner these companies find out about complaints, the faster the core processes can be improved. Good managers don't play 'gotcha' with employees. They understand that most complaints are due to procedures and policies that don't meet customers' expectations. Best-in-business companies use complaints to find the problems that had somehow been overlooked. They told us that when employees know that the leadership is focusing on doing a good job for the customer rather than on finding someone to blame, fear and resistance go out the window--the employees want to help find and fix the problems so that next time the job is done right the first time."
One of our benchmarking partners goes a step further to involve employees and integrate customer feedback. They try to capture customer satisfaction data from every customer contact. They do not believe that a separate complaint handling system captures the whole picture. Thirty percent of their entire workforce wears the title Customer Service Representative. These representatives record customer contacts on a sophisticated computer system that allows them to code the root cause of any problem or question. This information is fed to a staff that analyzes the data to look for patterns and trends and for ways to make improvements in systems, procedures and training. Senior management uses the feedback for planning and communication with employees.
Another company described the transformation of its own customer operations in three phases. In the first phase, customer complaints were seen as a necessary evil and some customers were considered to be "chronic complainers." In the second phase, the company provided "knee jerk" customer service to pacify complaining customers. Today, the company's response operation not only assures a response in individual cases but collects information and analyzes all customer complaints to understand what underlies them and to identify root causes. When they identify a pattern that is causing problems, they introduce broader changes to remove the cause.
- Satisfying the customer is leaderships top priority.
- Leaders at world-class organizations view customer concerns and complaints as opportunities for improvement, not as problems.
- World-class leaders make sure it is easy for customers to complain and just as easy for employees to solve problems.
- Effective senior management uses customer feedback for planning and communication with employees.
- Well managed customer recovery improves the bottom line.
- What has your office done to make sure it listens to the voice of the customer?
- How do the leaders in your organization view complaints?
- How does your organization make it easy for customers to complain?
- What does your organization do to make it easy for employees to solve problems?
4. Information and AnalysisWe've significantly decreased cycle time and increased consistent and accurate responses with a database of standard letters and core language. Employees can use standard letters to reply to many complaints or inquiries such as the price of a stamp or where a customer can buy a used mail truck.
U.S. Postal Service
Not every organization gets frequent requests for used mail trucks, but every organization benchmarked supports its front-line employees with the information and tools they need to respond to customer complaints and inquiries. Every organization sees the information provided by customers with problems as valuable and collects and analyzes information about customer complaints. One organization described the information as free market research. The organizations use a variety of approaches to capture and analyze the information and to use the information for both routine and strategic management decisions. Best practice organizations use the following techniques.
Companies use integrated, on-line information systems designed to support the performance of the front-line employees who interact with customers and assist them in answering customer inquiries quickly and accurately. Characteristics of state-of-the-art desktop computer information systems include:
- User-friendly screens equipped with standardized formats to assist the customer service process; including for example, frequently asked questions with appropriate responses, standard response letters or actual scripts to reinforce training and prompt the employee.
- Unique customer identification and access to customer information so that the customer representative can give customized service.
- Simple on-line procedures manuals, often with help screens.
- Avoidance of complex codes and "user hostile" features in information systems.
- Employee participation in development and testing to make sure that systems are accurate and easy to use.
- Real-time information exchange and retrieval and tools (such as electronic mail and fax capacity) so that employees can complete transactions quickly.
- Links to fully integrated information databases, including documents submitted in paper form that have been imaged and archived electronically, press releases, new product developments, standard responses, information about hot topics and performance statistics.
- On-line technical support as a first-alarm response to ADP difficulties, to help the front-line employees.
Front-line employees generally enter data to avoid duplication of effort, improve accuracy and avoid backups in obtaining information about customer problems. Data analysis is generally centralized with a dedicated team or department responsible for analyzing data as their primary duty. Analysis groups often identify the most common concerns, analyze hot topics and facilitate problem solving. For example, determining how to prevent customers from being dissatisfied or from needing to call for information--this leads to a preventive strategy known as "call avoidance."
Managers in world-class organizations have real-time trend information, rather than end-of-the-period updates. They also get analysis that links front-line performance with corporate goals for customer satisfaction. Menu-driven programs allow users across the organization to develop reports and graphs from data specific to their area of responsibility. Using off-the-shelf software tailored to organizational needs, managers can retrieve and see complaint data displayed by type, region, product or service line, injury or catastrophic event, units responsible, root cause, volume, etc. Informed management makes better decisions.
Effective analysis groups use integrated and non-duplicative databases. These data bases include complaints from all sources, e.g., telephone calls, surveys, focus groups, correspondence, complaint/concern cards available on site and/or personal visits. Database records include names, addresses, telephone numbers, individual employee assigned, actions taken, due dates, progress, disposition, and other descriptive information used to enhance all customer contacts.
The first priority of the front-line employee is to satisfy the customer. At the same time, the employee enters the customer's concern into a database along with the action taken to satisfy the customer. In some organizations, the front-line employee also enters a description or codes the root cause of the customer's concern.
Information about customer interactions is then referred to analysis teams and to appropriate process improvement teams that are charged with solving problems. Simple changes are made quickly, often within 24 hours of a problem being identified. The automated tracking system follows the problem to resolution. The features of these systems include precise categories and types of concerns, automated hot topics, automated ad hoc reporting, and competitive information gathering. Front-line employees can propose changes also via the same electronic system.
More complex problems or ones with policy implications are prioritized by the analysis group based on customer impact and referred to the area of the organization that can fix the problems or to a team of employees that is charged with solving it. Some companies prioritize customers and attack the core complaints of the most frequent or highest volume customers. Where there is a fully integrated automated complaint system, core problems are automatically routed to action agents.
Action agents further analyze the data and refer problems to the area of the organization that can best fix the problems, and organize cross-functional teams of employees from all levels in the chain-of-command to get at the root cause and correct it. By fixing root causes, future problems of the same nature are avoided, resulting in improved customer loyalty and organizational productivity. For example, critical analysis of data at one organization found that a large percentage of the 35,000 calls they received each month were simple billing questions. Now a voice response system can answer these questions, decreasing the number of calls they receive per month and giving customers faster access to the information they need.
There are regular activity reports on actions taken to fix problems. Information on actions taken and overall improvements are communicated to top management, staff employees and front-line employees through briefings, newsletters, bulletin boards, direct interaction, complimentary letters, and, especially, an interlocking team structure. Information is communicated to customers through corporate media publications, telephone calls and letters. As problems may relate to either lost productivity or lost revenue, the responsible departments budget may be charged for activities (root causes) for which they have been made aware of and that have not been corrected. There is thus a financial incentive for corrective action.
Organizations that rely on contractors for customer interactions measure how well they perform. They track the performance of contractors and suppliers products and services against customer satisfaction factors. An analysis is made to determine if corrective action is needed by these outside sources in order to prevent future complaints. Some companies are using shorter contracts and expecting greater accountability for performance. Some are moving to performance contracts that specify expected performance levels with the parent organization conducting surveys of customer satisfaction and monitoring other measures of contractor performance.
- Observe trends. When corrective actions have been taken, determine whether the volume of complaints is decreasing to assess if products and/or services have improved.
- Technology utilization is important in complaint handling systems. A standardized, automated systems approach captures and analyzes root cause data.
- Bring in technology to support change; don't change to support the technology that you bring.
- Data must be translated into information and presented to everyone including management in a useable format so that the organization can better align services and products to meet customer expectations.
- How does your organization support front line employees so that they can serve customers with complaints?
- How does your organization track and analyze complaints?
- How does your organization use information about complaints to fix easy problems fast?
- How does your organization use information about complaints to identify and address underlying problems?
5. PlanningThe benchmarked organizations would not be where they are today if they operated the same way they did five years ago--or even last year. And they do not expect to be operating the same way next year--and certainly not five years from now. Information generated from complaints is an important component of customer feedback that drives business decisions and strategic planning in these companies. They integrate information and use it effectively to serve customers. They implement new lines of business because their customers ask for it. The age and needs of their customers are changing so they are making changes to respond to new customer's needs. The best-in-business organizations all do the following.
Finding the best way to acquire new customers and maintain long term customer loyalty is the reason for the planning process. Obviously complaint data are only part of customer feedback, but it is the importance of all forms of customer feedback, including complaint data, that characterizes their planning. Using this information, these organizations make decisions about the use of people, technology and other resources to meet customer needs. Officers and departments responsible for customer service are part of the planning team. Senior management uses customer feedback to identify opportunities for improvement and to align the organization's services and/or products to meet customer expectations.
There is no question about how important customers are at every level in world-class organizations. Mission and vision statements about the importance of customers are only as good as their impact on behavior from the board room to the mail room. Managers need to "walk the talk." Every employee needs to know how their work contributes to the organization's goals and performance plans. For example, one Baldridge-Award winning company has a single objective, "customer satisfaction through total quality." The policy requires that every employee understand the customer-related requirements in their job and meet those requirements. Company policy emphasizes listening to customers before designing new products or services, through production and beyond the sale, to ensure customer satisfaction. This theme is communicated throughout the company and is clear to every employee. The corporate culture applies all of its creativity and intellect to delighting the customer.
Best-in-business organizations look to the future and recognize that the way they do business has to change to keep the competitive edge. They project information about customers, as well as other aspects of the business environment, to develop future scenarios and determine what changes are needed in products, services and other aspects of their business. One company has projected changes in membership into the next century and is already making changes in how they respond to younger customers. Constant assessment of customer feedback, as part of the planning process, leads to new product lines and services, notably the 24-hour telephone service that is now common. One government organization uses customer data from the appeals process to identify trends and problems and reassess their strategic and business plans, leading to changes in policy, guidelines and procedures.
- Your mission statement and vision reflect your values. Your environment should support your philosophy.
- You can't over-communicate.
- Keep the customers' perspective in your planning processes.
- How is customer service incorporated in your organization's vision, plans and actions?
- How well are resource decisions aligned with customer needs?
- How dynamic is your planning processes?
- How do you get complaint information to the CEO or top management?