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Trembling: Being Accountable to the Customer

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Would you be willing to be held to a standard (which I refer to as the “tremble effect”) when it comes to the quality and consistency of experiences you and your team provide to your customers?

The “tremble effect” seems an apt description of something that a former AT & T Chariman C. Michael Armstrong purportedly described as follows:

“The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch.”

While I am not sure there is an actual historical record that supports this, Chairman Armstrong’s assertion evokes images of trembling architects awaiting the ultimate proof of their competency. It also has a morbid Darwinian flair whereby only the best architects survived.

While far less harsh, the world of customer experience performance management has certainly taken a turn in the direction of increased accountability!

Healthcare, for example, used to operate somewhat like the lead character from the long-running television series “House.” That character, Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie, offered negative and, at times, awful patient experiences while delivering his product – extraordinary diagnostic skills and amazing clinical outcomes. In recent years, value-based purchasing in healthcare has linked reimbursement levels for providers with the ratings about how patients feel they are treated. The Dr. House’s of the world are less tolerated in healthcare today!

So let’s assume you want to drive increased customer accountability in your business. Where do you start?

Let me offer some insights born from my work with leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA). In my recent book, Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way, I detail how Mercedes-Benz developed tools for acquiring customer feedback and how they used that feedback to compensate dealers, based on the way customers felt they were treated at a given dealership. In lieu of the in-depth exploration provided in the book, I thought it might be helpful to simply offer the “must have” ingredients for effective customer experience accountability:

  • Map your customer journey and identify the important contact points from your customers’ perspective.
  • Identify the optimal times and methods to solicit feedback from your customers.
  • Ask your customers about their satisfaction with how your team served them at those important contact points. Also inquire about your customers’ perception of their relationship with your people and brand (e.g. net promoter score, customer effort assessment, and likelihood to repurchase).
  • Look for correlations between the input of your customers and your key performance indicators.
  • Extrapolate real-time data from the customer feedback which drives KPI’s (e.g. a Customer Experience Index) and present it in a dashboard that is easily understood and actionable by your team.
  • Respond quickly to individual customer needs and look for trends that suggest areas where processes must be improved.
  • Set up a compensation/reward/recognition program for high performers on important customer experience metrics. Offer development tools for those who can improve their experience delivery. Encourage team members to explore other career opportunities or other employers if they consistently “don’t or won’t” delight your customers.
  • Share “wow” stories and customer service breakdown stories throughout your organization to personalize the customer feedback you receive.
     

If you execute on these 8 steps (not that I am saying they are easy), I suspect you won’t be “trembling” under the weight of customer perceptions. Rather you will be the brand that people call “world-class” and be a company that I will be talking about from a keynote stage for audiences around the world!

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