Nearly all medium-size and large companies spend hundreds of thousands or even millions on customer surveys every year. Customer survey results serve to amend strategies, design new products and services and focus improvement activities. Gathering customer survey data is only the first step. The second step involves making best use of the expensive data, analysing them, drawing business relevant conclusions and making important decisions. How are we doing in this step?…
Your staff members complain about having too much work. The proportion of people on short-term sick-leave is consistently above average. And, the turnover rate is disturbingly high. Do these symptoms indicate that you need to increase your staffing? However, the average number of daily transactions processed shows that your staff should be able to easily handle the volume. Comparing takt time and processing time does not lead to any obvious issue. So, what is the problem?…
“Voice of the Customer” – VOC in short – is a key topic in all kind of customer service, TQM or Lean Six Sigma training and related project work. There are two main categories for VOC data, reactive and proactive. Firstly, proactive data is collected with methods like focus groups, interviews, observations, surveys or test customers. Secondly, reactive data is mainly based on customer complaints, feedback, hotline data or warranty claims. The nature of the human being restricts itself almost always to negative comments through reactive data channels.
Asking staff working in customer service departments about the nature of the feedback they receive from customers will result in answers like “No-one calls to tell us how good we are in delivering our service. Most of the calls – that are not questions – are more or less strong complaints.” On the one hand, this sounds frustrating, “not fair”. On the other hand, “negative feedback” is very powerful due to the fact that someone takes the time and tells us what goes wrong in our processes, hence shows us opportunities for getting better, for getting more competitive, for growing. The quality of this kind of information is usually much better than the feedback received via proactive channels like surveys due to the fact that respondents of surveys do usually not have a stake in the issue.
How do YOU feed back?
The other day in Singapore, I had a small complaint about an SBS bus driver who did not really respect me cycling my way on the road. After getting home I took some time to recap what happened and wrote a very detailed letter to SBS to explain the situation.
After I spent some days in a hotel in Batam, I received a survey form I needed to fill in before leaving the hotel. Did I fill it in? Make a guess…
Customer research studies in the German financial industry some years ago have shown, that complaints normally reveal only the “tip of the iceberg”. Receiving 50 complaint letters means we get only the feedback from those people who take the time and the courage to complain. Hence, there might be about 1250 customers out there who experience a similar situation but do not complain. May be they go immediately to our competitor if they have a chance. We may never find out. Furthermore, the research has shown that there might be as much as 10 times more negative contact points with our company – like “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line.” These negative incidents are not “big enough” for a complaint but always impactful enough to drive customers’ decision sooner or later.
Welcome complaints! As long as you get complaints someone is interested in your service and wants to help you improving. Behind each complaint you can expect as much as 25 times the situation that has led to the complaint and as much as 250 negative “Moments of Truth” with your company. Use this valuable and powerful information for taking actions. And, give positive feedback, too!
Ting is a sophisticated traditional Chinese character (Figure 1) that exemplifies the most important activity related to customer service in an impressive way: Listening. The old Chinese already knew that when listening with your ears, you better treat the speaker as a king, focus wholeheartedly with 100% attention.
Only by doing so you learn about your customers’ requirements, the mentioned ones and – often more important – the unsaid.
It was early evening when I received one of these customer survey calls everyone experiences once in a while. The timing was not perfect however I decided to help this poor chap on the phone. He was just trying to do his job for his bank. Patiently did I listen to his questions trying to give him my honest rating on a scale from 1 to 10. Before we started, I had already decided that my average rating would be around 7. This does not make someone loosing face and still shows some room for improvement. Since the questions did not really touch anything that had to do with my banking experience but did rather circle around the brand value of his bank, I lost some interest. Nevertheless I installed some variation by going down to 5 and up to even 9 for some questions.
Only when he finally touched an area that had to do with my recent banking experience, I woke up, gave him a rather low rating and wanted to explain why. His answer was: ‘Sorry, I am not really from this bank. I am calling from a call centre and I am not able and needed to gather your verbatim feedback.’
Customer surveys are means of listening to the customer. Unfortunately, when you survey a customer he is often not in the mood to give his feedback. Most likely, he is disturbed in the middle of something more important – which is nearly everything. When you then engage a call agent – who gets paid by number of calls completed in a certain time frame – you have two people who are not interested in talking to each other. That call would be used to derive strategy, improvement actions or OD interventions. What do you think is the result of that? Where is the Ting in that?
Another time, I had a rather unpleasant experience with one of our banks and their incorrect statements. I sat down, took time to write a pretty detailed explanation of what happened. The bank contacted me and promised to look into the matter. Some days later they apologised and said that this was an IT issue. This would be fixed with the next release. Good.
Customer complaints related to real events are much better in quality and usually indeed useful for both, fixing the problem and improving the system. Research in the German financial sector has shown that these complaints commonly reveal only the tip of the iceberg. Behind each complaint you should expect 25 similar unpleasant events with customers who do not complain. They may just walk.
And, think about how much you pay for the surveys. Complaints come for free!
When I joined GE Capital many years ago, one message got hard-wired in my genes from the beginning: the customer comes first. Before Jack Welch started his famous Six Sigma initiative, GE installed a thorough system for collecting and analysing the voice of the customer that was usually scattered all over the place. Every Six Sigma project presentation we did not start with the voice of the customer was prompted by our SVP with the question:
And, how does this relate to our customers?
Another best-selling question by our SVP was
Do you THINK this is what the customers want or did you actually ASK them?
Both questions needed to be answered with specifics, with facts. Commonplaces would not be accepted. Never before or after have I seen this kind of rigour in another company.
David, the MD of a medium-sized supplier company for the petrochemical industry in Jakarta, meets his direct reports every morning at 0800 for a very short update. He used to ask questions like ‘Everything ok? Anything new?’ until he found that something is missing in his company: the focus on the customer. Therefore, he decided to change this daily routine. He now starts the day with one question: ‘How is the voice of the customer?’ His team needs to mention not only issues raised by clients or observed by his staff. They also need to come with short-term and long-term solution ideas. Every day! Since they started this habit, they learned a lot more about their clients. In this company, the meaning of voice of the customer is in the bloodstream. They listen with 100% attention – and act. They know the meaning of “Ting”.
In the Singapore blood bank, nursing staff together with Red Cross continuously work on improving the level of customer service. They know that every donor who does not return means a lost blood bag that could be vital for a patient in one of the hospitals. Therefore, nurses and their colleagues do not rely on written customer surveys. They contact their donors in order to listen wholeheartedly to donors’ needs, to understand their concerns and to be able to serve them better. Although being a government agency, they display an exceptional level of dedication and customer focus that would do good to any private organisation.
Talking about the importance of the customer once in a while and running some surveys from time to time is not good enough to really serve them better. In order to achieve this you need to change the behaviour of your team members. It is necessary to install some habits.
Make it a habit, like David, to ask in your meetings with your team members ‘What is our customers’ voice? What have you done to serve our customers better?’ And, make it a habit to start the talk with your own story to highlight how you have improved the level of customer service.
If you cannot answer these questions positively every week, check whether you have spent your time wisely.
And, it would do us good to remember what the old Chinese taught us some thousand years ago: Listen with your ears wide open (and your mouth shut), by treating the speaker as a king, whilst focusing wholeheartedly and paying full attention. Listen with Ting.
A team spends months on improving customer-facing branch processes of a bank. After benchmarking with sister companies across the world and after carefully mapping out process steps they come up with an improved flow that drastically reduces the processing time for branch customers. It surely looks like a nice success story. However, they get devastating feedback from the customers whilst piloting the solution in five branches. Why? …
New undertakings or experiences are always challenging at first. This is no different when Schenker Singapore (Pte) Ltd, a transportation & logistics company, decides to embark on something new like Lean Six Sigma. It might seem to be even more demanding at the outset since the number of 3rd party logistics providers rising to this challenge is very limited. Best practices in this industry are not widely spread and hard to come by.
A typical Friday evening starts with a family dinner in a nice atmosphere. This time we decide to visit one of our favourite restaurants for a light dinner with Sushi. Upon arrival we are amazed.
Usually, this place is packed on a Friday evening. Today, more than half of the seats are empty. Therefore, going in and taking a seat at the conveyor belt is very easy. Before the waitress has a chance to approach us we have taken some plates with Sushi already. …
Everyone, undoubtedly, has had the unenviable honour of experiencing ‘bureaucratic government processes.’ Be it applying for your first ID or passport, to initially obtaining a driving license and the inevitable dealings with the tax man. Judging by the time it takes and the “milestones” or number of departments one has to go through when dealing with German government bodies, the processes behind ID, passport or driving license must be highly complex and are usually being done by constantly overworked people. The Red Tape is often unbelievable.
Some time ago, I had to go to the Singapore Immigration and Customs Authority to receive my PR stamp in my German passport. The process was quite fast and the service very nice. I was about to leave the building when I saw a signboard which ‘advertised’ – “Get your Access Card now”. Since it seems to be a fashion to have a card for almost everything I stopped at the signboard and read the fine print. My conclusion was: “If you travel a lot you can make your life easier with an Access Card”. I turned around to ask a friendly officer for the Access Card counter.
Arriving at the second floor, I approached the counter. “Good afternoon, Sir. How can I help you?” After I had explained my interest in the card the lady behind the counter asked me with a smile: “Do you have your passport?” “Yes” “A passport photograph?” “Sure” “Some money?” “No problem” “Your thumb?” “Yes” “Then we can proceed.”
Being accustomed to typical government processes I imagined receiving my application form and being asked to fill it in, then submitting it and coming back a few weeks later to pick up my Access Card. I was under no illusion that this process would take less than a month.
The first surprise: this nice lady at the counter did not ask me to fill in an application form. She did it for me! I cannot recall any encounter with a German government clerk who would have done this. After signing my application form she asked me to take a seat.
About 15 minutes later, she called me back to the counter – presenting my plastic Access Card with chip and my photograph on top: “Sir, this is your Access Card. Please try at the simulator over there whether it works.” I tried. It worked – of course.
I could not believe what I had just experienced. Between not knowing that an Access Card exists until holding my personal card in my hands – with programmed chip embedded and photograph printed in plastic – pass less than 30 minutes in Singapore. No Red Tape. Impossible! Unbelievable!
This is what I call Process Excellence for Customer Satisfaction, or better: Customer Delight. I would not even expect this kind of performance from a private company, let alone a government agency. Thank you, ICA!
Only outstanding products or services are able to get customers noticing your company, talking about it and recommending it to their business partners and friends. Delivering what customers request is not enough. Customers would not ask for an Access Card delivered within 30 minutes because – for most of them – this is beyond their wildest dreams as it was for me. This kind of solution needs a creative mindset and an innovative organisation.
Keep in mind: Impossible is nothing.