Leveraging the power of citizen engagement to dramatically improve customer service, agency focus and cost efficiency.
Getting the Discussion Going
August 24, 2011 at 12:40 am #139448
This morning, I had an opportunity to join a room full of GovLoop’s elite for two hours to talk about solving customer service problems. The Washington Post lent us some space to brainstorm. Wendi Brick moderated (and did an excellent job, BTW), and the ideas flowed.
One of the participants raised an issue that I wanted to address in more detail, but time was against us: how do we get the conversation going with our organizations when they don’t seem to want to listen?
Customer service is sometimes considered an after thought. It’s a nice thing that we should all do, but it isn’t mission critical (it is to us, of course) to some in leadership positions. I’ve been told “we don’t have time for that,” or “customer service is everybody’s job.” In the latter case, it sometimes gets dismissed as equal to smiling or beng polite.
Good customer service adds tremendous value, both tactical and strategic, to any organization. Customers can help us shape our products and services. They can extend our meager work force. Treated well, our customers can be our greatest asset.
This is not news to people in this group, but this isn’t always understood by the people we are trying to help. So how, this woman asked, do we start the discussion?
My advice comes from personal experience. I have learned a lot from strategic listening. I don’t go into a board room without a framework of some kind. Having created several successful customer engagement programs, I have a pretty good framework in my mind. I listen for things that will help me “hang leaves” on my framework.
When I hear other directors talking about priorities, I am quietly hanging leaves on my framework that give me (and ultimately our customers) a good idea of who we are and what we do. If I notice inconsistencies in what people are saying, I know our customers will notice those inconsistencies. This gives me an opportunity to ask clarifying questions. In the spirit of helping the organization, I ask question that I know my customers will ask. I am not only seeking answers, but I am preparing them for what is to come – once we get our customer mojo on.
When I hear other directors talking about resources, I quietly crop or extend branches on my framework. I know what I can do given a set amount of resources. If I have fewer resources, I will be relying more on leverage – often in the form of enabling technology, and customer mobilization. If I don’t think I can penetrate the target markets my organization needs to penetrate, I have some basis from which to raise the issue and present my arguments for more resources.
Strategic listening and asking good questions in the board room can take you a long way – without putting you in a position of having to “fight” or pull other directors off their track to focus on yours. You will be adding value, earning your pay, and serving your customers. However, there is something else you can do to bring even greater value to your organization (adding value earns you listening credits). You can do this activity without a lot of support from anyone else. As a customer service professional, no one will question you.
Get out in front of your board. While your hanging leaves on your framework and getting to know people, you can get out into your customer space. Become the organization’s expert on your customers. Know who they are, where they live, and how they like to be engaged. Learn what channels they like to use to gather intel, what cultural expectations they have, and what vocabularies they use.
If your become the expert on your customers, you will know what will work and what will not work. Instead of having a discussion with your board that follows the “please listen to me” track, you can come from a place of authority. I would rather tell a fellow director HOW we can enhance their program, than tell them that we need to understand their customers. I want to do the homework ahead of time and keep the focus on the agenda, no matter which way it goes – rather than on the fact that something is missing from the agenda. I hope this makes sense.
Said another way, if you know your organization (their priorities, capabilities, and resources) and you know your customers (what they like, don’t like, how to reach them, what their issues are, etc) you are in a strong position to guide your group through a customer focused strategy session. You will KNOW many of the answers and simply report the facts. This comes across much differently than trying to tell them that customers are important and hoping that they will agree with you.
I suppose I’m trying to say that there are things you can do today. Even if you think your have zero influence in your current organization, you can strengthen your position on the team. You can give yourself the ability to meet your organization’s leadership in THEIR “head space” as opposed to trying to get them to talk about customers or the importance of good customer relationships.
Another trick is to show them vs tell them. Get real comments from customers, then share those comments with others when you meet. It’s amazing how “interested” someone can be when you’re telling them what other people are saying about their program. Just be positive in public if you use this technique. Give either positive comments or constructive criticism. You never want your board to see customers as pains, as ignorant, or as a problem to deal with.
For more information on how to get to know your customers and create a strategy, I’ve posted a series of videos somewhere earlier in this group. Look for my videos on Customer Engagement, customer research, and forming strategy. Let me know if they are helpful to you.
Good luck! Let me know how it goes!
August 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm #139454
That’s the tough question that we just barely touched on. How do you create that culture of caring about customer service?
August 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm #139452
Celebrate victories frequently.
When someone comes up to me with excited news, I say, “Good job!” Not because they did a good job…who knows? It’s to remind everyone we are here to do a good job.
Managers who focus on failure become experts on failure. Dr. Deming.
September 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm #139450
Wendi Pomerance BrickParticipant
Over a 20 year career in public service and with public servants, the strategy that’s served me well in getting people to listen is to 1) identify pain points and 2) propose solutions to minimize the pain. I would submit that there is nothing an organization does that isn’t in fact customer service. Whether it’s internal or external – we wouldn’t be doing anything we do if it didn’t have the intent to benefit someone.
Here’s an example of identifying a really common pain point, especially now. Anyone have buckets of extra money hanging around? No. We’re in a money crisis. Lots of agencies are cutting back, and laying off staff members. That’s a paint point if I ever saw one.
So what’s the customer service solution that will get people listening? Streamlining processes. Every one knows that bureaucracies are, well, bureaucratic. All process can be streamlined, some drastically, like by 50 or 75%. And I mean both in terms of cycle times and number of steps. So if we can streamline a process, and do twice as much in the same amount of time, aren’t we addressing the pain point? You bet.
Find a way to equate the problem with a service-oriented solution. Give people a reason to listen, and they just might do so.
PS – Thanks for the kind words, Dave. The Workshop and visiting DC were both terrific experiences! Hope to be back again soon!
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