There. The title has said it all.
Poor customer service is almost always caused by a lack of systems. That's it, fix the systems and we can all go home early! No, of course it's more involved than that, but that is basically the problem.
Let me take you through a real-life case study. I have a business that supports OTS Management - I won't tell you how because we are still doing business and I don't want them to feel bad. But once I explain the situation, you may wonder if it's you, because that's how common the problem is. Once I was able to show them what the consequences could have been, and showed them how to fix the problem, they became clients as well as suppliers to OTS Management.
So what happened?
Let's call this service business Realco. Realco was a startup a few years ago, starting with two partners who did everything.
At that time their customer base was small so they were able to do everything, and serve everyone.
Their business grew, and like all growing businesses, they hired more staff, split responsibilities and carried on growing.
But their growing pains resulted in this happening: sometimes, when I called them for a service, their senior partner called back, arranged the service, or turned up and did it himself. But sometimes, he was busy with other clients and large projects. So, at those times I'd call him and leave a message, and not getting a reply I'd send an email. Then, more emails because there was no reply forthcoming whatsoever.
Finally I'd get a call or an email saying that he was out of town on a contract, or busy at a job, could he look at what I needed the next day?
I'm a reasonable person and the next day is usually fine - but not after 2 or 3 days already, and not just that, after 2 or 3 days of total silence. Clearly customer service was becoming a problem.
As I've had a long relationship with them I offered to contact someone else in the company, if they knew about our account. Grateful, the senior partner gave me a couple of names in the company, so the next time I was not getting any feedback from my calls for help, I contacted those people.
Well, after having to explain my relationship as a customer, and having to explain all the background to our services, I finally got the response that they didn't know enough about how we were set up so could they wait for the senior partner to get back to me?
Back to square one.
Being quite cheesed off now I approached the senior partner to tell them I was considering switching supplier. Quite rightly he apologised and we had a deep conversation about the problems they were experiencing in the company.
As they grew and hired more staff, they tried to organise their staff structures accordingly. The partners split responsibilities between them. This all seems a good idea, but in time, the other partner was unable to keep up with her responsibilities and preferred to stay in "the back-room" still doing valuable work. The senior partner was left with project managing client jobs, sales, and customer service, on top of running the finances and keeping the growth of the company going. He admitted that he couldn't have done all this without the support of the partner in the back room doing things behind the scenes, but clearly he was being stretched thin.
None of this is new to me - having had this conversation I outlined a 10 point plan for him and over the course of the next few weeks, helped him to implement each step.
Take these 10 steps in order.
1. Take an audit of what systems (written or informal) exist in the company.
Break down every part of what you do internally and with customer contact, from administration to book-keeping, from human resource management to hiring, from sales and marketing to customer relationship management, from manufacture or servicing to distribution.
Then for each part, look at how you and your people handle those tasks - what are the steps you take, who does it and who do they hand over to?
Specifically identify those areas where you don't have a consistent system i.e. the same steps and activities to complete the task. As well, identify the cracks where things disappear - perhaps where one person hands responsibility to another or at the end when nobody follows up.
2. Take an audit of what your team do individually and as a team.
Draw up your organisation chart, and then write down what each person does (not what they are supposed to do but what they actually do). Where they share tasks, identify those who share in that task, and check how they "hand over" to each other.
3. Compare the results of steps 1 and 2.
Ask yourself, if there are consistent systems missing, what does your team actually do to fulfil the task? How many different ways are they doing it and how many people are involved, and should those people even be involved?
Ask yourself if there are any steps in the systems where there isn't a person specifically doing that step? Does this cause confusion?
4. Taking the results from step 3, map out what people's responsibilities should be.
Draw another organisation chart. This time, make sure you put natural task teams in the same group, department or responsibility category. Then write up what each team should be responsible for, and the job duties and responsibilities for each person should be, reassigning what they are now doing if necessary. Make sure there are no gaps.
5. Identify the systems you must have.
List all the systems that are critical to your business and the operation of it, from marketing and customer service to manufacture or service provision.
Map or flowchart or write the steps that must take place consistently in order for these systems to work efficiently.
6. Put the results of steps 4 and 5 together, adjusting if necessary.
At the end of this step, you should have a finalised Responsibilities and Organisation Chart, accompanied by a Procedures Manual. Each person's responsibilities defined in the Responsibilities and Organisation Chart must be reflected (at the right place) of each critical system.
Specifically make sure that hand-overs are properly identified, mapped, and people made responsible for it to happen properly.
7. Identify the resources you need to make the systems work automatically.
These could include software or checklists, or a common database of product information or customer information, so that anyone could stand in for someone else and know where to get important information from.
Get or create those resources!
8. Create KPI's for each team, process, and person.
KPI's are Key Performance Indicators. These need not be onerous. For example a KPI for the Sales Team might simply be to obtain customers, sign up a contract, and pass on their needs to the service fulfilment team. They may only have the one KPI.
Another example might be that the person in charge of client project-management has to ensure all client information in the database is up to date and accessible. This person may have 2 KPI's the second being that they ensure client queries or calls are answered within 2 hours.
9. Build measurements for the KPI's and report on them.
This is why KPI's should not be onerous. They should be easily measurable, either through checklists, timesheets, scorecards or surveys that are quick to complete (even in real-time if possible) and easy to compile and report.
The reports should have meaning and consequences - if someone or some team is falling down on their KPI's (for example taking days to respond to a client's' call for help?) then they will need to be addressed. They would be like a well-oiled machine with a tooth broken from a cog-wheel, they must be fixed.
10. Monitor and review regularly and consistently.
I don't care if you only do it once a year - do it at the same time every year and follow through with the results and consequences.
If you built a fine machine then let it run down without proper servicing, you might as well not have a fine machine.
Always monitor and improve.
So there it is - the 10 steps to creating systems so that no part of your business falls apart because someone or other is "too busy".
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