Setting Customer Service Standards

Interview and Learning Resources: Customer Service Standards

The Importance of Customer Service Standards

Q: Robert, do you believe that every business should have standards that outline the minimum levels of customer service?

Robert: Yes, I think it’s important for a number of reasons for organizations to have service standards. They serve as guidelines for employees, and can be used as goals to improve service by identifying the gap between where service quality “is”, and where it needs to go.

Q: Isn’t it enough to give employees job descriptions to tell them what their jobs are?

Robert: No. Job descriptions aren’t detailed enough, complete enough, or updated often enough to include proper customer service standards.

Besides, EVERYONE that interacts with customers should be aware of the standards.

Q: Why is that?

Robert: Because customer service is a “team” sport. If everyone understands the expected standards, and everyone understands meeting them involves them, even if they are behind the scenes, then you get really excellent service happening.

What you don’t want is the “it’s not my job” syndrome.

Q: That makes sense. So, if a company wants to draw up a set of customer service standards, where should they start?

Robert: This is where a lot of companies take short cuts. For example, a retailer may decide that customers shouldn’t wait longer than 2 minutes at the cash. But the question is, is that too short? Too long?

The ideal situation is to get to know your customers and ask them about what is reasonable and tolerable, and what would be great. Surveys can be useful. Or better, get staff to ask them as they interact, and record the results. Any company can do that without expensive surveys.

This helps you get it just right. You don’t necessarily need to meet high standards if your customers don’t care about certain ones. That just wastes money and resources.

Q: Should standards be measurable? And if so, how often should they be measured?

Here’s an outstanding slide presentation on the why’s and how’s of customer service standards.

Robert: Standards, on their own have some power to inform staff of what’s expected of them, even if they aren’t measured, but measurement is obviously very important.

Evaluating the gap between standards and reality is most important for diagnosing possible problems. The data isn’t just to see how things are going, but can tease out details on where things go wrong.

For example, think about wait time. If you collect data (measure) properly, you will be able to determine whether there are particular times, or days when wait time increases beyond what is ideal. Without measuring to your standards, you can’t find that out.

So, yes, measurability is important, but doesn’t mean much unless measuring actually happens. Besides, measuring shows that management is serious about standards, and good customer service.

Q: Are there any other things to watch out for?

Robert: You have to be very careful about the law of unintended consequences — that by telling staff they need to do x, that they end up focusing on x while completely ignoring y, and z, which are also very important.

I think we’ll wait to talk about that for another time.

Author: Robert Bacal

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