It takes little to convince an individual, or a company, that customer service is important. After all, as customers each of us expects good service. The problem is that achieving consistently good customer service is not easy. Achieving consistently good customer service as an information technology provider is particularly difficult. An IT provider is in direct and constant contact with the customer or end user and has to be "on" all the time, even, in many cases, twenty-four hours a day. Furthermore, quantifying customer service standards in IT is difficult because the product is multifaceted. Every service action becomes a product in the customer's mind and is separately, if not consciously, evaluated. That is, the process is evaluated as much as the product. Also, depending upon the requirement, service actions are performed by different members of a team. This results in various perceptions of customer service.
The design, development, and implementation of a customer service program involve several steps, each with numerous discrete tasks.
In the broadest sense, customer service is whatever adds to customer satisfaction. This definition probably had its roots in the quality revolution of the 1990s, because one goal of total quality management (TQM) was to give the customer more quality than expected as a way, at least partially, to achieve customer satisfaction. This concept, however, came under fire because it often leads to gold plating, which means giving the customer more than he asks and charging for it. Companies also are learning that quality service and customer service are not necessarily the same thing. The trend now is to provide the customer with exactly what was specified to the defined quality standards. Where does that leave customer service? A service provider can meet contract specifications precisely but still deliver poor service to the customer. Hence, the customer may be satisfied with the product but less than pleased with the provider. As Marc Bird of Kinnarps (UK) Ltd., a global office furniture and management solutions consultant company, says, "There is a difference between satisfying customers and delighting them." Delighting the customer is the essence of customer service.
Customer service means that every employee puts the customer first. In short, the company must be customer-focused. To do this requires corporate commitment, planning, training, and a measurement system with which progress can be determined and service imparted. Exhibit 12-1 graphically depicts the key elements of a customer service program.
Exhibit 12-1: The customer service development process.
Before any useable measuring tool can be applied, a precise definition of customer service is required, and it must be applied uniformly across the company. A search of the literature quickly reveals that there are numerous definitions for customer service, but none apply to every industry or even to every situation within an industry. A definition of customer service that is used as a foundation for this chapter is:
Customer service means providing service features, acts, and information so the customer can experience the full value of the service or product provided.
I have found that this definition is broad enough to apply to any industry and to any situation we encounter, and it forms the foundation of our program to "delight the customer."