A product quality standard refers to the performance the customer can expect from the product e.g. “performs better than the leading brand “,” guaranteed to last for 1000 uses “. This is only part of the customer experience with your company, with the customer service standard being the other part.
The customer service standard refers to the performance the customer can expect from customer service as defined in the charter. For example “next day delivery “.
If the customer charter and standard are sharply defined they can be effectively used as in your marketing, perhaps as a marketing strapline.
Sometimes the product is itself provision of a service rather than a tangible product, in which case the customer service defines the relationship with your client.
Who is affected by the customer service standard?
Service standards are important for many groups of people connected to the business.
- Customers know what they can expect
- Potential customers may be encouraged to purchase the product
- Employees know what standards they are expected to achieve
- Management can assess and measure performance against a defined target
Everyone knows what to expect, and managing expectations is an important part of delivering customer satisfaction.
Defining your customer service standards
Customer service should be prompt, polite, professional and personal.
There are certain factors you would expect to address in a standard
- Problem solving
For example a standard may state” we will answer your call in 90 seconds “, or “next day delivery “or “As long as we have all the information, we will usually prepare your CV package within 5 working days “
These examples convey confidence to the client and should mean that the staff are not bombarded with customers asking why their call was not answered straight away, when their delivery is due, or when their product will be ready during the first week of their order process time.
In the last example, note the qualification “As long as we have all the information”. This is important when the company is dependent on a third party, or the client themselves, to provide the information required to complete the work.
Also note the qualification “usually “.this is needed to cover exceptional circumstances such as an inability to contact the client to clarify some points, unexpected illness or absence of staff.
Also note “working days “, clarifying that weekends or national holiday’s should not be included in the time.
Customers will expect some assertion about accuracy of performance or delivery e.g. “on time, every day “
They will want to know that you will deliver the whole of their order, or the whole of the service, or answer all your questions.
Courtesy should be a given when dealing with customers.
How do you create a set of service standards?
For clarity, it is good to have a small number of standards that can be effectively communicated to everyone, and effectively managed and monitored.
There are many people who can feed into the setting of the standards, but the most important group is the customers.
Who should set the standards?
Seek input from existing customers, potential customers and also former customers. If they will share their story it will give some great indicators of their expectations and experience with you, and may signpost some issues that need to be dealt with.
Focus groups can be helpful here.
Also seek opinions from management and employees .Remember that they may need to “walk a mile in their customer’s shoes “ to understand what is important to the client. Management’s view can sometimes be “closed “as they think they know the answer, but in fact are too far removed from the customer to understand their experience. It is more important to seek opinions from front line employees, they will often know more as they interact with the customer every day.
Also look at competitor’s charters, standards and straplines to see what they think is important. Bear in mind they may not necessarily be correct though!!
Regulatory authorities need to be considered, as some sectors are governed by a regulator who sets service standards that must be used to comply with the Law.
Planning and implementing the standard.
Once the standard has been designed a customer services action plan should be implemented. This should ensure all staff are aware of the standard and what is required specifically of them. This will gain and maintain their commitment. It is important to ensure that staff are adequately trained, have all the necessary knowledge, and are empowered to make the customer service standard into a reality.
Monitor and evaluate Customer Service Standards
Monitoring can be achieved partly through ongoing feedback from customers, but should also involve the input of service delivery staff. They should have the opportunity to make observations and suggestions based on their experience of implementing the standards. Feedback can be formal or informal, verbal or written. It is useful to provide a feedback form. There should be a regular review of feedback, with appropriate actions taken on suggestions.