November 1998 | Commentary | Carriers Corner: Air, Ocean, Rail, Road Topics

When Good Isn't Good Enough

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In today's dynamic global marketplace, businesses are under increasing pressure to provide better, faster, and more reliable service to their customers. Rapidly changing technology, just-in-time production methods, and a highly competitive business climate have made delivering the right service at the right time more critical than ever. After all, our customers are depending on us in order to meet their customers' needs.

n such an environment, providing "good" service is no longer good enough. If we want to keep our customers coming back to purchase our products and services time and again, then our organizations must consistently look for ways to provide "exceptional" service - and customize that service to meet each individual's unique needs.

Like other transportation providers, Roberts Express faces the immense challenge of delighting every customer for every shipment every day. We measure customer satisfaction on a monthly basis so that we can constantly gauge how we're doing, and identify areas of opportunity for improving our service even more so that it's viewed as "exceptional" in the eyes of our customers. In order for companies to achieve long-term success in today's fast-paced marketplace, it's imperative for an organization to focus on exceeding its customers' expectations - on "raising the bar." Before this process can begin, however, it's crucial to foster an environment within your organization where employees truly believe that customer service is everyone's job. If each employee does not see the link between his or her job performance and customer satisfaction, or all individuals don't feel that they contribute to the success or failure of your goal, then even your most persistent efforts to improve customer satisfaction will be thwarted.

At Roberts, every employee has a personal stake in providing exceptional service because regardless of what department in which they work - accounting, IT, safety, marketing, etc. - part of each individual's quarterly bonus check is directly tied to the results of our monthly customer satisfaction surveys. While the strategy you adopt to raise customer satisfaction to a higher level will depend upon your company's own unique circumstances, there are certain elements that appear to be universal in this quest. First, your company must become adaptable to your customers' changing needs. You can't assume that what they wanted last month is necessarily the case today. This takes a heightened ability to listen and understand what your customers' priorities are. Second, it's important to involve customers in the decision-making process. By making them aware of all of their options and collaborating on the issue, you can more readily arrive at the optimum solution for both parties. Organizations must also strive to develop "customer intimacy" - an environment in which each individual feels that he or she is the only customer you have. In other words, if you serve 1,000 customers every day, your goal should be to make each one feel that he or she is the only one.

That's the philosophy behind the Customer Assistance Teams (CATs) at Roberts. In order to maintain a "small-company feel," we have assigned empowered work groups by geographic region. When a customer calls our service center, the call is automatically routed by area code to the designated CAT assigned to that region. If the customer calls back the same day, the call is forwarded to the individual who originally took the order. This way, customers receive personal attention from the same group of agents each time they call. Finally, companies should be proactive in communicating service updates to their customers - including the exceptions. By relaying information on potential snags or delays sooner rather than later, you can work together with your customer to devise an alternate plan if necessary. Proactive communication and the recovery process on any service delay is an absolutely critical component to exceeding the customer's expectations and maintaining your company's credibility.

As we approach the 21st century, customers will only become more demanding, and the bar on service standards will continue to be raised. Until we reach perfection, there will always be room for us to improve our service.

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