Remember the real desired output of service level agreements – the customer!

“UK consumers today face significantly fewer problems when buying goods and services than they did 5 years ago, but they are more inclined to complain when things do go wrong” –  said the UK-based Institute of Customer Service in a recent report. Customers have become more demanding, looking for reliable products and impeccable follow on services.

Organisations continue to compete for the same pool of customers, but the only difficulty is that everyone is doing the same using similar methods and techniques. To compete enterprises need to minimise the cost of operations but these actions should not negatively impact customer’s experience. It is common to view cost reduction and improving Customers Service as opposing requirements. This is not the case if we change our perspective.

Unplanned activities are costly but they are inherent in the way we design organisations. In a typical organisation business functions operate in silos with Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which are distant from customer’s needs and concerns. This creates poor coordination across the value-chain generating waste in the form of delays, and repeat requests along with customer dissatisfaction. As an example, we tell our customers that we will get back to them within 24 hrs and a day later we call them to say we have no update!

A customer contact is an opportunity to build loyalty. This is especially the case for commodity service providers such as Utilities and General Insurance, as their customers usually make contact only when they have concerns or something has gone wrong. The way organisations listen, make relevant promises and consequently fulfil their commitments build or destroy customer loyalty.

The lack of the above perspectives creates challenges which are experienced in most Customer Service Centres.  These are:

Poor coordination across the value-chain causes customer dissatisfaction as well as unnecessary customer contacts.

No one is empowered to effectively own the resolution of customer’s issues.

Overemphasis on speed and volume handling have a negative impact on Customer Experience and Customer Satisfaction causing unnecessary repeat calls and complaints.

In most cases, Customer Service Agents don’t listen for customer’s core concerns and needs.   They are focused on capturing information and following the internal processes.

Customer Service Agents are not positioned to make a commitment on behalf of the organisation and in some cases have little confidence in the organisation to ‘deliver’ on promises and commitments made to customers.

The reason for many of these issues can be traced to the existence of the silo mentality, which is further encouraged by the use of SLAs is the cause of these issues. SLAs are not inherently good or bad but the way we design and interpret them creates the waste. To move the silos into a unified team we need to change the way we measure performance across the organisation and not just at the point of contact with the customers.

There are three changes any organisation can make to improve customer contact and overall performance:

Promises we make to our customers should address their concerns and ambition, and not simply represent a function of organisational systems and constraints. When this is not possible we need to openly, confidently and respectfully express what we can realistically provide for them.

All actions across the value-chain need to contribute towards the fulfilment of our promises; and SLAs need to be designed to reflect that.

SLAs need to move away from measuring the completion of action to measuring achievement of the required outcomes. As an example, instead of telling customers we will be back to you with an update within 24hrs we need to be able to reliably say we will be back to you in 24 hrs with either an answer or a committed plan to get the answer for you.

These changes will impact the foundation and the culture of your organisation but when successfully implemented they create a competitive differentiator which cannot be easily matched. Remember – the overarching purpose of an SLA is to ensure customer satisfaction and not organisational compliance.

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