73 – ‘Social media changes the rules of engagement’ , The Age, 4 April 2015

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         730 words

multi channel

This article contains a healthy warning for local government about the need to design services with the customer in mind, and to look ‘outwards-in’. There have been a number of previous posts on services (see here, here, here and here). Disgruntled customers of councils are just as likely to use social media to vent their anger and concerns.

“Customers want influence over the contents of what they’re buying; they customise the muesli they order online; stream entertainment that is tailored to their interests, and pitch ideas to software companies as they develop new products.”

In this environment, councils that just continue to offer the same old services, or who alter services in ways that make them less responsive to customers, or more responsive but less reliable, are likely to frustrate people using those services. If it is a service that people must use and they have no choice of provider, it is even more important to think about their expectations and try to meet them. The potential to customise services to exactly meet customer value expectations, versus standardisation of services to increase productivity will be an ongoing challenge.

“Customers want to choose between the style of service they receive. Companies are expected to offer human to human interaction, self service and instant messaging.”

The way services are provided is also becoming more important. Optimising the customer service counter or call centre is no longer enough. The movement to ‘digital channels’ in the UK is also required. Modern one and two-way communication channels are expected.

“There has been a lot written in the past 20 years about the need to ‘Wow’ and delight the customer, but that has been overdone,” said customer experience strategist and co-author of new book Your Customer Rules! David Jaffe. “Companies are going back to the basics. Customers are happy if a product or service works well. They don’t expect to be ‘wowed’ when they’re paying their bills.”

This, I think, will be a big challenge for councils in getting their service levels and customer service standards right. At the moment, councils exercise limited control over service delivery. There is considerable discretion in the hands of the person delivering the service. Whilst this increases the potential for responsiveness to the customer, it can also result in inconsistent and unreliable service delivery over time. Many council staff think that ‘wowing’ the customer is good customer service. Staff are rewarded for ‘going the extra mile’ This ultimately creates problems if customers are being ‘delighted’, in Kano’s terms, because it raises the expected value curve and increases costs without a guarantee that taxes will be able to increase to cover it.

“Rather than invest too heavily in social media, an all-of-organisation restructure putting customer needs at the core of a business enabled companies to improve customer loyalty, said lecturer in marketing at the University of Technology’s Business School, Dr Eugene Chan”.

“It’s not just the people who see or meet customers, not just the tellers or cashiers who are responsible for the customers, but every aspect of the company – human resources, the IT department, managers and marketers – need to come together to respond to customer concerns with a more efficient service.”

This is particularly good advice for councils, who typically seek to optimise front office contact with customers rather than work on basic service design and delivery. I have worked at councils that quadrupled customer service staff to ‘improve customer service’ and this generated huge amounts of work in the field keeping customers informed instead of delivering the service.

Councils regularly confuse customer service with service delivery. Instead of dealing with a customer request and closing it after inspection and scheduling, the customer is given a commitment that they will be advised when work is about to start or when it will be finished, etc. This adds a workload to field staff. It also burdens their work planning systems, most of which are driven by capacity constraints and resource limitations, not customer commitments. As a result they often complete work or re-schedule it or batch it into other programs without advising the customer. Fail.

Do you think that customers really want to know exactly when the pothole is being fixed or the tree is being pruned or the rubbish is being collected once they have given you their information? I don’t think so. Not unless they don’t trust you to deliver in your promised timeframes.