Benchmarking customer service

“It starts with respect. If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier.” – Doug Smith

In the current market scenario, both customers and companies have access to information – constantly. For companies it means that they are able to instantly know what customers think about them, how their company’s products are viewed and what level of service they are providing. Companies really cannot disregard any of this or find a defense of why they cannot try harder. Benchmarking customer service is imperative – a must do for any company that would like to differentiate themselves with service.

When companies decide to undertake the exercise of benchmarking customer service, they get valuable insights into their market standing and competitive strength. They are able to utilize the information to get better at what they do. If committing to benchmarking customer service, companies must take cognizance of customer feedback and take action on it. Before acting on feedback however, companies need to analyze the practicality and feasibility of making the changes. It is a methodical process that must not involve quick and interim fixes. Such patchy solutions will not hold in the long run and there will be no significant utility for the customer. Customer feedback may just be more negative the next time round – customers can perceive effort and the lack of it.

Benchmarking customer service really is a continuous process since in doing so companies are actually trying to raise the level of service and satisfaction with each customer experience. Customer experience as we have discussed earlier, is a journey not an end. With every experience and service challenge, companies and the staff learn something new about customer behavior. Matching up to those needs and behaviors is a continuous process of improvement if competitive advantage is to be had and sustained. Benchmarking customer service is actually like an alarm clock that wakes companies and makes them more aware of opportunities to improve their profitability and reputation. Viewing your products or service against those of others goads companies to move ahead and leave competition behind. Improved levels of customer service translate to the all important thing – happy customers.

A benchmarking exercise must include factors that will directly impact the company and in turn customer service.

– Benchmarking to re-visit costs. Costs of running the business like utilities, salaries, improvement exercises – must be looked at during such an exercise
– Re-evaluate the performance indicators across the company. Customer satisfaction must feature in each staff member’s appraisal. Training and development opportunities too must be viewed and ramped up if so required
– Internal processes and strategies must be customer focused and if not re-evaluated to ensure that these processes can lead to improved levels of customer service
– Looking at highly successful strategies of other companies in the realm of customer service. Not copying, but emulating some of those strategies of the market leaders serves as a learning platform.

Conversely, benchmarking can prove to be a wasted exercise if comparisons are incorrect or made with incorrect factors. Companies must think carefully about benchmarking customer service if they want to see some significant changes. Focusing completely on the customer and not your company or its competitors will provide clear guidelines for what to benchmark with. So what should companies not do when benchmarking customer service?

– Leave the competition out of this. Being aware of the competitor’s strategies is essential but using that to benchmark is ineffective. Customers want to see what you can do for them and how well you can do it. It is of no consequence to them how well you are doing with regard to the competition. For customers doing business with you, their returns must come from you and if you are succeeding in that, it won’t matter to them what the competition is doing. Being in competition with your internal processes is what customers want to see. How you do it behind the scenes – by internally benchmarking a competitors strategies and emulating them – is not for the customer to know or be interested in. They want a return on their investment and striving to better that each time should be the benchmark. Give them what no else will or can and they will become loyal brand advocates.

– For companies looking for sustainability and market leadership, benchmarking customer service should be about increasing the trust factor for customers. Making sure that what your company stands for and provides is in line with the expectations of those people who make your business run and on whose reference your company will either make or break its reputation. Customers guarantee business success if they are consistently happy with the company’s service and each interaction gives them something positive to talk about. Happy customers enhance the bottom line and also bring their friends and associates to do business with you. Benchmark for the customer’s success and the rest will follow.

– Be innovative and creative while benchmarking. Understand what has in the past got customers raving about some experience or service level and use that to better your current standing. Anticipate needs and act quickly to provide for those needs of the customer before they ask setting new standards and benchmarks. Become a benchmark in customer service and use that to raise the bar each time. Such benchmarking is not only impressive it also has a greater impact on the customer psyche and draws them closer to your company. Give the customers something positive to talk about and then take it to the level of wow – customer responses especially via social media will get you much more appreciation than you bargained for. Use this as your benchmark for next time. If everyone is providing the same service and products, customers really do not have much inclination to talk about it. However, if they receive customer service that is rare and a class apart, your company will get noticed and would be able set new benchmarks. Such service begins to get customer responses that are consistently good thereby enhancing the reputation of the company and with time establishes the company as being the one to benchmark in the realm of customer focus and satisfaction. That is a huge competitive milestone and advantage.

Companies must consider a goal when benchmarking customer service. What will they achieve at the end of the exercise – is it to show your competition in a bad light or just make your customers happier while doing business with you. Choosing the right answer is not that hard. Benchmarking as an exercise is about comparing what your company is doing vis-à-vis others and then pinpointing the areas for improvement. However, to avoid the pitfall of making this a pointless endeavor the focus must remain on the benefits to the customers. Making the changes for maximizing customer experience will translate to making your firm more profitable and sky-rocket its reputation. Benchmarking customer service will give your company that edge over competition that is not easily defeated.
Benchmarking customer service must be treated like all benchmarking endeavors – companies must have well-thought out goals and objectives, have simple methods that are robust enough to be followed through and taken to conclusion.

Gathering accurate and consistent data from customers, understanding this data through analysis and then putting processes in place will make for an efficient and effective benchmarking exercise. Being able to successfully manage such an exercise not only leads to a loyal customer base but also translates in to some solid, competitive and sustainable advantages for the company in question. It reduces costs of attracting new customers and hiring new employees, increases productivity through improved levels of employee morale. It all improves the quality of service and products leading to a reduction in costs that accompany customer complaints and product replacements and reduces the risk of damaging a company’s reputation which has insurmountable costs.

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.” – Peter Drucker

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