In many organizations where service is identified as an area for improvement, the problem is not poor service from every department or person, it is inconsistent service in pockets of the organization. Poor service in one area brings down the perception of service levels in all areas.
A classic example of poor service in the US has long been the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is the government agency that grants and renews licenses for drivers and vehicles. If you drive or own a vehicle, you head to the “DMV” for a license every few years. For years customers have complained about the bureaucracy, lack of caring attitude, and generally poor service at DMV.
My recent experience, however, was positive – friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a more efficient process. Everything moved smoothly, till I got to the “new picture” line. Here the technology was out of date, the process slowed down, customers became more demanding, and the staff were clearly annoyed. This service breakdown was near the end of the entire license renewal experience, leaving many customers feeling that DMV service was still poor, when really it was poor in only one area. This is true for the customer’s service experience in many organizations. The areas requiring service improvement reflect poorly on other areas where service is actually quite good.
So how do you consistently create positive experiences from end to end for customers? We teach our clients the process of identifying the “Perception Points” in a Service Transaction. Perception Points are those moments and touchpoints when customers experience your service and form their opinions. And we provide our clients a Common Service Language to enable everyone to consistently communicate, identify and improve the service levels at all Perception Points.
This common framework applies to both internal and external service. This is vital since internal service issues often lead to an external service problem. For example, incomplete or inaccurate sharing of customer’s information between departments leads to negative experiences when the customer has to repeat herself.
One manager I know recently implemented internal service level agreements to address such situations between departments. She did not want to create a heavily documented procedure for internal departments to follow. Rather, her intention was to enable all team members to consider their internal customer’s experience throughout the business processes. Her new agreements led to regular conversations between colleagues to identify pain points and possible improvements, and these conversations occurred on a regular basis, not just during a crisis.
Five steps to create your internal service agreements:
1. Identify the internal issues that adversely impact the customer’s experience.
2. Identify the internal teams that need to work together to solve them.
3. Setup team meetings to brainstorm and make new commitments to each other.
4. Keep it simple. Keep it real. The ‘Service Agreement’ could be a simple flipchart outlining the process, and committed service levels.
5. Review these agreements periodically, share best practices internally and keep improving the service experience.
Ultimately, the purpose of the internal service agreements is to build common awareness and secure commitment from all people and departments involved. Service is a dynamic experience for customers and service providers. Service agreements must generate enthusiasm and evolve with the business — not become outdated procedural documents gathering dust.