Four Principles of Customer Service – Principal 4 : Communication- CRM Success

We asked Gerry Brown to tell us a little about his Four Principles of Customer Service (CX  [Customer Experience]).  Culture, Commitment, Community and Communication. In this Blog we explore the fourth principle: Communication.

There is always room for new ideas, and building a better foundation usually happens when we are open to new ideas and thoughts shared. We hope you enjoy the Four Principles journey with Gerry.

Introduction

When it came to understanding more about how, where and why CX was so effective and important, I looked closer at some of the companies that really do have customer experience working for them, and found strong evidence of the Four Principles that are vital to the development and sustainability of a Customer Experience program. Just as a reminder these are; Culture, Commitment, Community and Communication. The power of these principles, both individually and in combination, is that they are founded on deep, basic truths that have broad and enduring applications. When integrated into our daily lives they provide a context and a framework that can mobilize people to develop the understanding, skills and patience to handle almost any situation. This is what it takes to bring home the bacon and is way beyond ‘lipstick on the pig’. You can’t pick these up at the cosmetic counter.

These Four Principles are simple and each is intentionally represented by just a single word that very much mirrors the important and real-life values, and how we approach the world as individuals. They can be, and are, used by all of us every day in our interactions with others; when we hold open doors, support worthy causes, apologize unreservedly and sometimes unnecessarily (in the UK and Canada) and (occasionally) smile at strangers. In a customer service environment, you really can’t make people do what they don’t want to do, or at least you can’t do it indefinitely or with everyone.

Any discussion involving principles and natural law will undoubtedly uncover a full complement of ideas and concepts that can apply to almost any eventuality. While we may all have slightly different interpretations of these specific principles, I also believe that there is universal awareness and understanding of their value, their relevance and their importance to the survival and growth of any business.

Let’s look closer at  Communication, the fourth principle in our customer experience journey.

The Four Principals  4 -Communication

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

One of my favourite films is Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman and the phrase “What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate” which is spoken at different points in the movie, first by Strother Martin (as the Captain, a prison warden) and later by Paul Newman himself, (as Luke, a young prisoner).

 

This phrase came up from the depths of my memory when I was myself imprisoned recently. Not something we like to admit to others, but unfortunately, I was held captive, in my own home, by one of the UK’s largest delivery companies, whilst awaiting delivery of an urgent package. The sender had requested that the item be signed for in person, ‘on the threshold’ thus eliminating any opportunity to have it left with a neighbour or hidden from plain sight. Unfortunately for me, not only did they not deliver as promised, but there was no communication from them to provide a reason, offer an apology and a rescheduled date and time. I had to call them to get an answer! As I later found out, the delivery driver had an accident and naturally this put the whole schedule in jeopardy. While we can empathise with the situation, the fact remains that the company was aware of the potential delay to customer deliveries and needed to both advise people and provide a replacement van.

Up to now I’ve celebrated companies that get things right, and as many of my posts and articles focus on the Four Cs: I couldn’t have asked for a better or more painful example of what can happen when you get things wrong. In the delivery company scenario, there were clearly problems in the underlying culture or procedures that left me in the dark. But there was also a lack of commitment from above and below and the potential for community support, i.e. another driver picking up the reins. This organization failed abysmally in almost every element of communication. In fact, they didn’t just violate the principle, they beat it up and left it for dead.

This lack of communication is why many businesses are failing so spectacularly and the recent BA, UA and Ryanair catastrophes mentioned previously are prime examples of this. These often self-inflicted operational failures are usually accompanied by news stories featuring angry passengers complaining of “There being nobody to let us know what was going on.” Proactivity is the key to successful communication and even if there is no news, it’s vital to let people know that at least somebody is aware of the issue and is seeking a resolution. In order to keep customers happy, it helps if your people are able to respond in a powerful and immediate way to service failures — using their own initiative, without waiting for a manager’s okay.

This lack of communication is why many businesses are failing so spectacularly and the recent BA, UA and Ryanair catastrophes mentioned previously are prime examples of this. These often self-inflicted operational failures are usually accompanied by news stories featuring angry passengers complaining of “There being nobody to let us know what was going on.” Proactivity is the key to successful communication and even if there is no news, it’s vital to let people know that at least somebody is aware of the issue and is seeking a resolution. In order to keep customers happy, it helps if your people are able to respond in a powerful and immediate way to service failures — using their own initiative, without waiting for a manager’s okay.

The main reason for a lack of communication is the fear of litigation

It’s possible though that people are not really in the position to use their initiative, or are prevented from doing so. When you look at some of the worst recent incidents such as those I’ve mentioned above, you have to assume that the people on the ground are afraid to say too much, or anything at all, in case it may be used against them for compensation or litigation. How else can you explain the shocking lack of information when problems strike? This may seem pretty obvious, and hardly a concept that makes the earth move. Unless you are a UK train operator, who collectively seem unable to communicate effectively with passengers, when there are problems, (“Too much sun” or the “Wrong type of snow”), that only seems to inhabit the railway world. But communicating with passengers, customers or guests is very much dependent on a company having an open and honest communication policy that builds trust, and provides reinforcement for employees to act with integrity and compassion in those critical moments of truth that can define a great customer experience.

Companies like Four Seasons, Zappos and John Lewis all feature regular two-way feedback sessions, employee briefings and councils, that give all employees and managers a voice in any decisions or issues that positively affect the quality of customer care. When employees have been involved in defining and developing the culture and committing to its delivery, having them act in harmony with the values and principles they helped create and communicate is almost second nature.

In each Four Seasons hotel there is a centrally located hotline that allows front line staff to immediately communicate any customer problems as they arise. In one case a doorman advised that a guest was unhappy that he had to wait 20 minutes for his car to be brought to him. When he heard about it, the General Manager of the hotel immediately called the guest at his office to apologize. His frankness and genuine concern did much to restore the guest’s trust and faith in the hotel.

Each year the Zappos Culture Book is updated and the core values revisited as life and people change. It’s actively and enthusiastically reinvigorated by all employees who share their ideals with their broader audience of customers, friends, partners and suppliers.

How the best companies manage communications

At John Lewis, power in the partnership is shared between three governing authorities: the Partnership Council, the Partnership Board and the Chairman. This ensures that communication is open, frequent, visible and truly participatory throughout the business.

The annual Southwest Airlines One Report™ measures and reports their results on their financial, social and environmental performance. This is communicated via their website and current and past years can be viewed, downloaded and compared. This isn’t just a static pdf file, but increases and enhances Southwest’s communication ethic by allowing anyone to customize the report to their own particular areas of interest.

Once again, I’ll turn to Stephen Covey to describe the theme that runs through the communication principle of successful and caring companies. He says “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Most companies are so busy with the second part, which is certainly important, that they neglect or pay lip service to the first.

George Bernard Shaw summed it up nicely: “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

 

Unless, and until you understand what your customers truly want and need and then what they value, it will be difficult, if not impossible to get this principle working properly and to be able to communicate in a language and a way that they will understand and respond to.

But how do we know or measure what they want?

About the Author

Gerry Brown aka The Customer Lifeguard, is on a mission to save the world from bad customer service. He helps businesses save customers at risk of defecting and breathes life into their customer service operations and customer experience strategy. Gerry provides straight talking, no-nonsense advice and practical solutions for customer experience adoption and has provided organizational leadership on people development, business transformation, customer engagement and technology enablement for some of the largest companies in the UK, Canada, and EMEA. These include Autoglass, The Royal Albert Hall, O2, Screwfix, Sage, BSkyB, Bell Canada and TELUS. Gerry is a Member of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA), the Global Speakers Federation (GSF), the Customer Experience Professionals Association and a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP). Check out Gerry’s book: When A Customer Wins, Nobody Loses!: A winning formula for building lasting customer relationships.

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