August 2008 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

Customer Service: The Two Percent That Matters Most

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Evidence abounds that American industry's customer service system is broken. For example, 80 percent of companies believe they provide superior customer service - yet only eight percent of their customers report having received superior service, according to a recent Bain & Company survey. A business that is unaware of its customers' perceptions is headed for trouble.In the express delivery industry, all three major players perform equally well, averaging 98-percent on-time delivery. But with more than 25 million packages traveling the delivery channels every day, that leaves a half-million shipments that fail to meet customer expectations.

Rising to the Challenge

While DHL continues to strive for 100-percent on-time delivery, we recognize that when we fail a customer, we have an opportunity to go above and beyond to remedy the situation, to exceed customer expectations and win lifetime loyalty. We think in terms of "two is the new 98." Our success hinges not on how we handle the 98 percent of packages that arrive on time, but how we respond to the two percent that don't make it. When we focus on ensuring the final two percent of customers are satisfied, we are on the path to rethinking the total customer experience and servicing all customers well.To make that kind of paradigm shift, American business needs to promote a mind-set and develop an organization that's focused on exceeding customer expectations. Here are six ways to achieve that goal:

1. Elevate the customer service function within the company, including taking it to the board level. The best service organizations hold an executive accountable for customer experience to help drive internal processes around the customer, and allocate resources and capital spending around the customer experience.

2. Set up a data-driven, systematic approach to problem solving with a focus on customer impact. Methods such as the Six Sigma DMAIC set of practices - which defines, measures, analyzes, improves, and controls internal procedures - rely on tried-and-true ways to measure and respond to customer needs.

3. Identify all customer contact points to better understand which matter most, then measure their performance. Touch point analysis can lead to development of a focused improvement plan in the most critical areas.

4. Evaluate how the organization is structured to ensure the entire spectrum of the customer experience is addressed. Is the sales organization focused on new account acquisition, but lacking in activation, account setup, or ongoing support? Does a sole executive handle both sales and marketing? If so, does that structure dilute accountability and reinforce the need to separate executive oversight?

5. Ensure that employees on the front lines are empowered to assist customers at first contact and handle escalated concerns. Many of the best organizations maintain a separate team to handle the most serious complaints with white gloves.

6. Link employee recognition to behaviors that exemplify customer-focused values and goals. This shows employees the value the company places on them and the roles they play in helping the organization achieve success.

Service Innovations

The innovations needed in service are about enabling customer success. Companies that can pull ahead of the curve and distinguish themselves on the basis of the customer experience will be the winners in their industries. Progress starts with "planting the flag"—communicating a commitment around a relentless pursuit to deliver a great customer experience.

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