Creating A Customer Service Edge

By Lisa Anderson,

There has never been a better time to create a customer service edge! Gone are the days of the last decade when we saw examples of 10% sales growth achieved solely by picking up the phone. Unemployment levels remain high and there are limited opportunities for growth. Who knew business executives could be so excited over 1% growth? If that wasn’t enough, customers’ expectations are elevated – suddenly, they want more for less too.

With increasing commodity prices (putting upward pressure on sales prices) combined with declining sales revenues and personal wages, it feels as though they are spending more to fulfill exactly the same needs as they had yesterday. Thus, they want more for the money. On the other hand, companies are struggling to maintain customer service levels as resources are tight – we have not replaced all the people lost in the layoffs during the recession. A challenge to be sure!

In my 20 years of experience as both a former VP of Operations of a mid-market manufacturer and as a business consultant and entrepreneur, I’ve found that those companies who leverage the hidden opportunities leapfrog the competition in times like these. In essence, while everyone else is cutting costs and thinking of survival, the successful companies invest wisely and find a way to provide exceptional service and stand out in the crowd.

How do you create a customer service edge?: 1) Engage employees. 2) Involve your supply chain. 3) Provide tools & support.

1. Engage Employees

Have you ever seen unhappy employees with happy customers? Me either! You have to start with your employees. Have you provided them with a compelling vision? Do they feel that they are involved with a company that is making a difference in some way? Do they know how they contribute to the vision? How do they add value? Are you providing feedback? Appreciating progress? Engaging them in key projects and ensuring they feel they are a core part of the team?

You’d be amazed as to how the most unlikely employee can contribute to creating a customer service edge is included in the process. As a former VP of Operations of a mid-market manufacturer and as a business consultant and entrepreneur, I’ve seen engineers close a sale, I.T. leaders create customer intimacy, and supply chain employees create a customer service edge. The common ingredient is engaged employees. How important is service to you?

2. Involve your supply chain

Now that your employees are on board, you cannot afford to stop there. A customer service edge can only be created by involving your entire supply chain – after all, how will you shorten lead times and improve on time delivery if your customers consistently change their mind at the last minute and your suppliers provide an unreliable delivery lead time?

For example, in one company, we implemented a vendor managed inventory program with our #1 customer, and we went from unreliable service levels to winning the coveted supplier of the year award. We involved the entire supply chain in that we determined how to fulfill our customer’s distribution centers to ensure 98-99% service levels by becoming more intimately involved in the complete supply chain – incorporating in our customer’s customers’ demand data, involving our carriers as partners to ensure delivery performance within shipping lanes, and partnering with suppliers through a collaborative forecasting process.

3. Provide tools and support.

Last but not least, the best strategies fail in execution; thus, what can we do to ensure we beat the odds and create a customer service edge? Focus on execution – blocking and tackling. Don’t just dictate a customer service priority. Explain its importance. Provide coaching. Support the process with systems. Build customer service into the performance management process. Celebrate success. With a clear strategy and the appropriate support, customer service will thrive.

In today’s new normal business environment, everyone is struggling to survive and grow by a few percentage points. Don’t follow the pack; instead, stand out from the crowd with a customer service edge, and leverage the opportunity to leapfrog the competition.

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