Category Archives: Improve Customer Service

Spotting problems

spotting problems

Drip, drip, drip

Have you been spotting problems?

During the lockdown you’ve no doubt had to carry out some tasks you’d normally have delegated to others in your team.

I know I have.

And it’s only when you perform those tasks yourself you realise that they’re not as straight forward as you thought…

Maybe the system is cumbersome, the equipment used doesn’t function as well as it should, or the process simply doesn’t deliver the result you want.

Has this happened to you?

If it has, I bet you’re left wondering “Why didn’t they say anything?

When you perform a task every day or every week you probably don’t notice when it takes longer than it should, or doesn’t work as smoothly as it used to. It’s a gradual change so you simply fail to spot it.

So bit by bit it gets worse and worse and we’re blissfully unaware.

It’s only when we stand back and reassess that we notice.

This gradual decline can happen in all sorts of situations:

  • the fabric of your building
  • the effectiveness of your equipment
  • the quality of raw materials
  • a system that’s out of date
  • short cuts or cutting corners on processes which have become the norm
  • IT infrastructure overload, meaning slower and slower response times
  • the morale of your team

Any of these can impact your team’s effectiveness, their well-being and most likely your customers’ experience too.

As we get back to business, as new procedures are put in place and people take on different tasks, now is a good time to review and amend.

Where you’re performing tasks normally covered by others:

  • What works OK but could be improved
  • What is simply no longer fit for purpose
  • Where has the system become cumbersome
  • Where have corners been cut by others
  • What’s missing
  • What’s no longer relevant
  • How can we improve this

Where team members are returning to existing tasks:

Once it’s been a certain way for any length of time unless it causes us a major inconvenience we simply get used to things that way.

Flush out anything that’s standing in the way of them doing a brilliant job or impacts the customer in some way.

This often highlights frustrations they have in the system or with current resources, levels of authority, existing skills or conflicting priorities.

So, ask:

What would they improve if they could? To help people feel comfortable to make suggestions ask questions that allow them to take off the blinkers.

Such as:

  • What would you do if it was your business?
  • What would you do if we had an endless supply of cash?
  • What would you do if you had a magic wand?

Although all these question might result in ‘pie in the sky’ ideas nine times out of 10 you’ll end up with some ideas you can use in some way, and because they’ve suggested them you’ll get far more buy-in to implement them.

Where team members are taking on new tasks:

You have a fresh pair of eyes on the task so make the most if this.

What questions do they have on why they are doing the task or why is it done this way (often it’s simply because you’ve always done tings this way – which isn’t a valid reason!)

Ask them to suggest how they could approach it.

Can they suggest better ways of doing things?

When it’s your own department it’s easy to become protective, oblivious to some of the challenges or frustrations others may encounter. So it’s really important that team members don’t feel intimidated if they suggest improvements.

Prevention is better than cure

Failure to report and deal with problems promptly not only leads to frustrations, and later accusations of whose fault it is, but could cost you dearly in the long run if it causes long-term damage.

Have a system in place for spotting problems and for regular maintenance, whether this is done in house or with a contractor. Encourage team members to report problems promptly when the equipment isn’t performing on all four cylinders, or gets damaged, rather than apportioning blame on them for causing the problem.

Have a process which makes this quick and easy.

Listen to what they have to say

Unless followed though promptly they won’t bother telling you next time.

The longer problems are left unresolved, the less emphasis it places on the importance of their welfare or the customer experience in their eyes and the less importance they will place on their contribution to your business.

Old habits die hard

The longer you live with something the more you become accustomed to it being that way, and the longer it will take for people to adjust to the new way.

Make allowance for this, and test and measure to check the ‘new’ way is working.

Culture for continuous improvement

Keeping on top of these issues is as much down to your culture as it is about the systems.

A culture where it’s OK to speak up if you think something isn’t up to standard.

Where people won’t take offence if someone suggests a better way of doing something.

Where it’s accepted that mistakes happen, the important thing is to learn from it and prevent it happening again.

Take action

If you only do one thing

Spotting problems and making continuous improvement comes from incremental changes. Identify one small change you could make today that will save time, help a customer or reduce effort in the long run.

Related articles: When you stop noticing the cracks 

LinkedIn article: Making continuous improvements

Mapping the Journey

improve customer service

Earlier this week I attended a customer experience seminar. We had some excellent presentations on how to improve customer service, including one on what went on behind-the-scenes for the London Olympics in creating such a memorable visitor experience through the Games’ Makers (in which – I am proud to say – I played a small part).

One of the sessions was on customer experience journey-mapping. As the name suggests this is looking at everything on the customer’s journey from the customer’s perspective, and should include everything that happens leading up to the point of purchase (awareness, decision to buy, etc) as well as what happens afterwards (e.g. staying in touch, recognition of loyalty), as the before and after is still very relevant if you want to improve customer service

Mapping the journey is one thing, but then review the experience your customers get at each stage on that journey. What do you want them to feel at each point, and how well do you achieve that?

Of course, the most obvious people to ask about the customer journey from a customer’s perspective are your customers.

But failing to start by asking your team members how to improve customer service is a massive lost opportunity on three counts:

  1. Firstly, you get a fresh pair of eyes (and ears) on what the customer sees, hears or experiences. It’s amazing what team members will spot as opportunities to improve customer service or modify the customer touch points to give a smoother or enhanced customer experience.
    Your customer facing team members will invariably hear first-hand from customers of your short-falls and their frustrations.
  2. Secondly, when team members spot ways to improve customer service it gives them a sense of ownership over any changes, rather than being seen as a criticism.
    So you’ll get employees engaged and get buy-in and commitment to making the changes happen.
  3. Lastly it helps your team members to engage more readily with your customers.
    Because they’ve experienced everything first hand for themselves they are able to appreciate what’s important to the customer at that point, and can relate easily to them when discussing or describing any aspect of your service or products.
    This is just as relevant for back of house staff too.

Because we can become oblivious to what we’re involved in every day (and sometimes quite protective) it helps to mix teams up a bit. Even old hands can give you another perspective by experiencing another department.

Often it’s seemingly simple things that can improve customer service. The layout of counters forcing customers to backtrack or double up wasting time and effort; poor directions or signage, meaning customers get lost or miss things altogether (often impacting your sales too);

Build it into your induction process as new team members will be experiencing things for the first time, giving you a fresh perspective.

Of course, it may not always be possible or practical for team members to experience everything but even if you sell exotic holidays or exclusive wedding dresses there will still be plenty of opportunity to get a sense of what your customers experience, particularly the various touch points your customer experiences before or after doing business with you, which so often get forgotten.

But you might be in a position to use the exercise as rewarding activity. If, for example, you run a hotel, having your team members stay at the hotel (and have access to everything your guests do) might be a treat for them, but gives you the opportunity for feedback too, so it’s a win-win.

How often do you put any of your team members in your customers’ shoes and ask for their ideas on how to improve customer service?

Are your trousers too tight?

So what exactly have tight trousers
to do with customer service or the customer experience?

Well, you know, don’t you, when you have a problem with your weight before you get on the scales, because your trousers start to feel tight?

And when this happened you have three options:

  1. Denial – blame the washing machine for shrinking them and ignore the signs, carrying on as before until they get so tight they’re uncomfortable and you look like a pudding as you walk.
  2. Defeat – just accept that as you get older you’re going to put on weight and use it as an excuse to go and buy a new wardrobe.
  3. Do something about it – acknowledge the signs and take action before it becomes too extreme and potentially irreversible.

And the same can be said of your customers’ experience….

  1. Denial – You can ignore the signs and blame the customer for their poor judgement, or a third party for messing up
  2. Defeat – You can say that’s just the way we do things around here, and change your aspirations for a different or less discerning market.
  3. Do something – Or you can read the signs and take some action.

But….. there’s a problem.

Unlike tight trousers it’s not always immediately obvious there’s something wrong. Well, that is not until it’s got to a stage when it’s damaging your business. So, what to do?


Here are 5 things you can be doing to avoid this….


1. Define your customer service values

This way it’s so much easier for you and your team to measure and pick up if there’s anything amiss. Once you understand your values and expectations you’ve something against which to benchmark your business.

(If you need help with this, drop me an email to and we can discuss how to do this for best results and biggest impact.


2. Take your whole customer journey

Do a periodic walk through of your customer journey and conduct a self audit against a checklist with measurable criteria for each stage. Don’t forget your customers’ journey starts way before they step into your premises. What’s the experience they have online, phoning you*, finding your venue? What’s the experience they have after the event or sale?

Take the journey regularly and involve your team as they’ll pick up on things you become blinkered to.

* Take a look at the findings from a survey conducted by local business Arbell across 2000 businesses to assess how many calls were missed – it makes scary reading when we think about the potential lost business and the impact on the customer experience…


3. Monitor your customers’ reaction

Be observant and spot problems before it’s too late.

A regular order that’s less than normal, a frequent customer who hasn’t visited for a while, clients not returning your calls, a change in tone from a customer, increased complaints on a particular product or service, picking up on non-verbal cues or a throw away comment that the customer isn’t completely happy.


4. Ask your customers for feedback

Seek feedback from those whose opinion is important to you. Not your family and friends (unless of course they are representative of your customers) but your most valuable customers. Not those low grade customers who generate little or no profit and require maximum effort on your part, but those customers you’d love to have more of; the high profit, low maintenance customers. It’s their opinion you should be seeking.

Not from a questionnaire, but talk to them. Pick up the phone or invite them for a coffee and find out what they value, what frustrates them and what they’d like you to do more of (or less).


5. Test and measure

If you’re tracking your numbers you’ll soon know when things are not right. It won’t necessarily tell you why, but at least it should set the alarms bells ringing so you can investigate. Putting it down to “the market is slow at the moment” or “the competition” won’t rectify the problem.

Make service your key point of differentiation and find a way to wow your customers so they stay naturally loyal to YOU, and keep coming back whatever the market or the competition is up to.


So there we have it; five (relatively) easy ways to pick up on potential customer experience issues before they give you a ‘tight trouser’ problem.