The flagship session at the 2016 Customer Service & Experience Conference at 930gov just might be the 15th Annual Government Customer Service Excellence Awards.
Every year, we recognize professionals who take customer service to the next level in some of the most challenging environments in government. But as I’m looking at the list of winners and finalists, a question occurs to me: What is great customer service—or to put it in more modern parlance, what goes into delivering a great customer experience?
Great customer experience is both an art and a science
I think it’s important we define and quantify great customer service. Which means we need to think about who defines it. If you were to ask customers what specifically constitutes great service, they’d probably tell you as the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once wrote in opinion, “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.”
Ask someone responsible for customer service in an agency and they might refer you to something akin to service level agreements—responding to inquiries within a specific amount of time, resolving issues during a single contact, and other performance metrics. They’d also point to customer satisfaction scores.
These two vantage points define two axes of great customer service. On the one hand, service quality is subjective and ineffable; it varies from situation to situation; customers know it when they get it. On the other hand, service quality has to be quantifiable as goals, activity, and results so you can build process around it, measure it, and replicate it.
When you think about it though, both of these perspectives depend on the same thing: an intimate knowledge of who your customers are and what they hope to accomplish as they interact with you.
My definition of great customer service
I’d offer this definition of a great customer experience: It’s what happens when customers encounter an organization or agent that is fully prepared, equipped, and empowered to answer their questions, requests, and needs.
A lot goes into making this happen but it starts with listening. Very careful, very active listening.
Across the years, Excellence Award winners and finalists all have one thing in common. They are diligent—both as organizations and individuals—about listening. They hear what customers actually say. They hear what customers don’t or can’t say. They connect the dots to understand what customers really mean.
Then they take the action customers are actually looking for. In this way, great service can be unexpected and surprising because it addresses what customers really need, not just what they think to ask for.
Organizations have to be great listenecrs, too
It’s one thing to listen to a customer on a call, treat them with grace and respect, and help them resolve their issues. People who can do that day in and day out are heroes. But it’s another thing entirely for an organization to enable that sort of heroism as standard operating procedure.
In order to make great service routine, agencies also must listen to customers—so they can define strategies, design workflows, build infrastructure, manage processes, measure performance, and ultimately, enable their representatives to take action.
When you hear the stories of this years’ winners at 930gov , you’ll meet some organizations that do this well. Every case involves listening to a group of customers, then doing some hard thinking about what great service really meant to those individuals in those situations.
I recommend listening very carefully to what they have to say.
The 2016 winners and finalists—as well as all the agencies who were nominated—are all committed to leadership in a complex and challenging field. I encourage you to set aside the time to attend Digital Government Institute’s 2016 Customer Service & Experience Conference and come “listen” to the 15th annual Government Customer Service Excellence Award winners and finalists on Wednesday, August 24 – you will be glad you did.