Guide to a Good Customer Service Charter

Guide to a Good Customer Service Charter

Given it’s a long rainy weekend, I had some time to put pen to paper (keys to the screen?) and put some thoughts down about the importance of having a good customer charter. I have been doing some consulting work of late assisting companies to improve their performance in a number of areas, including customer service and customer experience. What has occurred to me is that many companies seem focused on measures of performance that don’t really help the executive teams and senior managers focus on what customer’s want, or more specifically, what a company is willing and able to offer the customers they choose to deal with.

This concept is a very old one, at one time the development of a good business strategy was the guiding light of companies, a good strategy was the touchstone that helped a company decide what business they should expend effort on and what they should ignore. You can’t be all things to all people. Unfortunately, most companies treated their strategy development as a 2-3 day exercise off-site that produced a nice glossy pack that everyone put on their shelf and then ignored until the next strategy day. I can’t tell you the number of times I have read a strategy pack that was conflicted, obtuse, not measurable, and certainly not achievable. No wonder it never got followed. The same goes for having a good customer charter.

Now, if you would like to improve the experience your customers receive, and hopefully benefit from increased sales, higher NPS, CES, or other customer measures I can suggest you approach it as follows:

1. Ensure you have a business strategy in place that is clear, simple, and measurable. This is really mandatory, it tells the company what business it’s in and not in and it tells you who your customers will likely be. Putting a good one together is relatively easy but it does take thought and lots of good detailed debate in the executive and management ranks.

2. You’re going to have to speak with your customers and determine what they want or expect from you. It’s not quite as simple as you’d expect, you are not trying to keep all your customers happy but you are trying to determine which set of customers you want to deal with. For example, some customers would love to buy your products at ½ of what you are willing to sell them for. Clearly, you don’t want these people as your customers. You can’t afford it.

3. For those customers you do choose, determine what promises you must make to them to keep them as customers and “beat” the competition. This is your customer charter. Your customer charter need only be 6-10 items but you must treat these statements as absolute promises that you make to your customers. For example, if you say your satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back, then you are never going to argue with a customer about a refund, are you? If they are not satisfied, then you give them their money back, no ifs, no ands and no buts. Think of these as solemn promises you may make to your best friend or your mother. You’d never break those!

I’ve seen many customer charters over my career and most are written in the same manner as the business strategy, put together quickly, posted on the website, and left there forever. They mostly contain a list of “promises” the company believes the customer wants to hear, that’s why they’ve selected them. However, the company has no intention to deliver on those promises, nor, in many cases, even set up to deliver on those promises, which I believe is the main cause of low NPS and CES scores. The company is effectively not aligned with its customers. How bad is that!

4. The final step, and the one missed by a lot of companies, is that they don’t take the lens of the customer charter and focus it on the operations of the company. The way the company is run, the way it designs, develops, markets, repairs, etc its products and services must be aligned to the company’s customer charter. If a company promises that it will dispatch within 24 hours, then the dispatch function needs to be very efficient, have a good selection of KPIs associated with the 24-hour promise, and staffed by dedicated and well-trained people who truly own those KPIs. For the companies that decide to make this promise, but where customers are complaining, may find their whole dispatching process needs to be re-designed in order to meet that 24-hour deadline. A company that makes this 24-hour promise has done so because it has determined it is what their customers want, provides them a competitive advantage, and is something that they can achieve.

If you agree with my thoughts so far, here’s a simple diagnostic that you can complete yourself to see where you have misalignment. It will not tell you the whole story but it will enable you to turn over some rocks and see if there are any cockroaches underneath. Rest assured, if you find roaches present chances are they’ll be everywhere. The more you look, the more you’ll find.

Step 1: Take all your customer complaints, either written, captured by the service desk, or whatever. Collect and analyze them and determine the common areas. For example, customers may complain a lot about your return policy, or product quality, or price. Whatever, just bunch them together.

Step 2: Take each complaint area and see if it’s mentioned on your existing customer charter. If it is, you need to move to Step 3, if it isn’t, then Step 4.

Step 3: So now you’re here, the customer is complaining about something that you’ve mentioned in your customer charter. Ask yourself, do you want to continue making that promise (e.g., on-time delivery). If so, then you have an operational problem that needs to be fixed. You’ve got a customer promise that you want to keep but the company is not capable of delivering on that promise. I’m sure you’ve all heard of BPR (Business Process Re-engineering), well guess what, you’re going to have to do that exercise on your delivery processes.

There is also another approach here, and that is, you choose not to make that promise. For whatever reason, perhaps it’s too expensive, perhaps it’s just too hard. In this case, the executive should buck up and say, “We are going to remove 24-hour dispatch from our customer charter”. You need to do this because otherwise you’d be lying to your customers and there is one thing that customers' hate more that not meeting a charter item and that’s lying.

Step 4: This step is similar to Step 3 except that it’s an area that doesn’t appear on your charter. First, you’ll need to decide whether it’s a promise you want to make. If you do, then you’ll need to add it and you’ll need to design the company to be able to deliver on that promise. Step 3 generally means you need to fix something, which could be easy, may be difficult. Step 4 is likely greenfields, you need to think differently and act differently, and it’s more than likely to cost more time and more money to meet the customers' expectations.

Once you’ve completed one analysis, you’ll end up with a list of projects you’ll need to deliver to fix the company’s alignment to that one customer charter item. Likely, this is only one of many areas, so be prepared potentially for lots of projects.

Finally, there is another tilt on this and that is, as I believe Steve Jobs said, customers can tell you what they don’t like but can’t tell you what they want until they see it. Steve didn’t believe in market research. So, this whole charter refinement process needs to be delivered in this world of hyper-competition. You’ll need to be trialing new products, services, and delivery approaches all the while maintaining alignment with your customer promises. I’d love to continue but I think I’ve done enough for now and the Sun’s out so I’m off for a walk.

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