If you say you give good customer service, as many businesses do, how do you prove it? Do you just assume your service is good because you don’t get many complaints? If you really want to be certain your company offers the best in customer service, you need:

1. criteria to measure it;

2. a system to accurately gather the data; and most important;

3. a method to correct any deficiencies in the process.

Put together, these key ingredients can help you make a system that will work for your company.

My idea of a system is not few complaints. Generally it’s good news if you get very few complaints, but there may be negative reasons why you receive so few. Let me share some of the techniques we use to guarantee we deliver the best in customer service.

Most Valuable Asset: Some businesses have machinery in a factory that their employees operate during a shift to produce products. They couldn’t make products without the equipment. And if the equipment is not adjusted properly, there’s a good chance the products the machines produce will be defective. Those machines must be maintained and checked frequently to assure top quality products. Machinery represents a sizable investment; without it the business would have no ability to produce and survive.

Similarly, in the service and repair business, we have assets that help us produce and survive. One of our principle assets, probably more valuable than our trucks and equipment, is our reputation. Reputation is the direct result of the quality of our customer service — how well our customers believe we treated them. Notice I looked at customer service from the customer’s point of view. It doesn’t make any difference if we think we deliver excellent customer service. It’s important what our customers think.

Let’s consider our reputation as the most precious asset we have. It is the reason people needing service call our business instead of a competitor. Let’s agree we need to measure service from the customer’s point of view.

Performance Standard: If customer service is so critical to our success, we need to know what shape it’s in, and carefully nurture it to maximize the value of our business. We must be able to measure how well we are meeting customer needs.

The first step in protecting and measuring this valuable asset is to establish some guidelines so you and your technicians agree on how they are supposed to deliver the services your company offers. For example, if you believe it is important for your technicians to give your customers a friendly but professional greeting, you’ll need a sample script for them to follow.

Following those procedures sets a standard for performance that can be a part of your system for measuring customer satisfaction. Let’s look at several typical standards, so you understand exactly what is necessary for this part of your measurement system.

  • Identify Activities Although true customer service begins with how customers are treated the moment they call your business, we will focus on some of the typical actions technicians follow on most service calls.

    After the greeting, technicians must demonstrate care and concern for a customer’s personal property, household furnishings, etc. Then the technicians should thoroughly diagnose the customer’s problem before giving the customer a description of the services needed. Next, the technician should look up the job in a flat rate pricing manual, with the customer looking on, so they discover the price together. The price quote should be given to the customer before the job is begun. Finally, the technician should efficiently complete the service and repair work, followed by a professional cleanup. We suggest the work area should be cleaner when the technician is finished than it was before he started.

    These activities are just a sample of the types of activities that can help you both train your technicians and identify whether they follow the procedures you have determined will satisfy your customers. Now you need to translate those activities to brief statements a customer can immediately recognize as a service that was or was not provided. It needs to be something they can respond to on a postcard or in a phone call very simply and quickly. Otherwise, they will lose interest and not participate in your customer service measurement system.

  • A System To Gather Data After establishing the performance standards and simple measurement criteria for technician’s actions, you now need to assemble an easy system to gather data. That system, when in operation, will tell you whether your technicians (from your customer’s point of view) are delivering the kind of service you trained them to deliver. There is more than one way to accomplish gathering this data.

    Let me share what we have tried, changed and finally adopted. Initially, we designed a simple postcard that asked questions that would tell us whether the technician completed the job in a satisfactory way. It seemed like an ideal system: technicians left the postcards with the customers, they mailed the postcards in and we compiled the data.

    For some time the system seemed to work well. We received lots of postcards, and almost all of them indicated the technicians were doing a great job. Not every customer mailed them in, but when they did the cards reflected quality work.

    We noticed the best technicians seemed to get most of the postcards they handed out returned to the office, and, generally, with favorable comments. We also noticed we received very few postcards from the customers who were served by some of the technicians who didn’t seem to be as interested in impressing the customers with their quality of work and concern for the customer’s satisfaction. The ones we received, however, indicated good customer service. We got the notion maybe not all of the technicians were handing out the postcards on every job, but maybe only to the ones who would give favorable reports. Rather than attempt to pressure the technicians or scold them, we changed the system.

    Now we use a more comprehensive system — we contact the customers, either by phone or mail. Since the technicians know we will contact the customer, they have an incentive to not only do their best, but to share unusual situations with the manager. Standardizing the questions we ask our customers allows us to accumulate accurate data about our level of customer service. And we get the data from the customers.

    By revealing situations that could potentially result in an unhappy customer, technicians better prepare our company to deal with these incidents, quickly and efficiently. For example, if a technician reports he inadvertently damaged a customer’s rug or furniture, we can contact the customer before he or she contacts us (or worse, never calls back and tells friends and neighbors not to call us).

  • Planned Response We always try to defuse customers’ dissatisfaction by contacting them first, before they contact us or anyone else. We confirm the problem and make every attempt to satisfy the customer. These actions may include anything from an apology to a free pizza (we have an arrangement with a local chain), or even a refund. These offers to satisfy the customer end up being cheaper and more cost-effective in keeping customers and avoiding complaints than anything else we have tried. The decisions are timely and routine. Of course, these incidents don’t occur often, but it’s nice to know they will be identified and dealt with at the earliest possible stage of dissatisfaction.

Since we know we receive accurate feedback from our customers, we can complete two important tasks for our business. First, we identify technicians that cause an inordinate number of problems and work with them, through training, counseling, or, if necessary, disciplinary actions. Second, we learn what types of tasks technicians are having problems completing. That way, we alert all our staff to the risks associated with some jobs and train all our technicians to perform those types of jobs as professionally as possible.

Keeping Score: Should you keep a numerical scorecard for all of your technicians, comparing each against the others? It’s up to you how far you take a scorecard system. I believe it’s important to know the relative levels of service your technicians provide and to remedy those situations as quickly as possible that might produce an unhappy customer. You cannot afford to have technicians working for you who cause repeated customer service problems. On the other hand, I think it makes sense to evaluate technicians on other criteria than a few of their ratings from customers.

Probably the most important part of any system to measure (and improve) customer service is to make certain the technicians understand what is expected of them. They must be prepared to deliver top quality service, if that is what you expect. Also, your measurement system should be standardized enough that you can truly measure different levels of customer service.

If you don’t measure the quality level of your customer service, you will not be able to determine which technicians are doing a good job and which are not. Nor will you be able to spot problem jobs and alert or train your people. Additionally, you will miss an opportunity to demonstrate to your customers that you have the concern and ability to perform all the jobs they call you for — and at the highest quality. You don’t need a sophisticated system of complex calculations, but you should be able to answer the question: What is your customer service score?