ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

September 1998


Standing Your Ground In The Face Of Change

Turning Local Government Into A Business

Stop Trying To Be "Friendly" And "Courteous"

It's A Small World Afterall
Lucent's Performance


My Way Is The Highway
by Peter Block

What's So Super About Collaboration?
by Michael Finley


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


Stop Trying To Be “Friendly” And “Courteous”
Objectivity and Consistency Crucial to Improving Customer Service Performance

How do we define good customer service? We all have our own ideas of what it should be, but is your organization consistently delivering the kind of customer service you envision?

In the past, companies have assessed customer service professionals’ performance using subjective definitions of what constitutes good customer service. “Determining a service professional’s performance becomes difficult when the criteria is that he or she must be responsive, friendly and courteous,” states Grace Major, president and founder of Sigma International, Inc., a training and consulting firm based in Fairfax, Va. which specializes in relationships between service professionals and customers.

Lesser of Two Evils
We all have varying definitions of what qualifies as “friendly” and “courteous,” making it difficult to test in a systematic and fair way. Another approach to analyzing customer service has been to apply productivity measures, such as time spent per call. Again, this approach has inherent flaws. It can motivate service practices that dissatisfy customers, such as, a service professional striving to finish a call quickly rather than addressing that customer’s particular needs.
Both of these practices, measuring using subjective definitions or productivity measures, prove ineffective at measuring customer service. However, alternative methods have rarely been developed—until now.

A systematic approach, Major argues, is the most logical and efficient way to measure customer service. And the best way to achieve a systematic approach is by implementing Service Proficiency Checklists. A Service Proficiency Checklist allows your company to:

-Achieve consistent quality in its customer service
-Develop one controlled culture visible to your clients
-Brand its relationship with its customers.

Start Talking
To change your organization’s ability to provide good customer service, you must first define what elements and objectives should go into conversations between service professionals and customers. After you have a framework for the conversation you can develop a systematic approach to assess whether your service professionals are using the elements in their interactions with customers.

With clear definitions of what it means to achieve these conversation objectives, your organization can systematically determine if its service professionals are meeting your objectives. Most organizations focus on: assessing the customer’s needs, defusing anger or recognizing additional needs for services.

To introduce Service Proficiency Checklists, Major recommends addressing one customer service proficiency at a time—defining this element and teaching service professionals how to incorporate it. Attempting to address too many proficiencies at once can result in sensory overload for service professionals.

Once the target proficiency is identified, you must define the criteria for what should happen in the course of the conversation in order for this proficiency to occur. The criteria can include conversational characteristics, specific behaviors or performance traits. Also, it is important that the criteria should be observable, objective and discrete, enabling an observer to watch a service provider and assess whether the person did or did not produce a certain behavior.

Next, compile a master list of the ideal observable behaviors that must and may occur when the target proficiency is delivered. This list becomes the basis for determining whether a service professional is performing to standards and is used in each service professionals’ assessment. Development of the checklist entails setting a minimal performance standard by deciding which of the ideal behaviors are included.

Then, the list of observable behaviors must be segmented into two groups: compulsory and non-compulsory. The compulsory items should contain a few key behaviors that must occur for the desired proficiency to be met. For example, you may determine that in order to assess a customer’s needs it is absolutely necessary for the customer service professional to acknowledge the concerns voiced by the customer when given an opportunity. The non-compulsory behaviors are things that help to achieve the target proficiency, but do not always have to occur. Next, determine how many of the non-compulsory items must occur along with the compulsory items for the proficiency to be delivered. Major recommends a list of approximately five compulsory items and 15 non-compulsory items.

Perfecting the Tool
Developing an effective Service Proficiency Checklist requires numerous revisions and rewrites. For example, an initial non-compulsory item may be to “achieve a smooth and natural conversation.” In this form, it is too difficult to determine. The item should be rewritten to make the behavior more easily identifiable, such as, “Did the conversion flow without any unnatural pauses?” By perfecting the wording, the checklist becomes a more clear and objective measurement tool.

For the system to work and to reduce subjectivity, the Service Proficiency Checklist must be tested on at least 20 different interviews with several assessors for the system to work. The goal is for each assessor to reach a similar conclusion about each behavior listed on the checklist and the interview in general. For the Service Proficiency Checklist to work effectively a high level of reliability in the assessors is needed. Assessors should maintain:

-Allegiance to the behavior goals
-Expertise in the proficiency being tested;
-Ability to assess accurately

The final step for developing an effective measurement system is to educate the service professionals on the key ingredients of a proficient conversation. By letting the service professionals know what items are on the checklist, they have a better idea of what is expected of them and how to do their job. It is also important to ensure that the service professionals’ immediate supervisors believe in and will enforce the program. The supervisors’ immediate everyday feedback provides the service professionals with the coaching necessary to sustain and continually improve the scope of their proficiencies.

For the Record
Assessments are best and most easily done for service providers whose customer service interactions can be recorded and replayed for analysis. It is usually not possible for the assessor to observe “real” service interactions because his or her presence will interfere with the service.

“When recorded actual conversation cannot be used, most assessment resort to the use of simulations,” states Jim McCoy of Sigma International. He further explains that the use of simulations is effective because it provides a “standard” level of complexity and challenge for all service providers.

The rewards of implementing a systematic approach to measuring customer service in a company are numerous. Service professionals will better understand their jobs because their roles are identified in clear, objective and more tangible criteria. Training becomes more productive when there is a clear understanding of the measurement standards. Managers will become motivated to coach people in consistent standards. And customers are better served.
Service Proficiency Checklists make the intangible tangible by providing a more effective means of analyzing and perfecting interactions with customers.

September '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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