3 Musts for Great Customer Service

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Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal said last week that “the measure of good customer service is straight forward: At the end of it, you want people to like you” (WSJ, November 2, 2015, page B1). Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, says it is their goal that “by the time the customer gets off the phone, it’s like they made a new friend”. So if these are your goals too, then your next question needs to be how do you “make it so” as Captain Jean-Luc Picard likes to say on Star Trek. I want to suggest here that there are three musts for great customer service. These should come as no surprise, but the requirements for each may cause you to change how things work at your organization. The three must are of course people, process, and technology. And while it should be clear to all that great people can mute the impact of poor process or poor technology, an organization cannot deliver truly great service without being leading edge for all three. Let’s take a look at how each work together to enable great customer service.


The foundation for great customer services is clearly people. The question is when you hire, do you hire the best—people with the appropriate technical skills but more importantly with great people skills. Many stop here but I want to suggest that you need to do one more thing. You need to engage the customer service team that you spent time and effort to build. According to Sue Nokes formerly of T-Mobile, “making the customer happy is a lot easier to do when employees actually like their jobs and feel that what they do matters”. For this reason, she tells her employees that they “are No. 1, and the customer is why”. The University of Kentucky Healthcare IT used a daily engagement application to prove Nokes’ point. They measured employee engagement daily and made course corrections to employee engagement as new things were learned and then measured pre and post customer satisfaction. They found that customer satisfaction did in fact track employee engagement. So people need to be number 1 if you are going to deliver great customer service.

And to be absolutely clear, the above message about people is not just about employees with customer service in their title. Customer service today is a team sport. Everyone in the firm regardless of title needs to be empowered to deliver great customer service. Theodore Levitt asked many years ago a CEO who was the most important customer service personat his company. The CEO without flinching said the person at the end of the assembly line who decides not to drop the product before it ships. Today, creating and keeping a customers, can often involve the technical developer who decides to design a product for ease of use orease of service, or answers an escalated support call when the support organization cannot solve a customer’s problem. Everyone in one way or another is involved in driving great customer service. This means the right people are needed at all levels of an organization. It means as well that entire culture of the organization needs to be built to support taking the right actions with customers.

shutterstock_228186214 - CopyProcess

Unfortunately, taking care of people is not enough. Messing up on process means you mess up people once again. When Sue Nokes arrived at T-Mobile, solving customer problems had a time limit. In fact, the customer service process was measured by the average time for an agent or customer service organization to complete a phone call with a customer. And to be clear here, less was better. The incentives in fact were all set by the number of calls completed versus the number of customer problems solved. This made customers unhappy and it made employees unhappy. The process fix to the customer service and employee engagement was to eliminate the time limit and to measure instead by “one-call resolution (OCR)—this measures the percentage of times the customer problems resolved on the first call. According to Sue, the old way of doing things “frigged up our customers’ day”. “They need to go to the john and do other things.” So how much did better process change employee engagement at T-Mobile. Before committing to the job, Sue Nokes visited a few call centers. Absenteeism averaged 12% daily; turnover was a staggering 100%-plus annually. After fixing process and people issues, absenteeism went to 3% annually and attrition dropped to 42%. And better yet, employee satisfaction rose to 80%–the highest it had ever been.


Although CIOs like to tell me that the marketing team owns customer experience, they agree that they need to enable customer requirements. This is seen as particularly being the case around customer data. The problem is most organizations have multiple access points into their customer data. Customer and product data in fact are scattered across most organizations. At a previous employer—a B to B company, I heard that customers were livid when they called into customer service representative because they did not know what the customer had purchased and more importantly which version of the product the customer was on. This meant that every time the customer called in they had to explain themselves and their operational environment. For this reason, some customers could spend 30-45 minutes just explaining what they owned. Clearly, technology can enable customer service reps to immediately answer questions and even do things like cross sell/upsell while the customer is on the phone. But this requires that organizations to fix their customer data so that there is truly a single view of customer and the products that they own for everyone that touches the customer—the service rep, the sales person, and the marketer sending them an offer.

Parting thoughts

We are entering an era where there are less and less business competitive advantages to be had. Customer Service/experience is one of the few business advantages left. But in order to do this well, you need to do people, process, and technology well. Each element as shown above depends on each other. You need to start by engaging the right people. You next need to provide them with the right processes and the right technology to deliver on the company’s service promise. And although technology is an enabler, it should be clear as well that better customer data can fuel people to do a better job with the processes that are provided. Getting better data in the hands of an engaged team with the customer in mind is now business critical.

Further Reading

Solution Page: Total Customer Relationship

Blogs and Articles

Creating a differentiated retail customer experience

Competing on Customer Experience

Analytics Stories: Accounting for the Total Customer Relationship

Twitter: @MylesSuer





  • Ashish K Jain

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