How to Work the Customer Feedback
At its core, the shared services paradigm is about cost savings. But beyond the obvious cost savings goals, additional value is expected in the form of improvements to quality of service and delivery methodologies. Moving to a shared services paradigm is based on the philosophy that organizations performing business processes as a service provider must have a customer orientation to deliver at both a lower cost and a consistently higher quality level than the predecessor organization. As a result, the quality of service delivery becomes a key operational goal and requires the utilization of operational metrics with a value-oriented, customer centric focus.
For example, take the case of information technology. System uptime, application availability and customer ease-of-use are more important metrics than internally focused technical performance measures like CPU cycles, megaflops, or buffer activity. In human resources, one of the most popular operational domains for a shared services model is the creation of a self-service environment that is both easy for employees to use and simultaneously more efficient than calling the help desk time and time again. In finance, managers supported by shared services generally associate higher levels of performance and satisfaction with the delivery of services that provide for increased visibility, ease of use and timely access to operating, budget and financial information.
Each of these examples employs key qualitative metrics that require the collection, quantification, and analysis of information or feedback provided directly from the end-user or customer. It is also true that the solicitation of customer feedback sets an expectation for change.
This is because customers expect that the information they provide (on service quality) will eventually be manifested in changes to their service environment. Of course, this may or may not be true, depending on the specific services they receive and their relative importance compared to other services provided. Regardless, understanding that an expectation for change exists is key to creating a successful customer feedback environment.
Successfully generating customer feedback within your organization
There is no single consistent methodology that fits the wide variety of shared services implementations in today’s corporate environment. While approaches such as Six Sigma’s Voice of the Customer are widely known, many organizations reject a boiler-plate approach and decide to create highly customized processes specifically tailored for their environment.
Regardless of the specific methodology employed, certain processes components are consistent:
- Employ multiple customer feedback mechanisms to maximize accuracy and provide a mechanism to enhance objective evaluations. A combination of periodic surveys, point-of-service survey tools, and interactive interviews in "1:1" and/or "1:many" formats are required to systematically measure both performance and customer satisfaction. By monitoring real, timely information on customer perceptions, the SSO can refine its service delivery processes and its customer interfaces to drive customer satisfaction to higher levels.
- Segment and probe multiple levels of customer organizations to gain a comprehensive perspective. Soliciting feedback from the top, middle and bottom of the customer organization is key to understanding tactical, operational and strategic needs and perspectives for optimizing and improving service quality.
- Evolve your SLAs to align with changes in corporate strategy and operating requirements. Outdated or inaccurate SLAs can generate the wrong organizational behavior, wasting both time and effort as you seek to address perceived shortfalls in service quality.
- Benchmark your performance or otherwise gather external information to understand what is possible with the services your organization delivers. Use this information to set realistic goals for future performance within your organization and with your customers. Infinite performance improvement expectations are unrealistic and dangerous. Understanding where you have been and where you can go by comparing yourself to other successful organizations is a powerful tool for setting realistic expectations, both internally and with your customers.
- Communicate, communicate and communicate. The daily operational environment creates noise and interference that can affect the perception of shared services delivery quality and generate lower customer satisfaction. As you listen to your customers, measure your performance, and make service improvements to meet their needs, let them know. There are many methods and tools for creating avenues of communication. Organizations employ everything from customer portals to newsletters and even center-sponsored barbeques or social events. The bottom line is to use whatever your budget will bear to let your customers know what you are doing for them.
Applying customer feedback to achieve business goals
At the end of the day, establishing an efficient and effective customer feedback loop is a means to an end. After all, the shared services business model generally and simplistically focuses on three core components: delivering quality service, in a timely manner, at a competitive cost. The goal of soliciting and analyzing customer feedback is to utilize this information to achieve insights that bring strategic value to your SSO and facilitate the achievement of your business goals.
An example: enhancing the shared services customer relationship
Focusing on and improving the shared services to customer relationship is an obvious application of customer feedback that provides a direct contribution to the achievement of business goals. At the simplest level, creating and building relationships with internal clients at operating and management levels is critical to effectively implementing shared services, especially in a non-mandated environment. The collection of data from a combination of annual, quarterly and/or monthly satisfaction surveys is complimented with annual or quarterly reviews held in-person and virtually, to build relationships, identify opportunities, drive consensus and facilitate change.
By proactively reaching out to shared services customers for the explicit purpose of maintaining or improving the provider to customer relationship, you improve the quality of inputs to the shared services environment, drive cultural changes within both client and shared services staff, and establish relationships with the inevitable organizational changes to internal client contacts. Enhancing the shared services customer relationship facilitates both the identification and management of current and future changes that are required to meet the goals of the evolving shared services organization.
About the Author
Tony West provides expertise in change management, organizational development and the utilization of enabling technologies to help organizations achieve their business goals. He has worked with SSOs at Fortune 1000 firms on a variety of projects such as BPO and ITO business strategy development and execution, center of excellence organizational design and implementation and business intelligence strategy development and execution.