Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Customer Service

A few weeks ago I ordered something from Amazon.com.  The package was shipped via USPS with a tracking number.  About a week later, I went to check on the tracking number, and the Postal Service said the package had been delivered the previous day.  But I didn't receive the package, and I was home at the time the delivery supposedly occurred.  I contacted Amazon, and they asked me to wait a few more days to see if the package arrives, and if it doesn't, they said "we'll do what we can to make this right for you".  A week later, and still no package, so I e-mailed them again, and an hour later I received an e-mail from Amazon customer service letting me know that a new package would be shipped with next day delivery, no additional charge.

I was impressed.  It was a good lesson in customer service.

Providing consulting services to customers requires that a firm provide some level of satisfactory customer service.  And Dynamics GP implementation projects can produce some challenging situations that will require you to call on your customer service policies or procedures to ensure that your clients are satisfied.

But due to the nature of software implementations, it's not always quite as straightforward as sending off a new package and upgrading to next day shipping.  Sometimes a client needs a module or third-party add on solution that wasn't identified during the sales and discovery process, meaning more money that they didn't anticipate spending.  Often new business requirements are discovered during the implementation.  Sometimes risks that were once considered immaterial become significant.  Sometimes things take much longer than anticipated, causing budget overruns or missed deadlines.

How good are you, or your team, or your organization, at anticipating and/or avoiding these issues?  When you do run into the issues, do you have well understood processes or procedures for handling them?  And during that process, do you have mechanisms to make sure that the client is happy? (i.e. just because the problem gets "resolved" doesn't mean the client is happy)

If a client calls or e-mails your organization, do you have guidelines regarding response time?  Do you measure or track how quickly you respond?

How do you assess when a problem is resolved?  And then do you assess customer satisfaction after you have resolved an issue?  Do you follow up with the client later?

If you are over budget on a project, do you ever offer a discount or non-billable time to complete items where your estimate or delivery may have contributed to the overrun?

I don't think it's easy to have answers to all of these questions, and it's certainly not easy to track everything consistently to measure and assess your organization's performance.

There are a lot of different ways of providing good customer service and keeping your customers satisfied, and there is no right answer, but it helps to at least have a conversation or narrative about how you or your organization strives to provide good customer service. 

One habit of mine is responsiveness.  I try and be as accessible and responsive as possible.  A friend of mine jokes that if I don't respond to his e-mails in 5 minutes, he gets worried about me.

Several times I've been driving when I've received a call from a client needing urgent assistance.  I've pulled into the nearest parking lot, fired up my laptop, started a GoToMeeting session, and started working with them on the issue.  On my laptop.  In my car.  In front of my dentist's office.  With a client in another state. 

I can't always be available, but with a laptop and a Blackberry, I can usually respond to most inquiries the same day, or at least respond and let the customer know that I'll be working on their issue.

So what is your organization's story about how you provide good, excellent, or superior customer service?

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