Ahead of the curve Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

When it comes to customer service, do you know the rating for your company?

Probably not, but that’s not surprising considering that most CEOs don’t know how to measure their customer-service-aptitude level (C-SAT) beyond anecdotal feedback. If you don’t know your C-SAT, it’s difficult to determine where your strengths lie and what opportunities exist to get your company’s customer service to the next level.

Listed below are the five levels of customer service. The defining characteristics of companies at each of these levels apply to all organizations, regardless of product or customer base.

Level 1 — Unacceptable

You are at the bottom of the customer-service curve. It is very difficult to do business with your organization. Your hours of operation are limited, policies are not consumer-friendly, and it is impossible to get a call returned. You probably don’t provide ample training to your team, and you are more worried about hiring bodies to fill your needs than concerning yourself with who are those people. The technical skills of your existing staff are limited to minimal product knowledge, and you compete by having the cheapest price or no competition. As a result, employee turnover is high at all levels.

Level 2 — Below average

Not surprisingly, your company is difficult to do business with. You may have stringent policies for things like returns or cancellations, and it is difficult to speak to a real person when someone contacts you. Training is limited to technical and operational activities. Turnover is high, only the owner or senior management has the authority to fix a problem, and management gets defensive with inconvenienced customers and little or no attempt is made to rectify the situation. As a result, your service is extremely inconsistent and totally dependent upon who is dealing with the customer.

Level 3 — Average

The good news is that your employees are technically proficient, your customer service is consistent, and you have flashes of above- and below-average service levels. Some employees will occasionally go above and beyond. However, training is often devoted to technical and product knowledge, and only managers have the authority to make things right for the customer.

Level 4 — Above average

Technically, your company is best in class. Employees perform some great acts but lack day-to-day consistency. Unlike lower levels, experiential training is provided, including soft skills, how to deal with customers and service recovery. Because of this, you are able to charge above-average prices. Internally, your company has a strong inspirational service vision, and above-and-beyond situations occur often. New employees receive solid training, and you have lower than normal industry turnover. All front-line employees have the authority to make the situation right for the customer.

Level 5 — World class

It is extremely easy to do business with your company. Policies are customer-friendly, and when they aren’t, front-line associates can override them. Technically, you are best of class. The full range of experiential training is provided; your employees are taught and tested on standards for every point of contact with the customer, including possible service defects and on how to identify above-and-beyond opportunities. In most cases, your company has certification training, which employees must pass in order to receive promotions.

Internally, you have a strong inspirational service vision, profile your customers and share guest information. Every department in your organization is aware that supporting each other affects the customer.

Great systems are designed and implemented. Customer-service training is constant. New employees receive solid training, and there is very little compromise when it comes to hiring only those who believe in delivering great customer service. There is a strong implementation process and follow-through on initiatives.

As result, you have low turnover, your company has a great corporate culture and a reputation for superior customer service. Typically, your prices are higher than the competition.

So how can you measure your company’s customer-service aptitude to determine where you fit along this curve? Drop me a line, and I’ll send you a link to a test you can take to let you know.

JOHN R. DIJULIUS III is the author of “Secret Service: Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service” and “What’s The Secret” (due out April 2008). He is also president of The DiJulius Group, a firm specializing in giving companies a superior competitive advantage by helping them differentiate on delivering an experience and making price irrelevant. Reach him at john@thedijuliusgroup.com.