10 Steps to Implementing a Client Service Strategy, with Stephanie Leon

Session Moderator: Good afternoon everyone! Welcome to our workshop. Today, Stephanie Leon is going to take us through an informative hour.

Before I introduce Stephanie, I want to encourage you to join in on the discussion.

Stephanie Leon is an East Coast transplant, born and raised in northern New Jersey. After completing her MBA at Seton Hall University, she packed her bags and moved to the West Coast. At this time she thought long and hard about what she really wanted to do with her professional life.

She realized that as a consultant she could most effectively and comprehensively use her education and past professional experience to help businesses with organizational issues, strategic planning, marketing, and managing change. In light of this, she was delighted to join RAS in April 1997.

Stephanie has supported 285 firms in North America, working to reposition the firms with their existing and prospective clients, coaching on the delivery of business development services, and creating an internal organization that is win-win for partners and team members. Her clients' enthusiasm and commitment to the process has helped her to grow as a consultant and has broadened her business knowledge at a rapid rate.

Welcome, Stephanie!

Stephanie Leon: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here. And, thanks for popping in the part of the country you are joining us from. I'm joining you from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now, let's get started...the topic we'll be chatting about today is the development of a customer service strategy in your business and in your clients' businesses.

Stephanie Leon: Let me ask you a question...What do you think makes a business outstandingly successful?

Dona: Quality product, excellent customer service.

Ann Smith: Well-organized.

Linda LaKosky: Their customer’s satisfaction and delight.

Deborah Lacey: Exceeding expectations.

Session Moderator: A consistent system underlying a vision?

Pat Morin: Anticipating client and prospect’s needs.

Brad Paramore: Employees.

Tracy Russel: Happy employees.

Stephanie Leon: Good responses. Thank you. When we put together all those things you listed we see a theme emerging...that is: In the final analysis of outstandingly successful businesses those businesses have the ability to identify what their customers regard as important, and have been and will continue to put this at the center of their business.

We'll see during our time together that all those things you listed play a part in this...and play a part in the development of a Customer Service Strategy (CSS).

Before we jump into the 10-step process for developing a CSS there are a few things I'd like to share. Is that okay with everyone?

Session Moderator: Sounds great!

Linda LaKosky: Sure.

Stephanie Leon: Several years ago the US Office of Consumer Affairs commissioned a study of US consumer behavior. Here are some of the key findings from
this study:

1. The average business never hears from 96% of its unhappy customers.

2. Complainers are more likely than noncomplainers to do business again with the company that upsets them.

If 96% of unhappy customers never tell the company about their dissatisfaction, what does this mean to that business?

It is a scary thought. You can deal with the issues of the unhappy customers you hear from. But what happens to those you don't hear from?

Linda LaKosky: Considerable revenue loss.

Tracy Russel: They tell others.

Dona: They go to other businesses. You never know what to improve.

Stephanie Leon: Exactly. Let me tell you what happens.... 3. The customer with problems tells 10 people about it, and 13% recount the incident to more than 20 people.

Tracy Russel: In many cases the problems can be fixed, easily...if you just knew.

Christy Perry: Bad publicity in the marketplace.

Stephanie Leon: Tracy, you are right on point. The key is to know. A CSS helps with that.

Once you know you can do something about it. This is critical because...

4. Customers who complain to an organization and have their complaints satisfactorily resolved tell up to 5 people about the positive treatment they received. So, the resolution of complaints can be turned into a positive marketing tool.

The challenge we face in our own businesses and our clients' businesses is that most of us do not have a CSS to work on these things and take control of the stats I just gave you.

I'd like to show you a 10-step process for putting in place a CSS. Any questions before we start doing that?

Tracy Russel: So what is the secret? Is there a proven strategy to get your CPAs to provide feedback? Does the strategy include a method of getting your CPAs to buy into it and provide feedback from clients?

Stephanie Leon: Good question. Yes, there are specific steps for working with the internal team along with strategies for collecting client feedback.

Ok. First, we need to understand the two main goals of the CSS:

1. The constant and consistent delivery of outstanding services.
2. Differentiation from your competitors (based on the way you delivery your product or service).

Step 1 - Commit yourself to the project. This step focuses on the business owner. His/Her job is to be the leader for this initiative (at least at the start of the project).

The starting point for this step is for the owner to work on creating a mindset for themselves that is focused on...making customer service issues a regular item for discussion in the business and to start thinking in terms of "What solution is in the best interest of our customers?", to start thinking about a system for rewarding people in the business for delivering outstanding customer service, and finally, to start setting aside more time to spend in direct contact with the customers of that business.

How might we help a business owner do this?

Ann Smith: Free her up from "billable" work.

Philip Symchych: What about meeting with our customers/clients without the meter running?

Stephanie Leon: Good, suggestions. What other things can we suggest they do to help with their mindset about really getting committed to customer service?

How about having a discussion with them about a business whose customer service they really admire? Or suggesting they read a few books related to the subject?

The key here is to be sure the owner is committed and excited about the project. You must do this before moving to Step 2.

Tracy Russel: As a Marketing Dir., it would be my responsibility to constantly bring up comments overheard in the community good, bad or ugly and provide an approach to get the most mileage out of the good and fix the bad and ugly.

Stephanie Leon: Good point, Tracy. As part of this process (actually, Step 9) is about putting in place the proper feedback systems.

Before we get to that point we need to focus on the next Step...Assessing where the business is at in terms of the present service level. In other words, it is time to have a meeting with the team of the business to talk about the customer service currently being offered. Consider using a customer service questionnaire to be completed by the team members. One where they can rank the current level of service and then follow up with questions like:

What do you think we could or should do to score ourselves as a 10?
What's stopping us from doing that?
And, of course, keep track of every response on a white board and implement the top ideas.

Pat Brown: Why don't we have existing clients do the same?

Stephanie Leon: Pat, you are ready for the 3rd step....

Step 3: Determine your customers' needs. How do we do this?

Tracy Russel: Survey?

Ann Smith: Ask them.

Stephanie Leon: One option...good, Ann.

Christy Perry: Focus Groups.

Stephanie Leon: Another good option...thanks, Christy.

I think we are getting the drift here...you must gather feedback from the customers/clients...you will get the best feedback from a focus group setting.

Tracy Russel: Look at trends in customer repeat business.

Stephanie Leon: Or using what we at RAS call, a Client/Customer Advisory Board...this is a meeting between you and the customers of a business where your goal is to...find out what that business is doing well, what they can do better, and what the key frustrations are in dealing with that business. As a back up to this activity, consider using surveys.

Any questions on this?

Session Moderator: Stephanie, do you recommend written vs. personal interviews?

Stephanie Leon: Personal interviews are always more effective because they include interaction between the facilitator and between the participating clients/customers. It is this interaction that brings the most valuable feedback.

For the first group select the top clients/customers of that business (we call them "A" clients) and go for a mix of these A clients. You can always conduct follow up groups that target specific segments of the client/customer base.

Tracy Russel: What size should the focus group be and how many in each geographic location should you conduct for a good sample?

Stephanie Leon: In my experience I prefer the group to be 8-12 participants.

Tracy Russel: Do you use incentives to bring the client in for a focus group? If so what?

Stephanie Leon: Typically you do not offer incentives. You will find that the Clients/customers feel privileged to participate and are happy to give a few hours of
their time. They are, after all, your top clients/customers so they have a vested interest in the increased performance of your business.

Ed Wetherington: We have scheduled our CAB for 8/30 and a common comment from our participants was that they felt honored to be asked to participate.

Stephanie Leon: Ok. Let's keep going.

Steps 4, 5, and 6 focus on the actual systems/processes/activities related to the customer service of the business. Let me just list those steps for you then we'll talk briefly about each of them...

Step 4: Set Performance Standards
Step 5: Identify the moments of truth in the process of doing business.
Step 6: Manage your business through the eyes of your customers.

Pat Brown: These A customers will have the fewest complaints (if any), will we learn much?

Stephanie Leon: Now that you've spent some time with the team members and clients/customers of this business you have a good idea where improvements are
needed. Any business is a series of activities. Let the team and business owner tell you what these activities are and then have them start to develop performance standards for how those activities are delivered. Pay close attention to certain activities called "moments of truth" aka MOT.

A MOT is that precise instant when a customer comes into contact with your business and, on the basis of that contact, forms an opinion about your business and the quality of its products or services.

What is an example of a MOT in an accounting practice?

What comes to my mind is when a prospective client calls your practice. Or when a client comes to your office for their year-end review.

Lindal: When a potential customer telephones and asks what's the price...

Philip Symchych: How about when clients leave our offices after a tax/year end meeting.

Stephanie Leon: Good, Linda. These are the times when we want that interaction to be constant and consistent and of the highest level of customer service.

Steps 4-6 are about documenting exactly how these interactions happen. Including scripts to be used by team members and other supporting documents that ensure it is does the same way every time.

We have about 10 more minutes together. Is it okay if I continue with the rest of the steps? I'd like to get to the feedback mechanisms.

Session Moderator: Good idea.

Stephanie Leon: Steps 7 & 8 focus on the team members of the business.

Step 7: Focus attention on your team members.
Step 8: Train, then empower your team members.

At this point in the 10 step process we have worked with the business owner on their mindset, received feedback from the team and clients/customers, and started to put in place specific initiatives to raise our level of customer service.

These next steps are about empowering the team to deliver this new level of customer service. A key component to this is training your team on "the way you do things" and allowing them to be a part of changing and adjusting this as needed.

How might we do this?

Philip Symchych: Is it difficult for the team to adjust to this new responsibility?

Stephanie Leon: Phil, not if they are involved in the process.

Christy Perry: Have a team meeting once a week to discuss how the new program is working.

Stephanie Leon: Christy, that is a good strategy.

Stephanie Leon: Remember this: For a team member, nothing is more frustrating or difficult than an irate customer who vents his anger on a team member who was doing his/her job as he/she was told to do it. When the team members are empowered and asked how the customers can be better served you create an environment of less frustration.

Step 9 of the process is Implementing a feedback system. At the very least this means putting on all meeting agendas the discussion of customer service issues. To take this to the next level, use feedback forms to be completed by team members or incident reports to be completed after a customer interaction.

Step 10: Create a continuous improvement mentality. This step is about not letting your guard down. Recognize that the environment your business exists in is constantly changing so continue to revisit this process.

I'm happy to take any questions you have about what we've discussed today.

Philip Symchych: Thanks for the idea to add customer service issues to regular meeting agendas.

Session Moderator: Stephanie, thanks for your time today.

Lindal: Great session Stephanie.

Session Moderator: This has been a great session.

Stephanie Leon: As you saw today there is a specific process you can follow to work on the CSS in your business and with your clients.

Stephanie Leon: We could spend an hour on each of the 10 steps, so please feel free to contact RAS if you have any additional questions once you start using this process.

Session Moderator: Thanks to all of you for joining us today!

Stephanie Leon: Thank you very much for your participation. I enjoyed being with you.

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