Applying Action Learning To Design and Deliver Customer Service

This case study summarises how SMP’s Clive Bonny led a programme in partnership with the client to embed successful customer service improvements across a team of 250 direct marketing and telemarketing staff and managers.

Background

Client managers had achieved significant success to date and were a valued contributor to their corporate and shareholder objectives. In order to maintain and increase this level of contribution the senior management team wished to establish a stronger infrastructure to customer-focused process and improve client relations.

Scope

An initial customer survey of strengths and weaknesses identified skills and processes for greatest potential improvement. This identified and prioritised issues from customer perspectives to focus managers and staff on necessary improvements to day to day activities.
The customer survey highlighted to senior managers the fundamental need for their business to become more customer-centred integrating the internal and external supply chains. They wanted a coherent and integrated strategy to support company-wide goals, measures and accountabilities. This required the creation and communication of a business plan which was flexible enough to meet the fast changing nature of the market and which was to become a focus for teamworking across the organisation to align the priorities of the organisation as a whole.
Line managers desired tools and techniques for problem analysis and prevention, and to install processes for more effectively managing their teams. This required their understanding of current and future business priorities and their ability to successfully manage change to proactively improve performance. The scope of external consulting support therefore covered two phases:
  • Strategic analysis of the external survey results by senior managers.
  • Action Learning Sets to improve internal customer processes and skills for front-line staff and team leaders.

    Methodology


    The consultancy approach was underpinned by consultation around process change. This required
  • Openness in sharing the survey results showing HOW AND WHY change was required and in explaining risks as well as benefits.
  • Teamworking with all cross-functional teams supporting company-wide ownership of the customer issues.
  • Respect for individuals who needed time to change the way they worked.
  • Innovation to ensure each challenge was examined afresh and solutions were tailored accordingly.
  • Achievement of assignments being recognised following agreed outcomes within clear terms of reference.
Each project had clear links to business objectives with measures and milestones to map progress. Ownership was kept internal with the external consultant positioned as facilitator and coach for the action learning sets. Each project also followed the principles of the learning cycle: plan, do, review. This ensured active assessment of the business outcomes and benefits during assignments, which subsequently allowed for appropriate mid-term amendments to the programme.

Key Activities and Results for Strategic Business Planning

After the external survey a strategic planning workshop was set up to determine organisation-wide business critical issues, key objectives, measures and accountability within the organisation. This was supported with a staff survey so that gaps between manager perceptions and staff were analysed and prioritised. Tactical planning workshops for functional managers converted strategic goals into departmental objectives and measures using the results of the customer survey to analyse current issues related to customer expectations. This phase required consulting support to:
  • Assist in the design and implementation of the customer and staff survey
  • Analyse the survey results and prepare the initial workshop
  • Facilitate the strategic planning workshop
  • Review the workshop output and communicate to line managers and staff.

    Design and Development of Customer Skills & Processes


    This responded to the following key objectives:
  • define the gaps in the customer experience
  • identify changes to job design
  • provide appropriate skills to front-line employees
  • provide problem solving support in action learning sets
  • create and publicise measures of success
  • ensure active leadership involvement at all stages
  • provide ongoing reinforcement to employees to ensure change would be embedded over time.

Bonny steered the creation of cross-functional improvement teams. In these, employees were given the opportunity to master skills and tools for effective team-working, problem solving and process improvement driven by customer experiences. This transferred knowledge across functions whilst simultaneously improving the way people worked.
The following components of Action Learning ensured successful implementation: reviews with senior managers; implementation planning with process owners;
project management reviews; team leader workshops covering front line issues of:

  • behavioural improvement
  • team working
  • problem-solving
  • measuring customer satisfaction
  • continuous review of action plans
  • learning with peer group and customer feedback
    Training of staff included:
  • Understanding customer relationship strategy
  • Planning with project team members.
  • Coaching & facilitation skills

    Consultancy Resource


    The organisation development programme was supported by consultancy with three components: clear deliverables to track results; aligning survey results with internal changes; an experienced and qualified external advisor working closely with internal team leaders to plan and implement the programme; an internal programme Director and sponsor to monitor and quality control at board level.
    Training Workshops included:
    Awareness of customer relations so people could:
  • identify their role in the improvement of customer relations
  • recognise the moments of truth in customer activities
  • apply best practice to improve processes that had a high positive impact on customers
  • recognise the importance of getting support and involvement across functions.

This focused teams on the customer in order to ensure that resultant improvements were relevant to customers.
Team working so people could:

  • understand their goals and processes
  • identify success

This shared knowledge about improvement.

Identifying cycles of service so people could:

  • identify the moments of truth that customers faced
  • analyse processes from the customer’s point of view

The training showed how to analyse customer experiences and mapped out each step of a customer’s experience from a customer’s point of view in order to improve a process.

It improved moments of truth so people could:

  • assess customer expectations in a cycle of service
  • identify behaviours and processes that detracted from the customer relationship
  • develop behavioural and process improvements that could be implemented immediately
  • plan how to recover when mistakes were made.

This focused on how to improve the customer experience. Some issues could be fixed immediately, while other improvements took more time. If a particular process was poor they could minimise the problem while a longer term solution was created. Recovery was a method for keeping customers feeling positive despite breakdowns in the core processes.

It included customer interviews so people could:

  • determine customer issues
  • assess their level of importance
  • picture what success looked like
  • identify resources needed
  • identify potential constraints
Teams started on their process improvement projects and found outcomes the customer wanted in future.
They also prioritised and proactively improved moments of truth.
This covered choosing the most critical moments which mattered to focus on. A danger in process improvement was the desire to do it all at once. Teams needed to assess which fixes had the most impact and the logical starting point so a quick success could be won. People designed points of contact that customers experienced and identified how to build a process to support the new point of contact beyond the reactive fixing of problem
The client said “They tracked success. People were clear about the goals critical to the success of the project. Measures were published for teams to compare the “before” state with results afterwards. Teams had to choose the most important existing measures for improvement and where appropriate they created new measures to ensure that their desired results were achieved.”
Besides success measures they wrote a list of all the tasks and underpinning behaviours involved in the improvement, clarifying roles and responsibilities. Teams functioned best when each person on the team was clear on their role and goals. Team members agreed on their roles, assigned responsibility for the tasks they set in an action plan and established project deadlines and deliverables. This allowed the team to plan key dates and milestones as they worked through their process analysis and improvement. Checkpoints were set to monitor progress.
Learning support materials were supplied in Pocketbook format.

Summary

A consultancy approach which builds customer relationship skills in line with customer service strategy is essential to the success of such projects. Aligning behaviours and processes with external customer needs ensured success with active and visible top level support and involvement with all those involved. This required a planned and structured approach with a high level of communications and training across all levels. Finally “Action Learning Sets” provided the glue to embed change successfully.
Posted in Training and Development