I sat in stunned amazement last week following a service call with an agency management system sales rep. The call pertained to billing, technical support, and user group experience issues for a recently converted insurance agency.

After outlining the issues, the rep shared his concerns about the inability to empower customers with access to the appropriate departments for support. He added his company had recently contracted with a consulting firm to help improve the service experience. Consultants spent two days following sales reps around to define and recommend a strategy – are you kidding me? Two days? That's it? Let me add this – no one contacted the agency who was a new customer. From my perspective, the efforts points to a revenue-driven strategy, not one focused on a holistic customer experience.

If your company is serious about improving the customer experience, take the following advice:

  • First and most importantly, respond to customer correspondence same day or no later than 24 hours. At a minimum provide a personal acknowledgment of the correspondence, not an automated thank-you-for-contacting-us message.
  • Ask your customers, both new and existing, about their experience with the company – and not just in a Survey Monkey format. Face-to-face offers better resolutions to more complex service issues and proves your sincerity or lack of.
  • Quantify the number of support calls placed, resolved, and open by type, time to resolution, and who resolved the issue. Tracking calls is efficient and smart but if you need a consultant to help you interpret the results your issues are beyond outside help.
  • Customer training is the most critical component for any new product you offer. Some topics can be packaged but every customer has different levels of learning acumen.
  • Have a go-to department or group if your company is multi-divisional. Put yourself in the customer's position and direct them to who you would call for problem resolution. By the way, make sure the department responsible for fielding calls is prepared.
  • If you don't get the deal, ask why, if, and how the sales experience impacted the decision.
  • Don't be insincere in efforts to hear the customer out. My conversation ended with the rep providing me with his confidential phone number to billing, which by the way, was printed on the customer invoice.

Today's economic conditions demand service differentiation. It isn't a “build it and they will come economy” and the customer isn't ignorant. Most understand service is the true competitive advantage. Failing your customers means you set them up for failure. Last minute fire sales and special deals won’t save a sinking product line of a revenue-driven company. Unless you focus on the customer, your company may find itself as the fire sale of the day.