Consistency is one of the greatest challenges in customer service. Whether you are a solopreneur or a Fortune 500 company, consistency can be hard to get your arms around.
Consistency is hard because it takes effort and discipline, not only on the individual level but on the much trickier team level. For example, in the video below, I tell the story of one of my favorite restaurants that used to have its servers write personalized or creative notes on napkins and tickets.
This practice was a regular one for awhile, then it stopped. While the gesture was an ancillary touch (the absence of which was certainly not going to make me stop eating there), I certainly noticed when it didn’t happen.
I had become used to a certain experience, and I noticed when it changed, especially since it was not replaced with anything similar.
Why Consistency Is Such a Challenge
Coming from retail service businesses, I know how difficult consistency can be. Creating a consistent service that is also customized and individualized presents many challenges. Here are just a few of the dynamics that have to be considered in creating a consistent experience:
What aspects of the service are uniform?
What aspects are customized?
What aspects are personalized around the service provider’s unique skills or personality?
Are expectations set consistently so that when a client uses another service provider they have the same expectations?
Are consistent expectations set by marketing? By booking agents?
Which policies are hard and fast rules (safety, liability, etc.) and which are guidelines? Does every service provider see the lines the same way and respond to customer requests for exceptions consistently?
Which communication pieces are consistent and which are not?
Are the other aspects of the experience consistent? Appointment booking, physical plant, check out?
And that is just a partial list for a small business; at scale, these challenges are magnified tenfold.
Three Quick Tips for Improving Consistency
As evidenced by the partial list of questions above, a huge assortment of variables go into making a customer experience consistent. I’m a firm believer in The Pareto Principle, of starting with the vital few inputs that will give you the most results. For most organizations, the following three areas of focus will yield the most results in the quickest period of time.
Core Product or Service. If you are in a product business, then maximizing the consistency of your manufacturing or vendors is the most important step in consistency. The product has to meet or exceed expectations. End of story. Otherwise, the rest of the experience tends to not matter much. For service businesses, the principle is exactly the same. You want to make sure that the service is delivered up to a certain set of standards and in some cases via a fixed protocol. Variance on the margins is often important for customization, but the core service must deliver to the core expectation, no matter who the service provider is.
Systems and Processes. Having systems that are adequate for the experience you are trying to deliver is crucial. Obviously, capital investment in IT is no small matter; however, it is important to realize that when your system is outdated or not up to the task at hand, one of the first casualties is consistency of experience. An easier but no less powerful win is having processes that give your team the playbook to deliver experiences consistently across time and geography. Systems and processes are the only way to deliver consistency at scale.
Training. Nothing is more challenging than getting a multitude of human beings to behave in the same way, regularly, over time. As one of our taglines here at CTS says: “Fixing a line of code is easy; changing human behavior is hard.” Customer service training is absolutely crucial in trying to maintain consistent execution of your service standards and consistent delivery of the ideal customer experience.
Customer service consistency is not a destination; it is an ongoing journey that organizations must embark upon anew every day.
Make sure you always consider the customer’s experience first. If you think about how consistency or its absence will affect your customers’ experiences with your brand, you will always have a good idea of where to focus first.