Innovation Redefines Customer Service

On Sunday, I had lunch with a friend who works in R&D in the manufacturing industry. He shared a frustration about a current project - a major customer requested a part-modification, but my friend didn't think that it would solve the customer's core problem. Unfortunately, his VP is driving towards fulfilling the request, even though it likely won't solve the issue.

Innovation can create tension with conventional notions of customer service:
  • if we don't listen to our customers, we cannot succeed
  • if we only listen to our customers, we miss new opportunities for valuable disruptive innovation

This tension doesn't mean we disregard our customers' concerns. It means we look past the surface issues to understand the underlying causes. It means we use techniques like the 5 Whys to make sure that we're solving the right problem.

Our VDC department takes this tension to heart, so last year we set a goal to improve internal customer service by 10%. We focused on internal customer service because we deliver the most value to external clients when we enable success for project managers and superintendents. If we aren't enabling success for them, we won't be able to continue to dig deep and identify the right problem to solve.

We used a survey to establish an internal customer baseline, and then track improvement. We asked our project management, field, and cost engineering staff to rate each of the following as infrequently (0%-40%), occasionally (41% - 60%), frequently (61% - 89%), or most of the time (90% - 100%):
  • Was information delivered when you needed it?
  • Were you able to rely on the information provided?
  • Were you able to understand the information provided?
  • Was VDC responsive to your requests?
  • Was VDC pleasant to interact with?
  • Does VDC understand the technical challenges of your project?
  • Is VDC taking appropriate initiative to provide services the project needs without specific direction / request?
Our department wasn't thrilled with our baseline - 71%. So we studied the results, both the numbers and the comments. We were happy to see the evolution of results: 77%, 81%, then we closed out the year at 84%.
Even though we achieved our 2013 goal, the team wasn't satisfied. For 2014, we are expanding our customer service goal to include external clients. We're currently developing VDC-specific questions for our client satisfaction survey.
Back to my friend - if only he had a mechanism to measure satisfaction from his internal customers (like his action-oriented VP) and his external clients (major manufacturers). Perhaps that data could help him better understand his VP while demonstrating the value of determine the right problem.

So, how do you measure customer service? Do you measure internal customer - for your VDC department or another? And what questions should we ask internal and external clients - to make sure we're solving the right problem?

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