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Customer Response Initiative - Steve M. Dorris

Customer Response Initiative
"A Five-Step Framework for Success"
by Steve M. Dorris

What is CRI, or Customer Response Initiative? Essentially, it?s an organization?s well-laid plan or methodology whereby customer satisfaction and retention is the primary focus, and it's just as applicable to financial services as it is to any other industry. Regardless of an organization?s size, there should be a Customer Response Initiative in place to ensure questions, suggestions, issues, complaints, and problems are resolved in a timely manner and that customer satisfaction is guaranteed. Whether we have the best product or service in the world, the response we provide to our customers will determine longevity in the marketplace.

If you make them wait, they won?t wait long! If I walk into Carl?s Jr. to order my bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuit (ok, so I have a minor cholesterol problem) and there?s nary a soul at the counter, that tells me they have no Customer Response Initiative in place. If they do, it?s either not being followed or ill conceived at best. Surely they don?t value that drive-thru customer more than me. Don?t get me wrong, I love their biscuits, but McDonald?s is just around the corner! A well-designed Customer Response Initiative would ensure someone is behind that counter at all times. And regardless of how you might view its practice, I like it when I walk into a Wal-Mart store and am rapidly greeted by a smiling senior citizen. Sam certainly knew something about responding to customers.

What is the response time at your teller lines? How long does it take someone to purchase a cashier's check? What's the wait to find out if a loan application has been approved? Do cars risk overheating in your drive-through lanes?

"I?m sorry, did we say first-rate? We meant frust-rate!" When was the last time you were placed on hold for ten minutes while waiting for a customer service representative?

How many times did you press a number before reaching your final destination, only to find that it wasn?t where you wanted to be after all?

How many emails did you have to send before you finally got a response? Well, at least you got a response, albeit an automated one.

How many web pages did you have to navigate on that car rental site before you were able to find out how old you had to be to rent one?

Frustration is merely a fulcrum for failure. Keep it up and you most certainly will fail. Listen to what the customer is saying and respond accordingly.

"Can do" is only one letter shy of candor, so make sure you know the difference. "Absolutely, our product can do that." Having worked for several software companies over the years, the one thing I?ve learned is that a customer will generally walk through fire with you as long as you provide timely solutions. Oh yeah, and that you?re honest. The telephone might disguise your features, but eventually that copper wire will erode and unveil a charlatan. If you want customer loyalty, then respond with truth and honesty.

"Quality quickly quells quotidian queue of questions." Yeah, I wish I had a nickel for every time I?ve heard that! Regardless of how you say it, quality customer service is eminent to survival. It is not relegated to any given industry or sector. It should encompass every business and permeate all departments. Quality service would ensure we don't have a running backlog of problems. Absorb yourself in it and allegiance will follow. Absolve yourself of it and watch your competitor thrive.

What does it take to develop a Customer Response Initiative? With the advent of the Internet, responding to customer needs has become even more prevalent. The following is a framework that can be used for producing a viable Customer Response Initiative. Expand and refine this template to ensure customer satisfaction, and above all, customer loyalty and retention.

A Five-Step Framework for Success

  1. Develop A Customer Response Policy - This is very much like a business plan for customer satisfaction. Start with a mission statement. If you build it, they will come. Outline objectives, procedures and goals for enhancing the customer service experience.
  2. Develop a Customer Response Center - This is the infrastructure for carrying out the customer response policy. Think of it as the "air traffic control center" for customer care. How big does it have to be? A center might consist of two programmers in a converted garage selling the latest killer app or an amalgam of computers, phones and technicians for a telecommunications firm. One size does not necessarily fit all but the practices and principles do.
  3. Develop a Customer Response Service Team - People who provide the service are the measure for customer satisfaction. Divide teams into functional areas, such as software, hardware, services, etc. Determine tier levels of expertise. Empower team members to take ownership and allow them to be creative. Provide adequate training in problem solving and dealing with customers.
  4. Build or buy a Customer Response Application - For small organizations, this could be a simple document or spreadsheet placed on a bulletin board. For larger organizations, it could be a full-blown software product that tracks customer information from initial call to problem resolution. Many CRM (Customer Resource Management) applications are examples of this genre.
  5. Develop a Customer Response Reward Program - Increase customer loyalty by being pro-active to their needs. Provide incentives and/or discounts for loyal customers. The idea is to keep them coming back.

Being responsive to customers' needs is paramount if we are to survive in the marketplace. Today, more than ever, people are not only asking for better service, but demanding it. Can you hear them now?

About the Author
Steve M. Dorris is the founder and president of Provident Technologies. He has been in the computer industry for over thirty years, having started as a Communications Specialist while serving in the United States Air Force from 1971-1975. He has worked in virtually every aspect within the Information Technology sector, including Computer Operations, Applications & Systems Programming, Customer Support, Training, Quality Assurance, and Software Development.

Through Provident Consulting, Seve has consulted for companies in a vast array of industries, including Insurance, Healthcare, Telecommunications, Banking, Agriculture, Retail, and Government.

Copyright ? 2002 Provident Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved. First published on 8/25/03.

First published on 08/25/2003

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