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Monday, August 17, 2009

Who exactly is listening to the customer?

When you construct your customer listening posts, are you planning how the information will be used, and by whom? Does it factor into what posts are developed, and how the communications flow through your organization to its intended audiences?

I forgot my cell phone charger in the car while checking into a Sheraton for a recent stay.

No big deal, I asked the valet desk to help me retrieve it. The staff was more than happy to assist, though rather than bring my car up to have me search the floor boards of the car in the busy valet drop area, he brought me down into the underground parking garage, which we had to reach via the service passages of the hotel.

Through the hallways that only service employees typically use, it was easy to see the importance Sheraton places on making the voice of the customer visible to service staff. Information from various customer listening posts literally lined the halls – bulletin boards with guest comments, identification of top performers in every service category as ranked by customer comment and survey, service operations benchmarks from other hotels in the Sheraton network, and boards with a periodic recording of metrics from customer satisfaction surveys. Everywhere you looked there was evidence of what the customer was thinking about their experience. Other than the customer satisfaction board, all were qualitative in nature, with customer or manager narrative doing the talking. All had a positive reinforcement intent.

As I returned back through the halls with my charger in hand, I noticed the mirror that represents the last thing a service employee sees before they step back onstage with live customers – a wall-length mirror that simply said, “You are Sheraton”. I’m sure this is replicated in many other hotels, but in addition to the positive reinforcement I saw lining their halls with customer feedback, I can’t help but correlate the use of customer information I saw with the spectacular service I received while a guest.

Listening posts are more important in service organizations than they are in product environments. Of course they serve as an early indicator of quality issues, but they also can be a source of process improvement or even innovation.

Unfortunately, most service organizations don’t have enough or the right listening posts to begin with, and even fewer use that information effectively. I often hear the response that listening post information, particularly satisfaction scores, should be kept far away from the line, lest the information fall into the hands of competitors. This kind of thinking doesn’t truly have either the customer or improvement of service at its heart.

Listening post information is used in a wide variety of strategic and managerial decisions. The best managerial decision, however, is to let your line employees responsible for the experience have the information and use it to improve service, processes, and the experience overall.

1 comment:

neil said...

Great post Chris and great to see Sheraton taking customer feedback so seriously. Regards, Neil