CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION FOR SERVICE EXCELLENCE

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By Carolyne Gathuru

A quick browse online through the list of the top ten professions that require creativity and innovation reveals an intriguing line up of engineering, advertising, choreography, graphic design, ICT, visual arts, fashion, music, hair dressing and creative writing. As you can see, customer experience excellence features nowhere on the list. The immediate thought around customer service especially in the corporate sphere, is a picture of disgruntled customers and a customer service agent trying to soothe the frazzled nerves of the complainant, whilst consulting to resolve the matter at hand. Creativity and innovation are hardly mentioned in the same breath as customer experience excellence.

This past month however, customer experience practitioners in the country have completely thrown out that predetermined script, written up a new and exciting one, and proceeded to implement innovative and creative customer experiences countrywide that have left customers amazed, astounded and astonished. Customer service week saw close to fifty organizations plan, prepare and execute with impeccable excellence, activities to delight their customers, and demonstrate their commitment to customer appreciation and continual improvement.

Creating a buzz

The menu of activities for both internal and external customer impact, hosted a wide range of customer engagement initiatives that have continued to create a buzz weeks after. Customers felt the outpouring of love from their providers, and the internal customers in various organizations reported increased team work, clarity of vision, camaraderie and excitement bringing about increased employee engagement. Teams countrywide threw themselves with wild abandon into creating experiences to last their customers a life time.

Customer Service Week is celebrated annually in the first full week of October, when customer-oriented organizations around the world recognize the importance of customer service excellence in their organizations.

The week provides organizations an opportunity to reinforce a customer-focused culture and highlight the importance of great customer experiences to the success of the organization. Participation is inspired by various reasons.

It has been observed over time, that the common themes that spur decision making to be part of the celebrations include: the need to recognize and appreciate external and internal customers for their custom and continued loyalty; a purposeful effort to communicate to both internal and external customers about the organization’s commitment to customer satisfaction; an opportunity to recognize and appreciate staff members for the role they play in delivering great customer experiences; to celebrate winning behaviour for role modelling by rewarding teams that have gone the extra mile to serve customers; increasing internal customer engagement by providing an opportunity to boost morale, motivation and teamwork; entrenching company-wide awareness of the importance of customer service and highlighting the important role everyone in the company plays in serving customers.

Authoritative

With all these initiatives in place, embracing excellence by highlighting winning behaviour for emulation, as well as inspiring teams that excel, was not lost to the Institute of Customer Service in Kenya, who administer and run the customer service week activities from an authoritative standpoint. The customer service week innovation award which since its launch in 2015, serves to recognize and celebrate the success of corporates that have demonstrated exemplary planning and execution, as well as creativity and innovation during the Customer Service Week. Based on detailed entries from participating organizations, with associated evidence, a panel of eminent, independent and qualified judges assessed the reports against an outlined criteria to determine the shortlist. And as with all awards’ procedures, the weighted averages from the independent score sheets formed the finalists.

Of significant importance to note was the introduction of different award categories for which organizations were appreciated and esteemed. In a distinct deviation from the regular ranking format of corporate awards generally presented in this region involving numerical and hierarchical grading, the launch of a customer experience themed system that had each organization at the pinnacle of its performance served to provide best practice knowledge transfer, as well as honouring each winner for their exemplary performance expressed.

To raise the profile of customer experience excellence, the disciplines identified for feting were determined based on the customer experience impact and influence to create a positive shift towards service excellence. A list of nine customer experience excellence themes that organizations need to embrace in their day to day customer interactions formed the foundation for the recognition.

Community outreach, featured in the line-up, owing to the conviction that customer service is indeed service to humanity. Organizations that have within their corporate strategy, initiatives to reach communities that have a need that when fulfilled will uplift their quality of life, speaks directly into the customer service agenda that calls upon everyone in service to internal and external customers, to dignify their delivery and ensure life and livelihoods are elevated. The theme on top leadership engagement that was also actively assessed, finds its roots in the fact that organizational culture is built and sustained from the top.

The top leadership has a key role to play in determining the customer experience compass of any organization and to chart the path to be followed to deliver on brand promises. A disengaged workforce is a clear indicator of top leadership that has cultivated that outcome. For customer service excellence to succeed as a corporation wide way of life, the big kahunas who occupy the high chairs need to get off and be involved.

Unique flavour

Featuring squarely in the schedule as well is the need for a sustainability orientation to be built into customer experience initiatives. In the wise words of Brian Tracy, management guru – “Excellence is not a destination; it is a continuous journey that never ends.” If all organizations embrace this principle for application in their service to customers, the latter would be quite a happy lot.

Happy consumers translate to improved bottom lines and brand sustainability follows suit. Creativity which is touted as the ability to cause something to happen or to bring it into existence wasn’t left out of the customer experience conversation. The discussion on being constantly in research and development mode not being a preserve of the manufacturing industry, but applicable in all spheres of customer experience excellence is one that needs to have life breathed into.

Communication gurus

New and original ideas implemented to delight customers require positive affirmation and attention. And hot on the heels of creativity is innovation. There is indeed no need to re-invent the wheel really. If there has been an inspiring discovery on ways in which customer delight may be achieved, it does no harm to jump on the bandwagon to execute. What matters however, is that organizations in their bid to benchmark, should not engage in copy and paste activities wholly, but take on a concept or idea and give it a unique flavour that appeals to their specific customers. Creative expression in delivering customer excellence is a plus and should be embraced.

There are so many different ways in which a cup of coffee may be served that fulfils the need to have the customer happy. There is no need to churn out similar ideas blindly. Laziness won no race for excellence ever.

The internal customer often referred to as the forgotten link – a most unfortunate happenstance in corporate Kenya – featured high in the list of customer experience must- dos towards ensuring exceptional service to external customers.

Happy internal customers project their enthusiasm and can weather any external customer storms. Organizations need to pay as much attention to the internal customer as they do to external ones. This will solve a myriad of customer service dilemmas currently being experienced.

This comes closely tied to listening to customers. Listening is a tool that should form the backbone of every customer experience strategy. The more organizations listen to customers, the more in touch they are with product and service feedback, customer expectations, and opportunities to further innovate. Listening is an active service delivery tool that must be applied dynamically.

Communication gurus continue to underscore the role of listening in customer communication. The ability to communicate professionally and competently with internal and external customers completely denotes the ability to deliver service excellence. Communication and customer experience excellence are married; customer education is delivered vide clear and courtesy communication and the language for customer experience excellence is at the heart of customer communication best practice. To therefore fail to award and recognize communication for service excellence would be criminal.

So there you have it…. The different themes that were feted and that must be integrated into every organization’s customer experience agenda. It is important for corporates to extend customer service week into a continuous journey with a climax during the actual week, to hype up the yearlong celebrations. The same enthusiasm with which customers are handled can be extended to ensure every day is a delightful day.

The scale of output may be smaller, but the intention and impact of the initiatives should carry the same weight, for as it is said with every meaningful initiative that touches the heart – “It is the thought that counts”. Make every day count for your customers in the most creative and innovative way possible.

Carolyne Gathuru is the founder and director of strategy at Lifeskills Consulting. She has over 17 years experience in customer service strategy development and training. Email: cgathuru@life-skills.co.ke

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