By Carolyne Gathuru
The metamorphosis in the savings and credit co-operative societies (Saccos) sector over the last ten years has been remarkable. Various Saccos – whether employer based or open to the public – have made great strides that should be followed by financial services players across the board. Saccos have continued to transform lives by creating financial empowerment leading to societal growth in both personal and commercial spheres. They have ceased to be the ‘run-to-rescue partners’ in the minds of customers. Instead, they have become trusted friends for investment and credit solutions. This being the case, Saccos need to ensure that the mainstay of their existence – their customers – are well served in order to enhance their loyalty. To do this, Saccos need to strive for excellence in their different operational aspects, and just as with other sectors, what keeps institutions on their toes is their ability to gun for various local and international awards. A quick look at the International Co-operatives Day (Ushirika Day) Awards that various Saccos look forward to, and toot their horns about on achievement of the different award categories, reveals that there is no specific award for customer experience excellence.
Being providers of services, Saccos should give that issue urgent attention. Customers are the backbone of the Sacco sector and it is based on the Sacco member database and the activities thereof that Saccos are alive and thriving. Sacco members are actually Sacco customers whose inputs contribute to the Sacco movement being a critical player in the financial services sector in the country. The current list of award categories for the Sacco Sector are batched into five major themes: the overall Sacco management, credit management, risk management, status of capitalization, geographical reach, education initiatives, financial structures and board inclusivity. These are mainly technical areas that focus on: Sacco governance, operations and legal standing matters. They do not touch on the specific area of interest that must be covered – customer service. To have Saccos up their customer service levels, there needs to be inclusion in the National Awards system.
Indeed, there should be specific awards that touch on the customer. For Saccos to be award winning in this area, there are two major issues they would need to focus on – customer service documentation and customer satisfaction measurement.
Customer Service Documentation
It is said in management strategy circles that if you do not document it, it does not exist. The same applies completely to customer service documentation. Without proper documentation, the standards for delivery of customer experience excellence will neither be known by those meant to provide it, nor will it be implemented. For delivery of customer service levels that will meet customer expectations, it is important for Saccos to conduct a journey mapping exercise for the internal and external customer. They should also put down all the possible journeys through their products and services that potential and actual customers experience. Once this is complete, the next step would be to map all their customer touchpoints and determine the service levels per touchpoint. Both physical and virtual touchpoints are equally as important and the services to be delivered at each stage must be outlined. The turnaround times for each of the touchpoints and what is expected at each needs to be on pen and paper.
Then, only will those expected to deliver services at these touchpoints be aware of what they are supposed to do. Saccos are increasingly becoming paperless, and the online experience at the digital touchpoints including the website, Sacco portals, mobile access Sacco apps and social media must be standardized through service expectations.
Saccos also need to put down their promises to customers in a Customer Service Charter. The promises that Saccos make to their customers should be truly fulfilled. There is no customer promise that is too small to make. It is in the minor details that customer service catastrophes happen. Without making public to customers the promises made, then there is limited accountability to achieve the standards set. It is becoming increasingly important for Saccos to not only document their service promises, but to also ensure that these are actively implemented.
The charter commitments need to be the responsibility of all staff members from different departments in the Sacco to ensure successful delivery. These promises need to be realistic so as not to have a document that sits pretty and is not actionable. Charters have been known to hang in reception areas of institutions as ‘wall hangings’ to beautify the common area rather than being a functional governing document.
The end to end customer journey needs to be mapped from start to finish, with nothing left out however small. The plans to deliver service excellence at every stage – including processes to undertake during service failure situations – need to be documented to enable the Sacco respond appropriately to the happenings at the touchpoint. All the objectives, plans, targets, procedures, guidelines and work plans need to go into a customer service strategy that is embedded in the overall corporate strategy for delivery.
Pursuant to this documentation and in line with good customer service practice,there should be a cascade exercise to all staff for internalization and action. When gunning for Customer Experience Excellence Sacco Awards, the Sacco in question must demonstrate the existence and active use of customer service documentation towards achievement of customer satisfaction.
Customer Satisfaction Measurement
A well-documented customer service strategy must go hand in hand with a robust measurement plan to track performance and ensure that interventions are put in place for areas identified as improvement spots. The management strategy mantra that if you cannot measure it, it does not exist, applies distinctly to service excellence.
Saccos can use varied channels to listen to the voice of the customer and to measure customer satisfaction levels. It is often felt that expensive and sophisticated tools are needed for this purpose, but this is not an informed perspective. Simple surveys and feedback forms using online or physical means, are still valid and yield good results.
The more complex measurement tools including the Net Promoter Score, CSAT Score and Customer Effort Score are great because they provide an ordered and structured way of interpreting results, but are by no means the be all and end all of customer satisfaction measurement.
If a Sacco is able to adopt them, then it is great and they will manage to get a good feel of the levels of what their customers are saying. If not, then a simply designed feedback form, exit survey, comments slip or word or mouth feedback solicitation would work. The main questions from the measurement tools may be included in the surveys and manually computed to attain the same end. Focus group discussions with customers often yield useful qualitative feedback that the Sacco may use to work on sustaining areas that are working for the customer and working on gap areas identified. Whatever channel is applied to elicit customer responses, the design of the tool should not be driven from the corporate perspective, but with the customer in mind, so that the outcomes of the survey exercises form inputs for customer experience improvement and not purely from an internal organizational improvement angle. The organization will improve yes, in order to meet customer needs, but this needs to be customer driven. Customers are happy to know that they are partners in the process of continual improvement.
What is most important is for Saccos to ensure that measurement of customer satisfaction is done as a regular thing. Many organizations wait for an annual or two yearly major customer satisfaction survey exercise that is generally quite costly. The challenge with this – albeit any form of measurement being a welcome move – is that customers provide feedback based on what they are feeling and this is influenced by various environmental factors where external in general or specific to the organization, prevailing at the time the survey is conducted. Continuous customer serviced audits must be put in place to ensure the strategy is only working, but also enhanced based on emerging needs from feedback.
Customers love to be asked for feedback for as long as they can see that their contributions are bearing fruit. Saccos should not be in the business of requesting for customer feedback and putting it in archives without action. Consistent and regular reporting on customer satisfaction levels allows for monitoring for success of the customer service strategy, and for adjustments to be made before it is too late in the strategic cycle planned. The reports generated from the measurement exercises need to be reported throughout the Sacco to ensure everyone in the organization – up to and including top management – use this information for decision making. Comprehensive reporting regarding customers satisfaction levels determines the success threshold of the Sacco in general, and needs to be monitored closely. The reports need to highlight what common trends are emerging from the data collected, what threads are coming through from customer’s sentiments and what the unspoken voice of the customer is saying.
Sacco Customer Experience Excellence Awards, need to have a major category that looks into the customer satisfaction levels of Saccos from the voice of the customer, as evidenced by the outcomes of their customer satisfaction measurement activities.
Any membership organization thrives on the premise of membership development, with both the aspects of building the membership base in terms of numbers and capacity building placed in check. To achieve this, customer experience excellence must take centre stage. Happy customers stay and they bring on board more customers. Expanding the membership base is a factor of great word of mouth from existing Sacco members who encourage others to join. One cannot market what they do not believe in and trust, and receiving good service works towards this positive end. It keeps the existing members happy and in place, and has them take on the role of brand ambassadors towards recruiting others. The failure to include the customer experience excellence in the main Sacco Awards Categories, calls for renewed thinking. Saccos themselves (and the organizers of the Ushirika Day Awards) need to innovate in this area and then sit back and watch Saccos (both big and small) enhance customer confidence through service promise delivery. This will be a big win for the Sacco fraternity and the country at large