Customer-Service Tactics: Walk the Process
I once headed a walk-in customer-service center at a large US Navy base in Virginia. Often when customers arrived at the center, they were in various states of panic, looking for parts that they needed immediately either because of a breakdown or because their ship was about to go to sea. I always did my best to get them the parts that they needed and to make sure that these parts arrived at their ship or place of work. Often I just gave the parts to them to hand-carry back to the ship. Sometimes, unfortunately, I could do nothing to help them. Like many people they were procrastinators.
After one hectic weekend filled with nonstop crises, I sat down with my entire customer service crew and brainstormed how to prevent such chaos and last-minute parts pleading. We came up with an aggressive tactic to try to prevent these last-minute emergencies. I set up a schedule where we would go out on the piers and visit ships, introduce ourselves, and go over their requirements with them before they were to go to sea. We decided to walk the process out in the field.
I spent at least two days a week on the pier visiting the ships and talking to the ships’ supply officers. We all got plenty of exercise walking on the concrete piers. Three of my chief petty officers also conducted these visits. As part of the visit, we asked them to rate us, our service, and to recommend any improvements. We also asked about their problems and concerns. We actually watched them do their ordering and preparations. Based on their input, we adjusted our hours and manning. We constantly sought out our customer’s opinions on what additional parts they thought that we ought to be stocking. We then took their orders right on the ship when we were there and delivered the parts the next day.
After about a month of these tactics, we noticed a considerable reduction in the number of walk-ins, and a severe reduction in the crisis visits. We then made our ship-visit program permanent.
If you want to improve your customer service, you need to use these same tactics with your customers, both internal and external. You don’t learn much by staying in your own office. You need to get out there and walk the process! We didn’t just take customer surveys; we made sure we visited them in person on a frequent basis. Because of this tactic, we greatly reduced many firefighting adventures, incorporated suggested administrative changes and streamlined their work processes with them. We enjoyed great success in collaboration.