In 1990, a team of researchers (Zeithaml, Pasuraman, Berry) in "Delivering Quality Service: Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations" concluded:
"The most important thing a service company can do is be reliable, that is, perform the service dependably and accurately."
These days, each customer contact channel (phone, e-mail, face-to-face, etc.) is evolving rapidly; and typically, each function reports to a different leader. The result is an inconsistent customer experience.
Three factors contribute to an excellent customer experience: technology, people, and process. While all are important, we can take one contributor out of the variation and still have a huge variation problem. Managing incompatible technology, though a big problem, is not as daunting as figuring out how to coordinate customer contact personnel and processes across all channels (especially if we don't want robots interacting with our customers).
For customers to consider us reliable, we must be consistent. For example, if a customer interacts via e-mail, he expects the same treatment (outcome) when interacting on the phone. Or, if a customer reaches one phone agent one day, she expects the same type of treatment from another agent the next.
Giving consistent service starts with consistent service quality standards and processes. In my experience, accomplishing consistency on all fronts is difficult for most organizations to accomplish for five reasons. First, most organizations don't have a documented quality / customer experience strategy. Second, the standards and processes based on the strategy are seldom defined or documented. The third reason involves the difficulty of getting people to agree about what "best practice" is. A complex political battle often ensues when people say, "We've been doing it this way for years now with good results. Obviously 'our' way should be adopted as best practice." Fourth, even after the service strategy, standards, and processes are agreed upon, the organization still has to define appropriate discretionary behaviors when customer situations are not "typical." Finally, to ensure reliability without variation, an organization must pay attention to the supporting performance management issues (e.g., hiring, training, measuring / monitoring, feedback, and reward).
Are you a reliable organization? Do you give your customers a consistent experience across all agents and channels? If not, now's a good time to get the team together to start defining those best practice service standards and processes.