Take Command of Service

CMOs, You Must Have Responsibility for Training Service Personnel

By Published on .

Bill Heath
Bill Heath
There are businesses that provide adequate customer service and have many satisfied customers. This column is not about them. It is about the businesses that cannot or will not get it right.

Every year prominent research organizations such as J. D. Power & Associates survey millions of customers and businesses to gather customer-satisfaction rankings. A June 2008 industry-satisfaction study by that organization shows that Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines and JetBlue Airways rank highest in customer satisfaction even amid declining overall satisfaction with the airline industry. Pella ranks highest for a second consecutive year in the 2008 Windows and Patio Doors Satisfaction Study. Microtel Inns & Suites is ranked highest in the economy/budget-hotel segment for a seventh consecutive year in the 2008 North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study.

In a business environment the CMO must be the ringmaster, the one who makes order of chaos. And in virtually all business circumstances, the ringmaster should want satisfied customers.

So why do so many customers remain unsatisfied when dealing with business service personnel? Why does achieving overall customer satisfaction appear so hard to accomplish?

The culprit
Maybe there are no adequate company training programs. Maybe service personnel are not adequately trained. Maybe company training programs simply do not get down to the necessary level. Maybe the personnel at the service level are simply a disinterested and/or disempowered lot. Or maybe, and more likely, the CMO is not involved.

Developing, implementing and, importantly, monitoring effective training programs is a CMO's responsibility.

CMOs, do you care about your customers? I ask because, unfortunately, I've been in situations in which I've had to deal with the president or CEO to achieve the satisfaction I deserve since you, the ringmaster, often seem uninvolved.

Bill Heath is a lecturer in the department of marketing and international business at the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York. He has more than 30 years of experience in marketing, advertising and branding.
Here are a couple of examples of such dealings with companies that, according to Hoover's, all have CMOs.

For a number of months I had ongoing billing issues with both a telephone provider and an appliance-service-contract provider. Phone calls to customer service resulted in no appropriate action. Soon, after writing letters to the CEOs of both companies, I received phone calls from their offices. The problems were resolved and, in one case, I received a refund check.

In the past few months, I have had issues with the performance of the ink cartridges for my printer. I called customer support and, after I followed instructions, the service assistant and I concluded that the specific cartridge was defective. She agreed to send me a replacement. When I said I had four more that were acting the same, she said she could not process multiple requests. In a few days the replacement cartridge arrived with instructions to return the defective cartridge to the company in the box provided with the enclosed peel-off label affixed. Neither box nor peel-off label was provided. I found my own box and promptly sent all five defective cartridges, the non-peel-off label and a letter to the company president, bypassing the ringmaster, because the service procedures were lacking. Later I received a phone call telling me to expect replacement cartridges, which came as promised.

In my previous career as an advertising executive, I was involved in the development of numerous training programs for, among others, a major international airline, a major domestic communications company and a major global computer marketer. The marketing head, today's equivalent of a CMO, sanctioned and oversaw all of the programs.

CMOs need to train their service personnel and constantly remind them that they are the faces and voices of the business. That would go a long way toward reducing customers' need to rant, scream, blog, raise blood pressure, or just switch to other brands.

CMOs: Don't force your customers to go above you. You are the ringmaster. Do your job. Train and monitor your service personnel.
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