Organisation development consultancy Echelon has developed a programme that is producing noticeable results as its clients produce increasingly high levels of customer satisfaction and ‘value for money’ for all stakeholders.
To date within the public sector, Echelon’s ‘service DNA’ programmes, focused on customer loyalty, have seen:
• One NHS Trust - over two years - score significantly better on issues that mattered to patients.
• A 65 per cent increase in compliments and 40 per cent reduction in complaints sustained throughout 2008 by this same business.
• One Council consistently outperforming the top quartile for customer service performance by seven per cent.
• Over 1,000 improvement ideas collected in three months from staff at one organisation in the health sector.
• A 2 per cent overall increase in passenger numbers for an organisation in the public transport sector.
According to Jenny Hill, who heads up Echelon’s consultancy team: “Service users of public sector organisations like healthcare, education, councils and public transport frequently feel like hostages: they have little or limited choice to transfer their loyalties and can quickly become disaffected.
“We are learning from research how to ensure positive satisfaction amongst these users; converting them to ‘fans’ and ‘advocates’ of the organisation,” she continued. “It requires an understanding of their specific needs - particularly the demographic levers - and ensuring they are met consistently.
“People have general needs of service but their specific service expectations are dictated by the way service is delivered at the point of delivery.
“In the NHS, service is increasingly delivered by Service Groups, who need to offer tailored propositions designed to consistently meet the specific needs of users of this service such as mental health, women’s’ services and so on. These are the organisation’s Service Brands.”
Hill believes that confusing affection with patient satisfaction is risky. The reasons for loyalty need to be understood. She explained: “Research tells us that among the most significant reasons for loyalty is the way in which key expectations of specific user groups are consistently applied.
‘Trust Values’ serve as a useful frame for community expectations but, for Service Groups, we need a detailed understanding of users’ specific needs because this determines service quality and competitive advantage.
“The ability to ‘operationalise’ these insights requires an understanding of how different Service Brands work within a shared values framework. We call this the ‘DNA’ of your Service Brand,” she said.
Echelon’s research shows that there appear to be three imperatives:
1. Understand the specific and frequently unique expectations that users have of that service.
2. Eliminate negative encounters – and, in particular, ensure that problems, however small, that users care about are permanently fixed and there is always someone available to help.
3. Ensure the service you deliver at all Service Group interfaces is consistent so users can trust you. Inconsistency is a key issue in customer dissatisfaction and defection.
“Sustainable success in relation to any of these depends on people and process being closely aligned with strategy and having an adaptability to exploit opportunity,” said Echelon’s CEO, Alistair Morrison. “We deploy a four-stage cycle of research, design, implement and sustain to ensure that the key needs of customers are understood clearly, by everyone.
“Each organisation has a different service DNA which may well vary between products and services. Successful delivery requires this DNA to be recognised and fulfilled by competent and motivated employees.”
“Service DNA is what your customers really want from your service and is dependent, in part, on the promises you make to them,” explained Jenny Hill.
“What customers want is always specific and easily deliverable. Once staff understand specific customer needs - and the positive effect consistent delivery of them can have on their jobs and relationships - they willingly embrace the adoption of their service DNA and keep up the good work with the help of simple reminders.”
Hill explains that Echelon’s service DNA approach is based on four straightforward but powerful drivers:
• Know who your customers are.
• Research and understand the specific and frequently unique expectations customers have of your service.
• Ensure the service you deliver at all interfaces is consistent, because inconsistency is a key issue in customer defection.
• Keep your product/service fresh – by asking for specific customer feedback.
To deliver results from understanding your service DNA, she said, you must:
• Ensure all functions deliver the same branded experience - as consistency is crucial.
• Train all frontline people and ensure that this is sustained with regular work-based reinforcement – so that commonsense becomes common practice.
• Turn customers’ specific and practical expectations and experiences of service into regular internal communications which record the results.
About Echelon Learning, Ltd
Echelon (echelonlearning.co.uk) is an organisation development consultancy with a 20-year track record of delivering targeted communication, training and performance support solutions that really make a difference to corporate, government and not-for-profit organisations and professional bodies.
The company helps its clients create and sustain improved operational performance by developing high levels of employee engagement and competence that leverage their ability to achieve outstanding results, particularly in times of change.
Echelon publishes a wide range of business and management solutions that offer job support and lifelong career development.
Clients include: Channel Tunnel Rail Link, London Overground Rail (LOROL), Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply, Department of Work and Pensions, Festival Housing Association, NHS, Royal Town Planning Institute, T-Mobile, Translink.