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9 steps to create a customer service plan

Crafting a customer service plan is a key step to improving customer satisfaction and building loyalty for an organization.

At the foundation of any successful business is a well-crafted and defined customer service plan that establishes policies and guides about how to handle customer interactions.

Customer service can be a core competitive differentiator in the marketplace and is often the great equalizer for small and medium-sized organizations to compete against their larger counterparts. Its purpose is to establish, maintain and enhance the relationship between a business and its customers.

Benefits of having a customer service plan include the following:

  • positive brand reputation;
  • improved customer loyalty and retention;
  • results in increased customer profits; and
  • improved internal communications.

Follow these nine steps to create an effective customer service plan.

1. Create a customer service strategy

The customer service strategy should include the development of a vision and policy. The vision should identify the type of customer service the organization will use, while the core policies direct how the customer service department operates. Get input from several teams and departments to include various perspectives during development. Multiple perspectives also aid with aligning and embedding the vision and policy across the organization, including expectations and execution.

2. Setting the customer service goals

Goals should be reasonable and identified early. Best practices for setting goals include the following:

  • Define specific goals by taking the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) approach, with each goal focused on a single area of the customer's experience.
  • Ensure that goals are achievable but still challenging, and identify when they tie back to business objectives.
  • Develop a plan, method and frequency to measure goals.

3. Create a customer journey and service design map

Create a customer journey and service design map to clarify the steps to assist the customer. The customer journey should come from a customer-facing perspective and include customer activities, touchpoints and pain points. The service design map should consist of steps from an organizational perspective, such as aligning customer touchpoints, communication channels and interactions between systems and pain points.

4. Analyze customer interactions

Use the customer journey and service design maps to assess where to improve the experience. This step includes analyzing customer interactions and answering these questions:

  • When in the customer journey do they reach out for assistance? Why do they reach out?
  • How often do customers contact the organization? What channels do they use?
  • What were the pros and cons of the customer's experience? This is a good place to use any gathered customer satisfaction.

5. Create an action plan

Taking action on issues should benefit the customer and the service team alike. Creating an action plan begins with setting strategic objectives and then identifying any outstanding issues. Then, develop a detailed plan that defines the actionable steps, due date and who owns the project. The action plan should also identify what constitutes success and how often to measure analytics. Before any work begins, it's essential to get alignment from any other teams involved.

6. Determine KPIs

With goals in place, determine the appropriate metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to track. The KPIs provide a look into how well the customer service team is doing. Teams should select and follow a few customer service KPIs from primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources

  • Customer satisfaction score, which measures the overall customer satisfaction with a product or service; and
  • Net promoter score, which provides insight into customer loyalty and the likelihood of a customer recommending the business to someone else.
At the foundation of any successful business is a well-crafted and defined customer service plan.

Secondary sources and contact center metrics

  • Response and hold time;
  • First contact resolution;
  • Average resolution time;
  • Number of issues to be tracked and the nature of issues;
  • Active and resolved issues; and
  • Customer retention rate.

7. Assess and build a customer service team

Beyond traditional customer service skills, organizations must identify additional skills their teams need, such as product-related training. This process includes the following steps:

  • Evaluate what skills are required to successfully do the job -- in the current and future state vs. skills assessment of the customer service team.
  • Identify training and development opportunities based on the gaps between current and future conditions.
  • Empower the customer service team to assist customers beyond traditional service parameters and without using canned responses.

8. Establish how and when customer service teams work cross-functionally

Striving for an expanded team can break down operational silos and improve communications and clarity. A customer service toolkit is often used to lay out the approach and clarify operations, including when handoffs happen between groups.

9. Innovate

As the product or service evolves, so should the customer service team. The team should innovate based on the changing needs of the customer to meet customer expectations. This process begins by asking questions such as the following:

  • What is and what is not working in the service delivery?
  • What is impeding or helping customer loyalty?
  • Are customer expectations being met at a basic level? How does this compare to that of any competitors?

Customer service teams are at the center of the customer experience and often make or break the perception of an organization and its service or product. As such, creating a robust customer service plan is paramount for long-term success.

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