Benchmarking Key to Continuous Improvement
By Aluma Ben Horin, Global Customer Experience Projects Manager, TAPI
When seeking new ideas to continuously improve our customer experience, TAPI turned to benchmarking. We found benchmarking to be an effective way to find solutions that have proven successful in other complex global organizations with similar customer service characteristics. Performance benchmarking allows companies to gauge how well they are performing relative to other similar organizations and to identify ways they can improve or differentiate themselves in their industry.
As an organization built through strategic acquisitions, TAPI has integrated many different business models and practices from around the world. As part of our culture of continuous improvement we commit and challenge ourselves to do a better job serving our customers every day regardless of which TAPI location they interact with.
To gain a fresh perspective we decided to go outside our comfort zone and outside our industry to find companies that would serve as models to benchmark. We identified top performers in other industries who are achieving great results in customer experience and began our journey to learn from the best.
Our first steps
When creating a new approach to customer experience, we began by prioritizing the issues we wanted to address – from organizational structure, to practices and policies, to tools and technology. Before setting up benchmarking site visits, we determined which types of experiences and practices we wanted to learn about. We focused on ways to improve daily methods of operation such as how to share information internally, enhance internal collaboration and build employee knowledge about the business and the customer’s business and needs. We also wanted to find best practices for sharing information with customers, ways to truly understand and thereby meet our customer’s needs and expectations and strengthen long-term partnerships.
To be the best, learn from the best
During the benchmarking visits, we discovered that companies who successfully created a service-oriented organization had something important in common: everyone in the organization, from the top down, treated the customer as their top priority.
Continuously improving the customer experience at TAPI begins with shifting from a predominately reactive approach to one that is more proactive, anticipating the customer’s needs in advance. A global e-commerce company we visited shared its proactive approach to servicing customers and taught us some techniques we could implement within our organization to improve customer interactions.
Top organizations understand how important it is to recognize employees who deliver exceptional customer service. One of our benchmarking objectives was to learn how to continuously improve internal collaboration and acknowledge employees who deliver outstanding customer experience.
During a benchmarking visit at one of the world’s largest technology companies, we learned that they celebrate customer service successes by sending companywide recognition emails praising employees in the support units involved and highlighting how their work resulted in a high level of customer satisfaction. We used some of their ideas to introduce our own employee recognition email campaign. Not only do TAPI employees enjoy reading about their colleagues’ successes, but it motivates them to improve their own performance so they will be recognized as well.
Our program is still in the early stages and it has already begun to make a difference. We’ve seen several instances where employees have anticipated customer needs and taken the initiative to provide additional product information or supporting materials to customers to make sure they have everything they need to move their project forward.
Providing employees with the right tools internally helps them deliver a professional consistent customer experience. One company showed us how their internal knowledge base helps their employees accurately answer customer questions and solve issues online eliminating time-consuming delays. We instituted this best practice by creating an internal knowledge base of all our working processes to enable our teams to quickly find information online that solves customer dilemmas.
Comprehensive training for employees is also essential for companies striving to create lasting customer relationships. Other companies demonstrated their internal training programs which make sure employees share a common baseline of knowledge and a clear understanding of new processes and guidelines. Their programs inspired us to introduce new online customer experience training using e-learning courses.
This training methodology allows each employee to log in and take the courses at a time that is convenient for them. We have found that e-learning ensures employees are learning the key points at their own pace and has proven to be a more effective method than scheduled conference calls or webinars with all support units globally. By learning from standardized courses, employees are better equipped to provide the right information during the first contact with a customer. E-learning will be an ongoing process to make sure our employees keep pace with changes in our business and with our efforts to continually improvement the customer experience.
Proven strategies for a successful benchmarking journey
Benchmarking has long been recognized in many industries as an effective best practice. It is one of the most efficient business strategies we can imagine. Learning about others’ time-tested solutions saves time and resources and delivers the best results for employees and customers.
How do you begin? Here are some tips to help you get the most from the experience.
Choose the right companies. Identify companies who share some similarities so their best practices are applicable to your organization. Because TAPI is a global organization with 19 sites worldwide, we began our benchmarking exercise by identifying companies with global operations. Like us, these firms have faced cultural and geographic hurdles that come with delivering consistent service and support to a diverse customer base.
We focused on meeting leading companies who are B2B in different industries. Equally important in our case: finding companies widely regarded as having the best customer service operations. Some of the companies who invited us in were among the largest technology companies in the world.
An inside connection paves the way. The organizations we benchmarked with were happy to share their experiences. However, not all companies will be willing to participate in the process. Leading companies are usually open to benchmarking because they have done it themselves. Having contacts at the companies you want to visit is an advantage; they can connect you to the right people in the right functional areas and help arrange a benchmarking visit. Attending networking events on a particular subject matter, such as online training, could also be a way to meet companies that are happy to serve as a benchmark.
Be prepared to exchange information. Let the company know in advance what you want to learn so they can prepare and have detailed questions ready about their methods. Make the most of your visit – get a clear understanding of how their practices may or may not be relevant to your own operation. The benchmarking relationship should not be one-sided. Both parties need to benefit, so be prepared to share information about your own practices and processes. Keep the conversation general – neither company should share confidential information about customers, products, sales or production figures.
Keep the dialog going. Invite the companies you benchmark with to observe how their processes and solutions were adopted by your employees so they can learn from your company’s experiences and practices. These benchmarking relationships are special and not commonplace. Once a company is willing to share significant information with you, it may be possible to find future opportunities for ongoing learning with yearly meetings.
In all likelihood someone else has already faced each challenge you are facing and has figured out a solution for it. Through benchmarking we have learned that customer experience organizations, regardless of the industry, all want the same thing: to delight their customers by delivering the best experience in their business. By opening doors and sharing best practices and information you have an extraordinary opportunity to improve your own business. In the end the customers will be the winners.
Aluma Ben Horin is Global Customer Experience Projects Manager for Teva Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (TAPI), a business unit of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd.
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