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Human Factors in Customer Service

Using Human Factors and a Process Blueprint to Improve Customer Service

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Contrary to what some might think, a company's efforts to improve human factors should not stay in the product development department. Human factors and ergonomics in customer service are key elements when a company decides to put a focus on improving the customer's overall experience. That business is well served by calling on the disciplines of human factors and ergonomics to bring the focus on the customer to every aspect of a company's operations.

In the customer service industry there are "moments of truth" that happen when a customer has an interaction with a company or a brand. Customers come into the experience with an expectation of what the experience should be, and the "truth" is the impression that they leave with. Whether the company met their expectation or not will determine that customer's long term loyalty to that brand.

When a company begins to focus on these moments and how to improve the customer experience at all levels of their business magical things begin to happen. Creating a "Process Blueprint" of the complete customer process can help a company identify what the moments of truth are for any given process. And is can show where those human to human and human to system interfaces are so we know where human factors play a role.

A Process Blueprint should be a roadmap that simplifies the process into a visual aid that can help a team quickly identify the weaknesses of the system or process and the frustration points for customers. A Process Blueprint should not be complicated. It should not be filled with so many routes and links that it looks like spaghetti on a chart. That just muddles the truth of what you are looking for.

When looking at the elements (employees, technologies and facilities) that are included in the process, the elements are separated by "on-stage" elements and "off-stage" elements. For employees the on-stage employees are ones that have direct interaction with the customers. This direct human to human interface is a major area of human factors for the process. The training and standards of conduct for these employees are the most important to creating a positive customer experience. The human factor elements of predictable behavior, such as cognitive capability and psychological makeup are vital to getting this right.

Learn More: Elements of Human Factors

Also important are the off-stage employees. They are the ones that make everyone look good to the customer. By being responsive and having excellent performance, they make help to meet commitments to the customer.

An example of on-stage versus off-stage is when you visit a home improvement store to buy a new shade of paint for your house. The employees that you encounter at the store are your frontline interface to that company. They are on-stage, but think about the other people who made the transaction possible. There is the human resources force that hired and trained the person at the paint counter. There is the night time stocker who made sure that the paint tints and bases were well stocked and ordered replacements when needed. There is the janitorial service that cleans the store to create a pleasant environment for you to shop in. All of those people are important to how a customer feels about a brand. You would certainly not enjoy shopping in a store that never had what you needed, had rude staff, and unclean aisles.

Technology can be an on-stage element as well. An example is when you place an online book order; the thing that is on-stage at that point is the computer interface. It needs to be intuitive and easy to use. It needs to respond in the expected way, or the customer will become frustrated and move their order to another web-site. Also think of all of the off-stage elements of an online book order. It is everyone from the warehouse picker to the mail carrier. If any portion of the transaction is mishandled, the result is the same: a frustrated customer.

All the elements of human factors are vital to getting these human-machine interfaces to the technology or facility (such as actually going into a store) right. Anthropometry, body mechanics, human performance, cognitive capability, and your customers (or employees) psychological makeup play important roles into how effective and efficient the entire system is and how well that moment of truth meats the customers' expectations. After all, Human Factors is about predicting human behavior. So, when done right, it can predict a customer's expectations and you can design a process that meets them.

Process Blueprinting creates a first person view of what it is like to go through this process as a customer, and then also documents what happens behind the scenes to support that transaction. By finding out what are the moments of truth and focusing improvements on those, a lot can be gained.

What processes can be blueprinted? Any process that has a specific beginning and ending can be blueprinted. This includes purchases, requests for product information, technical support requests, and any process where the customer is in need of something from the company.

Why stop at customer processes? You don't have to. Another helpful thing to blueprint is employee processes with the aim to improve employee engagement and satisfaction. Human Factors can be used to look at what it is like to work for your company. Put your employees in the customer role. Look at what their expectations are, are they reasonable, and how the company is doing at meeting them. It has been found again and again that engaged and happy employees have an extremely positive effect on customer satisfaction. And they're more productive too boot.

Learn More: Examples of Human Factors in Customer Service

What is a moment of truth? It is not just when the customer is happy. It is when the customer and the service provider are both happy because everything worked out the way it was supposed too. The way both parties expected it too.

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