Question: Improving customer service for sophisticated product portfolio

I am leading a quality improvement project for our customer service department at a major retail bank.

My key finding is that, our bank is really good at designing innovative products that win over new customers. But, our quality of service personnel and their training in servicing an ever growing portfolio of sophisticated offerings is questionable. This gap leads to frequent issues in servicing our clients, and client loss.

I see better training for service teams on most frequent issues as a low hanging fruit, but I am wondering what is the best way to solve this problem in the long-term.

4 Expert Insights

You are to be congratulated on your disciplined efforts to understand the sources of client dissatisfaction and resulting client loss. You rightly recognize that the next challenge is to arrive at permanent solutions rather than temporary fixes.

In the same way as you have arrived at a root cause of customer service provided by your service teams, use your actual data -- perhaps customer complaints, or information provided by client loss -- to lead you to effective approaches to solve this issue permanently. For instance, when you let your data "speak," you may discover that certain innovative products win over the majority of new customers. You'll likely see an 80/20 relationship: 80% of new customers are drawn to 20% of your newly-designed products and services. Then, should training be the obvious solution (or job aids, or selective automation), then you can cost-effectively focus your training program on the 20% of products and reduce the vast majority of customer complaints.

You also suggest that there is a disconnect between the creation of innovative products/services and the process to maintain those offerings. A solid design methodology, with significant and effective up-front planning, addresses all of those concerns such that no crises will develop at roll out. A design methodology (there are several) will address these issues for your bank in the future. Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) is such a methodology that many large organizations have used successfully when designing new processes or fixing badly broken processes.

Great question.  

I believe that in many cases (or many products) the customers do not want to interact with the service personnel at all; they want the outcome.  Think about how often you book an airline flight on-line and how infrequently you speak to a live operator!  This requires designing the products from the start for self service.   The designers should be knowledgeable in "design thinking" and comfortable walking the customer's path.  The fancy talk version is "Customer Journey Mapping".  Lots of good information available on the web.

The first step when you are not going down that path is to collect information from your customers about what is good and bad about each step in their attempts to purchase and use the service.  This is best handled by focus groups, individual interviews and/or surveys.  By analyzing  how customers feel about each touch-point in the interaction you will quickly see what is working and what is broken and you will find out why they believe is needs fixing - your classic root cause analysis.

What I am really saying is that training should be done when you have the product optimized for a great customer experience!   However, if that will take too long for the bank then at least have someone not directly involved in delivering the service, such as you and your Quality team mates, individually walk through each step for your most important product(s) and see what you all believe is broken.  Fix if possible and definitely train people to help smooth over the rough spots.

I hope some of this makes sense.  It is a very big topic and I am trying to provide you with a high level overview.  Contact me if you want clarification or additional information.

Thank you,


I'll piggy back a little on Sam's answer here:

My experience has been that a highly important element of delivering successful new products is understanding the complete decision-making process (customer experience map) including a clear awareness of the importance of post-sale service for retention.  Thus, in designing training programs for new products, its important to include these elements in your customer needs assessments that support the new product development.

It is not uncommon for PD work to focus only on the primary sale and not accommodate the nuances of service and maintenance to assure customer persistence...big boo-boo.   I suggest that you treat your customer service as a product and develop it as such - with a keen focus on custemer needs.

1) Start with your CSRs and understand the typical interaction and hypothesize the customers' needs.

2) Go to the market and gather customers' perspectives on these hypotheses.  This part is critical, it's where you can divorce yourself from your incorrect, preconceived notions and introduce the needs that you never saw coming (right form the customers' mouths).

3) Test these hypotheses against a large sample of the market.  Quantification with a good sample will help you tailor your the program to the customer you want (and can sometimes help you weed out those that you don't!).

Hope this helps -


Training is obviously the best course of action however it can become expensive over the long term and downright value destroy when competition enters the market. It is for this reason that knowledge bases are built. They are't a perfect solution but they do allow for the a more efficient transfer of knowledge than can be gotten from training alone.

Likewise, educating the buyer beforehand can help. Online documentation, access to the knowledge base, seminars, and so on are all useful tools.

The other approach involves simplifying the product. In financial services however, the regulatory environment might limit the benefits of this tactic.