Customer service: Efficient or effective?

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Of our 10 assignments, Aviano is truly unique; it's a double-edged sword. On one side, there are the majestic mountains, beautiful beaches, the rich history, the fascinating culture and fantastic cuisine all in our backyard. On the other side, we have a multi-faceted and very demanding mission without amenities and support services from home. Customer service is also a double-edged sword; we want both efficiency and effectiveness.

However, according to Stephen R. Covey from the best selling book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "You can be efficient with things but not people. With people, you must be effective."

In regards to efficiency, we enjoy so many conveniences of progress, such as choosing assignments, processing leave requests, checking pay online. Yet we are continually challenged to learn new "automated systems" often on the fly and do more ourselves. Sometimes, wouldn't it be nice to roll back the clock to when the pace was slower and we weren't so efficient? Customer service seemed so personal back "in the day." But then again, some of us remember anxiously waiting for the paper paycheck to be delivered into our mailbox at the post office and then waiting in a long line at the bank or Base Exchange to cash our check. Also, we most likely wouldn't miss waiting in line to process travel vouchers, dream sheets, leave forms and more.

Thomas Edison, the great inventor and world record holder of patents, once said, "Restlessness and discontent are the necessities of progress."

The clocks won't be turned back anytime soon and we will most likely continue to experience some frustrations as the kinks are worked out of virtual Military Personnel Flight, travel vouchers and more. As we take on more in the name of efficiency and are dependent on the on-base services at Aviano, local customer service, including dealing with people, becomes ever so more important.

As far as effectiveness, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, it shouldn't be surprising that Apple is consistently among the top 10 companies for excellent customer service. Commenting on Apple's customer satisfaction lead, Professor Claes Fornell said, "Apple's success has been a result of innovation, integration of products, customer service and good marketing."

Like Apple, what makes for effective customer service? How would our various customer service sections score on the ACSI?

Here are some questions for your service section. How well do you score?

Customer expectations:

___ Does the customer know what is expected before, during and after, e.g. type of orders, forms, documents required?

___ Is the service or process clearly defined to prevent confusion or wasting time, e.g. waiting in the wrong line or area?

___ Are peak hours known and is manning based on this?

___ Are operating hours consistent and posted and marketed and is training actually conducted when it shows "closed for training"?

Perceived quality:

___ Does the service get it right the first time consistently or must transactions be repeated?

___ Are supervisors there to assist in answering questions and helping to handle surges?

___ Is customer service training conducted, such as being courteous and professional and is this expected by supervisors?

Customer complaints:

___ Is customer service sensitive to feedback like "I didn't know that I needed, was required to bring, complete x,y,z etc." may mean that the customer requirements are not clear?

___ Is customer feedback incorporated into preventing future occurrence?

___ Is there a system in place to document and discuss customer feedback?

Great customer service is easily recognizable; ironically, since it's dealing with people, it's normally inefficient. The challenge is operating in an "efficient environment" while providing excellent service in an "effective environment."