Patricia Tan
Dec 9, 2014

Creating 'insanely' customer-centric culture at DHL

The majority of APAC business continue to ignore customer service, at their peril. Patricia Tan, senior vice president for customer service at DHL Express, shares some of the strategies her company uses to build a truly customer-centric culture.

Patricia Tan
Patricia Tan

“I just wanted to let you know that in comparison to [competitor], your staff has delivered an exemplary service to me today.”

This is an actual example of positive feedback received by DHL from an Asia-Pacific customer, which demonstrates that customer service, if done right, has the potential to be a key differentiator.  

Today, customers give more feedback than at any time in history. Access to social media and other technologies have given them an instant, public and global platform for their views on the service and products they buy. According to research firm Forrester, we are working in an era where customers have "the power to disrupt your business."

Against this backdrop, one would assume that improving customer service must be a top priority for businesses as they seek to differentiate themselves from other brands. A great customer experience may be shared via social media with other customers and prospects, generating more goodwill for the company. A bad customer experience will almost certainly be shared.

It’s a surprise, therefore, to discover that customer service barely makes it on the radar for the majority of businesses in Asia Pacific. According to a recent survey by the CMO Council, companies in Asia-Pacific typically have no formal structure, strategy or program in place when it comes to engaging with customers. Only 36 per cent of marketers reported having a formal customer strategy or program in their organization, and only 8 per cent say they have well developed and fully evolved systems for understanding and meeting the needs of customers.

While it is easy for all corporations to champion ‘customer-first’ ideals, walking the talk and evolving it to the next level is a challenge. On the one hand, heavy monetary investments ensure the capabilities to manage customer demands. On the other, those investments mean nothing if an employee takes a bad day out on a customer, or makes a promise the company can’t keep.

What then is the secret to delivering service excellence? At DHL, we believe there are three areas—happy and motivated people, a customer-centric mindset and understanding customers’ requirements—that organizations can focus on to shape positive brand differentiation.

Happy and motivated people

Every employee has a key role to play in driving an organization-wide customer-centric mindset. For them to do so, they first have to be happy and motivated. This means companies need to recognize the value of their employees and their contributions to service excellence, and more importantly, engage and empower them to be at their best every day.

Training programs are very often successful in empowering employees. Through DHL’s Certified International Specialist (CIS) Program, for example, over 100,000 employees have been trained in the fundamentals of international shipping and service quality. Such programs help to steer focus on service excellence, which has a positive impact on driving up both employee and customer loyalty.

Organizations should also value employee feedback and reward a job well-done. Conducting employee surveys provide employees the opportunity to let their voices be heard. The feedback provided should then be acted upon to continuously improve and move forward as a company. Lastly—but just as essential—honoring employees’ performance through employee awards affirms their commitment to excellent customer service.

With the above initiatives, employees can be engaged and empowered to take ownership and be actively involved in shaping the future of the company.

A customer-centric mindset

Customer service shouldn’t be seen as a department but rather an attitude that is embraced by every employee in the organization. This means everyone in the company from HR to finance to operations, even the non-customer-facing staff. By embracing this attitude and putting themselves in their customers' shoes, employees will nurture a healthy and positive mindset to drive their performance to the next level and contribute to the company’s aspirations of becoming its customers’ brand of choice.

At DHL, we call this the Insanely Customer-Centric Culture (ICCC) and we take care to permeate it throughout the entire network.

This customer-centric mindset can be achieved if there is commitment from the C-level and management team. They are integral to the support and will be the key in encouraging employees to live and breathe it; talk about it all the time as well as share and celebrate employee success stories at every turn.

Understanding our customers

Understanding customers is a basic requirement for all companies, but how do you actually do it? At DHL, we have a multi-pronged approach starting with an individual commitment to get closer to our customers, to actively listen and talk to them to better understand their expectations. This proactive engagement will result in customer-driven brand differentiation through delivering excellent service experience. This in turn will create and strengthen the emotionally valuable connection with our customers.

For example, DHL’s much celebrated 'Straight To The Top' initiative gives our customers direct access to voice their concerns or compliments to senior management. The initiative brings customer and management engagement to a whole new unprecedented level by empowering customers with direct access to voice their concerns or compliments to senior management. This approach to understanding how customers feel about the service they’ve received is an exemplary key differentiator that helps decisionmakers shape their business and improve their customer experience.

Companies need to look into capturing the voice of their customers through all available touchpoints ranging from sales and customer-service hotlines to social-media platforms to retail outlets. Based on all the feedback captured, the data should be analyzed and solutions put in place to address the areas of concerns. This approach will serve to offer continuous improvements to not only the customer-facing functions but also the company’s operational and business performance.

What does this mean for brands?

It means extracting insights from all customer touch points across the organization to gain a thorough knowledge about customers and their perceptions. A framework like DHL’s ICCC taps on the power of cross functional focus and collaboration to deliver outstanding customer service.

The only solution is for companies to make customer service a priority and embrace it as part of its operational DNA. Following which, brands can positively influence customers’ perception, and successfully differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Patricia Tan is DHL Express’ senior vice president for customer service, global and Asia Pacific


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