Several years ago, I called a very large company about getting a refund for my account which had been mistakenly overpaid. The auto-attendant told me to “say what I needed”, so I said, “I need a refund”. Immediately it replied, “You asked for sales, is that right?” After three attempts with no further progress on what I actually needed, I was transferred to the Sales Department and my experience continued to erode as the call progressed.
Encounters like this occur all too often, as we have all experienced, and leave us all feeling a little less human, like a nuisance to the company we are patronizing, and generally frustrated. When did all this happen? When did it become ok to treat customers with such disregard?
Interestingly, many of the companies that I have had the worst personal experience with also run commercials touting accolades as: “Rated number one in customer satisfaction”, “award winning service”, and other similar (false) claims. If customer service was so important, why has my experience been so bad? It’s really just lip-service they give towards meeting the needs of their customers. It’s the same reason that if you call them owing money, they can take that over the phone immediately, but if they owe you money it will be 6-8 weeks for that to happen, if ever! Even as I write this, I have not received my reimbursement check from AT&T dating back to the 2017 miscue.
I suppose that companies who only care about profit, and not truly the customer experience, work on cutting cost in the service area to provide greater profits to themselves, often leaving the customer quite short of satisfied. At IEE, we consider three Areas of Influence to help guide us in achieving excellence in the area of client experience; they are Vision, Investment, and Execution.
“Where your treasure is; there is where you heart will be also” is one of my favorite business and life principles. Another is what’s commonly referred to as the Golden Rule and it says, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated”. Both of them are intertwined because you can’t just say we care about clients without investing in the experience, you also have to put your money where your mouth is! That is, . . . if what you say really matters.
When I first started evaluating foreign credentials it was easy to refer to certain jobs as a reference number. Knowing that people were coming to us for recognition of their foreign education meant that for whatever the reason they had come to us, they simply couldn’t move on with their professional life, which usually also includes their personal life as well, until the evaluation was completed. It’s one of the things I loved about working in the industry; helping people! Often, I had to remind myself of that, when stuck on researching a credential that was difficult, or when the phone rang at an inopportune time. Where was my heart? Where was my treasure? If I were the person on the phone, would I want to have to leave a message in hopes of being called back at a later time?
At International Education Evaluations our focus has and will always be on The Customer. Valuing the client experience through live human assistance, by providing them a great product with on time delivery, is how we show it. Our vision is to treat others the way we would like to be treated. More simply, by living our priorities.
I LIKE to fly on airplanes, I LOVE flying First Class. I LIKE spending a weekend away with my wife, I LOVE it when we stay at a Five-Star Resort. I don’t really enjoy getting a haircut, but when my barber calls me by name and asks me how my day has been, I enjoy it a whole lot more. It’s the way I like to be treated. Like I’m special. Not that I am anybody or will be anybody, but flying first class, staying at a great resort, being called by name. It’s what we all want, it’s how we all want to be treated. It’s how we should provide service, or the experience of IEE, to our clients.
Treating others, the way we want to be treated! That’s the IEE vision!
Great client experiences don’t happen on accident! It’s intentional and we invest in our patrons by investing in our team members to give them the tools they need to be successful. Yes, navigating the stresses and strains of a growing business in the grips of a global pandemic has also provided its own challenges. But our team members who share the common vision and commitment of serving people continue to innovate and overcome the challenges that this season has brought.
Last year we launched a website that allowed our clients the ability to complete their application and submit documents virtually. That website also allowed access and the ability to track and do their work remotely. Without the innovation and investment of this new website, we would have been forced to close our doors during the initial “shelter in place” phase of the COVID epidemic. Instead we were able to stay open to serve our clients and provide our team members continued employment. It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t easy, but it paid exponential dividends since its launch in August 2019.
Initially when we started developing the new virtual dashboard I thought constantly “how much is this going to cost?”. The investment in time and money was huge for such a small company like ours. At the time we had less than 10 employees. Now looking back, less than 18 months later the investment was insignificant when compared to the opportunity it presented. Greater functionality and communication with our clients, a more dynamic virtual workplace, enhanced functionality and internal communication. And the best opportunity; staying open during a global pandemic providing continued service to our clients and employment for our team members.
Having a vision for a great customer experience is important, but you have to make the investment too!
Execution is having the right people, in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time. Execution is people. The right people, with proper tools, a desire for excellence, and a willingness to press on no matter the circumstances is crucial.
I was particularly inspired during a difficult time when I heard one of our team members admit “We screwed up this time, but I’m going to make sure that we don’t make the same mistake twice”. Spurred on by a miserable experience had by one of our clients, and a willingness to admit that IEE played a part in it, we developed a client success plan for people who we have identified as either a VIP or just a client who may present a particular challenge. Because first we took responsibility for what went wrong (bad procedure), then took action to reduce the likelihood of happening again (replaced with a better procedure), we have a new process for providing our clients a better chance of a successful experience.
We have enough experience in our industry to know the particularly tricky situations or red flags that may occur for a client. When identified, the client will be assigned a specific point of contact within our client success team (client manager). Our client success team member will then communicate as needed with other team members to make sure that the needed resolution is achieved. They will also communicate along the way to advise them of the reason for the delay (if there is one) and offer the client additional options based on the issue. Many times, communicating with foreign institutions and governments isn’t the most expeditious process, leading to delays in processing or meeting estimated delivery times. We now have a better process to address these issues and in communicating with our clients. Only our most experienced team members may serve in the dedicated client success program due to the intricacies of our services.
In nearly every business seminar, book, plan, whatever; the question is always the same; “Are the right people on the bus”? If the answer is yes, and you have imparted the proper vision and invested in the plan, then BAM!!, you are well on the way. If not, then there is no amount of vision or investment that can transform your company into a high-growth company where clients are continually satisfied at a high level.
Customer satisfaction should be the heart and soul of a business. Yes, having a great product is important as well but a valued customer experience can’t be diminished.
Since becoming the President of International Education Evaluations, our clients have been able to reach us by email or phone during standard business hours M-F. As IEE has grown, so has our commitment to providing our clients a level of service that I would like if I were in need of our services. IEE currently provides customer service 24 hours a day, 6 days a week via chat, email, and phone. Furthermore, we have team members who can provide help in English, Spanish, Tagalog, German, French, and probably some others I don’t even know about.
Our people are our single most important resource. Nearly 20% of our staff are solely dedicated to the client experience. We have the right people, doing the right job, with the right resources, and yes, our people care.
We don’t say we have the best customer service in the industry, we’ll leave that up to our clients. We intentionally have created a great product, delivered with a high level of accuracy and do it on-time; we use great people to accomplish this. But our client experience wasn’t done by accident, it was Intentionally Created to provide our clients an Outstanding Experience. Actually, we are just treating others, the way, we would like to be treated ourselves.
President and CEO
International Education Evaluations (IEE)