March 09, 2020

Best Practices in Customer Experience: The Two Hour Rule

Occasionally, we come upon a world-class CX program whose secret sauce is worth sharing. This is one of those stories.

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Strategex has practiced Customer Experience (CX) consulting since before it was coined customer experience. Over 15 years, we have worked for over 400 multinational companies evaluating and improving their CX programs. We can identify a strong (or weak) CX program faster than a ten-year-old can devour a candy bar on Halloween. And we can tell you how to fix it, but that’s another story…

In our work, we have seen CX programs whose tagline could have easily been “The customer is only right if we make more money,” and we’ve worked with CX programs who sacrifice short term profitability for CX excellence. Occasionally, we come upon a world-class CX program whose secret sauce is worth sharing. This is one of those stories.

A few years back, Strategex had the privilege to work for one of the leading steel producers in North America. They hired us to interview their top 100 accounts, to find out how they performed serving their top customers.

On the surface, the engagement seemed straightforward. I never imagined that the project would burn itself into my memory. It’s a steel company. Not sexy. Not fast-paced. Not new.

And then, the results came in (drumroll, please). This business scored a 75 Net Promoter Score (NPS) -- a best-in-class score for a B2B industrial company.

What’s more remarkable is the industry. We’re talking steel; a rough and tumble, cut-throat business where customers beat up suppliers and suppliers sometimes do the same in return."

We were intrigued. We tore through the interview transcripts to try to understand what makes this company in this old industry so special. Over and over the same message echoed, “These guys set the bar for service!” “It’s amazing how they take care of us.” This was not your run-of-the-mill industrial company…not even close.

We couldn’t wait to present our findings to the executive team. Finally, a presentation where we didn’t have to showcase a company’s problems but rather could celebrate their success. I floated into their conference room and the division president approached me, holding his cell phone. We shake hands, make introductions and then he explains. “Don’t be offended, we keep our cell phones on the table in case a customer calls.” Hmmm…that’s a first.

We begin our presentation, presented the news of their top-rated NPS score, and share comments that speak of the company’s great service.

A member of the executive team interrupts, “Do you know why this happens? It’s because we have the two-hour rule. Every call, text or email from a customer must be acknowledged if not responded to within two hours. That applies to EVERY employee whether it’s someone of the mill floor to someone in this room.”

I asked him if this was written down; was it a formal policy? “No. It’s just what we do – it’s fundamental to our culture. Safety to our employees comes first. Taking care of the customer is a close second.”

Turns out, the two-hour rule applies to “internal customers” as well. If a front-line person needs information from someone behind the scenes, it’s expected that person will have the same courtesy to respond in two hours or less.

It’s simple. Rapid response is a cornerstone for providing an exceptional customer experience. Quick response time is often the first thing that’s praised when we interview a client’s customers."

And the opposite is also true, when a customer does not get a response….and heaven forbid, must call back a second time, it leaves a serious negative impression.

The two-hour rule is simple, powerful and can be adopted by any company. If you're following 80/20 principles (and I hope you are), you should implement the two-hour rule for your top customers -- your "quad ones." It sends a message that the customer’s needs come first. It shouts to the customer “You matter; you are my priority.” It is foundational to a customer-centric culture.

Remember: a superior customer experience is made of many small actions – none more fundamental than how quickly you respond to the customer’s inquiry or request. Consider how to focus your organization’s attention on speed of response.

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