Home > Call Center, CRM, Customer Service, Social CRM, technology > The Evolution of Customer Service

The Evolution of Customer Service

Customer expectations are evolving and customers are more vocal and willing to share both when something is good and something is bad. Customer service is also evolving, frankly, in order to keep pace with customers; but is the pace fast enough? The pace of the change; driven by customers, is accelerating because the social web (commerce and network) has enabled and empowered customers. Try and think back 10-15 years ago; did you make purchases online? Other than ask friends, did you read online reviews? What levels of service were tolerable, did you accept?  When you needed to contact a company did you consider sending a text? You might have sent an email, but when something really needed to happen, you picked up the phone. You might have even sent a letter, you know, the kind requiring a stamp.

In the chart below, I worked to encapsulate and share my view of the top-level changes within customer service. I intentionally did not assign dates to the past, nor the future; the past could be yesterday or last year, the future tomorrow or 2015. This is a not an all or nothing phenomenon, your organization may have certain elements well within the futures bucket and others stuck in the past.  The chart is a refinement of my Evolution of CRM chart, published about a month ago. I am looking forward to sharing these thoughts and more at the Contact Center Expo next week in London

Element One – People

The people involved in customer service, historically, had been the people with customer service somewhere in their title, yes that simple. Organizations need to change this, if they want to grow and prosper (survive?). Products and services are becoming more complex, other parts of the organization absolutely need to become part of the customer engagement process. I am not simply talking about transferring phone calls; it is much bigger than that. I am talking about collaboration and knowledge sharing. You might even call it social business, but I do not want to get ahead of myself.

Element Two – Process

Gone are the days of a paper manual with defined processes for as many scenarios as management can think up. Actually, for some those days are not actually gone. Customers are no longer interested in listening to the script, following the guided path nor being pushed towards the efficient route . If the ‘people’ part of the evolution is accurate, then organizations will also need a way to coordinate activities with other parts of the organization. Yelling over the cubicle does not count as collaboration and sticky notes do not count as knowledge management.

Element Three – Technology

A technical discussion could be approached from many different directions. With respect to this conversation, the more interesting technical element has to do with the channel match which needs to occur between the desire of the organization and the needs of the customer; i.e. the channels of communication used by each. Not only do organizations need to adapt to the changing channel usage by their customers, they need to realize that customer ‘channel hop’ – changing their mode of communication even mid-stream within an interaction happens. Organizations need to consider active pull, versus push to optimize their channel strategy. Active pull means that the value offered on channels you would like people to use is valuable to them, not just you. Real-time, synchronous channels are more expensive, but studies show that satisfaction rates are also higher on these channels.

Element Four – Duration

Historically, the length of time spent by either side of an interaction was limited to the specific activity performed, or issue discussed. Customer Service metrics are often tied to duration, like average handle time. While not every interaction will take on a life of its own, interactions will create a string of communications and form the basis of an ongoing relationship between customer and organization. Enhanced, more sophisticated activities like co-creation and ideation will now take place as well, during product use when it can be most beneficial. This is not about creating life-long friendships, your customer does not want to be your BFF either, this is about working together to mutual benefit. Take the time required to solve the problem, and make sure the customer’s concerns are heard.

Element Four – Centricity

As noted above, metrics and KPIs have been driving Contact Centers since the beginning of time <hyperbole>. The truth is handle time and concepts such as first call resolution will continue to be used, but they will not be the only driving force. As a matter of fact, these metrics will move further down, possibly even to tertiary consideration. As opposed to simply figuring out how quickly they are able to get the customer off of the phone, customer service professionals will consider more than just the current case and will be given latitude to do the right thing and stay on the phone to help the customer. Insights towards customer need by the agent will be augmented by business intelligence both real-time and in aggregate.

Element Five – Approach

Few people appreciate being caught off-guard, unprepared or surprised. Customer issues are more often than not identified first by the customer. What if the customer service teams could identify potential issues and do something about them before the small issues become very large issues? This can be accomplished simply with operational metrics made available to agents (insights). Spending a few more minutes on the phone with a customer, to really understand the root cause of an issue is worth the time and effort.  Or, how about proactive notifications of outages, or product issues (positive call deflections)? Further, taking the time to collaborate with the internal organization, providing superior value to customers, will also reap rewards in the form of loyalty and future business.

Is it possible to put it all together?

Yes it is. It is going to take work? Yes it will.  I do not believe you can accomplish it all at once, nor should you try. That said, understanding how all the of the elements are interrelated is an imperative. Some of the elements are within the control of the IT department; some are in Sales and Marketing, while you can control some as well. In the end, it not really about control; Customer Service is about doing what is best for the customer. What do you think? Am I way off base?

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  1. October 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Hi Mitch,

    I agree with what you’re saying here, but I think you can take it a step further by looking at how you can integrate customer feedback and analysis of the interactions to then actually go and try to avoid the service issues that you are facing. So rather than “fix symptoms”, go out and understand causes, and organize to do something about it.

    This feedback loop is in my opinion essential to the overall customer experience rather than just the service experience induced by an initial failure.

    Cheers!
    Mark

    • Mitch Lieberman
      October 13, 2011 at 12:30 pm

      Mark,

      Thanks for the thoughts – and apologies for my lack of a speedy response. Your point is well made and I absolutely agree. Not even any ‘buts’. The question becomes who has the responsibility for the execution of that feedback loop?

      The feedback loop is critical for the overall customer experience, as you state. It is only a part of the initial interaction though. It will help this particular customer next time they call, more likely, other customers who have had that same issue and it can be resolved more quickly. It does bring up a nice follow-up, which is a distinction between coordination and collaboration.

      Mitch

  2. October 13, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Mitch, great post! Basically, all of your points should and can be categorized under the classification of “common sense.”. I especially like your point about that companies need to do a better job of “working together” to mutually resolve customer concerns. Thanks for sharing your expertise! It’s appreciated. Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention

    • Mitch Lieberman
      October 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

      Richard,

      Thanks for stopping by, much appreciated!

      Mitch

  3. October 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Speaking as a CSA the one thing I’d love to do, but am just not allowed to do is to actually help the customer. I’d also like to be able to head problems off – as I’m always the first to hear about them as you say via the customer.

    Problem is I work for an outsourcing setup who see their interest in taking as many calls as possible with the absolute minimum number of people. You’d think that customer service would be at least somewhere on the priority list, but it’s not at all as objectively evaluating quality is almost impossible for our clients, some of whom you have to wonder if they cared in the first place!

  1. October 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm

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