Who doesn’t have a customer service horror story? Most of us have seen and experienced airlines that offer no apology or help when luggage is lost, or cable companies that consistently send the wrong bill or make you call every month to fix the same error. The list goes on…
Happily, we’ve also experienced great customer service when someone goes out of their way to help us or offers to help even though their company actually didn’t even create the problem.
There’s hidden truth here: our expectations for customer service are much higher today than they were even a few years ago. Consumers have become very educated and vocal; they repeat their experiences to the world through social media. In fact, you probably know someone (or were that someone) who tweeted to a company with a complaint and got almost instant response and help.
We expect even our non-consumer business relationships to meet these same high standards and deliver the same level of immediate service. We want the same visibility and immediacy into our daily business interactions as we have in their personal consumer interactions.
Most companies want to deliver exceptional service, but many don’t know where to begin amid all the noise and changing consumer needs, or don’t have the technology or personnel support to match their intentions. Here, we will break down the best practices for aligning your customer service with your customer’s desires, and help you get ahead of the competition with practical suggestions on how to advance your Customer Service Management processes.
Deliver Against Consumers’ Common Expectations
Step one in creating a best-in-class customer experience is defining the specific customer expectations your company needs to address. As we mentioned above, most consumers want it all, and those expectations keep getting higher.
Of course, developing a program to “meet our customers’ high expectations” is probably too broad to execute on. To develop a workable Customer Service Management (CSM) process, you need to parse these expectations into addressable needs.
What aren’t your peers doing here? Think about service from the customer’s point of view, and make sure your business processes meet some of the more common objectives today’s buyers are looking for.
Most customers (ourselves included) want to:
- Be served immediately wherever we are. If we’re on our phones, we want our problem solved there. If we’re online, we want the website to solve our problem, and so on. Today’s customer is looking for an omnichannel solution. Do you have the structures in place to match those desires?
- Continue where we left off when we switch channels. If we switch from the website to an in-person visit or telephone call, we want the company to know it’s us, and for the new employee to have our history so we don’t have to repeat ourselves. Simple in theory, harder to do from a technical standpoint.
- Self-serve our own data. We don’t want to have to ask a supplier when our order will get here or how much it costs. We want to access that data ourselves through our preferred channels. And the data better be accurate and current.
- Feel loyalty to a brand because of how they treat us. It’s not enough to have our problem solved. We want the company we’re dealing with to be as invested in solving the problem as we are, to feel like the company cares about us and our needs. We also want the supplier to empathize and to tell us what they will do to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.
Get Better at Solving Customer Problems
According to Forrester Research’s 2016 The Future of Customer Research Report, exceptional customer service in today demands customer obsession. But, no one’s saying it’s easy to delight customers every time they have a challenge.
Too often, it goes quite the opposite direction: companies will answer the customer’s call quickly, but treat the call as a transaction, with the firm’s main goal to get off the phone quickly and hope the customer doesn’t call back again, rather than actually fixing the problem.
The very nature of how we process and report on Customer Service metrics almost enforces this scenario. Metrics like “mean time to answer” and “percentage of problems addressed in the first call” are common call center tracking standards in the industry. Unfortunately, these transactional metrics prevents companies from really solving customer’s problems in satisfying ways.
Companies need the right insight or and an appropriate level of knowledge of who the customer is. People know what authentic looks like, and quickly recognize canned support scripts and other pass-through responses. Unfortunately, many of your peers are treating customer support as a “check-the-box” activity.
Treating Customer Service Management through a transactional lens is a symptom of a larger challenge faced by companies. It signifies that companies aren’t thinking strategically or holistically about how customer service ties in to the rest of the business.
Here are some of the common blinders many companies face with their CSM mindset, and some recommendations to attack those challenges.
- Treating CSM as a veneer to hide the rest of the business from the customer, rather than part of the team. In the customer service problems we discussed above, company’s customer service teams only made a bad situation worse. If an airline customer has lost luggage their luggage, that’s one problem. But that issue can be exacerbated by a lack of any real help – canned responses just add insult to injury.
The fix: Customer Service needs to be connected to, and work in partnership with, all other parts of the business. Access to data throughout your organization make your customer service teams more effective at communicating with customers and solving problems. It also provides the business critical market insight to make the businesses’ operations better. To integrate your data, your team needs to develop a service management technology backbone, to provide your business with a unified, integrated approach.
- Failing to connect customer service with data from other parts of the business. it’s very difficult to deliver exceptional, empathetic service when you are working in the dark. Strangely, even large firms fail to connect intra-departmental data due to either deliberate business decisions or lack of Service Management applications. For example, most manufacturing companies don’t give customers access to production and shipping data, even though this information would better arm customers to plan when they will receive their orders, or help avoid future supply challenges.
The fix: Companies need to build better integrations between systems. The right customer service application, which should include a single data source and APIs into related systems serves as the backbone for delivering on your firm’s good intentions. Extra bonus points if you find a Service Management application with an intuitive, appealing interface for both internal employees and external customers. (Full disclosure, you might have noticed that we are fans of ServiceNow.)
- Reacting to issues instead of anticipating them. Most firms are still only fire-fighting with their customer service. By reacting to a single, immediate problem and then moving on to the next one, they fail to think through how to solve this problem more effectively the next time or, even better, address the root cause of the issue to fix the problem for good. This is the difference between just re-sending a bill to a customer every time they call, and figuring out which data feed isn’t updating with new customer addresses.
The fix: Best-in-Class service firms take a page from their B2C counterparts. They push their teams to not just answer the call quickly, but use that data to make suggestions for overall service improvements based on the customer’s history and trend data from the entire customer base. They also think strategically about how to solve for the customer at every level of their organization using interconnected between data and systems to sort and surface common issue patterns, so that they can make strategic decisions on shipping or product developments – to improve their products and processes so that customers don’t have to call in the first place.
If any of the approaches above seem familiar, then you have already found a host of opportunities to improve your systems, serve customers better and give them great experiences. Institutionalizing a discipline of empathy can be difficult, but the impact on those firms who make active listening and communication part of their CSM fiber will be felt throughout the organization.