December 04, 2008, 5:25 PM — Enterprise organizations often think of customer service as an unavoidable fact of business, a necessary expense. Rethink customer service, however, and it can become a strategic weapon that fosters growth and competitive advantage. Taken together, the views of our 100+ enterprise and government customers reveal some common steps for turning customer service into a critical tool that can be especially valuable during difficult economic periods.
Alignment and vision. If customer service is going to be strategic to your company, the entire company must be aligned around that vision. The company may want to focus on retaining its best customers, improving the loyalty of the second-tier customers or upselling its customers. Each company will have its own goals, but without alignment and clarity, a company can only pay lip service to those goals.
Focus on the customer experience. Strategic customer service focuses on what will work best for the customer. In some cases, that means making phone calls as short as possible. Other times, itâ€™s providing self-service information.
For instance, a bank customer might call the bank and get all the information he or she needs in 30 seconds via self-service IVR. But what if the customer had a follow-up question that self-service couldnâ€™t address? Ideally, the bank would let the customer transfer out of self-service and over to an agent, who could see the customerâ€™s self-service activity, including name and customer number.
Customer experience often breaks down when new technologies are implemented without thinking through all points of impact or when they have not been integrated on the backend.
Segment the customers. Not all customers are equal, nor do they behave equally. You should know which customers are calling, emailing, sending faxes, using customer service over the web, etc. Then, that knowledge can inform decisions on how to best communicate with each customer segment.
Optimizing voice services is usually going to improve customersâ€™ communications with the company. Typically, 95 percent of the activity in a customer service department involves voice â€” customers dialing in for self-service via automated IVR or for help from a customer service agent.
The best way to segment customers is by looking at historical trends. Analyze who calls, how often they call, and why they call. Do the analysis even when the answers seem obvious. The results can be surprising.
Take care of the agents. Customer service generally has some of the lowest-paid people in the organization handling the highest-priority, customer-facing activity. The organizations with the best customer service think about the agents, giving them the tools they need, thus making the customers and the agents happier.
Scripting tools can walk an agent through a complicated transaction, ensuring that the customer can follow the process. In addition to improving customer service, scripting improves upselling by ensuring the agent uses the right terms and presents them in the right order.
Recording tools can be used for compliance, consistency, and training. When a company records the customer conversations of its most successful agents, the questions, answers, and comments can be built into the companyâ€™s scripts. Recording tools also help customer service supervisors coach their agents.
In some cases, taking care of the agents means letting them work from home. Overall, agents are happier when they work from home. They earn the same amount of money, but they save money on fuel costs. Theyâ€™re never late and rarely sick. Their productivity is often higher than when they work onsite. And working from home doesnâ€™t cost the company any more money than working onsite.
The agents want to keep the customer happy. But they need the right tools and the right environment to do it.
Find the best partner. With technology now a cornerstone of customer service, companies must find the best partner, one that understands strategic customer service. Evaluation criteria includes extensive customer service experience, including customers with the same goal as yours, industry awards, overall reputation and passion for what you want to do.
While hosted solutions are not the only technology choice, they are scalable and easy to implement. And in a challenging economic climate, a hosted solution provides flexibility that premises-based solutions canâ€™t match: Companies pay for a hosted solution based on the number of agents per month. Simply put, the agent force can be ramped up or scaled back on demand, cost-effectively accommodating fluctuating customer service volume.
Inspect what you expect. From the beginning, measure everything you do related to your goal. Do you want to improve customer retention? Increase revenues? Double business without increasing costs? Regardless of the goal, include measurements. Set the bar high, and know whatâ€™s happening inside your customer service organization.
When a company succeeds at making customer service a strategic weapon, it sets off a chain reaction that reaches through its customer service agents and out to its customers, who are better served and more satisfied with the company.
Vincent Deschamps is chief executive officer and chairman of the board for Echopass Corp., the experts in on-demand, always-on, hosted contact center solutions. Learn more about Echopass at http://www.echopass.com, or contact Vincent at Vincent_Deschamps@echopass.com.