At your service – or not
by Colin Gallick, CEO, Invu,
Monday, August 06, 2012
Is customer service designed to meet the needs of the customer? Or only a strategy for improving cross selling and boosting revenue generation? Whilst the latter are, of course, important for any organisation, an endemic failure to deliver customer service that truly reflects customer requirements is undermining business value.
In reality, customers have one objective: get the problem solved, fast. Whether via self-service online tools or a customer services agent, a customer wants rapid, preferably first time, resolution.
Colin Gallick, CEO, Invu, explains that changing the way an organisation retains, finds and uses information is key to ensuring customer service reflects the needs of its customers first.
There is no doubt that investment in and attitudes towards customer service have changed radically over the past decade. Good customer service is a critical component of business success and according to the Institute of Customer Service, there is a direct link between high quality customer service and customer retention, reputation and business performance.
Most organisations accept that customer acquisition is far more expensive than retaining an existing customer. However, over a five year period, a typical business will lose as many as 50% of its customers according to Bain & Co., whilst businesses that boost retention rates by as little as 5% can see an increase in profits from 5% to an amazing 95%.
Yet in recent years, the concept of customer service has become blurred. While organisations recognise the importance of customer retention and have made clear efforts to become more efficient in handling queries and improving call resolution times, they are primarily focused on increasing revenue creation opportunities, leveraging customer service insight to drive up product quality, and cross selling. All solid, laudable objectives. In contrast, the customer has one, clear priority – if there is a problem, get it solved, quickly.
Organisations need to understand and address the customer priority – not least because the current focus of most customer service activity is actively undermining customers’ trust. Indeed, the Institute of Customer Service has identified a number of areas of focus for business to improve business growth and deliver return on investment – at the heart of which are concepts of trust and confidence. Many of the changes are ‘soft’ and hence difficult to quantify, such as training and development of staff, empowering staff and gaining an understanding of customer viewpoint.
But these changes are meaningless unless backed up with the information required. How can staff be empowered if they do not have the full picture of the customer history in order to make effective decisions? What happens, for example, when a customer queries the fact an order has not arrived or is incomplete? However well trained the agent, if the information required to resolve the issue is scattered across emails, the ERP system, packing slips, even shipping documents or a third party courier, simply assessing the status of the order will require a significant amount of time and certainly cannot be resolved whilst the customer is on the phone.
Even the most common invoice queries cannot always be immediately addressed – irrespective of the level of staff training – due to the need to match paper-based invoices with purchase orders on the ERP system.
There are several fundamental issues to be addressed to ensure the rapid, one time problem resolution customer’s demand. And the most essential requirement is speed of information access. Organisations need to provide customer service agents with rapid access to pertinent customer information – and that means overcoming the challenge of disparate information sources; including emails, invoices, orders, and letters.
This information also needs to be provided in context, in a way that can be simply searched to gain the full history of the customer interaction. A flexible approach to information management transforms the customer service process – searching on invoice numbers will provide specific order details; whereas the customer name will provide a full order and correspondence history; whilst searching on a stock unit will reveal who else has ordered the item, any related information such as product recall, or a copy of the instruction which the customer is missing.
With a complete 360 degree view of the customer, organisations can now begin to make these soft changes deliver real benefit. Rather than limit customer service staff to specific information, such as finance records, by instead providing each member of the team with a complete, searchable history of an entire customer relationship, the proportion of queries resolved first time can increase dramatically. Critically, when a service agent searches on a customer name or invoice number, the search will return not only the specific document but also any ancillary records, such as dispatch notes, outstanding invoices, contracts or email correspondence related to the order. With this depth of knowledge, the company can broaden the scope of each staff member and hence boost the chance of resolving problems first time.
There is also a clear cost benefit. Customer service staff are more effective and productive when customer call backs are radically reduced. Having created this complete searchable, information resource, it is also then far easier to build a self service option for customers that delivers problem resolution at a far lower cost.
It also provides that essential record of customer interaction that is critical to improving processes. Gathering and acting on customer feedback is one of the eight requirements cited by the Institute of Customer Service – by creating a full audit trail of customer interactions, organisations can not only analyse performance but also use automation to address recurring problems within the customer engagement processes to ensure proactive steps are taken to resolve them.
Organisations are striving for both greater efficiencies and growth opportunities. Yet the insistence on exploiting customer services ‘tools’ to focus on revenue generation is resulting in many businesses missing out on both. Rapid, ‘right first time’ resolution is at the heart of good customer service. It drives retention and therefore feeds directly into the bottom line. And whether it is achieved through self-service via online tools, or the completeness of a customer service form that can ensure the problem is solved quickly, organisations simply cannot achieve this objective without transforming the quality, depth, context and availability of customer information.