(Monday Musings on Customer Service for September 11, 2017)
Companies across industries and around the world have woken up to the importance of customer service. Why? In a survey, Forbes found that 59% of customers said a bad experience caused them to stop buying from the company. Along those lines, increasing customer retention rates by 5% could increase profits from 25 to 95%, according to the Harvard Business Review. It’s clear that not only will service that wows customers retain them, but it makes for a competitive advantage in retaining them and greater business growth.
But great customer service is more than responding to emails sooner and picking up the phone faster. To truly deliver great customer service involves putting the customer at the center of everything you do. And when problems arise–and they will–how the problem is resolved is of critical importance.
On that note, I offer some waysto inject customer service across the business and simultaneously raise the bar on customer service. By implementing these processes that go beyond customer service and into other parts of your company, you’ll see how a customer-centric culture can drive new levels of internal customer focus as well as higher customer satisfaction.
Work Across Departments
All efforts to make customer service a part of the company culture must start with one realization: customer service is not an island. While their primary job is to be the friendly face and voice of your company, they can’t be isolated and working alone. Customer service serves as the eyes and ears into the customer base and can provide valuable insight and information, but they can't affect the change needed to address the real reason the customer called (more on this in a moment). As such, customer service should take the lead on building the bridges to other departments and teams to where the real solutions live. Let’s take a look at exactly what customer service across teams looks like.
Identify The Root Cause
Too often, customer service is focused simply on answering the question in front of them and moving on. While it’s important to satisfy the customer with a reasonable, appropriate answer in a timely manner, this does nothing to address the real underlying issue. Problems–be they product quality, order status, billing errors, or information breakdowns–are the result of a broken process somewhere outside of customer service. Customer service can triage and identify a problem and perhaps even diagnose a workaround, but the real solution typically lies elsewhere:
- Widespread billing errors are a result of an issue from finance.
- Product quality issues stem from issues in manufacturing or engineering.
- Delayed or lost orders are the result of problems in shipping.
Customer service might have some insights into why an issue is occurring, but they can’t affect the change needed to prevent the issue from recurring. This is where working across departments to identify the root cause helps to not only fix currently affected customers but to develop an answer that prevents future occurrences.
Agree On Solution
With the root cause identified, its now time to work towards a solution. And problems can come in different orders of magnitude. If a problem affects 100% of customers, a business process change is absolutely necessary; after all, 100% of customers contacting customer service is neither sustainable nor will it speak well of your company! However, when only a subset of customers are affected based on how they use the product or service or the issue is a lower priority, multiple, viable solutions might be available to consider, and oftentimes those solutions have difference price tags associated with them. With customer service working side-by-side with other teams, it’s important to identify, discuss, and mutually agree upon the solution. Consider using self-service automation or knowledge articles to deliver solutions with a lower impact on customers. It might be more cost effective to deliver a workaround impacting a small subset of customers in a knowledge article, for example, than completely retooling an assembly line.
In those cases where a business process change is necessary, it’s time for the team outside of customer service to accept this and go to work. At this point, customer service has already done its part to identify how many current customers are experiencing the issue (and perhaps, using analytics, have an idea of the potential additional customers that might be affected), adding weight and priority to the issue. Be it a change in product packaging, an update to the terms of the product warranty, or changes to systems providing order tracking information, other teams must now step up to deliver the solution. Customer service’s job isn’t over. With another team will setting out to address the issue, they still own closing the loop and providing the solution to the customer. Best-run organizations will empower customer service with the ability to not only assign tasks to outside departments using workflow (because things get lost in spreadsheets sent over email!) but also to monitor the work and the timeline to delivery. Once the necessary change is made, customer service can notify currently affected customers and also breathe a sigh of relief as they have prevented additional calls, emails, and chats on that same issue.
United In Service
In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s dangerous for companies to isolate customer service from the rest of the organization. Customer service is the new battlefield for the hearts, minds, and wallets of customers and customer service simply can’t go at it alone. Ultimately, superior customer service is delivered as a team sport. With customer service on point, they triage the issues then work cooperatively with other teams in the organization to identify the underlying issue, discuss and agree on the solution, then assign and monitor that agreed-upon solution through to its conclusion and the resulting communication to customers. When the entire organization participates in customer service, that shared sense of service not only unites the company but benefits the customer who will respond with positive reviews, loyalty, and referrals.
(Image credit: Pexels.com)