In a conversation with Alex Bard, CEO of Assistly (now desk.com, part of salesforce.com), I learned a few interesting things about customer service solutions for small to medium-size businesses (SMBs): (1) Companies can be too small to have customer service organizations; (2) the main competition of vendors of SMB customer service solutions is not each other, but Post-It notes and Gmail; and (3) the service that SMB customers demand is exactly like the service that enterprise customers demand.
So what do each of these points mean?
Companies can be too small to have customer service organizations. Without a formal customer service organization, customer-facing personnel such as customer relations managers, CEOs, and marketing folks are on the hook to answer customer inquiries. These employees wear many hats, are on the road a lot, and communicate constantly with one another. And, more than likely, their companies also don’t have formal IT organizations. This means that customer service software must be tailored to a business user: easy to deploy, easy to configure, and supporting a multitude of mobile devices. Customer service software must also have built-in collaboration features, alerts, and notifications allowing personnel to quickly work together on a customer issue for quick resolution.
We live in a world of increasing complexity: an increasing number of communication channels, an explosion of social data, the intertwining of sales, marketing, and customer service activities, and a growing amount of information and data that customer service agents need to answer customer questions. These issues complicate the challenge of being able to provide customers the service that is in line with their expectations — service that keeps customers loyal to your brand yet that can be delivered at a cost that makes sense for your business.
Being able to deliver the right customer service involves:
A good knowledge program is one of the foundational elements of a good service experience. Many informational requests can be easily handled using a simple FAQ, which deflects calls from your contact center and keeps your customers satisfied with relevant answers. Agent knowledge that is the same across communication channels guarantees that your customers receive consistent and accurate answers.
But getting your arms around your knowledge assets and maintaining them is hard work. I use a six-step best-practice framework to get you going with knowledge management:
Align the organization for success. To be successful, you need an executive sponsor who will fund your knowledge program and allocate resources to the effort. You also need to put together a project team, follow proper project management practices, and define a rollout and adoption strategy.
Design a framework for knowledge management. Knowledge base content must be easy to find and use. Before starting to create content, you need to determine usage roles, content sources (i.e., what content lives inside the knowledge base and what content lives outside of it but is accessible via knowledge base searches), content standards, and information architecture and localization requirements.
We know that customers don’t choose to interact with you on a single communication channel from start to finish. They interact with you on whatever the most suitable channel for them at that point in time is — which could be via their mobile device, a chat session, a phone call, email, or web self-service from their iPad. This agile behavior is not limited to customer service; it extends to everything that we do, from buying to receiving marketing offers to getting service. Saying this another way, customers don’t make a distinction between a sales transaction and a customer service transaction. All they expect is to be able to receive the same customer experience every time they interact with a company, over any communication channel that they use. This point is very well illustrated in fellow Forrester analyst Brian Walker's report “Welcome To The Age Of Agile Commerce.”
More than that, customers expect personalized service targeted to their situation at hand. Customers expect you to know who they are, what products and services they have purchased, what issues they have had, over what channels they have used to contact you in the past, and what offers they have been presented with and either accepted or rejected. In addition, they would like to know whether you have read and responded to the feedback that they have given you.
We all know that the gap between a customer’s expectations and the service they receive is huge. Customers are increasingly knowledgeable about products and demand value-added, personalized service. Businesses struggle with understanding which initiatives will move the needle in a positive direction and are thus worth investing in. Here is the second tip in my 10-part blog series on how to master the service experience.
Step 2: Is your customer service aligned with your company brand?
Meeting the needs of your customers are important. However, it’s just as important to stay true to your brand and design a service experience that supports your value proposition. Customers need to know what your company represents — which is especially important in the message-cluttered social media world that we live in — and have this brand reinforced every time they interact with you during the sales process, and for every interaction after the initial sale.
These companies have aligned their service offering to help reinforce their brand with their customers:
Apple. Its products are high-style and priced at a premium. Apple’s customer service is very much in line with its brand. The firm delivers customer service on the customer’s terms — you can arrange a phone call with an Apple Expert who specializes in your exact question and can talk with them now or later at your convenience. They’ll even call you. You can email Apple or browse its extensive knowledge base.
Today, the gap between a customer’s expectations and the service they receive is huge. Customers are increasingly knowledgeable about products and demand value-added, personalized service.
Companies know that good service is important: 90% of customer service decision-makers tell Forrester that it’s critical to their company’s success, and 63% think its importance has risen. Yet companies struggle to offer an experience that meets their customers’ expectations at a cost that make sense to them, especially in these economically challenging times.
The end result for companies is significant: escalating service costs, customer satisfaction numbers at rock-bottom levels, and anecdotes of poor service experiences amplified over social channels that can lead to brand erosion.
Mastering the customer service experience is hard to do. Focusing on the end-to-end experience can help you move the needle in a positive direction. In this 10-part blog series, I will outline one tip each day that you should think about.
Tip 1: Do you know how your customers want to interact with you?
Customers know what good service is and demand it from each interaction they have, over any communication channel that they use. Forrester’s data shows that in general, customers still prefer to use the phone, closely followed by email and web self-service. That being said, customer demographics affect channel preference with the younger generation more comfortable using peer-to-peer communication and instant service channels like chat. Its important to understand the demographics and communication preferences of your customers.
It has been a few years since Forrester delved deeply into the issues surrounding consumer privacy, and in that time, an awful lot has changed:
Facebook Connect, Google ID, Yahoo Identity, and Sign In With Twitter have emerged as a wholenew way of being recognized across a myriad of websites across the Net. As little as a decade ago, most adults online couldn’t have imagined the convenience of single sign-on.
At the same time, data capture methods have not only proliferated, they’ve become exceptionally sophisticated. Tactics like Flash-based cookies and deep packet sniffing surreptitiously collect behavioral data about online consumers, while loyalty and membership cards provide more insight into consumers’ purchasing habits at the line item level than ever before.
All that extra data is hard to protect without big changes to governance policies and technology stacks, and when data breaches happen, they're public and ugly.
Finally, legislators have forged ahead with regulations to protect consumer data. Europe's answer is the Data Protection Directive – a regulatory framework that governs the capture, management and use of consumer data, while in the US, congressional leaders, egged on by consumer advocacy groups, are introducing bills designed to limit data capture and to provide remediation in cases of data and security breach.
The statistics that salesforce.com broadcast at Dreamforce last week are impressive: a $2.2 billion annual run rate; 104,000 customers; and 35 billion transactions per quarter (see Benioff's keynote slides here). The conference was attended by 40,000 users, with a further 35,000 joining online. Salesforce.com’s cloud messaging is mature and no longer a focal point. However, what was most interesting from a customer service/CRM standpoint was the focus on the “social customer” and the way that CRM applications need to adapt to accommodate them.
Traditionally, CRM software has been anything but focused on the customer. It has been positioned as software aimed at the business user to increase their productivity and efficiency as they interact with customers, clients, and sales prospects.
Salesforce.com’s new CRM messaging spotlights the customer and the way that customers interact today using the new social channels and loose social processes to research and select products to purchase and get answers to their questions. Customers are also company employees and want to use these channels to collaborate with other employees at work in the same way they use these channels in their personal lives. This means that these social channels and processes need to also extend inside the enterprise. Check out salesforce.com’s interaction map for the social customer:
We all know that companies are trying to leverage social channels for customer service. But how can they be deployed in a way that adds value to an organization? Here are my thoughts:
You can’t implement social technologies in a silo within your contact center because you have to be able to deliver a consistent experience across the communication channels you support: voice, the electronic ones, and the social ones. Read my blog post on how you can do this.
Once you get the basics right, you are ready to add social media capabilities. Best practices include:
Start by listening to customer conversations. These conversations can surface general issues with products, services, and company processes. Make sure you create workflows to route surfaced issues to the correct organization so they can be worked on.
Flag and address social inquiries. Understand the general sentiments expressed in these conversations, but also identify specific customer inquiries and route them to the right agent pool for resolution.
Extend your customer service ecosystem with communities. This allows your customers to share information, best practices, and how-to tips with each other, as well as get advice without needing to interact with your agents. But don’t implement them in a technology silo; they should be well-integrated with current contact center processes.