In customer service organizations, collaboration should take place around cases and content, and should involve not only collaboration between customers and customer service agents, but internal collaboration within the enterprise. Internal collaboration has quantifiable benefits as measured by increased organizational productivity and efficiency. For cases, collaboration helps increase first contact resolution, decrease handle times and increase customer satisfaction. For content, collaboration helps evolve content to be more relevant, accurate, complete, and in line with customer demand. Some of the technologies that help foster collaboration around cases and content include:
Presence indicators, instant messaging, and video chat. These allow customer service agents to connect in real time with subject-matter experts, supervisors, managers, or other agents having the necessary skills to help resolve a question.
Collaborative workspaces. These allow agents and subject-matter experts to share documents and logs about the customer issue, the troubleshooting process, and the results in real time.
Activity streams. These allow agents and subject-matter experts to subscribe to a case and receive notifications of all changes and additions to a case.
Remote support. This allows customer service agents to invite subject-matter experts and specialty agents to troubleshoot software or hardware with a customer.
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.
Customer service managers don’t often realize that data quality projects move the needle on customer satisfaction. In a recent Forrester survey of members of the Association of Business Process Management Professionals (ABPMP), of the 45% who reported that they are working on improving CRM processes, only 38% have evaluated the impact that poor-quality data has on the effectiveness of these processes. And of the 37% of respondents working on customer experience for external-facing processes, only 30% proactively monitor data quality impacts. That’s no good; lack of attention to data quality leads to a set of problems:
Garbage in/garbage out erodes customer satisfaction. Agents need the right data about their customers, purchases, and prior service history at the right point in the service cycle to deliver the right answers. But when their tool sets pull data from low-quality data sources, agents don’t have the right information to answer their customers. An international bank, for example, could not meet its customer satisfaction goals because agents in its 23 contact centers all followed different operational processes, using up to 18 different apps — many of which contained duplicate data — to serve a single customer.
Lack of trust in data negatively affects agent productivity. Agents start to question the validity of the underlying data when data inconsistencies are left unchecked. This means that agents often ask a customer to validate product, service, and customer data during an interaction — increasing handle times and eroding trust.
The contact center solution ecosystem that customer service organizations use has grown more complex over time, as highlighted in our latest TechRadar™ on these solutions. Customer service executives struggle to enforce consistent processes for their agents to follow so that those agents can deliver optimal customer experiences. The amount of data and information that agents need to use to resolve customer inquiries is exploding. Vendor mergers and acquisitions as sectors consolidate are creating product and support risks. And new contact center solution delivery models, including managed services, outsourcing, and cloud-based offerings, are presenting new opportunities.
To define the context for making smart contract center strategy and technology decisions for customer service, Forrester partnered with CustomerThink to survey 75 contact center professionals to understand which technologies were being used and who was making purchasing decisions. We found that:
A set of core technologies are must-haves for contact centers. Core contact center technologies enable agents to manage voice calls, email and chat requests from customers, log and manage inquiries via case management systems, and manage and optimize agent workforces. These solutions are mature and continue to deliver significant business value. 53% use case management solutions; 58% use workforce management solutions; 48% use quality monitoring; 62% use voice IVR or self-service speech platforms; 44% use email response management systems; and 50% use chat solutions.
Step 6 of my 10-step program on how to master your service experience is to make your agent tool set more usable. This is because the work environment of a customer service agent is pretty awful. Agents use dozens — sometimes hundreds — of disconnected tools and technologies like CRM systems, billing systems, ERP, transactional systems, knowledge bases, information in email correspondence, and training manuals to find answers to customer questions. Have a look at the customer service IT ecosystem from a North American telecom company to internalize this complexity.
Most applications that agents use lack intuitive navigation, have cluttered screens that contain too much information, and have overly complex process flows that rely too heavily on agents to navigate. Moreover, agents don’t always navigate through their set of disconnected systems in the same way to find the answer they are looking for.
All these usability issues lead to variable handle times and inconsistent customer experiences. There is no way for managers to make sure that agents are complying with regulations or company policy. Knowledge exists on an island of its own, disconnected from the rest of the customer service ecosystem, and is sometimes duplicated for each communication channel that the company supports — which leads to inconsistent answers that are sometimes just plain wrong. In addition, agents don’t have access to a consolidated view of a customer’s purchase history or prior interactions and thus cannot personalize the conversation to the customer.
Not all customer questions can be answered in real time; some require offline research time. Other questions, like those that come in by email or a web form, have inherent delays. It’s important to communicate service expectations — and meet them so that your customers learn to trust you. Here is a good example of an acknowledgement of an email sent to Starwood’s customer service organization; it tells the customer to expect a reply within 48 hours, but if this is too long to wait, the customer can contact the company via phone for help.
What is surprising is that SLAs are communicated to the customer for customer service via Twitter. Here is a rare example that lets users know that Twitter is offline for the night:
Step 4: Understand what your customers are trying to do
Offering the communication channels that your customers want to use and linking them together is a big first step. You must also steer your customers to use the right channel for their question and maximize the value of that channel for them. For example, don’t let them use email for time-sensitive requests; guide your customers to using a live-assist channel like chat or the phone. Don’t blindly port your web self-service capabilities to mobile devices; look at their value-add capabilities, such as the built-in camera, video, or geolocation features that these devices offer, and use them to add value to the self-service interaction.
Intuit, for example, allows customers to take pictures of their W-2 tax forms with mobile phones, answer a few questions, and e-file their taxes, which streamlines the entire process. Many automobile insurance companies allow customers to take pictures of accident damage with their mobile device’s cameras, again adding value by simplifying the insurance claim filing process.
How many of you are right-channeling your customers’ issues to maximize their satisfaction and control your costs?
Here’s the third tip in my 10-part blog series on how to master your service experience in order to better align your capabilities with customer demand and do it at a cost that won’t kill your business. Step 3 highlights the need for multichannel integration.
Step 3: Don’t offer silos of communication choices
Your service experience should allow customers to start an interaction in one communication channel and complete it in another. For example, they should be able to start an interaction over the phone and follow up with an email containing more detailed information. Each interaction should convey consistent data and information to the customer. The agents that support each communication channel should follow the same basic processes, like asking for authentication at the same point in the service process. Each interaction should build on the prior one so that the customer does not have to repeat his question each time. This is more difficult to do than it seems, and companies have struggled for years to offer this type of seamless experience.
To allow for this, channels can’t be implemented in silos, but must be integrated so that agents have a full view of prior customer interactions over traditional channels like phone, email, chat, and SMS and social ones like Facebook and Twitter. Agents use this information to understand what conversations the customer has already had with you and can then better personalize the interaction and add value.
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.