What Are The Key Attributes Of An Agile Customer Service Organization?

As Brian Walker discusses in “Welcome To The Era Of Agile Commerce,” traditional ways of describing multichannel commerce no longer work because customers don't interact with companies from a "channel" perspective. As a result, eBusiness professionals must transform how they market, transact, serve, and organize around changing customer experiences.

This has a significant impact on customer service. Agile customer service means providing a consistent and channel-agnostic customer experience across all touchpoints. Let’s think about this from a customer’s perspective: An agile customer service experience means customers can interact with whatever touchpoints they choose -- website, mobile app, kiosk, telephone, IVR -- and all along the way, your organization has identified who they are, knows what their last interaction with you entailed, anticipates what help they might need, and can meaningfully recommend products or services that might enhance their experience.

I am writing a document to explore the attributes of an agile customer service organization and have been speaking with many eBusiness leaders.

The general consensus in the conversations I’ve had to date is that the objective is fairly clear but the path to get there is ambiguous.

At the same time, there is a sense of urgency because consumers are pushing us into technologies to deliver the experience they desire; customers are adopting social media, mobile devices, tablets, and other technologies, and they have increasingly high expectations about how these will help improve or simplify their lives.

I’m interested in your thoughts -- what do you think are the key essentials to being an agile customer service organization? And are there examples of companies you think are doing this well?

Comments

Diane, Intriguing post.

Diane,

Intriguing post. Personally, I'm not sure that the path of getting to the goal is ambiguous, beyond the skill sets and interaction patterns for some of the newer channels being something that most businesses need guidance on, what I do strongly believe is that decisions made in the past, particularly on technology, can often give a business pause for thought when envisaging taking that next shift up the maturity ladder to truly becoming 'agile' and responsive to customer choice on the channels that suit a customer. Its interesting to see faces blanch when you tell a Customer service professional that in addition to the channels that they are working today (and in some cases struggling to do that well), they need to take on 2 or 3 more to be both competitive and responsive, particularly when they are dealing with platforms that hinder rather than help! Thankfully that is happening less and less as businesses start to realize how changes in technology change how they interact with their customers. I often find that where Marketing lead for customer touch points through social/mobile etc, support inevitably needs to follow.

There are two dimensions that I think are important attributes of companies that do this well. First, there has to be a commitment to service excellence ingrained in the DNA of the business. If a business sees the quality of its service as a key competitive differentiator, its easier for them to be agile because the roadblocks that typically hinder customer service excellence can be overcome. Skillsets get addressed. Funding gets approved. That feedback loop for continuous improvement gets prioritized.

The second is technology. It doesn't matter how good the technology is if you can't offer that consistent experience across channels and have a full picture of your interactions with the customer at the hands of the agent. Again, a commitment to excellence can help address technology roadblocks as well!

As far as your last question, there are a number of organizations I typically think of when I read anything on this topic. BT Business in the UK do a great job of being proactive through social, responsive to mobile trends, mix social and self-service well and do a great job of right channeling customers to the most effective channel for their interaction.

Intriguing paper topic Diane. I look forward to reading it!

customer service culture

Hi David,

Thanks for your comments and insight.

Here's a question for you and all ... if customer service excellence is not ingrained in your DNA, can you change the culture of your organization?

D

My 2 cents on Agile customer service

Hi Dianne,

Nice thoughts and interesting topic to work on.

In the social age, I believe that the customer service is all about tapping the social channels to enhance the customer retention and customer lifetime value.

The customer conversations on the community that are negative about your product or service need to be pushed as tickets to address the issues effectively, seek/publish feedback of the customer when the issue is fixed and further post it as a testimonial. This approach can convert unhappy customers to happy customers. You can flaunt the good conversations as testimonials and also measure the ROI from the social channels.

I am preparing a video on this and would be glad to share it you. You may want to contact me for it.

Regards,
Manikandan B
http://www.wapr.com
B2B collaboration platform for SMBs

Structural change is required

I haven't met with a business that doesn't realise the need to deploy joined-up, consistent information across all of their customer channels. It's a no-brainer. Recent UK research by econsultancy reveals that whilst 90% of companies recognise the requirement, just 4% have done it.

The problem is that many large organisations just aren't set up with that kind of mindset. Honestly, I have a real problem with the words "division" and "department", as in "retail division", "customer service department", "marketing department" and "IT department". Good organisations know that multichannel service consistency requires a structural approach that allows for one strategic view of the customer. Sadly, even many firms that pay lip-service to the principle of customer service excellence still divide key customer channels.

My company is in the business of selling software that can bring one consistent customer service experience to the call centre, website, retail environment and social channels - basically any customer touchpoint. It's much harder to sell a solution, even with such obvious benefits, to organisations that don't know customer service is something that happens outside of the call centre.

Agile, consistent customer service will come, but some painful cultural change in business will be required before it's widespread, I believe.

Mindset not toolset

It's a really interesting question and I love the concept of 'agile customer service'. It's funny, how the word 'agile' has gained popularity within a customer service context over the last few months.

As for how an organisation offers an agile customer service proposition, my opinion, is that 'agility' is a state of mind, technology simply the physical manifestation of that. Does agility only come via technology or from having an 'agile' process underpinning a particular user journey? I'm not sure. Too often, we jump to technology as the solution, but in my mind, technology and customer behaviour will forever be ahead of where a company is at, resulting in a situation whereby a company chases its 'technology tail', rather than setting forth a position: we are going to understand what our customers do, what outcomes they want to achieve, and then match the technology to achieving that outcome.

Companies have this habit of trying to find the 'one' solution, the one answer, the one absolute, but unfortunately this doesn't exist. Customers are not consistent, human behaviour is inherently erratic, variable, influenced by situations that could change at any moment. The solutions that companies provide unfortunately cater to averages not exceptions, they standardise processes. Human behaviour doesn't work this way, and so often the starting point is itself a compromise from the outset.

The word 'ambiguity' is also mentioned in this post. I think part of this may be because we are going through a period of profound change the like of which customer service has perhaps not witnessed before. Rather than try to think about what underpins this emerging type of customer service, we try to apply 'tried and tested formulas' to it. We adopt a techology first approach, rather than trying to look behind the technology that customers use, and understanding what the different technologies give to them. What is it about Twitter that fulfils what a customer needs at that moment in time, or the telephone or email? What are the customer's motivations or drivers? The technology simply facilitates that, it is not the solution.

As I stated befoere, in my opinion, agility is a state of mind, a defining characteristic of a company's service proposition, and technology simply the enabler.

Mindset not toolset

Thanks so much for your insightful comments. I think you've hit on a very interesting point - that agility is a state of mind rather than a functional ability. I suspect we'd find that companies who view customer service as an essential element to their business will have a culture that supports an agile state of mind. Those who have not successfully shifted from an operational paradigm will struggle with embedding customer service into an organization-wide cultural value.