Customer Service: Out With The Old . . . And In With The New

Customers dream about personalized, contextual, proactive customer service experiences — where companies deliver an experience tailored to their persona, their past purchase history, and their past customer service history. They want each interaction to add value and build upon prior ones so that they don’t have to repeat themselves and restart the discovery process. They want to be able to choose the communication channel and device they use to interact with a service center. They want to start an interaction on one channel or device and move it seamlessly to another. Check out RightNow’s vision video that brings these points to life.

Most customer service organizations are still struggling with the basics — the hygiene factors in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — in meeting their customers’ expectations. There are benchmarking tools that you can use to figure out how well your organization is doing and to get actionable recommendations on how to do better. But, as you focus on the tactical improvements that you need to make this year, it’s important to keep tabs on the optimal experience that customers would like you to deliver to help shape your long-term direction for customer service. Here’s my abbreviated personal list:

Out with the old . . .

. . . and in with the new

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Forrester's Top 15 Trends For Customer Service In 2012

With 2012 still bright and full of hope for most of us, what are the key trends that customer service professionals need to pay attention to as you plan for success this year? Here are the top trends that I am tracking. Get my full report here.

Leaders Will Empower Their Agents To Deliver Optimal Service

Trend 1: Organizations Will Internalize The Importance Of The Universal Customer History Record

Customer service agents must have access to the full history of a customer’s prior interactions over all the communication channels — voice, electronic channels like chat and email, and the newer social channels like Facebook and Twitter — to deliver personalized service and to strengthen the relationship that customers have with companies. In 2012, vendors will continue to add  the management of social channels to their customer service products. Companies will slowly continue to formalize the business processes and governance structures around managing social inquiries and move this responsibility out of marketing departments and into customer service centers.

Trend 2: The Agent Experience Will No Longer Be An Afterthought

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Which Contact Center Technologies For Customer Service Are Being Adopted?

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.
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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 10

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:

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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 9

Step 9 of my 10-step program on how to master your service experience is to leverage social technologies for customer service.

Your customers are using social media in their private lives. Facebook has more than 800 million users that collectively spend more than 3 billion hours a year on the site. Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn have large numbers of followers as well. What are you doing to engage your customers in the medium where they are spending their time?

You can’t add social technologies in a silo; they have to be intergrated into your customer service ecosystem so that they extend and add value to your current operations. Here are six ways to add social technologies for customer service in the right way:

  • 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. Tie feedback to customer records so that agents are aware of customer sentiments so that they can personalize future interactions.
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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 8

Step 8 of my 10-step program on how to master your service experience is to tame your knowledge problem.

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:

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.
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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 7

Step 7 of my 10-step program on how to master your service experience is to think outside the customer service box.

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.

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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 6

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.

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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 5

Part 5 of my 10-part blog series on how to master your service experience is also short and to the point: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and tell them when they should expect an answer from you.

Step 5: Keep your customers in the loop

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:

 

 

 

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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 4

Part 4 of my 10-part blog series on how to master your service experience is short and to the point: Understand what your customers are trying to do and keep this in mind when designing and delivering your service strategy.

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?