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Customer Service in the Age of the Customer

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In support of its forthcoming activity at the Call Centre & Customer Management Expo from 11th-12th October at London Olympia, Portal has prepared a whitepaper discussing how customer service and contact centres can help businesses thrive in the "age of the customer".

By transforming the customer services function in your organisation to a strategic function, you can gain valuable customer insight and deliver an improved customer experience.

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Customer Service in the Age of the Customer

  1. 1. How Customer Service can help businesses thrive in the “Age of the Customer”A whitepaper from Portal
  2. 2. “The Age of the Customer”There is general agreement that we are living in the ‘age of the customer’ but what does that mean? ,It means that not only are customers more demanding (as a result of the difficult economic climate) butfor the first time in the modern age customers have the upper hand. This is because:1. The internet is a vast repository of information that is useful in conducting product/service research.2. Social media has allowed every individual, including your customers, to have a voice and share that voice with the world.3. As a participant in social networks your customer can tap into the voice and the wisdom of the people in their network: what their network says about you now counts for more than what your marketing and advertising says about you.4. The smartphone allows customers to access this wisdom wherever they are and this means that your customers are usually better ‘armed’ than your customer facing staff : customers know more about you and your competitors; customers can quote a price and ask your frontline staff to match it; and customers can record their interactions with your front line staff and share them with the world.A Change in the Balance of PowerWith this change in the balance of power, you have to focus, relentlessly, on creating superior value foryour chosen customers. You do that by excelling in three domains: generating customer insight; usingthat insight to create more attractive value propositions; and crafting and delivering a customer experience(across the entire customer journey) that matches the value proposition and leaves customers feelinghappy about doing business with you. Creating superior value The Social Customer People Cu hip ltu rs ate de Int re e Lea n ons Custom re rac si Di e t o Technology er Value Prop Create Experience Data superior value Cu is e st o Ide m e r I n s i g ht gy n om Bus e fy st rat Cu ine St sM & P ro c e s s s ode s ion l M is Mobile Economic Environment2 How Customer Service can help businesses thrive in the “Age of the Customer”
  3. 3. If your customers are satisfied, they are unlikely to talk badly about you to their social network. If you gofurther and create happy customers then they are likely to recommend you. Take the power of customerreviews on TripAdvisor as an example, and how they impact the fortunes of businesses in the travelindustry.Contact Centres and Customer ServiceContact centres are a key customer touchpoint and a valuable listening post to get access to the ‘voiceof the customer’. Many research sources suggest that if the customer experience around contact centresis positive, it then drives up customer satisfaction and reduces the propensity for customers to look foralternative suppliers.The Customer Services function is incredibly valuable to your organisation, especially because of thenumber of interactions that take place with customers. A modest sized contact centre (50 – 80 staff ) canbe handling something like forty thousand incoming calls a month and about the same figure in emails.The bigger contact centres are likely to be dealing with hundreds of thousands of contacts each week. Using data retrieved from customer interactions with your contact centre you can learn about: Customers Organisation Competitors needs what’s working and what the competition wants not working in: is offering in terms of preferences products their: behaviours pricing products marketing pricing selling offers delivery service billing etc. etc.Transforming Customer Services into a Strategic FunctionBusinesses could transform their Customer Services function into a valuable strategic function for thebusiness by using its daily contact with customers to generate actionable insight; insight into hiddencustomer needs which could be met through new products, services and value propositions; insight intowhat aspects of the business – touchpoints, policies, processes, people, organisation, technology – arebroken (from the customer perspective) and thus need to be examined and redesigned to create happycustomers. Today, the vast majority of Customer Services functions do not create value for the customer.Because contact centres are largely focused on processing customer demand at the lowest possible cost,whilst striving to hit certain industry standard performance targets, the vast majority of customer servicesfunctions do not create value for the customer. It’s not unusual for businesses to make it harder for How Customer Service can help businesses thrive in the “Age of the Customer” 3
  4. 4. customers to call their customer services department by “hiding” their contact number, replacing humanbeings with self-service technologies, outsourcing and offshoring. From the customer perspective it oftenmeans struggling to find the right contact number, battling with badly designed IVRs (interactive voicerecognition), long hold times to speak to a customer service agent and then the effort involved in talkingwith someone who does not share their language and culture. Today, there is a disconnect betweenwhat customers want and what contact centres are delivering as a result of their production-efficiency-productivity mindset and the associated practices.This production-efficiency-productivity mindset does not create value for the business either. Withinthe contact centres, turnover of agents is high and there is a considerable cost in recruiting and trainingstaff to replace those that have left. Then there is the revenue loss and cost associated with findingnew customers to replace the customers who leave because of poor customer service. Looking morebroadly there is the cost (which can run into millions of pounds) of market research commissioned bythe marketing department, which could be cut down considerably if the Customer Services functionwas converting its customer touches into actionable insight and making this available to the Marketingfunction. Finally, there is the revenue forgone because customer insights were not tapped, recorded,shared and converted into new products, services and revenue streams.Creating Value for the BusinessHow can the Customer Services function move beyond the production-efficiency-productivity mindsetand become a strategic function that helps the business as a whole to create value for its customers andfor itself?1. The business must recast the Customer Services function as a strategic function that isresponsible for delivering great customer service (creating happy customers) AND generatingactionable insight that drives improvements in business operations AND leads to the developmentof new products, services and revenue streams. This will only happen where the Customer Serviceleadership team can articulate the value of taking this approach and where they can persuade the CEOand leadership team to agree to it.2. Welcome and encourage contacts from your customers as an opportunity to learn about them, toeducate them about the business and to cultivate an emotional connection between the customerand the company. This means making the customer services number visible at all touchpoints includingthe product, invoices, statements and the website. It also means giving your customers an easy optionto connect to a human agent if they get trapped in self-service technologies e.g. IVR and the website.You need not worry about being inundated with new customer calls/emails provided that you are takingaction to eliminate failure demand1 and find smarter ways (from the customer and business perspective)to deal with value demand.3. Study and challenge the demand that is falling on the contact centres. This means identifyingand discriminating between value demand and failure demand. Examples of failure demand include all1 Failure demand is simply the demand that falls on the contact centres because the business failed to do something or to do something right forthe customer elsewhere4 How Customer Service can help businesses thrive in the “Age of the Customer”
  5. 5. the calls that come in from mobile customers who are upsetabout their bills because the advertising had led them to Creating Value frombelieve that unlimited data usage actually meant unlimited. Customer ServicesOr the deluge of incoming calls asking: “I was expecting adelivery today and it has not arrived. Why? When can I expect Maketo get the product?” Customer Services a strategic function4. Convert the contacts into actionable insight and sharethis with the entire company. This involves: tapping intothe knowledge of the customer service agents; focusing on Welcome contacts fromtaking a record of why customers called – the root cause of your customers andthe call and not just what they called about; converting call learn from themrecordings and/or notes made by the contact centre agentsinto insight through speech and/or text analytics; sharing this Study and challengelearning and insight with all the people in the company so the demand on yourthat they can make use of these insights. contact centres5. Work with the business – marketing, sales, field service,logistics, purchasing, finance etc. – to eradicate any Gather insight fromfailure demand including sharing the numbers, root your contacts withcauses and costs of servicing this failure demand. If your customersorganisation is a normal organisation then this information isnot likely to be well received. It is also likely that the functions Work with the businesswhich are the source of failure demand are unlikely to have to eradicate thethe motivation to change their ways. An effective way of failure demandshandling this issue is to work with the Finance Director tocharge back the costs of servicing any failure demand to thevery functions causing it. Find smarter ways to deal with value6. Find smarter ways to deal with value demand. This demandsmeans being proactive and providing the information thatyour customers need (e.g. order status) so that customersdo not contact the call centre. It also means putting in placeself-service technologies that allow customers to servethemselves easily: online banking and print boarding cards athome or via kiosks are great examples. Finally, you can simplychange your processes so that the customer has no need tocontact you. Giffgaff (sim only telecoms provider) has set-upan automated top-up facility that ensures that customersnever run out of credit. Any smarter way of dealing withvalue demand must improve the customer experience(access, ease, convenience, control etc.) as viewed throughthe eyes of the customer. How Customer Service can help businesses thrive in the “Age of the Customer” 5
  6. 6. A Fresh Approach to Customer Services In order to succeed in making customer services a strategic function you have to be willing to take a fundamentally fresh approach to the people Rethink the aspects of your Customer Service function. role of the managers, team leaders & customer Rethink the role of the managers, team leaders and customer service agents service agents A strategic approach requires managers to change the emphasis for their agents so that their role is to listen to customers, learn from customers, capture that learning so that others can use it, educate the Rethink your customers and build emotional bridges by providing great human approach to hiring and retaining service. customer service agents Rethink your approach to hiring / retaining customer service agents You need to use any contact with customers as an opportunity to learn, educate and build rapport with customers. This is a different skill Provide the to simply handling contacts quickly to meet AHT (Average Handling environment Time) targets. As you offload the simple demands onto self-service that your customer technologies you will ensure that your customer service agents end service agents need up dealing with the more complex contacts. Some would call this to flourish and “knowledge work” and this requires different skills to administrative perform work. This means that you have to think carefully about whom you hire and how you retain your customer service agents. Provide the Provide the environment that your customer service agents need to information, tools and systems flourish and perform that your customer If you are to get the best out of your customer service agents then you service agents need have to provide an environment that allows them to flourish: to find meaning in their work and to do it well. This means thinking about the environment in which the agents work. That includes the physical environment (the location, the design, the facilities, the space) and managerial environment (the management style and the performance metrics). There is ample research to show that there is a link between the employee experience and the customer experience. Put differently, if you want your employees to look after your customers and leave them happy then you, the management, have to look after your employees and leave them happy. Provide the information, tools and systems that your customer service agents need Today many customer service agents are struggling (and under stress) to fulfil a mentally and emotionally taxing role with one hand tied behind6 How Customer Service can help businesses thrive in the “Age of the Customer”
  7. 7. their back. The agents simply do not have the information / knowledge they need to get things rightfirst time – to provide accurate answers in a speedy manner. Furthermore, they often have to open up,make sense of and use many different systems to deal with an incoming contact. This is a recipe for stress,longer call handling times and mistakes. The strategic approach that we are advocating requires a freshlook at the information, tools and systems that customer service agents use.ConclusionIn summary, what many businesses fail to acknowledge is the real value that their front-line staff have incontributing to customer insight.By changing attitudes towards the customer services/contact centre functions and acknowledging thatyour contact with customers brings a wealth of valuable data, your business can gain insight into itscustomers that you may never find through paid-for market research.That said, it is no small task and involves changing internal cultures and implementing new or updatedtechnology systems, but the insight that can be extracted from all your contact data could transform theway you do business and allow you to thrive in the age of the customer. How Customer Service can help businesses thrive in the “Age of the Customer” 7
  8. 8. About PortalPortal helps some of the world’s best knownbrands transform the service they provideto their customers. With over 50 technicallyaccredited consultants and partnershipswith major technology companies such asIBM, Microsoft and Amazon Webservices, itbuilds solutions that help its clients to deliverimproved customer acquisition, customerretention, increased customer satisfaction andlong-term customer loyalty. Portal’s experiencespans all industry sectors but it has particularexpertise in Public Sector, Banking and FinancialServices, and Manufacturing/Industrial/Transport sectors. Portal is privately owned andbased in Bracknell, Berkshire.Follow Portal on Twitter @chooseportalFollow Portal on LinkedInwww.linkedin.com/company/portalFor additional information visitwww.chooseportal.com

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