Science & Technology

Why successful customer service is about more than engagement

One of the most ubiquitous developments in the customer service business over the past decade is the growth in the number of ways that customers can engage with a company when they have an issue. From customer contact centers and websites to mobile apps and chatbots, customers today have a wide array of ways to get in touch with a brand when they have questions or need help.

But this focus on the customer engagement layer doesn’t address the full scope of customer service. Transforming customer service requires delivering an effortless end-to-end experience – from initial customer engagement with a brand to request handling and issue resolution. After all, even if customers are initially wowed by a new chatbot, their enthusiasm will quickly wane if their issues aren’t fully resolved in a timely manner.

A lack of connectedness and coordination on the back end can often lead to lost customers, no matter how flashy the initial engagement.

So if companies want to create service experiences that truly satisfy customers, they must look past the engagement layer and invest in improving the underlying operations layer, where requests are handled and issues are resolved behind the scenes. By connecting the front, middle and back office with digital workflows and changing how work gets done, issues can be solved quickly and, often, proactively.

Doing so has the potential to increase customer satisfaction and revenue growth, improve employee productivity and reduce operational costs. In fact, new data from Aberdeen Research shows that leaders in customer operations have seen a 20.6% year-over-year increase in annual revenue growth and customer satisfaction rates 7.7 times higher than their competitors. Here are three reasons why this is important:

The operations layer enables proactive customer service

How do organizations know when customers have a problem? In most cases, it’s when customers tell them.

It’s not hard to see why this can become a problem, particularly when an organization has to address an issue that affects large groups of customers. Imagine you’re a regional internet service provider that experiences a service outage. Depending on the scale of the issue, a trickle of customer inquiries can quickly turn into a flood of calls and messages that overwhelms your service staff. Every organization has experienced some variation of this problem.

What excites me is how new technologies such as artificial intelligence, “internet of things” sensors and digital workflows can transform organizations’ approach from reactive to proactive. For example, with IoT-enabled operations, customer service teams can quickly detect service issues, fix them and inform customers before they even know there was a problem. Proactive issue resolution and communication is critical to proactive service.

This a powerful inversion of the typical dynamic that most people have with organizations and service providers, and it can only be enabled via technology.

Streamlined operations create more empathetic service agents

Customer service is a notoriously tough job. When customers are upset and frustrated, service agents are usually the first to know. That dynamic, sadly, can sometimes work in reverse: When service agents don’t have the right tools to get their jobs done effectively, or have minimal visibility into the status of a customer’s request, they can get frustrated, hindering their ability to provide great customer service.

This is another reason why improving the operations layer is critical. When organizations streamline their operations by automating rote tasks and eliminating process inefficiencies, it lowers the mental drain for service agents. These employees, newly energized, are in turn able to focus on solving complex customer problems. Clearly, we can draw a straight line between employee experience and customer experience: More efficient operations result in happier frontline agents and more content customers.

This was proliferated by COVID and the shift to remote work. At the beginning of the pandemic, millions of customer service agents were sent home overnight, and many are still working remotely. Meanwhile, customer demand for seamless, digital experiences increased. The businesses that have modernized and invested in digital solutions that drive better experiences and improve operational efficiency have done well. Those that have invested only in engagement are struggling to keep up.

Visibility into customer service operations drives process improvements

For most organizations, scale and wasted effort are directly correlated. The larger and more complex an operation is, the harder it is to gain visibility into the entire end-to-end process.

Many organizations don’t have full visibility into their service processes because they haven’t done the foundational groundwork to enable that visibility. Process optimization, as we call it, is a critical step in determining where service organizations’ time and energy are spent. It’s also vital to being able to spot process inefficiencies, bottlenecks and places where effort is duplicated.

For example, even common consumer banking problems such as payment disputes can involve a dozen systems and require input from multiple teams. Mapping a complex process like this unlocks opportunities for automation and streamlining that can reduce resolution time from hours to seconds.

Customer service: It’s time to go deeper

2020 was a wakeup call for many customer service organizations. Overnight, teams comfortable with their existing processes and manual systems were forced to undergo rapid digital transformation. The ones that embraced that transition began to thrive; the ones that resisted it saw their customer wait times, and in turn their churn rates, climb.

The industry must go further. If organizations want to retain customers and gain an edge over their competition, they must embrace digital workflows that unite their front-, middle-, and back-end customer service processes. Sometimes, customer service teams’ most important work is the least visible to the customers they serve.

John Ball is senior vice president and general manager of customer workflows at ServiceNow Inc. He wrote this article for SiliconANGLE.

Image: mohamed_hassan/Pixabay

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