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Customer service used to be something of an oxymoron. Customers would usually only ever get in touch after a purchase and only then if they had a problem. Fire fighting might be a better way to describe a contact centre where every customer interaction has the potential to be more of an argument than conversation.

Customers only ever wanted or needed “service” when something went wrong. Concepts such as engagement and relationship-building may sound normal today, but in the past decade most customers wanted to spend as little time as possible asking for help from a service centre.

How times have changed. Customers engage in far more conversation with brands today at many more stages in the journey. Many customers will engage in extensive communication with a brand, across multiple channels, before ever making a purchase.

Although customers are making the process more complex for brands to monitor what they are saying, they expect service to be easier than ever. What are the key points to making service feel as if it is easily found and provided?

I found a great exploration of this question in the business magazine Forbes, where 5 key points are made:

  1. Store and reference your customer data; extremely important in a multichannel environment because nothing annoys customers more than when an agent or manager asks for their details when the customer has already provided them earlier. It’s complex to get this right in the multichannel environment, but getting a single view of your customer should be an ambition for every customer service manager.
  2. Play as a team; everyone at all levels in the support team need to work together. Supervisors are there to help clear up problems agents are facing, not to introduce more problems into a call or interaction with a customer.
  3. Manage your culture and KPIs; if you are measuring how quick calls are handled then don’t be surprised if calls are handled quickly regardless of how well they are handled. Think carefully about what you measure because it will drive certain behaviours.
  4. Destroy silos; agents on the frontline shouldn’t be explaining why it is difficult to deliver a solution to the client because department X or Y is closed this weekend. Remember that the customer doesn’t care at all about your internal policies or your relationship to other companies – they want a solution not excuses.
  5. Understand what the customer wants; this is best found by communicating rather than assuming each customer is the same.

I would argue that from this Forbes view, points 1 and 3 are really the key to making service easier. Take point 3 as an example. If your customer service team is measured (and remunerated more on success) by how quick they can make each customer interaction then that’s what will happen. The measurement becomes the way the team behaves, rather than the quality of the interaction being the guide to what is needed.

Then, point 1 explores the data you hold on your customers, but the issue of managing multiple channels goes deeper. Anyone offering a great service to customers today needs to study how to knit various communication channels together. This is not like a regular database project. You might be aware that a single customer is talking about your brand on Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, TripAdvisor, FourSquare, and a blog, but how do you present a single view of all this activity to an agent when that customer calls? It’s a challenge, but customers don’t care about technical challenges, they just want service interactions to be easy.

Expectations dramatically affect how customers feel about service. When a customer expects that a customer service interaction might be complex, but it is easy, they feel extremely satisfied. The opposite is also true. If the expectation is that a quick call is all that is required and the problem is only resolved an hour later after talking to 5 support agents then the customer will be far more upset than if they had expected it to be a tough call.

As the final Forbes point suggests, understanding what your customer wants and needs can help you to plan more effectively, but customer expectations have a habit of changing rapidly. Don’t rely on surveys and focus groups to plan your future customer service strategy. Start thinking long range. Think of how the changes in technology use we see all around will influence customer behaviour.

You can only really make the service you offer to the customer feel ‘easy’ if you are one step ahead of what they expect.

What would you add to the list of essential steps to making customer service easier? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @markhillary.

 

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