(Words by: Mark Ackerman, Regional Director, MESAT & EE, ServiceNow)
In today’s subscription economy, customers’ expectations are heightening. People don’t want to tell a company they’re having a problem. They just want it fixed. And if problems do arise, customers increasingly expect the company to acknowledge their pain, and fast. In fact, according to McKinsey, customers are less likely to renew or repurchase from the same company if the customer experience was only average; but when the experience improves from average to wow, customers are 30 to 50% more likely to renew.
Unfortunately, for many companies, average customer service is the norm. Organizations haven’t specifically decided this is the type of service they want to provide, it’s simply the consequence of several bad habits and practices that have made their service no better than mediocre.
Customer service is evolving at a fast pace, so if organizations are to retain customers, it is essentially that they do away with three archaic customer service practices.
Repeating the mundane
The first practice involves agents performing work that doesn’t make sense. Consider that much of a contact center’s work volume is consumed by common, repeated customer requests. These could be topics ranging from requests for more information about a product or service, to payment issues and shipment status.
These types of inquiries are ripe for answers delivered via self-service. Self-service can take many forms—knowledge base articles, automated solutions, chatbots, and online communities are some examples. Customers can help themselves and reduce or even eliminate the need for agents to address these issues.
One result is that agents will be happier. Though customers might still contact them with these issues, a greater share of the common topics would be addressed through customers self-serving. Agents can then focus on more challenging tasks, making work more interesting and reducing burn out. Another benefit is that customers will be happier. Remember, customers actually prefer self-service. They expect solutions at a time and place convenient to them. By not providing self-service options, you are technically doing them a disservice, which may, in turn, impact CSAT and NPS.
Ignoring the root cause
While automating solutions to common problems is a good start, the underlying issues are still present. As such, it is important for organizations serious about improving their customer service to identify those common issues that could be permanently resolved and to work with teams outside customer service to solve them.
Consider the example of a customer calling for information about a product or service. Let’s assume it’s because usage instructions in the product manual are unclear―perhaps they are poorly written or have entirely omitted a step. While this is a fairly easy issue to address with self-service—as updated information in a knowledge base article or making an updated manual in PDF format available for download—it’s still not convenient for customers.
With an issue like this, it would be easy for customer service to work with the documentation team to point out the problem. They can offer a solid business case for the reasons to address the issue in future product manual printings by sharing the volume of live contacts as well as self-service use by customers. The entire process of addressing the issue—from identification in customer service to the decision to reprint the manual, along with all collaboration, milestones, and tasks along the way—can be managed through workflow. By addressing the root cause in this manner, the business benefits in two significant ways:
-Future calls, chats, emails and other live assistance is eliminated, resulting in cost savings.
-The customer experience improves because customers no longer encounter this roadblock.
Neglecting to be proactive
The last practice to break is lack of proactivity, but this might also be the hardest. It’s a challenging one to address because it requires being ever vigilant and acting quickly. It means breaking from the reactive mode of customer service—waiting for customers to contact you with their issues—and instead taking pre-emptive action.
There are three phases to proactive service:
1. Identifying and notifying likely-affected customers of a problem.
2. Keeping them aware of progress towards a solution, including setting expectations as to when a fix will be ready.
3. Alerting them when a solution is available.
The key to all this is keeping customers informed. Sharing information with customers during these phases can take many forms. Customers can be kept notified via email. A recorded message might be played in the telephone queue. A pop-up message could be shown on the customer service website. An in-app notification could be presented. Consider what channels make most sense for your customers and communicate accordingly.
Make the change
For human beings, change is never easy. Breaking a bad habit is even harder! Now factor in changing several poor behaviors inside a company which involve many processes and people (all very set in their ways). It sounds insurmountable, but it’s not impossible.
If your customer service is like others’, it’s not alone in suffering from all three of these bad practices. Start with addressing the common problems through self-service and automation. From there, move on to working with teams across your company to address the root cause of issues. Delivering proactive solutions becomes faster and easier when customer service is working beyond its walls to fix problems.
In the end, when you have changed these bad practices, you will find that not only has your overall customer service improved, but your customer experience has as well.