Putting the Customer back into Customer Service…

I’ve been spending some time lately with a new working group of Customer Service organizations to improve their performance measurement and management practices, and to better align these practices with the dynamics that characterize today’s Customer Service organizations. There were a lot of drivers behind why I initiated this working group, but the primary one was the frustration in watching the world around us change dramatically, amidst a measurement and accountability system that has remained largely unchanged for decades.

If you work in or around Customer Service organizations, and are a good student of customer behaviors, you know what I mean. Customer behaviors are always changing and adapting- thats not new. But in the last 12-18 months, that change is approaching lightening speed. The expansion of mobile applications, alternative transaction mediums, customer’s acceptance and use of social media, and the vehicles they use to acquire and distribute information have all changed radically in that timeframe. In fact, current research is telling us that we may be hitting a new threshold, where things that were becoming “common place” for the “early adopter ” community, are now becoming fully embodied by the mainstream. Yet many of our customer service platforms look strikingly similar to how they looked  almost a decade ago. Thats not to say  we haven’t changed our organizations and processes at all. Most of us have made changes that look and feel significant to our organizations. But in contrast with what has happened in our customer communities, they only scratch the surface.

So what needs to change?

    This is an age old adage in performance management and all of us have heard it throughout our careers. But are we taking it to heart as it relates to our CS processes? Take a hard look at what you measure, track and routinely benchmark in your business. What is the proportion between conventional metrics (e.g.”average” speed of answer, hold times, abandon rates, first call resolution, etc.) and metrics that align with the new customer dynamics we are seeing? Some of us have started this journey in measuring things like % paperless billing, self service transactions, and web usage. But this is really the tip of the iceberg. We need to think bigger and bolder. Social media interactions, mobile channel transactions, “near misses” on customer churn, and  payment behaviors are just a few areas where we have new ground to plow. But it starts with changing our perspective, and aligning it with how our customers have changed.
    As CS Managers and Executives, we know how to manage our conventional processes, and most of us know what behaviors WE would like t see change. Some of us have even begun adopting some of the measures I mentioned above. Take something like the percentage of self service transactions- our ability to steer customers from the call queue to the web, for example. We may have made it a priority OF OURS, and may have even added a new metric or two to our management reports and tracking systems. But have we changed our processes and activities in any material way to enable that to happen?
    I heard a good example of this from someone I sat next to on a flight last week that I’ll share to reinforce the point. He was having trouble with his new TV/Internet provider and had been procrastinating in calling them to inform them of the problem. He remembered this when he was on the way to the airport and decided to contact them from his car but didn’t have their number handy. He googled the term “”company x” customer Service phone #” (not something i advise doing from the car…and I sure hope he pulled over for that step!) and the top 5 hits were simply redirects to the company’s website- urgh!!!. Then the madness really began. He had to go 2-3 layers down into the site to find the number. At that point, he called them, but because he didn’t have his account info handy, he had to go through 5 IVR menus (no bounce out option) before he got anywhere. When he finally got to the agent queue, he was put into a hold queue for 12 minutes (something he remembered clearly because it sits at the top of the call screen on his smartphone!) before finally giving up. From the company’s viewpoint, he ended up doing “his part” to resolve  the issue later that evening with a trouble ticket on the website. But all of this clearly produced a pretty frustrated customer who ended up telling others about his experience (and i assume it was more than just me since he was an avid user of social media.) I am not certain about this, but I suspect all of this went unnoticed by the company, and to make matters worse, the company probably felt pretty good about things since it got another “self service” transaction to add to its performance stats. Changing the metric without changing the process is a sure recipe for failure.
  • DONT BE AFRAID OF RADICAL CHANGE- Dealing with situations like the one mentioned above is going to be a complex challenge. It will involve seeing things differently, listening to customers differently, and being brave enough to sometimes start over with a real “blue sky” thinking. Some of the best advice I ever got was to try and “see things from the customer’s customers eyes”. That means climbing into their world, understanding where they live, how they interact , and conforming our business model to that way of thinking. Those who are really doing that are finding that the changes they are making to their processes are not incremental, but rather “orders of magnitude” changes to their entire CS operating model.

While this may sound scary to a some of you, it can also be a new beginning- an opportunity to set a bold new mission for what Customer Service means to your customers and your organization.

If you are wrestling with this topic, I invite you to comment and join the debate. I’d also appreciate any thoughts you may have  on the subject, and anything you may have done to bring your CS measurement and management systems into better alignment with changing dynamics of your customers. You can also email me at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com with any thoughts or perspectives you may have on the topic.


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com


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  1. Links Customer Service Articles from “Performance Perspectives”… « Performance Perspectives

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