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by Rob van Herpen | February 26, 2019
How often have you contacted customer service and received a generalistic, completely useless response? Even though you clearly described the problem, included the troubleshooting steps you already took and even indicated potential causes for the problem you are facing?
In this article, I’ll provide you with five tips to shape your customer service organization in such a way that you can prevent your customers from experiencing exactly this.
Nowadays, there is an abundance of information available online to troubleshoot issues, either on the company’s website or forums. Technology is enabling us to solve issues faster and in some cases even proactively. However, in practice, very few companies are really utilizing their options properly. Why? I’m tempted to say that this is mostly caused by a lack of critical thinking.
As always, there is not one single cause, but critical thinking is the kickstarter of innovation in customer service. You need people who like to challenge the status quo, and continuously ask themselves: why are we doing things the way we do?
During my 12-year career in customer service (and well before that when I was working in a bar/restaurant) I was often that guy that asked questions, and wanted to change things for one single reason: improve the way we service our customers. Now, many years later, I still love to surround myself by critical thinkers. I’m also very lucky to be part of an organization where critical thinking is deeply rooted in the DNA of the company, so it’s easy to keep up.
Looking at Customer Experience, it is important to be consistent and offer customers a smooth experience in the entire customer journey. Customer service plays an important role, and it’s an area in which there’s still an awful lot to gain.
These are my five practical tips to shape your customer service organization in a way that supports critical thinking.
Technology enables us to improve self-service and provide support reps with all relevant information at their fingertips. Issues that make it through to a support rep become more complex and therefore need a more customized approach. Many customer service teams still rely on “script-based thinkers”: one-trick ponies who are trained to send out a ton of ticket replies based on templates with faked empathy. Instead, hire smart, critical thinkers: they may not be support reps for life, but take less time to get up to speed, and moreover: they’ll voice their concerns and come up with ideas. There’s no better source of information than the agents who answer inquiries every day! They may come at a higher hourly rate than the traditional support rep, but this will pay off on the long term.
Many companies still try to build up multilingual teams in one, often low-cost location. Reality is that this is a mission impossible, and I can vouch for this from my own experience. You often end up accepting mediocrity as your applicant pool is simply too small. Now, there are few companies that can afford the luxury of having teams located in different locations, simply because the volume and budget does not justify it. However, with the rise of remote workers, things have become a lot easier. Working remotely is increasingly popular and enables you to cherry-pick profiles in the location of your choice. Finding critical thinkers with the right skill set is now suddenly attainable for everyone, as long as you have the right set-up in place to manage remote workers. If you don’t, there are more and more outsourcing companies that can help.
A good Knowledge Base and integrated access to information from relevant third party systems are crucial. I still see too many companies struggling in this area. Action is taken ad-hoc, articles are not kept up to date and are badly tagged, so reps have difficulties finding the right information. Reps need to look up account or billing information in separate browser windows or applications. Moreover, if you aim to use AI/NLP technology to improve self-service and automation, well-organized content is a must. Assigning someone to be the owner of all support-related content is a good start.
Not only is it important to have critical thinkers in every layer of your customer service organization, the ability to do something with their feedback is obviously just as important. Nothing is worse to have people coming up with ideas and suggestions without the ability to act upon it. Making someone responsible for innovation is a strong recommendation. A single point of contact for people to submit ideas. Someone who aligns with relevant departments and manages a change process from start to end. Next to this, it pays off to reward people who come up with good ideas. Not with money, but recognition. If you want innovation to be really embedded in your organization, people need to feel proud of the things they have come up with.
Customer service teams often use a variety of different tools and systems. Ticketing systems usually come with built-in analytics, but in my experience, the available dashboards/reports are often too limited and don’t show what you need. Also, if you offer support in different channels, it’s crucial to be able to create insights across all these channels, instead of treating them as separate silos. What my organization started doing years ago, is setting up our own data warehouse which consolidates data from different systems and uses a flexible visualization tool for reporting, which has given us a real advantage in the industry. Once you have centralized reporting in place, the challenge is to get the right information out. Here critical thinking plays an important role again. Ask your data team the right questions, brainstorm about issues, all with one goal: how can we improve our service offering in the benefit of our customers?
I’m 100% convinced that Customer Experience is the new marketing, in line with CX experts like Shep Hyken. Luckily perception is slowly changing, and more and more brands start investing in CX. My advice to them: make sure you have critical thinkers in place. They’ll make the difference.
Rob is Chief Customer Officer at 5CA, responsible for everything related to our clients and always thinking of how we can optimize our customer experience. He’s located in sunny California, where he heads up 5CA’s USA offices. Most of his free time is spent on his wife and kids, but he can also be found frequently in the gym and enjoys cooking a good meal.
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