The critical importance of customer service has become increasingly clear to companies across industries. A survey by Forbes magazine found over half of respondents (59%) reported a bad experience caused them to stop buying from a company. On a more positive note, Bain & Company found increasing customer retention rates by just 5% could increase a company’s profits from 25 to as much as 95%.
The message is clear: quality products and services customer service retains customers, and that retention leads to greater business growth.
But when the inevitable happens and a problem occurs, customer service steps in. Some might think quality customer service is easy: it’s a friendly voice answering the phone or responding to emails faster. And maybe that will suffice for some customers. But to truly deliver great customer service means going further. Great customer service is attacking problems when they happen–and not just the customer service team. Customer service must go beyond its walls to lead the effort in addressing the real source of an issue.
Customer service connecting and working with the rest of the company to identify and resolve issues doesn’t occur without effort. Similar to the impact of customer retention on revenue, however, the results can be game-changing. With customer service working cooperatively with other parts of your company, a connected approach to solving problems not only drives new levels of internal customer focus and collaboration but also resolves the core problem (increasing product or service quality) while reducing service volumes and increasing customer satisfaction.
Working Across Departments
Customer service cannot operate as an island. While it’s unfortunately common for departments to function in their own silos, the isolation of customer service is detrimental to business. Beyond serving as the friendly face and voice of your company, they bring significant value to the company. How? With customer service acting as the eyes and ears into the customer base, they can provide valuable insight and information: what kinds of issues are customers encountering? Items arriving broken or missing parts? Unclear manual instructions? Billing issues?
These problems originated (and can ultimately be solved) outside of customer service. For this reason, customer service must serve as the central point in building relationships and working with outside departments and teams where the real solutions can be delivered. With solid working relationships and a shared purpose raising the bar on customer service and quality in place, customer service can work in conjunction with other teams to solve the core problem.
Identifying The Root Cause
The act of customer service is to solve problems and get customers back on-course with a product or service. The problems customer service sees are the result of a broken process somewhere outside of customer service:
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- Product issues are a result of quality control issues in manufacturing or engineering
- Confusing directions originate from the documentation team
- Billing errors arise from accounting errors in finance
It’s definitely important to satisfy the customer with a reasonable, appropriate answer in a timely manner, but when companies limit their responses to just answers and not solutions, it does nothing to address the real underlying cause. Customer service might have some insights into why an issue is occurring–they might triage and identify these kinds of problem and perhaps even develop a workaround–but they can’t affect the change needed to prevent the issue from recurring for the customer they are working with as well as future customers. The real solution lies elsewhere. Customer service must work with outside teams to identify the root cause.
Determining The Solution
When the root cause has been identified, customer service continues to work with the appropriate team to develop a solution. Because problems can come in different orders of magnitude and impact, an agreement on the right kind of solution is necessary. Customer service must identify how many current customers are experiencing the issue as well as the potential number of future customers that might be affected to arrive at a weight and priority for the issue.
Let’s imagine a problem affects ALL customers. In this case, a business process change is absolutely necessary; after all, if 100% of customers are affected, this doesn’t project a quality image of the company nor can customer service hope to service all those customers.
If only a subset of customers are affected or the issue is a lower priority, other options are possible (“workarounds”). With customer service working side-by-side with other teams, it’s important to identify, discuss, and mutually agree upon the solution. Options like automated self-service or knowledge articles can be utilized to deliver solutions to problems with a lower customer impact. It might be more cost effective to deliver a workaround impacting a small subset of customers than completely recalling a product, for example, if the affected customer segment is small.
When customer service and another team agree a process change is necessary or a workaround will be developed, the team owning the solution goes to work on the solution–but customer service’s job isn’t over. With that other team working on the solution, customer service still owns closing the loop and providing the solution to the customer.
Companies following best practices will empower customer service to not only assign the work necessary to solve the root cause but using capabilities like workflow will monitor the work and the timeline for delivery. Once the needed fix is ready, customer service can notify currently affected customers. They are also spared from taking additional calls, emails, and chats on that same issue.
A United Approach to Customer Service
When customer service operates alone, the status quo is maintained, but nothing improves. Superior customer service can only be delivered as a team sport when customer service is connected to the entire organization. On point and triaging the issues, customer service can work cooperatively with other teams in the organization to identify the underlying issue, discuss and agree on the solution, then assign and monitor that agreed-upon solution through to its conclusion. By addressing the root cause of issues, existing customers benefit from a permanent solution as well as future customers are never impacted.
If your customer service isn’t working collaboratively with your entire organization, consider making 2018 the year to connect them to the rest of your organization. The resulting improvements to product and service quality will be rewarded by your customers.
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Author: Paul Selby