This is part two in a series of posts on Customer Service Strategy. Part one was a personal orientation on “why bother”? This session gives you a framework or canvas to paint on, based on the customer perspective.
But before any of that, here are a few words of advice to stop you going nuts. A promise that I made at the end of the first session!
‘Stop Me Going Nuts’ Guidelines
Read, re-read, often consult and use the following as your silent counsellor whenever the task of strategy development starts to scratch your eyeballs. This will actively reduce anxiety, depression and desire to quit. It might even make you slimmer if you eat less junk food as a result of following the advice contained in these three ideas!
I WILL REMEMBER
- It is more important to aim for something that can be achieved within a month’s effort than boil the ocean
- It is more important to win the buy in of key stakeholders than produce my MBA submission
- It is more important the results are experienced having ongoing practical value than to aim for the definitive version that sucks in the whole organisation
In other words, if this is your first attempt, be content that refinement and expansion of topics can always be incorporated once the first generation strategy wins kudos as something genuinely useful. Start small, gain traction, then evolve.
OK now that you have the magic amulet of sanity, let’s proceed into the jungle of ideas known as Customer Service Strategy.
The Customer’s Perspective
Here’s an early win. The place to start building a customer service strategy is naturally with the customer and what experiences you need to be delivering to them.
In your first iteration, I recommend concentrating on a single channel only. Choose either online or call centre. In fact both operational teams could do the following exercise in parallel and then combine their outputs if the enthusiasm for creating strategy suddenly becomes widespread. Remember though, keeping it to one channel contains the scope.
As the saying goes, you are aiming for a plan of two halves. One describing current state, the other describing future aspiration.
There are a number of ways in which the current versus desired customer experience can be baselined.
- Complaints are a key source, and are normally captured and readily available. The complaint is current state. Defining what ought to have happened is a great way to start defining future aspirations
- Post call surveys, Net Promoter Scores, speech/text analytics are all great sources of feedback if you have already invested in them
- Online equivalents are tools such as Google Analytics, and Tealeaf for tracking issues in actual customer journeys
These are only examples, others exist. Also see my post on Voice of the Customer initiatives if you need a more in depth review on how to generate this ‘current versus future state’ baseline.
There is of course a whole new world of feedback and analysis emerging in the form of listening platforms for tracking social customer sentiment. Or undertaking primary research to generate this segment’s social graphs (online behaviours). But this remains a fast changing world and since we are cutting our teeth here, I would advise you to consciously leave this element for later iterations of your strategy.
OK, at summary level that’s pretty much it for helping you generate your first strategy draft.
But what if these sources of information and third party tools are not available to you?
One way forward is to tap into those that interact with customers daily. After all they have an in depth impression of how customers respond, even though this source of feedback is seldom captured. I’m referring of course to your professional communicators who occupy the call centres. However it could be any customer facing group; retail staff, field engineers or that newly formed social media monitoring group. The criteria is anyone who holds untapped insight into customer needs.
Using online surveys tools, it is fairly simple to structure a set of questions around the broad theme of understanding what these groups see as the best and the worst of the customer experience.
Having done this with a number of brands, I can let you know that it is surprising how well the views of these internal teams calibrate with actual customer feedback. As a proxy for the real thing it is a great starting point.
So there are a few ideas to get you going and help you paint a picture of how your customers currently experience service and how they would ideally like to.
At this point I would also have another sanity check sitting on my customer strategy project timeline. It is all to easy to find yourself in too deep with customer feedback if this is your first serious effort. The process will throw up all sorts of issues that can quickly overwhelm and exhaust you and everyone involved. So keep your priorities in mind.
Here is an anchor to hold onto and help you keep on track when things get fuzzy and too complicated. One thing you can be sure of in any research about customer service experiences is this. Please deliver my customer service
Right first time, in the shortest possible time
I know that sounds disappointingly simple. But the reason I can recommend it without knowing any of your customers individually is that it’s been a universal customer expectation ever since human communities began. In other words for a very, very long time. Yet it is seldom delivered.
As it happens designing something to be simple is really tough. So in addition to whatever else you find out from customers, aim to make ‘Right First Time, In The Shortest Possible Time’ part of your future aspirational state for these two reasons.
- All customers desire it
- It’s a differentiator because so few organisations deliver it
If you keep that idea in mind as a design principle, you will find simplification quickly becomes a key theme throughout your customer service strategy. You will also find that this ‘super’ SLA (service level agreement) gets to the heart of what matters to most customers. So making this one of the foundation stones in your strategy is a safe assumption.
A Few Final Vegetables For The Stewing Pot
Let’s move into wrap up mode. We have looked at how you can build a customer service strategy based on the framework of a journey from the current state of the customer experience to an improved future state. The ‘cunning’ plan which we mentioned in Session One is how you plan that transition in the face of all the challenges you will face along the way.
Some people call these ‘gotchas’. The things that prove to be your undoing. Or what you wished you had known in hindsight before it all went horribly wrong.
Of course you might live a charmed life. But if not, here are a few issues that have been known to return as ‘gotchas’ later on down the road. So think hard and deep on how you are going to respond to them. By the way some of these are really complex to solve and so you might need to work out a series of solution milestones.
- Generational preferences. X, Y, millenniums, digital natives. Call them what you will, but everyone grows up with a communication preference. Is a letter or an SMS in response to a complaint most familiar and therefore most appropriate?
- Generational expectations-part two relate to speed of access. For those that choose to live in the near real time world of Twitter or instant messaging, a call centre queue can feel like purgatory. Second generation strategies and beyond will probably want to concentrate on what this means in terms of customer segmentation and differing service treatments
- Workflow simplification e.g. claims processing. How easy does your brand make it for the customer to play their part in service resolution and keep track of progress? Remember that in the UK most processes are still handed manually and collaboration between call centre and middle office functions is often long winded and lacks urgency from the customer’s perspective
- The quality of human contact. Typically it needs to be empathetic, professional and knowledgeable. This throws up issues such as multi skilling versus specialisation, skill profiling for improved recruitment (interestingly 1:3 call centre workers are now graduates) and real time access to customer information and knowledge base answers
- How well do direct competitors provide equivalent services? Mystery shopping can reveal if the competition has stolen a march by re-inventing how a service is delivered. It may be that a self service option has been incorporated. Or they might have started to provide direct access to the same person for high net worth customers. Equally they might be open for business when you are not. They may be leveraging the onshore/offshore debate. After that, if you have the time, look up recent winners of UK and EMEA ‘best call centre of the year’ awards and see what all the fuss is about. See if your market sector holds equivalent online awards . In either case, did they just write up a persuasive submission or are they genuinely great at something that you can learn from?
That’s it for session two. If you need help just get in contact and I will help out however I can.
If you are in the groove, session three starts here.