Connected business benefits include happier customers and happier employees – that's the philosophy of intelligent customer service.
There’s an argument that says no business should have a sustainability department, because everything a business does should be sustainable.
By creating a department, you push the activity into a corner and disconnect it from the rest of the business. Sustainability becomes the department that deals with recycling and tells people off for putting things in the wrong bin, when it should be part of every department and everything the business does.
It’s the same with customer service. Instead of being a company-wide philosophy, it becomes the department that deals with complaints and angry customers. Problems are directed at service to make them go away, rather than to get them solved.
Customer servicing isn’t the job of one department; it’s the job of the entire organization. In fact, it’s probably the reason the organization exists in the first place.
This isn’t a retelling of the “customer service is an attitude, not a department” cliché. This is about how you use an organization-wide involvement with service to get better outcomes for the customer. Customer servicing is about solving problems.
Beyond listening and logging
Traditionally, organizations have been fairly good at listening to the customer and logging the issue. CRM systems work well at creating cases, issuing tickets and making the customer feel like they’re being taken seriously.
Organizations are often less good at connecting the listening to a means of creating a resolution. This is when the process breaks down because the system isn’t built to connect agents to the right source of help.
Customer service’s status as a department keeps them separated from the rest of the organization.
It’s not their fault this happens – many customer problems are caused by issues with production, or sales or logistics, and customer service isn’t properly connected to these departments – but it’s their job to solve the problems.
Listening and logging is the easy bit: it’s what service departments have been doing for years. Customer servicing goes beyond that to meet the needs of today’s customers, who expect faster resolutions and smoother case handling.
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Giving service agents a complete view
The good news is that it’s eminently achievable. We’re not talking about unreasonable expectations that can never be fulfilled; existing technology allows it to happen.
A modern, fit-for-purpose CRM system connects the first part of the process (when the customer calls) to the final stage – the resolution – and gives agents oversight of the whole process. This progression is treated as part of the same process, not as individual stages, with a resolution as the end point.
A properly designed CRM system should also be adaptable. Customer service is often at the front line of change, whether that’s forced change such as disrupted supply chains, the pandemic and materials shortages, or voluntary change, such traditional manufacturing industries shifting to digital-based services and subscriptions.
Change is inevitably accompanied by uncertainty and error, and customers turn to customer servicing for advice, reassurance, and to get problems solved. If you can’t help because you’re not able to adapt, or even answer customer calls, you’ll run into trouble.
Brands need to revamp their approach to digital customer engagement to reach the high bar of digitally native consumers.
Taking center stage
Look at the recent issues faced by airlines. Mass flight cancellations, caused by a chronic lack of staff and a pent-up demand for travel, have put customer service right in the middle of the crisis.
Many of these businesses were running a customer service operation that only just coped with the demands of a pre-pandemic world, so long waits to speak to an agent aren’t entirely surprising.
With hindsight, it’s easy to say that the airlines should have seen it coming, but the number of layoffs and bookings were obvious. If the airlines had put the two together to predict the inevitable chaos, and proactively treated customer service as part of the solution rather than reactively as a kind of fire extinguisher, they would have coped better with the ensuing storm.
And that’s the difference between providing a customer service department and servicing your customers’ needs. Customer service departments will, of course, always be part of an organization.
We all need professionals to look after and work with customers, but the difference between the past and the future of the profession is that it can no longer exist in isolation.
On its own, a customer service department can’t do its job properly. It’s like trying to use a fire extinguisher to put out a burning building. But placed at the center of an organization, it becomes the fire department. Even better, it stops the fires from happening in the first place.