One thing I’m coming to realize about customer service technology is that the cool new tools your customer service team MUST HAVE NOW are limitless. The latest and greatest could be yours for a reasonable monthly fee per user.
That’s all well and good, but those fees really start to add up. It’s one thing to get excited about a shiny new tool after a sales demo and it’s quite another to convince the boss to invest the money.
A failed technology pitch
One particular situation where I wanted a new piece of technology looms large in my mind — a new ticketing system for our support team. The old system was a holdover from a time when we thought hosting everything on-premise was better. The problem was that we were several versions behind and didn’t want to renew our support agreement or allocate precious IT time to maintaining support tools.
A newer, cloud-based system would allow for better reporting, integrated post-interaction surveys, regular automatic software updates, and easy integration of knowledge base, chat support, phone system, and social media. Systems that were currently quite disjointed.
The benefits of switching to a new ticketing system far outweighed the costs — or so I thought. I compiled these all into a one-page document and confidently presented it to our CEO and COO. It didn’t take them long to flatly deny my request.
Why? As it turned out, I wasn’t able to convince them that this new technology was better than the status quo. While the status quo was outdated, it fit within the budget, whereas the new one was an entirely new expense. I might have made another run at getting it approved but ended up leaving that job not long after this.
Rethinking my approach
I’ve had some time to think about that failed proposal and am ready to share some of the things I should have done differently. Here are three recommended actions for anyone looking to convince their boss to spend money on new customer service technology.
1. Tell a better story.
Effective storytelling is an art form that’s been used throughout the history of humanity to persuade others to take action. Simply handing my boss a paper listing the benefits of the new platform showed that I didn’t spend the time necessary to put together a compelling case. Using the simple A.I.M. model of storytelling, determine who your Audience is, be clear on the Intent, or what you want to achieve, and then craft a Message for your audience. The message should pair together stories and verbatim feedback that illustrates the impact on the customer and agent journey with the right metrics that prove the value to the organization.
2. Spend more time kicking the tires.
Sure I took the new ticket system out for a spin and tested out the features to understand how it worked and where everything was. I could have gained more value from that trial by temporarily moving one of our smaller queues over to the system and having a group of agents work in it. That would have given the ability to get agent and customer feedback on the quality of the new platform.
3. Translate to metrics and dollars.
Ultimately, approval hinges on our ability to show the real impact of the new platform to performance. A solid demo of the product gives you the opportunity to A/B test and compare the effectiveness of the old versus the new. In support, here are some metrics I’d want to see positive movement on.
- Contact deflection: A well-integrated knowledge base can help customers self-solve their own issues. Many systems allow customers to mark when an article solves their issue thus preventing a contact to customer service. If you track cost per contact, it’s fairly simple to quantify the savings when self-help reduces your overall contact volume. At a large enough scale reducing contacts reduces the need to hire more people.
- Survey response rate: We had a customer satisfaction survey that wasn’t integrated with the ticketing system and got a response rate around 5%. With a survey more tightly integrated, whether an email is triggered when a case is close or an SMS message is sent after a phone conversation, response rates can be upwards of 30%. More customer feedback can be of significant value to the entire organization.
- Agent productivity: Any time I asked for more staff on the customer service team, the question was almost always, “Is there anything we can do to make our existing staff more productive?” In a contact center where agents are required to have many browser windows open to support customers, simplifying the agent experience with a system that’s better integrated should enable them to do their work more efficiently.
- IT Resources: We had deferred maintenance on our existing systems so I had been using very little IT resources. Prior to meeting with executives, it would have been wise to spend time with IT understanding the time and expense it would take to properly manage the system versus having it in the cloud. There are potential security issues associated with outdated software, and costs associated with IT time. Knowing these will enrich the proposal.
Ending on a successful note
I’m reminded of another instance at the same job where there was a nagging support issue. We were instructing customers to use a workaround many times each day. If that workaround didn’t work, we might lose a customer. If it did work, we might still lose customers over the hassle. The ultimate fix was a seven-figure improvement to our network. That didn’t stop my team from continuing to inform our executives of the incredible frustration this caused customers.
Finally, the time came where the executive team was ready to seriously consider a fix. We were able to share verbatim feedback from customers, talk about large customers affected and their lifetime value, and quantify the annual support and churn costs related to the issue. In the end the new technology was approved, and while it wasn’t implemented instantaneously, the hope of a better future sure was great.
When you land on a piece of technology that you think can really make a difference in your organization, take the time up front to understand the true impact, craft a story that highlights this for your boss, and then apply the right amount of patience and persistence to see it through to completion.