This article was originally published on the ICMI Blog on August 28, 2018. Click here to read the original post.
Having worked in customer service for a couple SAAS (Software as a Service) startups throughout my career, I’d like to enlighten you on an important concept. It’s called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). I define MVP as having a product with the basic functionality necessary to meet the needs of most customers.
Early on, MVP looked a whole lot like a programmer/founder working all night and through the weekend to create a feature or product, testing it a few times, and then publishing the code. That didn’t mean that it was entirely bug-free as evidenced by the email that said, “Oh, by the way, we just published this new feature. Please let us know if there are any bugs.”
Completely blindsided, these are some of the most frustrating times to work in frontline customer service, especially when the bug and feature list is growing by the minute. Furthermore, when customers’ businesses are impacted, they’re not shy in communicating their frustration to the helpless agent on the other end of the line. In these moments, most issues feel like a high priority, but the reality is that most startups are resource limited.
I’ve written much in the past about the importance of listening to the voice of the customer and relaying these insights to the rest of the business — and I believe firmly that this is a huge responsibility and opportunity for the contact center. What’s our approach when our feature and bug list far outweighs the resources available to tackle them? Having been asked this question by many contact center leaders, here are four actions you can take now that will provide a glimmer of hope amid the tumult and help you continue to move the customer experience forward.
1. Know Your Drivers
Before you do anything else, you need to understand your critical issues and drivers. They will likely be gathered and meshed together from a variety of sources including direct communication with agents and customers, customer survey feedback, disposition reports, conversations on Slack, and listening on the various support channels, either manually or through speech and text analytics software. Use focus groups and journey mapping exercises to gain an intimate understanding of each issue and the ways they impact actual customers.
Once you have a list of issues, it’s important to attach some numbers to determine both how often they occur and how they impact KPIs like customer satisfaction and customer churn. I’ve been guilty of hearing about issues from frustrated customers and pushing to get them fixed even though they were one-off issues. While this may work sometimes, especially if it’s a large customer, it’s generally best to focus on the issues that impact the most customers first.
In the midst of a barrage of customer complaints and an ever-growing bug and feature list, it can be tricky to prioritize what to fix first. And in an environment where resources are limited, fixing one bug at a time on a list of a hundred will take quite a while. This means that we have a responsibility to have our ducks in a row and know at all times what bug or feature to prioritize next.
As support leaders, it can be challenging to keep team morale up when moving at this pace while issues persist. There aren’t always easy answers, but being fully transparent with the priority list and the reasoning for the prioritization can go a long way. Also be sure to celebrate every time one of those issues is fixed because it shows that as a leader you are hearing the team’s frustrations and taking actions to alleviate them.
3. Fix What You Can Control
In a past role, there was a season when our platform experienced downtime almost weekly. In an environment like this, it’s incredibly difficult to keep the team positive — not to mention our own morale. It becomes easy to put all of the blame on product or platform issues and let customer service quality slip. Regardless of how difficult the circumstance, we can always control the quality of service we provide, whether we want to admit it or not.
As a leader, make it your mission to lead by example in this area by modeling excellent customer service internally and externally and consistently practicing positivity.
Also, to quote one of my colleagues, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” That’s a little grotesque but the sentiment here is to maintain our focus on solving the customer’s problem, and sometimes you can overcome product issues and limitations with a little bit of creativity. One thing that makes great customer service professionals great is their ability as subject matter experts to connect customers with the perfect solution.
4. Patiently Persist
The balance between patience and persistence is a fine one. Depending on the severity of an issue, you may need to constantly lobby with the appropriate stakeholders until a resolution is reached. With other issues, it’s often easy to get wrapped up in a “flavor of the month” and then move on to other initiatives. If an issue is truly important, it’s essential to have the discipline to persist with the right amount of patience until it’s resolved. That means keeping your list of drivers current every month.
All businesses–regardless of size–have resource limitations, meaning there will always be a need for prioritization. It also means there will always be a need for the customer service team to be available for customers when there are breakdowns in the customer experience. The contact center shouldn’t run and hide when this happens. Instead, it’s our job to remain focused on taking care of customers while also understanding gaps in the customer experience so we can push for continuous improvement. We have a huge role to play in the future success of our business!