While there are a few exceptions, customers really only reach out to customer service when something unexpected happens: the order didn’t arrive when anticipated, a part is missing or the product is broken, or instructions aren’t clear. You could say the primary job of customer service, then, is to fix problems; that is, to address the issues customers have encountered as a result of use of a product or service.
How customers seek a solution to their problem can take many forms. With many choosing to start their search online, they may use self-service options like knowledge bases or online communities they can scour for answers. Other choices might include chatting with a live customer service agent or a chatbot. And of course there’s always sending an email or picking up the telephone.
Beyond that problem stifling a customer’s product use is a bigger issue. They didn’t want to have their day disrupted by something adverse happening. They didn’t want to spend time trying to find a solution or wait on hold or in a chat queue. While they appreciate getting good service when issues occur, they would just as soon avoid interacting with customer service in any way because it’s an interruption.
This is not to say companies shouldn’t strive to deliver the best possible customer service. Instead, it’s to say they can’t simply stop there: great customer service is not enough. They must focus on addressing the breaks that occur in the customer experience and strive to minimize disruption.
Connecting customer service with other teams
To improve the customer experience, a company must start by ensuring customer service isn’t isolated from other departments. Customer service answers the call of the customer, collects the details of the problem, and can offer a fix, but the action can’t stop there. Customers’ problems are rarely unique: a breakdown in business process somewhere outside customer service is the likely cause of the issue. When customer service is connected with other departments–the shipping department for missing orders, manufacturing when products arrive broken or missing parts, and the documentation team for unclear instructions–they are able to raise the issues customers are having directly with the teams who created the problem in the first place. They can then work cooperatively to permanently resolve them.
Let’s consider a situation where product instructions are incorrect. Customer service might assist customers with the missing details so they can use their product, but they can’t address the fact that incorrect instructions exist and how this will affect future customers. When customer service is connected with other departments, they can inform the documentation team, determine the scope and potential impact of the issue, and work cooperatively on a solution: in this case, updating the document and reprinting it. From there, the revised instructions are placed into production by ensuring the manufacturing team is informed and prepared to swap out the incorrect materials.
This can this all be accomplished through workflow. Using it, customer service is able to connect to the documentation and manufacturing teams. This makes it possible for all departments to route and assign the necessary tasks, as well as keep everyone informed and accountable, throughout the process.
Fixing issues proactively
In the flawed instructions example, customer service is able to work across the organization and issues impacting the customer experience are addressed. The root cause of the documentation confusion is addressed and future customers won’t suffer from the same problem. While this is a significant improvement in the customer experience, it’s not enough. What about all the products with faulty instructions already on the way to customers or in warehouses set to ship out?
There are several options available to notify customers. Notices can be placed on the service website. Automated messages can be played on the customer service line. Even better, contact customers directly: send an email, postcard, or text message. If only certain customer segments will be affected, target them specifically; otherwise, inform all customers a solution exists.
The bottom line is customers appreciate preemptive efforts to prevent their struggle with a problem and the time needed to find a solution. The less trouble a customer encounters and the less time it takes to return them to normal, the better their experience.
Focusing on the experience
It’s naive to think that every customer’s experience will be perfect. And that’s why customer service exists: to provide a temporary fix for when the experience breaks.
But customer service can offer more than just repeating the same temporary fix hundreds or thousands of times. Once they have identified customer issues, they must be empowered to work with other departments across the company to deliver permanent solutions. They must take advantage of the opportunity to proactively deliver solutions to not-yet-impacted (but likely affected) customers.
Customers don’t want great service; they want a great experience. And when customer service does more than just respond to problems, they can have a positive impact on the overall customer experience.