Isn’t It Time You Hacked Your Customer Service?

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I was recently reading an article about using the hackathon format to test and develop non-software ideas. For those not familiar with the hackathon concept, they got started in the software world as a short, defined-period event bringing together a cross-functional team–developers, user interface designers, program managers, graphic designers, and others–to rapidly collaborate and develop software solutions.

Hackathons can be a big deal. Participants can transform projects dreamt up in a university into internships, fellowships, or even startup businesses. Many corporations have embraced them, not only to quickly prototype new ideas but also to bring in outside talent and fresh eyes to solve problems. Because they are a competition, there are awards to win as well as prestige to walk away with.

This all got me thinking how a hackathon-type approach to problem-solving could benefit customer service. It would bring together both internal and external minds, to identify and address all varieties of issues in a fun and competitive manner.

Broken Journeys

The core notion of the hackathon is to develop new ideas for solving problems. But what if some of the best solutions in customer service are already in place, they just happen to be incomplete or failing? Why not locate and deal with those problems in a hackathon?

A hackathon of this type would look at all current service journeys, both from the customer and agent perspective. Are knowledgebase articles well-written, correct, and current? Do automated solutions function as intended? How many clicks does it take for an agent to complete common tasks, and does it require accessing multiple systems to complete them? Periodic audits of systems and processes is a necessary evil in customer service to assure the most efficient service, and a hackathon can make an arduous task a bit more interesting and fun.

Filling The Holes

The service landscape is constantly evolving. Simply offering service over the same channels and in the same fashion is not enough. Over time, gaps in services form–gaps that customers expect to be filled as it affects the overall customer experience.

Is there some hot, new social media platform customers seem to be flocking to? Does offering service using some new technology (like augmented or virtual reality) deliver value for the types of products and services you offer? What are the channels and techniques used by companies in other industries competitors find particularly convenient and helpful?

This follows the lines of a more traditional hackathon. It would tap into the shared collective experience and varied demographics of internal and external participants. From there, new service techniques could be identified, prototyped, and pitched.

Ideating

The most interesting hackathon would be one that considers radical new service offerings for customers. This would tap into the cross-functional aspects of customer service, going beyond the traditional confines of customer service as a means of solving product and service problems. It involves new ways to assist customers adjacent to the traditional “break-fix” service you provide and to solve real issues that bolster your company and brand.

Consider this example. I’m a runner and go through a lot of shoes. I’m also a bit superstitious and never deviate from running in one particular brand and model shoe because they have worked well for me. I’ve found a great online running shoe company that will ship my favorite shoes with free two-day delivery and free returns. I love this company and regularly recommend them to fellow runners. I buy the exact same shoes all the time and can’t recall the last time I needed to interact with customer service.

Could this company do more for me? Could they look for useful opportunities to engage with me to ensure my long-term loyalty? Sure they could. Offer to help me track the distance on my shoes (and offer a coupon when it’s time to replace them). Since my preferred shoes are pretty obvious from my buying patterns, remind me when my favorite shoes go on sale or a new model is available. These are just a few ways they could step (no pun intended) outside of the typical customer service relationship–waiting for problems–to create additional value for their customers.

For The Win

A few years ago, Gartner observed that traditional product and service advantages were no more. With so many product and service options in the market and easy access to compare product and price information, customer experience had become the new competitive battlefield. And a large contributor to experience are those situations when customer service comes into play. If this is the new competitive battlefield, how does a company come up with new ideas and differentiate themselves?

Collect perspective from both inside and outside to address outright problems in service, fill spaces with new service channels, or expand service in new directions. A customer service hackathon would bring together diverse inputs in a fun, competitive atmosphere to quickly generate new solutions, making it possible to drive significant improvements in service. So what are you waiting for?

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