You’re Doing It Wrong: The New Customer Service Philosophies

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For the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing some memories from my past running a call center and some of the ways in which I have observed customer service has changed. The first installment touched on how customer service was considered a necessary evil of doing business in the past. Last week, I explored how measuring the performance of customer service has evolved. The theme throughout each of these was that if your customer service was still mired in some of these past practices and conceptions, you’re doing it wrong.

This week is the conclusion to my series. For this final installment, we will explore how several of the basic philosophies of customer service have evolved.

Satisfaction vs. Experience

Companies have forever been surveying customers to determine their satisfaction. When was the last time you called a company’s customer service and weren’t asked if you were willing to stay on the line to “complete a short survey at the end of the call?” This is measuring customer satisfaction or CSAT for that particular situation. This is exactly what we did in my call center–and nothing more in terms of capturing the voice of the customer.

I’m not suggesting that satisfaction isn’t important, and asking customers for their feedback is important for businesses to assess how well they are delivering service. The problem is the feedback is limited to a single service interaction with a particular agent. There are better ways to measure the customer’s overall sentiment.

A few years ago, a Gartner survey found that 89% of companies expected to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience in the future. Note they didn’t say service. As products and services share similar capabilities, the greatest differentiator becomes whether or not that product or service is delivering the desired outcome with as little friction as possible–and while customer service plays a part in that, the greater experience is what must be gauged.

For that reason, consider expanding beyond simply measuring CSAT. Get a better sense of your customers’ sentiment with Net Promoter Score and Customer Effort surveying. These don’t replace CSAT; they offer different insights that shed additional light on the customer’s opinion.

Answering Questions vs. Addressing Issues

If customers never had questions or problems with a product or service or problems didn’t arise from conducting business with the company itself, customer service wouldn’t be necessary. If any company has ever created that perfect situation, I have not heard about it!

Regardless of the type of question or what channel it arrives on–call, email, chat, or social media–customer service owes the customer an answer, this is true. Giving an answer and doing nothing more, however, is really a one-off approach to customer service: the cause isn’t being addressed. The customer is satisfied in the moment, but in the grand scheme of things, an opportunity has been missed.

Customer questions don’t tend to be unique. It’s not common for an issue to never crop up again. Even worse, what might seem like a small problem might be an indicator of a looming issue, more serious in nature or volume.

Because my days in the call center were for a software company, we didn’t stop at just answering questions. Our business unit was very intent upon raising the quality of the software. Customer service supported that by tracking issues and sharing them regularly with the engineering team, who would reproduce the issues reported by customers, dig into the code, and solve the problem with a software patch. Resolving the matter permanently instead of simply offering a workaround or no solution also meant a reduction in call and email volume for that issue, meaning future customers would not experience it. While this approach is fairly common in the high tech world, it’s less frequently practiced in other industries. Fewer problems mean a better overall experience for customers; remember, above, what Gartner reported about the importance of customer experience?

Delivering  Service vs. Promoting Success

Most companies have what I would call a “standby and wait” methodology for customer service: they are available, but waiting for customers to contact the service center with their issues. It works, but it’s very reactive. This was very much the approach my technical support and customer service team took. We delivered service only when the customer was having problems.

Over the last several years, a new approach to customer service known as customer success has come onto the scene. Rather than waiting for customers to have difficulties, it advocates proactively helping customers get more out of their purchase on day one and therefore drive a better overall experience. This involves communicating regularly with the customer to set goals and help achieve them as well as identify issues they are having and champion solutions.

Customer success is a great concept, but it doesn’t work for all customers and all products. That doesn’t mean a more lightweight version can’t be implemented. A customer can be more successful with when a company offers such services as:

  • Periodic check-ins over email (and these could be automated)
  • Offering best practice materials for getting started, usage tips, maintenance reminders, etc.
  • Preemptively notifying customers when issues might affect them and when solutions become available

Stuck In The Past or Living The Future?

At some time or another, I’m willing to bet everyone has said the phrase “boy, have times changed.” From my start as a technical support agent to today, I’ve witnessed some significant changes across the board. Over the course of the last three weeks, I’ve shared how those changes have affected areas like the perception of customer service, how customer service is measured, and the progression of some customer service philosophies.

At the end of the day, take a look around at everything you’re doing in customer service. All of these changes I’ve written about have resulted in placing greater value on the customer and making more effort to retain them. Are you delivering an outdated version of customer service or are you keeping up with what today’s customers expect?

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