Opinion on the role of customer service is polarized between two extremes. To some, customer service is a cost center where costs should be minimized by speaking to customers as little as possible or, even better, by moving the operation to a far off land where costs are lower. Never mind that their language is different, the customers will just have to figure it out!
To the more enlightened, customer service is an opportunity to live the brand values, establish real market differentiation and absolutely the best way to deliver the customer strategy. Why? Because when customers call customer service they a) have a need and b) they are engaged with you. You have their ear. And if you can help them, they can be your friends for life. So when they call, it is the best time to help the customer get more from your products and services by ‘adding value’ to their relationship with you.
Whatever you do, don’t ever call it selling. That’s anathema to customer service people. Their instincts are to help customers. And of course, we all know the best sales people are those who create the buying environment so develop those rapport building skills and give them the training, coaching, management support, processes, polices, decision-making authority and, of course, the best product information to turn that rapport into customer buying behavior.
Now, one of the key questions I ask all the time is ‘What is your customer strategy? Most organisations don’t seem to have one. They have a business strategy, a marketing strategy, a sales strategy and sometimes even a customer service strategy. But that’s all very internally focused and as a result it’s unlikely to be aligned or consistent for customers.
Historically, a customer strategy was a definition of what the company wants to do with each customer that cuts across the organization and guides marketing, sales and customer service whenever the customer engages with the company. But even that’s old hat because enlightened companies now understand that the customer also has a say in this process. And by involving the customer in understanding their needs, the customer is predisposed to buying from you and provides deep insight that no manner of analytical systems could fathom from transactional data.
So where do customers spend time talking to the company, revealing their inner most secrets and desire? Certainly not to sales people and marketing doesn’t speak to customers. Yes, you got it. Customer service. But only if they are allowed to spend time building rapport with customers and developing an understanding of their needs.
My colleagues at CustomerThink know that I am a champion of customer service because I have run a service organization and I understand that trapped inside functional processes, transactional performance measures and command and control cultures are real people who are just waiting to be given the responsibility, support, information and time to make a massive difference to their companies.
It seems crazy to me that companies spend money on customer research yet never ask their customer service people what the issues are? They are a mine of information and they can help deliver the customer strategy in ways you can’t imagine. If you don’t believe me, go and ask them. Join the debate and let me know what you think.