Customer Service: Who’s on the Case?


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Just managing the case? You’re going to have to do better than that. Photograph by Roomic Cube.

“We’re currently experiencing delays due to greater than expected call volumes.” Another day spent on hold, another call center copout.

To paraphrase Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, if you’re always experiencing greater-than-expected call volumes, then those your normal call volumes. But why don’t companies do anything about it?

“Companies have a split personality when it comes to customers,” says the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki (“Are you being served?”). They spend untold amounts of money to land new customers, but then do little to keep them, even though retaining customers costs far less than finding new ones. In the worst-case scenario, executives do this by design, remaining obsessed with sales — always be closing, thrill of the hunt and all — while dismissing customer service as a “cost center.”

Don’t Flake on Case Management

Other organizations, however, have good intentions but overlook the big customer service picture. Oftentimes, for example, rather than taking a balanced approach, organizations focus too much on case management.

Don’t get me wrong, good case management is essential. But you need to approach customer service in a holistic fashion, if you’re going to master the four components of case management:

  • Intake and capture: Enable agents to receive inquiries, classify accordingly, and initiate a resolution procedure that is formally tracked.
  • Assign and escalate: Assign opened cases to agents based using relevant criteria or where necessary elevate the case to a higher authority for resolution.
  • Resolve: Design formalized and ad hoc activities — matched to specific customer issues — to satisfy inquiries and generate customer satisfaction.
  • Close the case: Actually identify a case as being resolved, and detail the potential future call center routing for a customer, for any post-resolution activity.

Again, case management is just one component of effective customer service. Excelling at it also requires addressing services leadership (guiding service operations), experience management (ensuring positive interactions), service operations (mastering intra-organizational details) and service measurement (generating clear metrics).

All of these customer service capabilities must work in sync. For example, if a cell phone provider that’s gotten your bill wrong makes you hold for 45 minutes and you still haven’t spoken to a live call center agent, you haven’t even reached the “case management” stage yet.

Pump Up the Volume

What does seeing the full customer service picture and ensuring that all of the underlying components work together look like in practice? As an example, take Innoveer client EmblemHealth in New York state, which created an ambitious customer service program whereby 86% of all inbound calls get solved by the member services agent who first picks up the phone.

EmblemHealth’s goals were twofold: to increase customer satisfaction, and to reduce costs, since — according to industry statistics — every customer-agent interaction costs at least $20.

Thankfully, efficiency and cost control need not be mutually exclusive. For example, if I call in with a claim problem, and the service representative who answers the phone solves the issue, I’m happy. Likewise, given the amount of non-value-added time required every time a customer gets transferred to a new agent — “for verification purposes, what’s your mother’s maiden name?” and “can you describe the problem to me again, please?” — the company lowers its customer service costs. Time is money.

Message to Customers: We’re Listening

For EmblemHealth, having honed this proficiency speaks volumes about how it regards its members. Because to facilitate single-call resolution — by the way, a feature of having a world-class case management program — EmblemHeath needed to lay quite a lot of groundwork, such as:

  • Call routing: Determining who’s calling, based on the incoming phone number, then routing the call to the right agent.
  • IVR: Providing tools for people to route themselves to the right agent, should they choose to do so.
  • Agent-focused CRM: Putting the right data immediately into the hands of an agent, so they can see all relevant information, history and contact details to help them quickly resolve the issue.
  • Training and empowering: From a “case closure” standpoint, just having the data is not enough; agents must be trained to assess the situation and quickly resolve it without the interminable delays of having to check with their supervisor..

EmblemHealth shows how with a little planning and a holistic approach, organizations can do more than just manage the case. They can solve it.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Honig
Adam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a recognized thought-leader in sales process and effectiveness, and has previously co-founded three successful technology companies: Innoveer Solutions, C-Bridge, and Open Environment. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.


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