CX…inside Customer Support?

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Where is your CX function located?

That’s a common question often used to kick off conversations on many webinars and conference chats.  For a while I found it mildly interesting as a survey question and as an icebreaker or a means of getting people engaged right off the bat.  But the more I found the answer to be “within the Customer Support organization,” the more puzzled I became:

Isn’t the goal of CX, to a degree at least, to drive support out of business?

I’ve written about the Closed-Loop Feedback system before, and for those not familiar with it, the concept is at the heart of what CX is looking to do:  Improve your Customers’ Experiences.  In a nutshell, the idea is to take feedback from the Customers (through your VoC program), derive the insights from the analysis of that feedback, and then drive improvements in your organization’s processes in order to improve what you do with the end goal of solving your Customers’ concerns.  The recipients of the feedback can be anywhere along the Customer’s value-chain and journey; from product development to UI improvements on your website, to the sales process, to even yes, your Customer Support organization.  But in the end, the goal is to make it easier for your Customers to do business with you…even to the extent (yes, it’s aspirational) to have no need for a support organization in the first place.

Now, that’ll mean that the processes you have in place to shop for your products or services, purchase them, have them delivered, use and maintain them, and replace and dispose of them are all Customer-centric and as effortless for your Customers as possible.  A big chunk (although for sure not the only source) of effort for your Customers is when your product or service doesn’t come through for them.  That may be because the engineering or materials aren’t up-to-snuff.  It may be because the user manual needs an overhaul or simplification.  It might be because your service technicians aren’t efficiently routed or scheduled.  Who usually is the touch-point within your organization when these things (or any number of other things) go wrong?  Usually, it’s your Customer Support organization.  (Here I’ll differentiate between Customer Support, where people call when something’s not working or not working properly—and Customer Service, where you provide paid-for services or maintenance on a regular basis.)

What’ll happen if your CX efforts are successful?  Well, Customers will have a more effortless experience, they’ll encounter fewer issues, and ultimately they’ll call in (or write in, or come in, or text, chat, email, whatever) much, much less.  In fact, one answer to the perennial question of identifying the ROI for your CX program is that you’d need fewer Customer Support agents if your Customers were having fewer issues with your products or services.  These resource savings could be put back into developing newer and better products and services.  While having ‘no failures’ is, again, aspirational, it’s surely a success indicator to demonstrate fewer Customer contacts or complaints.

That’s why it’s interesting when I encounter companies whose Customer Experience shops are actually working within their Customer Support organizations.  While a good CS group surely should be concerned about the CX for Customers under their purview (i.e., Do your agents and associates provide a good experience when Customers contact you?  Are those interactions free of unnecessary effort or hassle?  Do you solve problems on the first contact?  Etc.), if a CX professional in the CS organization took a strategic view of her responsibility to the overall corporate goals, implementing a successful closed-loop feedback initiative would necessarily mean less business for the CS group in the first place.  In fact, all leaders within Customer Support should strive to drive themselves out of work, frankly.  If they care about the Customers (and the bottom-line of your enterprise), their number one goal should be to make their organizations unnecessary.  Again, no organization will ever hit the ‘no failures’ goal.  And you’d never literally want to extinguish your support organization—thereby leaving your Customers with no one to contact if something does goes wrong.  But if an executive has a sprawling Customer Support kingdom of hundreds of agents, supervisors, technicians, and support staff, how can he be incentivized to drive down the number of calls that come in?  It’s what pays his salary.

In the end it’s much better for the CS organization to work within the CX organization instead of the other way around.  The goal of the CX function is to drive up Customer satisfaction, ease of effort, retention, repurchase, etc.  If your CX team works within a group whose bread-and-butter is Customer’s issues, how can you ever expect the message about how to fix things get to the people who can make that difference?  On the other hand, your Customer support organization will likely be the most valuable source of Customer feedback, because when they’re having issues with your product or service, that’s where your Customers will turn, so that’ll be where you can find these insights.  That’s why CS should work for CX, not the opposite.

(Originally Published 20201029)

– LtCol Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB, CSM

– Principal, Zeisler Consulting

10 COMMENTS

  1. I think the central message of your post is focused on who “owns” the knowledge, information and insights about customers needed to drive improvement to effectively respond to what customers need and want. But, I got lost in the CS and CX labeling. Who owns the financials of any organization? Would that be the CEO, the CFO, or everyone in the organization. It seems to me the more we focus on organizational territory, power, and who works for whom, the more we move away from creating a culture where everyone owns and works for the customer and cares deeply about doing everything within their sphere of influence to ensure every customer is delighted with every encounter with the organization, no matter its form or location. Making the primary critical success metric the near elimination of customer support (while presented as aspirational) implies the customers’ needs and expectations are static when in fact they are constantly changing. It also suggests customer are rational and logical; not emotional and human. Smart customer support is innovative, not reactive; it is anticipatory, not just responsive.

  2. Chip has pretty much encapsulated my thoughts. CX optimization and value delivery should be an enterprise-wide mantra and strategic initiative, deeply embedded in the culture and operational processes. If organizational structure is a component of making this happen, support is ideally situated within the domain of the Chief Customer Officer. In that way, support is part of the CX whole, and is addressed proactively rather than reactively.

    One area of support with real potential for CX improvement is complaints. Nothing can be as effective as complaints at either sinking a sales, marketing, customer loyalty or service program or giving it new life. Complaints can be a positive or negative influence on customer’s word of mouth, as well as intention to remain loyal or to defect. if unexpressed complaints can be surfaced, and positively resolved, as part of the support function, this can have tremendous power – both financially and in building customer relationships.

  3. Could not agree more! Unfortunately, what you are talking about is a symptom that organizations still do not understand the magnitude of of customer experience and what it takes to do it right. As of this month, I have asked all of my podcast and webinar hosts to ask me the question what is the difference between customer service and customer experience. I hope that with all of us chiming in and explaining this across channels we will see more of what you lay out here.

  4. As Colonel Lans Hansa was fond of saying “that’s a Bingo”. Best way for meaning CX to be perceived as a unsavory cost of business is to put into the call center. In order to be more than “problem fixers” and evolve to experience design CX should straddle operations and acquisition (marketing/sales)…the most progressive orgs has the CMO and COO reporting in to the CXO…or at the very least peers. Thks for sharing!

  5. To me, this is fairly simple. CX (customer experience) is everything. CS (customer service) is part of CX. Some say customer service happens when the experience fails. I think they belong together. Furthermore, I think the CS dept. is really a retention and profit department when managed the right way.

  6. Nicholas, thank you for your thinking on this important topic. Chip & Michael, insightful comments! Having been brought up through the TQM movement in the early ’90s, I was reminded of the tendency of departments to act territorially and to view quality efforts with suspicion — especially when these proposals promised reductions in headcounts and budgets, threatening the size and influence of one’s “Kingdom.” If an idea was proposed that would increase costs in one area of the manufacturing process — but would ultimately save money (and increase quality and customer satisfaction) by reducing defects, returns, warranty costs, etc. — the “Lord” who presided over the process requiring increased costs might resist the idea in order to keep the department’s costs in line (and bonuses intact). One of the pillars of Brian Joiner’s process management material was to eliminate fiefdoms by fostering All One Team thinking. While this requires intention and resolve, I agree that it’s vital to create an All One Team culture that recognizes and rewards ownership of every process linked to the customer experience.

  7. Yes, yes, and yes! Sometimes definitions help to clarify: I define CS as a voluntary act that demonstrates a genuine desire to satisfy, if not delight, a customer. CX is the product of any interaction between an organization and a customer. And I define CEM as the art and science of coaxing lifetime customer loyalty from daily transactions. Customer-centric organizations continually ask the question: “How can we develop or improve systems (CEM) that will ensure employee behavior (CS) produces (CX) lifetime customer loyalty?”

  8. CX that you want to deliver must be born within the company and must be led by senior management, so that it flows to all employees of the different areas of the company (Operations, Commercial, Finance, IT, CX, CS), and thus customer experience will be learned, incorporated, strengthened, and then delivered to the external client. Certainly, managing that change is much of a challenge for non-customer centric companies.
    If the company is customer centric, then creating a business strategy around it becomes easier and you will have the financing to implement that strategy. Today it is essential to have an omnichannel strategy, and automation is key to knowing what the customer wants. Digital omnichannel helps to get a complete picture of the customer to know what they are interested in and if they can earn more money.
    CX must be known throughout the company and led by senior management and CS must be the source that feeds information to senior management regarding what the customer wants.

  9. Good article. There’s much to say and so little white space here. 🙂 Customer Experience is Not “customer service.” One is part of the other and a key “moment of truth” that must be measured and optimized, but the two are not synonymous. I also believe that CX is the new Marketing but that’s a topic for another day. The more collaboration and focus on delivering satisfaction among all departments (CX, CS, Finance, HR, Legal, Sales….), the more customers will see and feel it too. That’s when the magic happens❣️

  10. Great article, Nic! Having worked in a “CX” role at a BPO where I managed not one and had to influence CX through relationships with operations, I much prefer my role now where I own Customer Support and CX. I have much easier access to the unstructured data coming from frontline support and find that it’s easier to help the customer support team, as well as others in the organization adopt a customer-centric mindset.

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