Digital workflow: powering dramatic customer service and experience improvements

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One definition of workflow is a sequence of steps involved in moving from the beginning to the end of a working process. The concept of workflow traces its roots back to 1921, where the term “work flow” was first coined in a railway engineering journal. Frederick Taylor and Henry Gantt are considered the idea’s originators, and their intent was to improve manufacturing through the rational organization of work.

Over time, workflow moved from the manufacturing floor into the back office. And with that, the creation of typewriters and copiers–replacing longhand, multi-part documents–offered more efficient means of sharing information and collaboration. Then computers and networks superseded those systems, with newer sharing and collaboration techniques as well as modern means to efficiently manage the processes governing work being done across the business. Digital workflow was born.

Workflow is meant to “move [work] from the beginning to the end of a working process.” One area of business in particular that can reap the benefits of digital workflow is customer service.

Service level agreements

Service Level Agreements (or SLAs) are time-based contracts between the customer and customer service. They can specify one or more deadlines, from time to acknowledge an issue to the time to resolution. Failure to meet an SLA can result in financial or other penalties to a company.

Digital workflow helps avoid costly SLA violations by ensuring cases don’t hit their SLA threshold. It can issue notifications of looming deadlines or reassign a case to another agent at a pre-set interval.

Repeatability

Companies create processes to ensure they are consistent and efficiently executed. Digital workflows are built around processes to help ensure that consistency and efficiency.

A common digital workflow supporting customer service is knowledge base article submission and editing. Solutions from closed cases serve as the raw material, and workflow is used to facilitate the validation, editing, and publishing processes. This ensures not only consistency in content, but also the most efficient means of making new articles available to customers and agents as quickly as possible.

Connecting teams

Customer service cannot operate in a silo. The problems reported by customers–product issues, incorrect billing statements, and others–must be shared with the department that can address the root cause. While most organizations would suggest email is sufficient for inter-departmental communications like this, digital workflow is superior for three primary reasons: avoiding roadblocks, maintaining visibility, and ensuring accountability.

Avoiding roadblocks

Despite the use of the “To” and “CC” lines to one or many, email still gets delivered on the recipients’ side to an inbox, an inbox that might not get checked often or buried with other unread emails. That email could go to a recipient out-of-office, or worse still, to someone no longer with the company.

Digital workflow offers the ability to create detours and alternate paths. If resolving the root cause of a customer billing issue would normally be assigned to a specialist in finance who is on vacation, rules would ensure the issue didn’t remain unresolved until the employee returned by routing the task to alternate team members.

Maintaining visibility

With roadblocks avoided, the next concern is status and progress. While email can be used to communicate where things stand, those same challenges of overflowing inboxes and out-of-office staff hinder good visibility.

Modern customer service platforms with digital workflow provide a visual means of tracking status. It’s possible to see the route, what tasks along the process have been completed and those that are outstanding, and the time taken from point-to-point. If resolving the billing issue involved multiple steps–problem validation, making a system change, testing the solution, and rolling it into production for example–the exact stage of the resolution is visible to all involved.

Ensuring accountability

Digital workflow makes it possible for customer service and other departments to work together to address customer issues in a consistent manner. Though it’s a defined, step-by-step process that attempts to avoid delays, they do occur.

That’s where accountability becomes important. Teams and individuals have designated roles to play in a given digital workflow. Visibility into task assignments as a digital workflow runs helps ensure accountability that a process runs efficiently and to the proper conclusion. In the customer billing problem example, were team members across departments properly skilled to resolve this type of issue or is additional training needed? After-the-fact reporting and auditing can identify places where a digital workflow slowed or stalled, making process improvements possible.

Consistency and speed in customer service

The concept of workflow was born as a means of improving work processes in manufacturing and its merits were noticed and adopted by the back office. Today, businesses depend on digital workflow as a standard and efficient means of cross-departmental collaboration to complete work tasks.

Digital workflows are an especially powerful tool to utilize in customer service. SLA violations can become a thing of the past. Cross-departmental teamwork can eliminate the root cause of customer issues. By speeding time to resolution and eradicating the underlying problem, digital workflows are the key to greater customer satisfaction and improving the customer experience.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.

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