Enhancing customer service in global business service centers

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Defining good customer service depends on the product you sell. For automobiles, friendly in-person contact during a sale or service call can be the key. In a hotel, the cleanliness of the room, breakfast buffet and interactions with front desk staff can make or break a visit. But what about global business services (GBS) organizations? How do you define good customer service from an IT Center of Excellence or an outsourced legal function? These services, often delivered over a cloud-based platform or via an email exchange, are less tangible. Any friction in this system can lead to a drop in customer satisfaction, so getting it right the first time becomes crucially important.

In today’s volatile and highly-interconnected world, it is apparent that more and more businesses are relying on global business service frameworks to help deliver reliable, high-quality service across the globe and around the clock. The GBS model provides efficiency, cost-savings, and can help to eliminate costly variance and empire-building within disparate regions or departments of a company. However, the very nature of GBS, with offshoring, time zone differences and a diverse global workforce, presents unique customer service challenges. This article explores the most common customer service issues faced in this environment and discusses strategies such as quality training, improved stakeholder identification, and cross-cultural communication savvy to enhance customer service and drive business success.

Training for results

The universities and schools that churn out the savvy lawyers, accountants, IT professionals or HR specialists that staff GBS centers don’t generally teach customer service skills. That responsibility rests firmly with the organizations that hire them and rely upon them to provide a seamless customer service experience. It is also the responsibility of these organizations to thoroughly train their teams to ensure that front-line staff are able to operate with global dexterity and avoid cross-cultural challenges. All of this is of course on top of the job-specific training that new and continuing employees are required to go through.

With soft skill training being the hardest to quantify and arguably the most challenging to teach, it is an uphill battle to prioritize these subjects and give them the attention that they deserve. For GBS to be successful, however, they need to find the fine balance between prioritizing these areas for targeted training while not over-spending on the training offerings of limited value. The dividend for investing in customer service is substantial – customers will reward brands for positive interactions and walk away quickly from unhappy customer service experiences (and then complain to others about them as well). 

Know your stakeholders…and get them involved

Creating a great customer service experience is impossible without involving the customer. Robust feedback mechanisms are required to elicit constant and relevant information from the customer regarding the expectations and experiences. Surveys, customer service ombudsmen, personal calls with senior leaders (as well as the rank-and-file employees) who use GBS center offerings are crucial to ensuring that any training or adjustments are tailored to eliminate friction and to smooth out service processes.

Not all stakeholders are immediately apparent. Day-to-day interactions with your clients’ regular point of contact may be fine, but with the complexity of global multinational companies, there are layers behind them that also require customer service handling. For example, if suppliers are aggravated by the mechanism to order service, or if users of the GBS analytical products are unhappy with the report that comes across their desk for review, these pain points are also going to have an impact on the provider’s reputation and customer service feedback, albeit second-hand. Crafting easily accessible mechanisms to get deeper feedback from these less apparent stakeholders is extremely valuable to creating a priority list of where improvements to a process or product are needed to improve the client’s overall happiness.

Cross-cultural challenges and the tyranny of the clock

Diversity of culture and language abilities is a clear benefit to GBS organizations, which can be staffed by multi-lingual experts around the globe to cover a corporation’s many service needs. However, this diversity of language and culture means that the service provider and customer aren’t always coming from the same background, which can lead to misunderstandings, frustrations and overall dissatisfaction. Even if both sides are speaking English, the nuances between how it spoken by a North American native speaker and a second or third language speaker from a different region of the world can lead to challenging exchanges, especially if they are done over an email rather than face-to-face on a Teams/Zoom call.

Even if service center staff master the challenges or communicating across the many cultures that they may have in supporting an international company with far-flung business units, one thing that is unforgiving is the clock. Providing support from a service center that is 12 hours ahead of the customer leads to inevitably slower responses. Customer service experts have consistently noted that what clients want is not only that their issue be resolved correctly, but that it be timely. This is why GBS organizations measure metrics such as First Time Resolution (FTR) or Time to Resolution (T2R) as customer performance indicators in their service evaluations. In this case, (slow) speed does kill a client’s overall satisfaction. The idea of ‘handoffs’ seems like a solution, but in reality it is challenging to handoff a complex issue to another team in a different geographic location and increases the likelihood of miscommunication or even a complete drop unless there are substantial training and support systems in place to smooth this transition.

Getting customer service right is worth the effort

Enhancing customer service in global business service centers requires a holistic approach that addresses the challenges of language and cultural differences, time zone complexities, and knowledge gaps. Internal, focused training programs play a critical role in equipping representatives with the necessary skills and knowledge to provide exceptional customer service. Stakeholder engagement and cross-cultural communication strategies further reinforce service centers’ ability to understand customer needs and foster positive interactions. By implementing these strategies, organizations can overcome the inherent challenges which GBS organizations face and deliver superior customer service, paving the way for long-term success in this dynamic and growing field of global business.

Kirk Samson
Kirk Samson JD/MBA is a Senior Director at Nexdigm, where he manages a global team of attorneys and contracting professionals. He is a former U.S. diplomat, veteran, and passionate advocate for excellent customer service.

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