From Cost Center to Value Creator: Time to Get Honest About Customer Service’s Worth


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For decades, we’ve collectively relegated service to the end of the customer lifecycle. It’s the function that answers customers’ questions and solves their problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. Indeed, most companies have managed the customer service function as a cost center and have adopted new tools and technologies as ways to reduce these expenses.

Is this traditional approach overlooking a larger, more strategic role best served by customer service? What if we expand our view of it as not merely a cost center, but a value-creation function – one that plays as active a role on the front-end as it does reacting and responding to customers’ needs? While service will always be essential to fixing problems, what if it could do more — for your customers and your business?

In some companies, those are no longer hypothetical questions. They have fully embraced customer service as a value creator, and for good reason. Such an approach to service is paying off, with companies that have adopted this more expansive function of customer service achieving 3.5 times more revenue growth than companies still managing service as a cost center; yet only one in five companies has made this critical shift.

According to a global survey of 2,000+ executives and 16,700+ consumers and business customers, there are three key actions that any organization can take to adopt what Accenture calls “end-to-endless customer service.”

Proactively identify and anticipate customer needs

The global survey confirmed that three-quarters of B2B and two-thirds of B2C customers value proactive communications and experience. The research also found that customers are not receiving as much proactive support as they would like – a missed opportunity for companies, considering the premium some customers are willing to pay for it. Compared to those who do not consider proactive service important, customers who do are 30% more likely to pay a premium.

Truly proactive support demands a deep understanding of customer needs using predictive capabilities powered by data. With predictive capabilities, you can anticipate and identify when you’re at risk of not meeting customers’ expectations or delivering against the product or service performance you’ve promised. By taking responsibility for proactively understanding, anticipating, and meeting customers’ needs, your company becomes an “invisible” presence they know they can trust, and one they’re more likely to be loyal to long-term.

Deepen customer engagement

How well do you know what your customers truly want — in other words, how they define “success” in the context of what they buy from you? Service can be a powerful lever for building that understanding and engaging customers around the motivations and outcomes that matter most.

In B2B, companies often assign dedicated account managers or customer success managers. In fact, the global study found that 95% of B2B customers have some kind of dedicated support, as opposed to 46% of B2C customers. Yet B2C consumers also welcome a “trusted advisor” model. In fact, more than half (54%) would like that option.

Until recently, it would have been impossible to deliver that experience at scale. Today, however, AI and conversational technologies are changing the game. Digital technologies can deliver personalized service directly (consider virtual agents, for example). They can also digitally enable better human-to-human interactions. For example, serving up timely, accurate customer insights can help contact center agents and field force representatives deliver more personalized support.

Get disciplined about service-generated data insights

No function is closer to your customers than service. Everyday service channels collect feedback and input from customers. How are you capturing, analyzing, distributing, and leveraging this information? How are you using it to inform product development? Findings from the global study suggest that service should be highly influential in creating and improving your products. In a world where a large percentage of new products fail, service can be instrumental as you identify — and solve for — unmet product needs.

About 60% of businesses in the global survey often or always involve service in product development. These same companies also experience higher revenue growth. More specifically, companies that report always involving their service organization in new product development are achieving up to 10X+ revenue growth than companies that keep these functions separate.

Activating service insights makes it possible to create value beyond traditional functional boundaries. Customers who offer feedback want to feel heard and acknowledged. B2C customers are twice as likely and B2B customers are 37% more likely to spend more with companies they perceive as actively listening to their feedback on improving the product.

In other words, if your company is undervaluing service insights, you may be leaving revenue on the table.

Unleash the value of service

When you stop treating service as merely a cost center and start viewing it as a function essential to your organization, the many ways in which it can significantly contribute to your business – from strengthening customer loyalty and trust to accelerating business growth – become abundantly clear. Visionaries are building brand loyalty by making service more proactive and using it to engage customers at every step of their journey — not just when something goes wrong. By investing in human and technology capabilities, leaders are able to reduce customer effort, maximize customer value and infuse customer insights into future product development.

Edwin Van der Ouderaa
Dr. Edwin Van der Ouderaa is the Accenture Global Lead for both the Customer, Sales & Service practice and the Digital Banking practice, where he partners with clients to lead the design and activation of digital customer experiences at scale, advances growth agendas through insights and innovation, and leads large and diverse transformations, mergers and acquisitions in the insurance and banking industries. Edwin is a Computer Science Engineer; he holds a PhD in Information Theory and an MBA and a Masters in Pedagogy. He is based between Brussels and London.


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