Give Your Customer-Facing Employees the Tools to See the Whole Customer


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It’s not often that I see true ambassadors handling customer issues, despite plaintive cries from customer-facing employees who keep saying, ‘just give me the tools to do my job,’ and often lament, ‘my customers know more about us than I know about them.’

I promise you that if you set up round tables with a handful of your customer-facing employees and ask, ‘What do you need to handle your customers completely?’ you will be deluged with suggestions. And one clear pattern will emerge: ‘Just give me the information that I need, when I need it.’

Consider two different customer interactions, and customer experiences. Which one would you rather have in your company—and as a customer, yourself?

Case 1

Employee: Thanks for calling Acme Tools, how may I help you?
Customer: Well, I already used that computer of yours [the interactive voice response (IVR) system] and entered my account number and wanted to find out if you can add that nifty new adjustable wrench to my order.
Employee: Sorry, but I can’t see that information. Can you please repeat it for me?
Customer: What?!? $#%$^&!! [Expletives deleted.]
[Two minutes later.]
Customer: OK, here you go … .
Employee: OK, I now have your order in front of me, but which wrench do you want?
Customer: The one that you emailed me about this morning!
Employee: Sorry, but was that the Argus 112 or the Zebron 6B?
Customer: Geesh! It’s the Argus 212, the brand-new one that you’re promoting!
Employee: Please don’t blame me, sir. I’m working as best as I can. OK, now I see it. I can add that to your order and get it out to you tomorrow.
Customer: Forget it! Just cancel the whole thing! [He hangs up.]

Case 2

Employee: Thanks for calling Acme Tools. I see that you tried to add the Argus 212 that we’re promoting to your order but wound up reaching me. How may I help you?
Customer: Can I get that added today?
Employee: Sorry, but tomorrow’s the earliest. Is that fast enough for you?
Customer: Sure. Thanks. I appreciate it!


Easy to spot the differences, right? Case 2 uses computer telephony integration (CTI) to pop the employee’s screen with the IVR data entered. It also provides critical information at the employee’s fingertips from the company’s order history and from the marketing promotion that the company sent earlier that day to the customer. In both cases, the employee could promise only next-day shipment, but in Case 1, the customer was so frustrated that he canceled his entire order. In Case 2, the customer had such a good experience that the delay was fine.

Case 2 is what customer experience leaders such as, Apple and insurance leader USAA follow, in some cases for as many as 10 years. They ensure that their customer-facing employees are armed with the same information already provided to their customers, such as outbound email promotional messages or automated alerts. They ensure that those same employees have the knowledge of what their customers have already attempted over the phone in terms of IVR menu selections or entered into the web site, through web clicks, as well as their full purchase history.

Case 1 is what many companies still have in place, but it’s obvious that those who haven’t evolved their technology are suffering higher operating costs and increasingly upset situations: inconsistent responses and answers; incorrect solutions; unneeded concessions to placate customer frustration; and, ultimately, reduced revenue.

What is also important is to have full customer contact and purchase history at the employees’ fingertips, including everything that the company sent to the customer, such as offers, late-payment notices, email messages and promises. USAA is a great example. The insurance company supplies them with third-party policies and credit card information. Amazon employees can immediately connect with customers, thanks to having a full customer history in front of them. Apple can connect its employees across the burgeoning ‘i’ family of products. With all of this knowledge, the customer service ambassadors are on an even footing with the customers: They don’t have to start from scratch. Instead, they can acknowledge previous interactions, anticipate issues and provide remedies before the customer asks for them (creating a true ‘wow’ moment) and log customer sentiment so that the next ambassador is prepared.

Your customers know everything about their interactions with your company, but do you know all of those interactions? If not, the finest listening skills and trained agents will not be able to cope with the customer upset.

It’s hard to turn your employees into ambassadors for your company, but giving them the technical tools to do so every time they interact with customers is well worth it. Your customer-facing employees become more engaged, so they deliver higher levels of first-contact resolution. And they stick around longer. Your customers express their satisfaction to you and to a bunch of their friends and will become more loyal. Your costs will, over time, become much lower per customer or per transaction.

Bill Price

Bill Price is the President of Driva Solutions (a customer service and customer experience consultancy), an Advisor to Antuit, co-founded the LimeBridge Global Alliance, chairs the Global Operations Council, teaches at the University of Washington and Stanford MBA programs, and is the lead author of The Best Service is No Service and Your Customer Rules! Bill served as's first Global VP of Customer Service and held senior positions at MCI, ACP, and McKinsey. Bill graduated from Dartmouth (BA) and Stanford (MBA).


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