Service operations: the critical piece to amazing customer service

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When customers pick up the telephone or chat online to engage live with customer service, it’s with an agent: a frontline customer service person. Any customer service leader will tell you having a friendly and well-trained staff is critical to delivering great customer service, and they are correct. Except there’s more to customer service than just a helpful voice.

This is because not every problem can be solved by an agent sitting in customer service. Two scenarios come to mind.

In the first, the issue may be complex and beyond the capabilities of customer service. They might simply lack the time, skills, or tools to resolve it, and another department is required to assist. For example, addressing a fraudulent credit card charge: the agent might be able to reverse the questionable charge and cancel or freeze the card, but investigating the issue must involve the fraud department.

Other situations might larger in nature. They involve more than one customer affected by an error made by another part of the organization. Imagine if the assembly or usage instructions for a product or service were incorrect. The result would be an influx of confused and upset customers seeking help.

Both examples and similar ones are unfortunately all too common. And they are exactly the scenarios where having strong service operations is crucial.

The term “service operations” might conjure images of operational roles behind the scenes in customer service: people performing functions like staff scheduling, contact volume analysis, knowledge base curation, and more. These are all essential as it relates to delivering quality frontline customer service. In addition, service operations must tackle how customer service works with other departments to resolve those customer issue examples described above. It’s this part of service operations that can be challenging, but three attributes can ensure it runs smoothly.

Look inward

The biggest hurdle–and why it’s first on this list–is culture. Organizations must align on the importance of the customer. It does not matter what it’s called: “customer-centricity,” “customer-obsessed,” or a desire to continuously improve the customer experience. If across the company, departments are not working together to address customers’ concerns, no amount of process improvement or technology will make a difference.

How does the culture of a company change? Ideally, it starts from the top, with the C-suite walking the talk. By placing importance on customer service and service operations that span the entire company, they help to ensure cooperation across teams.

It does not have to come from the top, though. Customer service leaders can take a more grassroots approach. They can build and maintain relationships with teams across the company, working together to address the issues impacting customers.

Either way–or both–helps reduce friction and paves the way for better outcomes.

Evaluate systems and processes

Even companies that do have a strong customer orientation may struggle to succeed. What often gets in the way are outdated systems and processes. These can slow employees down and prevent fast progress on customer issues.

Select a few common customer issues that require other teams get involved to resolve. Audit those processes, from the time a customer contacts customer service through to resolution. Where are agents performing manual steps? Are they relying on multiple systems to find answers or to consult with other teams? If Service Level Agreements are involved, are they often missed? This investigation helps expose where both systems and processes can be streamlined.

Rely on workflow

On the topic of process improvement, the natural step forward is to adopt workflow. Rationalizing a process and minimizing the number of systems needed to deliver customer service is helpful, but it can still leave things difficult to track and measure.

Workflow solves these challenges. It scales from issues affecting individual customers (like that fraudulent charge example) to a widespread issue (such as poorly written instructions). Workflow routes the issue to the department that can assist. Tasks are assigned to individuals in those departments with timers. If progress is not made or the time limit is exceeded, the task can be detoured to others. All communications on the issue can be captured. Visibility is maintained from start to end. And at the end, reports can show how well each workflow is performing.

As with the process audit earlier, start small; select a few that involve teams outside customer service that would benefit from workflow and implement them. Evaluate and discuss the results and iterate as needed. Then continue to bring more processes into the workflow fold.

Going beyond engagement

The first expectation customers have is that when they have a problem, friendly and helpful customer service agents will be there for them. The second? A speedy resolution. Deliver on both, and customer satisfaction follows. While that might be possible for the simple issues, the more complex ones are going to require aid from outside customer service.

Companies that are not taking an “all hands on deck” approach to customer service are missing the boat. Complex customer issues can be addressed quickly only when the culture is aligned, processes and systems are up-to-date, and workflow is there charting the course.

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