Transforming the Customer Services Function (Part I)


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What is missing in most organisations? Genuine insight

Walk along the corridors of business for 25+ years, usually as an ‘outsider’, and you are likely to get that genuine insight is rare. I know this sounds outlandish and I say it again: contextual-deep-actionable insight is rare. Coming across such insight is like coming across gold on the streets of London or coming across genuine thought leadership in an ocean of content.

Yes, almost everyone has opinion. More accurately opinion has its tentacles into just about everyone in the organisation. Or is it prejudice based on one’s station in the organisation? Whether we call it opinion or prejudice, it is a clever fellow. Why? It disguises itself as fact – what is so, what is obvious to anyone smart enough to see it. Which people are the ones that are most gripped by opinion, prejudice, tradition masquerading as fact/truth? The people who are the most isolated from the world – the ones whose hands are not dirty in the doing of the work of the organisation. The people who do not: speak with customers, interact with customers, listen to customers, serve customers…

Yes, in largish organisations there are plenty of reports and documents. These documents tend to have lots of numbers and some of lots of graphs and other striking visuals. Almost always these documents assert authoritative sounding views on the world. I have looked at them closely and many times found them wanting. The trouble usually starts when I start asking questions like, “What is the basis of this number or assertion?” and start digging for answers.

No, genuine penetrating insight is about as common as an honest politician or genuine thought leadership in an ocean of content. What kind of insight am I talking about? Insight into customers and their lives. Insight into the way the organisation works and how it impacts the customer’s experience of the organisation. Insight into competitors. The kind of insight that one needs to develop strategies to improve the relevance – in the lives of customers – and performance of the organisation.

Using the Customer Services function as a source of insight

When I am looking to get a richer understanding of customers and the organisation where do I head to? I head to the Customer Services team which usually means the call-centre. What do I do there? Do I look at call-centre reports? Yes, but not straight away. Do I dive into the call-centre systems where call centre agents make notes and classify calls? Almost never. Why? The coding is ambiguous at best, downright misleading often. And the notes are written in a secret code – it is one way the call-centre agents make their targets, time to close the call targets.

Almost always I head to the call centre put on a headpiece and listen to calls. Why? Because I am listening to real flesh and blood customers. And by immersing myself in this listening I get access to rich insight. Insight into what?

Insight into customers. Their circumstances, their lives, their hopes, their concerns, their fears, their orientation/attitude/stance/affiliation towards the company, what they are hiring the companies products for. And, insight to their unmet needs.

Insight into the organisation itself and its impact on customers. I get access to: which products are failing which customers and how exactly they are failing; which automated touchpoints are not working and how exactly they are not working; which policies and practices are leaving customer frustrated, angry, or delighted; which functions – Marketing, Sales, Logistics etc – are the cause of pain or delight in customer lives; and what it is that these functions are doing, or not doing, that leaves customers angry, frustrated, disappointed, indifferent or delighted.

Insight into competitors. Customers interact with competitors and if you listen to what they are saying along with asking the right questions you can get access to what competitors are up to and how they are perceived by your customers.

Insight into the true level and nature of complaints. Most customer complaints never get recorded as complaints. When I listen into calls I get present to three aspects of complaints. First, the volume of complaints is much higher than what the official figures shows. Second, the causes of complaints are broader than what shows up in the official complaint logs. Three, the root causes of complaints are not necessarily the same as what would show up if I looked at the complaint logs and talked with the complaints team.

The title of this post suggests that I will disclose to you the secret to transforming the Customer Service function. And I have focussed on insight. What is going on here?

One access to transforming the Customer Service function is to turn it into a fee charging internal research agency / consultancy. A consultancy that provides valuable insight to various constituencies – Strategy, Marketing, Sales, Product Development, Operations – and charges market rates for these insights.

This is not the only access to transforming the Customer Services function. I will share the others with you in the follow up post – Part II of this series will be coming forth soon.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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