“Customer service is what happens when the experience breaks.”
I read this quote by Charlie Herrin, executive vice president of customer experience at Comcast, in Multichannel News last week (apologies if the random paywall appears for you). Prior to that role, Herrin was senior vice president of product design and development, making him very familiar with the challenges of getting product right. The quote struck home not only the importance of a great customer experience but the equal or greater importance customer service has in getting a flawed experience back on the rails.
It also causes one to consider how a customer service organization using traditional CRM-type practices can’t positively impact the customer experience the same way using service management can. The CRM approach to customer service is to take the call, email, or chat; answer the question and document it; then move on to the next (perhaps identical) customer issue. Service management is better suited to improve the customer experience because unlike CRM, it’s about bringing the right resources to bear on solving an underlying issue so that it doesn’t recur.
Customer Service Is The Telemetry
As Herrin noted, customers only reach out to customer service when something unexpected happens: the order didn’t arrive when anticipated, a part is missing or the product is broken, or instructions aren’t clear. In each of these cases, something occurred from design to first product use that didn’t align with customer expectations. The result is a call, email, or chat seeking a solution and the point at which the failure in customer experience is identified.
For the sake of example, let’s assume a customer has contacted customer service because the “getting started guide” didn’t contain clear instructions. Through the course of working with the customer, the customer service agent determines one of the lines of text was omitted. The customer service agent provides the missing information and the customer can now use the product.
Many companies might stop at this point. After all, the problem was solved, right? This same solution might be parroted over-and-over by the customer service staff to customers. This is not the case at a company that has embraced service management. The details of that failure become an opportunity to fix the core issue and improve the customer experience. And customer services does that by working with other teams.
Connecting Customer Service With Other Teams
When service management is practiced, customer service isn’t isolated from the rest of the company. They answer the call of the customer and collect the details of the problem (our telemetry) as a typical customer service organization would, but they go beyond providing an answer. Customer service is connected with other departments and make them aware of problems affecting the customer experience. They then work cooperatively to permanently resolve them.
Consider again our “getting started guide” example. Customer service might help the customer with the missing details so they can begin to using their product, but they can’t address the fact that some instructions are missing and how this will affect other customers. They inform the documentation team, determine the scope and potential impact of the issue, and work cooperatively on a solution: in this case, updating the document and reprinting it. From there, the revised document must be placed into production by ensuring the manufacturing team is informed and prepared to swap out the incorrect materials.
How can this all be accomplished? Customer service connects to the documentation and manufacturing teams via workflow. This makes it possible for all of the teams to route and assign the necessary tasks, as well as keep everyone informed and accountable, throughout the process.
Fixing Issues Proactively
Customer service provided the telemetry and the larger organization was engaged. The “getting started guide” has been updated correctly, and new copies are shipping with the product. Case closed! Well, not quite…
It’s true the root cause was located and addressed and future products won’t suffer from the same condition. What about all the products on their way to customers or in warehouses set to ship out with the faulty instructions?
A company in this situation might have several options available, such as placing notices on the service website and automated messages played on the customer service line or even locating and recalling unsold product. Each approach will have a different cost-benefit associated with it. Regardless of the method, customers will appreciate preemptive efforts made to prevent their stumbling. Remember, the less trouble a customer encounters, the better off their experience.
Fixing The Broken Experience
It’s naive to think that every customer’s experience will be perfect. There will always be a bump in the road. The original quote rings true: customer service is indeed the result when the experience breaks.
But when a company utilizes service management, customer service can offer more than just the same answer repeated hundreds or thousands of times. They are empowered to work with other teams across the company to identify the root cause and the best solution. On top of that, they can help to proactively deliver a solution to not-yet-affected customers. In short, customer service can do more than simply turn around a negative experience; they can positively impact the customer experience by working with other teams to identify and prevent that issue from happening in the future.