How finely-tuned is your customer service?

We have all seen the customer service revolution that has empowered the customer with new ways to dictate the way they choose to communicate with the organisations they are patrons of but some industries have embraced the revolution whilst others have either fought against it or simply struggled to keep pace.

I don’t think anybody would disagree that customer service is no longer simply a department or function and instead it is an engine within an organisation with the potential to either power the business forwards or equally to stall progress if it lacks the right drive and traction.

The recent video statement from Jo Causon, the CEO of The Institute of Customer Service, contains some powerful challenges to organisations with which they can judge themselves as falling into one of two categories ‘monologue’ or ‘dialogue’.  Is it fair to say that those organisations still languishing in monologue customer conversations are being overtaken by those who have embarked on a journey of dialogue with their customers?

I think it is fair, and I also think that those who have already recognised that fluid, interactive and customer-centric service will allow them to differentiate from the competition, are already speeding off into the lead. But what does it take to have customer dialogue and how do you bring the customer into the Boardroom?

Firstly let’s look at what it takes. Jo describes those organisations who have what it takes as organisations who ‘’invest in the development of their people, focusing on the new era of Customer Service skills which require a much higher level of emotional intelligence, commercial acumen and technological development’’.  It is hard to disagree with the description Jo gives but for me, the most striking and obvious thing about that statement is that it is all encompassing ideology that demands an organisation to take a holistic view of customer service including the people within it, the technology deployed and the management methodologies used to govern and develop the environment.

What is certainly true is those organisations who have already recognised the need for a holistic and ideological view towards customer services will continue to develop their service offering, adopting new channels, technology and gaining plaudits, recognition and more loyal customers along the way. You can also say with confidence that those organisations who are in the customer service fast lane will most certainly also have the customer in the boardroom – they will be prioritising customer needs and ensuring an authentic relationship exists.

So how do you get the customer in the boardroom if they aren’t already?  That is a much more difficult challenge to solve, but I would suggest that it can only be done by learning from others and using their customer service engine to propel your organisation to the front of the grid or face life in the pit lane.

Leave a comment here on the blog or get in touch with me directly via my LinkedIn.

Dialog... (explored)

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Could increased inefficiency be good for your customers?

Forbes is the kind of business journal where a focus on efficiency is treated as so obvious that nobody needs to think that there might be an alternative strategy, so it was interesting to read Micah Solomon’s recent article on how it may be better for your customers to actually increase inefficiency.

What could he possibly be talking about? Well, what he is really talking about is looking beyond the conventional wisdom in your industry. Not just doing things the way that they have always been done. A good example might be the batching up of customer satisfaction surveys and analysing them just once a month. It’s the most efficient way of analysing feedback, but the best way would be to analyse feedback as it arrives.

Solomon also talking about hand-written thank you notes to customers and carrying stock that you rarely sell, just because it helps customers to know you always have every item in stock.

It was the economist JK Galbraith who coined the term ‘conventional wisdom’ when he was writing about how to make society a more equal place. He suggested that by always questioning and never making assumptions based on what we think is normal, interesting solutions can be found.

I tend to agree with what Solomon is suggesting. There are some very interesting areas of customer service that can be improved by not just accepting the conventional wisdom of what a customer expects, however I would also suggest that this a cultural attitude that needs to permeate all levels of the organisation – you cannot create rules that tell people ‘think differently.’

If your customer service team is given the autonomy they need to help customers and to explore new solutions when the standard ones don’t fit, then these innovations should naturally happen – the real challenge is then turning an innovative solution into the new conventional wisdom.

What do you think? Can you improve customer service by becoming less efficient? Leave a comment here or you can reach me on LinkedIn here.

Guardians of Efficiency

 

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Outsourcing: does size really matter?

A recent blog by William Carson here on the Teleperformance UK pages explored the perceptions of size in a partner company.

This is a question any company executive will ask when they are about to select a partner to work with. If you explore the information published by the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) in the UK, their best practice guidance includes notes on the pros and cons of working with companies of different sizes.

Teleperformance is one of the largest customer service experts in the world today, offering help to clients in 62 different countries. This scale means that we can offer expertise from one region to others and our team has deep experience of customers working across many different industries.

But, as William mentioned, other companies make a virtue of how small they are. Smaller companies are more agile is the supposed wisdom. Smaller companies will treat the customers with more care because you are less important to a large firm. This is all accepted wisdom that may have been true in the past, and possibly remains true in some industries, but I believe that the customer service sector is different.

Customers today are using far more channels than ever. Most customers are using at least 6 channels to communicate with brands and they often expect brands to react to communications that have not even been sent to any official channel – perhaps a tweet about a retailer.

This means that managing a customer service project is no longer about setting up a call centre and then expecting that service can run as specified for the next ten years. Customer service is changing faster now than ever before. There have been more changes in this industry in the past decade than in the previous five decades.

I’m naturally inclined to favour the way Teleperformance works because I am a part of the team, but I can see the way the industry is headed more generally. I think that our scale allows us to see new channels and trends before our clients need them.

You might not have been asked to offer support via WhatsApp yet, but you can guarantee that our team has already been exploring how it works. This expertise and the forward-thinking research coming from our Customer Experience Lab (CX Lab) in Portugul lead me to believe that big can sometimes be better –and more agile.

What’s you view on the next important trend in customer services? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

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Free content – the answer for mobile operators?

My last blog talked about how mobile companies will start working together more often to share the cost of providing a basic network so they can then differentiate themselves on their service offering – which may well include the type of content available.

AT&T is following this strategy with the recent news that they are rolling out a sponsored App store where the App creators – or other sponsors – fund the data use by the end user. For the customers it means that Apps in this separate store can be downloaded and used without any impact on their agreed data plan.

Critics are arguing that it means AT&T can charge customers to use data and sponsors to offer Apps with the data use paid for so they get two bites at the cherry when users download these apps, but some analysts believe that this is an interesting strategy.

Analyst firm Ovum praised the AT&T initiative for encouraging greater mobile data consumption while extending the cost of that additional consumption to others besides the end user. “AT&T is able to encourage more usage on its network, while the sponsoring company is able to promote and encourage the desired customer behaviour on their Website or interaction with their online or mobile service,” said Ovum research analyst Sara Kaufman.

Personally I tend to agree with the Ovum view, but I would go further and suggest that this is the start of increased collaboration with content providers to further encourage customers to join a network – or stay with a network. The networks that win will combine quality content with a great user experience – the network has to be good, but so does the content.

What’s your view on the mobile sector? Do you believe that contracts are still sold on call minutes or have you seen additional services such as free content becoming popular? Leave a comment on the blog or tweet me at @simondillsworth.

$ at&t (David Byrne bike rack design)

 

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More mobile industry collaboration is good news for the operators – and their customers

BT has just announced plans to bundle a 4G mobile service into a complete package for Small to Medium-size Enterprises (SME) that also includes free wi-fi across the country.

This is hard evidence that SME working patterns are changing. More people are working remotely and expecting to do some heavy-duty work on their mobile that is more than just browsing the news headlines and scanning emails.

Data consumption is increasing and the average SME today has a far greater expectation on the data they allowed to use within a standard contract than they would have had even just a year ago. Small businesses need the volume of data these new contracts allow as well as the speed that 4G can offer.

This package has been delivered in collaboration between BT and another mobile company, EE. I have argued before that mobile operators will need to work together more often because their future focus will be the network quality and capacity. If they can share costs between operators on basic services then it helps all the mobile companies.

Bundled services such as this are really just the start. The mobile companies are starting to see that just offering a data package is not enough to create any market differentiation. They are likely to start becoming quite innovative in the services offered in the near future – with more partnership on the basics.

BT Tower From Primrose Hill

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True innovation comes from a deep understanding of the present – and past

One of the challenges faced by the Teleperformance team when they go out to meet prospective clients is that our competitors have argued that Teleperformance is ‘too big’ … the implication being that a smaller rival will be more agile and able to treat the customer as more important than a larger company could.

Of course, we have a large group of clients that are really pleased with the work we do for them and we often refer those who are thinking about working with us to this existing group of reference clients, but I think there is a bigger picture worth exploring.

When industry analysts and other key influencers hand out awards, there are generally two important measures of success; who is operationally the best at delivering a great service day after day and who is the most innovative and exploring where customer service is heading in future?

What’s exciting about Teleperformance is that we are often awarded the highest honours for both. Just look at the recent European Outsourcing Association awards last month where we won the overall title of the best provider of the year for our service, but our CX Lab in Portugal earned us the pan-European innovation award too.

We invest a lot in looking at how customer service will function in future. The debate on blogs – such as this – is just one part of that exploration, but all of our research into the future is based on a solid body of knowledge about how customer service really works today – and we operate in 62 countries so this can span various cultures too.

The idea for this blog came to me last night when I was talking to some younger team members who had never heard of Skylab, the first NASA Space Station. Other NASA success stories, such as the Space Shuttle, didn’t just come from a research centre; they were born from experience and knowledge of what works in the field. Without Skylab there would never have been a shuttle or the present-day ISS.

I believe that innovation and research at our CX Lab can be considered in the same way. Customer service has changed more in the past decade than in the previous fifty years – or more. We have many competitors that can offer a similar level of service today, but I don’t think anyone is looking as far ahead at the future of customer service as we are and this offers a great advantage to our clients when they are planning how to compete in their own markets.

What’s your view on the way customer service is changing? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

Skylab in Orbit (NASA Archive, 11/16/73)

 

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Getting Customer Service right is the strategic future for your business

The customer service function is the most important part of your business today – full stop. With companies like Ford and Jaguar Land Rover now declaring themselves ‘retailers’ first and foremost, this is not just some motivational mantra aimed at boosting the ego of customer service managers, I truly believe that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in the way companies are structured with a focus on customer interaction right at the centre of these changes.

It’s worth taking a step back for a moment to consider how most companies are organised. There are the traditional departments, or silos, that all have an individual function. Think of the marketing department, sales, IT, HR, and operations. Some of these are on the frontline of the business and directly account for the profit (or loss) of the company – like the sales team. Some of them are supporting functions, such as HR, that ensure the operational teams can function well.

The customer service function used to exist in that world of supporting players. It was generally unloved and just existed because your products featured a free-phone number and let’s be honest, someone had to handle the complaints and questions that came in after sales had been made.

Now and again a magazine feature would talk about the customer service function becoming a profit centre because happy customers are more likely to be loyal customers, but did we ever really believe these articles? For most companies the contact centre was just an unavoidable cost to the business.

But now, in the multichannel world of customer service, an enormous amount of dialogue between the company and customers all takes place openly online. Customers and potential customers can see the way that you interact with people because it’s all transparent and accessible at all times.

This means that examples of great service can be retweeted or shared on Facebook. How many times have you seen a ‘great service’ post going viral recently liked the Sainsbury’s coffee moment? And the opposite is true – examples of awful service are shared widely – the ‘United breaks guitars’ video being a classic example. Engagement with existing and potential customers has become the best way to market your brand and to generate sales.

So now the sales and marketing teams are interested in customer services because it is where the relationship with customers is created and nurtured. About a month ago I wrote on this blog that marketing directors all over the world are taking a keen interest in their customer service team. Proactive engagement has replaced picking up the phone to answer a complaint. If a Twitter user mentions that he or she is flying with your airline later in the day then why not send a link to the movies that will be available on that flight?

This is exactly the kind of engagement that is now taking place and it has positioned the customer service team at the heart of modern organisations. This will change how many companies operate their entire branding, PR, marketing, and communication strategies as all of this will be led by the way the company interacts directly with customers.

In the near future you can expect plenty of jockeying for position in the boardroom. Marketing directors will be trying to convince the CEO that they should be running the customer service centre even if they have never directly interacted with a customer in their entire career. Sales managers will be asking agents to cross-sell on every support call. And the existing customer service managers will be digging out the marketing books they haven’t at since their MBA. In reality these roles and titles also need to change, the business function closest to supporting and impacting the customer experience is the real deal.

Indeed the times they are a changing, but one thing is clear. The customer service function has become the most important component of any modern company structure. This is a great industry to be in right now and will continue to evolve in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Have you seen any organisations where the customer service centre has started leading on sales and marketing too? Leave a comment here or you can reach me on LinkedIn here.

Land Rover del Ejército del Aire

 

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