Is Customer Service the Weak Link in Your Business?

Great customer service goes beyond a good first impression.

If business is all about building relationships, then quality customer service is crucial. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses treat it as an afterthought.

Many businesses committed to offering exceptional customer service still view their operations as a cost center. Love it or hate it, customer service is a necessary cost of doing business.

But why is that?

Customer service is where your business directly interacts with your customers. Each interaction is a valuable opportunity to gain insight, promote your brand and build trust with the very people who are keeping your ledger out of the red.

Even if you have great customer service, if you don’t take extra steps for success then you’re leaving money on the table. To fully take advantage of the function of customer service, you need to understand and cultivate a full customer experience.

Harris Interactive’s 2012 Customer Experience Impact Report for RightNow laid it all out:

  • 86 percent of adults in the U.S. would pay more for a better customer experience.
  • 89 percent of U.S. adults turned around and started using a competitor after a bad customer experience.
  • More than 25 percent of those people posted about their bad experience on social media.

More than ever, the path to long-term business success lies in consistently pleasing your customers. Here are four areas to explore that will help you achieve your goal of excellent customer service organization.

Do You Understand the Whole Customer Experience?

If you don’t have a good sense of your customer’s experience when they contact you, then you are losing an opportunity to better understand your client base.

Inbound marketing strategies to collect leads invariably contain a sales funnel. It diagrams the three stages of awareness, consideration and conversion that generates business.

Sales funnels are most often used to sell business-to-business (b2b) products and services. Consumer-oriented businesses often employ a similar strategy by mapping out the customer journey.

Customer experience uses the customer journey in a similar manner. However, the customer journey expands upon the sales funnel to include any number of stages between a person’s first contact with your brand to their final use of your product, based on the scope of planning.

When you plan your customer service strategies, if you aren’t aware of your customer’s journey, then you simply can’t provide them with the best overall service. Understanding your customer experience will take you from coping with demand to challenging it.

Are You Obsessed With Your CPC?

Maybe “obsessed” is a strong way to put it, but if you aren’t actively measuring and working on ways to reduce your cost per contact (CPC), then your customer service simply won’t be as efficient as it could be.

Measuring your CPC is a foundational metric to understand the effectiveness of your customer service and validate or refute some of the assumptions you may make as you refine the map of your customer journey.

It can also lead to innovations, such as self-service options that many people prefer for simple tasks. This is called zero-contact resolution, and it can improve your customer experience and reduce your CPC.

Imagine if you needed to speak to a live agent every time you wanted to change your password for a free web app. The cost for an automated password change is virtually zero, while the cost for each agent-assisted change is substantially more.

Reducing the rate of customer contacts isn’t about cutting off your customer’s ability to contact you. It’s also about understanding your customers and their issues well enough to resolve the situation on the first contact. If you have an effect plan in place, even for complex problems, it won’t take a lot of back-and-forth to reach a solution.

Focusing on first-contact resolution rates is another way to improve your customer experience and reducing your CPC rate. Striving to understand how to find solutions on the first contact will help reduce the number of times a customer has to contact you overall.

Do You Take Advantage of Automation?

A lot of people are talking about the future of automation and all the jobs it will destroy. In customer service, there is a positive way to view these innovations: it allows agents to support and care for exponentially more customers than was previously possible in an old-fashioned call center.

But automation isn’t simply about robocallers or zero-contact resolution tactics. You can leverage automation to manage large and diverse customer communities by being where your customers are.

Automation makes it possible for even very small businesses to offer world-class customer service to hundreds and even thousands of customers. This has been a great boon to small tech startups, who often have complex products and few customer service employees.

When you understand your customer experience and use a one-to-many strategy, productivity naturally increases. Employing customer service agents specialized in social media support and community management supports your overall customer experience.

Do You Train Your Customer Service Employees?

You probably already know that offering consistent customer service requires a minimum of training in your employees. If you offer complex technology products, then fostering a culture of constant learning within your customer service organization is a must.

If you don’t train your customer service employees, then it will take them longer to become effective. If there are retention problems in your customer service organization, then they may never become effective while they work for you.

That goes for any business, but if you offer a complex product ensuring your customer service agents are product experts will make their jobs easier. That, in turn leads to more first-contact resolutions and more satisfied customers.

Fostering culture of learning can also help your documentation and knowledge based efforts. If you’re running a lean startup, a savvy customer service professional can also double as a knowledge based contributor.

Even if you don’t make or sell complex software or intricate devices, your customer service agents still need to understand your business processes inside and out.

Refunds, returns, shipping and all sorts of other issues come up for customer service agents in all types of businesses. Your agents should have a crystal-clear understanding of all your business policies they’ll be handling.

How Does Your Business Measure Up?

If you’ve read through this article and thought of a few ways you could improve your own customer experience, then you’re on the road to recovery. But getting the most out of your customer service organization means moving to a more customer-centric business philosophy.

That can be a tough sell, but it’s worth it for your business and your customers. Understanding your customer experience and applying it to your customer service team doesn’t just mean happier customers. It gives you the ability to create a streamlined and efficient customer service organization that enables your business to evolve with the needs of your customers.

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