How To Transform Customer Service From Okay To Outstanding

Forbes, 12/03/2014

By: Carol Hildebrand, OracleVoice Guest

Companies increasingly recognize excellent customer service as a tool to boost brand recognition and increase revenue. According to a recent survey from Forbes Insights, more than half of respondents said that they were making good progress toward delivering such advanced customer service, while more than a third said that they were making excellent progress.

But what does it really take to get service out of the cost center and onto the front lines of income generation?

“The real question is, what is the excellent group doing better than those in the good category?” said Brenna Sniderman, senior director of research at Forbes Insights.

Sniderman, along with Mark Marshall, executive director of customer care at MetTel, and Oracle ORCL -0.52%’s Jeff Lundal, group vice president, service automation, explored modern customer service trends during a recent webinar.

Using insights from the survey of more than 300 customer service executives, the group focused on ways to modernize customer service into a competitive differentiator.

“There’s so much evolving at such a rapid pace in the customer service space that it’s generated a huge sense of excitement,” said Lundal.

So what are the secrets to turning good customer service into something great? The group shared tactics that can tip the scales toward excellence.

1. Don’t look for a finish line. Companies that want to excel at customer service think of themselves as always one step away from the prize. “These companies are always reassessing and looking for new ways to deliver excellent customer service,” said Marshall.

2. Dig into knowledge management now. Knowledge management is critical for good customer service, particularly as web self-service makes it easier for customers to get answers on their own terms.

While only 35 percent of respondents said they currently deploy knowledge management initiatives, nearly 40 percent planned to do so in the future. As usual, the “how” of implementation is nearly as important as the “why.”

For example, smart knowledge management takes into consideration who is interacting with the data. A C-level executive probably wants to access relatively high-level information via a web channel, said Marshall.

At the same time, you could have a field-level tech using a mobile device to drill into more granular information. “It’s just as important to deliver the information set to both individuals,” he said. “You need to consider how the data is being interrogated and tweak delivery to be as open, relevant, and accessible as possible.”

3. Plan for predictive analytics. While knowledge management is critical to answering customer questions quickly and accurately, it’s also a building block to the wave of the future: predictive customer care. “We’ve seen a huge increase in predictive analytics and data mining to understand the customer base and engage with them more appropriately,” said Lundal.

How to start? “Good KM, coupled with good database administration and proper APIs to access critical data, will lead you into the predictive analytics stage, which is really where you should be focusing,” said Marshall.

4. Look for next-generation metrics. Without metrics, companies lack awareness. “You need internal metrics and metrics from customer cues,” said Marshall. “By measuring both, you can reinforce what you are doing well and identify what you need to do better—not just operationally, but across channels to compare with how customer service is impacting revenue.”

Traditional static metrics such as average handle time, first-call resolution, and average fix time remain staples, but Lundal said that next-generation metrics are aimed at measuring customer programs and product launches so that companies can adjust midstream based on customer feedback.

In particular, he said he likes a new metric called the customer effort score—essentially, the amount of time and effort it takes a customer to resolve any issue. The lower the score is, the happier the customer is. “Research shows that 97 percent of customers with a low CES are more apt to stay with you and spend about 88 percent more with you,” said Lundal.

5. Build an ROI roadmap. Companies are naturally concerned about costs, but accurately forecasting ROI starts with an honest evaluation of where your company is on the modernization maturity curve.

From there, you need to map out what it will take to move from a traditional back-office support strategy to one that focuses on customer service as a brand advocacy and presales component. “Being able to understand where your organization is and its readiness to embark on the journey is critical,” said Lundal.

Equally important is C-level support, said Marshall. “You need to have that to fully adopt customer care that not only delivers individual care experiences, but also builds brand, impacts client retention rates, and provides opportunities for new revenue and new clients,” he said.

In the end, companies that recognize customer service as a key brand-building tool rather than as a cost center will create an advantage that can boost success in an increasingly customer-oriented business world.

 

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