A few days ago I was asked on Twitter how I would define Customer Services: in the reactive sense, the pro-active sense, or both? It was immediately followed by a second question: What is the agenda for pro-active Customer Services? My initial response was that it is both (re-active and pro-active), for sure, whilst adding that I haven’t been giving the future of Customer Services very much thought lately (shame on me actually).
This great question and short discussion made me think though. The agenda for Customer Services in the (socially) networked era has more to it than transforming from re-active to pro-active, from helping customers re-actively answer their requests or solve their problems to pro-actively engaging through social media or any other channel to collect feedback and help prevent and solve (service) issues, or to assist Customers in their purchasing decisions. All important stuff, but already happening.
The Agenda for Customer Services is not (only) about integration of (new) systems, channels, quality improvement models or even pro-active servicing. In some format, more or less implemented or leveraged, this is already there. The Agenda for Customer Services is also not about transforming (or morphing) the traditional cost-center approach into a value (for the Company) approach. The latter not only not being the company’s choice, but also since it is mainly about maintaining the status-quo (how can we keep justifying that we spend large amounts of money on our Customer Services department? Because they contribute to value/revenue for the Company!).
So, what is the Agenda for Customer Services? I do not have the full agenda in mind, but I trust that you can help me with that by adding your views in the comments. Let me share some topics that I think should be on the Agenda of the company’s Customer Services Strategy for the future:
- Agenda topic 1: Align the scope of the Customer Services function with Customer’s service perception:
Customers think of service in a broader perspective than just after sales service as most companies see it. Terms, conditions, policies and even the products and services that are surrounded by them, may have more impact on the perception of good service than flawlessly executed customer service resolution. This topic is not only relevant to ensure alignment with the Customer’s perspective, it is also needed to be able to allocate funds and resources to those parts of the Customer (Service) Experience that matter most to Customers.
- Agenda topic 2: Expand the customer services function into helping Customer’s get the job done:
I take that a company’s improvement strategy should be focused on meeting the Customer’s unmet needs or desired outcomes whilst doing the jobs they are trying to get done. Helping Customers to better meet their needs is probably the most pro-active and largely unexplored function of Customer Services. Your Customers are closing the gap for you now on all kinds of (online) communities. Sounds great and is surely cost-effective, yet you are missing out on great opportunities.
- Agenda topic 3: Implement Enterprise Feedback Management (really now):
Collecting Customer feedback and using it will become more important in the networked era than it has been before. Customer’s will judge a Company’s value not only by the resolution of their own questions, problems or complaints. In the (socially) networked era Customers will also judge a company by the way it takes care of other Customers and how it improves based upon the feedback provided. Enterprise Feedback Management must become an integrated part of Customer Service design. Closing the feedback loop towards your Customers is not a nice to have.
- Agenda topic 4: Align you metrics with Customer’s service perception and desired outcomes:
Metrics and KPI’s need to be aligned with the scope and (new) functions of Customer Services. Aiming at meeting the unmet needs and desired outcomes this is also exactly what you should be measuring against. Correlating with Company’s performance (revenue, profits, retention, Customer Life Time Value) is the final step you need to take to see whether you are doing it all right.
These are my thoughts. Care to share yours (or comment on mine)?
You’re right citing that a lot of businesses are too focused on the after sales when in fact customer service should be involved in pre-sale, during and post-sale activities. Proactive actually can be interactive if you also encourage involvement from the customers themselves. Not only will it generate suggestions and comments, it also builds rapport.
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I agree with Glenn that CS must reach a level where it becomes second nature. Zappos is an excellent example of the whole machinery aligned to delighting the customer – and achieving it.
It is very important to do the alignment and set the agendas – and success will be a factor of how well defined those agendas are. Much of retention and growth business depends on this and I think all your Agenda points get it right – internal objectives (which are perhaps the most important at the end of the day) and from a expectation from a persception pov.
My experience is that the biggest contributor to winning customer service is more often than not, a certain attitude towards customers and service. And though it is important to set processes and agendas, it is very important to estabilish that collective attitude to help achieve those agenda items.
I might add one additional item – that of picking the right team and helping them form that winning attitude towards both customers and service.
Thanks for starting this conversation.
Following is my perspective on the agenda (charter) of customer service. As you can I proposed a very expansive four-element agenda:
1) Preemptive Customer Service
Preemptive Customer Service is designed to preempt customer service incidents by discovering and assessing the prevalence of systematic product failures, marketing failures, employee failures, systems and technology failures, and process failures.
2) Reactive Customer Service
Reactive Customer Service is designed to effectively and efficiently resolve customer initiated customer service interactions.
3) Service to Sales Customer Service
Service to Sales Customer Service is designed to extend the reactive customer service conversation by making needs-based win-win strategic customer development (”sales”) suggestions.
4) Proactive Customer Service
Proactive Customer Service is designed to facilitate Customer Lifecycle Management, particularly Customer Onboarding, and Proactive Customer Retention. This process particularly removes customer service barriers to effective Onboarding, Expansion, and Loyalty, and facilitate graduation from one milestone to the next.
I hope my two cents help advance the conversation.
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I like these. Others may be able to add to the list, but I will merely say that the desired outcome would be for an organization’s employees or members to reach a level where these were not only part of its culture, but were woven into the org’s DNA in such a way that these became instinctive. (Nordstrom’s, Zappos, USAA, etc.)
I will add that meeting or exceeding customer needs must contribute to the organization’s business goals or mission. It’s that “win-win” cliche.