From Brian's Desk

Contact Center Excellence – Stand Out From The Crowd

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

What IS customer service really?

I typically like to boil a complex thought down to it’s respective “essence”.  However, I am very mindful of Menken’s “for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant…and wrong”.  I recently pondered the thought ‘customer service’.  What IS customer service anyway?  What does it really mean?  We say we supply services and have a service portfolio that we manage based on customer feedback.  I’ll buy that, but why do you have services for your customer to begin with?

With Menken’s quote firmly in mind, I see customer service as nothing more than moving a customer through a process.

A service can be something I pay for, in which case the provider of the service has added some sort of value to the process.  An example is paying for an expedited passport.  I pay a service provider to take my application to a passport office and stand in line for me to get my passport expedited.  I can do it myself, but the provider adds value to me because it would cost more in time and money for me to travel to the passport office and stand in line.  The provider is moving a customer (me) through a process (passport expediting).    Clearly, if the value the provider is adding to the process does not outweigh the cost of doing it myself, I won’t need the provider.  Another similar example is customs processing, where I pay for a provider with expertise in customs laws, regulations and processes to move me through the customs process. The principle value add being to make the process simpler for me, the customer.  An extreme example is shipping, whether through FedEx, UPS, DHL or through USPS.  I could put the package in my car and drive it to its destination.  Depending on where the package is going, it could be much more costly for me to get the package to its destination than to let a provider do it for me.  They provide value by saving me time and money.  Therefore, whether through proximity to a passport office, access to expertise, or economies of scale, providers add value while they move a customer through a process, and the value needs to exceed the cost.

What about non-fee services, services provided to customers of a firm?  The same basic definition holds; the customer service function is there to move a customer through the firm’s processes.  Keep in mind, this could be self-service as the definition still holds.  Next, think about value-add.  What value is your customer service function adding while moving a customer through your process?  Are you making a complex process or set of processes easier for the customer?  Are you saving them time or money?  You need to be able answer this question, or your customer service is of questionable (or no) value.

Once you are able to answer the question, take the next step.  Why do you need to add this value to move a customer through YOUR process?  Are your processes too complex?  Do you require expertise from your customer to be able to move through your process?  What exactly is the value you are adding, and why do you NEED to add it?  Do this for all of your services in your ‘service portfolio’.  You might be surprised at what you find.


Engagement Affects Not Only The Contact Center

We call center leaders and practitioners frequently talk about engagement, or the lack of it, and the effects on the contact center; higher attrition, lower FCR, lower customer satisfaction scores, etc..  However, the impacts to the business far outweigh those to the contact center.  Consider your average revenue per contact, and then consider how many poor interactions your actively disengaged agents are having, and the resulting loss in revenue.  Or, consider the number of purchased product questions you receive in your contact center, and how many poor interactions your actively disengaged agents are having, resulting in product returns or lifetime loss of revenue in your retail outlets.  Consider all of the calls escalated by your actively disengaged agents, resulting in higher back-office costs.

It shouldn’t be only the contact center leadership that is concerned with the level of engagement in your contact center.  We can easily measure the impacts to the contact center; higher attrition, higher shrinkage, lower FCR, lower NPS or sat scores.  But all of this really pales compared to the lost revenue, lost loyalty, lost customers and higher product returns that result from engagement issues in the contact center.

I devote an entire chapter in my book, Contact Center Excellence (available on Amazon and other outlets), to engagement; what it is, why it is important, and how to improve it.

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