Customer Service


Blow Up Your Service Organization – and Rebuild It With the Customer in Mind

Businesses all over the world have made enormous investments in service — both in people and in technology. The amount of thought dedicated to service is enormous, and the time spent trying to make service divisions more efficient is countless.

Guess what? Most of this money, time and effort has been wasted.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as service and the call center become an increasingly important pillar of CRM — where the rubber meets the road, so to speak — it has to be said. The same problem has scuttled many a sales or marketing-oriented CRM effort: In the process of developing a service solution, the customer has been forgotten.

In service, this is perhaps harder to fix than in any other CRM-related area. Here’s why: Service processes, when they’re initially set up, make sense in most cases because the mission of delivering service to the customer is the underlying problem those processes seek to solve. However, in too many businesses, that customer-focused layer is quickly submerged by fixes to other “problems” that have much more to do with business concerns.

Faulty Metrics

For instance, one major provider of telephone and cable service had its service menu start off with a set of options for paying bills. Callers to the service line are probably calling to get something fixed or a bill clarified; most consumers understand how to pay their bills. Yet some entity within the business prioritized revenue ahead of service and subverted the service processes for its own reasons, which had nothing to do with service.

Another example: Too many service organizations fail to give their front-line employees the knowledge or the power to fix problems. When customers run into this wall of ignorance and impotence, some quit the service call out of frustration. The persistent ones ask for a supervisor who has the power to help them.

Of course, the challenges of managing call center employees are well known; many don’t stay long enough to be fully trained, and thus many businesses are leery of allowing them too much power. However, pitting undertrained agents who are incapable of truly helping against your customers is a terrible idea — and one that comes from being business-focused instead of customer-focused.

Then there are the metrics. Too many businesses still use archaic measurements like time per call and how many calls are escalated to supervisors to evaluate call center performance. These faulty metrics are, again, business-driven — how efficiently are we dealing with customers? The real question should be, how effectively are we dealing with customers.

Agent Empowerment

With every business-driven “solution” applied to service organizations, the more Byzantine the processes, the less customer-focused the service becomes. Each “fix” has repercussions that echo through the organization — and that make dealing with the business more frustrating for the customers.

As far as I can tell, there’s only one way to correct this: Blow up the way you provide service, and start from scratch.

I’m not advocating the destruction of the technology or the firing of your people. I’m advocating that you rebuild your service from the ground up, with a monomaniacal focus on one thing: What will customers experience when they contact my company?

You can still have an interactive voice response (IVR) greeting to weed out common requests — but make sure an agent can be reached early in the menu. When the caller gets to the agent, make sure the agent is empowered to help solve problems. Make sure that agents who come up against problems they can’t solve know who to forward those calls to, by giving them a menu of experts designated to help in specific situations.

Do not lead with sales pitches or overwhelm callers with upselling offers. They did not call to buy — they’ve already bought from you, and they’re calling to get you to make what they’ve already paid for work. Why would they want to buy more of what isn’t working for them?

Also, make sure all your technology functions properly. Callers should only have to enter ID numbers once, or explain problems once. Transfers should not disconnect; IVR menus should not go into endless loops. If you start from scratch with the customer in mind and test your technology as your customers will, you can keep them from being the people who discover your system is broken.

True Cost of Poor Service

When you make changes to the service process, examine how those processes affect the customer experience. Don’t bolt them on to existing processes willy-nilly; think about them as though they are new thoughts in a conversation. Are they part of a coherent conversation, or are they non sequiturs?

Oddly enough, if you really do make service customer-focused, all those business metrics I derided earlier will start to line up. Callers who have to re-enter ID numbers and repeat their problems to multiple agents run up your call times. Agents not empowered to help customers will naturally have high rates of escalated calls. Fix these problems with an eye on customer service, and these metrics will suddenly look much better.

Finally, and perhaps most critically for the idea of a customer-centric reorganization of service, businesses have to stop looking at service as a cost center. Treating service as the red-headed stepchild of your organization will take everything you’ve tried to do with any CRM initiative and kill it where it stands.

That’s the true cost of poor service. Think of it as the bridge between your sales and marketing efforts and increased loyalty, better word of mouth, and the opportunity for greater revenue. Those are the sorts of things your business should measure.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.

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