Service Excellence

Three Simple Steps to World Class Customer Service

By Craig Wilkey Manager, Services Knowledge Management May 15, 2017

Someone once told me that most people who have a good customer experience won’t bother to tell anyone about it. They expect good service – what’s there to talk about? The only customers who talk about it are the ones whose experience was outside their expectations. If they get exceptionally good service, they’ll tell people. If they get exceptionally bad service, they’ll tell even more people.

The significance of this statement increases dramatically with the size of your customer’s investment in your partnership, and how substantially your service failures impact your customer. If your organization provides business critical infrastructure and services, or otherwise thrives on building service partnerships with high net worth clients: The below advice is mostly intended for you.

To provide exceptionally good customer service, you really just need to hire people who can deliver it, and enable them to do so. It sounds pretty simple, right? That’s because it is – provided your organization is not mired in the decades-old, caustic nickel and dime mentality of Customer Service. If you’re willing to invest in creating a compelling customer experience to foster trust and loyalty, please consider the below three steps.

1. Make the Service Desk a Career Destination

Throughout any customer interaction, we encounter a number of opportunities to influence the outcome of the experience. These “Moments of Truth” are the points in time that make or break any service experience, therefore any customer relationship, therefore any service organization. Moments of Truth in a service organization lie overwhelmingly within the hands of Customer Service Representatives on the frontline – and more often than not, they occur when the customer is already in a difficult, vulnerable position. For better or worse, your frontline support staff is the face of the organization in your customers’ eyes. Your brand reputation rests squarely upon their shoulders. There are few roles that have such a substantial impact on customer satisfaction, retention and relationship management. Thus, they are uniquely positioned to be your customers’ ultimate advocate.

However, far too often, and for far too long, organizations have narrowly focused on remediating service failures as quickly and cheaply as possible. They stock their Service Desks with overworked and underpaid entry-level personnel (or far worse, outsource it to cheap clearing houses).

Let that sink in for a moment… The people hired to be the face of your organization, at the most critical moments that define your customer relationships, have roughly the same professional profile as the person working at your local coffee shop. Also, they likely hate their jobs and/or are just using it as a temporary stepping stone into Tech Support (a little older, but still quite pertinent information from HDI: Agent Satisfaction and Annual Agent Turnover).

Staff your Service Desk with the appropriate talent, and pay them accordingly. If you want to cut costs, don’t do it by skimping on the quality of your customer care – do it through investment in improving your self-service offerings. I’ll talk a bit more about that later.

The appropriate Customer Service skills and talents are strikingly similar to the qualities you look for in your Account Management, Customer Success and Sales staff…

  • Personable
  • Places a high degree of importance on honesty and integrity
  • Highly focused and detail-oriented
  • Empathetic
  • Intelligent
  • Exceptional communication skills
  • Charismatic
  • Some level of secondary education or training in Psychology
    • Yes, really!
  • Calm under pressure
  • Confident and assertive, without being arrogant or aggressive

What is the role of the front line staff in your customer support organization?

To quickly shuffle your customers out the door in the most expedient, efficient way possible? Or to embody the empowering, capable, engaged relationship you’re trying to build with your customers? When your customer calls you in a time of need, they’re looking for that invested partnership your sales staff sold them. Your first line of support is often your customers’ ICU staff, and if you treat it as an entry level position, your bedside manner sucks.

The goals of your Customer Advocates need to clearly align with the goals of whatever Customer Success structure you have in place. The two teams need a solid relationship, based on trust and supported by clear, open lines of communication. The Service Desk should be held directly accountable to your Customer Success Manager’s vision and goals – not your Tech Support Manager’s goals. This brings us to step #2…

2. Divorce the Service Desk from Technical Support

The career path leading upward and outward from your Service Desk should be into that same Customer Success organization. Once again, consider the major role they play in customer loyalty. They should be working to maintain the relationships your Sales teams work so hard to build. They are an extension of Customer Success in a much more powerful, palpable and present way than Account Management could ever hope to be. Rather than trying to hedge that with pushing for a higher-touch relationship with Account Management, embrace the opportunity!

By the way, stop, Stop, STOP, PLEASE STOP using Transactional CSAT scores to measure the performance of your Customer Advocates! Using CSAT surveys and the like to gauge the quality of a service engagement starts with the flawed transactional perspective, which will ultimately lead to failure. The strength and value of a strategic relationship cannot be measured by transactions. Even if it could, what behavior are you trying to incent? Your Customer Advocates should have a much broader, longer-term perspective of building trust and ensuring the value of your relationships. That’s simply impossible if they’re playing to these arbitrary numbers. Furthermore, it sends a painfully clear message that you lack faith in their judgment.

All transaction-based service interaction metrics – CSAT not being the least of which – belie the entire premise of what a successful Customer Advocate needs to be. This approach reinforces the notion of the Service Desk being an entry-level organization, filled with transient employees (or a dead-end job) and undermines any effort to transform the Service Desk into potential career destination. Of course it also undermines the efforts of your Customer Success Manager.

The Corporate Executive Board (Recently acquired by Gartner) studied over 97,000 customers and concluded that customer effort had a profoundly greater impact than CSAT on customer loyalty, retention and share of wallet. This study and findings are summarized in the book “The Effortless Experience.” I highly recommend it. (I haven’t checked out their YouTube channel yet, but I plan to.)

The Better Alternative:

Hire talented, responsible Customer Advocates who have the experience and skills that give them insight into the health and wellness of your customer relationships – and empower them to thrive.

All that said… there is real value to be found in CSAT scores. First, I must acknowledge the challenge of faithfully measuring customer effort. Dell EMC Services has started down that path, and we continue to evolve how we measure it, as we get closer and closer to the goal of accurate representation of customer effort.

CSAT scores still provide valuable insight into customer experiences, and perhaps will continue to for a long time. The question is what you use them for. Rather than management using them to measure Customer Advocate performance, Customer Advocates should use them to better manage customer relationships.

Align your Customer Advocates with customer accounts – not product lines or technical prowess. When a customer calls, they should reach someone they have a relationship with… someone they have faith in… someone they will value as a trusted advisor who will work to wrangle the skilled resources required to satisfy their needs. Customer Advocates don’t need technical skills – they just need to know where to find them. Your customer should have confidence that this person doesn’t just have access to their documented infrastructure and contracts, but knows their business and the pressures they’re under. Your Customer Advocate should know who your customer’s customers are, and have a deep understanding of how a given service outage may be impacting them.

Shift to the perspective that they are relationship managers, above all else. Your Customer Advocate should be reaching out every once in a while, just to check on things – and maybe talk about how “that box is nearing capacity, is aging out of support soon and could easily be replaced by the new model under the same terms…” and offering to set up a chat with their Account Manager.

Aligning your Service Desk with your Customer Success/Account Management/Sales organization also converts it into a profit center. Now that you have established that clear line of accountability and have replaced transactional measures with goals designed to foster strong, faithful customer relationships, you can afford to empower them.

3. Invest in Knowledge Management for Digital Experience Management

Imagine you have a customer with an aging infrastructure that has been growing increasingly prone to failure, and their contract is nearing expiration. Their internal operations team consistently returns surveys with reasonably high Transactional-CSAT scores, but when their Business Service Owner reaches out to your Account Management team, it’s often with concerns over failure response times. These emails tend to arrive several weeks after the failures have occurred. The complaints started shortly after a leadership shake-up in the customer’s organization. They’re in the middle of a full infrastructure assessment, and expect to make some critical decisions on a data center tech refresh within the next six months. You have an influential internal champion in their IT Infrastructure team who is very well-versed in their legacy environment, but lacks deep understanding of your latest product and service lines.

Every person who directly (and indirectly) services this customer should be keenly aware of the situation. It’s Knowledge Management’s job to foster that situational awareness. Such a level of account health and wellness awareness requires performance data, historical serviceability information, market analysis, competitive landscaping, insight from numerous people in different departments, and on and on…

Invest in the platforms and tools to pull all that information together in a meaningful, consumable format. Then invest in integrating that insight into existing operating environments, processes and tools in unobtrusive ways. As I recently said to Bill Schmarzo on his blog post ‘Organizational Analytics Adoption: A Generation Away?’:

“My view is that Knowledge should be ubiquitous and transparent. For that, it needs to be readily and intuitively available in all tools, where and when it’s needed – rather than be presented in a purpose-built tool. I see it a bit like Augmented Reality for business tools.”

That level of insight integration does require resources to execute correctly, but that investment will pay off in spades.

Every team in your organization has a different perspective on your customers, your relationships with them, and their environments. Building a comprehensive Knowledge Management practice the right way allows those perspectives to be gathered, combined and shared across those teams. Everyone – most of all, your customers – will benefit from having that more fully-rounded view available to them.

Build comprehensive customer profiles that include knowledge from across the full spectrum of the service lifecycle. Use a leading “Insight Engine” with powerful Natural Language Processing capabilities to ingest and index crucial information from your past service interactions. Apply innovative Data Science to extract otherwise hidden trends and perspectives…

By the way, your customers don’t want to call you, anyway. Not unless they have to…

This is where you can cut costs, while simultaneously giving your customers the experience they crave, through the channels they prefer. Much of the insight integration backbone you build to empower your employees can also be leveraged to introduce dramatic improvements in the self-service capabilities your customers want. The rich profile information and visibility into historical serviceability information will empower Digital Experience Management to provide highly personalized, truly valuable, and more effortless customer experiences – while driving operational costs down and operational efficiency up.

Making self-service painless and effective also frees up precious time and effort for your Customer Advocates, so they can focus on the customers, when they do feel the need to call.

Wrapping it all up…

Achieving short-sighted cost-cutting “gains” by offering your customers assembly-line service delivered by entry-level staff, will benefit nobody but your competitors. Investment into building mutually-beneficial partnerships with your customers, through trusted Customer Advocates, will drive loyalty and growth – and save money in the long run.

As a customer, which would you prefer?

About Craig Wilkey

Manager, Services Knowledge Management

Craig began his journey with Dell EMC as the EMC IT Knowledge Management process owner in April of 2014. About a year later he moved into the Services Knowledge Management team for an exciting opportunity to play a role in guiding the strategy of EMC’s Service 360 Transformation program.

Craig has spent his twenty plus years as a Service Management professional focused on improving customer and user experience – largely through Incident Management and Knowledge Management leadership roles. His passion for linguistic analysis and Natural Language Processing is mostly driven by the many innovative ways it can be used as the glue to bind customer advocacy processes together – but he’s also just a total nerd for linguistics and etymology.

Craig is an ITIL Expert, former ITIL instructor, and a proud recipient of an ITSM industry ‘Innovation of the Year’ award for a Service Knowledge Management product he managed.

Craig hopes he’ll have time to publish more on InFocus than he has on his personal blog – which has felt neglected since his twins were born in August of 2013.

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