Managers of big companies don’t need telling that customer service is more important than it’s ever been.
The ubiquity of social media makes it easier than ever for customers to report any bad service experience, for that Tweet, Facebook update or online rating to then be shared numerous times, and for it all to cause quick and lasting damage to a brand.
Couple that with how commonly firms now use customer service experiences to mark themselves out from competitors, either as the basis for marketing campaigns or even by tying it to their brand values, and suddenly the decisions that customer service reps make seem more important than ones made by those with far higher salaries.
The answer is not to start putting MBA graduates in customer service roles but to understand the causes of customer satisfaction and the role reps play in maintaining that.
Why the Contact Center Should Focus on Outstanding Customer Experience
The importance of customer service has left contact center managers with three challenges when answering the question, “what is a good customer experience?”
Provide a different type of customer service: Customer service reps used to be asked to move through a call queue as quickly as possible, and closely follow a script. The rise of “self-service” channels – automated phone lines, website, etc – help customers resolve simple issues, but this means a greater proportion of live issues are one-off and complex in nature, and don’t have a simple answer.
Customers who speak to a service rep, therefore, want a faster resolution than they might have done if the rep had been their first point of contact. This, plus a constant rise in customers’ expectations of the service they’re looking for, makes reps’ jobs harder – and different – than they used to be.
Constantly improve that service…: Because customer service is now so important, and because it is increasingly easy for companies to match or exceed any new product offering from their competitors, senior managers see high quality customer service as providing a less replicable advantage. And so they demand better and better service from their customer contact function.
… but keep costs in check: While contact centers are being asked to improve customer experience management, they are not given a blank check to do so. Most of the time contact centers have to reduce cost to serve without compromising the quality of the service experience.
The Power of Reducing Customer Effort
Business convention has it that the best kind of service will “surprise and delight” the customer, but companies that try to do this still struggle to see significant improvement in customer satisfaction. This is because customers don’t want to be delighted, they want to resolve the issue with minimal effort and get back to their life as quickly as possible.
So the best way forward is for firms to help their reps reduce the “effort” it takes customers to resolve their problem.
Many customer service managers agree when they see the value of this analysis, but they tend to focus their response on improving their processes, policies, or technology, when instead they should look to their people.
A huge proportion – 65% – of a customer’s perceived level of effort relies on how the rep made them feel during the service interaction. Reps’ skills and competencies, the words they use, and how they use them all determine a superior, low-effort customer experience, which will diminish the risk of unhappy customers and reduce some of the costs of running a contact center.
The New Profile of a Frontline Customer Service Rep
This is a tall order for a service rep, but there are three steps managers can take to help their reps reduce customer effort: look again at how they hire reps, how they develop them, and how they “enable” reps to do their jobs through the working culture.
Hiring: Reps must be able to think on their feet and use their own judgment to guide the customer through the resolution process. Contact centers should adapt recruiting processes to attract and hire candidates with the desired qualities.
They should use scientifically validated assessments and screening tests to pinpoint candidates with the right mix of competencies and personality to deliver low-effort, high-quality service.
Development: Contact center training focuses mainly on soft skills to resolve simple issues in a friendly manner. This is inadequate for today’s customers who expect more tailored solutions that solve problems in collaboration with the customer.
Reps should develop skills that are quantitatively proven to reduce customer effort. These will help them demonstrate confidence and ownership of the customer experience, gather information to help the customer, and ensure the customer doesn’t have to re-contact the company to resolve the issue.
Enablement: Almost all firms require reps to hit consistency and productivity targets, but this can stifle reps, leading them to focus on the clock rather than the customer, and so deliver generic service at the very time they should build relationships and provide customized support.
Managers and service leaders must help reps to use their judgment, take ownership over customer issue resolution, and create a culture where this is not only allowed, but expected.
Reducing customer effort does not require a sweeping, expensive overhaul of the service organization. Instead, customer service heads should create an environment in which frontline reps have the capacity to take greater control over their interactions with customers, their managers, and their peers.