We have often heard certain organizations say they distinguish themselves from the competition by offering unparalleled levels of customer service. Yet, if this is really the case, why do we increasingly find ourselves recounting every vivid detail of our latest customer service-related horror story to our friends or family?
In order to truly differentiate themselves from the competition, organizations must consistently exceed expectations in terms of providing exceptional customer service through multiple contact channels while effectively managing expenses.
According to a May 2000 Datamonitor report, "U.S. online businesses lost more than $6.1 billion in potential e-commerce sales in 1999 alone due to lack of customer service at their Web sites." Some organizations are addressing these customer service-related issues by reaching deep into their pockets and investing in the latest and greatest state-of-the-art technology. Due to the increasing complexity of the multiple channels by which the customer can initiate contact with an organization (telephone, e-mail, Web site, Internet chat or fax, for example), customer service organizations need a complex technical infrastructure that is flexible, extendible, scalable and fully integrated.
Tools of the Trade
The automation of call centers and help desks with tools, such as automated dialing, call distribution, Web-enabled agents, IVR and computer telephony integration is certainly driven by advances in technology. Typically, these new technologies center on the concept of a universal queue management system. This central system acts as a funnel, integrating multiple channels such as telephone, IVR, speech recognition, the Internet and the Web in order to standardize the handling of all customer inquiries and route them accordingly based on established business rules.
Another key component of customer service automation is the CRM system. This integrates all customer interactions and related data to provide a single view of each customer's relationship with an organization. Features of this system should include, at a minimum, the following:
The ability to provide real-time recommendations for products or services based on customer profiles, transaction histories, self-learning analytics and clickstream analysis.
Access to customer information, recommendations and knowledge management simultaneously via a browser.
A co-browsing capability that shares any screen or content with the customer via the Web during a customer service interaction.
Some organizations such as Sears, Whirlpool and WeServeHomes.com, also employ back office systems that offer field service and dispatch functionality designed to increase sales revenue, reduce labor and parts costs, improve productivity and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. Incoming service requests are automatically assigned to technicians that have the right level of expertise and access to comprehensive information on the tools, parts and skills necessary to address the customer's service-related problem during the initial visit.
The issue of service expertise is important. In addition to investments in technology, companies need adequately trained and empowered customer service representatives (CSRs) to provide the exceptional level of service, regardless of channel, that consumers expect.
Additional critical components of customer service automation include computer-telephony integration (CTI), which consists of automated systems that help bring up customer account information automatically based on a caller-ID. This information helps CSRs become familiar with the caller even before the phone is picked up.
CTI should provide users with the ability to transfer screen information if the call needs to be transferred, the capability to log call history against the call record for future reference, and skill-based routing to transfer customers to the most suitable CSR. For example, high-value customers would most likely be assigned to a more experienced CSR.
Rounding out the list of customer service automation technological wizardry, in fax, e-mail and Web chat communication technology you should look for:
Fax-on-Demand--Callers use their touch-tone phones to select any number of documents and then specify a fax machine where they would like the information delivered.
E-mail Response Management System (ERMS)--Routes, prioritizes and tracks inbound and outbound e-mail based on content.
Web Chat--Collaborative chat facilitates integration between organizations and their customers via the Web. It also maintains a running transcript/record of vendor-client interaction.
Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP)--still in its infancy, VoIP allows the human voice to travel over a single packet network line with both fax information and modem data.
In Interactive Voice Response (IVR), you should look for:
Voice Prompt Menus--Customers respond by using a touch-tone phone or voice activated input.
Audio/Text--Provides recorded answers to commonly asked questions.
Given these advances in technology, organizations are pushing their customers--especially unprofitable ones--toward self-service. This was certainly the case with the now infamous $3 teller fee that Bank One (formerly First Chicago Bank) had implemented back in 1994 for certain types of accounts that were deemed unprofitable. Although considered a financial success--transaction costs were dramatically reduced as unprofitable customers either changed their banking behavior or fled to competitors--it was a public relations nightmare, from which the bank has yet to recover.
Despite experiences like that of Bank One, organizations continue to drive customers toward self-service, increasingly by installing response-enabled knowledge management software. These sophisticated programs maintain a corporate knowledge base consisting of information in the form of scripts, canned documents for response and HTML pages. By dynamically publishing and classifying solutions, it is estimated that response automation can handle anywhere between 20 to 60 percent of incoming calls.
Organizations that successfully employ the proper tools and processes are likely to experience increased levels of overall customer satisfaction, greater market share and increased profitability. Perhaps when companies achieve these heights they will differentiate themselves from the competition and put an end to service nightmares.