Despite their best efforts to cut customer support costs during the last U.S. recession in 2001, organizations are looking to cut more. What’s different this time—thanks to technological innovation—is that they have more options. Instead of merely focusing on cost-cutting efforts that can harm customer relationships (i.e., decreasing call handling time or outsourcing customer service operations—effectively pushing the customer interaction to another company), today organizations can cut costs while providing deeper customer engagements. One of the ways to do this is to leverage Web 2.0 technologies, such as social media tools.
In today’s instant-gratification society, customers not only want to find information quickly, they want to share it. This gives customers a tremendous ability to quickly and easily influence their peers. However, it also gives a company incredibly valuable insight into customers’ thoughts and feelings about the company and its products or services. There’s no doubt that the companies that successfully leverage social media tools to better understand the voice of their customers will foster better customer relationships.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that four of the five Rising Stars this year were selected largely for their efforts in social media or community building. One industry pundit in this section (which begins on page 35) suggests that at some point organizations will need to create a new kind of customer service representative (CSR). Much like CSRs now working as telephone agents, companies will need CSRs working as social media agents, or “community experts” (see the Rising Star profile, “Clouding Up the Scene,” by Senior Editor Marshall Lager). Clearly, social media will play a significant role in customer service strategies.
This is not to suggest that other areas of customer service should be ignored. Companies should pay close attention to the latest developments in all eight of our Service Leader categories (which start on page 26) as the vendors there seek to lower costs while improving customer interactions. Some are including enhancements to their on-demand or hosted customer support solutions, an option quickly gaining favor among customer service managers. Others are aiming to lower costs by providing fully integrated customer service solutions, enabling companies to quickly and easily transfer end users from a self-service system to a live agent who has immediate access to all relevant information.
These are much needed developments, freeing organizations from having to choose between cutting costs and bolstering customer satisfaction. Now they can do both. It’s also an exciting time for customer strategists. Their service and support options are rapidly multiplying, thanks largely to the recipients of this year’s Service Leader, Rising Star, and Service Elite awards. Congratulations to all of the companies honored in this year’s awards. Your efforts have helped to set the customer service bar even higher.
Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.
For the rest of the April 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.