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5 Tech Tips for Better Service
Harness technology to improve the customer experience.
Posted Dec 9, 2009
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Today, the gap between customers' expectations and the service they actually receive is huge. Customers expect personalized, consistent, accurate, and timely service. However, many companies don't equip their agents with the right technology to satisfy these demands.

Customers waste too much time repeating themselves to agents. Agents, in turn, struggle to confidently communicate with their customers while navigating between multiple applications and searching various systems for the right answer.

Companies demand that their agents follow good processes, but oftentimes, agents are unable to connect with the right process at the right time. Moreover, companies try to imprint their values on their agents, but can only hope that agents find the right balance between service costs, quality, and other key performance indicators (KPIs) when making decisions.

There's no denying that it's an ineffective system and technology is often to blame. Here are five tips that hold technology more accountable and improve the overall customer service experience.

1. Align service offerings with the brand.

A company's brand can be defined as the customers' perceptions of the company's value proposition. Ikea, for example, does a great job of aligning its service offerings with its brand.

Customers shop at Ikea because they are comfortable serving themselves. Comprehensive Web self-service capabilities are offered in various languages through a chat bot, email support, and limited phone support. Customers are not disappointed with Ikea's lack of white-glove service because it's not Ikea's business model.

All companies should offer communication channels that correspond with their respective brands and customer expectations. Equally important is offering the same service experience across all supported communication channels. In other words, break down silos and create a single knowledge base so that customers receive consistent answers regardless of the channel they're accessing.

2. Design an efficient service experience.

Most agents use dozens — even hundreds — of non-integrated tools and applications to complete their tasks. A better strategy is to bring business process management to customer service offerings.

Companies should establish customer experience flows, which are repeatable business processes designed to display the information that agents need in order to resolve customer issues. The information that is displayed includes insight pertaining directly to the customer query, in addition to integrated intelligence gathered from the agent desktop and back-end systems.

Companies should integrate knowledge sources with experience flows so that agent searches are met with the right information at the right time. This ensures a satisfactory result and compliance with company policies. It is far more efficient than requiring the agent to pick through disparate applications. More important, streamlining these activities helps the agent project an intelligent, confident image.

3. Let agents monitor themselves.

Just like a car dashboard, an agent should be presented with important customer metrics in a condensed, graphical format that clearly indicates information such as a customer's

  • call time;
  • hold time;
  • prior service problems; and
  • revenue.

This adaptive technology model — controlled and monitored by service managers — allows agents to monitor how well they are doing against the contact center's benchmarks, and prompts them to escalate issues more quickly. A relatively simple dashboard can be created from open data sources.

4. Make decisions based on concrete evidence.

Service managers should design and model ideal experience flows from the perspective of customers as well as the company. These experience flows should include KPI analyses so that the company can balance the average cost of the customer interaction with the expected result, while taking into account compliance and loyalty.

It's important to think of these KPIs as balanced scorecard metrics that need to be considered in unison when designing a service experience. This is because optimal service experiences cannot be designed with only one metric (e.g., cost) in mind.

Once service interactions are designed and deployed, companies must measure success. Success should not be measured by past personal experiences, success stories, or mimicry of top performers — it must be measured based on concrete evidence. This can be done by creating a set of varied experience flows, measuring the success of each, and then using hard data to evolve service offerings — a practice also known as evidence-based service.

5. Strongly consider service-oriented architecture (SOA).

SOA gives organizations the capacity to easily integrate systems into end-to-end experiences, thereby leveraging prior investments. Instead of being inflexibly hard-wired, SOA ensures that technology systems are loosely integrated together. This flexibility also allows for quick adaptation to changing business needs.

Companies that use SOA can quickly fold in new applications, data sources, and knowledge bases. They can respond more easily to shifting business dynamics and service demands. Once set up, many of the changes to an SOA-based system can be easily implemented by a business user without having to wait for technology support.

About the Author

Mark Angel (mangel@kana.com) is the chief technology officer of Kana Software. He has worked in the fields of customer service software, knowledge management, and search technology development for more than two decades.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top.
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For the rest of the December 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

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To contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com
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