Bad news first: Your customer base is changing and your customer support system is probably no longer suitable. Now the good news: You just need to put yourself in their shoes to determine what needs to change. Until recently, our main customers had been enterprise IT users; this changed following a recent product launch targeting individual users looking to create business mashups. The shift put us into exciting new territory, but it also meant a new mindset for our customer service model. We anticipated exponential growth and, as the business user has different needs, an increasing reliance on online support.
Examining these new customers illustrates my point -- they are tech-savvy and usually fully entrenched in the Web 2.0 world. This is not to say that they have the technical expertise of your enterprise user; rather they are accustomed to a certain calibre of online tools and support, expecting to point, click, and solve in seconds. Patience may be a virtue but it has no place in their universe!
If you’re not convinced that your current service model isn’t working, try a simple test: Use your own technology to find what you’re after. If it takes more then two clicks, chances are it’s not meeting the needs of your customer, who expects instant gratification.
Once you have a better understanding of your users' needs, collaborate with them to determine what has to be adjusted. They are the ones you'll be serving, so involve them in redesigning your online support experience. This goes way beyond a courtesy call or the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ support paradigms of the '90s. The old way of thinking was based on how little noise clients can make, as users will often put up with inferior service if they believe that’s as good as it gets. The proliferation of chats and blogs changes this -- you can no longer assume that unhappy clients will be silent.
Here are some strategies that work best:
- Conduct online surveys with those who had shouted loudest in the past -- they usually give the most detailed responses
- Leverage your entire global support team to engage with customers on their support experience -- and do so on a regular basis
- Expand the number of in-person meetings -- they dramatically increase the quality and quantity of your feedback and go a long way in fostering customer relationships
- Use the right people to talk to customers -- marketing and account management staff send the wrong signal and won’t harvest the best information. Technical staff can often better engage, especially with a more technical product; you overcome any client cynicism and offer detailed information that only a techie can deliver
The first round of research usually identifies immediate big themes to tackle. We learned that we had some problems with our knowledge base and online support experience. We also examined the responses regarding the issues that users wanted to solve, and tried to match up our efforts to align with those areas. Business users often have more basic support needs; if you make it easy for them to get answers online, you’ll free up your service reps to handle the more-complex issues for which they were trained -- and you'll dramatically increase customer satisfaction.
In our case, much attention went into the Web self-service experience -- improving not only the documentation available, but also the way in which users access that information. Many companies make the mistake of focusing on one or the other; however, your information is only as good as the tools you have to access it, and vice versa. We have exceptionally well-trained service reps, but we needed a system that made it easier for them to update our knowledge base, and one that provided a more intuitive search experience that would mimic live interaction. We used an integrated knowledge management and intelligent search platform that allowed us to do both.
We also focused on meeting a business user’s needs that could be easily solved online -- billing questions, patches, set-up questions, etc. Our efforts didn’t stop at the Web support -- if you can’t solve your issues online, individuals want quick and easy access to a real person, just as they would with a consumer product.
We’ve made a lot of changes in our system, and are expecting at least a 20 percent decrease in contact center inquiries this year. We recognize, however, that customer collaboration doesn’t end with this implementation. We are tracking the success rate of our knowledge base and constantly eliciting feedback to make sure we are meeting needs and changing as those shift. To pull from an inspirational poster: We see this as a journey, not a destination, and are committed for the entire ride.
About the author
Peter Sianchuk is vice president, worldwide support, at Serena Software, the leading global independent software company focused solely on application lifecycle management for distributed and mainframe systems.
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