It is no longer a secret that outstanding customer service has become an imperative for superior business performance and brand equity, if not for the very survival of most companies. Industry surveys continue to show that customers will not hesitate to defect to competitors or go social with their complaints if your business does not deliver on its service promise. In this day and age of the empowered social customer, when businesses fail to deliver on their service promise, they run the risk of warp-speed erosion of a brand that they might have taken decades to build. Here are six ways to make sure that you deliver on your customer service brand promise consistently:
1. Align customer service operations with brand strategy. What is often fatal for businesses is the misalignment of their brand strategy and service operations. Enduring businesses have well-recognized brands, cultivated and reinforced over time by aligning operational processes with their brand promise and delivering on that promise. If you are a high-service brand, it's not a good practice to hide your phone number or make it difficult to chat with a live agent. Don't mix a "Walmart" operational approach with a "Nordstrom" brand intent and vice versa.
2. Set service levels based on rigorous strategic and operational criteria. Beyond strategic criteria such as brand equity and evolving customer expectations, service levels should be based on operational criteria such as sales potential from an interaction, profitability of the interacting customer, and problem severity. Moreover, interaction channels should be considered when setting service levels—a five-minute hold time may be acceptable for the phone but not for chat. A 24-hour response time might be OK for email but might be an eternity when there's a brewing social storm about your product.
3. Manage expectations through proactive, cross-life-cycle communications. Setting the right expectations is critical to making the right promise and keeping it. Your business should have a robust service management system that takes into account key factors such as working days and holidays, contact center workload, etc., to make sure that the "right" promise is made. While processing service requests that involve multiple steps, keep customers informed throughout the process life cycle by offering them self-service and proactive service models, based on their preference. In fact, proactive service and self-service not only enhance customer experience but also generate sales for the business by preempting inbound service requests and making contextual cross-sell and upsell offers.
4. Provide agents with a 360-degree view for better customer and agent experience. Forcing the customer to be the contextual "glue" in service interactions is one of the most cited sources of customer frustration in satisfaction surveys. Consolidate all interactions into a unified customer interaction hub, integrated with the enterprise, to enable a complete memory of prior interactions and transactions. This can help achieve quantum improvements in agent efficiency, agent experience, and customer experience.
5. Propagate best practices to the contact center through knowledge capture and dissemination. While contact center agents are the critical "face" of a business, they often play a thankless, high-churn role. Moreover, outsourced "any shore" models have added another level of complexity and uncertainty to service quality and delivery. In addition, corporate mergers and acquisitions require agents to be experts across multiple product lines, while evolving compliance requirements dictate what they can or cannot say.
Empowering agents with information through seamless integration to existing enterprise data and high findability of content through knowledge management (KM) systems is a good first step. World-class customer service organizations, however, are taking it further by guiding agents through best-practice conversations powered by reasoning engines in KM systems that encapsulate best-practice conversations as well as regulatory compliance.
6. Implement robust workflow management. Implementing robust workflows to eliminate service-process gaps across people and organizations will maximize the probability of meeting service levels. For example, "alarm workflows" that alert appropriate people in the customer service organization of a potential breach in service-level agreements (SLAs) help organizations meet service levels consistently. In fact, these alerts can also be used to notify customers of anticipated breaches. This proactive expectation setting can sometimes make a big difference in retaining customers. SLA alerts could be implemented in the form of email notifications or pop-ups, and may trigger actions such as escalation to managers, priority shifting in queues, and rerouting queries to subject matter experts for faster resolution.
Customer service excellence has fast become an essential component of brand equity. Following these six steps in a systematic manner will help businesses deliver on their service promise consistently and build enduring brand loyalty.
Anand Subramaniam is the vice president of worldwide marketing at eGain Communications. He also served as the vice president of marketing for Yube Inc. and Informatica's applications business unit, and as the director of CRM product strategy, director of worldwide CRM marketing, and director of e-business marketing at Oracle.