It's vital to understand customer objectives and align them with the right tools and support processes through service level management.
Posted Jun 1, 2005
What does it take to provide best practice customer service and support? It starts with identifying ways to improve customer satisfaction by setting internal and external performance goals, often known as service level agreements (SLAs). It continues with defining and monitoring your service delivery and service-dependent processes, even those that extend beyond the boundaries of the call center. Finally, it includes implementing the right framework for managing those processes as your customer's expectations and your business requirements evolve.
The customer service and support (CSS) industry provides tools to help organizations improve the customers' experience. Yet it's the organization's processes and people that have the biggest impact on customer satisfaction. An organization with the best tools, but poor processes, can fail if those tools do not help support the objectives. Conversely, organizations with the best processes, but inadequate tools, may not be operating in the most cost-effective manner, even if they have loyal customers.
That's why it's vital to understand customer objectives and align them with the right tools and support processes through service level management (SLM). This approach enables the support center to meet and exceed customer expectations while improving efficiency. However, SLM, as it relates to customer satisfaction, is often limited. Why? Because it is most often only focused on the processes that lie within the call center. Many items required to support a customer involve interaction from areas outside the traditional call centers with their own systems, processes, and objectives. This makes it challenging to try to ensure that these groups help meet customer expectations.
So, how can organizations address this challenge? One approach is through service process management (SPM), a framework that can help define, integrate, and manage processes that rely upon leveraging other groups outside the call center. When SPM is coupled with SLM, it can provide a strong delivery process that can be measured and managed against customer expectations.
Four Steps for Success
SPM uses a phased approach (automate, integrate, adapt, and manage) to create a life cycle for designing, deploying, and updating critical business processes.
Support processes must be efficient if they are to keep pace with and quickly respond to changing business needs. Automating manual processes allows for greater overall process efficiency and helps reduce paper trails that result in human errors. It also provides overall process consistency and facilities capturing process data for accountability and reporting for improved productivity, reduced errors, and reduced response time.
Determine which business processes would make sense to automate. While not all manual processes have to be automated, they still need to be defined, documented, and monitored. Revisit automation requirements as business needs evolve. Investigate out-of-the-box solutions to see if they offer the ability to automate some or all of the processes required to meet business goals.
Automated solutions generally rely on information from other applications and systems in the enterprise. To provide the best value back to the business, processes must be linked together to achieve end-to-end process control. This relationship improves process performance and management, and makes the overall process easier to understand and maintain over time. Integration also improves process speed and data quality by eliminating time-consuming steps, such as those that require employees to manually input data into multiple systems.
Adapting focuses on the fact that change is a constant--whether driven internally by business changes or externally. As organizations implement customer support solutions, they must ensure that the implementation includes adaptations designed to reflect the company's way of doing business. Examples of processes adapted to unique customer requirements include changes focused on industry-specific practices, issue routing and prioritization, and intracompany chargebacks. In addition, continually evaluate processes and update them as change occurs. Examples of business changes that could require adaptable service and support processes include launching and supporting new products, acquiring other companies and incorporating their products and services, government or regulatory mandates, or reacting to a competitive offering with a counter-campaign.
One of the most important aspects of the process management life cycle is to have intimate knowledge of how your business processes are performing. Understanding process limitations and bottlenecks facilitates proactive decisions about what might need to change to improve overall process success. It also provides a constant awareness of key business indicators that give insight into the health of an organization, customer trends, and changing business needs. If issues are identified with existing processes, best practices include returning to the beginning of the life cycle to investigate defined processes for issues like outdated automation, manual processes that should be automated, and process integration bottlenecks. Once these issues are identified, adaptations to process or technology can be made to eliminate bottlenecks, and the monitoring begins again. Typical customer support related processes that can be managed include those related to customer satisfaction, time-to-resolution, time-to-respond, and issue/defect/cost correlation.
About the Author
Ken Jochims is senior product marketing manager for Remedy Customer Service and Support. BMC Software offers solutions for service process management tailored to customer support organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.remedy.com/solutions/servicemgmt/css.html