• May 1, 2012

Service Lessons from the Front Line

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To get better customer service—as a consumer and as a provider—it helps to have an insider show you the way. In his new book, Lessons Unlearned, John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research at Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), shares the hard-earned knowledge he gained from 25 years spent working as a service rep, manager, and analyst. Ragsdale gave Associate Editor Judith Aquino highlights of his insider's view into the customer service industry.

CRM: How did you decide what to tell readers about the customer service industry?

John Ragsdale: A lot of the content in my book came from questions that people have asked me, and I tried to focus on the areas where I think people struggle the most. I tried to include the stories that were the most instructive, were linked to best practices, or generated specific results.

CRM: What are some of the key areas in customer service that need to be improved?

Ragsdale: While service organizations are constantly improving, the fact that technology grows more complex each year means that new challenges constantly present themselves. Some areas of customer service needing improvement include:

Reporting dashboards. Support reporting needs to evolve…to become real-time and proactive. Without real-time performance dashboards, managers can't identify small problems before they become big problems.

Technology adoption. Some areas of support automation should see higher adoption, with a good example being email response management. TSIA benchmark data shows that for B2B companies, email incidents now cost almost twice as much as phone calls because of the multiple back-and-forth emails asking for more information and the subsequent time delays. Much of this could be solved with more robust email templates and intelligent response software, which is highly adopted in consumer industries but rarely in B2B support.

Focus on the customer. I have a chapter that discusses stewardship and loving the customer—required elements for excellent customer support, but not topics you hear much about today. I have a quote from the book on the cover: "Not everyone is empathetic. If you want employees to love the customer, you have to start with employees who are capable of loving someone—besides themselves."

CRM: What are some best practice tips that might surprise your readers?

Ragsdale: I have a chapter in the book on how to select enterprise technology—my five-step process that does not involve a request for proposal (RFP). Though most companies use the old RFP process to select new technology, I think the RFP process is terribly flawed. Companies spend as much as a year building this huge laundry list of features for an RFP. The majority of those features are offered by every single vendor, making the exercise a waste of time. And, for the few truly differentiating features, vendors are smart enough to "spin" their response into a "yes." You will never select the right provider by adding up checkmarks on an RFP.

CRM: Which chapters were difficult for you to write?

Ragsdale: I was surprised that going back to my early days in management was emotionally draining. During my early days as manager, I was not a very good manager; I made a lot of mistakes. In fact, the title of the book comes from a tongue-in-cheek story about employees with body odor problems.

CRM: What is a common misconception that companies have about analysts?

Ragsdale: The biggest misconception is that someone who has an analyst title is an expert on that market. Nothing could be further from the truth. I talk about the shift from "star analysts" to "ego analysts." Star analysts, which was the model when I started as an analyst in 2000, have years of direct experience in their field.

As an example, during my time at Giga Information Group, our analysts averaged 15 years of experience in their coverage area. Today, analyst firms hire people right out of college with zero experience and give them an analyst title—and a big consulting goal. There may be many more "expert" opinions today, but those experts are often grossly uninformed, and only parrot back messaging vendors have drummed into their heads during paid briefings.

I'm hoping in time this analyst world will revert back to a small group of experts who have lived through it and have done it all, right or wrong, and are helping steer people in the right direction.

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