Customer Service Remains a Conundrum for Too Many Companies

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No matter how many reports indicate that customer experience is a top strategic priority for businesses, or why companies need to take drastic measures to keep customers engaged, customer service continues to be one of the hardest areas to crack in the digital age.

Research from Accenture Strategy found that 61 percent of consumers worldwide walked away from companies last year due to poor service, and 81 percent of them felt the company they abandoned could have done something to keep them. Once customers go, they hardly ever come back, and it typically costs companies between four and 10 times more to attract new customers.

Across every industry, customers are demanding service that provides relevant, satisfying, and engaging experiences, and they are more willing than ever to bail if they don’t get it. It’s time for companies to take a fresh look at how their customer service is shaping up.

Arming frontline service reps with the mind-set, skills, and behaviors to offer customers hyper-personalized experiences is critical. Service professionals can no longer focus solely on responding to inquiries and resolving issues. They must approach every interaction as an opportunity to strengthen relationships. That means the following:

• analyzing customer engagement across digital and physical channels to develop an understanding of who their customers are and what they like;

• taking the time to understand customers’ experiences—good or bad—as well as how each customer uses a particular product or service; and

• developing a deeper product or service knowledge to effectively advise, satisfy, and connect with customers.

In short, service professionals will need to expand their current roles. Rather than just completing a transaction, they’ll need to make every interaction meaningful. And rather than just supporting a product or service, they’ll need to serve as a company’s brand ambassadors, doing everything in their power to deliver on the brand promise.

Transitioning to this model will be challenging, as many organizations lack the processes or culture needed to develop and nurture new skills. After all, many have traditionally relied on call center scripts or other structured processes to serve customers, an approach that does little to build relationships, loyalty, and trust.

Instead, a new approach is needed that empowers frontline service professionals to behave in new ways (and encourages companies to explore new ways of evaluating them):

• Be authentic, be human. Companies must encourage their service professionals to tap into their inherent humanity. By applying creativity, critical thinking, and empathy, service professionals can deliver experiences that are satisfying and memorable to customers.

• Seek a resolution the first time around. This is a rarity in most organizations and a primary pain point for customers. Understanding a customer’s concerns or frustrations is an important first step in delivering superior customer service. Where many companies fall short is empowering their service professionals to take the necessary steps to address and solve a problem right off the bat. Service professionals should have the authority to do whatever it takes to satisfy customers.

• Add value-added services. Many customers buy products, services, or licenses without fully understanding all the benefits or features that come with their purchase. Service professionals are in a unique position to proactively offer advice, suggestions, or additional features that allow customers to get more value or joy from whatever they purchased.

• Find new performance measurements. Using service professionals in more engaging ways requires new methods of measuring and managing their performance. Instead of relying on traditional transactional measurements, such as the number of calls answered or the duration of each call, companies should seize the opportunity to simplify their metrics and assess their service professionals’ performance against an aggregated score that measures how well the team, collectively, delivers engaging and relevant customer experiences.

To deliver more valuable customer experiences, the next generation of customer service leaders must be willing to disrupt the talent models that have been employed for decades and fight for the material investment required to not just catch up but leapfrog others with a growth-oriented service model. Transformation will be dependent on a vision that makes the focus on customer service a real priority.

Robert Wollan is a senior managing director and the global Advanced Customer Strategy lead at Accenture Strategy.

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