• September 15, 2009
  • By Mark Angel, CTO, Kana Software

Boost Customer Satisfaction, Now

Yes, the economy is in the tank and companies of all sizes are reducing or, in some cases, eliminating "nice to have" activities and expenditures. But customer satisfaction programs and solutions should not be lumped into this category. Now is not the time to dial back on ensuring positive customer experiences. There are several easy steps that all vendors should take in order to cost-effectively enhance customer satisfaction and grow revenues -- especially in a down economy.

To grow a business and provide exceptional customer experiences, companies must reorganize their organizational assets, including technology and human resources, to best serve and retain their customers. Doing so will have immediate positive effects. If it's five or six times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep one under ordinary economic circumstances, then it's probably 10 times more costly to acquire a new customer today.

Keeping loyal customers happy isn't easy, and it's even harder to convert angry or reluctant customers. The latter group may be even more important to focus on not only because they are more likely to defect, but because they don't recognize the value that the vendor is providing. Companies want to keep angry and uncertain customers, but often don't know how, or are perhaps afraid that improving the customer experience will be too costly.

Boosting customer satisfaction and, in the process, improving upsells and customer retention may sound expensive, but it doesn't have to be. How do companies achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction while staying mindful of costs and achieving the right mix of human and technology resources? Here are three simple suggestions:

1. Dedicate unwavering attention to positive customer experiences. Technology should anchor this process because customer service representatives (CSRs) are most effective when they follow consistent, automated, and easily understood processes. Technology can help every agent be a company's best agent. Moreover, it can help remedy heavy staff turnover rates that plague many contact centers.

Of course, some customer service managers might interpret this as the "chicken or egg" conundrum. They may know that their current technology isn't up to par, and because they have so many siloed legacy systems, they are uncertain where to focus their triage. Therefore, with the lack of money to add human or technology resources, they feel stuck.

Anyone who has spent any time in the customer service space can understand their pain. Process diagrams for responding to simple customer requests often look like rocket science. Information gets passed from department to department and the customer is a helpless -- and increasingly frustrated -- bystander. Companies realize how harmful and wasteful the system is, but they struggle with how to improve it.

Companies should start with the old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." A small technology investment now can lead to huge rewards in the near future. Better technology and better customer service frameworks can directly lead to happier -- and longer tenured -- customers and CSRs.

2. Establish a clear technology framework. A successful customer service technology implementation demands no more silos, no more extensive training, no more waiting for IT backlogs, and no more guesswork.

Better customer service technology produces an immediate return on investment. By some estimates, up to 75 percent of a typical customer service call is dead air because the CSR is looking through disparate legacy systems for the right information while the customer gets increasingly agitated. Eliminating dead air, or wait time, reduces costs and increases customer satisfaction.

Dead air is often a byproduct of the legacy customer service technologies that many companies are still using today. These systems require heavy lifting to make even the most simple process changes or integrations, whereas agile, Web services-based technologies allow for quick and easy recalibration and greater control of the service experience. Put differently, these technologies can enable change in minutes, not months, and they can be tailored by business, not IT staff, which immediately streamlines the process and creates happier customers.

3. Balance cost and satisfaction. This step is not only possible, but an imperative. Companies must focus on ensuring customer satisfaction while continuing to justify the cost/benefit ratio. The right technology should model excellent customer service experiences, anticipate the flow of the customer's actions, and, ultimately, result in a satisfied customer. After all, it is the satisfied customer who will be more likely to return in the future, and they're also much more likely to respond to upsells at the point of sale.

Companies need to make every customer service agent their best agent, and technology can help. For example, agents are vastly more responsive if they have a real-time view of customer satisfaction metrics on their computer screen, such as:

  • call time;
  • hold time;
  • previous service issues; and
  • revenue totals.

New customer service technology can enable these capabilities. It also scripts and standardizes the agent's actions, keeping him or her a step ahead of the customer and driving customer satisfaction higher while decreasing agent cost.

About the Author

Mark Angel (mangel@kana.com) is the chief technology officer of Kana Software. He has worked in the fields of customer service software, knowledge management, and search technology development for more than two decades. 

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top.

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For the rest of the September 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

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