Delivering Top Line Customer Service

To better serve customers your service organization has expanded its communication channels to include phone, email, Web self-service, and live chat. By applying common case management and a common knowledge base across these channels, your customer service representatives have access to entire customer interaction histories at their fingertips, and are able to accurately and promptly resolve customer issues. Now that you've implemented all the right business processes and technology solutions to increase customer satisfaction and reduce operational costs, is there anything left for you to do? You bet. It's time to use the detailed customer knowledge you have accumulated through service interactions for marketing and sales opportunities. Multichannel customer service accumulates transcripts of phone calls, email messages, and Web search inquiries. Together, these interactions provide tremendous insight into customers' wants and desires. To think of this in another way, the customer service data may well be the most important asset in a company. And not using those interactions to further relationships with customers is just poor stewardship. You may be thinking, "But I was hired to answer customers' questions, not to sell." Ultimately, though, understanding a customer's immediate needs, resolving them, and proactively offering targeted products or services that are of interest to that particular customer should all fall under the job of the customer service organization. Here's an example: Let's say you bring your car to a local auto mechanic to check on the car engine just prior to your annual family road trip. In the process of doing the engine inspection, your mechanic notices that your muffler is all but worn out and will drop from the bottom of your car any day. But he does not mention it to you, because his job was to check on the engine, not the muffler. As a consequence, your muffler does drop off when you and your family are hundreds of miles from home and you end up wasting a day of your family vacation getting it fixed. Did that auto mechanic provide good customer service to you? I think not. We call this holistic view of customer service responsibility top-line service. As illustrated in the above example, top-line customer service provides more than attending to customers' immediate service inquiries. It also proactively anticipates, pinpoints, and capitalizes on potential customer needs that would otherwise be missed. By adopting this strategy, customer service departments can make substantial contributions to not only increasing overall customer satisfaction, but also to driving top line revenue growth. CSRs are often better positioned to capitalize on upsell/cross-sell opportunities than sales reps. CSRs find themselves in intimate, consultative relationships with their customers, which is exceptionally ideal for selling. CSRs also provide individualized attention to each customer, using the customer's communication channel of choice (phone, email, or live chat). This creates a much more propitious circumstance for presenting customers with appropriate buying opportunities. Of course, CSRs don't have to actually close deals to contribute to revenue growth. Often, CSRs can simply pinpoint opportunities and then refer them to the sales department. These extremely well qualified leads can generate significant sales with very short sales cycles. Several factors are driving companies to adopt top line customer service strategies: Top line customer service is desirable.
By turning customer service from a cost center into a profit center, executives are finding that they can drive additional revenues and position customer service departments to play more strategic roles within their organizations. Top line customer service is necessary. As sales departments struggle to meet their goals, companies are seeking ways to make up the shortfall. Top-line customer service fulfills this critical objective. Top line customer service is practical. New strategies and technologies now enable customer service operations to make significant, quantifiable contributions to the top line. The kinds of revenue opportunities typically pursued by top line customer service organizations include:
  • upselling ("With what you're trying to do, you'd really be much better off with our deluxe model...")
  • cross-selling ("We have an accessory kit that's perfect for users like you...")
  • service contracts ("You can get immediate assistance in the future if you sign-up for our premium service...")
  • contract renewals ("I see your subscription is about to expire. I can take care of that while I have you on the phone...")
  • limited-time offers ("Were you notified about the special we're running on that...") Top line customer service can be remarkably effective when done right. We recommend the following practical steps for executives interested in pursuing the path of top-line customer service: 1. Connect with active practitioners Customer service managers who have already moved forward with top line strategies can provide insight into best practices and potential pitfalls. 2. Tap into industry expertise In addition to customer service managers themselves, a vendor with extensive hands-on experience in implementing top line initiatives can also be a valuable transition resource. 3. Evaluate appropriate technologies Top line customer service requires that CSRs be equipped with the information and tools they need to spot and act on opportunities as they are interacting with customers. To understand the changing customer needs, analytics, and reporting should be used to mine customer service histories and other transaction data to find opportunities. For example, customers who own a basic model, but have contacted customer service about performance issues might be good candidates for a deluxe model. 4. Build internal consensus Support across the organization and inside the boardroom is important for ensuring the success of this shift. Identifying the right champion and getting early buy-ins from such groups as sales and marketing is critical. Top line customer service is readily achievable and can start generating revenue very quickly. To delay this transition is to forego that revenue and cede market share to competitors that are moving more quickly to embrace this change in the business role of customer service. About the Author Greg Gianforte is CEO, president, chairman, and founder of RightNow Technologies. His work leading RightNow builds on 15 years of success in the computer/Internet industry, including 11 years with Brightwork Development and McAfee Associates. Gianforte founded Brightwork, a developer of network management applications, in 1986. With 75 employees and software installed on more than 150,000 Novell systems nationwide, he sold the company to McAfee Associates in 1994. Retained by McAfee, he grew the company's North American sales operation from $25 million in revenues to more than $60 million in under a year. In June 2003 Ernst & Young awarded Gianforte the Pacific Northwest 2003 Entrepreneur of the Year for the software category. He holds a BE in electrical engineering and an MS in computer science from Stevens Institute of Technology.
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