How to Reimagine Customer Service and Support

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Customer service can often be viewed as the “kicker” to an organization’s “football team.” It may not be the most glamorous or noteworthy position, but when the game is on the line with time expiring, all eyes turn to them to get the job done in pressure-filled situations. Customer service is always the unsung hero as it can be reliably counted on to satisfy customer demands and serve as the organization’s front line at a reasonable cost.

Despite the understated nature of customer service, business leaders don’t often fully understand how to quantify the complexities and sources of customer demand they need to manage. Customer service and support budgets are flat or being cut. Even as leaders state that digital self-services experiences are a top priority, a vast majority of support and service budgets are allocated to assisted service resources.

Very few organizations today look holistically at methods to remove the demand by simplifying user experiences, helping build better products, or improving policy and procedures.

Simply put, something has to change. New strategies need to be adopted. Customer service and support needs to be reimagined for the better. Here’s how.

Understanding What Generates Customer Demand and How It Is Serviced

First, understand why and where customer demand is coming from.

Customer demand for service and support has many demand generators—some positive, some negative. Positive demand generators provide an opportunity for the organization to deliver value to customers in ways that drive both organization and customer benefit. Negative demand generators are those that typically erode customer and organization value.

Therefore, to better reimagine customer service, customer service leaders must find ways to limit or remove the negative while building organizational capability to more effectively deliver on the positive.

In order to best understand and classify customer demand, customer service leaders should try to classify it into one of three categories:

    • Demand that is not good for the customer and not good for the organization. These are interactions that erode lifetime value and should be removed altogether.
    • Demand that exists and probably always will, but is routine, predictable, transactional in nature and is best serviced through self-service and other channels.
    • Demand that accretes value to customers, is complex or sensitive, and is best serviced through knowledgeable, highly skilled staff.

Once the customer demand is classified, customer service leaders should look to remove unnecessary interactions, which can be the most challenging part of reimagining the customer service strategy. However, it is also a critically important step that is frequently overlooked.

Unnecessary interactions are those that erode value for the customer or the organization, for instance interactions that are driven by quality-related defects or caused by wasteful processes that create unnecessary effort for the customer. The process of removing unnecessary demand involves further classifying the negative demand generators and tracing the source and can include these kinds of interactions:

      • Avoidable issues and requests that include repeat contacts.
      • Ones driven by quality-related defects or poorly designed products and services.
      • Ones caused by wasteful processes that create unnecessary effort for the customer.
      • Ones caused by outdated policies and procedures.

Hurdles, such as repeating information, are more than just an inconvenience—it leads to a 15 percent to 23 percent increase in customer effort, depending on the service channel used, according to Gartner.

To remove unnecessary interactions, customer service leaders must implement new processes, systems, and teams to codify demand removal and formally make it part of customer service and support charter. This new team must work cross-organizationally and focus on initiatives to fix product defects, update outdated policies, clarify confusing procedures, and develop plain language communications.

The process of removal can take considerable time and energy, but is well worth it as it permanently removes cost from the organization while improving the overall customer experience.

Redistribute Interactions Away from Assisted Service

Organizations have turned to digital experiences as a solution to manage scalability, provide self-service capabilities, and generally try to improve the overall experience for customers. This focus coincides with customer preference for self-service as well as a desire by organizations to tap into the increased access, scale, and cost savings it provides.

While the customer and organizational stars align on self-service, the results are anything but stellar: According to the Gartner self-service experience assessment benchmark, which measures operational capabilities against 11 foundational capabilities, the overall score is currently sitting at 43 out of 100, showing that organizations have a long way to go to achieve real results with self-service. 

The pivot to digital is a necessary and key step, but it is proving insufficient at best.

This is where redistribution of interactions away from these assisted and self-service channels comes in. To effectively deploy a redistribution strategy, customer service leaders need to make the sometimes tough decision to pivot and funnel customers from one-to-one interactions, like assisted service and support, to many-to-many, which can include third-party interactions such as social media.

When redistributing, the following should be considered:

      • Is the interaction repeatable or regarding known issues that provide low value through human interaction? If yes, then decide the appropriate self-service channel to automate these interactions.
      • Can the interaction be automated in total or in part? If yes, then map the interaction to include steps in the interaction process. If appropriate for partial automation, understand which steps to automate and the process of handing off to a human where appropriate.
      • Is speed of the essence? Is a quick answer critical to a customer overcoming an obstacle in their journey? If yes, then position content and knowledge as close to the customer as possible, integrating both into their self-service journey versus making them abandon their self-service journey for assisted service.

When customer service leaders remove value eroding interactions, and redistribute a large number of routine customer interactions, the remaining work will be more complex.

Restructure the Organization to Deliver Value

The organizational structure that currently exists may no longer be able to support the remaining demand. As a result, leaders will need to reframe the organization to continue effectively supporting the remaining volume.

Organizations will need to take an inventory of the resources they have and the processes, workflows and analytics that exist. Leaders must determine what considerations need to be made to support pivoting to one of the following models:

      • Complex interaction management. Enable reps to evolve from high volume processors of low value interactions to knowledge workers who can handle more complex interactions.
      • Customer value creation. Enable reps to move from solving problems to helping customers achieve value.
      • Knowledge and content development. Provide knowledge workers time to spend on the development of content to fuel self-service and support assisted service interactions.
      • Data analytics. Provide knowledge workers time to perform data analysis to further advance the remove and redistribute strategies.
      • Customer journey management. Move from vertical channel silos to a focus on horizontal customer journey management with shared budget, metrics, priorities, technology and data.

In support of the above, leaders will need to assess if resources can be reskilled or retrained into highly skilled knowledge workers and subject matter experts, or if they’ll need to hire new talent to do so.

The reimagine system is made achievable by simultaneously focusing on all three pillars: remove, redistribute, and restructure. It will enable leaders to develop strategies that will future-proof their organization and prepare the organization for new ways of contributing to the overall organizational objectives.

John Quaglietta and Jennifer MacIntosh are senior director analysts in the Gartner Customer Service and Support practice.

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