Creative Ways 4 through 9

By Kate Leggett Print this article Print

Innovations that improve your customers’ experience can result in increased satisfaction and a more robust bottom line.

4. Couple your customer service system with others.Customer service agents must navigate through an average of 20 disparate applications to find the information they need, thereby increasing the time needed to handle queries and decreasing customer satisfaction. Customer service systems should be more than just a database front-end for customer information and cases. They should be integrated with back-office applications so agents can provide customers with fast, accurate answers to their queries.

High 5 Sportswear, an athletic apparel distributor, exemplifies the benefits of integrating customer service systems with a larger IT ecosystem. In the past, the company’s customer service agents had struggled—sometimes for up to 48 hours—to track down customer interaction history, piece together customer claims and validate discounts.

To fix this problem, High 5 deployed an integrated sales and customer service solution that allows agents to quickly access customer sales data and discount levels, and properly complete and efficiently route service tickets and track orders. The result was higher-quality customer interactions, better productivity and faster turnarounds on orders.

5. Define an efficient service experience. Agents typically don’t follow the same discovery path through customer service applications, which negatively affects agent consistency and leads to higher turnover. One solution is to apply business process management to a customer service offering. Agents are led through a set of screens, which display the information needed to resolve customer issues and ensure compliance with company policies.

An international bank used this strategy when it realized its poor customer sat scores were the result of service agents in the bank’s 23 contact centers following different processes. Agents now use a process-driven desktop that provides all the information needed to resolve multiple queries during a single transaction. As a result, first-contact resolution has improved by 30 percent, and call transfers have been reduced by 20 percent.

6. Keep your customers’ experience top of mind. Not all service requests can be processed in real time. Some need offline research time, while others, such as e-mail requests, may have built-in delays. It’s important to communicate service expectations to customers and then meet them in order to instill a level of trust.

You should also offer proactive service to customers, such as service alerts and proactive fixes for common issues. Let customers flag conditions for which they want to be notified. These communications will help keep customers loyal.

7. Pay attention to your knowledge strategy. A good knowledge program is a key element of a good service experience. A Web self-service presence is a must, and agent knowledge that is the same across communication channels guarantees consistent, accurate answers.

Maintaining relevant knowledge is an ongoing task. One approach is to allow your agents to flag inaccurate or incomplete content. Another is to use automated tools that push the most frequently accessed content to the top of FAQ lists. TurboTax software maker Intuit took this approach to contextualize the massive amounts of tax code information for its customers.

8. Harness your customer community with Web 2.0 tools. Another common strategy is to make forums available for peer-to-peer communication, letting customers help themselves and deflecting inquiries from the contact center. Unresolved issues can be escalated to customer service agents, and discussion threads can be recommended for addition to the knowledge base.

Computer maker Lenovo exemplifies best practices in tying forums to customer service. As a result of the information contained in its forums, Lenovo saw a 20 percent reduction in laptop support call rates and shortened problem-resolution cycles.

9. Listen to your customers. Gather customer feedback after every interaction and ask open-ended questions to solicit honest opinions. Append feedback forms to all user-viewable knowledge base content. Let users rate solutions and use this collected feedback to optimize the service experience.

In addition, monitor customers’ sentiments over social channels such as Twitter and Facebook. Then use their opinions to see if you can improve your products, services and processes. Comcast, with its ComcastCares Twitter presence, has shown that this approach leads to real differentiation in the market.

These innovative strategies can help you engage in a winning customer service relationship. But it’s essential to monitor your success and have an ongoing dialogue with your customers. And be sure to recraft your offering to stay true to your brand and your customers’ changing needs.

Kate Leggett is a senior analyst at Forrester Research, which is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass.

This article was originally published on 2011-01-28
Kate Leggett is a senior analyst at Forrester Research, which is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass.
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