How to Provide World-Class Customer Service

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
customer service and support

Businesses must tune into customer preferences, attitudes and needs, and, ultimately, construct a framework that provides personalized, relevant communication.

A basic tenant of business has always been to keep the customer satisfied. Yet, over the last decade, the task has become infinitely more complicated as consumer expectations have grown and a mind-bending array of technologies and channels have entered the picture.

"Customers are more sophisticated and demanding," says Scott Clarke, head of digital customer experience at consulting firm Capgemini. "They want to interact with companies on their own terms, through the channel of their choice and with the device of their choice. This is forcing businesses to adapt."

Not surprisingly, this new era of customer service is redefining relationships, including those between business and IT. As a growing array of technologies and processes intersect—and the connection points with customers grow—organizations must confront these challenges and construct a framework that fully supports the digital age.

What's more, says Glen Hartman, global management director for digital information at Accenture, it's necessary to view customer service as part of a more holistic framework of processes and events and build IT systems that support a global view. "An end-to-end connected, continuous customer experience is essential," he adds.

Achieving success is no simple task. For most organizations, there's a need to manage an increasingly fractured environment that spans channels, devices and communication methods. To be sure, a growing number of businesses—including retailers, health care providers and financial services firms—are finding it necessary to tie together disparate systems, apps and tools, and then create a unified look and feel for customers.

"Too often, the discussion revolves around abstract business issues and technology," says Peter Krasilovsky, a vice president and senior analyst at retail market research and consulting firm BIA/Kelsey. Instead, "Companies must take a customer-first approach."

Customer engagement is increasingly at the center of a successful business, and outstanding service is a key component to building mindshare and loyalty. However, with information technology accelerating and cost pressures mounting, aligning processes, systems and channels is a growing challenge.

"There's a need for more agility and greater efficiency," Capgemini's Clarke points out. "Organizations must use digital technology in a more focused and intelligent way. It's critical to examine both business opportunities and outcomes and use these to define the technology requirements."  

Constructing a Framework

These days, world-class customer service involves more than an outstanding CRM application and a fast, efficient call center. It's more than the sum of online surveys, focus groups, social listening tools and crowdsourcing capabilities.

An organization must tune into customer preferences, attitudes and needs, and, ultimately, construct a framework that provides personalized and highly relevant communication. The most successful businesses introduce systems and processes that draw a direct line between a problem or concern and a solution.

Take J.B. Hunt, for example. This transportation logistics and contract services provider, which operates 130 call centers with more than 1,200 representatives throughout North America, has built a customer experience platform that integrates channels and functionality.

A Genesys Customer Experience Platform identifies the incoming phone number and routes calls based on a least-cost and best-agent skill-match model. The platform also incorporates sophisticated analytics and robust communications features.

Brad McBride, information services manager, says that the environment aligns with a growing need to take a more targeted and segmented approach. "Different groups of callers require very different interactions," he notes.

The system has reduced transfers and handoffs, voice mail messages, and an array of other inefficiencies that have plagued the company in the past. "We're able to integrate numerous vendors across multiple channels and gain a broader and deeper view of the business at any given moment," McBride says.

In fact, the system has contributed to improved customer experience by reducing the average speed of answer (ASA) from 39 seconds to 4 seconds; trimming abandoned calls from 17 percent to 2.1 percent; and reducing average handle time (AHT) by nearly 30 seconds. Moreover, J.B. Hunt estimates that it has saved more than $30 million in operational costs over the last 15 years.

This article was originally published on 2014-05-28

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for Baseline.

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