How to Create Connected Customer Service

This widget does not work. That service was a bad experience. 

Such things lead to customers calling companies to complain. A firm can apologize, maybe offer a voucher or coupon. Or maybe it can use the information to fix the problem. 

This involves doing more than running a call center. Connected customer service treats every complaint like data, which can be used to improve a product or service. But it takes as mix of human factors and technology to craft the right solution.

Start with Strategy

Traditionally, companies viewed sales and marketing as “offense” and customer service as “defense,” noted Dave Murray, a customer experience consultant at The DiJulius Group, a customer service consultancy. “We preach customers service as your best offense,” he said. Good customer service can help with sales. 

One good example: Zappos. By focusing on customer interaction, the company made customer service part of its sales plan, personalizing the experience in every customer service situation, Murray said. Putting a live person on the phone to deal with the customer personalizes the service to a great extent. 

Even though the technology exists to automate customer service, Murray believe the most effective agent to deliver customer service is a human at the other end of the phone. That may not be enough. 

Previous experience may not be preferred experience, Murray cautioned. When customer service is practiced as defense in a previous position, that is the experience a new hire brings to the next job, and that may not be what is best for the company. “Organizations see customer service as an expanse and not as an investment in the brand.” Murray observed. 

Connected customer service is not about playing defense. Every interaction with a customer generates data. “Make sure you are treating any feedback like gold,” Murray said. Companies typically offer an apology to a problem and then stop, which is a mistake.

The missing link is internal communication, which can be delivered by a CRM system. Data generated from complaints can be analyzed for patterns and trends, but only if that information is communicated by the call center to the relevant department. Without communication, departments become silos, he observed.

Many times, a corporate client will have a CRM in place, but may be ignoring the data, not drilling down enough, or not making the fullest use of the system, Murray noted. Typically, clients are seeking ways to make the system work best for them, he said. 

What Do Customers Want? 

Connected customer service requires a fusion of human factors, technology and data integration. Total customer awareness? “If it is a holy grail, we are chasing after it,” said Josh Aston, VP of digital at Progrexion, a credit reporting and credit rating repair shop. 

Progrexion’s customer journey  starts at the web site, yet 90% of visitors will interact with the company by phone, with a live human at the other end. All of this action generates data, which can be tracked and analyzed.

“We started with a traditional rows and column approach,” Aston said, about the previous database. Then Progrexion switched over to Adobe Analytics about nine to ten years ago, which allowed a more robust integration with the company’s service element. The first add-on was Adobe Target, which allowed for personalization optimization. Predictive Optimizer was next, to handle predictive searches, then Adobe Audience Manager to augment segmentation. 

“Assume the sell,” Aston continued. Treat every inquiry as a possible sale. All data is kept after every interaction for analysis to improve customization or personalization, Aston explained. Predictive analysis helps sharpen the set-up, making it easier for a Progrexion staffer to guide them to a solution, he said. 

“One hundred percent [of all customer interactions] start on the web site. What is interesting is that 90 percent of the sales occur on the phone.” Aston said. “No matter what we do, we want to talk to people.” That means structuring the service so that data is forwarded from the web site to the person in the call center.

There are five or six segments turning to Progrexion — people in the aftermath of divorce, for example, or in military service; buying a house or a car, or victims of ID theft. In all these cases good or bad, there is a financial dimension involving credit or a credit rating that Progrexion is selling services to help or fix the situation. 

While service is customer-centric, it also has to ebe consistent. “The call cannot go too far from script,” Aston said.   

The Problem with Problems

Lippert Components, a company that makes components for recreational vehicles and trains, also had a data problem that required a higher degree of automation. The company has 52 plants, with facilities in Italy, Canada and Australia as well as the US. “We’re starting to go global, said Nicole Sult, director of customer service. 

Sult was hired to migrate Lippert’s home-grown CRM system over to Saleforce. The previous system relied on pieces of paper, spreadsheets, and Microsoft Nav (an ERP app being used for CRM), she outlined. This forced customer service agents to spend more time scrambling for data during the phone call, sometimes spending more time interrogating the caller rather than talking to him. 

Implementing a Salesforce CRM solution in 2015 changed the way the call center did business. Data was bundled and presented on the screen of the call center operator, ending the need for interrogation. Information like VIN, vehicle and dates of service were now on the screen, so operators began to converse with the callers. “Before, if there was no formal reference number, we couldn’t talk to you,” Sult said. “Now we are answering the phone, with your name.”

The Salesforce implementation does not lock call center workers into any process. “We script nothing,” Sult said. “We hire on personality and soft skills,” then train those personnel in customer service skills, she explained. 

The shift came once Lippert moved its Salesforce app from classic view to console view. “That’s when the lightbulbs came on,” Sult said. “We’re processing the customers faster, with more conversation and less data entry.” 

The numbers also tell a story. In 2013, Lippert was fielding a little under 200,000 customer service calls per year. The next year, that number inched up a bit above 200,000. On average, each call center employee was churning through about 6,000 service calls per year. They were not moving enough customers through, Sult recalled. After the Salesforce implementation, in console mode, each call center operator was able to handle about 14,000 calls per year. 

The data generated by the service call can also be flagged and analyzed for patterns. If a particular part is proving troublesome, other departments in the company can access the data and use the information to improve the part. With Einstein AI and chatbots, Lippert is using Salesforce to weed out more routine problems, leaving the humans in the call center to field more complicated queries, Sult said. 

The bottom line is that connected customer service is not an expense to be cut, but an asset to be cultivated. A company may not see any direct relationship between the expense of the call center and the quality of its product, but the effects are indirect and powerful. In the end, the customer must get a better experience. And it is less expensive to hang on to a customer than to find a new one.

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