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Responding vs. Engaging: 5 Ways to Do Customer Service Right

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Brian Cantor

Customer service can be a nuisance – if the organization and its agents do not recognize the opportunity.

Let’s face it. A function that involves giving angry, frustrated customers the workaround rather than what they want is rarely an enviable one. Organizations that approach customer service in this light—that of a force field between angry customers and the "important business units"—have little reason to celebrate customer inquiries. They know the customers with whom they interact will be upset, and worse, they know there is little they can do in response.

Instructions to point to policies and hollowly thank customers for their business and feedback, directives that are far too common even in today’s "age of the customer," result in unhappiness for all involved. The customer does not get what he want, which fuels his outrage. The agent is forced to deal with the repercussions of further upsetting a customer. Contact center managers and supervisors must manage this agent disillusionment while also finding a way to spin poor satisfaction levels to their superiors. And high-level business stakeholders, ultimately, suffer when the unhappy customers take their business elsewhere.

One would think that fear of losing business, which exists at the top of the food chain, would trickle down as a wave of customer-centricity. One would be wrong. The customer service-as-a-burden vision persists, and as a result, the customer experience continues to suffer. Businesses continue approaching customer service as a "response" function rather than a "resolution" one.

While moving towards that resolution mindset is valuable, the organizations that are truly succeeding have moved onto yet another step: engagement. For them, customer service is not about a collection of isolated, transactional encounters. It is about a big picture, 24/7/365 commitment to doing right by each customer. When an organization adopts that mindset—one of engagement—it experiences the true value (not cost) of customer service at each phase and thus turns the function from a fearsome burden into a welcome opportunity.

Here are five tips for overcoming the responsive mindset reimagining customer service as an engagement opportunity:

1) Recognizing the Issue

Responsive Mindset: Customer service begins once the customer presents an issue (either directly on the phone or email or via a social media complaint). If the customer remains silent, it means he is wholly satisfied with the experience and thus requires no further assistance from the organization (until it wants to sell him something new). Since customer service is costly, it only makes sense to offer as a response tool in only the most dire of circumstances.

Engagement Mindset: Customer service begins the second the customer enters the business’ sphere. Long before marketing even commences, the business should be thinking about its customers, their needs, how the products satisfy those needs and how service will need to accommodate issues that arise. Whenever possible, the organization will proactively address customer concerns, showing that it sees customer service not as a responsive defensive mechanism but as a customer-centric imperative. By monitoring and mining customer sentiment for insights, the organization will build and adapt its support structure before customers even need to call, reducing the influx of calls and providing better support for those who do call.

2) Live Support

Responsive Mindset: Offer live support as a last resort. Use a combination of concepts like IVR and self-service to deflect as may calls as possible from a live agent. Restrict hours and access to live support agents (perhaps even charging for live help) to further coerce customers into using these channels.

Engagement Mindset: Actively seek opportunities to directly communicate with customers. Pipe customer calls directly into live agents who can more productively build relationships with customers. Escalate social media and message board comments with personalized discussions, advice and offers. Offer minimally-restricted live support consistent with customer channel preferences. Use IVRs and self-service in situations for which they are more productive (for the customer) than live support.

3) Issue Comprehension

Responsive Mindset: Use IVR and diagnostic tools to lump customers into broad buckets. Offer generalized response and support based on these buckets. Rely on scripts and policies to address and resolve issues even when they do not neatly fit into the common support bucket.

Engagement Mindset: Qualify customer’s unique situation by understanding who they are, what happened (according to them) and what they demand in response. Rely on script to provide efficient solutions where possible but also assure agents are empowered to provide creative, customer-centric solutions (or at least encouraged to ask management for support in tailoring an outcome for the customer).

4) Revenue Generation

Responsive Mindset: Make sure to seize upsell/cross-sell opportunities by mentioning additional products on each call. Focus additional levels of engagement on those customers who initially seem most intent to buy more. Use social primarily as a free/cheap marketing channel.

Engagement Mindset: Think of each call as an opportunity to solve a customer’s issue; if the best means of doing so is to direct them to a new or premium version of the product, then feel free to upsell. Use social primarily to understand and engage with customer base; "marketing" should align with what the customers want from the company’s social account. Recognize that customer satisfaction, even if costly in the short-term, is a long-term revenue driver in and of itself.

5) Service Evolution

Responsive Mindset: Treat each call as an isolated transaction; work is done once it ends in resolution. Use customer feedback as a performance and quality measurement tool but not necessarily as a critique of fundamentally-flawed operations and systems. Present customer feedback in quantitative "score" form rather than in qualitative insights. If insights are used, primarily focus on building them into the knowledgebase so that future calls will be more "efficient."

Engagement Mindset: Treat each call as one component of the brand’s interaction with each customer—and with the abstract "customer." Convey all relevant feedback on the product and service experience up the food chain, assuring that any lingering or inherent issues are imminently solved. Use scoring to take a broad overview of the contact center process but also rely on qualitative insights to make sweeping changes to products and the surrounding service experience. Assure customer insights are incorporated into product, marketing and service activity at every conceivable touchpoint.