Over the past 20 years customer service strategy and management has transformed. When contact centres were first established, they were treated as a cost centre. That meant the primary strategic aim was to run them as efficiently as possible. This changed as businesses (and management) realised the importance of customer service and customer experience to winning and retaining customers. That led to a greater focus and investment in processes and systems to improve service levels. Measurement shifted from metrics such as average handling time and the number of calls handled per hour to more customer-focused measures such as CSAT and Net Promoter Score (NPS).
The need for agility
However, the world is changing again, and strategy and leadership needs to change with it, if customer service is to achieve its potential. We are now living in a fast-moving, more disrupted world. While the impact of COVID-19 is part of this, other factors also contribute to this instability:
- Customers are more fickle, have higher standards and are more willing to switch to rivals
- Within the business the shift to the gig economy, remote working and skills shortages are all impacting capacity, both in the customer service team and beyond. The current shortage of HGV drivers is the perfect example of this type of pressure.
- Disruptions to the interconnected supply chain, from extreme weather to fluctuations in supply, are becoming more common, leading to shortages and customer concerns.
Essentially there are fewer constants that businesses can now rely on when planning their operations.
The impact on customer service strategy
All these factors mean that customer service is more important than ever. And it must be more agile and flexible than before, with the ability to change quickly, scaling up and down to meet varying needs.
Building this type of customer service organisation requires management to reshape their strategy around four core pillars:
1. A collaborative culture
Customer journeys are horizontal, spanning multiple different departments. Customers don’t differentiate between these teams – they see one company and want a joined-up experience. That requires an open, collaborative culture that breaks down departmental silos and brings together teams to work together to solve customer problems.
2. Workforce transformation
The old model of contact centre agents focused on answering routine, repetitive queries is no longer fit for purpose. With customers able to solve basic issues themselves through self-service and chatbots, agents need to be trained and empowered to handle high value interactions. This requires new skills, some of which will be brought in via gig economy workers to handle specific types of interactions within customer service. Management will need to incentivise the right behaviours throughout the team, including through higher salaries.
3. More flexible processes and policies
Rigid processes simply cannot cope with today’s uncertainties. Instead, businesses require more agile processes, and empowered members of staff, focused on meeting changing customer needs. Policies should encourage and support cross-department (and external) collaboration, matching the customer journey rather than reinforcing silos.
4. Supportive systems and technology
The overnight switch to remote working highlighted the advantages of cloud-based technology in the contact centre and turbocharged the adoption of unified communications platforms such as Microsoft Teams. Organisations need an agile, scalable technology infrastructure that integrates with wider business systems such as CRM and logistics, empowers staff and enables customers to help themselves through self-service.
Ensuring that this strategy is implemented effectively relies on senior management. Customer service must be championed from the top of the organisation, with a real involvement and understanding from leaders. It is no longer enough for CEOs to talk about the importance of customer service to the business, but then fail to deliver on the ground. That means always thinking like a customer. What do they want and need? How is this changing when it comes to service? How can you better support/empower your team to deliver this?
This week is National Customer Service Week, making it the perfect time for leaders to focus on customer service. However, they need to understand that business as usual is a thing of the past. Changing times require a new type of customer service strategy, built on agility. Implementing this enables transformative improvements in service, which feeds into greater customer loyalty and higher revenues, all contributing to business success, now and in the future.