NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- There are many ways to gauge customer service, but by any measure, the stewardship of the client experience in successful enterprises is headed for a dramatic restructuring over the coming years, a senior analyst with Gartner said in a presentation at the research firm's business process management (BPM) summit.
According to Michael Maoz, a vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner, far too many companies handle the various aspects of the customer experience through stovepiped departments without the BPM technologies or organizational structure to provide for a cohesive oversight of the operation as a whole.
But that could soon change.
"BPM is a board issue now," Maoz says. "These things are in the top of whose agenda today? The CEO's. ... If they're on the CEO's agenda today, you're going to get the memo tomorrow."
Good Customer Experience Takes a Village
The organizational siloes that Maoz describes in what could generally be known as customer experience management are common to businesses across industries.
As the employees in a division concerned with customer loyalty and advocacy focus on metrics like churn and retention, customer-satisfaction personnel might concentrate on market research. Then the brand and reputation teams handle marketing communications and advertising, while the quality team works on process improvement and product engineering.
All worthy pursuits, to be sure, but where's the harmony?
"The issue is many of you do not work together as a team. There is not always an uber-team," says Maoz.
By Gartner's own polling, a mere 2,200 companies worldwide identify a senior position in the reporting structure who oversees customer care. Maoz put the question to his audience, asking a roomful of BPM workers how many are employed by a company with a position equivalent to a director or vice president of customer experience. A smattering of hands rose.
"I guarantee you if you come back here in three years, it's going to be a third to a half of you," Maoz says.
Is Your Businesses Customer Service Strategy Working?
It's easy to cherry-pick case studies of companies that seem consistently to get customer service right, just as one doesn't have to look too far to find examples of those that have stumbled.
Amazon's online shopping experience routinely wins high marks from consumers, while Netflix users rebelled when the company announced the split of its streaming and DVD-delivery services, amounting to an effective price increase of 60 percent for subscribers who wanted to keep both formats.
Similarly, Heinz ketchup has earned reliably high marks on the American Customer Satisfaction Index for years, while companies in sectors like utilities, airlines and insurance have fared far more poorly. But those are all different businesses, different regulatory considerations and wildly different customer expectations, so why compare apples and oranges?
"The issue is how are you doing relative to your peer group," Maoz says. "The issue is where are you, where are you inside our own industry and what can you do about it."
But across companies and industries, Maoz sees some general strategies that can lift an organization's customer experience apparatus, ranging from taking an honest look to discern what, in fact, the typical customer wants most from an interaction with the firm to an effort to "act as one," delivering customers a consistent experience regardless of whether they are interacting with a representative on the phone, in a store or online.
To achieve their desired effect, those and any other similar customer-service efforts will require an alignment of front-office operations with back-office processes, and it never hurts to bring some C-level clout to the operation, either.
EMC's Customer Service System Supports Success
Maoz describes the customer-service apparatus in place at enterprise-storage giant EMC, which he says has engendered a 99 percent loyalty rate based on product support.
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So attuned have EMC's systems become to their major clients' storage systems, "If you have a breakdown of one of those things, it will tell you instantly. I mean, EMC gets a message before you know about it," Maoz says.
And when a repair ticket comes in from one of those A-list clients?
"If something breaks, they have a four-hour window for their critical customers," says Maoz.
With the clock ticking, EMC's tech support team has a strict timetable for a phased response. Within the first hour, the customer must have received word about EMC's plan to address the issue. By the end of the second hour, the response team is to be deployed, and then on site working on the problem within four hours.
If the first deadline slips, according to Maoz, EMC's CTO is notified. If the second hour passes without sufficient progress, the head of customer service is alerted. The next alert goes to the corner office.
"After that you might as well just flip the switch and kill yourself, because the CEO gets a message," says Maoz. "You know what you don't want to hear? The CEO's voice at EMC, because that's the hatch door falling."
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.