by Eric Berridge

Customer service: IT’s war!

Jun 12, 20124 mins
IT Leadership

We won WWII because we engaged the entire country in the struggle. There were the front line heroes, but there were also heroes back home who recycled old tires to make combat boots. In today’s ultra-competitive business landscape, companies likewise can only win the customer service fight by enlisting the entire organization. This means creating socially configured platforms that allow your employees to both engage customers and also collaborate with co-workers across your organization. By doing so, you’re arming them with every bit of relevant information from every employee who plays a role in servicing a particular customer, to ensure that they remain a happy customer.   

I recently blogged about my experience with United Airlines, in which they scared the pants off of everyone on the plane and then failed to follow up with a single conciliatory contact. Did their executive team get together and say,”You know, the people on that plane thought they were going to die, but what the heck, let’s ignore them”? I doubt it. More likely it’s a disconnect in their system. Those who normally handle this kind of proactive customer follow-up probably had no clue that it even happened. If IT doesn’t take it upon itself to tie all organizational information to the customer-facing front line, this kind of disconnect will undoubtedly continue.

Today’s customers are empowered by the information at their fingertips — empowered to chronicle and broadcast everything you’ve ever done to them and to identify and do business with your competitors. If your customer-facing employees are armed with little more than a sales/complaint history, you may be sending them to a firefight armed with a knife.

Social media is making customer service a high stakes, zero-sum game

Among social media’s many unintended consequences is the fact that customers now expect more from companies than ever before. You’ve got to be quick, smart and strategic, because anything you say or do may be tweeted to the world’s 7B inhabitants.

Consider banks, which are great about pinpointing everything you’ve ever done when you call them to apply for a loan. But when you call with a complaint, are they aware of everything they’ve done in the past that might have potentially ticked you off? If not, they should be. Here’s what’s at stake: according to BIGresearch, 17% of customers will leave you after a single service mess-up, 40% will leave after two blunders. In all, 85% of your business could be lost due to poor customer service. Conversely, according to an American Express report, 73% of customers have spent more money with a company because of a history of good customer service.

In light of this, companies have only one real choice — arm customer-facing employees with the organization’s full information arsenal.

Call of duty

The onus for innovation in customer service clearly rests on IT. In the absence of an elaborate scheme of note-carry pulleys, only IT has the ability to connect the entire organization in a way that effectively arms the customer-facing front line with the tools they need to keep this generation of fickle customers happy.

IT on the front line

To be sure, customer service is becoming increasingly tech-driven. But there’s more. If, as David Kirkpatrick suggests, every company is a now tech company, then every IT department is now a customer service unit. As products and services become increasingly technical, the chances that the perspectives of the non-technical will be sufficient to handle customer service calls diminish.

Your IT staff may very well have a role in not only providing an adequate customer service platform, but, in many cases, actually servicing those requests themselves. So, as I’ve said before in this blog, start training your staff in the ancient art of soft skills (and make sure your new hires show social aptitude as well).

Celebrate the little victories

In the customer service war, it’s not the big product launch or sudden stroke of genius that wins the day, but the consistent stream of little victories. A 1% improvement in first call response, for example, can drive more than $276K in annual operational savings, according to SQM. What does a “1% improvement” look like? It looks like your customer-facing employee being able to easily access that one bit of crucial information that makes the difference between a positive interaction and a negative one: “Hi Eric, it’s [customer service rep] from United. We understand you had a bit of a scare, and would like to offer you…”