Choose your service level

Customer Support and Customer Capabilities

When it comes to providing customer support, service is in general provided at the lowest common denominator level regardless of whether the customer is a Rocket Scientist or a Poodle Walker. Segmentation and service differentiation based on customer capabilities could potentially help your organisation reach resolution faster and improve the customer experience at the same time.

During the last weekend of June, about four weeks ago, my home ADSL modem started dropping the connection intermittently. The following day I called into my ISP’s (Free Telecom) Customer Support, some basic questions were asked and an appointment was made for a technician to come by and look at the issue. Three weeks later a technician came to the house, did a couple of tests and said the modem was faulty and would be replaced the next week.

This sounds like a perfect Customer Service scenario, right? So I should be a satisfied customer, right?

Well,.. no actually.

On first contact I felt I was being taken for a fool, with questions like ‘did you check that the modem was plugged in correctly?’. I tried to provide auxiliary information such as “sudden drops in the upstream noise margin” which should have given the Customer Service Representative a better idea as to what was the issue, but the CSR gave me the impression that that was way over her head.

Because I had three weeks to wait, I had time to do some research such as in online communities using my Smartphone. I was also able to see the service ticket on the ISP’s support site, but other than read that the ticket had been opened, there was no way to add my own information and or feedback. When the technician finally did come, he confirmed what I suspected and I basically felt that that the last three weeks had been wasted. A week later, no replacement, and the web interface shows that the ticket had been closed. I called the Hotline who told me that the replacement request was ‘still being processed’, and when I requested they help me set up me set up an alternative modem, they were unable to help – “What’s RFC 1483 Routed VC MUX?” the CSR asked me… I am still waiting, one month after the initial call. If only I could have checked up on what was going on and provided input from what I had found…frustrations galore!

So what in their eyes is good Customer Service by the book, to me is a poor customer experience in need of some serious service recovery! A cold call I got yesterday from another ISP is starting to look more and enticing – I’ve been with my ISP for the last 13 years so why do they make it so difficult to stay loyal to them?…

This frustration has given me the food for thought for this post. Customer Service and Contact Centers are organized to contain costs – which basically means calls are kept as short as possible with low to moderately skilled staff, often in low wage countries. It also means that the service provided assumes a the lowest common denominator of what the company thinks its customers are capable of and then provides scripts or workflows to guide both the customer and the agent along the path to resolution. The customer is happy because the issue is resolved, the agent is happy because she can move on to the next call and meet her objectives, and the company is happy because it efficiently limited the impact of providing service to the customer (cost).

So what could we be doing to achieve this state. Below are some of my thoughts:

Identification of skill level Just like in Video Games, there should be an option to choose your level, such as “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, “Advanced”, or even “Insane!” so that you get a different interaction and resolution path based on your capabilities. The risk here  is that self-assessment may be erroneous. Another approach would be to use interaction history to gain a better estimate, or use social media monitoring to construct a profile of the customer on which to base the estimate.

Alternative scripts per identified capability segment Customer service scripts are great tools to guide the agent when helping the customer, but at the same time these scripts are generic, aimed at the resolving common issues. The chances are that the customer is more savvy than the script has accounted for, and would prefer to go straight into the ‘meat of the issue’ because they have already done the basic steps, searched the internet and consulted their peers before reaching out to support. Here as well, it could be interesting to not only monitor socila media, but actually to track what a particular customer has been browsing on your support site.

Agent matching Rather assign an agent to a customer service rep based on whoever is available in a pool, thru identification such as by their telephone number, twitter handle or whatever ID the customer prefers to use to reach out and previous interaction history, we can do enhanced matching based on agent segmentation (personality type, skill level) so as to facilitate the next interaction and to align the customer capabilities with the agent ones.

Agile processes and transparency Being able to adapt to the context as information is discovered will be key to improving the outcome, as well as potentially reduce the time necessary for reaching a resolution. If the resolution path requires that it takes longer than a phone call or an email to sort it all out, it may make sense to include the customer directly in the collaboration process by letting them contribute their insight, findings and ideas thru for example an update form in a webpage, or a dial-in interface that transcribes their input from speech to text and adds it to the case. Accountability to reach an outcome within limits set by an SLA should not only be to a Line Manager, but also to the customer, with the possibility for her to request an escalation in case of non-adherence. Escalation can effectively extend the grace period during which the customer is willing to tolerate a delay in issue resolution. When things really go awry and there is no sight of resolution, the customer is dissatisfied and the company risks losing her for good.

These are just some ideas of how a customer capabilities could be integrated into Customer Support and the list is not exhaustive. The idea behind it is that service could be improved, costs reduced and positively impact the customer experience at the same time. Please Share your thoughts in the comments below, I am very keen on hearing them!

8 thoughts on “Customer Support and Customer Capabilities”

  1. having these type of conversations all around these days – is somebody thinking about customer service making a comeback?

    I take exception to one of your points, you say ” Customer Service and Contact Centers are organized to contain costs – which basically means calls are kept as short as possible with low to moderately skilled staff, often in low wage countries. It also means that the service provided assumes a the lowest common denominator of what the company thinks its customers are capable of and then provides scripts or workflows to guide both the customer and the agent along the path to resolution.”

    that is not true in all cases. sure, clueless, bad, and large organizations see it that way — but even ATT is trying to become better at doing real customer service. we have proven in research time and again that aiming for efficiency (fast and cheap) is not cheaper than aiming for effectiveness (whatever it takes, but right) as efficient resolutions are repeat calls and interactions, sometimes in absurd numbers.

    so, you are stating a belief held by a (unfortunately still) majority – but it is decreasing. and that is a good point to make.

    nice writeup — internet working yet?

  2. Hey Esteban!

    Good to see you here and commenting again :)

    Offshoring, externalising of contacvt centers is still growing rapidly, and overall activity is growing. Here is an interesting article concerning trends (in french http://globalphoning.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/les-centres-de-contacts-externalises-un-secteur-qui-se-renforce-malgre-la-crise-3/ ) but it comes out a mixed bag. I think you’re right about efforts being made as the number of open-ended (no termination dates) contracts are increasing and the qualifications asked for are higher which to me indicates that they strive to increase the competency level and pay more attention to retention of talent.

    And my exchange modem finally arrived on the 5th of July. Just to be on the safe side, I added a ventilator to extract warm air connected to a USB port, which drops the tempurature down by about 10% (another thing found on a P2P support forum and not thru customer service)!

    Cheers!
    Mark

  3. Mark, I agree with your thinking, about a taking more segmented approach to customer support.

    All customers are not created equal, and all support agents are not created equal. By matching the right resource to the right customer, you’ll accomplish two things:

    Reduce time (and cost) of support delivery.
    Increase customer satisifaction, by delivering a more personalized customer experience.

    Best regards,
    Jim Watson

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