Customer service is a term frequently used among service providers which is often delivered in the form of call centers. It’s important to understand that customer service applies to many different horizontal and vertical business applications and is crucial to achieve success no matter what market you’re serving.
Customer service typically takes place in-person, over the phone or in writing. These are what I like to call “linear” contact methods. The problem with this model is that it’s antiquated to the needs of busy individuals. When customer service is a cost center for a business, it’s often one of the least invested, thus leaving a gap between customers and the business owners in resolving a dispute or suggestion. Clearly, linear contact methods make way for barrier of visibility for the company’s leaders. One example of this is seen in Vincent Ferrari’s contact with AOL in June 2006 when he wanted to discontinue his service.
Another form of customer service has emerged on the backbone of instant communications over the Internet via e-mail, Instant Message or online support forums. I call these “non-linear” contact methods. These are extremely cost effective and can potentially bring positive results if the customer is adequately satisfied with the outcome. Otherwise, this can compromise the relationship that the business provided for the customer.
However, as it pertains to most online providers, one of the challenges faced is building great products and services and supporting those new products with their users. This is known as anticipating user’s needs. Specifically, addressing legacy product concerns while adding new features that are user friendly. The goal of the anticipation (at least from a business perspective) is to minimize the amount of consumer contacts while increasing the use of their product.
I’d be willing to say that most, if not all, customer service is perceived to lie in the hands of call centers, as opposed to product development teams. In reality, the call centers are intended to handle front-end, simple, and frequently asked concerns in addition to handling the influx of complaints in faulty services. In my experience, most call centers don’t get the resources or even the respect they deserve because call centers aren’t encouraged to have true two-way communication with the company.
So, where does this leave customers? Most people often feel emotionally satisfied when they can call in and communicate with a friendly representative who can acknowledge their concerns and address them. Where as, in non-linear support, consumers may not be able to articulate their problem on their own in a detailed fashion so they are left with an emotional and logical void to the problem they might experience. Consumers have become accustomed to contacting the many different entities of a company — from calling their customer service phone number(s), e-mailing them, to engaging regulatory authorities (if a large company).
One way to close the gap in this customer service experience is to first identify all the key stakeholders in a product’s or service’s design, delivery and support all on the same page. Then, align them with the current challenges and opportunities to tackle. Literally, letting people fully engage internally to address consumer’s needs and using the call center as a way to extend their visibility, not obscure it. And finally, give credit where due in the organization so everyone can observe the progress made in addressing challenges. This allows all levels of support to communicate effectively with users; while providing accountability for outstanding issues.
In essence, as a service provider, everyone should be serving their users no matter how small or insignificant the changes they individually produce. More philosophically, if everyone puts their best foot forward for consumers in an organization, “super-serving” their needs from the moment of product design to the triage of problems — customers will pay it forward with years of tenured dedication and promotion of the company in question with their networks such as friends, family, co-workers.
I know this was rather long long to explain, but this is why customer service is more than just call centers. It’s a horizontal that all applies universally in any organization that aims engage consumers in a positive way. Be their advocate.