In Defense of Customer Service
Truth be told, we all have a ‘customer services story’! Be it the bank, the phone company, insurance, car dealer or anyone else, no one’s escaped unscathed.
Simplistically speaking, a customer has 3 expectations:
Solve my problem quickly: first time right.
Don’t test my patience: I hate to hold (the music-on-hold is terrible!), repeat myself or lose my cool
Don’t break my loyalty: If I even think of taking my business to competition today, I surely will tomorrow.
Getting all three correct is challenging. There’s digital diarrhea in the ‘I have been wronged’ department of the Social media. And consumer fora overflow with escalations!
Here are five obvious causes:
Part of the ‘backroom’: It starts with Organization Design which usually puts customer under operations. Naturally, it gets lumped with that DNA too – numeric, script-driven, part of the logistics. Useful with machines, customers therefore get reduced to transactions, ‘tickets’ or those highly quotable 13 digit reference numbers! Customer services becomes another cost and gets flogged for it! Fact is, other than its location at the back of the house, it is as customer facing as Sales!
Insipid designations: What on earth is ‘customer services representative’? Designations in India, certainly are critical. They define a person’s career, social standing – even marriage prospects! Never mind what the role is. But seriously, tasteless titles place service professionals lower in esteem – their own and in the eyes of the customer.
Low Compensation: Because entry levels are usually low, average compensation per employee in customer services is lower than say marketing, or sales. Don’t believe me, do the math for your own organization!
High Stress: The nature of work with mollycoddling, whining and yelling customers, is depressing and very stressful. A customer services person in a decent-capacity unit could handle 50 customers in a single day. Even if ten percent feel underserviced, that’s 5 occasions for hypertension, acidity and depression. So people quickly become thick-skinned and cold automatons. It’s only to protect their sanity!
High turnover: This unit significantly impacts the overall attrition numbers. If anyone finds this surprising, they’re clearly disconnected from reality. Almost everybody wants out of customer services. So why take it in the first place? Well…it’s a job.
A solution to consider would be to have Customer Services report into the Marketing/Sales/Business Development function. Oh, the frayed nerves and the wrath of those heavyweight Operations Heads! Apologies if the fiefdom you lord over, shrinks significantly, but the customer is at stake here!
They sold it, they fix it: It’s only fair. The guys who sold the product should also be responsible for solving its problems. They best understand the product, and its shortcomings and they will be more careful about what they commit. With servicing folks joined at the hip, it’s a winning team! No more Sales vs Service fights. No longer will they be the ‘two sides of the same coin’. Both sides would be a-head.
Revenue center: Like sales, customer services has direct contact with customers and they’re wonderfully trained! They can cross-sell, increase transaction sizes and loyalty. The money from these sources, plus the savings from the reduced cost of poor service, can be invested in acquiring higher quality resources. Operations has a cost-savings mindset and their understanding of revenue is low.
Faster flow of communication on customer feedback: Customer feedback does not have to go through hardcoded filters and templates. Marketing teams need no longer use third-party agents for vox populi. It’s already echoing in the service center!
Understanding the ‘relationship’ cost: Those who build them understand them best. With numerous late evening calls, presentations, objections and cynical spouses, people in Operations have little experiential understanding of this pain – and cost. Maintaining an existing customer costs significantly less than acquiring a new one. Re-acquiring an attrited customer costs a bomb!
Cross pollination of quality talent: People in Customer Services are indoctrinated with product knowledge like no other operations staff. With the right attitude, and a little training, they can actually sell! In fact, many service professionals aspire for Sales and Marketing roles. Sadly the career maps of the Operations function rarely crosses paths with Marketing and Sales!
It must be understood that the cost of service has been paid for by the customer, in advance trusting the company to be available when needed. Failure to provide satisfactory service is a breach of that trust. Keeping Customer Services under Operations keeps it low cost, but low quality too. The best customers get ‘handled’ by the lowest paid staff. Pay peanuts, get monkeys – that’s who customers end up interacting with!
Is that how we want it?