Customer Service in the Fast Lane—the Zip and Sip Strategy

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One day we will drive cars that zip at 300 miles an hour and sip at 300 miles per gallon. And our Customer Organization will close 1000 cases and talk to 1000 customers. Can one do both?

Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be an astronaut. I started studying Astronautical Engineering—at least, until I wrote my first software program—and realized that’s where the real rocket science is. Having switched to a computer science and engineering major (“6-3” in MIT-speak, ex. “I’ll meet you after 6.001 in 18.301 at 11:01″), and with a strong interest in flight, I’ve always been fascinated with systems that are immensely fast yet solidly powerful. So like many CS grads of my time, I traveled west to San Francisco to work in tech. A fast-growing public company gave me my first job, and it was 3 startups later—one went public, one failed, and one acquired for $395 million—that we started OnBoardify in 2014. And in all these companies—the process of managing customers felt like the Sisyphean task of building the 300 mph/300 mpg car. One company Volkswagen is building a hybrid car called the XL1 that zips at 100 mph and just sips gas.

The Opposing Forces in a Customer Organization.

Building the utopian 300 mph/300 mpg car illustrates why our Chief Customer Officers can’t operate their customer organization that is simultaneously efficient and strategic—the two are opposing forces in an organization. For efficiency, you need to speed up and look for improvements in operational processes. For strategy, you need to listen for patterns with customers, and that often requires slowing down rather than speeding up. Indeed, the facts on customer service look pretty dismal:

  • 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service [Rightnow].
  • 17% of consumers would recommend a brand that provides a slow but effective solution [Harvard Business Review].
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated [McKinsey].
  • …and so on. For more bad news, see 50 facts about customer experience.

Gartner Magic Quadrant Customer ServiceBut look closely at the facts and you will see that many of these statistics have been around for years. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the customer service industry was designing itself for efficiency—to channel incoming telephone calls to the correct representative.  In the 2000s, technology companies began creating software tools to help businesses handle customer service. Zendesk was the first software-as-a-service technology company in customer service to go public, and around them there are others, as this Gartner magic quadrant graphic shows.

Tech companies would have us believe that well-designed software can help you create a customers-first strategy. Buy Zendesk, Salesforce ServiceDesk, or Verint, and your organization will handle customer woes and also listen to customers strategically. Companies that use such software are driven to listen better to customers, but it’s really responding, not listening. Operational efficiency and customer intimacy are opposing forces.

 

Customers and Social Airwaves.

When the social revolution hit the business world, and Twitter came into being—customer service changed forever. Customers of any consumer or business brand were able to take to the airwaves and communicate their experience. I myself took to Facebook when receiving disastrous emergency roadside assistance from my auto insurance company.  My insurance company’s mascot may very well be an animal with a British accent (identities of company mascots have been changed to protect the guilty), but the operational efficiency of the customer service rep was not amusing—I was in a broken down car in the night with my young daughters. My insurance company rep was insistent on process that would require us to wait for “anywhere up to 2 hours” and would not look for a towing company that was closer to us. So instead, I called a company whose customer listening skills are legendary—American Express. Their roadside assistance rep understood the situation and routed us to a towing company whose drivers were just a mile away, getting someone to us in 15 minutes. That’s the difference between a customer service organization designed for process (mistaking it for efficiency) and one designed for strategic success. As the American Express rep showed, you can be both efficient and strategic, and they’re designing the legendary 300/300 customer organization.

After I messaged the insurance company on their Facebook page, I got a quick call back from their social media team. However, Facebook and Twitter channels are staffed by marketing and PR reps. We know that the people who manage a company’s social media channel are not trained customer service reps. And customer service reps, on the other hand, are not trained in positioning and public social media. In today’s social world, though, you need to provide a customer support channel that has the power of Zendesk and the agility of Facebook or Twitter.

Customer Silos? It’s not WWII.

Having a customer service platform that allows each department to go deep and yet have the entire company be agile—is utopian (and, as our engineers at OnBoardify have demonstrated—finally possible). It requires a platform mindset to developing software products that open up communication throughout your company. Customer silos are so World War II—yet these deepen and are really hard to penetrate. Let’s say you, the CEO, start to check on company health on the weekend, and want to know how you are doing with your top 10 customers. You have access to email, Salesforce, Zendesk and Marketo. Retrieving financial data is easy, but to get the real customer picture you need to see across systems.

Even the CEO will take days to get the full picture on the top 10 customers, if at all. He/she will need to ask his/her head of sales, customer service, and product teams—by email, phone calls, and maybe a customer dashboard that shows revenue, number of active users, usage and so on. That slow and manual process is mind-blowing in its backwardness. But that’s what software designed for divisions and departments does—it creates information-rich silos that block the rest of the organization from understanding customers.

By and large, though, customer service is done by a highly-trained, process-oriented team called, variously, Support, Tech Support, Customer Service, App Support, Helpdesk Support, and so on. And the entire software industry, a $2 billion industry, has spawned companies like Salesforce.com and Zendesk. These tools are designed mostly for specialized customer service teams. Watch a demo of these products and they will talk about “call deflection”, “queueing,” and “ticket escalations”. In other words, customer support is a science, has a waterfall process, and operationally-savvy people lead those departments.

Somewhere, in the goal to make customer service efficient, companies have lost the strategic ability to really listen to customers. I don’t mean those companies with 10,000+ employees—I mean, even 20 and 100-person companies have lost that ability to really listen. Between the customer and the employees are highly trained customer service people who follow a process—and when they are good, know when to be flexible and delight the customer. However, it’s time to break down the customer silos.

The Fear of Scaling Customer Feedback.

The reason for customer silos being created is—there is a fear in every organization about not being able to handle the scale of customer feedback. Handling scale requires depersonalization—ex. follow-the-sun customer service models that bring staff from different geographies to handle service inquiries. That leads to automation of responses, knowledge bases, driven by effective Chief Customer Officers with a relentless focus on efficiency and quality. Add to this the inherent depersonalization evident in the design of customer support software, and you get an organization that is driven by reacting to customers, or, at best, proactively heading off customer calls by creating self-help knowledge bases, communities, and so on.

By making interacting with customers the domain of Customer Service, the functions that need to listen more to grow the company’s revenues and customer intimacy—the Executive Team, Sales, Product or Program Managers, Marketing, and IT centers or Engineering no longer have the ability to listen to customer feedback at volume and see patterns. The “silo” divisional thinking takes over, there is no visibility into customer issues, and the teams that need to listen every day to customers don’t have the ability to do that.

Customer Listening Posts

What we have seen our top customers—from startups to Fortune 500 companies—do is to create highly efficient customer listening posts. These listening posts are seamlessly integrated with people in customer service organizations, who use Zendesk or Salesforce.com. Yet, these listening posts are designed for ease of use and for everyday people—your employees and your customers—to use.  As natural as having a conversation, the CEO can now search all conversations from prospects on your web site, customers in your apps, and all customer issues discussed by employees at your workplace. Type in “unhappy” and you will find all customers who have said that they are unhappy. Conversely, a “love it” will reveal all your champions, by user, account or geography.

That is why we created OnBoardify, a Collaboration App for Teams—to make it possible for the Chief Customer Officer to help the entire company listen to customers, while at the same time handle the scale of customer service issues efficiently. Fundamental to this new wave of customer collaboration software is delivering a Facebook and Twitter-like experience for customers and all teams that want to listen to them, yet being able to instantly sync with and search all customer issues in support platforms like Zendesk, Salesforce Service Desk or Desk.com, and all projects in project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Clarizen.

One of the ways we are encouraging companies to get every employee to tap into customer feedback is to remove the biggest impediment to getting the entire company to listen to customers—per-user pricing for customer support software. All customer support software—from Oracle, Salesforce, to Zendesk—is based on per-user pricing. This means that, the more employees that you want to have listen to customers, the more your company pays these services. While this makes tremendous economic sense for the customer support vendor, we feel that a pricing structure that encourages all employees to just drop in to listen to customers is called for. So, for example, while your customer service organization uses Zendesk, the rest of your organization—like Sales, Marketing, Product and Customer Success—use OnBoardify without any user restrictions. And the two platforms—OnBoardify and Zendesk, Salesforce, Asana, etc.—are connected and seamlessly integrated, giving the rest of the company visibility into customer questions, feedback, and praise.

This is why today, we’d like to invite you to start  collaborating with customers for FREE—today, many companies—from 10-person startups, 500-person private companies to 44,800-person companies like CenturyLink use OnBoardify in all its glory with unlimited customers, unlimited web site visitors, unlimited application users, and even unlimited employees. The first 5,000 messages in your company are free, and then after that, paid plans for the entire company start with a fee of $100/mo.

We’re doing this because we want to bring back the art of listening to the customer, backed by our data science that makes it possible for all companies to both be efficient and strategic—by not just managing customer issues, but also listening and talking to them. And this means that every employee in your company should be hearing customer feedback, asking questions internally, learning from that feedback, and jumping in solve problems or apply that knowledge in ways that you didn’t imagine was possible. Your people are what make your company, and we want to help you turn your company into a customer-intimate culture, not just an operationally-efficient one.

In other words—take a complete approach to customer engagement, not that of the auto insurance company whose customer service rep wanted me and my daughters wait for 2 hours for a tow. Be like American Express, or like Volkswagen, driven to build the impossible and delight the customer. Bring back customer listening—make every employee listen to, learn from, and help a customer. You can have both a “Zip and Sip” strategy!

Do you have a story on how your organization works amazingly with customers? Please share it with everyone.


About Vik Chaudhary

Dossier by Onboardify is an app for organizing customer conversations, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate. Based in San Francisco, Onboardify is helping business owners, business professionals and teams around the globe intelligently sync their customer communication channels and organize documents, tasks and more. Welcome to a new way to build better customer relationships and a better business. Sign up for a free account today at http://www.onboardify.com.

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