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This is a fascinating time of technology development. Consider some of the advancements that are empowering customer service today:
Developments around how information travels, and the shared protocols and standards, have opened up a world of opportunity. For example, your service operation can easily be distributed, with multiple sites and even home-based employees. Hosted and cloud-based alternatives mean you don't have to own or manage the technologies required. You can partner with others to do that, scale capacity as needed, and have access to the latest system capabilities.
Today's technologies enable you to get any kind of interaction (phone, chat, text, social post, video or other) to the right place. And you can program in all kinds of routing criteria, such as information you have on the customer and employees who may be best suited for the interaction.
The customer's account number can pull up and enable your systems to deliver files and relevant information before the agent even says hello. This applies to any customer-facing environment—from the small pizza restaurant that immediately knows what a caller ordered last time, to the large tech support operation where reps can view and manage troubleshooting tickets without delay.
"Workforce optimization" refers to tools used for forecasting, staffing, schedules and reporting. In recent years, these capabilities have become far better at helping us pull together and incorporate customer-facing and back-office work. Popular tools include reports that highlight discrepancies between actual and planned schedules, and administration software that automates shift changes, vacation approvals and other tasks. Many of these systems now integrate directly with payroll and financial systems.
Quality monitoring systems record interactions and enable review for quality improvement purposes. Today, both voice and screen activities can be captured, and coaches can insert voice annotations into original recordings for training purposes. You can include recordings in reports that go to other departments or senior-level managers. And speech analytics capabilities can quickly mine any number of interactions for critical issues and trends.
Customer relationship tools
There are many capabilities that can help you establish stronger relationships with customers. Today's tools enable you to see consolidated views of all the contacts they've had with your organization. Fulfillment and tracking capabilities can integrate functions such as shipping and provide proactive notifications to customers. Short customer surveys delivered in the channels they use can provide immediate insight and be correlated with other measures, such as internal quality monitoring.
The computer desktop is a major area of innovation, with the latest systems providing a single, intuitive interface to what can sometimes be many legacy systems behind the scenes. Capabilities include accessing and sending documents, internal collaboration tools, and others.
Artificial intelligence and others
There are also important developments happening almost daily in knowledge management, speech and data analytics, and self-service capabilities. Artificial intelligence (AI) is making huge inroads into customer service, both in providing self-service capabilities and as intelligent assistance to service representatives.
All of these things considered, though, the most significant area of innovation—the one that rises above all others—is what's happening on the customers' end: the incredible growth in smartphones, and social and mobile capabilities. Our customers are making these investments, and, just as importantly, are taking the time to learn and use them. We often think just of what's happening on our end—the organization's end—of the equation. But the technologies our customers are using are becoming an essential part of what we could call our service ecosystem.
The capabilities available to you are limited only by your imagination and the realities of your organization's IT roadmap and budget. And with cloud-based services that are provided on a cost per-month or per-user basis, even the smallest companies have access to and can afford the most advanced capabilities.
My recommendation: get involved. Lead.
Observe how customers are using service. Take note of their perceptions. Ask your employees what's working well and where there are frustrations and gaps. And include them on your development team. They are closest to the work and know it best, and they will provide insight into capabilities that would be valuable.
This is an exciting and important time of development. You don't have to be a technology expert to be an effective customer service leader. In fact, I've observed that the some of the best leaders are decidedly not technology experts, but they aren't afraid to ask the basic questions: how can we make things easier for our customers? For our employees?