Boosting the Strategic Value of Customer Interaction

By Brad Cleveland

Delivering effective customer service is not a program, a back office function or an initiative – it’s a way of doing business that produces value for customers and the organization.

One of the most important leadership priorities in today’s uncertain economic environment (and, for that matter, in any economy) is to ensure that your customer contact center delivers maximum strategic value to your organization. That, in turn, is what will get you the support you need from colleagues across the organization. It’s what will secure adequate funding, and will facilitate the means to attract the talents required. And it will help you hurdle any notion that the operation is a cost center that merits only minimum investment.

There is a specific mindset that has been cultivated in leading organizations: They know that providing great customer experiences is not a program, an initiative, a department, or a specific set of capabilities; it’s much more – it is a way of doing business that spans the entire organization. When customer service is seen through that lens, it underscores the responsibility and opportunity of every functional area.

The contact center’s contributions generally fall into eight areas:

1. Boosting customer satisfaction and loyalty. The contact center ensures that the organization is “easy to do business with,” which helps measurably bolster customer satisfaction and loyalty. As customers shop around, new social media channels proliferate, and competition for wallet share sharpens, this becomes more essential.

2. Improving quality and innovation across the organization. By capturing a constant stream of data from individual contacts, the center can pinpoint quality problems early and capture customer input that can lead to significant product, service and customer-communication innovations.

3. Better leveraging marketing initiatives. By tracking buying trends, capturing customer feedback and analyzing demographic information, marketing campaigns can be focused around a better understanding of customers’ real needs and wants.

4. Enabling more focused products and services. By capturing and analyzing customer comments and input, customer interaction can help the organization to design products and services that resonate with them.

5. Delivering efficient services. Efficient service delivery is a fundamental role of contact centers, as they pool resources (people, processes and technologies) in order to provide on-demand assistance efficiently and effectively.

6. Encouraging the use of self service systems. Contact centers not only provide support to customers who need help with Web, mobile, or IVR services – they also capture information that can help improve the systems themselves, and are instrumental in giving customers the encouragement and confidence to use them.

7. Preventing further escalation. Think of this one in the reverse: One of the unintended consequences of simply cutting services across the board is that customers find alternative routes into the organization – ultimately burdening individuals and departments throughout with new and distracting workloads, and resulting in poor or inconsistent service.

8. Contributing to additional revenue and sales. By enabling customers to reach agents who are trained in relationship building skills, the contact center can provide powerful up-selling and cross-selling opportunities.

In short, there’s far more value to handling customer contacts than improving the satisfaction and loyalty of customers. That’s a vitally important part of it – but working with other business units is where you really begin to leverage the opportunity to deliver service that can differentiate in a tough market.

So, how do you build the potential of customer interaction, to deliver value? Start by developing good working relationships with the individuals who run other areas of the organization. Learn about their goals and objectives and how the contact center might best support their needs. And work on cultivating an understanding of the contact center’s role and cross-organization value (this takes time and persistence – stay with it!). Ensure that the prevailing perspective is that the role of the contact center is to positively and constructively serve, not just to point out problems with processes, products and services in other areas.

You will also need to build a team that is focused on capturing, analyzing, sharing and using value-added information across the organization. Ensure the information is useful and usable, based on an ongoing commitment to understand business requirements. And an important enabler is to make sure that quality at the point of customer contact is given the broadest possible definition — e.g., that coaching, monitoring and objectives at the agent level support strategic opportunities.

Every customer interaction your center handles provides implicit and/or direct insight into processes, products, policies, services, customers and the external environment.

Copyright Brad Cleveland.

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