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Making service work where your customers are

21st Dec 2018
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Wayne Gretzky is one of the most famous ice hockey players ever, breaking records during a twenty-year career. One of his most famous quotes is, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

For service teams, this might seem like an aphorism that is nice, but not meaningful. After all, requests come in and they get dealt with efficiently. How can we know where issues are going to develop before they take place? However, I think we can look instead at why our service channels are examples of us skating to where the puck currently is, rather than where it will be in the future.

Reactive versus proactive service – why service design matters

For the majority of customer service teams, support requests come in as tickets and then get dealt with. These tickets might be assigned based on who has expertise in a topic, availability of resources or specific business relationships; alternatively, they might be given out on a first come-first served basis. Either way, they will have to be managed and closed.

However, this makes service very reactive – there aren’t any positive steps that the team can take to deal with problems in advance. This means that problems get managed, but each one will add up and take time to close. For most teams that want to provide better service, taking a more proactive approach to issues should help.

In practice, this means looking for common issues and approaches that can be applied to solve them faster. This can mean developing articles or knowledge base items that can be shared quickly, it can mean developing scripts for agents to follow, or it can mean adding common issues to self-service portals so that people can help themselves.

For IT service management teams, this area of problem management can help uncover underlying issues that lead to all those tickets coming through. Solving a larger problem can deal with multiple tickets in one go, while also reducing the volume of tickets that the team sees over time.

But are we now skating to where the puck will be, or are we simply skating faster? These services still rely on people reporting their issues through traditional channels. Instead, we should think about designing service for where customers are when they have a problem.

Building service into your services

By this, I mean looking at how people report problems and how much this is a hurdle in the first place. As an example, companies that sell online or run over the Internet can easily support customers when they have a problem. When a customer encounters an issue, sending an email or making a call is not a huge amount of additional load. However, adding chatbot functionality can address a customer’s pain point when and where they have an issue. For customers on a mobile app or on a website, this makes interaction much easier.

For companies in the physical world, this same experience is much harder to design. Take printers – when someone has an issue at a printer, can they request help automatically? In the vast majority of cases, the answer here is no. Instead, the customer has to report the issue via a channel – typically email or phone call to a support agent. This can involve physical trips to the printer and reporting of error messages, each of which can take time and round-trips from customer to agent and back again.

This service design does not take a proactive approach, as it is not part of the usual workflow that someone goes through. Instead, it leads to more frustration and pain.

Adding support channels to physical devices like printers should be a simple step – however, this has to be automated and thought through based on the device and how it is used. You can’t embed a full screen and keyboard into a printer on the off chance it might be needed for support, for example. So how can you design service processes that fit with how something is used and don’t require breaking away?

There are three key elements here:

  1. Can you embed a different service into the process? In our printer example, a chatbot experience can be delivered through the screen when a full conversation would not be possible. This could deliver advice or video content to the user where they are based on the current status and error code, helping that customer fix their problem in one session. If something is wrong and it can’t be fixed, then the chatbot can automatically flag the issue and request help.
  2. Can you be where the customer is? For multi-channel companies, adding chatbots or live chat services can make it easier to get the right information to a customer where they are and when they are using the service. This should improve the overall experience at the time.
  3. Can you use automation and analytics together to augment the service? For service management teams, getting better insight into what problems customers face is difficult. Consolidating channels and service teams can make it easier to get that complete picture in the first place, while analytics on results and tickets can show how well those channels are performing over time. These results can flag where more effort is required and where a more proactive approach is needed.

Building a more proactive service team is not just a question of using automation to deal with more tickets. Instead, it involves getting that bigger picture of how services can make a difference to everyday activities. By combining analytics, automation and psychology, we can take that more proactive approach to service overall; we can put our support where customers will be in the future and provide better service there, rather than trying to keep up with demand.

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