Three key considerations for selecting customer service software

7th May 2015

You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth repeating: 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from 20% of your existing customers. This prediction, backed by data and revealed by Gartner a few years ago, has received a great deal of attention because of its eye-opening implications.

And while you may have heard it brought up to emphasise the importance of customer retention, its implications under the broader umbrella of customer service are equally important. In line with this prediction, companies are now less inclined to look down upon their customer service departments solely as pesky cost centres with budgets ripe for trimming. Instead, a new customer-centric perspective is developing, evidenced by the growing number of companies seeking - and finding - the long-term value of a service strategy that lets no customers slip through the cracks.

Along with this shifting perspective, we’ve seen steady growth in the quantity and quality of customer service platforms. This growth has opened many doors for companies needing to improve their service operations. At the same time, many businesses, especially at the SMB level, are unsure which of those doors to choose. 

Of course, every company has its own unique needs and challenges when it comes to software, but there are some key considerations common to most all companies. We’ve organised the most frequently mentioned considerations and challenges together into three types. Companies just beginning their search for new software can use this short list to get started, and those ready to commit to a software purchase should confirm these considerations have all been addressed.

Number one: The user experience

When buyers call us looking to replace their customer service software, we always ask what they dislike about their existing software. Usability issues come up again and again.

For many years, customer service software presented users with clunky control panels and busy, cluttered user interfaces (UIs). This seems to have grown from the belief, apparently quite common to software vendors in the 90s and early 2000s, that every possible function should be included on every possible screen. Alas, we’ve since learned that usability and efficiency suffer greatly from 'button overload'. Today, many platforms offer more minimalist UIs that present only the most frequently used functions for any given type of interaction.

Service platforms with poor user experiences lead to many problems. They slow agents down and increase response times, often leading service departments to think, erroneously, they need to hire more agents.

Cluttered UIs also make it easier for agents to make mistakes. When workflow processes require an abundance of button-clicks and screen changes, the chances that any individual customer will slip through the cracks increase. Simplifying routine processes with more intelligently designed service platform UIs increases productivity and overall quality of service.

Also, don’t forget to consider the user experience from the customer’s side of the customer service equation. Many service platforms include applications to create and maintain online self-service channels. Not only have consumers expressed a strong preference for self-service channels, companies that implement them can reduce costs and improve a wide variety of performance metrics. But such implementations only succeed when they have a user-friendly UI—especially when support is sought via mobile devices, an increasingly popular channel that still presents customers with many issues leading to very poor user experiences.

Number two: The numbers

Companies that call us looking to replace existing customer service software often admit being daunted by the prospect of switching to a new platform. They’re generally aware of the advantages the new software will bring; it’s the actual transition to the new platform that they fear. And this fear is well grounded, given the central role service software plays in many businesses and the degree to which it can be interwoven with other complex platforms and processes.

The best way to avoid a painful transition is to have a clear understanding of the pertinent numbers that go into software selection. Businesses need to plan for future growth by estimating, as accurately as possible, how their customer service volume is likely to change over time. For example, will more customers need active assistance in the future, or will self-service channels take pressure off live agents? How many agents, during both peak and off-peak demand, will need access to the new system?

These are difficult questions to answer. Thankfully, though still important, they’re not quite as critical as they were even five ago. Newer customer service software is more scalable, thanks in part to the popularity of Cloud-deployed platforms. Since Cloud-deployments take much of the IT infrastructure management pressure off of the business, they allow more agents, more users and supervisors to be easily added and subtracted as demand changes. More flexible pricing options from the vendors and better integrations options all make it easier for companies to grow in harmony with their service software. Still, it’s important that companies choose a platform that will meet the demand they expect to find several years down the road.

Number three: The big-picture strategy

Finally, it’s important that companies define their overall customer service strategy before committing to a new software platform. As mentioned above, there’s a shift in perspective underway in boardrooms and customer service departments around the world: Customers increasingly consider quality of service when choosing between companies, and companies are well aware of the competitive advantage that excellent service brings. Companies also have an ever-growing body of technologies to consider when determining how, when and where to establish service channels. Questions about service strategies are both important and plentiful.

Omni-channel support is a popular outcome of this new approach to service. It lets customers establish contact on the channel of their choice—email, live chat, phone and, increasingly, by mobile device—and lets companies address their needs on that same channel. What’s more, modern omni-channel platforms keep everything centralized and easy to manage across communication types. Not all businesses will require omni-channel support, and those that don’t might find a uni-channel support system to be cheaper and more user-friendly. In either case, knowing the overall strategy will help determine the best tools for the job.

Customer service software that gives agents the tools they need to serve all customers effectively and efficiently is the surest way a company can keep all customers happy—including the 20 percent that will bring the bulk of future profits. After you've considered the three categories above, visit our online resource for customer service software buyers to get a free short list of specialized products that fit your needs.

Craig Borowski is a market researcher at Software Advice, covering technology and changing trends in the CRM market, with a focus on customer service, marketing automation and the impact of technology on CRM strategy.


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