Watching the activities at the recent Olympics in Rio, it is always great to see the gold medal-winning athletes thanking the team that made everything possible for them to win. From the coach to the nutritionist, the sports psychologist to the training partner, each team member has contributed to the construction of an extraordinary performance.
It’s the same in customer service. Behind the 'elite athletes' on the frontline lies a complex support network. Although people are at the heart of customer service, the arteries are technological. That’s why the links between IT and customer service are getting closer and closer.
Creative use of technology can make the difference between a gold medal performance and last place. As customer experience becomes key to getting to the top of the podium for many organisations, customer service demands on their IT support team are increasing. Our recent ‘Digital CIO’ research has shown that the areas of business that are most ambitious for technology support are marketing (44%), customer service (38%), R&D (37%) and sales (36%).
It’s important that agents are concentrating on the conversation with the customer, not on how to navigate the technology
Historically, IT and customer service functions haven’t always worked in perfect harmony. We’ve probably all turned up on a Monday morning and discovered that IT have changed the agent desktop over the weekend but didn’t tell anyone about it and didn’t test it with the agents themselves. At that point the agents are up a certain creak without a paddle – and even Sir Steve Redgrave might struggle to get that boat anywhere without some help.
Grabbing the baton
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Customer service can be a difficult and complex job. Particularly in a contact centre, cognitive load (i.e. the amount the brain has to juggle) can be extremely high. The agent has to have a meaningful conversation with a customer whilst navigating five or six different systems and solving some difficult and emotive issues. That’s why it’s important that agents are concentrating on the conversation with the customer, not on how to navigate the technology.
Those unique challenges, and the shift towards cloud-based technologies, are often why customer service departments are taking on some of the technological responsibility themselves. They are the function that are the closest to customers and their demands. They will know if the website is down or the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is confusing before the IT guys do and they need to respond with appropriate solutions fast. Our research estimates that almost a fifth of IT spending will come from outside the IT function within the next two years – and a fair proportion of that will come from customer service.
This doesn’t mean that customer service can ignore IT; technology innovation is a team sport. That means that customer service may take more of a leading role but they need an expert support network involved to ensure that the resulting technology is fit for purpose.
At the heart of this support network is collaboration. If customers are collaborating with organisations over digital channels, then IT and customer service also need to connect with each other. From conference calls to chat, video to social media – the support network needs the correct tools to connect internally.
However, an athlete doesn’t perform at their best just because they have the best tools – they need the burning ambition to win as well. This is where sport and business often diverge. In sport, the goal posts rarely move, the goal itself is clear and the focus is very much on the athletes that have to perform on the day (and it is usually a particular day, not every day).
Customer service may take more of a leading role but they need an expert support network involved to ensure that the resulting technology is fit for purpose.
The nearest equivalent to scoring points are Key Performance Indicators. What gets measured gets done. KPIs are powerful ways of creating a shared sense of purpose. Our Digital CIO research found that 65% of CIOs are measuring the success of their organisation against different KPIs than they were 12 months ago. Customer-centric measures such as Net Promotor Score, CSAT and customer effort scores are being applied to IT functions as well as customer service.
This means that the entire team can see their effect on customers. Effort scores are especially effective in showing the influence (positive or negative) of a website redesign, a reworking of the IVR or even a new training programme in the contact centre on the customer experience. This connects the design of technology with the impact on customers.
So the next time your customer service wins plaudits from customers – take the time to acknowledge the role that their support network gives them. It might not be a gold medal but a simple thank you can go a long way.