In recent conversations I have had to explore how social media is affecting (has affected) the role and operations of the customer service / customer support organizations. in a recent exchange a friend asked me what do I think the objectives of a support organizations should be; I enumerated these (by no means claiming this is a comprehensive list).
- To be (and to be perceived as) aware of, interested in and responsive to the customer needs
- Deepen the end user understanding in order to offer better support: what are the scenarios / situations in which she uses the product? What is cumbersome / confusing / challenging? What interdependency exist with other products & services? How are the competitors perceived? What are their challenges & strengths?
- Enable the end user with the tools, information, education, services for her to take better advantage (and obtain higher satisfaction) from the product.
- Capture, analyze and funnel collective intelligence: what do customers want? what do they jointly complain about? what do they seem to like as a group? what do they rally / vent around?
- Identify and establish a programmatic relationship (with clear business objectives) with the outstanding individuals among the end user audience; those that really seem to know your product and have the knack to communicate with others, those that seem to ask all thee right questions, those that seem to discover new ways of doing things..
As I finished writing these I thought: how is this different that the objectives of a marketing organization? why are these orgs so far away from each other in most companies today? I think the key to the answer is in how the compensation for those different groups has been structured in the past.. while the Marketing org is traditionally rewarded for increasing satisfaction, market share and life time value the Support organization has been traditionally encouraged for minimizing costs, expediting exchanges with customers (making them transactional)
What would happen if you rewarded your support organization in a different way? (would it even make sense to think about it separately from your marketing organization?)
What do you think?
Interesting post. I’d never thought of it that way, but I liked your comparison of goals for the Salesperson vs. the Customer Service Specialist. I recently read a similar post called “It’s So Simple, But Few Get the Customer Thing.” I included the reference at bottom so that the writer, Alan Stein, may get credit where it’s due. It’s along the same lines as yours, but takes a more customer centric approach to the authority of the Customer Service Specialist. After all, aren’t they the front lines? Alan argues that Customer Service Specialists should have authority on behalf of the organization. Judgment calls must be made – not everyone fits into a “policy”. I think Alan would argue that Customer Service Specialists should not be transactional, but rather relational and vital to customer retention.
According to his post, he also agrees that support organizations should be paid well, even goes so far to say to overpay them. He doesn’t address the pay structure or other rewards outside of pay, as I think you may be alluding to, but I think you’re both on to something. Customer Service should receive credit where it’s due – they are vital to customer retention!
A company I once worked for achieved sales one year equal to 19% of the total customer base. Coincidentally, that was exactly the same proportion customers who cancelled because of poor service that year. Yet sales people were paid 3-4 times as much as support staff.
A classic problem is that sales people sell services that can't be delivered, then support staff have to sort out the mess when the customer is dissatisfied.
The argument for closer links between sales and support are overwhelming - both to better understand customer needs, and to keep sales people responsible for what they have sold.
HR departments should take a long hard look at the traditional model which rewards sales people for what they sell irrespective of the long-term satisfaction of the customer, and treats customer service staff as low level administrators.
I love your idea. To me, there is a distinct process around bringing customer support more in alignment with marketing (and more of a peer when seen by C-level executives). I put together some starting points below. One part of the process is a recognition that in this age of relationship-based sales, support owns the customer experience. Additionally, support needs to begin to speak the same language as marketing. Marketing has effectively been measuring their direct effect on customer profitability. V. Kumar's concept of "Customer Lifetime Value" can be adapted to help segment customers and determine the effect of support spending on specific customer segments. Also, support must give up on the activity-based measures that are easy and comfortable (like ASAs and handle times) and start measuring outcomes that are important to the overall profitability of the company. My collegue Phil Verghis has a great discussion of metrics in his white paper "Measures, Metrics & Madness"
I would very much enjoy having a conversation about these concepts.
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