While this may sound like a play on words, it is a serious problem for many B2B companies today. Think about it; as you read this, your customer service team is down the hall answering calls and emails about orders, account issues, product problems, pricing questions, etc., right? Most customer service managers can tell me what percentage of their calls fall into each of these categories and how quickly the team can “resolve” these problems. Customer service is designed to react to each person who raises a hand with an issue.
My question is “Why are you waiting til there’s an issue?”
I discussed this recently with the VP of operations at a large consumer package goods firm. We were seated next to each other on a flight from Miami to Chicago, and we’d both seen the in-flight movie before (he’d actually seen it twice). He was returning from a customer service meeting for his firm, and talked about their challenge to “deal” with customers who are more demanding and discerning than ever before. He felt that “great” customer service used to be a differentiator for his company, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to react fast enough to keep customers happy.
It is my belief that a customer service department is an outdated concept, and I told him that. I advised him to consider creating a customer experience that eliminates the need for a team of people dealing with problems. What information can you put online (available 24/7, in multiple languages, highly searchable) that will let people quickly find the answers they need? How can you redesign your eCommerce site so it’s easier for people to order your product, purchase additional accessories or request services? What if you offered online tutorials that help customers get the most out of their purchases? As you can imagine, this list goes on and on.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you can eliminate a whole department of people.
It will, however, require you to evaluate your processes, team skills and capabilities, and what tools you’ll need to make this transition. Ultimately, you’ll be moving your resource pool to more effective options. Maybe what you really need is a live chat feature on your website, or a customer training team. You might need a different kind of marketing team to create an online video library of product installation instructions. Or perhaps you need a technical services team with online skills so they can blog about best practices instead of jumping on an airplane to solve issues onsite.
The central tenet is to put the customer at the center of what you do, and think about how best to deliver an exceptional experience. This is the differentiator you should strive for.
Another benefit of doing business this way is that creating positive customer experiences will also create positive experiences for prospective customers. In essence, you’re strengthening your lead generation efforts, shortening your sales cycle and improving your long-term customer value. I’ll even wager that by creating an organization centered on customer experience, you’ll be creating a more positive employee experience, all resulting in better top-line and bottom-line positions.
And all because you had the foresight to axe your customer service manager.