Focus on the ‘C’ word in Customer Service

I want to bring your attention to two statements that I keep hearing about customer service.


  1. Customers do not have a choice when it comes to customer service.
  2. Customer service is a big-ticket cost item, and we are looking at ways to reduce the cost impact. 

Having been in the customer service industry for close to a decade, I keep thinking, how wrong can these statements be? 


To be successful in business, you need paying customers. Why would you not treat them the way they want to be treated? 


Let us try and answer this question and see how it relates to the two statements.


Customer retention vs. customer acquisition 

It costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. It is a well-established fact that 44% of the companies are more focused on customer acquisition, while only 18% focus on retention. 


The reason behind the focus on customer acquisition is that most organizations are sales-driven. The first rule for any business will be to retain customers and build a loyal relationship with them, thereby avoiding high customer acquisition costs. 


Every organization should look at the lifetime value of a customer and base all their customer service decisions on that. 


The critical factor in ensuring customer loyalty and retention is the customer service that you provide. 


Given this, why would you not offer the choice to the customer, or why would you not spend a small portion of your customer acquisition cost in servicing your existing customers. 


Cost of servicing a customer 

The highest cost in customer service is the workforce cost. This is what every organization wants to cut down, and hence they move towards automated customer service options. Therefore, they say that customers don’t have a choice when it comes to customer service. 


Companies have already cut down their workforce by more than 80% in the last ten years. They have replaced the voice agents with IVR, self-service apps, and chatbots.


While this is a welcome move by customer service functions, the fact that the customer does not have an easy choice to reach a voice agent is killing customer satisfaction. 


This has the potential to result in a lot of customer churn. 76% of the customers are always looking to change their service provider, for lack of excellent customer experiences. 


Read more: Personalized Customer Experience




Imagine a situation where you as an organization bucket all your customer service requests in the last year. 


You can quickly identify the ones that self-service apps can address. Let us assume that it amounts to about 40% of your requests. 


You can address a sizeable number of queries using your chatbots. Let us assume that it amounts to about 40% of your requests. 


Your website FAQs and HOWTO videos can address, say, 5% of customer queries. 


Now, you are left with 15% of queries that need to be addressed by your live agents. Sweet, and your live agents can handle this.


Also, there would a segment of your customer base that may not have the necessary knowledge to access self-service apps, chatbots, or websites. They can be provided the choice to reach out to live agents at the first instance.


Wouldn’t this be the holy grail of every customer service function? 

The ubiquitousness of cloud contact centers – the accidental discovery

When the pandemic struck in 2020, all of a sudden, contact centers had to figure out a way to make agents’ work from home. Most on-premise solution providers couldn’t react to that situation, as they wanted at least a few months to come up with a solution to help agents’ work remotely. 


The second option that the contact centers had was to let their agents connect to their on-premise contact centers remotely using their VPN clients. This was expensive for organizations, and it wasn’t working as expected. 


They had to pay for every license, and it was a considerable drag on the bandwidth consumption. Most homes of agents did not have stable broadband connections. This solution was not feasible. 


The only option that the contact centers had was to look at cloud options to be operational immediately. And they chose the cloud options. Two-thirds of the call centers migrated to the cloud once the pandemic set in.  


Once they moved to the cloud contact centers software, they realized that they could massively unlock the business potential.


Some of the values that cloud helped contact centers unlock are:


  1. Better customer engagement – cloud made it easier to invest in social channels, chatbots, or business intelligence platforms 
  2. Flexible scheduling – agents can work from anywhere and flexible timings, allowing organizations to address the needs of customers from various geographies
  3. Analytics-driven strategies – integration with analytics tools help improve agent-customer interactions
  4. Integrations – easy integrations with helpdesk software, CRM, and ERP systems, making better decisions and customer service. It enhances the relationship between the dialer and other tools by easily sharing information across systems. 
  5. Anywhere access – live call monitoring is easier to implement. Calls are recorded, stored, and analyzed, and supervisors can access this intelligence from anywhere to make data-driven decisions
  6. Resource ramping – you can ramp up and down the number of resources with just a click of a button
  7. Reduce implementation timeframes – you can be up and running within 24 to 48 hours, unlike the legacy days
  8. Less barrier to entry – we are talking only about operational expenses and not capital expenses
  9. Performance and security – 99.9% availability of contact centers, with stringent security standards and in-built compliance to industry standards like HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and ISO 27001  

These were possible only for enterprise-level contact centers earlier, not for the mid-sized and smaller ones. 


Today, the agents are happier than ever, as it allows them to engage their customers better and have flexible and remote work schedules. 

Customer touchpoint effectiveness – what should you measure?

You run a customer service function, and you want to offer the best possible experience to your users. The demography of your users ranges from 18 to 70 years across geographies. 


To address their demands and needs, you have a presence in all the channels – telephone, emails, web, and social. Besides, you have integrated your customer service system with your CRM, ERP, and Accounting. At the click of a button, your agents and intelligent systems have access to all the customer information. 


You need to have the right systems and the right resources to manage and maintain high-quality service across every channel. 


While you are optimistic about all the channels, are you putting your money where it is needed the most?


Organizations use multiple metrics to measure customer satisfaction levels across channels. They are: 


  1. Customer Satisfaction score (CSAT)
  2. Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  3. Customer Effort Score (CES)
  4. Customer Churn Rate
  5. Customer Health Score
  6. Abandonment Rate

Not all of these metrics would apply to your business. You need to be aware of why you are measuring, which would help define what you need to measure. 


Voice of the Customer 

Customer listening is an essential practice of any CX program. It would help if you had the feedback from customers – without which you can’t understand customer’s perceptions and make plans to improve. 


About 90% of customer experience initiatives use surveys. You, as a brand, request your customers to fill out a survey, at the end of a completed experience. Structured questions can help you calculate scores like CSAT, NPS, and CES. 


The biggest drawback of surveys is that they are solicited feedback, and only happy and unhappy customers provide the input. Response rates of less than 10% are standard for most customer satisfaction surveys. 


Survey-based listening gets you only less than 10% of responses. While the reactions provide you a direction on what needs improvement and what needs optimization, brands should not stop at solicited feedback. 


How do you extend your customer listening? 

There are a bunch of things that you can do that are right up your alley. Few pointers are: 


  1. Begin with call recordings – analyze them to learn about customer sentiments and issues
  2. Seek feedback from your frontline employees and service technicians. They tend to see and observe several unstated needs of customers 
  3. Text captured in customer emails, web site forms, call center agent notes, chat interactions, or even SMS
  4. Social media mining – listen to comments posted on social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, and review sites
  5. Customer churn rate – keep monitoring this and figure out why they are leaving
  6. Google analytics – if you observe a high bounce rate or abandonment rate on your website from visitors coming from Facebook, it’s indicating a disconnect between your website and social marketing
  7. Customer health score – a combination of product/service usage, customer support, customer satisfaction, and business outcomes. An average of this would provide a view of your customer’s health.

While surveys are the foundation of customer experience feedback, you should complement it by extending your customer listening to even inferred input based on customer interactions.

Building intelligence at the customer touchpoints: real-life experience

My bank blocked my card, and the reason given was that I did not submit my KYC (Know Your Customer) documents for renewal. I was asked to submit those documents by mail to reactivate the card. 


I promptly sent my scanned and self-attested KYC documents. I received a response with the ticket number. In a couple of days, I received a mail and a message stating that the address in the documents that I submitted doesn’t match the address they have on file. 


I was stuck. 


So, I called their customer service number. I was told to submit my KYC for the previous address where I lived about eight years ago. Once that is accepted, I was told to change the address and submit the documents for the new address. 


I felt stupid listening to this suggestion. Also, I did not have any documents for the old address where I lived. 


I explained to them the situation, and the customer service representative politely asked me to write about this situation to another email address. 


I wrote to the new email address explaining the situation. I promptly received a ticket number, and within a day, I received an automated response stating that the details they have in the file don’t match the new KYC documents that I submitted. 


I was surprised by this response. So, I decided to cancel my subscription and hand over my blocked card back to the bank. 


Within a few hours, I received another response stating that my KYC has been accepted and the card is reactivated. 


They saved me the botheration of calling up the customer care again and cancelling my subscription with this mail. 


What are the touchpoints that I used here? 

I used email and telephone as two touchpoints to reach the bank. Were they helpful in resolving my issue? Partially yes, as there was some intervention from someone that made the resolution possible. 


What could they have done differently? 

  1. They could have provided me with an option to update my address in their records and provide the KYC documents for the new address
  2. They could have confirmed my new address with a phone call 
  3. They could have provided me with a web link to upload my KYC documents along with the change of address. They could have automated the process of document acceptance 
  4. They could have provided access back to my Internet login for a couple of days, allowing me to update the change of address and then submit my KYC documents


Intelligence at the touchpoint level

This entire process of updating the KYC took about ten days. This could have easily been just a couple of days. 


There was very little intelligence with both the touchpoints. When I sent an email, it had the intelligence to generate the ticket number and nothing beyond that. When I called up the customer service, the executive had the intelligence to provide me with the new email address to explain my issue and nothing beyond that. 


If there were ways that these two touchpoints can be made intelligent, it’d make the lives of customers and the customer service staff easier. 

Measuring touchpoint effectiveness in customer experience

Measuring touchpoint effectiveness in customer experience

As a brand, you can influence some of the touchpoints, and some are beyond your influence. I will take a moment to define what a touchpoint is. 


Touchpoints are channels that your customers encounter or use to interact with your brand. This can include channels like email, website, chatbots, IVR, telephonic interactions, and social. Some of the touchpoints beyond your influence include online review sites and 3rd party websites where they write about your product. 


Let us not worry about the touchpoints that are beyond your influence. Let us look at the touchpoints that you as a brand run and how effective they are. 


Before getting there, why do you have so many touchpoints for people to interact with? 

It is driven by the demography of the customers that you have. A sizeable percentage of your customers would prefer to reach you by email and phone, a portion of your customers is fine with self-service options of your chatbot, few are comfortable with websites, few prefer the social channels, while a few prefer talking only to a live agent.


Being available on a channel is the easiest part, but servicing customers through each channel is challenging. You will need to have the necessary infrastructure, workforce, and integrated systems. 


This is where measuring the touchpoint effectiveness becomes essential. You can continue with the ones that are effective and drop those that aren’t. 


But, how do you measure the effectiveness? 


Some pointers that you can look at include:


  1. What percentage of your customers use a particular channel? Any channel used by <10% of your customers should be a red flag. 
  2. What does it cost for you to run a channel? If the percentage of your total customer service experience is higher than the percentage of customers that use that channel, then that is a red flag
  3. How often are you able to resolve customer queries using a particular channel in the first instance? If >50% of the questions are resolved in the first instance in a specific channel, continue with it. 
  4. Rate the customer questions on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the most critical. See if a touchpoint is effective in resolving critical questions. Any touchpoint that can resolve more than 60% of the critical questions is a key touchpoint. 
  5. Device means to gather the voice of the customer, such as feedback forms, market surveys that help you understand how your current and prospective customers respond to your brand in each channel. 

Your operational goal of having a touchpoint should be directly proportional to the customer experience effectiveness on that touchpoint. Anything that scores high here is a definite choice for you to continue serving your customers.

What do the Customer Experience (CX) leaders do differently?

Leading-edge companies outperformed lagging companies on business outcomes like profitability, quality, growth, market share, and customer retention rate.

Source: HBR 


Seven out of ten leading-edge companies say that customer experience is a strategic priority, while nearly half of the lagging companies don’t consider customer experience important. 


This seems to have affected not just customer satisfaction scores and net promoter scores but also the intangibles like stock price and profitability. 


What are the leading-edge companies doing right? 

While building their customer experience programs, leading-edge companies allocate sufficient budgets, systems, processes, and plans. 


Some of the critical things that customer experience leaders do include: 


  1. Develop the proper organization and skills to provide systematic customer experience management. 
  2. Set up the right tools and systems to make data-driven customer experience decisions. 
  3. Optimizing the processes to leverage inputs from customer experience support tools. For instance, they have processes in place to manage customer dissatisfaction and, if the issue is hot, they have processes to escalate to the senior management
  4. The CX leaders don’t rely on past behaviors and patterns. Instead, they focus on the process. They understand and map the whole flow of the customer experience so that there is a true understanding of all the touchpoints
  5. They respond to individual customers based on their feedback about an experience

The biggest lesson that you can take out of CX leaders is that they think like the customers. A host of different people can impact customer experience. You need to put it all in the customer’s voice from the get-go, not just for the frontline employees but for all the support personnel as well. 


Here is an example.

One of the leaders in the CX space makes their leaders taking phone calls from customers. This allows them to understand what it’s like to be a customer and what it’s like to support that customer. This starts a change in the customer experience culture of the organization. 


Here is another. 

A CX leader created centers of customer excellence within each business group. This is not just another flavor of the week kind of message, but true customer service champions lead them – not just at the VP level but also deeper. 


While the customer experience champions the initiative, it eventually turns out to be a business initiative. After all, the customer journey is not limited to one or two functions, but it is pervasive. 


Everyone plays a key role in effective customer experience management. 

Frictionless customer experience – should this be your goal?

  1. In 2016, an estimated $4.6 trillion of merchandise was left in abandoned eCommerce shopping carts
  2. The US economy loses $3 trillion in productivity annually due to excess bureaucracy
  3. China’s economy as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) grew a cumulative $82 trillion more than India’s from 1987 to 2017, even though the two economies were initially similar in size
  4. In March 2020, about 88% of all shopping carts were abandoned across these verticals – automotive, childcare, luxury, car rental, travel, airlines, fashion, gardening, cruise & ferry, mobile providers, departmental stores, hotel, cosmetics, consumer electronics, retail, sports & outdoor, groceries, pharma, and insurance. 

All these are distressing statistics. 


Can you attribute one reason to all of these? 

It will be difficult, but the common thread would be friction in customer experience. 


The most important thing that any and every customer servicing organization should do would be to reduce friction in their experience. 


Jeff Bezos of Amazon calls customer obsession the most significant success factor for any organization. Customer obsession is equivalent to zero friction on customer experience. 


Jeff Bezo’s famous quote on customer friction is, “When you reduce friction, make something easy, people do more of it.”


How do you reduce friction for your customers? 

How do you become a relentless advocate for the customers and minimize customer efforts? 


Some pointers that you can look at: 


  1. Talk to your customers regularly – this would help you discover friction and act on it. 
  2. Remove everything unnecessary or something that does not improve the customer experience – stamp out ridiculous rules and pointless procedures
  3. Provide choices to your customers to reach you. If they want to speak to an agent, so be it. 
  4. Don’t offer an omnichannel experience without putting in the necessary infrastructure to address customer needs across all the channels. The experience will have to be consistent. 
  5. Have one view of your customer journey so that the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves whenever they have to interact with you
  6. Promise only those that you can deliver and deliver beyond expectations
  7. Ask them this question, if they are willing to refer your service to their friends or relatives? If the answer is no, there is a lot for you to work towards
  8. Focus on reducing friction one step at a time. Sometimes, friction is not apparent. You will have to put yourself in the shoes of your customer to ensure that their journey

Read More: Customer experience and digital – how important is it?

Customer experience journey – it is about how you respond to a negative experience!

I was working for an organization where we had many customer relationships. After being with us for two years, one of the customers decided to look at other providers for their needs.


When we inquired, we were told that they faced three issues in the last two months, and they weren’t handled well by our team.


Needless to say, we didn’t want to lose them, and especially after knowing the reason why they wanted to look at an alternate provider.


What did we do? 

Our executive management team got together, and we decided to have one of the management folks as the executive sponsor for that account.


We communicated this to the unhappy customer, and we told them to put us on probation for the next 90 days, and they can pay us half the fee that they were paying otherwise during this period.


The offer was irresistible, and they decided to give this approach a try, and we floored them with our service and responsiveness. It has been a decade now, and they continue to be a happy customer.


How did we communicate this story? 

We got them to be a part of a webinar that we were doing for our leads and prospects. Their Software Engineering Director was one of the speakers. She spoke about the fact that they decided to discontinue their relationship with us, how we responded, and where we are currently.


You won’t believe we picked up 40 leads from that webinar and a handful of them became our customers. I’d attribute that success to this customer service story.


Why is this experience significant? 

80% of customers will switch to another company after just one poor customer experience. So, you compete with your competitors now on pricing and selection and the experience.


Customer experience is being looked at as the product nowadays, as there is little else to choose between offerings.


When you look at customer service, you have to look at them from start to finish and close the loop. It is a given that you won’t delight your customers 100% of the time, but how you respond to their challenges plays a significant role in how they perceive your customer service.


This is what they call the ‘peak and the end’ experience in customer service vocabulary.


The peak is when the customer experiences the strongest positive or negative emotion, whereas the end refers to how the experience concluded.


You must maintain a positive customer experience throughout the customer journey and respond to a negative experience.


Read more: How do you make your customer experience stand out?

Why should brands think about customer journey orchestration?

There are multiple schools of thought when it comes to customer journey orchestration. According to Blueconic, some of them are:


  1. Customers – and only customers – own their decision journeys
  2. Customers own their entire buying journey – from start to finish
  3. The customer, and only the customer, decides which company to research, business websites to browse, brand apps to download, and, ultimately, products or services to buy

Given this fact, should you worry about customer journey orchestration, for you don’t have much control over there? Or, should you look at customer lifecycle orchestration?


Customer lifecycle orchestration is where you focus on the individual needs of your customers. This would move your customers from one lifecycle stage to the next based on actions taken. 


This sounds interesting. Are there any examples that you can derive knowledge from?


I am going to take the example of Netflix here. 


Netflix customer lifecycle orchestration 

The most important lesson from Netflix is to look at your product or service, not in terms of what it “is,” but from the value it provides customers. 


Netflix focuses on customer data, not based on rudimentary data points like genres watched, viewer ratings, and so on.


Netflix bases all it’s business decisions on both broad, high-level numbers and specific, granular information. 


As a Netflix user, what is the most evident user of Netflix’s ability to use data? It is the system’s ability to provide personalized movie suggestions to you.


That is only the tip of the iceberg. Among many other pieces of data, Netflix collects information regarding:


  1. When viewers pause, rewind or fast-forward
  2. Completion rates of all content viewed
  3. Logistics such as the device used, time of day, and current location

Netflix knows that you like to watch comedy in the mornings, binge watch shows during the weekend, and courtroom dramas are your all-time favorite. 


There are 2 million subscribers in India. This means there are 2 million versions of Netflix in India. 


Everyone’s Netflix experience is personalized based on factors specific to the individual user. 


Data-driven business decisions

Beyond using data to provide laser-focused content recommendations, Netflix also relies on making major business decisions – whether to purchase certain movie rights or invest in new original content. 


Shows like ‘House of Cards’ were predicted to add millions of subscribers on board, and it delivered on those predictions. 


Data analysis shows when users are most satisfied, engaged, or happy while using the service. 


Netflix works towards providing content that achieves the maximum happiness per dollar spent. 


In conclusion

We are a family of three, and we have subscribed to multiple OTT platforms, including Netflix. I pay the highest for Netflix, and despite that, the experience that we get in Netflix is unbeatable. 


There are three users in my house, and all three of us would vouch for the Netflix experience over anything else. 


Netflix is truly a customer-focused company, where they have co-created customer experience with the customers’ inputs. That’s what makes it a blockbuster.


Every business has a blockbuster in them. Go ahead, and identify it by focusing on customers individually.