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Article : Customer Service in Midsized Businesses
by Anand Subramaniam is the VP of Marketing for eGain
Customer retention through excellent customer service is important for companies of all sizes in a tough economy. However, the challenges faced by small and midsized businesses (SMBs) are somewhat different from those encountered by their enterprise counterparts. This article discusses the most important of these SMB challenges and provides solutions.
1. Your best customers have gone multichannel (and you need to follow them)
You need to keep up with the rapid adoption of new communication channels such as web chat, cobrowse, SMS, social, and smart phones by your most vocal and, hence, most valuable customers. These customers want seamless service experiences within and across multiple channels—they don’t want to spell their mother’s maiden name five times and repeat context that they have already shared with your customer service group.
"There’s been an explosion in recent years of ways people interact with a company that goes far beyond phone calls... Now, of course, it’s also through the website, e-mail and instant messaging just to name a few." - Chip Gliedman, Forrester Research
However, the unfortunate reality is that 70% of leading North American businesses were rated "below average" or "poor" in multichannel customer service experience in a 2010 mystery shopping research study. In fact, the study revealed inconsistencies even within the same channel, with customer service reps giving different answers and following different processes for the same query. On the flip side, this less-than-desirable "state of the industry" in customer experience presents an opportunity for forward-looking SMBs to gain market share through better multichannel service.
Here’s a tip! Take a "hub" approach to multichannel service, consolidating all customer communications, knowledge bases, and workflows in one platform. This will create a complete view of the customer and service context, enabling effective, efficient, and consistent service within and across channels. It will also help you avoid the "spaghetti syndrome"—multiple point products for customer service hopelessly intertwined with one another and also with backend systems such as order processing and financial applications. Another benefit of the hub approach is that it allows you to start with the most important channels first and simply plug in others later, based on your evolving business strategy and customer needs.
"More than 75 percent of enterprises involved in CRM projects cannot successfully create a full and accurate view of the consumer with actionable, personalized advice for either the consumer or the customer-service representative." - Gartner Group
2. Your IT resources are limited or non-existent
Most SMBs have limited IT resources. As companies try to do more with less in an uncertain economic environment, the IT project backlog continues to grow, while your CEO wants results now!
Savvy SMBs are leveraging cloud-based customer service deployments for a rapid start without having to make significant upfront investments or waiting in line for IT resources. We recommend that you go with proven customer-focused suppliers that give you the flexibility of shifting from the cloud to on-site at the right time, based on your evolving requirements.
3. You need a reliable and scalable platform for growth
Customer service systems are the most mission-critical of all CRM systems since they are either customer-facing or agent-facing at the moment of truth, i.e, during live customer interactions. This is unlike internal-facing CRM systems like sales force automation. When customer service systems fail, they directly impact the customer experience and your business. Moreover, social networking sites provide a high visibility avenue for customers to "virally" air their complaints about system failures and poor experiences.
As you evaluate software solutions for delivering great customer experiences, ask yourself: Does the supplier have a track record of enabling large-scale enterprise deployments to support your needs as you grow?
4. You want to keep costs down
SMBs have to watch costs even more closely as they position themselves for profitable growth to attract more investment.
Among technologies that can help keep service costs down are:
Multichannel Customer Interaction Hubs (CIH): The hub approach reduces total cost of ownership (TCO) and improves service efficiency by consolidating interactions, knowledge bases, workflow, analytics, and administration in one platform.
Web customer service: It’s well known that eService channels such as email, multi-chat (i.e. multiple concurrent chat sessions conducted by a single agent), and web self-service are more cost-effective than phone interactions. Moreover, customer preference of online channels has been on the rise, making eService a win-win for the customer and the business.
Knowledge bases: A web self-service system, powered by a knowledge base with multiple access methods such as dynamic FAQs, keyword and natural language search, browse, guided help, and avatar interfaces, can help improve self-service adoption and reduce the need for agent-assisted service. The same knowledge base can be deployed to agents for increased productivity in the CIH approach.
Preemptive service: Proactive notifications through channels such as voice, email, and SMS can help reduce incoming calls into the contact center. Furthermore, a hub approach helps integrate and coordinate these alerts across channels.
5. You need best and next practices
Make sure your supplier can provide implementation and process best practices for traditional customer interaction channels and next practices for new channels such as social, smart phone, cobrowse, and SMS. Customer-focused suppliers incorporate proven practices for out-of-the-box use. Is your supplier a thought leader or follower? Do they provide a comprehensive best and next practice library? Do they have a track record of incorporating best practices in their solutions? Can they help you stay ahead of the competition?
6. You want to be a revenue center and not just a cost center
Let’s face it. When you produce or enable revenue, you will be perceived as a value center and not as a cost center, and it will be easier for you to make business cases for ongoing investments in your organization.
Do-not-call rules, draconian restrictions on email marketing, and super-aggressive SPAM filers that choke off even legitimate emails are making it difficult for businesses to fill the top of the revenue funnel. However, service-related calls and emails are always welcomed by customers, who are also prospective customers for new or related products. This has created an opportunity for selling at the point of service.
Next-generation, multipurpose web interaction and knowledge management technologies can help your service agents and even websites to become effective sales agents. Among examples of these tools are intelligent, proactive offers that can be made on the web or over the phone, chat, cobrowse, phone-assisted cobrowse (i.e. concurrent phone conversation with cobrowsing), and chatbots. For example, phone-assisted cobrowsing allows agents to help consumers fill out forms and complete shopping transactions, improving online sales conversion. A chatbot or an agent can escort users around the website in a phone cobrowse session, showing them critical information to help the sales process along.
7. You want to improve operations and innovate, but without risk
Have your cake and eat it, too! Launch and optimize your operations, and even innovate to leapfrog your competition. Ask your vendor if they provide risk-free options to try their software and pay only for value without having to sign a long-term contract. Vendors that can "step up to the plate" with this kind of no-lose offer are confident about their own solutions and are willing to put their skin in the game. You are clearly better off going with such an option!
Following these proven best practices will enable you to safely scale and optimize your customer service organization and contact center, while innovating to stay ahead of the competition and control costs.
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About Anand Subramaniam:
Anand Subramaniam is the VP of Marketing for eGain. Prior to eGain, Anand served as an executive in corporate and product marketing, as well as product management and pre-sales roles at companies such as Oracle, Intel and Autodesk.
About eGain Communications:
eGain customer engagement solutions power digital transformation for leading brands. Our top-rated cloud applications for social, mobile, web, and contact centers help clients deliver connected customer journeys in an omnichannel world.
Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011