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Customer service must be agile

The world of business today is all about agility. We have agile software development, agile IT, and now, increasingly, analysts are talking about agile service as the next wave in customer experience management, says KEVIN MELTZER, co-founder of Consology.

Agility is all about keeping up with the needs of a fluid and fast-changing environment. It’s about improving the way you do things in iterations to keep up with changing markets, business requirements and customer demands. It’s a concept familiar to software developers, and one that has as much applicability in the world of customer experience.

Up until recently, we have talked about multichannel commerce and service, leveraging a range of channels from the telephone to the branch to the Web and mobile devices to interact with customers. The new thinking is that this is a misguided way of looking at the world since it isn’t how customers interact with organisations in most cases. Agility in cross channel functions now appears to be glue that holds together the customer experience.

A customer thinks of himself or herself as interacting with a brand or an organisation, not a web site or a branch. Furthermore, the customer makes no distinction between a service transaction and a purchase – a consistent experience is expected regardless of the task the customer is trying to perform or the channel he or she is using.

The implications are profound. No longer is it enough for the customer experience to be consistent across all touchpoints, it needs to be consistent no matter what transaction or interaction the customer is trying to perform. That’s a major shift in thinking – consider how wide the gulf is between the service most organisations provide during presales and sales, and the service they provide for end user support.

What’s more, customers have become used to juggling multiple devices and communications methods in their day to day lives. They don’t necessarily want to complete a transaction on the same communication channel they used to initiate it – they may want to use voice, a mobile app, a branch office, or the Web at different stages of the interaction, depending on what makes sense for them at a given time.

For example, a customer might browse a financial service company’s Web site for help with a complex product, email from the Web site to find out more, and then tweet about his or her satisfaction with the information supplied. The company could get a call centre agent to phone the customer to answer any questions, and the customer might choose to go into a branch to sign any paperwork for the product.

Few organisations are able to handle this sort of cross-channel communication seamlessly, often because they run different channels as different business silos and because they don’t have the same customer data or workflows in these silos. Their business processes can’t keep up with the movement of the customer.

Most organisations face significant challenges in offering this sort of agile service to their customers. They need to cut through departmental and functional boundaries to align the whole organisation behind the need to wow the customer with the right service at the right time.

Companies must build flexibility into their processes to cater for the rise of new channels and changing customer demands. And they must align sales, marketing, IT, finance and customer support expertise to create a uniform service for the customer at every point.

The effort can yield worthwhile rewards. By making the sales and customer service experience easy and enjoyable, companies can gain the trust and loyalty of their customers. They can streamline interactions across channels and gather the data they need to build a single view of each customer. And most importantly, they’ll have an agile customer service backbone in place to adapt to changes in the market and in their customers’ requirements.


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