To Improve Customer Service, Stop Taking A Piecemeal Approach

PV Kannan is CEO and Co-Founder of [24]7.ai and the author of The Age of Intent.  getty In recent years, we’ve heard quite a bit about digital transformation, a term that means different things to different people. It’s often used to describe the transformation from brick-and-mortar to the online world. While […]

PV Kannan is CEO and Co-Founder of [24]7.ai and the author of The Age of Intent. 

In recent years, we’ve heard quite a bit about digital transformation, a term that means different things to different people. It’s often used to describe the transformation from brick-and-mortar to the online world. While many B2C companies have digitally transformed, they haven’t done so completely when it comes to customer service, and I believe one of the primary reasons is their piecemeal approach to buying customer service solutions.

As the co-founder and CEO of a software and services company specializing in customer experience, I have spent more than 20 years helping companies make it simple for consumers to get things done. Today, many companies provide a seamless experience between the online and offline worlds, enabling consumers to purchase something online and pick it up at the store and vice versa. However, when a consumer contacts customer support, their experience will vary widely depending on whether they get automated phone service (interactive voice response), an intelligent virtual agent (chatbot) or a live human agent. Furthermore, when they transfer between those channels, the context of previous interactions is often lost.

Earlier this year, my company and Dimensional Research conducted a study to examine perceptions of customer service. We found that what many companies believe they deliver does not align with the quality of service that customers say they receive. This is particularly true when it comes to automated customer service — many of the companies we surveyed said they felt that the transition between their automated systems and human agents was seamless, but nearly 90% of customers disagreed. Additionally, in studies of more than 8,000 customer journeys, Gartner found that 70% of customers used self-service channels at some point, but only 9% were able to fully resolve their issues through these channels. Thus, smooth transitions between channels are critical.

I think a big part of the problem is that companies are buying different pieces of this support puzzle separately, each with different measurements for success. Often, these decisions are driven by different buyers in different departments that are not coordinating with each other. The same divisions exist on the assisted services side, and very few companies look holistically at the whole program.

How Companies Buy Support Technology Today

Much of the problem comes down to how companies organize. There are self-service (automation) solutions, and assisted service (human agents) solutions. There are digital (text, chat, messaging) and nondigital (voice-based). On the digital side, there are conversation AI (digital) solutions, self-service tools, FAQ management and knowledge bases. On the nondigital side, you have IVR and AI-based conversational IVR. There is nothing uniform about these solutions or the way they are measured.

When one part of a company issues a request for proposals, it often doesn’t involve leaders from other divisions, making it harder to determine what is truly important. The traditional measurement of cost per contact, whereby companies simply look at the cost to service a customer in a particular channel, does not take into account what happens when a consumer comes in from one channel and then transfers to another. This is called “channel hopping.” Nor does it take into account what it costs when a consumer starts an interaction with a bot and then transfers to a live agent. Only by looking at the full cost per resolved conversation (CPRC) across channels can we understand what it really costs to service a customer. I coined the term CPRC to help companies understand their true costs.

Organizational Challenges And Changes

Every time a customer is forced to change channels because their issue is not resolved, it can lower customer satisfaction and increase costs. Meanwhile, the department leader who runs the first channel may declare victory. While it may be a win for that leader’s metrics, it could be a loss for the company.

I’ve found that most companies that succeed have everything under one person, often called the chief customer officer, who owns both technology and the people side of customer experience across multiple departments (e.g., marketing, IT, customer care, contact center operations). That way, he or she can see the full costs and effects of different technologies. For customer experience to come alive, I think companies must have technology and operations working hand in hand, and reporting to the same department. When customer experience leaders report to different departments, not only are the technology and channels often measured differently, but the people are measured differently as well. When they report to the same department, everyone is held accountable for the collective result.

Furthermore, by rolling all customer experience functions into the same department, it can enable companies to determine the true CPRC. When companies have insight into how consumers engage, they can then figure out how to resolve their issues within the lower-cost channels, as opposed to just minimizing their time within those channels.

Customer journey analytics are a great place to start when it comes to shifting away from the piecemeal approach. My company provides such software, but there are many other options on the market. Such solutions allow companies to visualize the entire customer journey from purchase to support. With this information, it’s possible to see where the journeys are breaking down so that the issues may be resolved.

Once you’ve gained insights from customer journey analytics, bring all the right people into the room to discuss the next steps. Again, customer service operations and technology can only become more cohesive and effective when everyone is working hand-in-hand and marching to the same drummer. If you don’t have a chief customer officer, ensure that all leaders report to one project leader to ensure that goals are aligned. Set a regular meeting schedule to ensure that these insights are turned into action.

While today many companies take a piecemeal approach, I’m confident that within the next few years, we’ll see companies take a much more holistic approach to customer experience. This will result in cost savings for the business and better experiences for the consumer.


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