Customer support often determines how happy and satisfied a customer is, and it has grown into a critical touch-point between company and customer. Yet making such interactions truly mutually beneficial remains an elusive goal. Can we make customer support better by emphasizing self care?
We have all gone through the frustrating experience of navigating through automated phone menus or talking with call center representatives – these are not only tests of patience but often they leave us without the answer we were looking for. This spurted the initial experiments around non-assisted services as an alternate medium, which have evolved into self-care portals, on-line communities and forums etc. over the last few years. Initial interest grew from the need to reduce customer interaction costs, but slowly it evolved as a potential tool to enhance customer experience.
Today, most of the leading industry players support self-care as a medium to facilitate all post-sales engagements. Applications are provided for self-management (accounts, payments, policies, and personalization), customer care, enterprise customer management, and product/service updates. New efforts are being put in to engage and inspire customers through new communication channels, interactive communities, recommendation engines, and cross-selling tools.
However, despite the growing maturity of self-care portals in terms of diversity & feature richness, and clear business support through sustained investments, the actual impact has been seen in limited pockets. Adoption has been limited. Success in enhancing customer life-time value has been lower.
And yet, the untapped potential cannot be questioned. We simply need to focus and drive the change forward - the time is now right to take self-care to the next level and evolve it from a passive response medium into a dynamic predictive framework. We see three focus areas that will be critical to address the current limitations:
Firstly, a focused effort to establish self-care as the 1st point of contact and position it as the primary choice for all customer touch-points. This will require execution innovation and integration of many elements – simpler designs, targeted promotions, attached incentives (such as loyalty points or rewards), proactive notifications etc.
Secondly, a continuous effort to establish real-time monitoring, targeted analysis & pro-active adaptation to match customer behavior and changing needs. This will require a lean operating module to be setup for real-time data collection, monitoring, analysis & live-feedback into backend business processes.
There is a lot than can be applied from the early experience in managing remote devices, where real-time monitoring & data collection has been used to track and analyze status, events and trends. The data has been effectively used to not just manage these systems but also improve the operational productivity. For example, Philips Healthcare collects metered data proactively from live MRI and CT scanner units, analyzes the data, and compares this information with that from other units. It uses algorithms to provide concrete recommendations to optimize the workflow.
We need to build such real-time feedback into the customer interaction cycle. This could include many areas such as:
- Highlight network problems before the customers are aware. This would allow the service operations to pro-actively fix the network before the spiral effect hits a broad base of users.
- Cross-reference specific problems to key customers. This would allow the priority to be raised if a key customer is impacted.
- Identify trends in usage and correlate with location, sites, time, and social activities. This would allow network planning to predict peak demands and avoid call drops or other impacts.
- Cross-reference usage data with that of other customers to identify gaps that can help user get the most from the service. This could be used to create targeted customer promotions.
Lastly, the introduction of a new service to engage with the customer and understand usage needs and behavior, and show relevant and advanced features that will help the user get the most from the service and improve the operational experience. The need is to bridge the growing gap between technology that is embedded in products & services and that which is actually used. Today there is no part of the organization that targets this gap. This function has a fundamental disconnect with the customer service organization that is setup as a cost center focusing on problem resolution and measured by time to resolution.
There is no better example than Apple on the value that can be realized by investing in familiarizing potential buyers and existing customers with new features, functions and applications. We have seen that education on advanced features/capabilities leads to a better experience with the new purchases. The value of the products increases with the value of customer-care service.
The common denominator in all these concepts is to develop proactive and predictive actions and to integrate these seamlessly into the end-to-end customer interaction work-flow. We see shades of these elements being implemented today – and yet, only in small pockets. Predictive self-care is still predominantly an unexplored concept - we’re just starting to scratch the surface. It has the potential to make a true-impact of customer experience and business operations.