The Customer Service Institute of Australia (CSIA) is a membership organisation focused on improving the standards for customer service for individuals and corporations nationwide. CEO and passionate advocate for best practice customer experiences Anouche Newman joined Salesforce at our recent Service Excellence breakfast to bestow the keys to excellent service on business professionals from a wide range of industries, I spoke to Anouche about her speaking topic and role:

What was your topic at the recent service excellence breakfasts?

I spoke about customer service as a mindset and the importance of acknowledging that it starts and ends with people. The human element of service is often overlooked, yet it’s essential because any customer service interaction involves humans seeking a personal touch.

Research CSIA commissioned with EY Sweeney, suggests that personalisation is a highly-valued component of a customer service interaction. It can in fact be the difference between a satisfactory experience and an ideal experience. This is especially important for customer-focused organisations embracing technology platforms to remember, because customer service representatives need to be open to personalisation even with technology.

The right platform can support your organisation and allow you to scale your personalisation to create the ideal customer experience as well as  give you a competitive edge. This is just as important for front-line employees as for leaders who drive the customer-service strategy.

Why is this important now?

Great customer experiences are fundamentally about the human connection - it’s not enough anymore to simply have a great product. Consumers have access to more brands and more choice than ever before. Therefore personalising the experience is highly-valued by them, and an important competitive differentiator.

Technology is shifting the way brands interact with customers and their expectations are consequently growing. In a world where you can purchase shopping online and have it delivered within three hours, or instantly speak with a customer service representative via live chat, the human element of customer service interactions is more important than ever before.

Technology, including today’s cloud-based service delivery platforms, now affords customer service reps the ability to complete many tasks more easily and streamline their processes to focus on delivering genuine personalisation.

Where do you look for inspiration?

At CSIA we get to work with organisations across a broad range of industries through our certification and training programs, observing first-hand the extraordinary passion they have for customer service. As part of this, we see the genuine challenges that brands and companies are facing, and work alongside them to address and overcome these challenges. It’s incredibly inspiring to go on this customer service journey with our clients.

My background as an academic and educator also makes me very curious and I am constantly absorbing information and asking, why? I still read academic journals to generate ideas, and when I have time I still enjoy lecturing — eager students are always a great way to challenge thinking!

I also relish the opportunity to get out and attend industry events and network. Participating in forums and conferences generates a lot of ideas for me and allows me to meet some inspiring and talented people.

Lastly, I always look beyond Australia to see what is happening in customer service globally and which companies are industry leaders.

What examples do you see here in Australia?

Businesses across all industries in Australia are increasingly adapting new business models to improve customer service and it’s fantastic to see this investment.

In particular, we have noticed a significant shift in company culture in government-related organisations, including local transport companies and councils. One such example is Brisbane City Council which has a dedicated customer-focus team which won our Best of the Best prize at the 2015 Australian Service Excellence Awards.

We have also noted an increasing focus on customer service by education institutions and aged care providers, which are acknowledging the importance of delivering excellent customer experiences, great flexibility and more competitive service.

Traditional service companies like not-for-profit health insurance provider HCF are also consistently improving customer service by successfully taking the customer view inside the organisation, and consistently benchmarking themselves against the International Customer Service Standard. It’s a testament to their genuine commitment to customer service.

What drew you to a career in service excellence, why are you passionate about it?

The customer and best-practice customer service have always been a focus for me since I began my studies in marketing. My Masters by Research in business-to-business professional services was dedicated to understanding what made a good business relationship and the importance of the human touch in managing service encounters.

I quickly discovered my passion for the customer and worked as an academic within the Marketing Discipline Group of the UTS Business focusing on services marketing. From my academic background, I developed a passion for teaching and the desire to help unlock a mindset in someone else.

When I joined CSIA, I was able to apply this academic lens and help unlock a mindset about customer service for our clients. I still participate in training programs with CSIA and really enjoy engaging clients, getting them excited about customer service and watching them apply their human touch to deliver customer service excellence.

What is your focus now for CSIA?

CSIA is maintaining its focus on helping individuals and organisations reach their true customer service potential. This has always been what we are about and it continues to be our primary focus. We do this in a practical way through our certification and training programs and the Australian Service Excellence Awards.

The ASEA program is now in its 15th year and it is one of the most important things we do as an organisation because it gives customer service professionals the recognition they deserve, and reminds people that customer service is a true profession. Entering the ASEAs is easier than you think – you just need to reflect on your hard work and tell us what you’ve achieved.

Every organisation is different and therefore its customer service journey is different. For this reason, there is no one size fits all program and we work closely with our clients to develop tailored programs.

To learn more about how technology can drive your customer service to greater success, Read more about how service is changing, download the State of Service report here.