Everybody knows the old adage among sales teams that goes by the initials ABC: “Always be closing.” For customer service teams, a better acronym might be ABI: “Always be improving.”
This isn’t just a matter of trying to reach a higher customer satisfaction (CSAT) score or a better Net Promotor Score (NPS). More than any other area of a business, customer service needs to adopt what is sometimes called a “continuous improvement” mindset. This is the notion of making ongoing efforts to tweak the way customer questions are answered or problems are resolved so that the organization can stay one step ahead of customers’ ever-rising expectations.
Of course, there are always moments with customer service teams where someone manages to achieve real delight when they investigate and deal with a troublesome issue. In practice, however, customer service teams are often under pressure to increase the volume of requests they get and to minimize the length of time they take to resolve problems. That means there can be a temptation to cut corners or standardize certain service processes in a way that makes them difficult to change -- even once it becomes obvious that change is needed.
When you think of how companies handled customer service decades ago, of course, the standards were a lot different. When customers complained that the company hadn’t gotten back to them in a timely manner, they might have been told that it was standard policy that customers should expect to wait from 24 to 48 hours. This obviously wouldn’t be acceptable today, just as it’s no longer acceptable for customers to reach out with an issue and be treated like complete strangers by the organization to which they have given their business.
Continuous improvement can be defined as consistently identifying ways to maximize the customer’s overall experience with the company -- whether they wind up reaching out with an issue or not.
A continuous improvement culture may not emerge overnight, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive or complex undertaking, either. Just keep some of the following truisms in mind as you begin to make it a regular part of the discussions that happen with every single member of the team:
Occasionally, customer service organizations will step back and do some reflection about their performance. But again, this is often tied to moments when they’re surveying a sample set of customers over a specific period of time. There’s nothing wrong with using surveys to measure performance, but if you’re interested in continuous improvement, you need to be able to look at information as it’s coming in and be prepared to act on it.
Tools like Service Cloud, for instance, are already used by many organizations to bring agents the critical information they need to manage issues. Those same team members should also be trained, however, to use the tool to look for patterns related common bottlenecks in resolving cases. They should also provide regular feedback -- maybe at the end of a shift -- about any data that doesn’t provide actionable insight, or gaps that need to be filled. Companies who regularly get this type of reporting from those on the front lines will always be in a better position to learn what they need to do before occasional flaws become a bigger, organization-wide problem.
One of the challenges of continuous improvement may be figuring out where to start. There can be any number of ongoing problems happening at the same time, for instance.
Although it may sound obvious, a more effective way to develop a real strategy is to look at those customer service cases that get routed from a chatbot to a live agent, or from a more junior member of the team to one of the more senior members. These can be isolated incidents in some cases, but in others they can represent telling interactions with high-value customers.
Focusing your improvement efforts on the escalated cases first might be a means for unlocking more deep-rooted problems that get missed in the day-to-day engagements with the rest of your customers.
Those surveys we mentioned earlier provide one set of valuable data, but there are others to consider too. What are customers saying about the company’s service capabilities on social media, for instance? Are there comments on the company’s blog posts that should be considered?
When you look at all the channels that connect to customers, how many of them have an effective feedback mechanism to capture data that could drive continuous improvement efforts forward? If the answer isn’t “all of them,” you have some work to do.
Customer service doesn’t just happen within the customer service department. When the marketing team finds customers and prospects that don’t believe in the promises the brand is making, it often ties back to how their questions and complaints were resolved. If the sales team is fighting an uphill battle to close deals, the same causes would explain it. Even product development teams should have some insight into what customers like (or don’t like) about the things they’re buying.
A continuous improvement culture ensures that all that knowledge doesn’t remain in silos but gets shared effectively, often and in a way that positions the company to make meaningful changes. When it all becomes data that can be accessed in Service Cloud, the more likely that’s going to happen.