Astute Planning, Flawless Execution,
Delighted Customers

Issue #150

Tuesday, June 2 , 2009

Eking out Improvements in a Cost-Constrained Environment
By Craig Bailey

Has the challenge been made to you to do more with less, while simultaneously improving customer satisfaction and loyalty? Doesn't the challenge sound like an oxymoron? In reality, it is NOT.

The objective is to ensure that the firm is around for the anticipated economic recovery and that your long-time customers don't seek alternative providers for your product / service (solution).

A recent performance assessment for one of our clients' customer service functions identified a number of opportunities to become more efficient (reduce costs) while improving the customer experience. What we'll cover in this article is an approach to uncover your own opportunities for improvement, as well as "low hanging fruit" found during our recent assessment.

If you are a longtime reader of our newsletter then you've heard this before: You (manager, senior manager of ANY department) need to spend time in your company's customer service function, on a periodic basis. If you were to spend just one hour a month or quarter sitting with a customer service representative taking live calls, you would walk away with a number of actionable observations that would lead to product, marketing, sales, service, process and/or system improvements, not to mention the newfound appreciation you would develop for what your customer service team goes through to represent YOUR company in the best light possible, regardless of the obstacles and challenges they face on a daily basis.

During any such exercise (formal assessment or casual observation), you'll identify opportunities for improvement that range from large scale items (bigger than a breadbox) to small. During our recent assessment, we came up with a number of items that were characterized as "click savers." More specifically, there were several situations where the number of clicks that a customer service representative has to go through to get his/her job done could be reduced.

These "click savers" could be categorized as:

  Methods of system navigation

  End-user settings

  System parameters

Methods of system navigation

Let's face it, every customer service department has at least one extremely high performing rep (hopefully more), while other reps simply muddle through. One of the factors that we've observed in "stellar" reps is that they are technically astute and have found system-navigational short-cuts to get their job done. A VERY simply thing that you can do is identify these short-cuts and ensure that other representatives are aware of them. To be clear, the stellar rep may not even realize that his/her techniques are a short-cut. As such, an approach to identifying these opportunities to streamline is spending time with the stellar rep and then with a new or less than stellar rep to observe the differences in how they navigate systems and tools. Upon identifying the streamlined techniques for navigation, conduct a brief training session for all reps.

End-user settings

While the above idea is useful, what is truly SHOCKING is observing reps continuously performing redundant steps that they could make "go away" on their own. This includes, for example, a rep logging in to a web-enabled application and typing his/her username over and over again, when he/she could have simply clicked "Remember Me," and never have to enter the username again.

Another example is when reps open a standard Microsoft Office document attached to an email and are prompted with a dialog box something to the effect of "Are you sure you want to open this document? Some documents contain viruses that may harm your computer." While users must be careful in opening attachments, if the particular document they are opening is a standard MS Office format (*.doc, *.xls, *.ppt, etc.), they can simply click the option "Don't ask me about this in the future." Ensuring that each rep has done this for standard MS Office files is important.

System parameters

While the prior items are easily addressed within and by the customer service organization, items in this category will likely require that you engage your IS organization to revise system parameters and/or list-of-values to simplify and get rid of unnecessary or convoluted steps. A couple of examples include:

  • The system requires certain fields to be populated. While it is likely that 99% of the required fields are truly required, the reality is that there are likely fields that users ONLY populate (with "garbage") so that they can complete the transaction. Why not make these fields "not-required" if they are, in fact, serving no purpose?

  • Lists of values containing cryptic codes requiring the user to open a separate screen to get a definition of each of the list of values. Why not scrub the codes to remove old / outdated items and make those remaining more intuitively obvious?

The above items may seem "simplistic." Well, they are. However, these are the kinds of things that are prevalent in ANY customer service function that doesn't make a conscious effort to continuously and meticulously review day-to-day "working" procedures. This does not mean a review of the written procedures (although that may be important), but active observations of how things REALLY get done.

One way to generate click saving ideas, on an ongoing basis, is to run a "click savers" contest. That is, have customer service representatives submit their ideas (that they're using and/or would like to see addressed systemically) to save clicks. Nothing like creating competition and getting the team enthusiastically focused on driving improvements!

Too frequently, management is looking for the silver bullet, or is constantly being sold on the next whiz-bang technology. Technology is great, but sometimes the best upgrade is making more effective use of what you've already got!

By making things easier and more efficient for your customer service team to get their job done, you also improve the customer experience. The customer inquiry is handled more promptly and accurately (read "done right the first time") and the customer service representative's attitude will reflect this.

In closing, we hope that you found this article helpful in your quest to eke out improvements in this cost-constrained environment. If you'd like help in this regard, feel free to give us a call.

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