Tales from the Trenches – Best Practices in Customer Service

Let's face it, we're all trying to get better at customer service, and technology is one of the key levers to help us do it. That said, most of us have difficult decisions to make when taking the next step in our customer service strategies: do I take a forklift approach to replacement, pick new components that can be integrated into my existing portfolio, or push to get the most of upgrades and enhancements the vendor is delivering? For most, the answer is all of the above.

How do you reduce risk and maximize returns from your customer service technology strategy in 2017, no matter the budget? In looking at the customers that successfully delivered new customer service projects with triple-digit ROI in 2016, we found a few common themes.

Best practice 1: Make functionality a priority.

Customers selecting new customer service platforms put functionality high on their list of qualifiers for selecting a new solution. That said, the old-school approach of lining up feature/functionality and voting for the product that checks the most boxes is outdated and unlikely to help you reach your goals. Instead, focus on core areas of functionality that core groups needs—or are needed for core channels—and use real demos and customer references (or independent case studies) as your guide for how real those capabilities actually are. The lead functionality areas that drove our winners to select solutions included customizable workflow capabilities, analytics that supported greater visibility, and support for key channels, such as self-service and social interaction.

For Stanley Healthcare, for example, the support for communities as part of its customer service portal was a fundamental criterion, because it gave its tech-savvy customers alternative channels to solve problems and share product insights and information. It also streamlined agent interactions because the agent could view customers' activity within the community to more quickly hone in on their issues and likely resolutions.

Best practice 2: Take integration seriously.

Our most successful customer service champions also looked at the integration capabilities of their new technologies, both on a one-time and ongoing basis, and the flexibility of their new products to integrate down the road. Let's face it, few of us are starting from a blank slate today, and your integration strategy matters, particularly if you want to provide real-time information to agents or customers and real-time visibility for managers. One customer we examined had 13 data siloes to integrate and needed a quick means to achieve that, but also wanted to be sure it could maintain those integrations and reduce the risk associated with new integrations in the future. Real-time integration reduced multiple data entry (prone to errors) and enabled service to have a full view of the customer to identify cross-sell and upsell opportunities.

Best practice 3: Focus on time to value.

For all of the customers we reviewed, aggressive deployment timelines and their vendors' ability to support them were tantamount in the purchase decision. This is not uncommon in the customer service space, where any disruption to agent processes and practices can have a clear customer service impact. However, it's often easier on paper than it is in reality. Customer who were most successful with aggressive deployment timelines used their vendors' (or partners') expertise, met early with stake holders to ensure critical needs were met in phase one, and took advantage of products' out-of-the-box capabilities wherever prudent. We also found that service leaders—whether they were doing with a cloud or on-premises solution—took the time to plan and map out not just the same-old processes but how to optimize processes with their new technology to make the most of the move.

Finally, fast time to value is not only about deployment. It's about getting users up and running quickly and successfully. Everyone says to train users and consider adoption factors, but it really comes down to selecting a solution that is intuitive for the user (why our Nucleus Value Matrix rates vendors on usability and functionality) and balancing training and cheerleading as part of an overall deployment plan.

Best practice 4: Take advantage of your investment.

With upgrade release cadences accelerating, even those who aren't investing in new solutions today are behooved to stay on top on their vendors' investments in new capabilities and features. Particularly in a cloud world, the need to not just win but renew clients puts you squarely in the driver's seat when it comes to asking for expertise, putting capability demands on the roadmap queue, and getting a 100 percent solution to your technology challenge. Your vendors are making investments in customer success programs and success managers to ensure they keep you, and they should keep you happy. Building a relationship with your vendor and taking advantage of both their and their partners' resources to drive improvements and enhancements that impact your bottom line costs and top-line agent productivity should be part of an ongoing strategy that extends far beyond the initial deployment.

Rebecca Wettemann is vice president of Nucleus Research.