A Maturity Model for Delivering Superior Customer Service

For the past 25 years companies have used CRM as the software of choice for managing customer engagement and information, with the goal of delivering a great customer experience. At the same time, companies have been transitioning to a digital economy, where products are becoming everything-as-a-service, resulting in a demand for different and more extensive customer service.

While managing the front end of the engagement process is necessary, such as with CRM, delivering customer service successfully requires more than that. This is also evidenced by the fact that customer satisfaction is at an all-time low in history. Customer service leaders need to rethink their approaches and shift their strategies to go beyond engagement, taking advantage of the collective wisdom in and around the enterprise, new technologies, and closed loop processes.

Easier Said Than Done

Many companies want to elevate their customer service to the level consumers expect, but there are roadblocks. In a recent survey of 200 customer service leaders, the top challenges reported were the following:

  1. Inability to connect all service processes from the time a customer first makes contact to final problem resolution;
  2. People, processes, and systems are siloed, with no collaboration going on between departments; and
  3. Customer service is buried under manual workloads with little time for strategic initiatives that could potentially improve inefficiencies or dirve new revenue.

Overcoming the Challenges

To understand why some companies excel at customer service while others struggle, a recent report looked at customer service programs throughout the United States to explain. The study identified the companies that provide great customer service, and more importantly, what they are doing to set themselves apart from the others.

The study found that the top-tier companies with the most successful customer service are more efficient and scalable and achieve better business results compared to their lower-tier counterparts. Additionally, a maturity model emerged highlighting behaviors, technology, and processes that top-tier companies have adopted. These companies are further along in the maturity model and are 29 percent more likely to achieve positive customer satisfaction and 42 percent more likely to achieve customer loyalty. Strategically, these companies are getting more value out of customer service with significant impact on the bottom line and admiration throughout the organization. What's impressive is these same companies don't spend more on their customer service programs. They are achieving superior results but without the higher costs.

Traversing the Customer Service Maturity Model

Level 1: Customer service teams are operating in a fairly inconsistent, poorly controlled, and reactive approach.

Level 2: As companies mature their customer service operations, they begin to take a more managed approach focusing on process improvements. Top-tier customer service organizations were 36 percent more likely to use self service to automate some processes, such as address changes or password resets. While self-service has been available for years, many companies have not yet taken advantage of this simple yet powerful approach to streamlining recurring requests. Per Forrester Research, customers also now prefer self-service channels over the traditional phone channel. It's a win-win for agents and customers.

Level 3: As companies move to the third level of maturity, they are looking for ways to extend beyond customer service to engage the broader enterprise in delivering service. Top-tier organizations were 127 percent more likely to enlist other departments in working support requests. By breaking down silos, these companies breed a mantra that great customer service should be delivered by everyone in an organization.

Level 4: Moving up the maturity curve to the fourth level, companies are focused on more controlled processes and actions. This includes being able to improve not just efficiency, but also effectiveness and quality of service. Top-tier companies are focused on problem solving and are 163 percent more likely to resolve the underlying causes of customer issues. This enables organizations to not only improve their products and services, but to also eliminate issues before they affect tens to thousands of other customers. This must be closely aligned with cross-company collaboration to ensure that customer service can hold other teams accountable for resolving customer problems.

Level 5: In the fifth and final stage of the maturity model, top-tier companies focus on continuous improvements and proactive service. By this time, these companies have taken advantage of the process and technology improvements to move from less reactive to more proactive in their customer service. This frees up time for strategic projects and reduces some of the operational drag on the organization. Some of the technology to enable proactiveness include the Internet of Things (IoT), performance analytics, and proactive communications. With the IoT, customer service organizations have full visibility into customers' products and services, not only what they purchased, contracts, or entitlements, but also the real-time operational health. Customer service agents can be notified of issues or service interruptions before customers call. This not only allows the agents to proactively notify customers, but to quickly assign to engineering, operations, or field service for immediate triage.

Lessons from the Top Tier

Taking a closer look at the companies providing excellent customer service, here are the top lessons that any customer service organization can put into practice:

  1. Take advantage of self-service and automation. Too often, customer service teams spend most of their time reacting to customer problems. Effective customer service teams offer self-service options for recurring requests, freeing them up to focus on strategic work, such as developing new services and continuously improving existing ones.
  2. Take a team sport approach. High-performing customer service programs are more collaborative and more likely to enlist the help of various parts of the organization when working on a customer issue. They've broken down the siloes between departments and created a team approach to customer service that involves the entire organization.
  3. Go deeper to resolve underlying issues. Successful customer service teams are better problem solvers and more likely to address the root cause of a customer's problem. When everyone is working together, customer service is more likely to identify, diagnose, and resolve problems quicker.
  4. Leverage modern technology. IoT and performance analytics enable customer service organizations to be more proactive and even prevent problems. Delight customers by eliminating issues before they contact you.

By modernizing their customer service systems and processes, customer service leaders will see immediate wins in efficiency and effectiveness while freeing up time for important strategic work. When the entire enteprise is working together to make customer service a priority, they will be able to achieve the transformation today's consumers demand.

Holly Simmons is senior director of global product marketing and customer service management at ServiceNow.