What Happens When You Treat the Customer Service Function as a Cost Center?
In the introduction to their book Crowd Surfing, Martin Thomas and David Brain retell an apocryphal tale about an architect who designed a university campus. On being congratulated for the fantastic building designs he was then questioned as to why he hadn't put any paths in between them. The architect answered: “I will come back in six months to put in the paths, once I have seen how the students have chosen to walk between the buildings.”
Rather than impose his own views of where the paths should be, or use some elaborate computer simulation model, he believed that an enlightened architect should respond to the behavior of the crowd. Putting this into a business context, Michael Dell embraced the same philosophy when he said, “We love customers to tell stories about what they did or did not like so that the teams feel connected, not only in the details of what we need to do, but they feel emotionally connected to the customer.”
As the drive to migrate customer interactions to self-service continues apace, one wonders if organizations are overlooking the value of what their customers think. As the authors aptly put it: “It sounds blindingly obvious, but you can't have conversations with people you don't want to listen to. But this is just what happens when companies fail to put telephone contact numbers or email addresses on their websites because they are worried about the potential volume of incoming calls.”
The authors also point out that by providing incentives for meeting Average Handle Time (AHT) targets the potential role of the customer as a source of feedback and knowledge about the company's products and services is undermined. The irony being that the same companies who are trying to manage down the operating costs of their contact centers are also quite happy to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on research to try to understand what their customers think.
As political events have demonstrated throughout 2016, the roll out of high speed broadband, the “Internet Of Things,” and the mass adoption of social media have enabled people around the globe to change the rules of the game. Since the customer service function is on the front line in this new world of the crowd surfer, the people who man the phone lines are the ultimate consumer champions which has important implications for a company and whether truly enlightened organizations will continue to treat their contact centers as cost centers or invest in them as “real time” sources of customer expectation, need, and satisfaction.
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