Do You Appreciate Your Support Organization?

I am confident in my own convictions, I have been saying it for a long time. I know that I was not the first to say it, but here it is again: Your Customer Service, Support or ‘what ever you call it’ is about the most valuable asset you have as an organization. Start investing in it, keep the people happy and STOP measuring success based on the number of cases you close – PLEASE! Cross train your organization, hold weekly meetings between Marketing and Support and let them start sharing ideas. How many customer conversations does your marketing team have, per week, with customers? And Support? Just asking.

The Wall Street Journal, posted an interesting article on Monday. First, thanks to Arie Goldshlager for pointing out the article (An important aside, Arie finds some of the best articles out there, listen to him, he is a smart man!). The theme of the article is that you should pay attention to Customer Service, as it represents a growth engine for your company.

“Just over a quarter of the 1,405 companies surveyed by Accenture late last year said customer service would be the first area they’d increase funding for as the economy recovers. Some companies have begun that practice this year.”

Well, that sounds good, almost interesting, except for one point that I believe to be the case (sorry, no good statistics); An increase in funding compared to where we were the past few years, and cut backs due to the economic conditions is not that impressive, this might just bring levels back to where they were. What are the 75% of the other companies investing in, Marketing, Sales? I wish the Wall Street Journal would link to the survey they mention, as opposed to the stock ticker for Accenture.

I appreciate that the Journal highlighted this practice, do not get me wrong. Of course, being the person that I am, I want more! I strongly believe (can you tell!) that support organizations are under appreciated, and constantly measured by the wrong metrics. Do the metrics capture the essence of the following?

“Some executives also see a chance to woo frustrated customers from rivals through word of mouth and by creating pleasant experiences. In another Accenture survey of 5,000 consumers, 69% said they had switched at least one provider because of poor customer service in 2009. That’s two percentage points higher than in 2008 and 10 points higher than 2007.”

Customers appreciate great products, good value and positive customer service – put them all together and many refer to this as Customer Experience. The whole package, from first contact to the service call. What could your Marketing teams learn from customer support? Have you asked? I read a wide variety of blogs, books and articles. Sure, I miss some good stuff but every once in a while something makes me just feel good. Yesterday, a local friend (Rich Nadworny) forwarded an article, “Social Media Does not Exist” written by Adam Cohen, someone whom I also follow. Adam is actually a Social Media strategist and he wrote the following within the article:

“I’d like to see more companies treat social media as if it were an embedded part of building customer relationships, focusing on making the most of all relevant touchpoints they have with customers.”

So, this was my first comment in this entire post about Social anything (are you proud?). The reason I brought it up at all, is for two simple reasons. First, Adam is on the marketing side, and he gets it. Two, Social is here, not just in technology, but in attitude and approach. Within the WSJ article, the comment was made that agents now begin a call by saying ‘How is your day going?’, not just ‘How can I help you’ – The agents are also instructed to not simply rush off the call.

What do you think, did I miss the point, or miss something crucial here?

8 thoughts on “Do You Appreciate Your Support Organization?

  1. Mitch – Great post capturing a lot of thoughts on the evolution of customer service. An analogy I like to use often is the local pharmacist in the 1960s. He would own a general store and put aside chocolates because he knows Jimmy’s grandma is coming to town and they are her favorite. It was about a community and relationships. Over time large companies couldn’t support that at scale. It seems that customer service has come full circled back to that hands on touch. The walls between customer service and marketing are coming down, as businesses start to realize that every touch point is a chance to “move the needle” in the right direction.
    Thanks for linking to my post and great thoughts!
    (For what it’s worth, I worked at Accenture for many years and have CRM experience, yet I’m working at a digital agency now. I love the studies ACN comes up with but I think you’re right to challenge the context of the stats.)

  2. Hi Mitch, of course , of course of course…

    (oh, and how is your day going?)

    Anyway, lets all reflect a bit on our own real life experiences. Can you remember calling/ contacting a company and being left with a warm glow, a feeling of “the world aint such a bad place after all”? Just getting off the phone and not being frustrated seems an achievement in itself. Remember when Marketing was considered a cost, and then someone said, hold on, Brand Equity is really valuable, and then executives and investors started paying attention to its contribution.

    Today’s Customer Service people have a hard time. They don’t have one data source, it isn’t presented clearly, in one screen, it isn’t live or nearly live, it isn’t etc. etc. etc, and hey, on top of that you want to measure First Time Call Resolution? YOU are not even giving me the right tools to do my job, HELL, I think I could hack a better system together using Google, Google Docs, and my Skype. This is just giving technological empowerment, we aren’t even at the level of enabling decisions yet.

    Culture. I remember something I read years ago: “If you say it in your head, eventually you’ll say it to a customer”. If a company and its culture does not truly want to help, then they won’t.

    Companies can make a great deal of progress by doing the basics right. Get the customer the information they want, when they want it; be clear, be focused, and be confident in your handling of the interaction. Build from there.

  3. @Adam – Thanks for the post yesterday, I truly did enjoy it, and thanks for the comments here. I did see that you had Accenture in your background. You are lucky enough to have that cross training which I mentioned, the question is how can we all suggest to others that they need it too!

    I also agree with your analogy. Large companies are trying to very hard to get back to “Mom and Pop” type stores. I have had the experience you described recently, and it does make a difference. The problem, as you point out is scale. Scaling engagement, culture and personality is very hard. Even someone who asks “How is your day” sometimes I wonder if they care about the answer.

    @Paul – Thanks for stopping by. I still think Marketing is considered a cost to some, except for those who are capable of tying it directly to revenue. So, do you think those same people will be smart enough to tie Support to the revenue as well? I agree with all your points. The issue, as we have discussed before is that elements of the technology are moving so fast, companies are not doing a good job of cleaning up after themselves (reminds me of my 18 yo home from university).

    The simple point is that the next new system, the shiny one, with the cool UI is going to be great to use, as soon as it has the right data…That is not too mention all the places that the customers can go to say things and find things. I recently spoke with an organization that did put together a great centralized location for customers to find information, the back-end however was strung together by people copying data by hand from one place to another… But, the culture is good 🙂

  4. Hi Mitch,

    Great post and I really like how you brought out the question of context for the survey. All to often, surveys are built to support a pre-existing point of view. In this case, they seem to have wanted to get companies interested in Accenture’s services.

    Your suggestion of marketing and customer service/support meeting regularly is a good one. However, I’ve often said that it needs to go much further. Everyone in the organization should go through a rotation in CS! Isn’t that what the company is about? Serving customers?

    If you can’t serve your customers well, you really don’t deserve to be there, do you? I’ve recently read a few blog posts and articles about CEOs answering customer calls and I think it clearly demonstrates to ALL employees where the importance of CS is.

    It also shows everyone that CS should be respected but I won’t go into that here (if you’re interested check out my blog.)

    Finally, I always like it when Mitch gets on his soap box.

  5. Eric,

    Thanks for the comment, and well, I guess I decided to step up to the soapbox just a bit today. I wrote another post, which happened to go live today, not going to pimp the post, but it is about people as well. Employees are important, and I am highlighting support employees here.

    You probably know that I would agree with your suggestion, just trying to get people to walk before they run. I believe that CEOs answering calls is a great idea, I would like more people within the organization to ‘live the life’ of support folks, so they really really get it!

    I did take a look at your blog – like the “Respect Me” theme (everyone else, just click on Eric’s name above, worth the read!

    Cheers – Mitch

  6. Speaking as a support person for nearly my entire career — on the frontlines and in management roles — there are a few threads that I’d like to pick at here, both from Mitch’s post and some of the comments…

    1) Mitch writes “STOP measuring success based on the number of cases you close”. Couldn’t agree more.. but what SHOULD you measure instead?

    In my experience, specific to the software business, there are only a handful of metrics that really matter to a support organization:

    A) Time to relief for the customer — From the moment the customer reports the problem, how long until they can breathe a sigh of relief? They may not be out of the woods yet, but at least the hungry bear isn’t chasing them anymore. In medical terms, this would be suppressing the symptoms of the disease or offering pain relief, but not providing a cure. Maybe this is a workaround, maybe it’s a nightly reboot of the server, maybe it’s hiding an error message…

    B) Time to satisfactory resolution for the customer — From the moment the customer reports the problem, how long until the problem is a thing of the past for them, never to rear its ugly head again? Not whether YOU think it’s resolved, but whether the CUSTOMER thinks it’s resolved. If you’re in the bug-fixing business, the finish line is not when the bug is fixed, but rather when the fix is delivered to the customer.

    From an operational perspective, if you focus on continuous improvement in *both* A and B, your “Customer Experience” top-line measures will improve.

    2) Now… how do you improve those Time To Relief/Time To Resolution numbers? Lots of ways, and within your support organization, you probably know all of the areas of improvement you can be doing… but what can the rest of your company do to help you? How do they learn to appreciate you, to bring it back to the title of this article?

    Eric Jacque’s comments bring up one of the best ways to accomplish this… put the rest of the company in front of the customer, let them understand what the support org is going through, learn firsthand the ramifications of NOT delivering a timely and satisfactory solution to the customer.

    My personal anecdote here… early in my career, I was working once with an airline who was calling me every day to complain about their server crashes. I gave them a workaround, so they could get the server up and running again, but I wasn’t aggressively pursuing a true resolution. I was treating the symptom, not curing the disease. Finally, after several days of back-and-forth, the following conversation set me straight:
    – Customer, “Jason, have you ever been to an airport?”
    – Me: “Of course.”
    – Customer: “Have you ever had your flight delayed?”
    – Me: “Many times.”
    – Customer: “Have you ever missed a connection because of flight delays in other – airports, and they domino from there?”
    – Me: “Uh-huh…”
    – Customer: “Whenever this server crashes, we cannot board passengers onto planes at any of our airport gates around the world. This causes flight delays on every single one of our flights, at every single airport around the world.”
    – Me: “…….. Oh. We better get you a permanent fix right away, huh?”

    Give the rest of your company that kind of experience, and they’ll get it when the support organization is clamoring for help. Everyone needs to understand the impact to the customer, and the only way to do that is to talk to them and hear them out.

    3) Finally, to go a step further on Paul Sweeney’s comment about company culture…. the individuals within your support organization need absolute confidence that the company is going to back them up.

    Support is a hard, hard job. There isn’t a customer in the world who calls up your support organization just to say hi, or to compliment the support people on what wonderful people they are. Customers call support because something went wrong. Your support people hear only the negative all day long, day in and day out. They know all the skeletons in the closet. If their brave face starts to crack in front of the customer…. watch out.

    Support needs to be confident in your company’s products and services, so they can project confidence to the customer. Walk a mile in support’s shoes, and you’ll quickly find what needs to be shored up to boost their confidence.

  7. Fine post Mitch! Missed it somehow
    The great mistake made in outsourcing is that the presumed non-core business is outsourced – which is unwise for two reasons

    First, there is core-business and business-criticality. Customer Support simply is business critical for your core business to survive. Outsourcing that merely shifts cost on the balance sheets and quadruples them to someplace else. Projects in stead of organisation, or customers in stead of employees

    Second, the only reason to outsource work is because it’s repeatable, tedious, too simple, boring, in other words: industrialisable. They can make cars all over the world because every single part is specified down to nitty-gritty detail. Try doing that with CS

    Insourcing began a few years ago already, with banks and insurance companies insourcing back their Customer Support. Only were the costs of that 3-4 times as high as outsourcing them, so nobody really wanted to make that headlines

    I now see trends to at least rightshore Employee Support: serve from the same timezone and culture as much as possible. But just as outsourcing CS drove customers away, outsourcing ES will drive employees away. It’s bad enough as it is that mobile employees have to accept company phones and laptops while they can basically pick any car they want

    I predict that from the great 100K+ employees enterprises in this world only those will survive within the next 3 years that get their outsourcing strategy straightened out

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