The Opportunities Facing Customer Service Teams with Roy Atkinson


Roy Atkinson has been around the customer service game for a while and seen the industry evolve to accommodate new customer behaviors, business trends, and technologies. We connected during a recent session of the #custserv Twitter chat (of which Roy is a host) and found common ground on the importance of measurement. Afterwards, I reached out to hear more about where he thought the industry was headed and what types of challenges and opportunities customer service teams should be planning for.

Roy’s responses covered a wide array of issues valuable to any customer service team. He offered insights on what makes great service leadership, how to define success in customer service, and what teams can do to position themselves for both.

1) What is the biggest challenge facing service teams at small companies? What will change this industry most in the next year? The next 5?

The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is dealing with the huge changes that are sweeping across the entire realm of customer interaction. It’s not just about technology; it’s about dealing with extremely well-informed customers who can access good, accurate information about your company, products, and services with a touch or a click. Having up-to-date information about your customers and answers to their questions is no longer optional—it’s mandatory. Customers do not like to wait.

In the next few years, these changes will accelerate, and more customers will come to realize that they are on the power side of the equation in many cases. Technologies aimed at personalizing service and making it more immediate (especially those focused on location) will become more universal. Small business will need to be flexible and stay in touch with what tools and techniques are available to them at reasonable costs.

2) Customer service never seems to get the budget or attention it deserves at growing companies when compared to sales and marketing. How do you elevate the importance of customer service within the organization?

[blockquote cite=”Tweet this” align=”left”]With the right metrics, customer service loses its stigma as a cost center and becomes a driver of profit.[/blockquote]If the top management of a company is not focused on the customer, it’s very difficult to get attention on the importance of customer service and experience. Management teams must realize that everyone is customer-facing in one way or another—the organization is a system that provides outcomes for the customer. In some cases, because of the great efforts of customer service managers and representatives, there can be good service rendered on a transactional basis, but providing the tools and the training necessary to keep improving requires money and attention. With the right information and metrics, customer service loses its stigma as a cost center and becomes a component of the systems that drive profit.

3) What do the top 10% of customer service teams do differently from everyone else? What about the top 1%?

The top customer service teams have the right information at their fingertips. That’s customer and product information. They don’t need to ask for a customer’s name or phone number more than once, and they can answer questions authoritatively because they have good shared knowledge and can access it rapidly. Really good reps can solve problems without escalations or delays the majority of the time, and they work off guidelines, not scripts that give them room to respond to customers.

The very best teams, the top 1%, have additional success factors. They are composed of top-notch talent, and they seek outcomes that favor both the customer and the business. The very best customer service reps are empowered to make decisions on the spot to rescue a failing interaction or regain customer trust. In my experience, these outperforming teams are always part of an organization that is customer-focused from top to bottom.

4) 20-30% of customer service teams don’t collect data or use a CRM. What risks do these teams face as a result?

The first risk is the loss of valuable information. In this case it’s beyond a risk, it’s a fact. They simply don’t capture even the basic things like name and phone, so customers have to repeat this every time they call, and every time a call is transferred. (You have had this happen, and I guarantee you were annoyed by it.) Without CRM data, you can’t determine customer value or spot your best customers. You also lose the ability to capture remarks or feedback from the customer during or after interactions.

Also, all of the recreation of information every time a customer interacts with these ill-equipped teams takes time, and time is money. It costs the business more kin the long run not to invest in some kind of customer relationship management (CRM) tool, even if it is very basic.

5) Do you think satisfaction surveys like NPS are effective measures? Is “likeliness to refer” the best way to know if a customer is happy?

It is one way to know if a customer is happy, although I would say that the evidence of recommendation is far higher from a referred customer than from a survey response. If someone walks into my business and says, “My friend Cheryl bought from you and said I should come here,” it’s far more powerful than getting a 9 or 10 on an NPS survey.[blockquote cite=”Tweet this” align=”left”]The overall goal of customer service is to make the customer happy and a repeat customer.[/blockquote]By the way, I believe there is a design flaw in the Net Promoter way of doing things. You drop the “passives” out (7’s and 8’s) and only consider detractors and promoters. It seems to me that you’re losing some valuable information there, since the 7’s and 8’s are those who are almost promoters. What could be done to get them over the hump and make them promoters?

6) How can service team leaders provide the greatest value to their reps?

Good service team leaders will coach and mentor their reps. They will provide an atmosphere of support rather than blame. They will keep team spirits high even when it is difficult, and they will serve the team rather than “be the boss.”

Data helps everyone put things in perspective and can take favoritism out of the mix to a great extent. If the data is shared and discussed with the team transparently, a higher level of trust is likely to develop.

7) It’s generally acknowledged that the best customer service is heavily personalized. However, teams must be mindful of the time/cost of delivering such service. How do you marry the need to deliver a personal touch with the need to be efficient?

There are several ways to accomplish this, and the first is to talk openly about it. Make sure the team understands the guidelines (not rules) and the goals. The overall goal should be to make the customer happy and a repeat customer, but there should be boundaries in place. Some organizations have gone completely over the top like the 8, 9 and even 10-hour calls at Zappos. That doesn’t have to be the case, but fits the organizational goals of Zappos.

It’s more realistic to coach reps to be mindful of the costs of time on the call, and also to respect the customer’s time. If the personalization means adding a special touch to a purchase or service, great, but set the team’s expectations and goals to be consistent with the business goals.

8) What is the single most important thing that a service team can do to improve its efficiency? Its effectiveness? How do you measure these?

Efficiency and effectiveness should both be measured, and need to be clearly understood by management and team alike. Being efficient does not necessarily mean spending less time on a call. It means providing the correct solution in a timely manner. I’ll take fast and correct over just plain fast any day, and so will customers. [blockquote cite=”Tweet this” align=”right”]I’ll take fast and correct over just plain fast any day, and so will customers.[/blockquote]One measure of efficiency is first contact resolution. However, careful attention must be paid to repeat calls by the same customer. If a case is marked resolved after one call or contact but the customer needs to call back to get further assistance, the case was incorrectly closed. That’s the combination of efficiency and effectiveness: doing it right the first time.

9) In your experience, how do companies typically determine when to grow their service team? Do you think that’s a good solution?

The best companies—those in that top 1% we discussed—don’t hesitate to add staff when it becomes apparent that it’s needed. Some companies wait until staff turnover rates are high and customer wait times are skyrocketing before they make the decision to add staff. There are inherent risks with that strategy.

If a contact center is phone-only, there are some traditional tools like Erlang calculators that can assist in staffing at the proper level. As multichannel and/or omnichannel service becomes more prevalent, these traditional tools become harder and harder to apply. A rep can only be on one phone call at a time but can theoretically handle multiple chat sessions and many social media interactions simultaneously. The complexity of trying to exactly measure staff time is increasing. Taking together the number of contacts handled in a given time period and the “handle time” for each is still a good way to look at staffing. Defining and tracking handle time accurately is a real challenge. Consider this example: If I email a response to a customer asking for further information of their issue, I might wait for days for a response. When is the clock ticking and when isn’t it?

The ability to analyze the customer interactions and the overall effect on customer satisfaction is important to making staffing decisions. Additionally, managers need to be paying attention to overall volume and also to stress, absenteeism, and turnover as symptoms that they are understaffed.

10) What, in your opinion, is the single most important goal for customer service? What metric should they own? Customer satisfaction? NPS? Churn?

The single most important goal is to make a first-time customer into a repeat customer and a repeat customer into a lifelong customer with as high a value as possible. While survey results are very good to have, business results are better to have, and customer retention should be a customer service hallmark.

Have any further questions for Roy? Post them in the comments below and we’ll get them answered Also, don’t forget to connect with Roy on LinkedIn or Twitter, and join Roy for the #custserv Twitter chat Tuesdays at 9PM ET.

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”44589″ align=”center” width=”632″ height=”250″ link=”” quality=”100″]

[contentblock id=18 img=html.png]