What is your Service Preference

I was reading on Harvard Business Review's website and in rapid succession I came across Ron Ashkenas' blog post titled "How Simple (and Human) Is Your Customer Service?" and Anthony Tjan's blog post titled "The Best Business Model in the World". I was overjoyed to see these two subjects together because inContact offers a software as a service technology (see Tjan's blog) that helps with what Ashkenas was writing about. 

It would be easy for me to go on and on about the values of a SaaS distribution model for contact centers and likely sometime soon I will, but Ashkenas' blog struck a stronger cord with me.  There is nothing that I find more refreshing than reading about someone like Ashkenas' view on customer service.  He highlights in his blog the different preferences that people have when it comes to customer service and that got me to thinking.

There is a long standing view that the surest way to ensure customer satisfaction is to go "directly" to an agent.  To clarify, if I call into a company and within a few seconds of ringing I am speaking directly with an agent then I am more likely to be satisfied.  In theory this sounds great, but to be frank it's not that simple. 

Here are the top three considerations if you are thinking about pursuing this strategy for your contact center. 

  1. Cost - To operate in this model you need to accept staffing levels that are significantly higher than a contact center that is pursuing a balanced approach.
  2. Complexity of your operations - Most businesses today are very complex.  So much so that a single agent is unlikely to know how to solve every question or issue you may raise.  Using backend systems like integrated CRM/Knowledge Base applications can dramatically increase your agent's chance of a successful contact.   However, what about things like soft skills?  You likely want a potential customer to speak to a salesman, not your accounting clerk.  This is a terrific place to prudently apply the use of an IVR/ACD system to properly funnel your customers to the right agent at the right time. 
  3. Preference - Consider Ashkenas' comments about preferences.  I for one am an automation junkie.  I prefer to do pretty much everything service related (with some notable exceptions) in an automated way either over the phone or the web.  Ashkenas's wife was on the other side of the fence.  As a business owner you need to spend the time to get to know your customers' preferences and determine where to apply automation principles.  Using a "one size fits all" approach can reduce costs (which is why so many companies fall into the trap) but is rarely a strategy for success. 

Finally, I must say Ashkenas' "hit the nail on the head" when he called for a review of your company's customer service philosophy.  I would be a bit more specific and ask whether you have lumped your customers together in terms of service preference?  If so is there a way you can improve that relationship by adjusting your systems, processes, and/or philosophy?

I would love to hear what is more important to you with regard to service.  Are you an automation junkie like me or is direct personal interaction the only thing that works for you?  Please comment and let me know.