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Last week I attended a roundtable about customer service hosted by Foviance to mark the UK’s National Complaints Day. 

A recurring theme was how customer service is often overlooked by those in the digital sector, despite being an area which permeates so many parts of an organisation. 

Consequently, I began thinking about how companies need to identify and implement different areas of customer service.

As customer service continues to shift online, the traditional models of delivery are being replaced by a wider variety of channels and touch-points.

This is having an impact on who is responsible for the daily management of digital customer services. Is it marketing, offline customer service, sales or PR? 

The ability to respond online means that any department or individual within a company can potentially be responsible, from frontline staff to the CEO. It is becoming increasingly apparent that customer service needs to be considered holistically, within the framework of an inter-departmental strategy which covers both online and offline channels. 

Getting this right can potentially be enormously beneficial to an organisation, as it can create highly positive sentiment and good PR, as well as generating financial ROI through customer retention and acquisition. 

However, failing to run effective customer services can result in poor business performance and negative feeling towards an organisation, both of which are damaging in the long run. 

But how can you identify where customer services should fit into your company structure and how do you develop a strategy that will work? 

As with any strategy, the foundations for success are based on good planning and a focus on business objectives, instead of just picking the most appealing options. The impact on business operations and performance should not be under-estimated. 

In his own blog post about the roundtable, Guy Stephens (who hosted the event) talks about how social media and smartphones are becoming "the catalysts for business change".  

Social media is a customer service channel which is currently the subject of much discussion, with a great deal of information surrounding this particular area.

But it's not just about social media. As well as forums and reviews, online customer service also encompasses site search, intelligent FAQs and live or virtual chat. 

The following points should hopefully provide some pointers for integrating customer services into your organisation. 

What is your current customer service culture? 

How does customer service fit into your organisation? Have you already got an established history of trying to provide exceptional customer support, always going the extra mile (benchmark yourselves against the likes of Zappos) or bending over backwards to help both potential and current customers? 

This is important. If you’ve already got a strong emphasis on providing the best support to your customers, then it’s likely your organisation will already have a strong structure in place that can be harnessed further.  

Are your goals for customer service in line with your overall business objectives? 

Customer service isn’t necessarily about creating a tangible financial return. Although it can work as a supplementary sales channel, it can also be used to create warm, fuzzy feelings and a sense of loyalty among your customer base. 

It is important to define your customer service goals and strategies, before looking towards the best channels to implement them. Equally, internal policies need to be formed, with all employees trained in the relevant processes.  

Following on from this, who in your company is championing customer support? What departments are currently responsible for maintaining online and offline service channels? Does your approach need to be realigned or streamlined? There is a fine line between delivering enough levels of service and overwhelming customers with too many options.

Also, think about whether you might be providing services that are too expensive and resource-heavy to contribute positive value to the organisation.

Where are your customers and what are they doing online? 

Social media is great for delivering customer service, but if your core demographics aren't using sites such as Twitter, then other online options should be considered, such as official forums (also great for improving SEO visibility), online chat or on-site intelligent FAQs.  

Can you keep customer service universal? 

Providing great customer service isn’t just the responsibility of a single department. Overall, even if there is a specific service division (online or offline), delivering exceptional service falls to every individual employee. Company-wide, everyone needs to understand how to identify issues before they escalate, be able to communicate problems to the relevant departments and understand that it’s often better to lose a customer, but give a good experience than convert through a bad one. 

Even if staff don’t work directly in customer-facing roles, if common objectives are understood, then these can be achieved, rather than creating internal conflicts.

Customer services starts and ends with employees. If they don't understand its importance then you are facing an uphill battle. 

[Image credit: HikingArtist]
Jake Hird

Published 19 August, 2010 by Jake Hird

Jake Hird is Econsultancy Australia's Director of Research and Education. Follow him on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn or see what he's keeping an eye on via diigo

126 more posts from this author

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Mike McGrail, Digital Marketing Consultant at Standard Life

Nice post Jake. Great questions to help people on their way!

almost 6 years ago

Jake Hird

Jake Hird, Director of Research and Education at Econsultancy

@Mike McGrail - Thanks Mike, OCS is always a difficult and extensive subject to cover - and as I say, I'm always genuinely surprised by the number of companies who choose to ignore it... 

almost 6 years ago

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Brett Relander

Nice post, Jake. With the evloution of the internet many things have changed in business. Not only do businesses now have the ability to speak to tens of thousands of potential customers via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc, but now customers have the ability to speak to you.  The only potential downside to this is that now everyone is a critic with a voice that's potentially heard by millions. With sites like Ripoff Report, Yelp, and many other rating sites it's impossible to hide your mis-steps. That's exactly why a proper customer service plan, and probably more importantly, culture come into play.  With tools like Twitter you can now become a fly on the wall and actively listen to everything being said about your company.  This gives proactive businesses the abilty to address customer service issues or concerns directly and most importantly swiftly. In an era of "Our service technician will be there next Tuesday between 12 and 5" most people simply want their issues resolved quickly and directly - they want to know that they matter to you.

Your take away should simply be to engage your audience, customers, and potential customers (wherever they might be) - listen to what they have to say - and actively communicate with them to resolve their issues in a timely manner.  Doing this effectively can not only reduce your customer service operational costs but also improve or protect your reputation and help you grow your business.

Brett Relander

http://TacticalMarketingLabs.com

@BrettRelander

almost 6 years ago

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Kirstine Vergara

I agree with you. The digital industry should improve its customer service. I work in an ad agency and since our core competence is not digital, we outsource the service. The managers usually complain about the servicing of the people from these digital companies. They do not give clear explanations/instructions. They always assume that you know what they're talking about. They are also not very keen on keping their timetable. I don't get it why they act as if the client is not important. I think these people should undergo client serving serminars for them to better run their buisinesses.

P.S. Learn more about <a href="http://sn.im/103mhq" target="_blank"><strong>Attracting, Creating and Marketing Your Million Dollar Idea.</strong></a>

almost 6 years ago

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Alan Tanner, Research & Knowledge Officer , Institute of Customer Service

A good overview of the customer service issues.  There is a lot of uncertainty amongst organisations about how to deal with customer service in the context of open-access media.  Our organisation will be soon be commissioning research to consider this area in the round.  We hope to publish around March of next year.

almost 6 years ago

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Anonymous

Simply listening for mentions of your Twitter name or company name using something like Tweetdeck can be very interesting. We found someone looking for support and they were thrilled when we responded and tweeted some positive feedback. Simple but effective. d

almost 6 years ago

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Sarah Jones, Digital Officer at Self employed

Great post. Even though the template is in front of them, a lot of marketers are too in their own heads to do anything about these issues.

almost 6 years ago

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Reservations call center

Thanks for the good info! Customer service is also not simply a term or a department, but rather an attitude and a manner of doing business. ..http://bit.ly/dlR7UG

almost 6 years ago

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John

Appreciate the information. Trying to research existing strategys and came across this. Helps provide a template. The archaic thinking of inbound calls needs to be transitioned into the digital arena. Thanks again!!

over 5 years ago

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