Rethinking Customer Service Job Design

Customer service is an intricate mechanism that requires strategic forethought. Companies that put customers at the core of their service experience better customer satisfaction and generate more business. Still, while the importance of customer service is well understood, good service is surprisingly rare. Customers are valued and companies want to deliver good service, but it continues to be a standard rather than a norm.

A common issue that arises when companies try to improve their customer service is determining what exactly needs to be fixed. Often a company will identify a single culprit such as agent under-performance or a flaw in the support-resolution procedure. Usually, these quick-fix attempts indicate that there is a larger underlying weakness with the company’s customer service model.

A common example of this is when a company decides that the employees are not performing a certain task up to the standard set by a model employee. This perception of ‘customer service heroics’ then becomes the elusive end-goal wherein every agent is expected to perform as well as the company’s best representative. The ambitious expectation is rarely fulfilled because it requires superhuman effort to make such episodic excellence a standard.

Is it possible that some businesses are just expected to have bad customer service or are so engrossed in it that it is considered a norm in the industry? Rental companies, auto shops, and especially insurance companies are ubiquitous for having this expectation. While customers will put up with poor customer service – after all, no one is going to stop seeing a doctor – in a situation where customer dissatisfaction is abound, companies that can provide better customer service will win. The same principle of customer service heroics can be seen here. Companies that get ahead do so because they have a more successful customer service job design, not because all of their employees are extremely talented and over performing.

So how do you systematically deliver excellence? Rather than trying to change the behavior of every employee, businesses should take a closer look at the job design of their customer service system. A company might have a great sales rep but it’s impossible to turn the entire team into him. Instead, consider creating a system where everyone can succeed.

This holds especially true for companies with large amounts knowledge base content and technical knowledge. It requires time and money to find people who will be able to efficiently navigate complex knowledge base while also delivering great customer service. A company that has an employee management system problem is one in which the quality of service is dependent upon the employee determining it. In other words, nine out of ten times, a company that has an employee problem, has a job design problem.

Creating a Job Design

Job design describes not only customer support resolution procedures and rules, but most importantly how the company views its customers. Understanding the roles and needs of the customer is imperative to building a successful job design. First, let’s examine what the potential role of a customer might be.

Customer Roles

In many ways customers can be treated like employees because they interact with products and services in the same way the agents of the company do. One example of this can be seen with Zipcar, a car sharing service that heavily depends on customer input. Once a customer finishes using a Zipcar, there are no employees to clean up the vehicle. It is the customer’s role to get the car ready for the next renter. Zipcar users can’t be late, have to make sure the cars are fueled up, and perform many other duties that would normally be delegated to a company employee.

Without the right incentive structure or job design, this would be impossible (how Zipcar trains its customers is a whole different question that is revisited later). The point that the Zipcar example illustrates above all else, however, is that in rethinking the job design, the company first needs to understand the role of its customer. Sometimes it might be surprising to find out that the role of the customer and the role of the employee are not all too different.

Another example of deciphering and establishing customer roles comes from Starbucks and their innovation in training customers in the ordering process. At Starbucks, customers perform the role of an inquirer – learning what the product is, placing the order, etc. The quicker the order – the better the customer is at performing his/her job. To achieve this, Starbucks teaches customers to use precise language and sequences when placing orders and incentivizes them to learn exact sound bites – a whole lexicon of terms specifically crafted to make ordering a breeze.

Employees are trained to incentivize the customers by calling the orders back in the correct format. The complexity that customers would have introduced without this mechanism would create chaos. But, thanks to a well designed process, customer can quickly get a smiling barista to make them a tall non-fat latte with whipped-cream. Starbucks’ model has been scaled all over the world and demonstrates a successful customer service job design.

Customer Needs

The second ingredient essential to the building of a successful job design is understanding customer needs. The goal is not to better every facet of the customer service model but to satisfy customer expectations in the order of their prioritized needs. A good example of such prioritizing is demonstrated by Wall-Mart. Wall-Mart delivers good service to a specific sector of the market and has figured out a model that serves their needs. While the store ambiance and shopping experience might be lacking, customers get variety and low prices. Excellence in customer service comes from figuring out what exactly your customers value most and investing in it. Trying to provide all-around high-end premium service is ambitious and rarely feasible.

Capitalizing on the Job Design

Once the job design structure is mapped out the company has to capitalize on its strengths. One way to achieve this is by automating or outsourcing resource consuming tasks – a great example is self-service. With self-service, a company can draw customers in by getting them involved and, at the same time, save money by outsourcing tasks that would normally be delegated to its employees. While companies have to be careful in the design of their customer’s role, ensuring that customers are not overburdened or inconvenienced, if done correctly, outsourcing is a win-win scenario for the firm and for the customer.

In the aforementioned Zipcar example, customers perform a number of duties that similar service providers, taxis for instance, pay for. However, because it is in the customer culture, which Zipcar promotes through local community events and clubs, and in the customer contract, customers are happy to help out.

Improving your customer service strengths could mean changing the technological tools available to your agents and customers or changing the way customer inquiries are processed. If the agents are overwhelmed by the knowledge base content navigation or are unable to find relevant information with ease, there is a good chance the customers are experiencing the same difficulties. Using a knowledge base application for your website can accelerate your agents’ performance and, at the same time, allow your customers to find answers independently. Another way of looking at knowledge base services is that you are outsourcing help desk and customer support responsibilities onto the customer; making customer support more efficient and simpler for agents and customers.

Safeharbor Knowledge Management Solutions

Safeharbor provides a number of knowledge base service tools for improving a knowledge base, such as: Knowledge Management Services: Knowledge Base Content Optimization Services, Content Quality Assurance, and Knowledge Base Professional Services, learn more; Article Optimizer: patent-pending tool for knowledge base content optimization, learn more; SmartSupport knowledge base tools for: Community Forums, FAQ’s, White Papers, Articles, learn more; Custom tools: Safeharbor offers a range of custom add-ons, such as a ticketing system, to meet the specific needs of our customers, learn more.

Author: Dmitry Minyaylov

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