Customer support is tactical, a cost-center, and the clean-up-kids at the company. Well, that’s the mentality that needs to change. Instead, customer support can be strategic, a value center, and proactive towards customer needs.
The lines between marketing and support continue to blur, as customers share their experiences (most recently, Dooce vs her Whirlpool washing machine) the support experience she has becomes a PR task. Support organizations must quickly evolve as customers connect to each other –and share their stories –using social technologies.
How Customer Support Organizations Must Evolve:
Companies need to stop treating support as lowly department to deal with customers problems, and start to advance their role.
Go Beyond the Official Support Domain
Some companies only support customers on ‘official’ requests such as calls to 1800 numbers or support tickets generated in help systems. The evolved support organization must go to where customers already are at, like in the social web to find, triage, and respond to customers. For example, Logitech was proactive in responding to my customer needs in Twitter –shifting the conversation to email and solving my problems. The many companies who have joined Get Satisfaction, conduct support on Twitter and Facebook are already demonstrating this value.
Become A Strategic Asset to Marketing
Outsourced support site Get Satifaction’s credo that “Support is Marketing” is spot on. As customers share their product experience with their trusted peers –they influence their network. Comcast’s Frank Eliason and his Comcastcares team as an indicator of a PR blessed support individual becoming a marketing asset. As a result, customer support experiences are indeed the scope of marketing. Perhaps the most trusted members of a company are not the VPs of marketing and their shiny blog, but the rough and tumble support technician who resonates and resembles a customer.
Influence Product Development
Customer touching groups have more insight to the needs of the market and must integrate with product development teams. For example, Intuit integrates community in their actual product –enhacing how customer voices influence their next-generation. Customer interactions should be recorded, prioritized and share with product teams who are designing the next generation of products.
Let Go and Allow Customers to Self-Support Each Other
In many cases, customers as a collective know more about the product set than a support team or product team do. Microsoft and other tech companies have developed a thriving community of customers that self-support each other in their developer forums. Companies struggle letting go of answering questions about products, but should instead use the right collaboration and knowledge capturing tools to allow customers to self support each other.
Become Proactive, Not Reactive
Support organizations must not only be responsive and wait for customer issues to go awry, but be proactive and head off issues before they become customer problems. Beyond companies forced to issue recalls, asking customers how their experience is going on a regular basis is key. Expect support organizations to develop advanced monitoring strategies and couple with CRM systems to instantly alert stakeholders of issues that can be corrected.
Anticipate, And Move Beyond Real-Time
Most companies already have 24/7 support organizations that can handle customer needs round-the-clock yet need to prepare for real time responses. Shuffling customers with issues (esp influencers) into a queue only amps frustration. The truly evolved support organization anticipates customer issues using proactive techniques mentioned above.
The path to the evolved state of support isn’t easy, to start with, companies should get started by:
Measure based on Value –Not as a Cost Center
Support organizations must not only measure based on customer sat, number of calls received and closed, but develop marketing and PR metrics. Measure on how many crises were diverted, new knowledge gleaned, and interactions in the open web.
Develop An Internal Marketing Plan
Get a seat at the table by demonstrating the strategic component of customer facing support efforts. Show marketing, product development, and leadership teams why your scope has increased –as should your internal influence.
Enhance Your Existing Processes
Put in processes that enable support in the real-time open web. You’ll need the right roles, processes, and tools to grow where your customers already are. Develop a triage system that integrates marketing’s efforts in social with your own internal processes to identify, triage, and react to customers.
Conduct Internal Training –and Fire Drills
New technologies require new processes, skills, and roles. Support organizations must train staff to learn new tools like mobile, social networks, and brand monitoring tools. Conduct internal “fire drills” and have contingency plans to avoid staying off this list.
Expand CRM and Customer Systems To Connect to Social Web
Customers are off the reservation, as should your systems. Learn to identify, prioritize, and capture customer interactions as they spread to social platforms and the to mobile.