Roger Swannell

Tag: customerservice

Closing the loop in Customer Service

No customer contacts Customer Service for the sake of it. They do it because they have hit a barrier somewhere else in the organisation that is stopping them from achieving the things they set out to do, and they turn to the Customer Service to offer solutions.

When this happens customers want:

  • To be able to contact an organisation in ways that suit them.
  • To have their questions answered quickly, accurately and in language that suits them.
  • To feel listened to and understood.
  • To get back to doing the thing that they wanted to do in the first place. (Sometimes this is impossible and there is no solution, sometimes the customer journey goes into a dead end, what then?)

Organisations need:

  • Tools/systems/processes/teams to facilitate these outcomes for the customers.
  • To have a process for understanding the barriers and dead ends and deciding what to do about them.

Customer Service in isolation helps the problems to keep occuring.

Customer are the best testers an organisation could ever have. They’ll break every process, introduce every edge case, overcome every barrier and dead end. The challenge is to get that feedback from customers, through the Customer Service team, and on to the teams that can use it to make improvements. Close the loop.

Why I love customer service

The majority of my role is focused on improvement projects. Only maybe a sixth of my time is spent on the operational side of the business. And maybe only a sixth of that time is spent on answering customer service queries.

But, I think customer service is the most important part of what I do. I look at customer service queries every day, not because I’m necessarily the best person to answer them, but because it’s a good way to see what’s going on for our customers.

‘Getting closer to customers’ is one of the principles I think a lot about in how we improve and grow the business, and of course providing excellent support for our customers is a vital part of that, but more than that, our customers tell us how we should improve the business so we should definitely listen to them.

Customer service chatbot using Freshdesk API

Having built a chatbot that uses the eBay API, and with the idea of a customer service chatbot floating around, I decided to see if I could build a chatbot that uses the Freshdesk API to pull content from the Help Articles into a chat flow to answer queries from customers.

The bot introduces itself as any good bot should, and then asks the customer how it can help.

The buttons that the bot displays are dynamically populated by querying the results from the Freshdesk API to find out what top level categories are available in the Help Articles section on Freshdesk.

When the customer selects the appropriate category the bot dynamically creates buttons again from what is returned by querying the sub-categories in Freshdesk.

And when the customer selects a button the bot will calls the content of the Help Article and displays it in the flow.

The bot then checks if that Help Article is what the customer is looking for. If the customer selects Yes the bot tells the customer that it’s glad and ends the conversation. If the customer selects No, the bot allows the customer to contact a human by raising a ticket in Freshdesk.

The bot is very simple, partly because there aren’t very many Help Articles to pull from, but it demonstrates that using the Freshdesk API to populate the buttons on the fly can work and means that the content only needs to be maintained in Freshdesk and not within the chatbot.

Using Freshdesk – what I’ve learned so far

Principles rather problems

It’s more important to be trying to adhere to principles rather than solving a particular problem (as the problem probably isn’t understood well enough, and will change).
We agreed on three principles.

  • Shared: We all work together to give the customer the best experience of the BHF. Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Speed: We want to provide the fastest route to resolution for the customer.
  • Satisfaction: We want the customer to feel satisfied with the resolution, keep the relationship intact and maintaining the reputation of the BHF.

People drive processes

Any new system/product/business area needs someone to act as guide for others and make decisions and develop best practice. Without that people apply their previous ways of working to the new system, and then they don’t gain any of the benefits, and using a new system in an old way just creates drag on a process we’re trying to streamline.

Shifting mindsets

Emails are either replied-to or not replied-to, they have a binary state that doesn’t reflect the complexities of customer service.
Tickets in Freshdesk for Ecommerce Customer Services can exist in any of 224 different states, and some other teams have even more states. This means that each ticket can have a state within Freshdesk that more closely reflects the state of the customer’s enquiry in real life.
To use Freshdesk at it’s best we stop thinking about individual tickets, and instead think in states. So, it’s about asking “for the state of ‘Urgent and waiting on third party’, what’s going on in that state and is there anything I can do to make that state smaller and the ‘Resolved’ state larger?”

Empowering people

Calling them ‘agents’ is an interesting turn of phrase. They are agents of the organisation, representing the BHF. But to be agents they have to have a sense of agency, to be able to assume responsibility for their actions, to feel in control, to believe in their capacity to handle a wide range of tasks or situations. Freshdesk provides this. If software is the encoding of human thought, then Freshdesk is software that embodies this sense of agency.

Good customer services gets you closer to the customer

Our new customer support system has been live for a week now, and we’ve already seen benefits in customers getting better answers quicker than ever before.

Of course serving customers better is really important, as is making the teams more efficient, but the real benefits come from getting closer to our customers. We now have a means of recording, collating and analysing the that are bothering our customers most.

Agile demands that we get closer to the customer. The manifesto says we should value individuals and interactions and customer services is one place where those individuals we are serve are interacting with the organisation.

So as we take steps to become a more agile organisation we should make real efforts to seize the opportunities that our customer services teams and system offer.

Improving our customer services

Today we went live with our new customer services system.

It’s a very Kanban-ish with all the tickets visible, each ticket having a status and states to move through (open, waiting & resolved), each ticket having an owner which means only one person can work on it at any time, and tickets having an SLA which serves to limit the work in progress.

The new system will help the eight people across three sites involved in customer services to be more coordinated in how they help customers and achieve our principles:

  • Shared: We all work together to give the customer the best experience of the BHF. Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Speed: We want to provide the fastest route to resolution for the customer.
  • Satisfaction: We want the customer to feel satisfied with the resolution, keep the relationship intact and maintaining the reputation of the BHF.

Customer Services Strategy by Martin Hill-Wilson

I went to a key note speech by Martin Hill-Wilson. Here are a few of the inspiring and insight points he made.

“Customers lead the way in expectations and it’s easy for businesses to get behind the curve.”

“Self-serve only works if the answers are easily discoverable.”

“Marketing has no currency any more, advocacy is essential.”

“Channels multiply, they seldom die”

“Solving new problems in the old ways doesn’t work.”

“Delivering omni-channel on mobile is hard, but that’s where the customers are.”

“Providing digital-only customer service is channel disruption and block customers from choosing the channel that suits them.”

“Customer Journey Mapping is the visualisation of how things fit together, and for each touchpoint it matters what happened before and what happens after.”

“If you don’t understand how the dots join up, you haven’t understood the problem.”

“Customers can be encouraged to change their behaviour by offering a better alternative.”

“Customer Experience can be understood and measured by asking ‘Was it successful?’, ‘How hard was it?’, and ‘How did it feel?’.”

“Customers don’t remember the entire experience, they just remember the beginning, the end, and the outliers.”

“By 2020, customers will manage 88% of their relationship with enterprises without interacting with a human.”

“Self serve can reduce the effort for the customer.”

“Can’t increase self serve with poor customer journeys.”

“The history of Customer Service has been about efficiency rather than effectiveness and quality.”

“The best customer service teams deliver impact immediately and in the long term.”

“I can’t do that” shouldn’t be part of the vocabulary of a multichannel business.

Next tried to deliver a rug to a neighbour who wasn’t in so the delivery driver asked as to take it in. Then the neighbour moved house and never collected the rug. We could have got ourselves a nice new rug for free and that could have been the end of it.

Instead we called Next customer services who couldn’t find any order information and asked us to return the rug to a store. We did so and explained the situation to the shop assistant. The shop assistant asked us to wait while she went off to speak to the manager. After a couple of minutes she came back and suggested that they’d take the rug, hold it in store and contact the customer and refund them if they didn’t collect it. We said that was fine, and could she write a note saying that the rug had been returned so that if the customer came back looking for their rug we had proof that we hadn’t kept it.

She said that she couldn’t do that and that the customer would get a refund and so we could ask them to check their bank statement to see the refund. I explained that that wouldn’t provide us with any proof and that the customer could still choose to claim that we stole their rug regardless of what their bank statement said.

She tried calling Customer Services to get more information but after another ten minutes of waiting I had to have a more forceful chat with her to make the point that we’re doing them a favour by returning the rug and that all we want is for her to write on the delivery note that we’ve returned the rug to the store.

She seemed unable to accept that we wanted some proof that we’d returned it to store. I even offered to take the rug to a different store or explain the situation to the manager if that made it easier for her, and eventually she agreed to do as I asked.

Multichannel channel is a challenge for any business. And most businesses understandably approach it from the system point of view when really a good multichannel channel strategy needs to start with the needs of the customer, and then empower the front line staff to meet those needs effectively. “I can’t do that” shouldn’t be part of the vocabulary of a multichannel business.

Copyright © 2018 Roger Swannell

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