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Is Customer Service Really Like Peanut Butter?

There is nothing quite like a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Maybe it's the tastiness of the peanut butter, and the sweetness of the jelly smashed together between two slices of bread, or perhaps something is comforting in its nostalgia. Each ingredient alone is delicious, although not quite the same without the complementary flavors of its counterparts. 

peanut butter & jelly sandwich

Customer Experience (CX) is like the PB&J sandwich, where a perfect harmony of all the ingredients creates an enjoyable result. Customer Experience is the sum of all the interactions a customer has with your company. It includes the entire journey, starting with the way customers initially hear about your product, through purchase and on-boarding, first use, billing and payment, ongoing engagement, the renewal process, and of course, the support from your company along the way. Customer experience is subjective; it focuses on the emotions and perceptions a customer develops about your company. 

Customer Service (CS), on the other hand, is like the peanut butter - a critical ingredient that impacts the overall result. Like peanut butter, Customer Service can be excellent on its own, but the best result comes when combined with the other elements. Customer Service is reactive and incident driven. These transactions often begin when customers contact your company to answer a question or solve an issue. Despite your company's efforts to engage customers in other ways, much of their interaction with your company will be with your Customer Service team. And their perception of your company may be based on their experience here as well. 

Many companies still use the terms Customer Service and Customer Experience interchangeably, but they mean very different things. Some companies believe Customer Service is responsible for Customer Experience, but excellent Customer Experience is a cross-functional initiative. Customer Service is just a piece of the overall Customer Experience, but it's an important piece. Just like the PB&J ingredients need one another to make a whole, Customer Service requires cross-functional collaboration for an optimal Customer Experience. Customer

Service alone cannot transform Customer Experience, but there are a few things you can do to drive incremental improvements: 

Set agents up for success.

As a CS leader, you must provide agents with what they need to deliver an exceptional level of service consistently. This means ensuring you have the right people, processes, tools, and metrics in place to operate successfully. It also means identifying and correcting policies and workflows that, although well-intended, may impede agents' abilities to service customers. Your goal should be to meet the customer's expectations about resolving the issue quickly and easily. Remember, customers are already inconvenienced and probably a bit frustrated because they had to contact you. The Effortless Experience book suggests CS interactions drive more disloyalty, and it is CS's job to mitigate this disloyalty. Yes, it seems obvious, but don't make getting service a hassle for your customers. Putting the right people, processes, and tools in place will help set your agents and ultimately, your customers up for success. 

Be proactive.

Many customer service leaders are implementing a more proactive approach by identifying issues and taking steps toward resolution before a customer even notices. In our instant gratification world, customers have little to no tolerance for the inconvenience, and now companies have little choice but to deliver here. We have come to expect this kind of service even from traditionally less customer-focused places like doctors' offices, public schools, and youth sports programs. If there is a problem, customers expect companies to be on top of it first
In addition to proactively contacting customers for known issues, it is good practice to review metrics and customer feedback regularly to look for opportunities for improvement. This will help you be proactive at a higher level. Metrics will often highlight problem areas. From there, ask the five whys to identify root cause, then implement the necessary improvements. 

Listen and share.

Out of everyone in your organization, agents are most familiar with what customers need, and what they like or don't like about your product and company. Given the volume of customers they interact with each day, they have become adept at identifying trends. Unfortunately, agents do not do much with this information. First, the data is subjective and unstructured, making it difficult to articulate and share in a way that leads to meaningful results. Second, agents do not know what to do with the feedback or are not empowered to do so. Third, they don't care, likely because nothing would be done with the input, so why bother? As a CS leader, you must fix this problem. Like Leslie O'Flahavan said in a recent #ICMIchat, "...if frontline #CSRs worked with customers to improve #CX, we'd have a righteous revolution on our hands right now". It is essential to empower employees to be listeners and develop a way for their insights to be shared and acted upon. Think about the value to be had if agents shared this info and your company did something about it! 

Build bridges.

How many times do agents feel caught off guard because of actions taken by other parts of the business? Maybe to meet a deadline, your development team releases a product that is not quite up to par. Perhaps marketing launched a new campaign and forgot to let the CS team know. Agents are now flooded with questions, caught on their heels and feel and off their game. Often, agents feel as though they are holding things together with duct tape, which is frustrating for both agents and customers. 
Silos may not be bad if companies build bridges to connect them. Often, other departments do not fully understand how their actions impact customers, or they do not care because they will not directly deal with the fallout. Customer Service leaders should establish open lines of communication with other departments to help get ahead of these kinds of avoidable issues. Building strong cross-functional relationships will allow Customer Service to understand what other departments are working on and how these initiatives might impact customers. In addition, these relationships create a foundation that will enable CS leaders to drive improvements, ultimately impacting CX. 

Show the value.

Some companies like to skimp on support because they see it as a cost center. Customer Service can add a ton of value at a relatively low cost. As a CS leader, you must show the value your team brings to the organization. When you track the data for your business, you may find an interesting correlation between CS activities and customer retention. Beyond that, CS agents can identify revenue expansion opportunities with the product. Maybe you even move to cost-neutral or revenue-generating by establishing premier service offerings. When you articulate the value in terms of revenue, you may find it is easier than expected to cost-justify the CS team. Show this value early and often.