Like Sands Through the Hourglass...

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  August 03, 2012

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

Customer service is a funny term. It’s two words but, when you look at the past 30 years in the customer service industry, the focus has typically been on the customer service provider and its technology – the service side of the term. From the early days of telemarketing and CTI (News - Alert) to predictive dialers, IVR, and integrated CRM and   from IVR and businesses have consistently sought the create process efficiencies that would enable them to respond to more customers more quickly. 

The theory was twofold. First, handling more customers would reduce the cost per interaction and, second, customers would be happy because they would have shorter wait times and would be able to get back to their normal activities faster.

Both are true – assuming resolution is achieved during the initial interaction, regardless of whether it’s an inbound call or outbound initiative.

Both are also misguided – if resolution does not occur, customer dissatisfaction rises, additional actions are likely to occur, and more time (read: $$$) will be spent on that customer.

Indeed, First Call Resolution is the right approach and, perhaps, a better term, as it implies success (at some level, at least). At least it <BEGINITALICS>was<ENDITALICS> the right approach, until the first call became something other than a call from a fixed-line phone, and the first call became some other form of communication that didn’t necessarily allow for immediate resolution – but it could allow for immediate response.

Some of the greatest technological innovations, which have helped drive business efficiencies and collaboration, have also challenged the customer service paradigm. The Internet, mobile devices and apps, social media, IP Communications, all have contributed to the creation of a new breed of customer, which is far more complex and far more demanding than its predecessor. The good news is your organization can be part of this new world order, where the customer defines your actions.

I recently had the pleasure of presenting at Aspect’s (News - Alert) user conference (ACE), where part of my focus was just that – the importance of understanding your customer in the context of this new social mobile world and knowing how, why, and when they contact your organization. With that understanding complemented by the appropriate technologies, your teams – and it’s crucial to extend the definition of customer service beyond the traditional call center agent to other subject matter experts, field techs, and even management – have the combination of human capital and technology to respond quickly and appropriately to your customers, based on their initial mode of contact.

This may seem fundamental to customer service, but the new customer – and the tools to which is has access – has created significant challenges for businesses, which have to deal with not only multiple communications channels, but also an influx of new data about their customers based on interactions and buying/usage habits – data that must be collected, sorted, and stored. On the positive side, this has given way to yet another new and significant trend (cue the Big Data theme music), which holds tremendous value for understanding customer habits and needs once businesses have learned to harness its power.

So, getting back to the term, Customer Service, there are certain elements that are a natural part of good service. How they are delivered may changed over time with new technologies, but the basic tenets of service quality are consistent. For three decades, TMC (News - Alert) has explored these ideals and how call centers can achieve high customer satisfaction rates. But for 30 years, the point of view has been from the inside out.

While customer service will continue to be driven by the internal operations of any business, this new era of multimodal always connected communications requires first, an outside in approach, where the first step in achieving customer satisfaction us defining your customer – not a theoretical definition, but a statistically accurate depiction based on live data that helps you identify the tools and personnel you need to meet their needs, including personnel that may not have previously been part of the customer service equation, but have valuable information that can help address customer needs quickly and efficiently.

I welcome you to enjoy our look back at the past 30 years of the Customer Interactions Solutions legacy in this issue, and look forward to 30 more years, beginning with a new look next month, and a new name. CUSTOMER magazine, the next evolution of TMC’s longstanding coverage of the customer service industry, focus not only on business process and technology in the contact center space we have delivered expert opinion on for since 1982, but how businesses can adapt to the technology that is now available to their customers and is impacting their decision making and expectations.

Getting back to that term, Customer Service, whereas previous generations have focused heavily on the service angle, CUSTOMER will look diligently at the customer, and how businesses can leverage their full corporate resources to go beyond service to delivering a quality Customer Experience.

There, I said it – Customer Experience – the term that is replacing Customer Service anecdotally and in research and expert opinion, underscoring the focal point of our newest brand. Indeed, these are the days of our CUSTOMER.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi