When it comes to online customer service, those of us who focus almost exclusively on forum-based solutions can learn a thing or two from our brothers and sisters in the call center.
In a recent study, Gartner surveyed 7,500 customer service representatives from 38 different companies to get a sense of the current climate in call-center operations.
They found that the climate in each of these centers could be described in one of the following categories:
- Adherence (52% of respondents) – Representatives have a strict set of scripts and policies dictating how they respond to each and every customer issue.
- Individual-Judgment (35%) – Representatives rely on their own experience and judgment to help customers.
- Network-Judgment (15%) – In dialogue with existing policies and procedures, representatives collaborate with one in other to solve customers’ problems.
You would expect the adherence climate to be the most streamlined and error-free way to handle things. But in reality, it was the least productive of the three. You might expect individual-judgment to be the next best choice, but you’d be wrong again.
Counterintuitively enough, climates geared toward network-judgment outstripped their peers, performing 50% better than the average call-center in Customer Effort, CSAT and productivity. Moreover, their rate of representative error was 25% lower than the others.
What’s that got to do with forum-based customer service?
One of the benefits of forum-based customer service is the platform’s ability to turn all your customer-service interactions into indexable content. In other words, every time you resolve an issue, that conversation beefs-up your website’s content and improves your customer experience environment.
By leveraging these “recorded” customer interactions, you can create a robust self-service system that will drastically reduce the number of times customers contact you in the future on the same issue.
With that permanence in mind, you want to ensure that every forum-based customer interaction is the best it can be.
How can you do that? One word: collaboration.
Learning From Collaborative Call Centers
If you’re stuck in adherence land, then you’ll want to apply internal policy guides and procedure manuals to answer each question. But while this may yield a technically correct answer to the issue, it’ll likely be stodgy and technical, and only narrowly applicable to that customer’s issue.
If you’re in an individual-judgment environment, you may come up with something a bit more nuanced and broadly helpful, but it'll be curtailed by the individual abilities of the representative. Moreover, there’s no guarantee their answer will be as helpful as it could be.
Why not take the best of both worlds—policy-adherence and the flexibility of individual judgment—and combine them with the spirit of internal collaboration a la the successful call-centers mentioned above?
Here’s what that process might look like:
- Receive – Let the customer know you’ve received their request and are working on the issue.
- Consult – Draw from your available documentation and refer the issue to the appropriate internal departments. Have your technical experts weigh in and deliver the most substantive answer possible.
- Create – Work with your internal creative team to shape the answer into something that will be helpful and informative enough to satisfy a broader range of future customers with similar complaints.
- Respond – Answer the customer via the original channel in which they made the request. In this case, that’s your customer service forum.
- Distribute – You’re not done. If you have a separate knowledge base, post your response there. If you have a FAQ, add it to your FAQ. Work with the marketing department to either use the answer as a blog post or morph it into a new mini-guide. The content possibilities are endless, and I'm sure the marketers will thank you for giving them a high-value piece of content to work with.
I can hear the objection now: “Who has time for all that?”
That's a legitimate concern. I'll admit that running through this process every time may not be entirely feasible for every organization. But to dismiss it out of hand would be short-sighted.
The more effort you put into it, the better your knowledge base will be, increasing customer satisfaction and retention. Even more, your site will be richer with technical fodder for the bots at Google. Your colleagues in sales and marketing will thank you for that.
Take the time to put your best minds together and squeeze every online customer service interaction for all it's worth. I promise it'll be worth the effort.