The contact center and customer service department as key value creators in a changing economy.
The role of contact centers (for service) and customer service departments is shifting towards the center of the organization and value creation. Customer engagement, the customer experience, frictionless interactions and case handling, customer service quality overall and the changing expectations of customers have created an unprecedented momentum for change.
Digital technologies, the need to differentiate, urgent cost efficiencies and customer behavior have added to this momentum in which the customer experience is becoming increasingly important.
The key role and changing face of customer service – and thus of customer service departments and contact centers – isn’t new. However, in recent years there have been many changes and evolutions leading to current transformations.
In 2010, Joseph Jaffe published his famous customer service manifesto, emphasizing how customer service has become the new marketing and is not just about service in the traditional sense anymore. In 2008, Pete Blackshaw published “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World”, emphasizing what had become clear in previous years: in this consumer-driven and connected world things were changing. And many years before that and before the advent of social, the crucial role of the customer experience, and along with it, customer service (which is not the same) for the future growth of businesses was emphasized by several experts.
The increasing role of connected and channel-agnostic customer service
One of the many signs showing that organizations start having another look at the role of customer service and the role of the (inbound) contact center is the increasing attention for social customer service, mobile and digital channels in an omnichannel approach for a channel-agnostic customer.
While in the early days of social – and, unfortunately often still today – the increasingly public and connected voice of the customer was feared by many organizations, social is now increasingly taken into account. It took us quite some time to get there and truth is we’re not there at all, even if already in 2009 a poll by Corizon showed the growing role of social customer service, including IM.
In fact, customer service has been moving online and to digital channels since the early days of – the commercial – Internet.
Still, many customer service and inbound contact center requests stull happen via traditional channels, including telephone, paper and email (the first digital channel to be broadly adopted). But things are changing as they have been changing gradually since more than 15 years.
The contact center and customer service department – a differentiating role
The reason why omnichannel customer service has become so important is not mainly because of a sudden spike in specific digital channels. It’s a mix of the realization that customer service and the customer experience are key business drivers, changing behavior, the commoditization of products and services in many markets, cost concerns and the simple fact that business start seeing that a single customer view is not just about having that view but also about acting upon it. Customer service and, along with it, the customer experience, have become key areas where organizations can still make a genuine difference.
And the business challenge increasingly is how to make that difference amidst a more global, commoditized, connected and highly competitive market reality. With everyone battling for providing excellent or “wow” customer service and experiences for ever more demanding and channel-agnostic customers, the question arises whether it’s really an area where the difference can be made in this competitive market that also has to tackle the challenges of new business models and offerings from companies we tend to call “disruptive” in this age of digital transformation sometimes (or who are simply better at listening to the customer and acting upon it, putting customer questions and pain points in the center in several business functions and marketing tactics).
The answer to that question is a clear yes. The heart and mind of the customer is where the “battles” can be won. Sure, customer service and the end-to-end customer experience are not the sole ways to stand out. Innovation and being close to the customer in other ways are other differentiators.
But the simple truth is that most organizations still have a very long way to go to put customer service and the customer service departments and/or contact center in the heart of the business and the customer-facing value creation process. And the time to start doing that is now.