West Corporation

Posted on March 27, 2013 by West Corporation 



Does the Left Hand (of Your Customer Service Operation) Know What the Right Hand Is Doing?

Technology is changing at lightning speed these days — particularly technologies related to customer relationship management. This is exciting and brings with it new challenges and opportunities.

The opportunities are boundless: like integrating mobile and social solutions to help customers get service anytime/anywhere, or integrating comprehensive analytics to ensure that when customers call your support number, you know who they are and what they’re most likely to be calling about.

Of course, with opportunities also come challenges. One of the key challenges companies face today is how to seamlessly integrate their technology and human-based customer service elements to provide for a streamlined, efficient customer experience. For example, many companies have yet to address the age-old problem where their contact center agents have to ask customers the same questions as the IVR did, because they lack adequate systems integration.

In addition to situations like this, many companies face the added challenge of how to integrate outsourced customer support vendors and processes with their own, to provide for a seamless customer experience “from A to Z.” Leveraging third-party outsourcing partners is a good idea, but not if the partner’s systems and resources aren’t integrated effectively with the rest of the company’s on-premise infrastructure, agents and operations.

I recently had some first-hand experience with companies that have utterly failed in their customer service mission, mainly because they haven’t effectively integrated their outsourced service provider into their business and customer service operations.

My wife and I subscribe to a travel magazine that we both enjoy reading and look forward to, month after month. Although we use the magazine’s website a lot, we always await with anticipation the printed copy edition of the magazine. Recently, two of the print editions of the magazine went missing in the mail, so when we noticed that the magazine has a digital edition, we decided to stop receiving the print edition in favor of the iPad version.

Little did we know what a customer service mess we were stepping into. When I called the magazine company to tell them we’d like to start receiving the digital edition, the contact center agent said, “That’s fantastic, I’ll give you the phone number to call so you can start receiving the iPad edition.” I was a bit baffled with this and said, “Isn’t there any way you can sign me up to the iPad edition, given that you already have our account information?” The agent said, “Nope, we don’t actually support the digital edition. We rely on another company to do that. I can send them your information via email, but it’s not likely you’ll hear from them soon, because they are so busy with requests. Here’s the company’s name and telephone number for you to call so you can receive digital edition.”

I thought the whole conversation was bit odd, and by this time my wife was starting to get frustrated. On more than one occasion she suggested we just cancel the subscription because the company not only seemed to struggle in getting us the mailed version of the magazine but also seemed to have some kind of odd relationship with a rather invisible digital publisher that wasn’t really connected to the main publisher.

I decided to contact the company supporting the magazine’s digital version. When I reached a customer service representative, the agent said, “We don’t seem to show a customer record for you, so if you have a few minutes, I need to create one here for you so that you can receive the digital version of the magazine.”

“Uh, pardon?” I said. “You don’t have any record of us as a magazine subscriber?” The agent said, “Well, the publisher who sends you the paper-based version of the magazine has these details, but we’re the digital version and we don’t have them.” I ended up giving the agent all of the information she needed so that we could finally receive the digital version. The agent said that within 24 hours, we’d receive an email link outlining what to do to get the digital version. Almost a week had gone by and we still hadn’t received the email link that the agent promised to send.

The issue finally got resolved after several weeks and many phone calls. Rather ironically, any day now, we expect to start receiving the standard litany of renewal notices in the mail, threatening that if we don’t renew now, the prices will be going up and we’ll have to pay more to renew later and horrendous, frightening thunder and lightning storms will hit, as well.

Will we renew our subscription? I doubt it. We’ve lost confidence in the magazine publisher’s ability to manage customer files and customer service. If they can’t manage and integrate basic customer information, then what does that say about their ability handle credit card information, for example?

I’m a strong advocate of the notion of outsourcing to partners, particularly when it comes to fast-changing technologies like digital publishing and many others. Having said that, the key mistake (among a number of them) that this magazine publisher made was to not integrate its outsourcing partner effectively into the company’s technology, business and customer support operations — the result being poorly executed customer service.

The bottom line message is that outsourcing business activities and processes, including customer service, oftencan make sense in today’s fast-changing technology-centric environment. When done right, it can help companies save money, stay current with new technologies and improve customer service.

But when executed in a disjointed, haphazard manner like the magazine publisher did in this example, it can result in poor customer service, increased customer churn and eventually, erosion of revenue and profit streams. Case in point: As mentioned earlier, I seriously doubt we will renew our subscription to this particular magazine.

So, if you’re going to partner with a third-party provider for customer service and other types of transactions, be sure to take an integrated view from the outset of technology, operations and people integration, and contact center agent training. The only thing worse than the fact that the company’s technology systems weren’t integrated was that the agents from both companies seemed rather oblivious and/or indifferent to, the fact that they were actually supposed to be working together to support print and digital customers in an integrated manner. (I would tend to blame the agents’ managers, not the agents themselves.)

It seems obvious but is well worth repeating that from the customer’s perspective, the customer experience needs to be seamless and effortless, regardless of whether interaction is with one of your own customer service agents or an agent from your outsourcing partner. When you get a minute, try calling your own company’s customer service line(s), to get a feel for the experience that your customers go through every day. It’s well worth the time, and you might learn a few new things along the way that can help you to improve in the future.

West Corporation