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The changing landscape of customer service

Aberdeen Group recently reported that organisations that reached a 90 per cent plus customer satisfaction rate achieved an annual 6.1 per cent in service growth, 3.7 per cent growth in overall revenue and an 89 per cent level of customer retention. With approximately 78 per cent of UK GDP derived from the services sector, customer service is becoming increasingly recognised as a strategic issue and, according to the Institute of Customer Service, if organisations do not include it in the boardroom then some of those businesses won’t be around in the longer term. 

The growing importance of customer service 

Tom Gorman, president of opXL, LLC and a field service expert believes that the goal of field service excellence is to respond quickly to customer needs, whatever they may be and it takes four criteria to meet this goal: be on time; allow enough time to do the job; have the right skills; and bring the right equipment.

The most common customer complaint is when a technician does not resolve the issue first time. This may be due to not having the right part or tools, not having the right skills or not enough time to complete the job. Considering 25 per cent of service calls require a follow-up visit, the result of not achieving a first-time fix can be detrimental. Companies not meeting a 50 per cent first-time fix rate and requiring a return visit reported revenues dropping by nearly three per cent. 

As a result, more organisations are beginning to realise the value of intelligent scheduling – incorporating technician knowledge, parts availability, and capacity into their scheduling processes to ensure that the technician arriving on site is actually the person who can resolve the customers issue first time. Businesses can address the challenge of making better in-day decisions by utilising a work management self-learning tool. 

To avoid large data set-up exercises of skill sets and work areas, a self-learning tool supports the assignment of work orders to the field technicians by remembering who has the right skills and their usual work areas. The user also has the ability to enquire what has been learnt by the system and correct it. Aberdeens research found that the Best-in-Class (the top 20 per cent) performers had mean success ratios of 92 per cent for meeting response or project completion deadlines and 88 per cent for first-time fixes.

What matters most to customers  

According to Jo Causon from the Institute of Customer Service, there are five key areas which matter most to customers:

  • Well trained and professional staff members who are genuinely empowered to do their jobs. Are the people that interact with customers professional and empathetic with emotional intelligence and business acumen
  • How easy is the organisation to do business with  Does the business make it easy for me to interact with them across all channels
  • Product and service quality. Does the product or service do what is expected
  • Problem resolution. How are any issues resolved This is not just about the outcome but also includes the way the process is managed; and
  • Timeliness. 

Care needs to be taken when managing customer expectations about the timescale in which products or services can be delivered. It is absolutely critical to match and manage customer expectations. 

The strategic importance of the field service worker

The role of the field service operative has changed dramatically over recent years; shifting from one of operational necessity to strategic significance. Why this change Because with the rise in use of automated booking systems, for example, and with the growing trend of machine to machine (M2M) capability allowing applications to provide preventative and predictive analytics, the field technicians visit to the customer may be the first and only exposure a customer has to the companys brand and service delivery. 

Causon explains that the biggest change we have seen in customer service, is the move from a transactional economy to the relationship economy where value lies in one-to-one interactions and service leaders prevail in the marketplace. A personalised service for many and a dialogue approach, as opposed to the traditional monologue, is now desired. This power shift has come about, partly due to technology and the rise of social media, but also because customers want to be more engaged in the customer experience.

Looking ahead, demand for staff who have desirable attitudes and attributes for customer service will increase. In particular, there will be a stronger focus on the importance of emotional intelligence as an enabler to deal with the wide variety of changing customer service relationships and interactions.

Social media given power to the consumer

How do you build relationships with so many, while personalising the interaction This dialogue approach is a major management issue but one which can, in part, be addressed through the use of social media. 

Social media channels have given power to the consumer like never before. We now take to Twitter and Facebook to communicate with organisations about our customer experience, with many of us expecting rapid responses to our queries and complaints. It is therefore vital that organisations not only have a social media presence but have clear messaging via social channels and teams empowered to conduct social media interactions with customers in a rapid and flexible way. 

Who owns the customer experience  

According to the Institute of Customer Service, having somebody on the board who has overall responsibility for the customer experience is essential and that somebody needs to be the CEO. The customer service strategy is integral to the business strategy, and the board needs to lead on this.

Mark Forrest is general manager of Trimble FSM.

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