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Would you be surprised to hear the earliest concept of workflow dates back nearly 100 years? Billed as a “rational organization of work,” it originally started with manufacturing then later found its way into office functions.

Today, workflow has continued that evolution. Through technology, workflow delivered on a common, company-wide platform creates and maintains a series of defined tasks and processes. These steps are then performed in a consistent manner by both humans and automated means and can be monitored from start to finish. The underlying goal of using workflow is to raise productivity and reduce costs, while increasing agility and improving an organization’s information exchange.

While its definition sounds widely applicable across an organization, workflow can be especially useful in customer service. MTTR or mean time to resolution is one of many common internal measurements for customer service. A low MTTR–equating to customers’ problems being solved faster–contributes to higher CSAT (customer satisfaction) and NPS (Net Promoter Score). What better place exists than customer service to use the power of workflow to reduce resolution time? The following scenarios are situations where workflow can make this possible.

Escalating issues

Customer issues get escalated for a variety of reasons. Perhaps a new or first-level agent is unable to solve a problem and a more skilled agent is needed. Maybe a customer is frustrated by a policy or perceived lack of priority for their issue and is requesting to speak with a manager. For whatever reason, the case needs to quickly move from one individual or team to another.

Workflow helps ensure that new assignment is correctly executed. The case can be routed to one person or a group, and detours can be established in situations where resources aren’t unavailable. One of the fastest ways to deescalate a situation is to make rapid progress, and workflow can deliver.

Managing SLAs

Similar to escalations is adherence to Service Level Agreements (SLAs). While also requiring timely action, SLAs are challenging because they can vary within customer service: some types of customers might require a solution within a few days while for other customers it might be a few hours. Likewise, the terms of service for different products might have diverse SLAs.

Once a case is created, the SLA clock starts ticking. If progress slows or halts, workflow can automatically initiate actions to bring others into the fold to ensure no violation. And with an audit trail, scenarios where SLAs were both met and missed can be reviewed and learned from.

Follow the sun

Some SLAs can create additional challenges. Many organizations offer products and services to customers around the world or to customers that require 24X7 availability of those products or services. When a problem occurs, offering to call back the next business day is not an option.

In this scenario, workflow can match the customer SLA requirements to the business capabilities available to continue to work the case. Perhaps the company providing the product or service has multiple contact centers around the globe or in one region with multiple shifts. Rather than relying on agents to perform manual assignments (which might result in forgetting to reassign open cases at the end of a shift), enter workflow. Rules can be set to ensure cases that require continued attention are properly routed on to new teams.

Connecting teams

The prior examples have addressed moving cases around within customer service to ensure the fastest response possible. Oftentimes, however, solutions require assistance from teams outside customer service. This is where a company-side workflow platform proves especially useful.

A billing issue affecting many customers might be as a result of a miskeyed number in the finance department. Incorrect product instructions stem from a mistake by the documentation team. Customer service might be able to manually work around these issues on a one-off basis, but the core of the problem–the root cause–must be brought to the attention of the team responsible and addressed to prevent ongoing customer impact. Workflow can facilitate that, by routing the issue to the proper department, managing discussion of potential solutions, and keeping teams on-track and accountable.

Powering automated solutions

The scenarios so far have demonstrated the benefits workflow offers internally routing customer problems raised directly to customer service. Workflow can also be used to cut out the middle man–customer service–for many common issues to get customers to solutions faster.

Registering a product. Reporting a lost credit card. Changing an address. These are all common customer activities. By capturing a few details from the customer in a form on a customer service website, workflow can route that request behind-the-scenes to the internal team responsible for product warranties, shipping replacement credit cards, or updating address information. Customer service is bypassed (saving them work) and the customer’s request can be fulfilled that much faster.

Keep it moving

The concept of workflow was originally created to ensure consistency and efficiency in manufacturing. It didn’t take long for these benefits to be noticed around the company and adopted in the back office. Workflow as a means of routing tasks was born.

The fastest path from a customer problem to a solution is one that is straight, repeatable, and minimizes diversions. As customer service teams strive to deliver high quality and fast answers, workflow shouldn’t be overlooked as a powerful means of delivering on this goal.