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Not every customer question or issue is easily addressed.

This statement should come as no surprise. Everyone has experienced a scenario when self-service options like a search of the knowledge base or an online chat or telephone call with a customer service agent didn’t resolve the matter on that first contact.

This typically occurs for one of two reasons. The first is the problem is new to customer service and might require another department to triage or assist in diagnosing the problem and developing a solution. The second might be the issue is complex and requires assistance from a specialist elsewhere in the organization.

As any customer service leader will tell you, time is the enemy of customer service. This is because customers don’t care if their issue is new or complex–they expect a fast resolution. And that outside dependency on other departments and specialists can slow the pace. This is where having strong customer operations makes the difference.

What are customer operations? Behind the scenes are many operational roles supporting the day-to-day business of customer service: staff scheduling, contact volume analysis, knowledge base curation, and more. These are all essential functions to ensure the delivery of quality frontline customer service. However, customer operations here refers to how customer service works beyond its walls–with other departments to resolve those new and complex issues. Executing customer operations well can be challenging, and focusing on three attributes can helps ensure its success.

Connect internally

“Customer-obsessed.” “Customer-focused.” “Continuous improvement to the customer experience.” These are common goals for many organizations. Yet despite how it might be stated, they often find it difficult to achieve these goals. And if across the business, departments are not working together to address customers’ problems, no amount of technology or process improvement will make a difference.

How can this attitude or culture be changed? Ideally, it starts from the top, with top executives eliminating barriers to align resources across the organization. This commitment to working as a team elevates the importance of customer service and supportive customer operations across the company, driving cooperation across departments.

If this is not being directed from the top, customer service leaders can still make moves to improve customer operations. They can take the lead to build and maintain relationships with teams across the company. This provides all involved with an opportunity to demonstrate how stronger ties and commitment to customers can lead to better results not just for customers but for the organization.

Review and improve processes and systems

Even with a strong customer orientation, organizations may struggle to succeed. This is due to outdated processes and legacy tools that create their own set of barriers. These can slow employees down and prevent fast progress on customer issues.

The way around this is to build from small success. Start by selecting a few common customer issues that require cross-departmental collaboration to resolve. Review those processes, from the moment a customer contacts customer service through to resolution. Are agents required to perform manual steps? Are multiple systems necessary to find the data they need? How is consultation with other teams conducted? How often are Service Level Agreements missed? This audit process helps identify where both processes and systems can be streamlined and sets the stage for a continuous improvement mindset for the future.

Lean into workflow

Rationalizing a process and minimizing the number of steps and systems needed to deliver customer service is helpful. It can still leave things difficult to track and measure.

Workflow solves these challenges. Its nature allows it to scale from uncommon issues affecting individual customers to widespread issues. Workflow routes the issue to the department that can assist. Tasks are assigned to individuals in those departments. If progress is not made or the time limit to complete the task is exceeded, the task can be rerouted to others. All work and collaboration on the issue is tracked, ensuring visibility is maintained from start to end. And at its conclusion, reporting reveals how well a workflow is performing.

As with the process and systems audit, start small; select a few issues that involve teams outside customer service and create workflows to address them. Evaluate and discuss the results with all teams involved and refine as needed. Then continue to digitize more processes with workflow.

Work behind the scenes

When customers have problems, they are looking for fast solutions, be it from self-service or by contacting a friendly customer service agent. While that might be possible for the simple issues, the new and more complex issues are going to require assistance from specialists and teams outside customer service.

Organizations that are not cooperating to deliver customer service in these scenarios will struggle and customer satisfaction will suffer. These types of customer issues can only be addressed quickly when internal culture is aligned, processes and systems are rationalized on an ongoing basis, and workflow is orchestrating a collaborative resolution process. Only then can customer operations shift into high gear to drive faster resolutions and improved customer satisfaction.