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When it comes to the right platform to serve customers, choices abound. Type “customer service management” or similar terms into your favorite search engine and standby for thousands of results to peruse.

With so many options, it would seem challenging to find the right solution. But when you look closely, you’ll find those thousands of solutions all have some of the same fundamental capabilities, like tracking customer names, contact information, and interactions and issues. These systems might also track what products and services their customers have. Of course, there are other bells and whistles available that vendors will tout. And some might be more important to your business than others.

Yet despite so many choices in the marketplace, some companies might feel they can’t find just the right fit. Perhaps they feel their business or processes are truly unique. As a result, they might choose to start from scratch and build something custom from the ground up.

With so many choices that seem so similar and the option of buying “off the shelf” or creating something custom, how does a company choose?

All things being equal, there are a few key capabilities to look for beyond those basics. Definitely ensure those are covered, but allow me to suggest a few to consider that will help your company serve customers even better. Beyond just tracking names, email addresses, and the customer’s problem, these will raise customer satisfaction, help reduce service costs, and offer the ability to make business-specific customizations when needed.

Self-service

When customers have problems, they have become very sophisticated in how they seek a solution. No longer do they pick up the phone first–unless it’s their mobile phone and they are going online. In fact, most will start their search for answers online on your service website. And when self-service options aren’t available, they become frustrated.

For this reason, when considering a modern customer service solution, it must offer self-service. Your customers expect and demand it. By not offering self-service options, you run the risk of negatively impacting customer satisfaction. What constitutes self-service? Features like:

  • A searchable knowledge base, with step-by-step solutions that can be easily and regularly maintained
  • Online communities, where customers can pose questions and receive responses from peers and experts
  • Automated solutions that solve a problem–address changes, product replacement requests, etc.–with little to no input or effort by the customer
  • Virtual agent capabilities (also known as chatbots), offering answers backed by machine learning

In addition to being a preferred avenue of service for customers, self-service also helps reduce costs. Customers can get answers anytime, anywhere for common solutions, freeing up agents to focus on the more complex issues.

Workflow

Many applications today offer some form of workflow. For those unfamiliar with it, workflow allows a business to move a business process from start to finish out of email (where it typically lives) onto a more structured course, providing greater visibility and accountability across the board. And while workflow can be useful for driving improvements in customer service processes, I’m actually talking about doing even more with it.

When a company is truly focused on customer satisfaction and quality, customer service can work cooperatively with teams across the company to address the real reason behind a customer’s issue. This means departments are dedicated to addressing problems when they arise: finance takes responsibility when customers are affected by a widespread billing error; manufacturing steps up to address product quality issues; etc. And it means these teams are working with customer service to address issues using … you guessed it, workflow. Thanks to workflow, customer service can assign problems to the appropriate team to verify and address; once solved, customer service can then deliver the resolution back to the customer.

This closed-loop system of service offers many benefits. Product and service quality improves when problems are permanently solved, raising customer satisfaction. Costs are reduced, as well, because customer service will no longer receive calls and emails for these resolved issues. Catching and fixing an issue also limits product returns and replacements.

Platform Delivery

You may have noticed from the title and throughout this article, I have referred to selecting a platform–not simply a tool or software. There’s a reason for that. A customer service platform will offer all that’s necessary to manage and deliver customer service, just like software, but a platform will let you go further.

It will make integrations with other systems possible. Is the customer service team required to use a separate system to take orders or process payments, while offering agents and end customers visibility into both current and past transactions? A platform makes such integration possible, with out-of-box integrations or the ability to create your own.

Is your business unique? Beyond standard capabilities, do you require functions not typically offered by off-the-shelf software? It’s impossible for a software vendor to cover all the business logic a company might require, or to provide uncommon capabilities in a nimble manner. A platform offers a software environment enabling a company to develop their own solutions as needed, while still benefitting from current and future customer service capabilities delivered as part of the platform.

Taking a platform approach, a business can more agilely develop, maintain, and evolve the unique service capabilities needed for customer service. The result is more optimal service and greater customer satisfaction.

More Than Names And Notes

Customer service can be a huge competitive advantage. And customer satisfaction and experience can make the difference between growing and declining business. When you consider this, it’s clear that using basic customer service software is not enough.

When evaluating solutions for customer service, there are many options available. Look for the basic features you need, but then look beyond them. Look for a true customer service platform that includes self-service and workflow. These capabilities are what you need to not only elevate your customer service and deliver higher satisfaction but to improve your bottom line, as well.