By Jeff Koyen
Time was, customer service was regarded as a necessary, if exasperating, part of the organization—a cost center that plays defense against complaints, quibbles and queries from mostly dissatisfied consumers.
That’s no longer the case.
“Customer service is now viewed as strategic,” says Michael Ramsey, VP of product management for customer workflow products at ServiceNow. “According to research, over 80% of businesses rely on customer experience to differentiate themselves from competitors. Customer service is the face of your company.”
Even before the current Covid-19 crisis, consumers were fed up with phone trees and agents rushing through calls. Now, as many anxious consumers take baby steps to re-enter the economy, customer support must be more effective and empathetic than ever.
How can businesses rise to the challenge? For one thing, by giving customer service employees a smarter workflow that empowers them to meet customer needs. Customer service management (CSM) powered by AI, equipped with self-service and designed to prioritize agents’ time, is crucial to maximizing positive customer interactions.
Keep reading to learn how any CS department can become a multi-channel machine that delivers measurable brand value—even during a global pandemic.
In the Covid-19 era, agility is a survival skill. As the pandemic spread, virtually every part of doing business changed, from back-office fulfillment to supply chain management to customer service.
Major retailers like 7-Eleven had to send their customer support teams home just as customer needs for accurate information and fast solutions skyrocketed. Classified as an “essential business,” 7-Eleven had to answer a lot of questions before its customers felt safe enough to shop again. The global chain weathered the storm better than many competitors because it started implementing smart, cloud-based workflows well before the pandemic struck.
Historically, 7-Eleven’s customer service department was unequipped to handle high-volume, high-urgency customer queries.
“Our feedback and our customer issues were coming into us from multiple channels, but into one system [that] was not built as a case management tool,” says Jerry Campbell, senior customer experience manager for 7-Eleven.
All customer communications arrived at the same collection point, where they were given the first-come-first-served treatment. In a smaller organization, this might work. But for 7-Eleven, with 68,000 locations worldwide, customer inquiries range from simple complaints and compliments to time-sensitive concerns that can affect public health.
The company’s legacy case management software couldn’t analyze and sort queries automatically. As a result, “members of my team manually separated the cases in [a spreadsheet], then farmed them out to agents,” Campbell says.
7-Eleven met this challenge by transitioning to ServiceNow’s Customer Service Management solution, which analyzes, categorizes and prioritizes inbound queries before they reach a human agent. Urgent questions and time-sensitive inquiries are flagged for immediate attention by a human support rep. FAQs and fan mail for the latest Slurpee flavors get automated responses.
Soon enough, 7-Eleven was successfully fielding 1,000 customer service queries every day via email, phone and app.
Thanks to smart pre-pandemic decisions, 7-Eleven was able to continue operations when the crisis hit.
Since implementing a smart workflow and CSM, 7-Eleven has seen dramatic improvements in processing times and customer satisfaction:
These successes set the stage for 7-Eleven’s survival during the current crisis. When the pandemic struck, its teams had the infrastructure necessary to communicate with millions of concerned customers.
“We gave our customers what they needed in the time of Covid,” says Jerry Campbell. He adds, “[Our customers knew] employees had the proper PPE to operate, [and] we accelerated some digital products, like touchless payment and contactless delivery.”
Looking beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, 7-Eleven will continue to use its customer service data to benefit other departments and initiatives. Already, customer insights collected from the Customer Service Management solution inform decision-making elsewhere in the organization.
“We can go to our partners in other departments and say, ‘Hey, this promotion isn’t performing very well’ or ‘Hey, this product needs to be switched out,’” Campbell says.
To be agile in a crisis, companies must prioritize agility before it becomes critical. They must also be willing to innovate when a crisis is underway.
Look around your organization. You may well spot opportunities to break down silos, accelerate development and spur innovation within your organization right now.
ServiceNow’s Michael Ramsey offers four takeaways for business leaders looking to transform their customer service function:
As a once-in-a-generation global event, the Covid-19 pandemic has called into question many long-held standard practices, and no industry has been spared. With digital workflows, CS leaders are creating positive customer experiences that benefit the entire organization—and might even serve a public function during the pandemic.