Staff on the frontline are the face of your company, and
customer service staff in particular have the important role of putting things
right when they go wrong. If a customer has a poor experience here, it could
make or break their relationship with you.
Demands on frontline customer service staff are increasing
as consumers expect a higher standard of response. If you cannot provide it,
your customers will simply look for other companies who can satisfy their
expectations. Martin Ellingham, Respond Product Manager at Aptean, discusses
why empowering frontline staff ultimately results in higher standards of
customer care and overall profit. It’s about staff quality, not quantity.
Today, it has never been easier for consumers to change
their supplier or service provider. This has become particularly apparent in
free markets in recent years, as governments have attempted to break up
oligopolies of numerous industries – for example energy providers and financial
services – to increase the competition and ultimately benefit consumers by enabling
a wider range of choice.
In years gone by, many businesses could rely on low customer
churn because it was both inconvenient and difficult to switch supplier or
provider, but now it is a relatively pain free process with agencies and
switching services literally knocking on customers’ doors.
With that, how a business interacts with its customers and
their problems is fast becoming of greater significance. Customers don’t
necessarily want to switch providers, but if they feel that inadequate customer
service is forcing their hand, they will – and they won’t be coming back.
A business’ frontline is the first and the best opportunity
to either reverse a negative situation or build on top of a good situation.
Therefore, frontline staff need to be operating at a level that can both handle
the demand and satisfy customer queries effectively in order to reduce churn
and keep customers loyal.
Depending on what study you read, the cost of gaining a new
customer compared to retaining an existing one is about 10 to 20 times more
expensive for a business. But what many studies do not account for are the long
term ramifications of losing a customer to a competitor. Consider a bank or
building society; many customers will potentially be committed to one for
decades. If poor customer service results in a number of customers looking
elsewhere, it could leave a significant hole in a business’ long term financial
projections and results.
A single click can send a bad review around the world
The challenge of providing satisfactory customer service has
been exacerbated by the evolving digital landscape and how it now essentially
dictates brand reputation.
Customer service departments are no longer a 9-5 operation;
many are already running 24/7. The nature in which customers get the attention
of their service providers has never been broader or more varied, both online
and through the more traditional channels like phone calls and letters.
Now, there is nowhere for a company to hide if a customer is
dissatisfied. Evidence of poor customer service no longer dies out once it has
done the rounds at the coffee shop, office or gym – it lives on in the virtual
world as a permanent reminder to anyone researching their next service
It presents a real challenge for businesses, and has
dramatically increased the reliance on their frontline staff. If customer
service representatives are not adequately trained or do not have the resources
to effectively handle customer interaction across several different channels,
it could lead to a serious breakdown in customer trust.
As businesses have adapted to these developments,
expectations have risen. We as consumers want answers quickly. We want
immediate access to real people. We want them to be aware of our situation and
have solutions tailored to our specific requests. No matter how strong a staff
member’s personal skills might be customers always expect more. Apologies and
empathy may pacify the customer in the short term – be it face to-face or
digitally – but it does not solve the whole problem.
To ensure truly content customers, those skills need to be
complemented with the expertise that the customer ultimately wants. Frontline
staff need to be empowered with support that genuinely makes their jobs easier
while providing exemplary service.
It is no longer a numbers game. More customer service staff
does not necessarily fulfil customer expectations. More informed, more
efficient staff – that is the answer.
Embracing technology for an efficiency drive
With this digital age comes the need for customer service
staff to be technologically equipped – with technologies that really benefit
their capability to keep customers happy across the ever expanding list of
For frontline staff, there are any number of queries that
they could receive via a call, email or face-to-face enquiry. It is impossible
for them to know every single answer to every single situation off the top of
their heads, and they should not be expected to.
But that does not mean they cannot communicate some form of
useful information to the customer. A vague response that delays things further
– such as “I’ll have to go and find out” – hardly inspires confidence in the
customer that the business is doing everything in its power to help them in a
timely, effective manner. For staff on the frontline, understanding why an
issue has happened is not easy; understanding why when they are only armed with
basic summary information is even harder.
By utilizing holistic Complaints Management software, the
frontline – and as a result the overall business – will feel considerable
benefits. This is because it truly integrates the whole setup into a manageable
and easily accessible format.
It gives staff the ability to provide customers with instant
updates, rather than making them wait for an answer. If the problem cannot be
solved instantly, the software can streamline the redirection of a customer
complaint to the correct subject matter expert. Company-wide system updates
within the software can provide clarity into how similar issues have been
resolved – resolution information captured at first point of contact is logged,
so the customer need not wait for an answer that already exists.
For large companies whose customer service teams are spread
far and wide, this kind of streamlined internal communication is vital in
driving complaints handling efficiency.
By investing in the right tools which improve the
frontline’s effectiveness, it will prove to customers that company profits are
being reinvested into areas that will be there to help them – eradicating any
perceptions that the profits are simply lining the shareholders’ pockets.
Short-term action for long-term prosperity
Businesses need to separate themselves from the crowd, and
doing so means investing in customer service that exceeds the competition.
Consumers have never been better informed about the products and services they
use, as well as their rights, and ignoring that will be to the long-term
detriment of the company.
Simply hiring more customer service staff is not the
solution to improving complaints handling efficiency. In fact, adding more
components to an already inefficient system will go only go towards making
The key is to identify ways to make staff more efficient.
This means implementing inter-connected software systems that allow greater
detail to be captured, without disrupting a slick customer-facing experience.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but enhancing staff
capabilities through a complaints handling restructure does not have to be
costly, particularly in the context of the long term gains of doing so. By
working with complaints handling management experts to tailor a software infrastructure
that improves frontline customer interaction, businesses will gain customers’
trust – and acquire their loyalty for years to come.
In January we were given some outstanding news—Respond was
selected as one of CUSTOMER magazine’s Products of the Year! Receiving
the award from a magazine focused entirely on the CUSTOMER certainly
means a lot to us, as everything we do, every version, every update, is geared
to driving more value for our customers. Our customers, and their customers!
Respond was launched in the United States exactly
12 months ago and we’ve made significant strides since that launch,
including notable customer wins with companies like Volkswagen
Financial Services, our growing
voice in the importance of compliance and of course the launches of
5.11 and 6.0 in just a few months. As a tier
1 enterprise solution, Respond has also seen validation from industry analysts,
specifically Renee Murphy from Forrester Research, who included us in her July
2014 report “Listen To Your Customers To Meet Financial Regulations--The
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Is Changing The Face Of Customer Care.” A
key takeaway from her research:
“Leverage technology to manage and report on customer
complaints. The CFPB requires that covered firms manage customer
complaints centrally across all lines of business to create a holistic view of
common issues and metrics. This is nearly impossible without some kind of
software to facilitate complaint management workflows, documentation, and
is the essence of what Respond does for our customers, and we’re thrilled that
Renee has taken a leadership role in the analyst community regarding companies
working with the CFPB and finding improvements to the complaints management
process that can be applied across every industry. We’ll have additional
exciting Respond news coming in the months to come as the new launches are
prepared, but for now this CUSTOMER award is a chance to take a moment
and reflect on how far we’ve come as we look towards a bright future for
Respond and the growing voice of customers everywhere.