How many times have you called up a company’s customer service department and heard the message “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes.” Have you ever wondered whether your recorded call impacted more than just a performance evaluation of the customer service rep?
You and I know the folks who have legendary and empowered customer service cultures like Lowes, FedEx and UPS, to name a few. These corporate cultures do more than making it right with dissatisfied customers. They consider customer service as an opportunity to engage and create new business, instead of trying to win back lost business due to customer dis-satisfaction.
You may want to think twice about the value of your customer service team. Your customer service folks may be your organization’s greatest resource for continued customer discovery. Your customer service team often serves nothing more than a traditional conflict resolution function. What if this team became involved in new product development?
What if they were charged with exploring issues and designing improved internal processes and practices for your company? Yikes, and all you thought you were doing was contracting with a call center and paying per-hour wages.
Startups understand that customer service is real-world customer discovery. For starters, startups aren’t very deep when it comes to personnel available to handle customer issues. Chances are the startup CEO is the person speaking with the customer, and that conversation isn’t being monitored for quality and training purposes. That “customer service” conversation may mean the difference between whether that startup is thumbs up or thumbs down in the marketplace. It’s that lean of a process.
In small to mid-sized businesses, you’ve got layers of corporate culture involved in creating products, services, and platforms for marketplaces. Who is responsible for customer service in your organization? If you have outsourced it, more than likely you get some type of report or metric that measures the ROI of the company you hired to handle this function. What if you, as the manager, engineer, or CEO, handled customer service calls for one day each month?
You may end up hearing all the customer discovery conversations that you need to pay attention to. You may end up asking yourself: “Who’s really minding my store?”
If you are a startup or solopreneur, or an established company retooling and recalibrating, customer service should not be an afterthought within your infrastructure. Treat this critical function with the respect it deserves. What type of processes and programs can be developed which permit your customer service reps to be proactive rather than reactive? How can these front line reps communicate their impressions to your management team?
Let customer service folks function more like a business development unit than the classic complaint department. The customer discovery conversations they have are essential to process and product improvement. You stop finding out the bad news after the fact. You quickly find out a lot more information about your competitors. You position yourself to proactively create small wins which can add up to large returns for your startup or small to mid-sized business.
Babette N. Ten Haken, President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, catalyzes business transition, startup growth, and professional development. She works with non-traditional sellers, engineers, manufacturers, and technical startups.