Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Create Advocates

Last week I bought a Reliance Broadband Data card and immediately encountered some issue with its activation. I called their Customer Support Representative (CSR) (aka Call Center folks). The support representative listened my problem patiently and asked few probing questions. Then she had conference me with various stakeholders (Sales Person, who sold the data card to me, and Field verification person, who has to verify my Address) and solved my problem within 30mins. I was ecstatic!!

Involving your customer in problem solving and making your internal workflow transparent to them will make your customer believe you. Shroud of secrecy and keeping everything hidden from customers didn’t help companies much till date. Empower your CSR with requisite knowledge and skills and give them authority to make decisions. Zappos gives full freedom to its CSR to decide whether to give replacement shoes or not. CSR is your front end to customer so they need to be empowered to take timely right decisions and hence kindle trust in customer. Customer doesn’t like CSR who just reads out brochure and fail to make any decision for them. CSR folks should be aware of the bigger picture of the company. They should be aware of all workflows in company, scope of various Business Units (BUs) and which responsibility lies with whom. Awareness will help them to make right decision and Authority will allow them to make things happen with people from various BUs. CSR are generally seen to pass buck to other BUs and just acts as mundane information providing centers. They generally crib about not getting proper proactive response from other BUs. Customer is not bothered about what your internal limitations are and why things are not working at your end. They just need solution.

CSR should be customer focused and should have conscious inclination towards customer. This will help them in understanding customer’s pain points better. CSR, in addition to working as problem solvers, can also act as consultant to the company. They can give feedback to management on areas that can be improved. Feedback would be more precise and holistic if CSR is aware of all workflows internal to company. CSRs continuous feedback will smoothen various business units’ integration and inter-BU communication.

In case of customer complain, CSR should pull in all stakeholders in a conference call, find out the root cause of the problem, assign action points to concerned stakeholders and then follow up after expected closure. In case they find some process flaw\blip they can give feedback to concerned person so that problem can be eliminated for all future customers.

Transparent processes will make all stakeholders accountable in product servicing. A product manager told me once that key to success is to make every stakeholder accountable (in success as well as failure). People are more responsive when they are accountable. Various BUs act as if to do their mechanical work and push the work to next basket so that they can say my job is done. They are more focused on avoiding any possible blame rather than focusing on delivering right service. Once responsibility of delivery is shared amongst various BU they will act more coherently and with enhanced communication. Stakeholders should be properly trained for this transparency and they should be made aware of various dynamics of other interfacing BUs. People generally think that things are too complex so they can’t do anything about it. But if things seem complex then it means that you still have not understood them logically.

Once the things are transparent Customer will start to gain faith in you. And faith is far more valuable than, usual, customer delight. Faith makes your customers as your advocate. They will be able to vouch for your service in front of anyone. An advocate is even more valuable than Sneezer as Sneezer only spread information but Advocate vouch for you along with spreading information.

Transparency should be practiced with utmost caution in the beginning. When you are becoming transparent you are exposing your flaws to customer and few customers might not act in very genial manner if they are aware of flaws. Also stakeholders should be proactively responsive to CSR. CSRs should also act as moderator in stakeholders’ conference to facilitate resolution.