Attention Customer Service Leaders: Let’s Get Strategic by Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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It’s time to bring strategic thinking into your day-to-day customer service operations


We’ve seen time and again that the high-growth brands and unicorns of 2019 have embraced digital transformation with a key focus on elevating the customer experience. So why does it seem like so many enterprise customer service (CS) leaders are settling for the status quo?

After more than 20 years building technology companies with solutions for customer service and support, I think I owe it to our industry to help deliver a wake up call. Because I’m seeing a big difference in the strategic mindsets of many enterprise customer service leaders versus their counterparts at smaller challenger brands.

This observation comes from my meetings and conversations with leaders at both enterprise companies and high-growth disruptors (and as a co-founder and CEO, I am in a lot of meetings). The pattern I’m noticing is that many enterprise customer support leaders begin our meetings talking and thinking from an operational mindset versus a focus on innovation and best in class expectations. It’s usually about halfway through this type of meeting where I notice an exciting shift in the room — where it really clicks that the status quo isn’t good enough for their customers or agents. And that’s when the strategic part of our conversation really begins.

I believe that this type of strategic planning, where you’re really focused on the future and beyond short-term operational metrics, is what differentiates an exceptional customer service leader from an average one. But I observe this type of strategy and high expectations for technology far more often in meetings with support leaders at challenger brands than enterprise ones.

How did strategic thinking get devalued in the evolution of enterprise customer service leadership? I think the answer lies in the origins of customer experience as a discipline: just a few years ago enterprise leaders who wanted to focus on elevating customer experience had to, as CX thought leader Jeanne Bliss has noted many times, essentially “earn the right to work.” That meant operational minds thrived in customer service leadership roles like CCO where it was all about producing benchmarks around CSAT, CES, NPS, and FCR.

But things have shifted quickly, and I believe customer service leaders now have the authority and reputation to move beyond buy in. Customer experience with support is a make-or-break part of brand building, especially in an era where the majority of brands don’t stand out from their competitors. CS leaders need to claim their place at the cross-functional strategic leadership table where both marketing and IT have grabbed a seat in recent years.

Start building a more strategic customer service function

More strategic planning and execution obviously doesn’t happen overnight. But I encourage all customer service and experience leaders to devote a percentage of their time to thinking about the future of customer service: technology, changing behaviors and expectations, the skills your teams will need to deliver, and the partnerships you’ll need internally to drive change.

CS has the potential to transform and differentiate enterprise brands. But there’s a real danger of yielding all the strategy to the marketing departments, and losing the benefit of a true customer experience leader with the customers’ best interests at heart. If you’re a CS leader, I believe embracing this strategic mindset shift is the best thing for your professional career, your customers, and your brand value.

A core part of it is what Forrester calls addressing “the delta between customer expectations and internal capabilities.” Forrester has laid out the six key components for building this type of strategy:

  • Customer experience vision
  • Customer personas
  • Gap analysis
  • Road map
  • Accountability outline
  • KPIs

What I’d emphasize is a reminder that being strategic as a leader isn’t only pie-in-the-sky plans for the future. It also means bringing strategic thinking into your day-to-day operations. Learn the roadblocks and manual tasks weighing down your teams, and then demand better solutions and workflows from your technology partners. Challenge the status quo and encourage your teams to do the same , even if it means presenting an unpopular or difficult idea.

I’ll close with some insight into an RFP with a leading public company that my company recently participated in. The chief technology officer (CTO) of the company, although not directly involved in the RFP, had genuine curiosity about the evaluation process. I didn’t have to lay any foundation for our conversation; the CTO understood immediately how customer expectations had changed for service and technology. They wisely observed, “If you put out an RFP for a horse and buggy, you get a horse and buggy. If you put one out for a rocketship, you are aiming for the moon.”

Stop asking for a horse and buggy, CS leaders. Your customers deserve a far better ride.

April 2, 2019 at 04:07PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs