How to stay competitive in the experience-driven outcome economy? This article, eighth in a series, argues that companies should look to transform their customer support function’s role to one of customer advocacy.
In today’s experience-driven outcome economy, always-on customers are increasingly seeking a dynamic customer engagement model. This shifting expectation affects multiple capabilities in the enterprise—and is having a dramatic impact on the support function. Customers now often expect support to be proactive, and the volume and velocity of support requests is rising, requiring more automated and intelligent support systems and processes.
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A large technology company provides a cautionary tale in this space: Leaders moved one of the firm’s key products from on-premises to the cloud. In the first implementation stages, the customer support team was flooded with simple tickets such as password resets, leading to customer frustration. When leaders realized that the move to the cloud had shifted perceptions as well as capabilities, they took action to rewire the company’s support processes, systems, and skills to recover and get on track. A key takeaway: Moving to the cloud demands true customer support transformation.
The first article of our digital industrial transformation series1 explained why and how industrial companies must embed new digital technologies and capabilities in their legacy assets to capitalize on the shift to Industry 4.0. In this installment, we will explore how continuous changes in customer expectations are pushing leaders to take a fresh look at and reimagine the way they transform their support models and experience.
In today’s service-led and continuous engagement model, customer service and support has become the most critical component of customer satisfaction: Two-thirds of customers who switch brands do so because of poor service,2 and analysts predict that in 2020, customer experience—including support experience—is expected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.3 The customer of the future, born into an experience-driven world, will expect an even higher level of differentiated and personalized customer support, one that ensures they get the outcomes they were promised.
For many decades, the customer support function has been the “issue to resolution” function: When a customer has a problem and calls in, the support team works to resolve it as quickly as possible. This mindset needs to make a 180-degree turn—to stay competitive in the experience-driven outcome economy, companies must transform their customer support function’s role to support to advocacy (S2A).
As our cautionary tale illustrates, customer service and support in a traditional industrial model is usually a reactive motion, focusing on operational metrics such as “time to close a ticket” and usually falling short of changes in customer expectations, often resulting in loss of customer lifetime value.4 Shifting to a digital industrial model offers organizations a chance to meet customers where they are by embarking on a support to advocacy journey to learn customer preferences, focus on improving customer-centric metrics, and build personalized, always-on support capabilities.
Despite the alluring opportunities that often accompany Industry 4.0 technologies, a key first step of the support to advocacy transformation is not to evaluate new technology capabilities but, rather, to thoroughly evaluate the enterprise customer base to paint a holistic picture of customer expectations. Success in the experience-driven outcome economy begins with leaders translating the result of this primary research into a customer experience strategy and execution plan across the pre- and post-sales journey through a support lens. In this new world, support’s role begins even before the customer purchases anything (see figure 2).
By walking in their customers’ shoes, companies can truly understand the need behind customer requests. Along their journey, customers want companies to understand them, enable them, work for them, support them, and empower them.
The S2A customer support of tomorrow differs from today’s traditional issue-to-resolution customer support in three main ways:
In our 2019 global contact center survey,5 we explore how leaders are responding to rising customer expectations along the customer journey to build strong connections, earn trust, and create loyalty. Fifty-seven percent of contact-center executives surveyed ranked customer experience as a top priority for 2019—higher than controlling cost, accelerating revenue, and branding. As companies focus on elevating the human experience, leaders see customer experience and expectations as the top driver for investment, followed by service improvement, business growth, and competitive pressure.
As an example, a media services provider expanded its support capabilities to the early steps of the customer life cycle to set itself apart in the experience-driven outcome economy:
Starting with the customer in mind. From its inception, the media services company has focused on understanding its customers, aiming to solve the “rabbit-hole problem” in which viewers get bewildered by an overabundance of content. By understanding its viewer preferences, the company became a leader in content personalization.
Building S2A capabilities. The company is investing in machine learning and data mining capabilities to understand customer content preferences and tailor its dashboard with content that is relevant to them. Customers retain easy access to all the content available through a dynamic search capability but are increasingly likely to achieve their desired outcome: watching content they’ll enjoy. The company also identified a gap in customer expectations. By creating feedback loops between customer service teams, corporate strategy teams, and engineering teams, the company redefined its business model to shift from primarily streaming third-party content to creating original content that better met customer expectations.
Once leaders have a strong grasp on the outcome and experience they want to deliver with their digital industrial transformation, they can look to transform their support capabilities and design new S2A capabilities to support customers through their entire life cycle, and turn them into brand advocates. To be able to achieve this goal, it is critical to align S2A initiatives on a common and connected map that provides rigor and structure.
Initial steps of the S2A design include defining the scope of the S2A transformation; creating a vision that includes the what, the how, and the why the company is engaging on this transformation journey; and aligning on a set of guiding principles to guide the overall S2A design. Companies can share these winning aspirations broadly with both internal stakeholders and customers to differentiate themselves. For instance, some of the S2A guiding principles that social media consultancy Buffer highlights are “default to transparency,” “show gratitude,” and “improve consistently.”6
The global VP of customer service and support of a US$4 billion Industry 4.0 company explains, “Turning our customers into our biggest advocates is at the core of all our goals across the company. Over the past couple of years, we have been supporting more complex solutions, such as artificial intelligence, and our S2A transformation provides a holistic model to provide a consistent and uniform customer support experience.”
Along the customer life cycle, there are pivotal inflection interactions that a company must handle well to engage the customer and continue down the journey effectively. For each of these engagement points, leaders can choose a mix of process steps, enabling technologies, and functional flows to design a holistic list of enabling S2A capabilities.
Uncovering brand-new S2A capabilities can be challenging for legacy B2B enterprises that have become hamstrung by fresh demand for customization and workarounds, opening the door for more nimble and digital-native startups to recalibrate what customers consider a baseline service level in the Industry 4.0 era. For example, as explained earlier, using a S2A lens, a company has already failed if a customer needs to open a ticket themselves to fix a simple glitch. To successfully engage with customers during this critical engagement point, Buffer, a digital-native company, developed several capabilities:
There are also examples of large companies that have been intentional about their S2A transformations and have dedicated enough time and resources to be successful. A US$30 billion global enterprise software company realized that customers of its cloud offerings were looking for more visibility into solution performance and were interested in working with the company to improve their solution use. As a result, the company:
Primary research can suggest how much customers value the new S2A capabilities. While every S2A capability can be implemented, the level of investment in each can be guided by the incremental value customers see in them. Companies also have the option to outsource to partners low-value S2A capabilities such as on-site hardware replacement. These capabilities tend to be either repetitive or highly specialized. Having a clear strategy to leverage channel partner support based on customer segmentation and S2A capability value can result in significant cost savings.
Companies are also likely to have existing capabilities that can be adapted, expanded, and connected holistically to become a starting point of the S2A support model. For example, a company with strong internal troubleshooting and knowledge tools can adapt them to be available externally and become partner and customer self-help tools.
As leaders group S2A capabilities into an actionable road map, it will become apparent that even though those capabilities’ focus is customer support, other teams—services, customer success, sales and marketing, engineering, and IT—will need to be involved and might even lead a transformation initiative.
Finally, companies should look for opportunities throughout their digital industrial transformation to help simplify the existing organization by eliminating skills redundancies and potentially consolidating offices across geographies. Clear near-shoring and outsourcing strategies should also come out of the S2A transformation.
Companies risk being anchored by their current state, stuck making small incremental changes. Chances are, some S2A initiatives will be quick wins by leveraging existing resources, while others will require exponential changes and enterprisewide investment to meet customer expectations.
Among the emerging capabilities in which contact center leaders intend to invest over the next two years, AI and process automation are at the top of the list.10 While AI is still in its infancy, more than half of companies surveyed are already piloting or testing AI capabilities to assist agents and deploy virtual chatbots. Our previous article, on XaaS transformation execution, offers an in-depth case study on going through this enablement step.11
In our series’ first article,12 we described the mindset necessary to engage on a digital industrial transformation and be able to win in an Industry 4.0 era. Two major culture shifts are specifically necessary to not only design the right S2A capabilities but to enable the success of a transformation implementation. The first one is the shift to a more empathetic customer service and support team. Customer service and support representatives work with clients every day, but if their metrics are only operational, chances are they do not regularly strive to understand what customers are experiencing throughout their journey with the company. Having an empathetic team promotes a customer-first culture that enables the design and execution of S2A capabilities. Mapping the customer journey on the customer life cycle can also help customer service and support representatives put themselves in their customers’ shoes, and can be the start of the culture shift.
The second necessary shift is to create a culture of collaboration and transparency between teams. For customers to have a seamless experience, every team needs to know not only its role but also the role of and actions taken by other teams. For example, an incident escalated to the customer support team should clearly indicate how the managed services team already tried to fix the issue. Large companies can have siloed systems for different teams. Agreeing on a single view of the customer and their journey is key to a S2A-grade collaboration between teams.
An effective support to advocacy transformation involves understanding that incremental changes from legacy industrial business models are insufficient to provide a satisfactory customer support experience and win in an Industry 4.0 environment. Leaders need to aim for exponential change activated by a comprehensive design of the support function.
In parallel to the S2A transformation, leaders should look to conduct a bottom-up assessment of existing capabilities and services to meet in the middle with the top-down S2A design and result in a clear and actionable S2A road map. This is an exercise that requires both art and science, but that can deliver considerable benefits to companies when executed properly. In our experience, many companies that went through S2A-type transformations were able to:
In the experience-driven outcome economy, companies that engage in an S2A transformation can not only keep up with their customer expectations but set themselves apart from their competition in Industry 4.0.