When it comes right down to it, the primary job of management is to create value. We often think of this in terms of our particular comfort zones; in my case, that might mean “creating/adding value by inventing clever new technologies”. But this would be a mistake, because conceiving a brilliant new technology, by itself, does not add value for the enterprise unless there are customers who are willing to pay for the resulting new product. And unless those customers are willing to tell others why they should buy the product, the amount of value created will be severely limited. And most importantly, they won’t tell anybody else about the product (at least, not in a positive way) unless they use the product. And if they use the product, there will almost certainly be a service component involved.
And this is the key point—to create value, you generally have to serve customers. Without customer service (taken, as it always should be, to include sales as well as service), we will not create sustained value for those who pay us. We, as managers, are servants. We serve shareholders by creating value, which we should do by serving customers—and we serve those we lead, including contact center agents. And we serve contact center agents best by enabling them use their talents to create value by serving customers, not by treating them as cogs in a precision machine.
Why am I making this (hopefully) obvious observation? Because most of the time we do not seem to have this in mind as we go about our lives as managers. I speak here as a representative of the managerial “class”, and I mean here managers generally. I don’t think I am speaking of an issue that is related to any particular corner of the economic world—this is a common truth. We don’t usually put customers first, when we are really, truly honest about it. It is after all a hard habit to develop. Similarly, despite years of talk about “inverted pyramids” and such, we rarely put contact center agents and other front-line employees second (after customers).
In the broad world of customer service, this is a problem because, despite years of progress, most companies still do not routinely excel at customer service, and in many cases it is still viewed as a tactical back water of the business. All of the real fun is in deal making, or building empires, or researching cool technologies, or whatever—anything but CUSTOMER SERVICE!
Regardless of what we managers might sometimes implicitly think is important, customers continue to expect more and better service from companies, and they definitely consider customer service quality to be extremely important in their overall perception of each company’s brand. We should each therefore do whatever we can to take customer service more seriously, whether in planning a new product or running a large contact center—and we should pay attention to how our frontline “troops” work more naturally and serve most fully. Because the even better news is that, for those who take customer service to heart and work explicitly to improve it (think Virgin, Tesco, Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom, etc.), the rewards are significant.
And the best news is that customer service is a complex and interesting problem. Time spent understanding how contact centers (which are complex business processes) operate and how they can best serve customers will always be time well spent. And the invested time will lead directly to value creation, particularly as it is generally possible to (1) deliver great customer experiences, (2) while driving brand engagement and revenue, and (3) while simultaneously reducing costs and improving budget predictability.
So, unleash your inner customer service fanatic and start exploring with me, on this blog (including of course by providing feedback or questions)!