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Imagine a business where customer service did not exist. It’s hard; almost impossible. Ask most business leaders and they will tell you that looking after their customers is crucial to the survival and growth of their business.

And yet many contact centers still find it difficult to move beyond the cost-center into a land of profit, value, innovation and opportunity.

As a community, I’m very positive about the progress we’ve made in the last five years but lets not forget Average Handling Time is still the top metric applied in contact centers.

So if we know, why do so many businesses struggle to link service to the success of their balance sheet? Is it really such an ethereal concept? The answer is, of course no.

It is a matter of optics.

I spent years managing contact centers with a P&L that was focused on reducing contacts, agent efficiency and cost. One morning, listening to marketing giving an update that blended emotion and data on ‘optimization’, ‘bang for your buck’ and ‘virality’, it dawned on me. I was looking at the wrong assets and the wrong attitudes in my own business unit.

Harnessing the assets in your contact center:

I decided then and there that my contact center would be a profitable P&L. It would be a place where the business could obtain insight and where we could re-invest savings into trying out new things to continually move the customer and the employee experience forward.

Over time and by collaborating with great people we developed a model around an asset and liability matrix that helped show the business how to create a budget for innovating good customer experience

In simple terms, we worked using agile and frugal methods to get rid of contacts that held no value to either the customer or the business. We listed them as liabilities to our balance sheet.

We then used the saving we made to grow the contacts we considered to be assets to the business.

Components to interact with customers

Creating the attitude

Once I have the assets and liabilities laid out in all their glory, I can start to engage other business areas in prioritizing improvements for customers.

How this is done will really depend on your own organization. I have used strategies ranging from shock and awe numbers, to structured engagement programs.

Using the asset / liability grid certainly helps to drive the conversation and gather the key players around shared problems to solve or opportunities to take.

Bonus tip:

If you find many of your liabilities are down to other departments inadvertently causing negative impact to customers, it’s worth considering a charge-back model. Where you take the sum of the cost attributes and charge them to the department that is causing the pain. Nothing moves units faster than a risk to their budgets!

How to measure this:

There are many measures out there that will help you track progress and keep momentum; NPS being the most popular in the boardroom.

I could write another post on the dangers of aligning all your customer success on one number but I will leave you with this:

Whichever measure you choose for the boardroom, make sure it is a true reflection of what is happening within your organization; make sure all your departments can get behind it and ensure that it aligns with what you are trying to achieve. A common mistake I see is where businesses implement a NPS system, but their core strategy is focused on retaining existing customers!

For those businesses that do not value service as an asset, I will leave you with a real-life tale, which could be a tragedy or comedy, depending on your viewpoint.

My associate heads up customer engagement in a multi-billion dollar global business. She is very bright and the company she works for is recognized as a leader in its industry.

She wanted to test an innovation by helping give relevant information to every customer that signed up; her hypothesis being that if she invested in giving new customers attention and useful information upfront, they in turn would feel more knowledgeable, in-control and less needy, resulting in a more positive feeling towards the brand.

However, the finance chiefs were having none of it.

‘How do we know they won’t contact us?’ one said. ‘Where’s the ROI?’ another challenged

My beleaguered Associate paused for a moment before replying.

‘So what you are telling me is that saying hello to our customers is wrong for the business?’

‘Exactly!’ they cried, satisfied that she had finally come to her senses!

Download Maria's whitepaper 'Innovation and Growth: Testing for Success', to find out how to adapt and innovate to survive, the key ingredients needed to cultivate successful innovation in customer engagement, how channels are changing and why agility is vital to success.

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About Maria McCann

Maria is co-founder of JoHo Ventures, an independent agency that helps brands use the digital space to leverage the effective points of engagement between their business, their people and their customers.
For the last 8 years, Maria has been at the forefront of digital and social customer experience, having built the customer service experience strategies and operations for brands including Red Letter Days, ASOS, Spotify & Karen Millen.
Maria was one of the first UK practitioners to use social media for customer service, launching it for ASOS in 2008. Since then she’s been at the forefront in leading companies on digital and omni-channel customer service and her work is often highlighted as examples of best practice.

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