Question: Getting away from Cost Vs. Quality mindset in customer service department

Our customer service department, supporting online service sales, is the biggest part of our organization.

Unfortunately this part of the company sees highest staff turnover, and inevitably all decisions boil down to cost vs quality mindset. We have approached the solution through "simplification-standardization-automation" lens, but the strategy seems to be backfiring as we increase the breadth and depth of our offering.

We have detailed performance metrics at all levels (i.e. NPS... to call volumes and drops), and want to use data to get past our bottlenecks.

I don't expect a solution on this forum, but would definitely appreciate some hands-on advice on how to frame & where to start. Specifically, with structuring performance incentives.

Appreciate the feedback.

5 Expert Insights

Respectfully, I believe you are asking the wrong questions and likely using the wrong metrics. You need to step way back and look at the entire customer experience holistically. My guess is that your product "design" is not keenly tuned to the real needs and expectations of your customers. You also need to re-examine the role of customer service, given the lifetime value of your customers and the value of referrals and word-of-mouth for your company and products (or services). Only then will you be able to tackle your customer service department issues in the right way.

I would tend to agree with Rick's comments. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong about simplifying and standardizing practices to achieve greater overall efficiency (though I am not entirely convinced about the case for automation here), the key issue is that the customer support function as a whole seems to be under considerable pressure, and potentially failing.

It is difficult to speculate on what is behind this given the few details provided. I would submit however that while properly structured performance incentives may help, they are unlikely to be at the root of the problem. Some possible issues could be:

- Product defect(s), as Rick suggested, would justify increased call volume and possibly (very) dissatisfied customers. Should this be real and structural, this would undoubtedly lead to a high level of frustration and turnover in Customer Support;
- Inadequate staffing levels or capability in Product Management leading to delays in addressing whatever structural problems are causing customers to call in (development and testing for software, engineering or manufacturing for products etc.);
- Incomplete or obsolete training material to properly support Customer Support representatives when answering calls;
- Limited CRM capability to adequately handle calls and trace problem tickets over time
- Unclear and ill-defined "customer comes first" culture could lead to very negative and potentially damaging behaviors on the floor

In short however, my thoughts are that this is not a Customer Support issue alone, and likely a broader, cross-functional challenge, the symptoms of which being more acutely felt by Customer Support, being on the front lines of customer complaints.

I hope this helps. Hopefully this isn't too speculative or off topic given the limited information available.

Rick and Patrick have covered the ground ably. Standardizing has value and has limits -- are CSRs being reduced to robots?

Service calls may spring from engineering flaws -- are the calls being analyzed and are products fixed as a result?

Are you tracking lifetime value of a customer?  That number can radically change the senior team's thinking about the entire customer experience.

(Also -- by an uncanny coincidence, my partners and I are just now working on an analysis tool for examining service costs to see how they can be reduced by engineering or manufacturing changes. If you'd be interested in helping us beta test, feel free to get in touch with me.  I make no promises that we can help you.)

Please take Rick's and Patrick's words to heart. There's an enormous amount of wisdom there for you.

Good luck.

With all due respect to my colleagues, I would suggest that this may not be an engineering problem as much as it is a people / leadership problem.

The simplification-standardization-automation lens is great for Lean companies, but most management consultants would tell you that turnover results from unhappy employees, which may or may not result from engineering issues.

I don't discount that there may be engineering issues, but I would first want to get to the bottom of what's going on from the people perspective before jumping to any conclusions that there are engineering problems.   For example, how much training has been conducted during the expansion of products?  Is there good coordination between the engineering and technical support departments?  How do you measure that?  

Performance metrics and incentives may be helpful, but it is my experience that incentives, except for salespeople, don't necessarily work.  What works is good old-fashioned leadership and people feeling appreciated in the job – and that means giving them the tools that they need to be successful.

Hope this helps.

All companies are people centric, not a single one works without them, none are established without them. I agree with Drumm that people are or create the problem and, they are the solution.

My suggestion is take all your service people, one by one and ask THEM what THEY think should be improved. The know their work (better than executives), if their solutions are implemented you have a higher level of buy-in and probably internal catalysts. Promise no repercussions and give bonuses AFTER their ideas eventually implemented. Your people are a goldmine of knowhow. tap on it.

Good Luck!