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Service Plan: Tap Customers As Experts

Anyone can play the expert online — and many do. But in today’s increasingly crowdsourced world, there’s one caveat: this “expert” advice must pass muster with fellow customers or aficionados.

What’s been amazing for businesses, however, is the degree to which people share not only their opinions and troubleshooting advice with others online, but also their opinions of these opinions. All for free.

All it takes is a bit of a nudge in the right direction.

When it comes to nudges, I mention communities in the context of addressing this perennial customer service concern: “What’s the best next step for our CRM program?” In fact, that’s one of the top questions I hear as businesses begin crunching their CRM and customer service program budgets for the upcoming year.

My answer: Assess your current service capabilities across five key areas — service operations, services leadership, experience management, case management, service measurement — to pinpoint which ones are the most advanced. Then focus on the areas that need the most work. By doing so, you’ll get the most bang for your buck and see the biggest, fastest improvements. Furthermore, as organizations master these customer service capabilities, they must also look farther afield and find new ways to tie together service with marketing and sales capabilities.

With all of that in mind, here are three top service capabilities that you should be exploring:

1) Service Communities Provide (Mostly) Free Troubleshooting

A current exemplar of this crowdsourced self-service community includes Apple, who, beyond having pioneered the Genius Bar (aka tech-savvy-hipsters-as-a-service), has likewise taken online customer self-service to a higher level. Indeed, Apple’s support communities focus on customers — and to be fair, some have been certified by Apple — helping other customers.

Apple then throws in a gamification spin by awarding reputation points to problem-solvers (correct answer: 10 points, helpful answer: 5 points) and upping people’s “status level” based on the number of points they’ve accrued, from level 1 (up to 149 points) to level 10 (80,000+ points). Crucially, however, Apple doesn’t over-moderate these forums, thus reducing the signal to noise ratio and allowing — within reason — people to say what they want to say.

In return, Apple doesn’t need to lift a finger for the majority of its customers’ troubleshooting needs. This is because it’s created a private community that regularly appears near the top of Google search results and reliably solves customers’ problems, thus boosting customer satisfaction while polishing Apple’s brand — mostly for free.

With those types of returns on offer, it’s no wonder that numerous Cloud Sherpas customers have been embracing self-service communities, largely by tapping salesforce.com Communities for Service. Indeed, one of our e-commerce software vendor customers that already had advanced service processes in place has recently implemented a service community, precisely because it enables their power users to more quickly solve other users’ problems. In return, the company has gleaned valuable intelligence on fixes that must be made immediately and future improvements that its customers desire, all while seeing customer satisfaction levels soar.

2) Increase Knowledge

Beyond communities, I continue to recommend that businesses embrace knowledge management systems, especially given the capabilities on offer from next-generation tools such as Salesforce Knowledge.

Without a good knowledge management system, businesses too often waste service staffs’ time by forcing them to comb through numerous systems or even — horror — resort to their own, personally crafted verbal scripts and notes, contained in spreadsheets and Word docs that travel no farther than their own desktops. Such approaches aren’t efficient and don’t lend themselves to faster customer service interactions or foster high levels of customer satisfaction. These approaches also leave too big a margin for error.

That’s why, economically speaking, putting a system in place to capture best-practice approaches and troubleshooting techniques — available regardless of whether or not your expert employees come or go or have called in sick on any given day — is a no-brainer.

3) Tap Integration To Lower Costs

Making self-service communities and knowledge management programs really sing — and bringing more sales and marketing program overlap to service programs — typically requires some degree of integration.

In a service context, integration is essential for cutting through the clutter left by years of homegrown systems and organic business process evolution. Think like a customer service rep: If a customer calls, can you give them a just-in-time answer to their question? Or will you need to apologize for 60 seconds, intoning that old customer service chestnut: “Gee, the system sure is slow today.” (Subtext: “The company you’ve chosen to do business with can’t be bothered to integrate back-end systems and get us all off of the phone more quickly.”)

Previously, for example, one Cloud Sherpas customer — a financial institution — required its service personnel to toggle between up to 17 different systems to find the answers they required during a service call. Today, however, thanks to integrating these applications and presenting a single view of the information in the CRM system, the customer service reps can see everything they need in a single screen, leaving them with time, as well as the information they require, to even up-sell and cross-sell these customers. So, in addition to increasing service reps’ productivity and customers’ satisfaction, the financial firm has also increased revenue. How’s that for a customer service payoff?

Learn More

Cloud Sherpas is one of the world’s leading cloud services brokerages and helps businesses adopt, manage and enhance their CRM investment by identifying desired business goalsfinding the right tools and technology for the job, and delivering rapid implementations that remain focused on achieving the desired business capabilities.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Kelly Mars.

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Cloud Sherpas [www.cloudsherpas.com] is a leading Google Apps Reseller, systems integrator and application developer. Our Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialists have migrated tens of thousands of users from legacy, on-premise messaging systems to Google Apps and Google App Engine. We help organizations adopt cloud computing to innovate and dramatically reduce their IT expenses. SherpaTools for Google Apps [www.sherpatools.com] is a free app from Cloud Sherpas that enhances the functionality and ease-of-use of Google Apps for both administrators and end-users.