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How to turn customer service into a profit center

David Taber | June 17, 2014
'The Producers' profited from an idea that was supposed to lose money. Most companies are happy if their call centers produce zero margins. It doesn't have to be that way.

This goes double if your company uses a partner channel for sales and support. If you're trying to achieve this through the channel, extensive business process work and customer service portal changes are in your future.

Let Customers Live in the Fast Line

Now let's consider at a totally different opportunity for support-driven revenue. Look at your current queues as experienced by customers:

  • On-hold call time: Sometimes 45 minutes or more
  • Call-back interval: Sometimes 2 days
  • Problem resolution time: Sometimes many days
  • Appointment availability: Sometimes over a week

These may be totally normal for your industry and absolutely within your SLA, but some customers will find the waits unacceptable. I can practically guarantee you lose business over these wait times. Further, some customers would happily pay a significant premium to skip to the front of the line. (In one personal experience, I offered a charity hundreds of dollars to move a donation pickup forward a couple of days. However, they had no way of accepting the money or making the schedule change. Everybody lost. This goes double for government agencies.)

Of course, before offering an "express lane" for customer service, you need to undergo serious business scrutiny and some marketing/PR analysis. Doing it wrong, or with the wrong kind of audience, could cause an expensive and embarrassing backfire. Doing it right, however, can be a powerful and profitable differentiator for your product or service.

Here's an overview of what needs to happen in IT:

  • Website: Keep the details of the express lane out of the spying eyes of search engines. Put the offer behind a Captcha or similar registration wall, and create an "Express Login" button for those who want to take advantage of the service.
  • Customer service portal and community management app: Since you'll want to charge a toll for your express lane, you need to extend registration and login functionality.
  • Interactive voice response and automated call distribution: You need to expand the menu tree to make room for the express lane. Be sensitive in how you name things and word the announcements. Calling it the "1 Percenters Express Lane" is exactly what you don't want.
  • Calendaring and appointment-setting: You need to do some hard work in business process and IT for three things - reserving 10 percent of future time slots for express-lane use; consuming express time slots for paying customers first, using any remaining slots for non-paying customers, and rearranging existing appointments as needed.
  • CRM Case/Incident application: As the express lane is essentially a different class of service, you need to make room for dual SLAs. This means extra fields on the Customer and Case object, as well as a new set of workflows. You need to integrate some new events, if not entire objects, with the CRM system as well.
  • CRM Knowledge Base: You need new articles about the internal business processes, exception handling and expediting in support of the express lane. You also need customer-facing articles (or at least FAQs) in support of the service.
  • Ecommerce: You need a way to collect express lane tolls painlessly in real time. You may need to offer express lane access using both single incident and annual subscription models. Just make sure you provide a way for customers to apply for a refund or cancellation; without these, the manual work-around may get costly.
  • Time carding and expense tracking: If your finance team keeps close tabs on customer service and service fulfillment reps, you need to extend your labor and expense tracking systems to track the special-case costs. This is particularly important if your service involves a "truck roll," as expediting and rearranging service delivery almost always incurs inefficiencies and extra costs.
  • Analytics: Remember, the whole point of this exercise is improving customer satisfaction for some without degrading customer satisfaction for all. Analytics needs to be expanded to cover the cost and revenue side of the fast lane, as well as the employee morale and customer satisfaction impact of delivering it. Typically, this means adding new questionnaires to your post-case-closed surveys - and that means enhancing your reports and dashboards.

 

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