Customer service is often considered a cost centre in many businesses. But ServiceNow's global head of customer service management, Nitin Badjatia said it doesn't have to be that way. On the contrary, investing in customer service can deliver significant benefits that outweigh the costs. I spoke with him at the recent Knowledge 18 event about this and how customer service can be elevated to a strategic focus rather than just operational.
"When you really think about where customer service really needs to be, customer service is one of the two mechanisms that delivers the brand's promise. it's either the product or service better be good, or are you there when I need you, said Badjatia.
That means companies need to think about customer service from a continuous value perspective, he said. And while CRM has been popular, that customer information lacks context. That's why Badjatia said you need to bring that data together with what's happening in other systems to get a holistic view of the customer and all their needs.
"The contract centre is very rarely the root of the problems," he said. "It's even more rare that there's where the solution resides".
As that is becoming more recognised, Badjatia said he's seeing contact centre budgets move from the operations budget, udder the COO, into a revenue centre managed by the Chief Revenue Officer. That means there's an expectation that customer service will bring recurring revenue to the business. For that to happen, a number of things have to happen.
"We need to make it effortless for customers. They get to decide how they engage and when they engage".
Badjatia reiterated the importance of having systems connected so you understand as much as possible about the customer. And, by understanding the context of customer experience, it becomes possible to get ahead of the curve and anticipate customer issues before they escalate.
"That's the bar we expect in customer service today. Continuity of value delivery is the key".
This goes to Badjatia's main point. Marketing may own the brand budget but the brand promise is delivered in two ways.
"One is, the product or service you make better be good. And you better be there when I need you; that's customer service. If you think about customer service from that perspective, you can't contain cost because your brand is dependent on it. No matter how much money you spend up front, if you're not there for me, you've destroyed all the money marketing has spent".
This is backed up but research that shows Net Promoter Scores actually go up after a problem if customer service has successfully resolved the issue.
The connectedness between systems, users and systems may sound complex but many of the building blocks already exist. Badjatia said the increasing deployment of IoT devices, use of apps, mobile devices, website analytics and direct contact between customers and service providers provides a rich vein of data that can be used to bring great service to customers if it's used wisely.
A part of that is the smart application of machine learning techniques against the data to engage in customer journey orchestration.
"That's really about the next, best action," said Badjatia. "We know from historical data that if they do this, then they do that. It might not be obvious to the customer but could be to customer service personnel who can see the data. That means they can guide the customer to a better decision so they don't have a customer service issue".
That level of measurement helps customer service connect the dots in a way that helps companies get ahead of broader issues. For example, Badjatia, said by looking at clusters of customer contacts you could see a product issue that only affects a specific region at a particular time of year. This could point to an engineering issue that can be actioned before the problem becomes more widespread.
Ultimately, great customer services isn't just about solving specific problems. Badjatia said the real value comes in long-term customer nurture where everything from initial contact to anticipating future needs are considered and managed so customer service comes a revenue, and not a cost, centre.
Anthony Caruana attended Knowledge 18 in Las Vegas as a guest of ServiceNow.