I’m sure at one time or another you’ve been given the Company tour. Either as a new employee, or as a new supplier or partner. A slightly cringy tour of the building being shown what each desk of people does. ”This is the marketing team.” They look up from their computers, smile bleakly, you smile back. “And this is the Finance team” (“Mad…all of them” as Brent would say). You then wander over to another row of desks, “And this is John and Alison – they are Customer Support”

John and Alison have one of the most thankless tasks in the business. Essentially they sit waiting for their phones to ring, safe in the knowledge that the person on the other end is not happy. They have to accept that their day will be full of problems, and they must try and solve them to the best of their ability.

If they are lucky they will have access to some kind of system – perhaps linked to their Accounts package, or maybe into their CRM system that gives them some visibility of what the customer buys from them, and perhaps if there has been any recent calls of a similar nature. In reality this will probably involve some frantic searching while trying to listen to the customer who is ranting about why this problem wasn’t sorted last week.

If you are like the majority of small businesses then you probably wish you even had John and Alison. When asked about Customer Support you probably say “We all get involved – they normally speak to their Account Manager who solves most problems.” In this scenario you probably don’t have a specific support number, or system to manage your support process. You might even say that you don’t really need customer support. ”We are accountants – so we don’t really do support.” ”We design websites for a small number of clients, so we don’t really do support – we all get involved”

As consumers we all have a very good idea of what Customer Support in a Big Company involves:

“Your call is important to us. Please hold. You are number 15 in the queue.”

“Press 1 for Billing enquiries, press 2 for Technical Support, press 3 to end it all right here.”

We can all visualise the massive call centre, here or abroad, with rows of screens, employees with headsets, and some very expensive system in the middle trying to feed the relevent information to the agents (but of course not connected to the other systems – “I’m just going to transfer you to my colleague who has access to another system”)

Both of these scenarios, one in a small business, and one in a very large business are very different, but identical. They are reactive.

They wait for the client to have a problem. They wait for that problem to get bad enough for them to pick up the phone or email in. Then they try to resolve it for you.

The big problem now is that customers don’t work that way. I want to access solutions myself. Take the example I recently had when my JVC camcorder came up with an error that wouldn’t allow it to record saying that the “sensor had damp on it”. My first stop is Google. I search for the model number. That directs me to a site that has online manuals for electrical items. The manual doesn’t help so I continue searching and come across a couple of forums where a similar question has been asked by others. These questions have been answered and it seems like a common problem – “JVC didn’t want to know as it was out of warranty – have had to buy a new camcorder”

As my camcorder was five years old that is exactly what I did. My only buying criteria was that it wasn’t JVC.

This is how customers interact with brands today – whether it is an electrical product, a solicitor, a shop, an estate agent.

As a small or medium sized business you need to be engaging with your clients on multiple levels, and not just waiting for the really angry ones to call you. You should have a plan in place that addresses all of these channels:

Contact Centre

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Chat

Your Business

  • Sales and Marketing
  • Partners

Website

  • Self-Service
  • Discussion Forums

Cloud/Social

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

You need to ensure that when someone like me Google’s your product with an error message – I find your page. That when I tweet that my Widget is broken – I get a reply from you. That when I tell a User Group on Facebook that your Widget arrived late – that you post up an explanation of why.

This is where the power of Cloud Computing takes your business to a whole new level. This all sounds like very expensive Enterprise Software that would cost upwards of £100,000 to even start discussing. By leveraging the Cloud you can start with John and Alison, or just one agent.

You don’t need any infrastructure at your site. John and Alison could work from home. When a client calls their screen pops up with the client’s open issues. The call could be escalated before it is even answered because they are a premier customer. You can ensure negative tweets are logged as Support Cases for John and Alison to follow up.

You could put a customer discussion forum on your site to allow clients to help each other out. You could provide a public knowledge base of solutions that gets indexed by Google so when they search you solve their problem without them having to call you. You can enable clients to log Support Cases on your website directly. You can enable your partners to have access to your Knowledgebase so they support your clients for you.

You can now start to report accurately on what is going on. Instead of John and Alison’s qualitative ”Today was a good day” your metrics become:

  • Case resolution time
  • Cost per Case
  • Time for Agents to reach full productivity
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • 1st Call Resolution
  • Customer Retention
  • Service and Support Productivity

Suddenly you are proactive. You are getting involved in the conversation. You are no longer Customer Support. You are Supporting Customers.

I hope you have found this post useful. I welcome any comments you would like to make.