Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

How to Leverage Your Most Valuable Resource, Your Customers

February 26, 2009

There’s been an endless stream of discussion and media coverage about the needs of businesses and service providers as they look to leverage their existing equipment and resources to increase their operational efficiency, especially in today’s economy, as budgets are limited. This means the value proposition for new technology investment has to be extremely high. It also has led solution developers to create new ways for customers to integrate their products and software into their existing network environments, rather than requiring large up-front capital expenditures. It’s also led to the tremendous growth of the software-based communications industry, with businesses increasingly looking to enhance their capabilities without adding infrastructure.

That said, there’s no question that today’s communications technology far exceeds the power of its predecessors in terms of enabling highly effective communications and collaboration. Of course, the end game remains the same — regardless of the industry, the goal is to grow the customer base and drive customer satisfaction, which mean also delivering exceptional customer support. We know well the perils that face businesses with weak support structures, especially with a wealth of competition ready to step in at a moment’s notice.
This begs the question, in addition to leveraging your communications technology to drive service levels to new heights, why not also use the greatest resource available to your business — your customers?
Customers have their experience to draw upon, which can help not only your business identify opportunities for development, but can also assist other customers with common questions and issues. Let’s take a very common, and very basic form of customer interaction found on many retail Web sites — the customer review. If you’re in the market for a new HD television, but can’t decide between several models, there are a number of professional organizations with plenty of information available. But, their reviews can be limited to specific models only, and offer only the information the want to provide — and also the information they have available based on limited testing.
Customers are likely to have a much better real-world experience to relay. In fact, it’s how I finally decided on my big-screen. When I was in the retail store, I almost overlooked the set because of poor picture quality. However, the price tag was too good to ignore, so I went home and read as many customer reviews I could find. What I ultimately found is that this many others had similar concerns, but when they had taken the set home and connected it, the picture was as crisp and clear as any other. I’m simplifying things a bit, but the point is that I got the information I needed from customers, not the vendor, and not the retailer.
But why not take that experience to a whole new level? Why not leverage today’s Web-based communications capabilities to create an interactive environment where customers and potential customers can communicate with one another? There’s little doubt, given the volume of entries on message boards these days, that users are more than willing to help others with questions and problems. 
Think of the value of being able to capture the experiences of your entire customer base in a self-service environment. Now, not only are you taking customer service to a zero-cost level, you’re significantly increasing the value of the customer experience, since they are able to interact with other customer who have had similar experiences, or who might have additional insight as to how to troubleshoot problems or assist with the learning curve.
With today’s technology, you can take your customer service capabilities well beyond limitations of traditional phone calls and IVR systems — and you can leverage the experiences of your customer base, lessening the strain on your customer service organization.
But, taking the experience to yet another level, why not create a service environment where customers can interact with one another as well as your customer support staff? Today’s common communications technologies can be leverage to create a series of discussion forums, blogs with comment capabilities, collaborative environments for creating wiki-type documents, and other means of enticing users to communicate with the rest of your user community.
Think of it as something like an open source customer service model. Developing what Vovici calls Service Councils, businesses can extend this collaborative service environment far beyond simply resolving customer issues. They can be used to provide feedback on any product or service, or as a brainstorming mechanism of sorts for developing new products or enhancing existing ones. Once an open communications channel has been established, they can be used in an almost unlimited capacity to serve both the customer and the vendor.
To drive an understanding of the value of such Service Councils, TMC hosted a Webinar sponsored by Vovici, an Enterprise Feedback Management specialist, which provides survey software, panel management, and online community and collaboration solutions designed to drive customer loyalty and innovation by giving a voice to the customer base.
The hour-long session — How to Reduce Support Costs with Service Councils — featured a discussion on how businesses can build Service Councils to reduce support costs while increasing its effectiveness, led by Jeffrey Henning, Chief Strategy Officer and Vovici Co-Founder and Brian Koma, Vovici’s vice president of marketing. The two brought a combined 40 years of research experience to the event, designed to deliver an understanding of how to build and launch a Service Council, how to obtain and understand market driver data, how to engage customers and drive deeper loyalty, and, of course, how to reduce overall support costs.
If you missed the live event, don’t forego this opportunity to listen to the recorded Webinar to learn how your organization can leverage the power of the customer to drive not only your customer support organization, but ultimately, your entire business development effort. Sign up for the archived Webinar now — you’ll also have an opportunity to submit questions and get additional information from Vovici. And, if you act quickly, you’ll have an opportunity to receive a free copy of Vovici CEO Dean Wiltse’s book, Weapons of Mass Collaboration.

Erik Linask is Group Managing Editor of ContactCenterSolutions, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to nearly 3,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erik Linask