Seeing customer service through “the proper lens”

How design thinking can help businesses develop optimized customer-centric processes from scratch

Add bookmark

Sandeep Sinha

Revolutionizing customer center processes through design thinking

The growth of information technology-enabled services (ITES) helped give shape to a more visibly recognizable formal customer service system. The continued growth in the number of available financial products, especially credit card services, along with services related to IT, telecom products and innumerable other industries, have increased organizations’ adoption of the business process outsourcing (BPO)-based call center model for customer service.

While customer service has assumed a fairly matured industry status, is it sensitive enough to empathetically handle its customers? Has it transitioned from a cost center mind-set to a business enabler outlook? Three examples prove this is not the case.

It can be a nightmare when you need to speak to the help desk of a credit card or a telecom service provider. The labyrinth of IVRs is deviously designed to actually dissuade you from reaching the customer service advisor (CSA).

When you manage to reach one and the call gets disconnected during the midst of your conversation, there is “supposedly” no system made for them to call you back. So, if you manage to wade your way through one more time, you have to explain your issues all over again to a new CSA and the customer relationship management (CRM) system does not usually record disconnected call conversation.

The IVR system is not really the issue as the automation reduces manpower cost, but the apparent intent with which it seems to be designed becomes distasteful. I am not sure how often the IVR efficacy audit is undertaken for more thoughtful additions and deletions toward a higher customer orientation.

The caller validation process for credit cards might not be optimized. One highly reputed international bank necessitated customers to state the value of their last transaction. For someone who is using multiple credit cards, is it impossible to remember the last transaction, especially if some time has elapsed. Despite feedback for change in the system, it took a considerably long time to modify, leading to a potential loss of customers in the process.

Customer services are benchmarked under several parameters. The lesser the average call handling time (AHT), the better it is as it enables a CSA to take more calls. The flip side is that the CSA appears keener on call completion rather than caller satisfaction.

One must learn from the Go Daddy example, where their CSAs give the comfort of staying with you until the technical issue is resolved, along with an assurance of calling back in case of any unforeseen call disconnection. Another great example is American Express (AMEX) card and travel services. The acceptable levels of IVRs, the convenience of connecting with CSA, their courtesy, knowledge, and empowerment to decide and resolve are exemplary.

When it comes to complex decisions, their back office connects with the front office relatively quick. In case of an unforeseen inability to resolve the issue online, a time frame for a call back or a mail back is assured for resolution. AMEX card users’ loyalty is very high despite its higher cost.

Revolutionizing customer service processes through design thinking

While the examples provided above are of simple processes, there are more complex ones too where the resolution processes lack optimality and take a a longer time to mature into a delightful processes. What is the reason? Having developed innumerable complex processes and having set up a number of captive business process outsourcings (BPOs), I have some observations.

A process being developed usually goes through a number of validation touchpoints. This is generally achieved through a collective brainstorming session with the involved resolving entities, or via sequential discussions with each other. Although the process rolls out well, it usually lacks the out-of-the box solutions that address issues beyond the myopic thrust of each resolving unit’s interest. This system lets the process go through its journey of gaps before some bright and forthright minds realize the need to put more into the process to drive higher efficiency and customer delight.

There is a need to revolutionize the method of process development. It can take shape by initiating wider telescopic view of issues and problem spaces to facilitate the convergence to a more appropriate “issue resolving statement”. This subsequently leads to solution space of an equally extensive and divergent pool of ideas for converging into storylines. This ideation phase focuses on sieving the ideated story lines through the trifecta filters of the real customer, as the foremost aspect by putting oneself into their shoes, the organizational goals, their viability and the technological feasibility perspective.

This enables the selection of optimally "ideated story lines" for prototyping and testing. By stretching out to reach the intersection of the three filters, as shown in figure one below, the best innovative solutions emerge and enabling one will help businesses see the best-case scenarios.

The holistic nature of a far-sighted organizational solution that emerges out of this multi-phase and trifecta filtration methodology is called design thinking: the globally accepted, one of the best practices, for right-fit solutions.

Innovation opportunities requirements possibilities needsFigure 1: Venn Diagram.

Source: edx RITx:501X on-line DT fundamentals

One of the surest and secured ways to break out of the status-quo mind-set is to become creative and innovative. Design thinking has proven to be superior in helping teams and leaders around the world to create new processes, products, services and business models that customers care about. 

Design thinking is the people and customer centric phenomena that applies the principles, tools and methodology to come out with innovative solutions that are desirable for the users, economically viable and technologically feasible. Hence, the collective phases of empathizing, defining, ideating to developing prototype solutions for user testing and challenging the “out-of-the-box thinking” to get it right the first time.

design thinking empathise define ideate prototype testFigure 2: Design thinking as a non-linear process

Source: Interaction Design Foundation

Ensuring a win-win situation through innovative customer-focused solutions

What should an organization really desire? An innovative customer-focused solution now, rather than later, after tribulations. This is what the adoption of a more creative and structured method like design thinking can bring to the table. In the past, there were complex processes that I have managed and seen evolve over a period of time, from being perfunctory to delightful. However, the time lag had ameliorated much of the charm, excitement and even the business value.

Any sound structured method that holistically addresses the trifecta of customer, organization and technology would surely transform the processes from its customer-serving orientation to that of a business-driving one. Hence, putting customer foremost and stretching to find organizational feasibility and viability is the real win-win situation.