Transforming Customer Service Into An Agent Of Change

Every organization strives to serve its customers at a world-class level; however, taking customer service past the concept of a “help desk” is often an afterthought. Most companies view support as something similar to the 1990s Maytag commercials, where the lonely repairman is waiting for someone to call so he can spring to action. As a result, support is often seen as a cost — a necessary but basic function that does no more than resolve individual customer issues using entry-level employees.

I believe that this line of thinking is flawed. In my view, customer service can provide valuable insight into the organization and should be seen as an opportunity to collect data that will help drive improvements in lenders’ people, processes, and technology.

By the time an issue makes its way to the customer service team, it has typically affected the customer and has potentially damaged the brand. Many believe a fast response time and a satisfactory resolution can actually increase brand value. While this may be true in some cases, most complaints tarnish the brand and drive costs up. Also, because customers and staff were affected, it is likely that management and/or executive involvement is required to remedy the issue at hand. At Accenture Mortgage Cadence, we refer to this as the “cost snowball effect.” If issues are identified and addressed before they move to the next step, the cost is limited. If an issue is not identified and addressed, the cost to correct it snowballs as the number of individuals and teams involved increases. Taking steps to ensure customer service teams are properly versed in how to handle issues can help keep such issues from snowballing.

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As lead of the Accenture Mortgage Cadence service team, I have spent the last two years refining our support process. We have found that the customer-facing support group should not simply be a “help desk.” In today’s complex business environment, these teams cannot simply follow a series of scripted questions and responses and expect to resolve customer issues. Most issues require a highly capable individual with the authority and skills to resolve specific issues and refer others to the appropriate subject matter experts.

To resolve an issue in a timely and complete fashion, the support team also needs direct access to the organization’s subject matter experts. Customer service should be responsible for driving continuous improvement across the organization. They do this by seeking root cause, determining what needs to be fixed, and identifying what actions need to occur to prevent that specific issue from appearing again.

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In most organizations, support uses a ticketing system that includes varying amounts of data about the specific support incident. Typically there is a description of the incident, the potential resolution, and a field that classifies the type of incident that occurred. This data should be used in conjunction with feedback from support subject matter experts, looking at aggregated data to drive continuous improvement within specific individuals, teams, processes, applications and infrastructure.

Support within any organization should be viewed as much more than a cost factory. Instead, it should be viewed as a feedback mechanism that can drive continuous improvement throughout the organization. Properly structured, customer support should be an agent of change for people, processes, and technology.

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