Like many people, I tend to simplify life, especially when I am in the “thick of things.” Maybe it is because I have often been told that when you're lost and “can’t see the forest for the trees,” try to rise above the trees to the 30,000-foot level, where you can find a view of the forest and a better understand your path.
Recently when faced with the challenge to drive efficiency in a customer service organization I conducted a deep analysis of all customer requests coming into the service team to determine ways to remove redundancy from the work. After hours of data analysis, spreadsheets, graphs, and charts I found myself lost without a clear path of how to begin driving efficiency in the organization and unsure where to start. At the point of frustration, my mind shifted gears and tried to simplify the situation. It is then that I realized what I already knew. Simply put, customer service efficiency can come down to two techniques, an effective knowledge management processes, and automation.
We started with an enormous list of customer service request categories ranging from field service repairs, defect reporting and system outages to enhancement request, authorization code renewals and payment disputes (just to name a few). With the simplified equation in place (Knowledge Management + Automation = Customer Service Efficiency), we leveraged text data analytics on each service request category to find requests where more than one customer had the same request. For each redundant situation, we were able to quickly determine if knowledge content or automation would be able to remove the redundancy from our work. We then used the number of requests for each redundant situation to prioritize our work.
We soon realized that to remove the redundant work through effective knowledge management we would need to improve our knowledge management process. The organization always wanted to implement a Knowledge Centered Service (KCS(sm))¹ methodology, but due to lack of executive commitment, budget, and conflicting priorities, we were not able to move forward with implementing a KCS process. However, at this point, we were able to leverage our redundant request analysis and data to build an effective ROI model to justify investing in knowledge management.
We also put in place a standard process for introducing automation to our workflow so that we could consistently remove redundant work through automation. Leveraging ITIL² Change Management and ITIL² CSI (Continual Service Improvement) as a guideline, we started with some “low hanging fruit” like customer update automation and single sign on to our customer portal and customer community. After we refined the process, we moved to larger automation projects (i.e. fully automating authorization code requests).
There is a lot more that followed, but by simplifying the project and putting two solid efficiency processes in place, we were able to dramatically reduce the amount of redundant customer requests coming into our organization and improve the efficiency of the customer service team.