Who Needs Customer Service Anyway?

One group that shouldn’t is our customers.

Now, I’m not talking about customer engagement, service delivery or the customer experience in general.  What I mean is the first thing people usually think about when they think about customer service – “the call center”.  That phone number you have to call when something went awry.

What customers need and want are companies to satisfy their specific issues.  I’ve been reading a bunch lately about service-dominant logic thanks to folks like Wim Rampen and Graham Hill.  It is an experience economy.  Customers don’t buy products or services.  They exchange something for something.  Most often, its money in exchange for satisfaction of a specific need or issue.  A car satisfies emotional needs, ego needs and the need to get from point A to point B; among others.

So, while I’m hearing much lately about customer service becoming the new marketing, I take issue with this for a couple of reasons.

First, this statement assumes as fact that “customer service” is a function or department, connected to which is usually a call center.  It discounts the real value of customer service as a business strategy, a corporate philosophy and a culture that permeates an enterprise.  And, so this leads to issue number two.

Companies that have a deep-rooted foundation in a customer-service oriented culture focus on the customer experience.  That experience starts with the very first interaction with the brand; through advertising, word-of-mouth, entering a store or any other of myriad methods by which customers get introduced to brands.  This process often starts even before a need is identified by the customer that requires attention.  Many of these companies consider it actually a failure of the experience delivery if a customer need the customer service department.

This failure, in those companies that really understand the drivers of customer satisfaction, loyalty and superior experience, represent an opportunity to do something; to fix a problem internally.

What customer service (in the departmental sense) should focus on evolving into is the hub for business process reengineering within the company.  Yes, good old BPR.  I’m sure some of you remember Michael Hammer from B-School.  His claim was that most of the work being done in an organization (answering customer calls) does not add any value for customers.  And, this work should be removed rather than accelerated through automation – where we spend most of our “BPR” efforts within the four walls of the contact center.

Start with this.  Run a simple report from your contact center CRM system on contact reason codes.  How many of them say things like “billing inquiry” or “shipment error” or “product spoiled/damaged”.  Those codes mean there is something going on elsewhere in the company that is causing that customer to need customer service, to pick up the phone.  I know many contact centers produce these reports and distribute the information.  But, how many actually take ownership of these issues. 

What’s the potential impact, both in real dollars and on the customer experience if customer service became the new corporate BPR consultants rather than the new marketing?

Run that CRM report, and I think you’ll have your answer.

(oh, and read Bill Price’s book The Best Service is No Service. He’s the authority on this subject)


  1. Barry,

    You've got a very good point here.
    Customer Service should focus on serving, not servicing. Good old BPR/BPI can definitely play an important role in that.
    W.r.t the call center example, decision makers in service providers often forget to listen at their own inner customer voice and therefore don't realize that their customers probably hate call centers as much as they do themselves.

    Take care.


  2. Great post Barry!

    The primary issue is that most companies view customer service as a necessary evil rather than a way to create loyalty and improve their processes.

    You're absolutely right that the customer service department should be at the centre of BPR. But to accomplish this, CS needs to be heard, recognised and respected by management and other departments.

    It's the difference between being reactive and proactive. All companies should look at that data and listen to CS to improve back-end processes and products.

    It's deceptively simple but it's far from easy.


  3. Barry, you make an excellent point!

    As long as we treat contact centers as problem-solving entities that handle incidental customer issues, we will play catch-up with our customers and their problems. If, however, we allow contact centers to pass on first hand advice (i.e. issues) from customers into the organization on a regular basis, and if we allow the whole organization to take action on this information, we may be able to finally reach the point where processes are optimized, and where there will be fewer issues to be handled. As a result, the contact center may finally become the last resort people go to if all other attempts to solve their issues have failed. We'd better stop fighting incidental fires, and deal with the causes of these fires instead.

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