More than 100 years ago, before you or I were born the great and good of the new age of consumerism on both sides of the Atlantic invented marketing and customers. They decided that indeed the Customer was king, s/he was always right, and that Customer Service, nay Customer Satisfaction, was the only mission that counted.
Unfortunately this is wrong!
The Customer isn’t always right. How can the expectations, behaviour or opinions of a single buyer, user or consumer be any more valid, reasonable or worthy of consideration than anyone else? The non-Customer in this case may be your Finance Director, the daughter of the person who actually makes the purchase, a graphic designer or developer, a competitor, even someone in cyberspace far removed from the transaction…see what I mean?
Roll forward into the digital age and we find a much more complicated relationship between the person providing or selling the goods and services and the buyers, users, consumers, business partners or other beneficiaries of the same. Here are some of the factors at play in the modern world.
What we sell or trade, and how it is produced:
- Rapid product development
- Commoditisation and personalisation, at the same time!
- More homeworking, federated and franchised organisations, growing charity and social enterprise sectors
- Outsourcing, offshoring & near-shoring; for example moving software development, contact centres or admin services overseas, can be effective (or frustrating!) for anything that can be handled over the internet, phone or electronic transactions
- Digital products with no flesh-and-blood Customer touch-point
How we sell and buy:
- Multiple marketing, sales and distribution channels including effectively hidden or disguised sales funnels and virtual shopfronts, such as affinity marketing, affiliate marketing and white-labelling,
- Complex logistically models including intermediation and multiple-layered distribution models
What the markets look like:
- Global markets
- Changing demographics, both aging populations and younger developing markets (so-called mega-changes)
- Changing buying habits, leading to micro-segmentation, more and bigger niche markets
- Local and global pressures including carbon footprints, food miles, ethical trading etc.
Wisdom of the crowd
I will return to explore the present and the future of Customer Service later, but first a look at the table of IT elements and various people and roles involved in IT and change projects.
There are a lot a functional roles in the table; Project Managers & Business Analysts, and by inference; Designers (Design), Testers (Testing), Developers (Development), Architects (Architecture) etc.
Some organisations may also have experts in Operations & Infrastructure, Data Analysis/Business Intelligence, Usability Engineering, amongst others. If your organisation aspires to being Agile you might also have Product Owners and Scrum Masters.
When developing IT systems or improving business processes, in fact any activity with a human dimension, it’s worth knowing who your Stakeholders are and what they think. That includes both internal and external Customers, but not exclusively. The Customer does not appear in his or her own right as an IT element, but there are Users! I think it is significant that the User- prefix appears more often than Customer- in IT and change projects, at all points in a typical project life-cycle.
It’s much easier to understand what is needed and assess the quality of a product or service under consideration at the point-of-contact or point-of-sale. You don’t even need to be talking to real users, any potential or proxy user will have a valid opinion, to be weighed against others. A broader collective or crowd of opinion-givers and decision-makers* could and should include developers, business analysts, testers etc., other members of the project team, everyone else from the top-to-bottom in your organisation, and key clients, partners & suppliers in the value chain.
Each and every user and non-user has a say. So, the monarchy has been replaced by a democracy!
(*Ed. how can a crowd make a decision? The mechanics of prioritization, selection & decision-making is a separate topic.)
Whither Customer Service?
So, barring specific cases when there is a very-important person calling the shots, has the individual humble and sometimes inconvenient Customer been dethroned and marginalized in a bloodless coup?
No of course not, but the relationships and focus has subtly changed in terms of what Customers expectations are, and how successful organizations manage both the general Customer processes and the specific Customer Service touch-points.
Customer Experience (CX), as opposed to User Experience (UX), should take a broader perspective of the end-to-end process, from marketing messages and brand consistency to the quality of the end product and measures of operational performance (such as service levels).
I’ve been very restrained in not mentioning money so far, but finances (costs and benefits) can affect Customers directly or indirectly and can also drive changes that may alter the actual or perceived Customer Experience. This is all beyond the scope of this article.
Assuming there is a real Customer (or User!) for your product or service, there will be a Customer Service function and Customer touch-points, whether across a counter (real or metaphorical), over the phone, or increasingly via email, other digital and web-based communications & social media. These interactions are key to ensuring good Customer Service both for positive exchanges and when things go wrong, including a subset of Customer Service which deals with complaints.
Both Customer Experience and Customer Service as defined above should involve feedback to improve operational processes, let me call this negative feedback, which aims to reduce the gap between the expected and the actual behaviour and quality. A harder discipline to achieve is a positive feedback loop that takes individual experiences and uses them to effect process change or lead to the development of new product features, for example.
However, looking after Customers is, in my opinion, mostly about caring what they say and do, being respectful, responsive and empathetic. Processes and product development will look after themselves, but it’s the human aspects of individual contact that could make a difference to each transaction, and potential future business.
So we have come full-circle; what and how you deliver to your Customers is a democratic process, but each of us has a right and expectation to be treated like royalty.
(Ed. Why not read the IT element about Users now, it will give you a overview on how the stakeholder roles differ in IT and change projects.)
© 2016 The IT Elementary School