I was on a call recently with a customer group discussing the biggest customer service challenges they anticipate moving forward. As part of the discussion, a large retail customer brought up the difficulty they encounter in providing a high-quality support experience across different cultures. As I considered this, it occurred to me that providing quality support in its simplest form can be really challenging, but doing so globally adds multiple layers of complexity. While a tool like customer journey mapping is invaluable to the development and evaluation of your specific customer experience, here are what I’d consider to be the building blocks of a well-considered global support experience.
Build up from the fundamentals
When you seek to support a global customer base, operationally there are two main concerns to contemplate: How should you organize so that you can meet the support needs of your customers and what software application should you run to provide the most seamless experience? Oracle Service Cloud Technical Support uses a fairly standard follow-the-sun model with team members located in the US, the EU and Pan-Asia. Agents from one shift hand-off tickets as the day ends in one region and begins in the next. This allows for relative ease in providing global support coverage 24/7/365.
When thinking about your software choice for a global team, in addition to all the standard elements, you need to be keenly aware of the language options. Be sure the package you are purchasing allows you to support the languages you want to support in a way that provides a consistent customer experience from one to another. Low customer effort is essential to a successful support experience. Be sure to lay a solid foundation that works in concert with the pieces that will follow.
Choose your languages wisely
Naturally, global support lends itself to a lot of customers speaking a lot of different native languages. Deciding which languages you’re supporting is a key element in the design of your support experience. The decision regarding the number of languages you need to support is multifaceted, but largely comes down to a simple supply and demand equilibrium. Where can you strike the optimal balance between a limited language budget and customer demand? For us, the answer has been to officially provide support in English. Obviously, this is strategic and organizationally specific decision. The next design concept to resolve is the efficient routing of your support tickets by language. One example of how to achieve multi-language support is through the use of end-user page language interfaces. Having an interface for each supported language allows support tickets to be routed to the queues of support agents with the appropriate skillset.
Hire the right people
For many organizations the support team is one of the lowest compensated, yet most frequently customer-facing. Even if this isn’t the case in your organization, it can easily be argued that a customer’s interactions with your support team are among the “moment that matter” touchpoints during any customer journey. Smart companies and corporate leaders understand this and invest accordingly. There’s little point to selling desirable cutting-edge products, but providing poor support for them. If not today, at some point the gap between your offering and a substitute will be close enough that someone else’s exceptional support will more than cover the cost of switching. Finding global-support-ready agents can be difficult, but ultimately the performance of your agents is directly correlated to your customer churn rate. If this is an issue, consider reframing your requirements. Make identifying the fundamental building blocks, such as emotional intelligence, your priority and combine it with a commitment to your training and coaching programs.
Ensure some agent uniformity
One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to customer facing teams is lack of consistency. Now when I say this, I’m not talking about standard scripts and phrasing; hopefully most organizations left those behind long ago. I am talking about a philosophical look and feel. A uniform experience is especially difficult to deliver for support organizations with agents spread throughout the word. Technical support, in particular, often face issues where resolution times are measured in days rather than hours and tickets worked by multiple teams. In cases like these, not only is consistency important to providing a quality experience from one incident to the next, it’s vital within the same incident. The most efficient way to address this is in your training and coaching. Thoughtful training and coaching is the key to ensuring the only real difference a customer sees from one agent to the next is the name attached to the response.
Don’t discount cultural differences
Two of my passions outside the office are culture and language. Because of this, my ears perked up when our customer mentioned cultural difference as an area they’ve identified for improvement. The fact is good customer service is truly subjective; it means different things in different cultures. When you have the possibility of a US agent providing service to a Dutch customer or a Dutch agent providing service to a Japanese customer, it’s important to account for the cultural expectations that exist. In striving to provide an outstanding customer experience, it’s important to be aware that a one-size-fits-all approach is not a roadmap to success, but to failure. An effective support experience strategy requires the prioritization of cultural awareness and sensitivity during the hiring, training and coaching processes.
Have a communication plan
The first ten years of my career were spent working for a small family-owned company. When I moved over to Goodyear Tire as a divisional VP, I was shocked by the enormity of the task of disseminating organizational direction to a global audience. This belief was further enforced in my next role spent working in India for a US-based organization. In the support world, things like service event outages, policy and strategy can change quickly. These communications need to be circulated swiftly, consumed at nearly a 100% rate and actioned immediately. During the course of any workday in a support organization, mailboxes fill with plenty of superfluous “nothing to do with solving this customer’s issue” emails. It’s critical to develop fluid and engaging communication channels and strategies.
There’s little doubt customer experience is a key brand differentiator in today’s marketplace and the support experience your organization provides is among the most visible pieces of your overall customer journey. Considering that 82% of people have stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service while 40% have begun purchasing from a competitive brand due to their reputation for great customer services, getting and keeping your service model right isn’t just important, it’s imperative.
Which pieces do you and your organization find to be vital and I may have overlooked here???
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