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Monday, 2 December 2013

How to navigate Customer Service through collaboration

There is no doubt that we are experiencing ‘the age of the consumer’. Research shows that, as those responsible for service adjust to and anticipate changing customer behaviour, business and IT staff are re-engineering end-to-end business processes, while acquiring and deploying suitable supporting technologies. This requires a shift to new ways of working and thus, organizational changes on executive level.
In a Forrester report earlier this year, Kate Leggett looked at top customer service trends that should be taken into account to deliver customer service excellence, assisting companies in understanding key business trends expected to unfold over the next five years.
Among the trends discussed, it was found that the quality of service delivered is improving through collaboration, with the adoption of collaboration having increased considerably in recent years, and expected to surge in the future. The biggest trend highlighted by the report though, is that collaboration is becoming a corporate mindset.
This affects the call centre industry, as it is believed that agent to-agent collaboration will assist in diminishing agent tier structures that are too rigid, for an environment that is more collaborative, subsequently increasing first-contact resolution rates. It is further felt that by relaxing agent tier structures it will promote more knowledge sharing.
Companies, through activity streams, around sales opportunities, customer service cases, and even content, are adopting real-time collaboration. The report points out the expectation of companies to better connect communities with customer service technologies, to encourage customer-customer, customer-agent, and agent-agent collaboration. This, in turn, achieves better incident closure rates and higher satisfaction. Leveraging activity streams, that are now part of CRM technology, allows for the adoption of “collaborative environments that cross functional organizational silos”, which allows interaction of the right resources in ‘near real time’, to drive business results.
The thinking, that effective collaboration can draw distributed teams and customers closer together, which in turn, leads to better efficiency and stronger relationships with customers, is corroborated by several research reports.
 On the other hand, Jesse Wilkins, in an Aiim report titled ‘The Rationale and Requirements for Collaboration’, asks why so many organizations are deploying collaboration tools or considering them? The report points out that collaboration, without the necessary culture in place, cannot be forced. As a matter of fact, time and money will be spent without any substantial benefit, when companies compel users to apply collaboration tools and requirements.
The Aiim report cites Mike Gotta of Burton Group who, in a blog post titled “Categorizing Collaboration”, identifies several reasons why individuals collaborate:
Individual processes require user engagement. Technical support analysts collaborate with each other to resolve customer issues more efficiently. They might also collaborate with the sales staff to ensure that customer questions are answered effectively.
Shared activities motivate collaboration. Project management: everyone has to succeed in order for everyone to succeed. Another example is that of an orchestra—everyone plays different notes at different times, but it all must work together or it is just a cacophony of instruments.
Community participation induces contribution. Good examples of this include popular wiki projects, both public and internal; many listservs also support this dynamic.
Remember too, that collaboration happens for other reasons as well. These may include individuals wanting to share by illustrating their expertise on a topic, or membership in and the associated status of many social networks. The common factor is that this is cooperation and collaboration among individuals that are like-minded. Whether ‘accidental or inadvertent’ collaboration can consist of information created for a specific reason, which is then used again or repurposed.
What is more important, is that customers want to collaborate with companies.
Collaborating with Customers
Organizations, in collaborating with customers and partners, may be provided with even greater benefits than when collaborating internally; existing processes can be made more efficient, as can the creation of new products and services. More important, a community that cares about the organization and what it does, is built through effective collaboration with customers and users.
Don Tapscott notes in Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, “There are always more smart people outside your enterprise boundaries than there are inside.”
Companies can channel the energy and expertise of customers’ through developing knowledge bases and maintaining frequently asked questions (FAQs). Regardless of how established a business’ support processes, users who have figured out a way to work around issues encountered can provide vital feedback.
In this respect, Wikis are a good platform, as they allow quick delivery of corrections and updates, while also supporting security and access at different levels of, for instance, partners vs. end users. Inclusion of their expertise into a knowledge base or listing of best practices will specifically be appreciated by partners. A marketplace for ‘partner-developed templates, widgets, or integrations could be created by extending this idea; there are already several vendors who support their partners in this type of approach.
This type of collaboration makes it both easier and cheaper for partners to find best practices and reusable tools, while it benefits the business in allowing an exchange of knowledge and information. By inviting users and partners to collaborate in this fashion, a very loyal community can be created.

Figure 1 Collaboration technology and tools, internal and external uses and means
Source: Aiim whitepaper – Jesse Wilkins
Internal Project updates
Configuration updates
Notification of changes
Project documentation
Technical documentation
FAQ/Knowledge base
Contract drafting
Presentation development
FAQ/Knowledge base
(Wikipedia, LyricWiki)
RSS Feeds
Sales leads
To-do Lists
Lightweight integration with other systems and tools
Blog, Wiki updates
Repurpose data from other systems and tools
Instant messaging
Bring in additional assistance for sales
Technical support sales
Realtime updates
Schedule meetings
View availability
Schedule resources
Schedule meetings
Synchronize calendars
Presentations to staff
Product demos
Presentations to clients
Desktop sharing
Technical Support
Product Demos
Technical Support
Availability for collaboration
using other methods,
such as phone and in-person
Availability for collaboration using other methods, such as phone and in-person
Shared workspaces
Project documentation
Research resources and references
Document sharing
Product/service development and testing
Document sharing
Virtual meeting
Virtual meeting
Discussion Forums/
Bulletin Boards
Threaded discussion on
particular topics
Comments or
suggestion lists

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