Scaling Customer Service Operations in the 21st Century while Maintaining a High Touch Customer Experience Model

October 4, 2020 Off By Alessio Mauro

What is a CS Operations Team and Why You Should Care About Having One Before It’s too Late

It’s nice to finally see a broad stroke of industries taking baby steps towards understanding the untapped potential of a properly designed internal think tank. A diverse group of talent on the front lines, who put the customer first and are committed to fostering operational excellence through creativity, laughter, collaboration, teamwork, transparency and dedication.

A lack of vision and understanding of what ingredients are required to integrate business initiatives with effective processes that positively affect the customer experience can quickly kill a company from the inside out. 

What it takes to create meaningful customer outcomes for a vast number complex personality archetypes is far from binary and in many cases must take a non-linear dynamic approach to achieve desired results.

This is what a well architected CS Operations team does. It spots opportunity and executes where it matters. A properly designed CSOPs team is a living, breathing organism with a broad spectrum of talent across multiple people and teams that work simultaneously with one another. A rich team culture and understanding of what responsibility, accountability and open, transparent communication is. Team members knows what it means to be human and what it means to get the job done. 

CS Operations unifies the business, employee and customer experience as one working engine moving towards the same common goal.

It takes the right vision, the right leadership, the right team and culture to move companies successfully into the fast pace digital transformation space and keep their teams moral up and head on straight while doing so.

Lets dive into some of those devilish details, the inner working components to building a successful team, organization or company

Scaling and generating revenue from your companies services organization in parallel to effectively managing the overall growth of a successful business venture can seem like an overwhelming undertaking at first glance. 

“Arrgh, how do I stop bleeding service costs, where can I generate service revenue, how do I start and how can I do this successfully without jeopardizing the customer experience?”

The good news is building scalable solutions can be tackled in many satisfying and well proven ways. Of course choosing the most ideal concoction of people, processes and tools will greatly depend on your business and organizational objectives. Choosing the wrong ones can have devastating and long lasting implications. So choose wisely my friend.

Now lets cover a couple customer interaction channels you should consider focusing your efforts on today. Since this article is meant to be 100% informative with zero vested interest other than wanting to help mankind, I’ll leave out specific names of tools I personally find useful. Possibly for another article. 🙂

Cost Center to Profit Center…. Or if you prefer, Break Even Center

The ongoing increase in availability of workflow engines and true A.I. technology (machine learning) is providing new opportunities for UX Designers, Service Operations and Customer Experience teams to increase their level of meaningful interactions with customers. Identifying real time opportunities for customer engagement greatly maximizes your employees time focusing on the right work versus busy, mundane administrative tasks. and yes there is a difference! 

Yesterday was the time to start understanding what types of tools and skill sets are right for your company, culture and team as we blaze into the future.

How can I get started? Huddle with department leaders of your company and list all administrative tasks they currently have their staff spending time towards. Identify cross functional administrative commonalities and weigh the pros and cons of automation whether through a workflow engine or machine learning (A.I.) tool. If you have zero experience and/or are completely lost on where to start it may be a good idea to reach out to a Technology Partner/Consulting service, it will probably be worth your time and investment.

Set Narrow Minded, Short Term Goals Aside and Focus on the Big Picture — “The System”

Smart leaders of the future are building plans towards automation and providing self-service options to their customers to meet their vast and continuously growing needs. A good place to start is targeting simple tasks for automation opportunities such as RMA returns, profile updates, scheduling, self-service training, order taking and pretty much anything administrative or repetitive. 

All “how to” related material should be easily assessable to your clients as well. If they cannot find the answer themselves they will simply call, chat, email (choose your communication channel of choice) to interact with a human for something that could have been easily answered with a simple Knowledge Article or automated help system.

What’s the lesson? Identify automation opportunities, automate them or at the very least reduce the number of clicks, paths, and/or interactions it takes to meet your desired outcome. If you don’t have anyone thinking about automation, process optimization and the customer experience as a single entity today you are already behind the ball.

Delivering Excellence Takes Proper Upfront Planning and a Well Thought Out Execution Strategy

Even smarter leaders will resonate with one of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs.

 “One of the things that I’ve always found is that you got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.”

The same concept applies to creating and deploying process and services. Far too often is this simple yet profoundly true statement overlooked and tucked under the rug for short term goals or narrow minded vested interests.

What’s the takeaway? The easiest way to tackle a problem or build a solution is by conceptualizing a completed product or idea and working backwards. If you are familiar with Reverse Game Theory also known as Mechanism Designing you get what I’m saying. In other words, follow Steve’s words as a guide to building meaningful processes, tools, applications and systems.

Always Keep the End User in Mind

Be mindful. A key to success is paying close attention to ALL the so called “boring” details that the rest of the world runs away from. As they say “the devil’s in the details” but also keep in mind that success is too.

The challenges we all face in our rapidly growing information age and digital transition to AI and self-service is making sure we’re not taking an annoying, robotic approach. After all we are human. It can be very easy to negatively impact the customer experience while attempting to implement customer facing automation tools. Having the right team members with skill sets in a variety of disciplines such as UX design is a key area that is far too often overlooked when building solutions.

What’s the takeaway? Be mindful. A key to success is paying close attention to ALL the so called “boring” details that the rest of the world runs away from. As they say “the devil’s in the details” but also keep in mind that success is too.

Weird is the New Cool and Normal is the New Bad Seed on the Block

As we Evolve…

Sticking to old service industry habits and processes will sink your rescue ship as we continue to progress into the digital transformation age. Jobs in the Services world will begin to transform and shift towards roles such as configuring advanced workflow engines powering natural language processing systems (NLP) for technologies like Apples Siri or Amazon’s Alexa (there are many, many, many more). 

Another example would be automated self-service chat bots which are beginning to shift the way we interact with customers online (old news but worth mentioning). You’ll see more humans teaching machines versus humans teaching humans or humans doing the actual work as the technology space continues to grow.

Jobs evolve with the world around us, nothing waits and you shouldn’t either. Evolving and fostering your employees personal growth and education in parallel to your companies key objectives is another important variable to factor in sooner rather than later. Anyone searching for long term success or have achieved it should clearly understand the power that comes from a strong, well seasoned and well trained team. 

Let me explain further… 

screenshot from the movie Hidden Figures

The movie “Hidden Figures” demonstrates how this concept comes to fruition in the scene where Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) taught her entire team of mathematicians how to put their pen and paper down (brilliant group of women) and learn a completely new skill in using and programming NASA’s brand new mainframe computer systems that none of the Engineers and Scientists could figure out. Since the computer took away the need for hand written math, they adopted, transformed and learned how to maintain the very thing that threaten their now obsolete jobs. As Bruce Lee would put it, they were like water.

Your CS Operations team is like water, it can flow or it can crash. It all depends on how you build it, foster it and maintain it.

Bruce Lee, “be like water”

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. — Bruce Lee

Starting your venture into utilizing automation and self-service technologies now will save you time and money in the future. While the initial investment into some enterprise and small business solutions may seem high at first, when configured correctly, you will see ROI start to role in as you scale, tweak and adopt these tools and applications into your companies operation.

My simple and to the point recommendation: Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish, start researching and planning your entrance into workflow tools, Chat bots and A.I. today. Build your employees in parallel to your bottom line. Compound interest yield high returns when all factors are applied with equal weight. People, process and tools, in that order.

Where do you get all these wonderful Tools — A.I., Chatbots, NLP engines and more, oh my!

Let’s talk artificial intelligence, the big buzz word

A.I. Scenario #1: The workflow application masquerading as an A.I. solution

Voice response technology (NLP — Natural Language Processing) “Ask me anything and I’ll give you the answer”. Ohhh wait, I don’t have an answer, let me notify an employee so they can review the interaction for that specific question branch of code and update the response output so the next person who asks that question gets an answer. Have fun with that expensive and laborious exercise.


A.I. Scenario #2: True A.I. — Machine Learning, think… “The Terminator”

screenshot from “The Terminator” movie collection

I say “true” A.I. because several marketing teams position advanced workflow engines where humans are assigned to build out each response as A.I. while true A.I. in my humble opinion involves a heavy machine learning component, no human interaction needed other than laser focus on user input and tweaking of code to improve the self-learning algorithm output.

Knowing the difference between the two when selecting a vendor or building inhouse solutions matters as different workforce models will need to be applied for taking one approach versus another. Unexpected workforce costs will come into play as well for any tool you select that involves an ongoing human training component, not to mention the delay in scalability when competing in a fast pace environment like the technology space. 

What’s the takeaway? Make sure to ask detailed questions about how a technology works and what long term investments are required to maximize, scale and maintain performance before leaping forward into a long term commitment and/or partnership.

Let’s Touch on the Golden Egg, the Customer Experience

Let’s face it, consumers are no longer forced to choose from a small handful of options, in today’s world opportunity is everywhere along with the experiences consumers have with the brands they regularly interact with.

Service centers and leaders are competing against the last best customer experience. In other words you are always being compared to a person’s last best experience dealing with a company regardless of industry. 

Remember it’s about them, not you. 

If you fall anywhere short of meeting your clients last memorable customer experience, which of course will vary based on your diverse set of customer architypes, guess what….. you lose.

What’s my point? One size does not fit all, there are common variables that defines what a positive customer interaction is, and what attributes to consider based on your industry and types of people you attract. First step is figuring out what they are. To get started make sure you provide opportunities for customers to provide feedback as often as possible. Map out every customer and business interaction point on your customer journey map to get an idea of where to focus feedback loop opportunities. The second half is ensuring you are storing the feedback in a reporting format where you can slice and dice the data to identify key performance indicators (KPI’s) which in turn should lead to intelligent decisions and identification of future opportunities.

Delivering What a Customer Needs, When they Need it and how THEY want it.. It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

A Services decision maker can have a field day lowering costs by simply implementing the right tools, making small scalable changes to your team members skill sets and shifting your focus away from traditional models and thinking habits to solve services growth challenges.

Everyday a growing number of Service and Solution offerings are becoming readily available for people test and use. When you introduce people to new options they will discover new opportunities. While this is great in one respect it’s also a growing nightmare for Marketers and Service Leaders as they scramble to keep up with the accelerating growth of new consumer and employee profiles and training programs to scratch the surface. 

This also means Marketers are scrambling to get your attention, many promising to solve the world’s problems which they do not.

What’s the take away? Do your homework, know what tools are available, seek a consultant if you are unfamiliar with the vast amount of service and technology offerings currently available BEFORE signing the dotted line.

Final Thoughts.
A well-defined process dictates the tool, the tool does not dictate the process. Be wary of those who solely rely on tools as their first step to solving an operational problem. More times than not the process needs to be fixed prior to considering which tool will be meet your business needs and long term initiatives.

Hope these tips help you on your journey. 

Cheers all,