Is The Customer Service “Department” Becoming Obsolete?

Is The Customer Service "Department" Becoming Obsolete?

Today we are excited to share with you a guest post from Mike Wittenstein.

Let’s face it, most Customer Service Departments were created, and still exist, to deal with a mismatch between customer expectations and what a business delivers. This mismatch can occur even when the organization does due diligence and thinks it knows what customers want.

How Customer Service Got Started

The organization probably researched potential customers, created the ideal persona — the perfect customer model — and then mapped key business processes to deliver on anticipated customer expectations. So, what happened to necessitate the need for a Customer Service Department?

Real people showed up, and some of them didn’t fit the model. Customers had diverse needs and were looking for different outcomes. As much as employees wanted to meet the expectations of all customers, they simply couldn’t — the system was not flexible enough to address the kind of personalization customers were looking for. It was easier and less costly to invent the Customer Service  Department to work around the system, rather than change the system.

How It’s Evolved

Over time, the Customer Service Department has become the place where “problem” customers are sent – those who have needs that can’t be met because of the way the business is designed to work. Customer Service typically operates by a different set of rules than other parts of the business — it often has more flexibility and permission to work around the current system on behalf of customers. But what if you could avoid having to ask your customers to go through the back door (through Customer Service) to get what they want? What if you could design the system upfront so that it is flexible enough to adapt to meet the needs of all customers? Well, you can — through Customer Experience Design.

The Growing Popularity of Customer Experience Design

Customer Experience has been getting a lot of press these days. So, what exactly does it mean? Customer Experience is everything you do for your customers, everything your business processes do to them — and how it all makes them feel. While the Customer Service  Department helps one customer at a time, Customer Experience Design reveals opportunities to develop a system that adapts to the needs of all customers, all the time. It’s about adjusting the way the business works on the inside in order to deliver more of what your customers want. Put another way, it’s about ensuring there’s a match between how the business works and how customers want the business to work. It’s also about making Customer Service  an integrated part of all business processes — not a separate department tasked with finding workarounds for systemic problems.

The Design Process

Customer Experience Design is a design thinking process that guides organizations through the course of reimagining, rethinking and reinventing the internal system, and sometimes even retiring the tried and true. It engages employees in taking a holistic approach to designing experiences for customers. Customer Experience Design tools get organizations from Point A — “That’s a cool idea” — to Point B — “Wow, look how well that works now!” Successful implementation of the process has yielded many benefits for organizations, including more profit, increased word-of-mouth advertising and less frustration on the part of both customers and employees.

What the Future Holds

I’ll close with some questions worth pondering. Given the growing popularity and benefits of designing for Customer Experience, should Customer Service continue to be a separate function and a place customers are sent? Or, should Customer Service be embedded at the point of sale and throughout a customer’s journey? Or, should Customer Service be done by bots and artificial intelligence? Or, maybe the answer is all of the above, or some combination of these options.

I know, this is a topic for another article. For now, consider integrating Customer Service into all customer touchpoints (moments of truth) — from pre-sales activity, through the online experience and the purchase. Make it an integral part of your business design, instead of accepting things the way they are.
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Mike Wittenstein, founder and managing partner at StoryMiners, has spent 30,000 hours helping leaders tackle tough, high-stakes problems, particularly in the areas of customer experience and story. He is an author, top blogger, and former IBM Global Services eVisionary. With highest-available certifications as a consultant (CMC), customer experience professional (CCXP), and speaking professional (CSP), and over $1.6 billion in value generated for clients (added sales, cost reductions, new reMike Wittensteinvenue streams), Mike is literally in the top 1% of speakers, designers, and consultants worldwide. Mike and StoryMiners are passionate about designing great experiences and helping companies build the capabilities to deliver them. It all starts with story!

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Comments (2)

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  1. Shep Hyken says:

    Interesting article! I’m not sure if the customer support department will ever be obsolete, but it is definitely going to change – for some of the reasons you mention (and more).