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On the front line: how to empower customer service teams to deliver great experiences

By Michael Cucchi, VP of Product at PagerDuty

Customer service is increasingly the difference between business success and failure. Some 90% of consumers believe it’s an important factor in their choice of and ongoing loyalty to brands. The past year has seen tremendous pressure placed upon these employees as businesses expanded their digital services and consumers flooded online. When these services inevitably malfunction, customer service is on the front line. But too often they’re disconnected from the technical teams and information needed to resolve issues quickly.

This must be fixed—with real-time, intelligent tooling that empowers customer service staff to take full ownership of incidents from start to finish.

Why customer service matters

Experience is everything today. The vast majority of consumers now consider it to be as important as a company’s products, with younger consumers specifically calling it out as a key criteria. That’s why so many organizations are engaged in digital transformation projects—hoping cloud-powered services will enhance their agility in responding to ever-changing market demands. In many cases, this general trend was accelerated over a year ago by the pandemic, as companies were forced to expand their digital footprint.

Unfortunately, digital systems are complex, messy and often break. A PagerDuty report last year found that in the previous 3-6 months, a majority of organizations had seen incidents increase by over 40%. Three-quarters (74%) said customer-facing services create the greatest pressure on such systems. Given the huge expectations placed on them and already high turnover rates, it’s no surprise that customer service agent burnout is a serious concern.

The bottom line is that customers know things can break. But they expect that if the worst-case scenario does happen, the resolution process is speedy and transparent. In other words, it’s once again the experience that matters as much as the destination. In the world of operations they discuss Mean Time To Resolve (MTTR), in the customer’s case, it’s more Mean Time To respond (MTTr) to their issue.  So how can organizations ensure their customer agents meet these expectations?

The problem with current approaches

First, let’s take a look at where things are currently going wrong. In many organizations, customer service teams are using disparate siloed tools to handle everything from cross-team collaboration to case management. It’s an inefficient, manual way of working that often leaves agents fielding calls without the right contextual information and no contact with the teams supporting the services. They can neither resolve issues there and then, nor escalate to the right subject matter expert (SME).

Once the issue is ticketed and sent across to the technical team, the customer agent may have little in the way of feedback or real-time updates on progress, which means neither does the customer. These problems are only compounded with heavy call volumes. The result? Breached SLAs, customer churn, slow responses to outages, and lost profits.

Empowering your agents

As businesses rightly put the customer experience front-and-center of their growth plans, they must define a new role for customer service and support teams. That means moving from a reactive to a proactive, preventative posture to meet the growing expectations of the customer. This is where ownership becomes key to success.

The customer service agent, rather than the technical or engineering expert, must have ownership and be seen as “incident commander.” In this role, they remain the all-important first point-of-contact with the customer but also take control of the problem end-to-end. That means delegating to the appropriate SME, receiving regular updates from them to pass onto the customer and finally, remediating quickly and effectively.

Getting the technology right

The right technology platform is also crucial. PagerDuty was built for this: we provide a unified source of truth across critical digital services, putting visibility and control into the hands of customer service teams.

First, this means surfacing monitoring data from across the organization and combining it with information from customer calls and other systems of record. This gives agents a holistic and contextual view of what’s going on. With over 560 native integrations and the ability to build new customized workflows via APIs, we provide unparalleled insight into your IT infrastructure.

Next, we empower agents to use that information intelligently to find the right technical teams, and stay continuously updated—via automated escalation policies, bidirectional comms and direct line of escalation. Machine learning capabilities can even enable customer service teams to get ahead of problems by alerting on emerging issues. This is the ultimate kind of proactivity: arming agents with the detailed information they need to contact customers before they’ve even experienced a problem and tell them what to expect next. VIP customers can receive differentiated responses.

We’re living through a new age where experience is king. This is a daunting prospect for customer service managers. But with the right tools and culture, your front-line staff can be a true differentiator for onward success. 

To watch the on demand version of the PagerDuty Summit, the virtual event for digital operations professionals, click here