Aug 252012
 
does the telephone matter in the age of social media and the web?

In the Foreign Correspondent report that inspired yesterday’s post about the start up community angel Investor Raval Navikant said  “you don’t need customer service anymore, you have Twitter.”

While it’s refreshing to hear that Twitter is now rightly seen as a customer service channel rather than a marketing tool, it’s worrying that startup businesses still have such a low opinion of supporting their users.

This is the mindset for the web2.0, social and cloud computing communities – that user support can be done though Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), user forums or an anonymous email address that might get read once in a while. It’s the self-help model of helping your users and it’s the biggest weakness of online services.

A worry for these businesses is that big organisations now beginning to remember the importance of customers. What has traditionally been small business’ advantage is  being eroded.

At an Australian Computer Society Foundation lunch in Sydney yesterday Testra Corporation’s diector of Products and IT Enablement, Jenny Woods described how her company is moving to a more service centric culture.

While this isn’t simple in a company the size of Telstra, a task made harder by the telco industry’s customer hostility, it’s certainly a process that’s underway.

There’s a long way to go for Telstra. Along with that traditional telco antipathy towards their customers, they are big company with plenty of silos and aligning management KPIs so the temptation isn’t simply to gouge customers for short term profit is a big change.

Changing that ‘soak the customer’ mindset is the biggest challenge in making companies like Telstra service centric and that means management at all levels have to buy into the process.

Without that senior and middle management commitment, customer support will just be seen as the poor relation to other divisions and will be outsourced to the lowest cost provider at the first opportunity.

Part of that change to a service mindset is in trusting your staff. Jenny described how Telstra abandoned scripts for their home Internet customers and told the support agents they could use their initiative – as a result customer satisfaction went up, problems were solved faster and the number of modem returns slumped.

“The people who do the work, know how to do the work” says Jenny and it’s good that Telstra’s management is recognising the skills in their workforce.

Much of that anti-service culture we see in large organisations is because management don’t respect the skills, experience and knowledge of their workers. Instead they’re treated as naughty children who can be slapped into line with a stern memo.

Today’s economy doesn’t favour businesses and managements who think like that, the organisations that will do well this Century those who are flexible, value their staffs’ skills and have managers who see their role as more than micro-managing their silos.

It also means delivering a product you’re proud to support. If you won’t support your products, then your customers will go to a competitor who looks after their clients.

We fell into a trap into thinking customer service didn’t matter during the late Twentieth Century, it was always a myth and now we have to deliver.

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