Happy agents and happy customers: Empower the customer service team to lead the way

Organisations find keeping on top of their rising incidents a daunting task which can’t be done by traditionally siloed customer and developer teams.

The customer service team will often bear the brunt of being caught in the middle of customers facing an issue and those internally responsible for an organisation’s technical platforms that are tasked with fixing the problem.

There is a better way to organise customer service teams, with tools, technologies, and mindsets that can help with the transition to a streamlined, unified, customer response, uniting technical and care response into one.

A customer service team with a repository of user insights and trends is critical to incident response. Traditionally they handover to development teams who use this insight to resolve the root problems. Yet, incorporating them into the DevOps lifecycle will reduce silos, shorten feedback loops, empower agents, and impress customers. It’s imperative to treat customer service ops (CSOps) as one of the key elements in an organisation’s incident response strategy.

As with most other roles in the enterprise, empowering the customer service team means offering automation to remove the friction of the routine grind and better unleash strategic potential. This friction comes primarily from the complexity, software, and workflows that the business itself puts in place. Many organisations shifted to a digital-first stance and increased internal business and software complexity over the COVID-enforced remote working period. This had a major impact, as PagerDuty identified a 19% growth in critical incidents from 2019 to 2020 and a 6% increase the following period.

Technologies such as automation have the potential to improve customer service teams’ efficiency in responding to cases and bring down the mean time to resolution (MTTR). But to focus solely on the reactive is only one half of the puzzle. Ensuring that systems are running efficiently and effectively, and that regular maintenance is carried out without impeding customer experience will stop many incidents from occurring in the first place. That is the proactive side of technical operations for customer experience and enterprise operations.

Quick tip: Automate anything that removes human attention from critical tasks. Anything routine and repetitive should be banished in favour of automation. Customer service asks a lot of its staff. They must be empathetic, creative, alert, and eager. That’s a tall order in high-stress environments. Removing the need to juggle tasks and taking administrative work off the schedule offers more time to spend fully focussed on the needs of the customer.

In most businesses I interact with, I see their technical and customer teams aren’t tightly connected. Their historic operation in silos has also been worsened by the software employed to support the enterprise. I’ll give an example:

A customer faces an error affecting the quality of the service they expect and contacts their customer support. Internally to the provider’s business, a customer service ticket is raised and someone is assigned to investigate. They spot the source of the error and – if it’s part of their back-end systems – must use their own IT support software to raise their own ticket. That ticket goes into the queue for technical support and an engineer or developer will talk the customer support person through the changes and result over a messaging platform. Customer support collates these insights and packages it up for the waiting customer. They’ve used three internal software services, rewritten copy from another person, and navigated the timing between their own continuing work and that of the tech support who serviced the request. That’s a lot of steps and asynchronicity adding up to friction. And a quick answer regarding timing or status is likely not possible at any stage before the resolution is found. That leaves the customer in the dark until the end of the process. Neither the teams involved, nor the business’s customer, will love that experience.

What’s better is an efficient workflow that moves customer incidents through to technical operations but keeps transparency for all teams involved, using automation to speed up connecting and alerting the right people at the right time with the right information. It’s obvious that buggy flow between customer service and their tech colleagues will slow response and resolution.

Mindset: Your customers are a critical signal of system function. Customer care knows this already, and IT can learn from them. Customer inquiries and feedback are elements of the real-time health of a digital service. The blast radius from a customer-identified incident quickly becomes more obvious and able to be prioritised properly. Customers who are unfortunately impacted become part of the alert system and help IT stop issues snowballing outwards. It’s clear that the customer team must be part of an integrated process with IT for the best view of what’s happening with service levels.

Real-time data from customers should be blended with digital operations metrics. With proper two-way communication plus a well-integrated tool stack, both teams will act as one to resolve customer issues – and fast.

The ideal end-state is where organisations effectively bring customer service personnel in line with development teams to improve the experience of staff and customers, and where CSOps plays a pivotal part of incident response.

Achieving this is a tremendous step in the right direction, but maintaining a learning and growth mindset through measuring feedback cycles, MTTR, customer satisfaction, and staff efficiency should be the focus of the journey ahead. Focus on the continual monitoring and improvement — don’t stop striving for high performance when you feel a sense of achievement when actions start to pay off.

About the Author

Tim Chinchen is Senior Director of Solutions Consulting (Global) at PagerDuty. In an always-on world, teams trust PagerDuty to help them deliver a perfect digital experience to their customers, every time. PagerDuty is the central nervous system for a company’s digital operations. We identify issues and opportunities in real-time and bring together the right people to respond to problems faster and prevent them in the future. From digital disruptors to Fortune 500 companies, over 18,000 businesses rely on PagerDuty to help them continually improve their digital operations—so their teams can spend less time reacting to incidents and more time building for the future.

Featured image: ©Sunshine Seeds