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ITIL : Why are businesses failing to provide consistent customer service?
James Gay, CEO, ICCM Solutions
Every business person will have heard the old adage that a happy customer tells one person about good service, and an unhappy customer tells ten people.
Today the importance of customer service remains a high priority for growing businesses; research conducted by Forrester shows that 90 per cent of customer service decision-makers say that good customer service is critical to business, and 80 per cent believe it should be a business differentiator.
Despite this, companies across the globe are still losing customers on a daily basis due to poor service. In the current economic climate customers are looking for even greater value in return on investment - which in turn means that businesses must work even harder in the service they are providing to customers.
While there are a number of issues that impact on poor service levels, I strongly believe that the crux of the problem is a failure for businesses to sufficiently utilise the possibilities of IT to ensure consistent, high quality customer service.
Poor customer service is bred from a silo approach
80 per cent of complaints received by an organisation are likely to have poor communication as their root cause, either with the customer or within the organisation itself. 
This statistic is substantiated by research from Forrester, which shows that 90 per cent of companies do not integrate customer communication channels, including phone, email, chat and web self-service portals - thus demonstrating that poor communication within a company is resulting in many customers receiving inconsistent service.
Poor communication within a business is not only down to a failure to standardise customer service processes, but is also often the result of companies operating within silos. This means that departments within a company are interacting primarily within themselves, rather than with other groups across the organisation. When departments do not interact, they subsequently fail to share data and information outside of their own silo.
By keeping information within a silo, the customer experience is lessened. For example, in today's electronic age, businesses use a host of customer communication channels; it is imperative that information communicated to customers is consistent across each channel. If a customer contacts the web team with a complaint, and then two days later telephones the call centre team, the customer will expect that team to be aware of the complaint already lodged.
Equally, information could be held within business departments and not communicated efficiently to customer facing teams. For example, marketing may have launched a promotion offering a product discount, or production might not have sufficient stock to meet customer demand. Teams working on the front line of the business with customers need to be equipped with this knowledge in case of customer queries on the promotion, or delays in the delivery of the product. Communicating information in this way will ensure that customer facing staff can make the right decisions, communicate the right messages, and most importantly will make sure the customer receives the right level of consistent service.
Forward thinking businesses are now shifting their approach to focus on the big picture and looking at how all parts of the business can be integrated efficiently and silos broken down. The key to this is establishing common IT platforms and systems across the organisation to monitor, optimise and automate business processes as well as centralising data.
Putting the customer first - streamlining business processes
Automating IT processes across business units can be achieved by implementing a business process management (BPM) system. This will lead a business to greater integration and in turn drive efficiency in customer service.
Forrester cites that taking a BPM-centric approach benefits customer service by:
  • Improving resolution process consistency - process flows can be created to ensure a consistent service experience for a particular issue type

  • Guiding employees through a defined experience - training time and costs are minimised as staff are guided through a step-by-step process

  • Elevating efficiency - information and knowledge is provided to front line staff at the right time

  • Personalising service - knowledge based on the persona of the customer, customer history and issue at hand enables staff to deliver a more targeted and personalised service to customers

  • Improving goal management - cost and satisfaction service levels can be set up and monitored
Extend Business Process Management To The Front Office To Transform Customer Service, 5th October 2010
More than automating processes, a BPM solution will also eradicate departmental silos within organisations. It is imperative that businesses seek to eliminate silos through progressive IT and service management strategies that tie the organisation together and facilitate effective and transparent communication. Without a unified view of all other business units, the customer service teams will be working in the dark, putting the long-term future of the business at risk.
For businesses to navigate the economic storm customer service is key, and the use of IT in automating business processes will make a company more agile, efficient and equipped with the knowledge needed to make instant decisions in relation to their customer service.
Those organisations which do act will be in a position to fully utilise the benefits that technology brings to them, underpinning and improving the service offered, those that do not risk both the reputation and long term future of the business.
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