PEOPLE

Consolidating Customer Service

How one online retailer simplified its services and redefined its employees' missions by merging two interdependent departments.
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In the era of “customer-centricity,” it’s borderline criminal that so much customer service results in customer agitation.

That’s especially true considering that negative customer-service experiences resonate with people more often than positive ones do. Ninety-five percent of U.S. consumers share their awful experiences with midsize companies, compared with 87 percent who share their pleasant interactions, according to a survey by Dimensional Research. What’s more, those who endured bad interactions were 50 percent more likely to share them online than those who had good ones.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that the leading cause of customers’ frustration is entirely preventable. According to a survey by ClickFox, 42 percent of consumers report being perturbed simply by “having to speak with multiple agents and start over every time.”

Perhaps this is because, as executive adviser Mark Dauigoy points out on ExecutiveBoard.com, there are too many cooks in the customer-service kitchen. “When you consider who has ownership over the customer experience, it rarely is ever just one functional group,” he writes, adding that customers’ problems are too often kicked to the curb due to insufficient communication among corporate silos.

That’s why our interest was piqued when we ran across sustained growth company CPO Commerce. CPO is an online retailer of tools--putting it in the e-commerce space, where the customer experience matters, well, a lot.

CPO was unique in answering our Build 100 survey, in that an executive indicated the company has merged its customer-loyalty and fulfillment teams. Alan Lenertz, CPO’s vice president of operations, oversaw bringing the teams together. Here are two key benefits the move resulted in:

1. Troubleshooting
Customer complaints are often related to fulfillment errors, such as packaging and shipping issues, so it made sense to bring the two departments together, Lenertz says. In the past, if customer service was tasked with solving a problem related to the fulfillment side, representatives would deal with the issue individually. Now, all issues are immediately reported to officers, such as a shipping manager, who can factor the complaints into day-to-day processes and determine whether it was a one-time mistake or if fulfillment or supply-side processes could be improved.

Furthermore, Lenertz says, “If something goes awry with an order in our distribution center, the customer loyalty team is immediately notified, so [it] can reach back out to the customer and take action. Often times, this communication happens so quickly [that] we can take care of the customer the same day without the customer ever initiating the contact.”

2. Collaboration
By bringing the two departments together, employees in both realms are forced to confront their interdependence. The merger forces the customer-service team to recognize that their function is a part of the fulfillment process and vice versa, and that in turn has an effect on how they approach their jobs. “It helps the team understand how what they’re doing will ultimately affect the customer experience,” Lenertz says.

Overall, since bringing the two departments together, CPO has seen a 9 percent reduction in customer-initiated follow-up calls, Lenertz says.

IMAGE: Jerry Swiatek/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 9, 2014




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