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Introduction to Customer Service

The Importance of Customer Service

For me, truly great service is quick, efficient and empathetic. Empathy with the customer and recognising their issues as important propels a help desk into being awesome.


A great help desk can make a real difference to someone. It can be an experience which will likely colour their day much longer than the interaction lasts. Help desk support is often the first point of contact customers have with a company, and their experience will significantly impact their perception of the organisation.


How many times have you engaged with a customer service team to have them do one of the following;

  • Communicate poorly

  • Fail to log your call, so there's no record of your issue

  • Fail to escalate your issue to someone that can deal with it when they can't

  • Fail to understand the issue

  • Take too long even to recognise your issue and respond

  • Take a lack of ownership in your issue and bounce you around

  • Fob you off with a lack-lustre or incorrect response

  • Try to avoid allowing you to speak to a person, preferring to push you into an infinite loop of chatbots and web pages

When we encounter a team that doesn't do these things these days, life is so much better to the point where we are actually taken aback and delighted. But when that door is stiff or doesn't want to open, it often worsens a bad situation. I've lost track of how many customer service teams I've tried to avoid engaging with because I knew in advance that the experience would be painful.


"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care"

- Theodore Roosevelt

In today's competitive business landscape, providing excellent customer service has become more critical than ever. And guess what? Even internal help desks have competition from outsourcing.


As a help desk manager, your role in delivering outstanding support to internal and external customers is crucial for building trust, enhancing customer satisfaction, and ensuring long-term success for your organisation and team.


Customer Service vs Operations


A person talking to their computer

Providing customer service and maintaining seamless operations are crucial components of support.


However, these two areas have distinct roles and responsibilities that can sometimes overlap, leading to confusion and inefficiencies.


This section will explore the differences between customer service and operations and discuss the potential benefits of separating these two functions.


Defining Customer Service and Operations


Customer service encompasses all activities related to interacting with customers and addressing their needs, concerns, and requests. This includes responding to user issues, answering queries, and providing support for products or services. The primary goal of customer service is to ensure customer satisfaction and foster positive relationships with customers. So it's really everything we've been talking about.

a man talking on the computer

On the other hand, operations refers to the processes and systems involved in maintaining the day-to-day functioning of services or products. This includes managing resources, monitoring performance, and resolving technical issues to ensure services run smoothly and efficiently.


Commonly the two are bundled together, which is understandable in smaller organisations where resourcing constraints prohibit the luxury of separating them.


Key Differences Between Customer Service and Operations


While both customer service and operations share the ultimate goal of delivering value to customers, they differ in several ways:


Focus

Customer service primarily focuses on addressing customer needs and concerns, while operations concentrate on the underlying systems and processes that enable the delivery of services or products.


Responsibilities

Customer service teams handle customer inquiries, complaints, and requests, while operations teams are responsible for maintaining and improving the systems supporting these services.


Skills and Expertise

Customer service professionals require excellent communication, empathy, and problem-solving skills to interact effectively with customers. In contrast, operations personnel typically possess technical and analytical skills to manage and optimise systems and processes.


The Case for Separating Customer Service and Operations


So, if we recognise these things as being separate, the case for at least logically separating the tasks and functions becomes clearer. When I use the word 'logically', I mean to separate things in terms of rotas or responsibilities and to have one or two of the team working on operations while others focus on responding to customer issues rather than having a separate dedicated team.


Separating these two areas can offer several benefits:

  • Improved Focus and Efficiency. By separating the functions, each team can concentrate on their core responsibilities, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.

  • Enhanced Quality. With dedicated teams for customer service and operations, organisations can deliver higher-quality support and services by leveraging each team's unique skills and expertise.

  • Better Resource Allocation. Separating these functions allows for more accurate resource allocation, ensuring each team has the necessary personnel, tools, and budget to perform their tasks effectively.

  • Clearer Performance Metrics. With separate teams, organisations can establish specific customer service and operations performance metrics, enabling more targeted improvements and better decision-making.

I have watched teams struggle with this concept; they are so busy massaging the systems daily, making manual checks, or triggering batch runs, while performing customer service tasks simultaneously. It can overwhelm them and make them look extremely inefficient.


A new CEO entered a company I was part of a number of years ago and started to get the lay of the land. First, he looked at customer services (an external facing software support help desk) and wondered why there were so many people in the team. Upon closer review, he began to understand that the team was also performing a vast amount of operational work due to poor legacy systems, technical debt and intensive manual processes. As soon as he understood that, the case to split the functions into two distinct areas became self-writing, and the ability to zero in on the improvements needed much more straightforward.


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About the author

Hi, I'm Alan, and have been working within the IT sector for over 30 years.

For the last 15 years, I've focused on IT Governance, Information Security, Projects and Service Management across various styles of organisations and markets.

I hold a degree in Information Systems, ITIL Expert certificate, PRINCE2 Practitioner and CISMP (Information Security Management).

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