Last month I was asked to appear on a BBC local radio show to talk about customer service and why often it can be so hard to make a complaint to a company.
The request came on the back of a recent story featured on the BBC’s website that talked about how Richard Edmonds had £8,500 stolen from his bank account when criminals tricked him into giving them access to his account. After realizing what had happened, he and his family then waited for 20 hours on the phone before they could get help. The bank has subsequently apologized and has also agreed to refund the money stolen.
This story is not uncommon and points to what can happen when a customer has a question or a problem that can’t be answered by a knowledge base article, solved through the use of self-service tools or via an interaction with a customer service agent. Moreover, an incident like this can often happen when the issue requires somebody in the middle office, back office, or another team to do something to help solve their problem or resolve an issue.
The problem is that a great many customer service and experience initiatives take a very surface and superficial approach to improvement and performance. And, incidences, like the one above, expose what Michael Ramsey of ServiceNow, a cloud computing and workflow automation platform provider, calls the ‘messy middle’ of customer service.
When I spoke to him on my podcast, he described how a lack of connectedness, coordination and automation in these situations can often lead to a poor customer experience no matter how good the initial engagement is.
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According to Ramsey, this is a common phenomenon that affects many organizations regardless of whether they are digitally native or traditional. Further, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, with many teams struggling to connect customer service with their operations.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Ramsey highlights a case where ServiceNow worked with a UK bank to solve a ‘messy middle’ problem surrounding payment disputes. Typically, it would take the bank around 24 hours to assign the dispute after someone had logged it. And, only then would someone do something about it or even just look into it. But, by putting automation in place across teams and the bank’s payment dispute process, they are now handling 1,500 disputes in the same amount of time it historically took them to deal with one. That in itself is improving efficiency and driving better customer outcomes.
The interesting thing is that the ‘messy middle’ does not just occur in the customer service domain. Evidence suggests that it also shows up in many other areas. They, too, can act as impediments to the efficient and effective delivery of a great, engaging and personalized customer experience.
Take content, for example.
Now, we know that content plays a hugely important part in the experience of many brands. But, according to Steve Sloan, CEO of Contentful, a headless content management system provider, many brands struggle to deliver a consistent content experience at scale and across a range of channels.
Sloan says that leading brands have learned that to navigate this ‘messy middle’ of content, but it requires them to work from “a single source of content”. That helps them achieve content consistency, but when twinned with automated delivery across different channels, it also ensures a consistent customer experience.
A similar situation occurs in the data sphere.
According to Jason Davis, CEO of Simon Data, a customer data platform (CDP) provider, a ‘messy middle’ exists in the data structures and systems that firms have come to rely on to deliver their customer experience.
Davis says that many brands find that “the data required for message personalization or segmentation is often not present in marketing systems or marketing clouds”. This is because the brands face data, ownership and automation challenges that stand in the way of them “making customer data available and actionable”. Further, Davis says, only when brands unify, organize, and transform their customer data will they be able to deliver the sort of personalized experience to which they aspire.
Now, given time, I am sure we could unearth many other examples. But, what is clear from these examples alone is that a ‘messy middle’ exists. In turn, it affects an organization’s ability to deliver an efficient, effective, consistent and personalized customer experience.
The lesson from all of this?
A company’s ability to deliver a great customer experience does not just exist at the externally facing edges of an organization. It also lies in its heart and deepest recesses and, in particular, its ability to connect and enable all of the teams and resources that it will take to deliver that experience.
To do that requires thinking holistically and deeply about what it takes to deliver a great customer experience.
To fail to do that is likely to relegate your brand to the delivery of a second rate experience.