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Process Integration and Customer Service Synchronization in the Services Industry

Posted by Reghunathan Sukumara Pillai (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:35 AM

Most services organizations follow different processes spanning activities that run from end to end of the lifecycle of their business operations. Processes, such as those in customer services, are common across industries. 

Processes can be demarcated along internal and external lines; internal being those that streamline the operations in the front/back office and external being those enabling customer deliverables, service calls and support. Most times multiple software applications are utilized to meet the internal/external needs, ensuring smooth delivery and efficiency of operations, as well as extraction of information for MIS. The levels of integration between external and internal processes are built based on the software application's integration capabilities and services requirements.

In line with their businesses, different companies follow different processes and standards, which are best in class and industry tested. The efficiency of these processes can be measured by the turnaround time required to complete the process, smoothness of operations and level of customer satisfaction.

The processes begin with customers requesting a service - such as opening an account or applying for a credit card, telephone connection, insurance policy and so on. In most of the urban areas, it is the sales executive who provides the services at the customer's doorstep.  A few companies provide a reference number to customers upfront, which they can use for making further enquiries, but most do this through the back office, which generates the reference number after uploading the forms into software.  In most companies, once the applications are submitted to the front office and orally confirmed as being in order, the sales executive moves on in search of the next client. A manual process governs the collection of applications, submission to the front office, and capture and uploading of data into software. However it is quite likely that there is a delay in receiving the application and capturing the data into the software. 

The customer, not knowing whom to contact in the event of a delay, ends up calling the customer service desk or searching for details on the website. It may take multiple calls and email exchanges between the client and service provider before the customer application number, date of submission, name of the sales executive etc. are traced.  This is because customers are unaware of the location of the company's nearest service outlet where they could go to raise queries or resolve minor issues across the table. 

In parallel, customers have to deal with another application software asking for their feedback and yet another application trying to sell them different services .These are typically automated software, which email or text customers after a predefined interval once the customer reference number is generated. Before asking for feedback from the customer, the customer service executive must ensure that all the processes are up to date and then initiate a service call to address any pending activities or issues. Once all the initial processes are completed, the feedback can be taken from the customer.

Lack of integration of operations software and customer services software (typically CRM software) across contract lifecycle activities will result in service deficiency and customer dissatisfaction.

To conclude, automation of processes right from the start is essential for smooth customer service delivery. The application, along with other documents obtained from the customer, can be scanned and uploaded into the software to generate a unique number. This reference number can be provided to the client for use in future communication with the service provider. The unique reference number should provide a snapshot of all services availed by the customer including a history of interactions, queries, complaints, products utilized etc.

The sales/front office executive, who is the customer's first contact can guide the customer on

a) The steps in a process, and turnaround time for each 
b) Their options and alternatives in case of any exceptions 

The applications need to be integrated across the operations lifecycle and surveys/status updates measuring customer satisfaction done periodically. Based on the customer satisfaction index, measures to improve customer service need to be undertaken and cross sell services explored with a view to improving customer satisfaction. Disjointed software applications lead to data silos and the need for annoying back and forth communications. Instead, the customer facing executives must be empowered to quickly access a caller's details. The integration of process oriented systems in the back end with a customer oriented front end system managed by service-oriented customer facing executives can provide a differentiated customer experience. Process integration with customer service as the focus can create customer delight and thereby build long-term loyalty.

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