Customer Support Transformation: An Iterative & Value Focused Approach

Identifying, selecting and implementing the proper improvement levers to maximise short and long term benefit realisation in customer support.

There are many ways to modernise and transform a comprehensive customer support setup, but which levers should you execute and in what sequence? We share insights from recent Oleto clients and look at a case from the tech sector.

 

The Importance of Customer Support in Business Today

Customer support is increasingly applying technology and is becoming a common function in small and big businesses around the world. It can take many shapes such as an IT support helpdesk in a tech firm, a customer support setup in P&I insurance, a service desk for online retail banking customers and many more.

The main purpose of this function has for many years been to mainly support the customers and internal employees by addressing specific requests or handle incidents. This “old school” perception has meanwhile been challenged in recent years and customer support is now more often thought of as a key driver of value creation and a way to differentiate your business from the competition. This trend is by no means reduced by the ever-increasing degree of digitisation, or the current COVID-19 situation, and we should only expect customer support to play an increasingly large role in each business’s road to success in the future.

 

Key Issues in Customer Support Setup Today

While each situation is somewhat unique for different customer support functions - there is a set of common challenges which many of them are facing:

  • Low customer satisfaction scoring due to increasingly demanding end-users and insufficient product performance
  • Unclear how many customer support units to have and how to structure them most effectively
  • Increased ticket volumes and backlogs due to remote employee working (WFH)
  • Strong push from the organisation to increase support for digital workflows
  • Difficult to balance service desk staff capacity to meet service demand and budget requirements
  • Unsatisfactory 1st time resolution rate and insufficient resolution times due to limited business transparency and insufficient agents
  • High average queuing and response time on calls due to bottleneck issues

 

Overall Approach for Addressing Key Issues and Stimulate Value Creation Journey

To address these shortcomings, an overall ambition and specific operations performance targets should be defined to improve customer satisfaction and enhance the productivity of the customer support setup in a cost-efficient manner. This approach is more pragmatic and useful than assumption based financial targets. It is very difficult to isolate the P&L impact of a customer support setup in any business due to the indirect nature of its value creation (avoiding productivity losses in other parts of the company etc.).

To achieve the ambition, and reach the targets, we recommend working with improvement in these four categories (see illustration 1).

Illustration 1: Customer support improvement themes. Source: Oleto Associates.

 

  • Strengthen customer/end-user capabilities is about improving the customer’s ability to resolve own issues without the involvement of the customer support (self-service) and thereby reduce the workload
  • Enhance business processes is about improving the end-to-end handling of requests and incidents within the customer support setup through selective reengineering of the workflows
  • Renew customer support technology is about supporting the end-to-end handling of requests and incidents with intelligent tech solutions and tools
  • Improve organisational structure and skills is about improving the collective hands-on capabilities of the employees working in the customer support setup and optimise its contour, responsibilities, interfaces, size, and location to match the workload and other parts of the organisation

It is important the degree of detailing does not stop at this level. Instead, you should develop an improvement lever catalogue for each of the four themes containing detailed and actionable improvement levers to be selectively launched. These levers should, as a minimum, address both what the lever is about, how it should be executed (key steps), an overview of its prerequisites/dependencies, who is responsible for launching it as well as what value it will create.

It would also be beneficial if they are kept short and in the same look & feel so they are more easy to compare since you will likely be doing that a lot before deciding which to launch. It is furthermore important that when assessing the value the lever will generate, the value is not "double counted" or in any other way also included in the value achieved from other initiatives in the catalogue or from ongoing initiatives.

Once you have defined which improvement initiatives to launch, and validated the individual and consolidated value contribution, the next important step is to prioritise the implementation sequence. Different angles should be considered to determine the most suitable sequence, e.g., ease of implementation vs. potential business impact, big bang vs. incremental improvement, theme by theme vs. mix, implementation speed vs. risk of disrupting current business benefit kick-in/realisation profile, and availability of project resources to lead implementation initiatives.

As depicted by the numbered circles in in illustration 1, we recommend and incremental improvement approach were improvement initiatives within each theme are launched and completed before starting a new iteration/cycle of initiatives.

An overview of the determined iterations/improvement cycles and its corresponding overall levers are depicted in a recent client’s customer support transformation journey in illustration 2 and elaborated below.

Illustration 2: Customer support improvement journey – recent client example. Source: Oleto Associates.

 

The main emphasis in the initial iteration was to harvest low hanging fruits to create success stories and gain the required momentum for the subsequent changes without disrupting the business.

Once the quick wins were achieved within each improvement theme the next iteration focused more on capturing larger and more complex benefits which could still be obtained with the mandate the head of the customer support setup had and without significant involvement from other parts of the organisation.

Upon completion of the second iteration, the third iteration focused on succeeding with the most complex initiatives which required involvement and approval from multiple senior management stakeholders, but which again would generate the largest benefits. This included restructuring level 1 and 2 in the customer support setup, consolidation, and reallocation of headcount and budget between units.

In general, there are many ways to modernise and transform a customer support setup, but they should all use their current and known pain points as their starting point. However, for it to be a truly successful journey it should not be treated as a theoretical or IT project you can tool your way out of. It should be a pragmatic and value driven journey focused on addressing the business problems at hand with clear and actionable improvement levers in sequence which matches the business needs.

 

If you would like a copy of the customer support transformation lever checklist used in the given client example then please contact [email protected]

Furthermore, please go to our course Succeeding with organisational change for additional inspiration on how to plan and execute organisational transformation initiatives.

 

About the authors: This article was written by a team of consultants from Oleto Associates, a strategy consulting firm based in Denmark. For more information please visit www.oleto.com

March 2021