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Rethinking the Service Paradigm

I have been known to do things for money. I bet you have too, but doesn’t itsound funny to put it that way?

I just got off a phone briefing with Freshdesk, an Indian company with asubscription customer service and support system that it refers to as a “helpdesk.” Freshdesk’s got most of the bells and whistles you might expect to find in asolution like that, and it has gamified the business processes as well.

That’s what inspired this column. Here’s my thinking.

In the Beginning

It starts with customer experience. There is a great deal of buzz around the ideaof the customer experience right now. On Monday, Oracle announced theresults of a research study it commissioned that shines alight on the CX challenge. The net of it is that the CX ramp is in its early days –executives aspire to be leaders in CX, and their readiness to meet that challengelags significantly.

If you’ve been in the CRM space for any length of time, you might recall that CXhas been around for years. I can think back to the beginning of thecentury when gurus like B. Joseph Pine were evangelizing CX in books like TheExperience Economy; yet despite all the attention given to CX, the needle hasbarely moved if you agree with the Oracle data. Why?

Well, one good reason is that theory precedes product and practice — sometimesby decades. For instance, the original research that got us thinking about socialnetworking came out of Harvard and other universities in the 1950s and 60s,but it had to wait for computers and networks and storage and thumb typingbefore it got real.

CX is like that, I think. It’s been waiting for things like social, Big Data andanalytics — and maybe even gamification — to catch up with the big thinking onthe subject. It’s all here now, though, which brings me back to the folks at Freshdeskand my rather simple idea.

With gamification a possibility for nearly any business process, why don’t wedrop the pretense that people like to compete for badges, prizes and status? Whynot just cut to the chase and use money as the reward? Sound strange? As I saidat the beginning, I have done things for money — selling software, that is — so whyaren’t we exploring more ways to use incentive compensation to achieve some ofour CX objectives?

Time for Change

I’m going too fast — let’s back up a moment. Providing outstanding customerexperiences is the aim of most companies I know about. They all define “CX”differently, but in the end it’s all about making sure you delight customers andkeep them coming back. So why do we provide incentive compensation to salespeople but offer trinkets to our customer service people?

It might have madesense back in the day to do this, because when markets are new you want toheavily incentivize sales people to hunt for the biggest game they can find. At thesame time, customer service is a necessary bit of overhead that companies investin to provide the handholding that neophyte customers need to figure out products thatmight be just a tad green.

In early markets, the fact that the new whiz-bang offering works at all delights customers,but that’s not the case today. As I have said many times, today’s markets havea strong zero-sum component — the rapid adoption phase is over in manymarkets, and revenue is dependent on cross-selling, upselling and stealing (othervendors’ customers, that is).

The stealing gets done by your hunters in sales, butthe cross-up sales happen in customer service — especially if you are a subscriptioncompany. Hence my question: Why not use incentive compensation in customerservice? Maybe you are, and I should write a paper about you.

To be clear, any customer service organization should want its people to besuccessful, and using incentive compensation doesn’t mean going 100percent in that direction. But an 80/20 split of targeted compensation (with abase of 80) might do many of the things for customer experience that we’vebeen waiting for software to do.

I don’t think software alone will get you to the Promised Land. A customerservice encounter requires agents with high emotional IQ to read people on theother end of the channel and to make the right moves. You have been on theline with really good service agents before and so have I, and I can tell you thedifference is palpable.

So now imagine what it might be like if you could rewardthose people with something more than a badge or points? What might it belike trying to hire and staff a customer service center if there were real upsidecompensation potential?

Freshdesk got me thinking about all of this. Perhaps the real home ofgamification is in incentive compensation. It seems like all the tools are in place,finally, to change the ways we provide service. We have CRM, social media,analytics and gamification. It’s time to reevaluate the service paradigm, I think.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].

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