Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

Do You Have a Customer Intel Team?

Do You Have a Customer Intel Team? 150 150 MIchael and Bonnie Harvey

Customer service departments in a lot of large companies are for complaint resolution only. They’re typically seen as some kind of a call center, which pushes these departments to the very bottom of the corporate pyramid. These are the people who pick up the 800-number complaint calls, and who are expected to get on the customer’s level to help solve their problems.

In a typical “top-down” pyramid structure, marketing and production are higher up than customer service and even sales. Products and services are pushed from the top down to salespeople. And when complaints come back up? That’s right, they’re pushed down even further to customer service.

We’ve seen some companies rate the effectiveness of their customer service team by how few complaints make their way up to management. This view of customer service is limited, and we think it’s unprofitable, unfair, wasteful, and ultimately foolish.

This vision of customer service completely disregards the fact that your customer service team is the only team in your company that speaks to your customers on a daily basis, aside from your sales team. They know exactly what your customers want, like, and dislike when it comes to your products and your brand. And they hear all about the competition. On a daily basis, your customers give them suggestions about how to improve. Your customer service people have the power to turn your complainers into advocates.

We don’t even call it “customer service.” We prefer “customer intel.” A popular speech we present to big companies who want to foster entrepreneurial spirit is “The Two Division Company.” These two divisions are Sales (including customer service) and Sales Support (including everyone else—from the CEO to administration).

A customer can provide only two things: Their feedback and their money. Feedback is invaluable—it’s what you need to stay on top of your distribution system, keep your products and services relevant, and stay ahead of the competition. Simply put, you need it to stay in business!

Unlike those studies and focus groups that marketing people spend a fortune on, the information given to customer service is unbiased, relevant, and comes straight from the source—from those customers who care enough to pick up the phone and call. Many of these customers want to find resolution for one of their favorite brands, for the products they’ve convinced their friends to purchase. These are your brand advocates, and now your brand let them down. If their issues are resolved, they won’t spread the word about the problems they ran into. Instead, they’ll focus on the solutions your customer service team gave them, and will continue advocating for your brand.

Once their issues are solved, your customers can provide essential information: Where did they find this product? Was it fully stocked? How long have they been buying your brand? Were they satisfied up until now? How would they suggest improving your products, services, and marketing? Would they recommend your brand to their loved ones?

We strongly suggest establishing formal lines of communication between customer service and sales on the one hand, and production, marketing, and management on the other. When you directly focus on the customer and sales, instead of specialization, chains of command, and division of labor, you’ll notice that some suggestions and complaints will crawl up to where they belong, back into the company structure, to keep your brand relevant and your products competitive.

Why not start by referring to your customer service department as “customer intel” and learning more about your customers? Your customer intel team is capable of so much more than just resolving complaints.

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