Search online for wise words about customer service efficiency and you’ll find a lot. People are queuing to give up their two cents on the subject (even non-business personas like Bruce Lee, who said that “efficiency is anything that scores” – more on that a bit later).
And that’s because, as with so many other things in business, efficiency – and the ways to achieve it – aren’t as clear-cut as we would all like. It takes thinking and strategy to get there.
Let’s explore what efficiency in customer service is and ways to improve it.
Efficiency in customer service means fulfilling customer service goals with the minimum amount of effort from both sides. And “effort” is the operative word you need to pay attention to.
Let’s take a look at a common quote on efficiency to explain. Often attributed to David Dunham, it’s said that “efficiency is intelligent laziness” — doing things right with as little effort as possible.
And that’s the starting point of understanding and improving customer service efficiency. It’s not just about saving money and resources or simply doing things fast. Less effort means, for instance, that customer service agents operate with minimal resource wastage, but that the customer achieves their goal in as few steps as possible as well.
Simply put: effective customer service doesn’t have to be efficient. But efficient customer service is effective.
Let’s dive into that a little bit more. Effective customer service gets the job done. Efficient customer service, however, gets the job done, with the least waste of time and effort for businesses and customers.
Here’s a table that helps break this concept down a bit more with examples:
Are efficient customer service experiences always the way to go? Quick answer: not really.
At the risk of contradicting ourselves (because let’s face it, we love playing devil’s advocate): Amazing customer service experiences don’t always have to be efficient. In fact, some of the best experiences out there have very little to do with cost or resource efficiency.
Need proof? Just take a look at what the likes of Zappos, Chewy, and others are doing by focusing on creating heartfelt customer service experiences.
This type of efficiency we’re describing is ideal in customer service because it’s very closely tied to customer experience and customer satisfaction. Customers want fast service. Giving it to them means having quick and effective customer service processes, as well as decluttering the process from the customer side.
For example, think about your purchasing process. When a potential customer tries to buy your product or service, what steps should comprise the customer journey?
Some companies have mapped out the journey and taken actions to streamline each step. They may have added product information prominently on their site. They may have made their pricing plans or delivery options clearer and added quick support options (e.g. knowledge base or live chat) and useful content. All this means less effort for the customer and therefore higher efficiency.
If you define efficiency as the minimizing of effort, you can then start to strategize on how to improve it. Here are some ways that could work:
Minimizing effort is the ultimate goal, but this can be broken down into many mini-goals. You may need to shorten response times to customer support issues. Or, minimize back-and-forth between team members or departments.
When setting goals, always keep both your team and the customer in mind. Some goals may be customer-centric, while others may be team-oriented. Remember, being efficient in customer service is about having both.
For example, you may want to find ways to keep updated data across your tech stack to avoid confusion when talking to customers – and at the same time make sure your team only needs to enter that data once. This means your different software and platforms need to be fully integrated, so updates in one place instantly appear elsewhere.
To minimize effort, map out all customer service workflows and check them for possible bottlenecks or untapped opportunities.
Sometimes obstacles are apparent (e.g. a customer should be directed to the right department right from the start instead of being re-routed through multiple teams).
Other times, what should be done is less obvious. For example, your purchasing process may send customers through steps that seem natural to you, but just seem like an unnecessary hassle from their point of view. In this case, you’ll need to check your shopping cart abandonment rate or your demo request abandonment rate to see whether you should remove a few steps or streamline the process further.
Reducing effort is one of the most important considerations when choosing tech for your business. A platform may look like it’s everything you need, but will it minimize the effort your team expends? Will it allow you to smoothen customer interactions?
For example, take a live chat solution. Live chat in itself is an efficient technology, because you install it only once, it can be accessed from anywhere on your site, and it demonstrably cuts back on waiting times compared to phone support. In fact, it's a very common solution to increase efficiency in customer service.
But, it has limitations. Your team may be able to talk to multiple customers at once through live chat, but past a certain point, you start sacrificing quality of service. And, if live chat isn’t integrated with other channels your customers use, your team may spend too much time hunting down past interactions to understand a customer’s issue or asking questions the customers have already answered at some other time.
What you need in this case is a way to avoid overloading your customer service team and annoying your customers. That’s why the more advanced live chat software is integrated with chatbots and knowledge base options, as well as exists as part of an omnichannel platform – to help the most customers in the shortest possible time across mediums without overworking the team behind the scenes.
Learn more about integrating channels and streamlining customer interactions with one complete customer experience platform.
And of course, the most obvious benefit of technology is automation. Be it lead generation, customer support, collecting feedback, providing context to customer conversations, or maintaining an easily accessible help center (that both agents and customers can use), the right technology can be a competitive advantage and vastly improve efficiency in customer service.
Remember the Bruce Lee quote at the beginning? “Efficiency is anything that scores”. An interesting analysis of the meaning behind that quote helps us draw the parallel to customer service: you don’t have to adhere to a system or “best practices” just because – you need to figure out what works for you and your customers, and when, and how.
For this, listening to feedback – both from your customers and your team – is essential. Customers know how they want to interact with you, while your team may identify inefficiencies as part of their day-to-day. How many times has a friend or family member said something like “in my company, they make us do this and this, but if we did that instead, it’d be so much easier.” Leaders often lose sight of what works in practice when they’re solely focused on KPIs and strategy.
So, be flexible, ask for feedback, and experiment. Then refine the system, and start all over again. It’s hard work, but it’ll get more efficient with time.
What are your thoughts on efficiency? Is it worth it or is it an obstacle? Leave us a comment below.
Nikoletta is a Content Specialist at Acquire. She's a writer and editor with an avid interest in data, tech, communication, and the customer journey.