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Transparency: A Critical Component to Good Customer Service. Do You Have It?

Posted by Ed Shepherdson on September 9, 2011

I have been in the customer service business for more than two decades and the same discussions continue to rage on and on about customer service – “Look how great Southwest Airlines is,” and “Look how poor Comcast is,” and on and on with new examples of outstanding and poor customer service evolving every few years.

So why is Southwest Airlines so well known for great customer service? It’s because they are transparent – what you see is what you get. Because of this transparency, the people that work for Southwest are empowered to make decisions because they have insight into their customers and what they can and cannot provide to their customers.    It is quite simple; when you have information at your fingertips, you can make decisions that impact the outcome of your customer’s experience.

So why can’t everyone deliver a customer experience like Southwest? They could, but most companies have put themselves in a position that doesn’t allow them to execute with the needed level of internal and external transparency to bring this additional value to their customers.

So who’s to blame? The real blame lies with executive leadership, but most often it is pinned on IT. IT has a very difficult job to do. On one side they need strong governance in place to protect their company’s environment and assets, which is a big responsibility. However, they often go too far by mistakenly locking down accessibility to their systems of record as part of a strict governance process. Guess what this does to transparency? It makes transparency inaccessible. A direct result of this access to information lock down has created the proliferation of departmental point solutions that clog the efficiency and effectiveness of most organizations.

The world wide web is a prime example of transparency. Take Facebook for example. If somebody wants to post something about an article they read online, within seconds, if someone else is interested in the same topic, they can see the new information on the web. However, if we add new information to our CRM system on a customer, it might take three–12 months before this information is replicated and integrated into all the systems that we would need to make this new customer transparent within our organization – if ever.

Let’s look at it from the customer’s view point. At any time they can go online and see everything about your company – what you are marketing, what kind of training you have, who does your services work, where to call for support, who your CEO is, how your stock price is doing, what your latest product version entails, what other customers are saying about your products, and much, much more. The customer has a very transparent view of your company.

If we now reverse this same experience, what does your company know about its customers? You might have a name and account number in a CRM system, web hits in a marketing systems, tickets in a case management system, knowledge documents in a knowledge base, services contracts in yet another system, and on and on. Can your organization see all of this information about that customer in one interface?

All these systems of record do a great job and are likely best of breed for what they do, but because they are locked down in these IT imposed silos and organizational departments, this information is isolated to a single view of a single piece of information in a single system at a time. No ubiquitous accessibility equates to no transparency, which in turn leaves you with significant customer insight deficit. You see this all the time. Try changing your mobile phone contract. How many times do you get asked for your phone number or account number by the customer service rep?

Do you think it is reasonable that a customer in today’s global information transparency environment might expect you to know more about them as a customer than they know themselves? I certainly do. However, there remains a significant gap between what today’s customers know and expect, and the service that’s being delivered to them. I’ll explore this in more detail in my next post.


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