There's a lot of buzz about the agile process and its relevance beyond the creators' original intentions. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, published in 2001, reads as follows (emphasis is my own):
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
The manifesto was created specifically for software development, but in the years that have passed, the agile process has grown and been adapted for a variety of industries and can apply to facets of business that have nothing to do with IT. We find agile approaches to marketing, to management and even to customer service.
So what does it mean to apply the agile process to customer service? In short, it means that your customer service should be quick and collaborative, and it should invite feedback.
But there's more to it than just answering the phone within a certain number of rings! Let's dive into some ways in which the agile process can inform and improve your company's customer service.
1. Prioritize people.
Just as the manifesto values “individuals and interactions over processes and tools," agile customer service values people over rules and procedures.
In practical terms, that means that agile customer service must be flexible and focused on meeting customer needs, rather than blindly following established procedures.
One of the most critical components of adapting agile process to help improve customer service is focusing on communication. Consider making communication easy and archiving communications so that any member of your company can access critical customer information.
What does that mean in practice?
Let's imagine you have a retail jewelry store with an online presence. You do jewelry repair and custom work, which means you'll communicate with customers in a number of ways. You might have customers walk into your retail store and speak to a cashier. They might exchange emails with the repair department. They might call in to ask a question about a billing issue. There might even be a real-time chat on your website.
Approaching customer service with an agile process means that all of those communications should be archived and accessible to every relevant member of your company.
Streamlined, unified communications across multiple channels is just one application of an agile process focused on customer service.
2. Knock down walls.
It used to be that companies had hard and fast internal divisions. Sales and marketing were their own islands, customer service was another and IT was over in its own little world. You might even have an assortment of other little fiefdoms.
An agile process eliminates barriers to quick delivery of products and results. When applied to customer service, your staff becomes nimble, cross-trained and ready to collaborate to deliver results.
If internal divisions within your company hinder your employees' ability to give great customer service, then you might want to consider knocking those walls down.
3. Track customer complaints.
We've all got 'em, so there's no sense in trying to sweep 'em under the rug.
Building customer feedback into the development process—whether the feedback is negative or positive—is a key part of an agile process.
Tracking customer complaints is important for two reasons. First, it's critical that you follow up and make sure complaints have been resolved. Want to make an angry customer angrier? Fail to follow through.
Second, tracking complaints can give you a big-picture perspective on what's not working in your company. If you have multiple complaints about the same issues, then you need to fix what's broken.
We all make mistakes, and we certainly can't please everyone all the time. But when you track customer complaints and resolutions, you may discover ways in which you can step up your customer service game.
4. Educate customers.
Having an agile process relies on collaboration, both among your staff and with your customers. And just as you want your staff to be well-trained, your customers can probably use a little training, too!
Customer education is a form of brand building. It's a way to spend quality time with customers and transform them into fans and ambassadors. And when your customers are better educated, it can help them become willing and better able to contribute to helping you improve the quality of your offering.
Read more articles on customer relations.