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The intelligent approach to the service supply chain

Across all industries, guaranteeing the highest possible customer satisfaction levels is at the forefront of business thinking, playing an increasingly large role in decisions consumers make regarding which companies they use.
The first port of contact for customers requiring after sales service is of course a contact centre. The initial call is logged and whenever possible, resolved.

But are customers really satisfied with service calls? What’s the impact if the problem is not rectified within the agreed time or if the service supply chain is too disjointed to efficiently resolve the problem?

Successful customer interaction is vital
Carolyn Wilson, services director of technology support specialist Centrex Services, believes the contact centre process is outdated and ineffective for today’s technology support.

She says, "It is clear that the role of the contact centre within the service supply chain has evolved rapidly; moving from simply offering support to becoming the driving force behind customer satisfaction. There must be control over the entire journey of the repair, not just an automated process to raise a service ticket. Service companies are now at the forefront of customer service, this unrequited lip-service is no longer just an afterthought."

This view is shared by businesses across numerous industries, as highlighted in a recent study by the Aberdeen Group which showed 96 per cent of businesses viewed improving customer service results as their primary goal.

Carolyn explains, "There are two major factors which directly affect the success of customer interactions, namely triage (problem identification) and the ability of the control team to resolve any issues as efficiently as possible.
"Equipping the staff to intelligently diagnose hardware problems over the phone and enabling them to take responsibility for the entire service process results in a huge increase in satisfaction levels, as invariably customers are contacting businesses to gain resolution as quickly as possible."

This starts with the control representative ascertaining not only the nature of the call, but where the part is located and when the correctly skilled engineer can be scheduled to visit the customer.

Inefficient control results in dissatisfied customers, and worryingly a recent report by The Service Council found only nine per cent of engineers dispatched had the part required to fix the hardware . Instead, businesses favoured a system where engineers operate in territories and will therefore immediately be called out if the customer’s address falls within their patch; regardless of the parts they have to hand.

Carolyn says, "If a customer’s problem revolves around a part being sourced and fitted by an engineer, for the traditional contact centre to dispatch an engineer closer to the customer because it is more convenient, is unacceptable. This just shows it’s vital that changes are made to the way businesses view their own contact centres and move to adopt better control throughout the process."

Why accept failure?
With technological development accelerating every year, it is surprising that the vast majority of companies have failed to apply additional layers of intelligence and responsibility to their contact centres. Instead, outsourcing this is still a popular choice, although as Carolyn points out, this is not an effective method and is often cited as poor customer service

"When contact centres are outsourced, businesses always run the risk of providing a service where staff processing customer calls have little knowledge related to the logistics of the service supply chain. Unsurprisingly, triage is inefficient and service level agreements (SLA) are often missed.

"I remain astonished that businesses continue to offer contracts which allow for a certain level of failure when it comes to meeting SLA’s, which is often the bar used to measure customer satisfaction.

"The current systems in place across the after sales service supply chain are not fit for purpose and the time for change is upon us. There will of course be resistance from those who believe the traditionalist approach works, but accepting failure is intolerable and should not be accepted by business leaders or their customers."

Centrex has redesigned its service processes, commencing with increased responsibility within its ‘control’ centre to create a service which is valuable to the company while offering best practice to the consumer.

Applying intelligence: the control centre
Carolyn believes offering a customer support service hosted under the same roof as the other elements of the after sales service supply chain must become the norm across all industries to drive brand loyalty.

"The current approach to after sales is a siloed one, contact centres often pass the customer onto the next silo if they are unable to resolve the problem themselves; washing their hands of the problem at the first opportunity.
"A control centre provides true added value to the customer, utilising a legitimate knowledge-base to not only resolve a high quantity of issues during triage, but controlling each step of the process from opening the call to booking the correct engineer, with the right part or loan product. The result; the SLA failure is eradicated."

An example of this controlled service is evident in the repair service Centrex Services provides Fellowes, a globally recognised manufacturer and marketer of business machines, shredders and office accessories, aimed at enhancing the quality, efficiency and productivity of the workplace.

Thomas is the Centrex representative responsible for the Fellowes service. He oversees both in and out of warranty calls, determining the type of call and controlling the entire process. From the outset, Thomas liaises directly with the customer, from confirmation of the type of support required; identifying the correct engineer and ensuring either a new machine (in warranty) or a loan machine (out of warranty) is available for the next day. Thomas personally phones the customer to confirm the engineer’s call time and is responsible for ensuring the engineer is on site at the agreed time. This controlled process is only complete after a replacement or loan machine has been installed on the customer site and the customer has been contacted to confirm they are happy with the outcome.

This consumer first approach to after sales support completely changes the way hardware issues are dealt with. Global business machine manufacturer Fellowes is already reaping the rewards of such a system, explains the business’ EU after sales manager, Neil Cosgrove.

"Our partnership with Centrex Services ensures our consumers receive a seamless experience from the second a Fellowes shredder is purchased, and offers them total peace of mind through industry leading support service in the unlikely event they should require hassle free in and out of warranty support," he says.
"On the occasions when it is not possible to source a replacement part the next day, Centrex has implemented a system which enables loan equipment to be made available the next day."

The customer must come first
Thinking outside the box, offering a loan service combined with the control centre representative, demonstrates a new way of thinking and approach to service delivery. By asking the right questions, the control centre is able to give the customer realistic expectations while guaranteeing whatever the problem is, the consumer will not be left without a vital piece of hardware overnight.
Carolyn says, "The loan service we offer shows the importance of listening to the needs of our customers. After an issue has been resolved following the deployment of a field engineer, the control centre sends a short questionnaire to gain an insight into how service can be improved.
"We found that supplying loan machinery during those periods where the malfunctioning machine is in need of in-depth maintenance was a highly sought after service. We have improved our after sales service due to the intelligence of the control centre and there is no reason why other businesses can not follow suit."

Continuous customer satisfaction
It is clear that by creating a system where the customer’s needs are viewed as the most important element of after sales support, control centres can offer continuously high customer service levels.
Ensuring triage is effective and efficient so issue resolution is reached as promptly as possible, while offering short-term hardware loans when required, creates a supply chain in which customer satisfaction is guaranteed and brand loyalty continues to grow.

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