Evolution of Customer Service: From Cost to Profit Center

In B2B businesses customer service is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves - as a profit center rather than a money pit.

laptop_with_moneyThe customer support function has evolved drastically in the past 10-15 years.  A lot of this change has come as a result of technology, with customers now having easy access to online resources like chat and customer service portals.  

The evolution of self-service has also been a contributor - in it's early days, having customers search for their own answers was seen as a poor-man's strategy, or worse, seen as a lack of interest in serving customers.  Today, with the explosion of the internet and our data-driven society, customer self-service is a natural response to users' inclination to search for information independently, whether through Google, or a company's knowledge base.  Peer support (in the form of community forums and review sites) has also risen to the top of the customer support toolbox.

But technological advances aren't the only factor driving the evolution in customer support.  A new appreciation for collaboration has also had an impact, particularly in B2B customer service where the priority is on managing the entire relationship, instead of just focusing on individual tickets.  Horizontal integration is the key - companies who provide the best customer experiences do so by integrating the support function with the rest of the organization.  Platforms that deliver cross-departmental collaboration and eliminate data and knowledge silos enable these top-performers to share knowledge across the entire organization and solve customer issues as a team.

This means that problems are solved accurately the first time, and the organization shares information about pain points and product issues more effectively - resulting in better product development and road-mapping.  In today's SaaS (Software as a Service) environment this is crucial, as product enhancements and updates are rolled out on an almost constant basis.  With no onsite deployment the customer support team becomes the main point of contact for any customer issues, requiring a collaborative approach - and closer integration with sales and product teams - to be successful. 

The positive effect of these changes is that C-level executives are shifting their perception of the customer support function - rather than seeing it as a cost center that can't be avoided (a necessary evil if you will) more CEOs are seeing it as the profit center it is.  When done right, customer service can be a key differentiation point among competitors and can inform every aspect of operations from product development to sales.  

As our CEO Robert Johnson says, "the closer coders are to users, the better the product."  A more integrated organization brings users and coders closer together, and that may be the most significant evolution of B2B customer service for software companies. Imagine a software programmer sitting right next to a customer - their every wish would be his command and he'd be the happiest customer in the world.  Although that's not really a practical solution, eliminating silos and enabling collaboration among teams can certainly bring your company a lot closer to that concept.

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