The needs of one

2016-07-05 DisneyAt ALA in Orlando, we heard a great talk from Amy Rossi from the Disney Institute about Disney’s approach to customer service. I’m glad we’ve had a chance to share some notes from her presentation and some thoughts from a few of the librarians who attended. I’d like, though, to take one final look at some of the insights she shared, this time from the point of view of customer service here at OCLC. As head of our customer operations team, it’s not just a subject that I find fascinating, it’s also my passion and my responsibility.

Star Trek’s Mr. Spock famously tells us that, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” or, as interjected by Captain Kirk, “the one.” That may hold true philosophically, but not when it comes to customer service. While new products or features may be developed to meet the needs of the many, service questions and concerns are almost always about the needs of “the one.” And that’s where we get into the SPOC Paradox.

Live long and foster (relationships)

SPOC, in this case, stands for “Single Point of Contact.” When we ask our members how they want to do business, especially in terms of service issues, almost everyone says that they want to go to one place for answers. The paradox, though, is that “one place” is different for every customer.

For members who have decades of experience with OCLC, that “one place” is often the OCLC staff person they know best. And that’s great from a “people” perspective. But Amy shared with us that exceptional customer service requires a carefully curated intersection of people, place and process.

Full dark, no stars*

The “people” part of the service equation rarely gives us trouble. As a business-to-business organization, our customers are librarians—intelligent, service-focused and incredibly pleasant. Likewise, our support groups are staffed with product and industry experts, who genuinely like solving problems. We’re also pretty good at “place.” We support our members wherever it’s best for them: consulting at their institutions, participating in user-group meetings and forums, or answering questions online, by email, phone, through our community center and social media.

However, what I’ve been concentrating on since I got to OCLC a couple years ago is the third leg of that tripod: process. When a member library interacts with us at any one of the above “touchpoints,” to use Disney’s term, they “spoke to OCLC”. Now libraries understand customer service as well as anyone, and understand that speaking to one person in a large organization does not mean the information immediately flows to the “right” person at that organization. That’s where process comes in.

Make the complex appear simple

No large organization can force customer interactions to always get to the right place the first time. What you can do is be aware of what obvious and less obvious touchpoints exist, and put a process in place to make sure every one of them leads to an exceptional customer experience. At OCLC, customer satisfaction is about solving problems, and doing it quickly for our members. It’s really as simple as that. Here are some examples we’re stressing with our teams right now:

  • Funnel customer service issues to the right place, where they can be tracked, but don’t drag the member along with you. If you aren’t the right person, make a warm handoff. Commit, personally, to finding an answer or solution. Don’t say “if you don’t hear from so and so in a couple of weeks feel free to call me back.”
  • Truly understand the question, sometimes unstated—what is the member really trying to do?
  • Pick up the phone. This is more of an issue in this day and age, but our customer satisfaction scores are at least ten points higher on the phone versus email. Sometimes the phone is better to talk through a complex issue.
  • Provide visibility. If an issue can’t be solved immediately, don’t make it hard for the member to see where it currently stands.
  • Close the loop to make sure that the customer is satisfied. We survey randomly on our closed tickets and obsess over the results.
  • Coach on individual interactions. No analyst is perfect, and we spend time talking through specific scenarios.

Amy told us that at Disney, they apply the same customer service mindset to internal, staff relationships as to creating exceptional “guest” experiences. That means being intentional rather than casual about processes that cross departments.

OCLC is committed to supporting libraries better than anyone else in the world. From a process standpoint, though, I’ve come to realize that this means involving every OCLC staff person in our efforts. It can’t just be about the people who answer the 1-800-848-5800 number or the support@oclc.org email.

We need to make a concerted effort to focus “the knowledge of the many” on “the needs of the one.”

*If you’re curious what the title of a Stephen King book has to do with the underlying paragraphs, the answer is: nothing. It just made customer service sound cool and ominous.