The analysis of customer service

Customer service must be getting better. More responsive and, of course, helpful.

With a focus on SLA’s for waiting time, first-contact resolution, and canned responses for frequently asked questions. By establishing the structures for omni-channel engagement, through telephone, email and live chat.

And yet, I rarely hear shining stories of customer satisfaction.

Do you?

Customer service might be getting more helpful as we get more efficient, but we actually have little idea. We can’t be certain whether the outcome is better, because we’re not that customer.

But we can be sure that customers would like to experience us better.

Because customer service is for product customers. It’s the way it helps them build trust, the affirmation of their decision and satisfaction of belonging, the status of owning the product, and the generosity of advocating it.

Most customers want to spend more money to do business with a company that delivers outstanding service. Some are even willing to teach you how to make your product, service, and business better.

But let’s not get confused about who all this improvement is for. It’s not for us.

It’s for the customer.

A business analyst in a call centre might decide that the magic for better customer service is to route people through to specialist functions. But that requires the empathy to understand how customers think, and the grace to respond.

It turns out that the right formula is to actually provide the quality of service the customer purchased.

The point of this example isn’t to help you analyse customer service improvements. It’s to understand that there’s almost always a disconnect between operations and expectations. That the project sponsor’s choice of the best cost/operations combination is rarely the customers choice.

There are two narratives running through our heads. There’s the operations narrative, the one that doesn’t have a strong voice, but knows what is needed. And there’s the customer’s narrative, which is particular, expectant and noisy. It’s juggling multiple factors and is easily frustrated.

Like the customer who is making decisions based on dozens of factors (yet blind to SLA’s), the stakeholders you seek to serve care about the range of utility and service, not simply a metric for what’s internally optimal.

Choose your boundaries and choose your audience. And vice-versa.

Improvement isn’t up to you

There are hundreds and hundreds of finance products available in the market. Can you list them? Even a financial advisor would struggle.

And the same thing is true for sportswear, for consulting companies, for supermarkets.

So how do we analyse this, evaluate this, offer a service?

We pick the best approach.

Best for who?

And that’s the important question. Best for our beneficiaries.

If they care about time and cost, then they have preferred criteria for the level of quality, and it’s the one that provides the quickest and cheapest option.

But our other beneficiary, the one who cares more about quality and scope, has quite a different option in mind.

Your job as a business analyst is to draw lines on the map marking boundaries that (some) stakeholders want to explore. Not the selfish, default internal perspective, done to minimise your efforts, but a meaningful product, a lighthouse that guides people who are looking for the utility you offer.

We’re promising this. Not that.

Thinking about “improvement”

It’s tempting to see improvement as a progressive path. This works, for example, with time: an email is quicker than a carrier-pigeon and a carrier-pigeon is quicker than a postcard, and therefore an email is quicker than a postcard.

But transitive comparisons don’t always make sense when we’re creating stories and opportunities for stakeholders.

A self-service option is cheaper than a call centre agent, which is cheaper than a dedicated private banker. But that doesn’t mean that self-service is an “improvement”. It simply means that it’s cheaper, which is just one of the many things that a stakeholder might care about.

Costs might be easy to measure, but it’s never clear-cut that less of them always means better.

What about more intangible benefits like “easy to use” or “increased job satisfaction” or “better management information”. These are not easy to place a value on.

What improvement means is quite subjective.

A million-pound no-brainer

Consider the plight of a business analyst. They’re trying to push through a million-pound business case to implement a new digital platform.

Every time they’re meeting with an executive or a sponsor and an objection is raised, they say to themselves, “You’re right, that’s a lot of money. I’d never spend a million pounds on technology—I can’t even justify buying myself a new smart phone.”

And so the programme isn’t approved.

Empathy changes the status quo. Because the change isn’t for them, it’s for the organisation. It’s for the stakeholder who says to themself, “This million-pound project is a no-brainer. I’m going to get at least two-million pound’s worth of new sales, process efficiencies, and fewer complaints from this decision.”

And that’s okay. It’s the way decisions work.

Every project—every investment, every task, every change—is worthwhile. That’s why we approved it. Because it promised to give more benefit than what it cost us. Otherise we wouldn’t approve it.

Which means, going back to the struggling business analyst, that if you’re unwilling to have empathy for the narrative of the stakeholder you seek to serve, you’re doing them a disservice.

You’re doing them a disservice because you’re not positioning a worthwhile option. You’re keeping a stakeholder from understanding how much they’ll benefit from what you’re proposing …. such a significant outcome that it’s a no-brainer.

If the stakeholder understands what the option is and chooses not to approve it, then it’s not for them. Not right now, not at this cost, not with that scope.

And that’s okay too.

Empathy is at the heart of business analysis

People don’t see what you see.

They don’t know what you know.

They don’t believe what you believe.

It’s true, but often we forget this.

Consensus-bias is when we incorrectly think that everyone else will agree with us—and it can lead us to overvalue our own viewpoint.

Everyone has insight from their perspective.

Everyone thinks that they’re right, and that their problems are a priority and misunderstood by others.

Everyone fears change in some way. And everyone realises that they also need to change.

Everyone has an idea to make things better, to offer a solution and to give recommendations.

Everyone wishes for a requirement that they can’t have. And if they could have it, they’d discover it’s not what they really needed.

Everyone feels alone, uncertain, and a bit of an imposter. And everyone cares about the work that they do.

As a business analyst, then, you have little chance of forcing business analysis on others, in insisting that they get with your project, that they realise how hard you’ve worked, how much insight you have, how important the change is…

It’s so much more productive to engage with them instead.