The complexities of staffing multiple online customer service channels simultaneously is a growing headache in online customer service. Each customer communication channel (live support chat, AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, Google Talk, ICQ, SMS chat, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) requires the creation of a new account as well as a plan for how to staff that account within the greater service. The headache originates from the coordination of these channels solely using a staffing strategy. That is, devote a portion of a customer service representative’s time to coordination overhead. A better strategy is to transfer responsibility for logistics from representative to software – a customer cloud. However, before a customer cloud can be fully defined, it is worth a more detailed examination of why the decision to coordinate online customer service channels primarily through a staffing strategy can cause such a headache.
There are a number of possible staffing strategies to harness a portion of a representative’s time to deal with logistics. One extreme is to assign customer service representatives by channel. Another extreme is to assign all representatives to every channel simultaneously. However, in practice, the answer usually lies somewhere between these extremes to achieve a measure of efficiency while accommodating technological limits. Chances are that no one channel, except maybe live support chat, generates enough traffic to justify dedicated staffing. Monitoring many channels simultaneously improves efficiency. But some technologies, like instant messaging, only allow singular logons. Assigning multiple simultaneous representatives for these technologies isn’t a viable option. Because the number of online customer service channels will only increase, what is needed is a way to tie channels together in a flexible, extensible way to achieve efficiency while overcoming technological limitations. Such a solution can be thought of as a customer cloud. A customer cloud combines channels into a centralized service and provides a “value-added” layer above the raw channels. In the case of instant messaging, the value added layer can be the ability to transform a channel oriented for individual users into a channel that can be staffed with multiple, simultaneous representatives. Cloud computing provides a platform to transcend these difficulties and to create a customer cloud.
Cloud computing is a popular technology buzz phrase. But, what is the real meaning in practical terms? In short, cloud computing flexibly provides resources on demand with little effort on the part of the consumer. Increased capacity and new capabilities are two types of resources in cloud computing. In the context of online customer service, increased capacity and new capabilities offer a cure for the headache created by multiple channels in the form of software. Increased capacity translates into more customers or more customer service representatives. As a company’s online customer service demand grows, the software grows as well. Cloud computing offers an infrastructure that provides additional capacity on demand to support growth in a transparent fashion. New capabilities translate into additional customer service channels. When a company adds a new channel, the software incorporates the new piece as part of the whole with minimal fuss and retraining. Harnessing cloud computing in this way for online customer service is what creates a customer cloud.
Part of the power of a customer cloud lies in the growth and flexibility offered by cloud computing. There isn’t complicated software to install and maintain, everything is treated as an online service. Adding new communication channels is easy, they integrate into a central service with which representatives are already familiar. Growth in the customer base doesn’t require buying new computing infrastructure or additional software. But the real power of a customer cloud is that it places the focus on the customer, not on the software. Let the software take care of the headache of coordinating communication channels and accommodating growth. Focus the representatives’ full attention to customer conversation. After all, the software is just a solution. The real value in customer service lies in the ability to create an excellent customer experience.