CIO

Customer service critical in the downturn: Microsoft

Customer service has never been a more important differentiator for enterprises than it is now in the economic downturn, according to software giant Microsoft.

The financial crisis provides a key opportunity for enterprises to regroup and re-prioritise their focus on customer service, which remains even more an essential focus, due to the state of the economy.

Despite the economic downturn, customer expectations remain high.

Research by COPC (Customer Operations Performance Center) Asia Pacific, an authority on operations management and performance improvement, found that 52 per cent of end-users expect better service now than they did five years ago.

Fifty-nine per cent of end-users have switched providers due to poor customer satisfaction.

Optimising customer service

Toni Ruotanen, director of Microsoft APGC CSS, and Paul Shuga, CEO of COPC, spoke at a Singapore breakfast seminar on 'Optimising Customer Service Operations in a Downturn' sponsored by Microsoft Asia Pacific & Greater China Customer Service and Support (APGC CSS).

There were representatives at the event from major organisations including HSBC, UOB, Singapore Airlines, SingTel, DHL Express, Citibank, SMRT, Sony and Singapore's Ministry of Manpower.

Ruotanen said "most companies will look for ways to cut costs, but great enterprises make investments in downtimes to gain market share--the two are not mutually exclusive.

He said organisations are more open to change in a crisis and there was a much greater expectation on vendors to provide specific, practical assistance to clients to help reduce costs and increase efficiency.

"The key for vendors is to become the trusted advisor," Ruotanen said. "Take care of your customers in the downturn and they will invest in you in the upturn."

Treat internal employees as customers

The Microsoft director said now is the time to maximise operational efficiency and to treat internal employees as customers. Enterprises also need to remove barriers to customer service by providing a range of ways that customers can choose for assistance, from 'self-help' mechanisms to telephone service.

"It's the small things that most people remember when interacting with enterprises," Ruotanen said.

'Now is the time to look beyond traditional boundaries and to challenge embedded thinking," Ruotanen said. "Companies should focus on executing excellence and getting their core operations right.

"Letting go of skilled staff from your pool may be the worst thing that you can do, because you will need to re-build when the economy recovers.

"The future for customer service is automation, balanced with human interaction."