Optimising costs is an appropriate response to competitive pressure. This does not mean an indiscriminate slashing of expenses just to give a short-term boost to profits. It does however mean taking a good look at where efficiency can be raised but not at the expense of effectiveness.
Customer service can be a good place to raise efficiency, lowering costs while delivering at least the same amount of satisfaction to the customer.
Traditionally a manpower intensive process, companies should examine if customer care can be transferred from field sales account executives to office-based account executives.
The savings can be sizeable. Office-based salespeople through the phone can handle several times what field service representatives can cope with, as they do not have to spend time travelling. Salary levels tend to be lower and travel expenses are saved. But would customer service levels be compromised?
Not necessarily. It might even be enhanced. Smaller customers may receive only one to two visits a year from a field salesperson, while they can get a monthly call from a telephone account executive. Customers can quickly get in touch to resolve any issues while getting hold of their field sales representative can be harder because he is in face-to-face meetings or travelling.
The benefits go deeper. Direct supervision of office-based personnel is easier, leading to improved compliance with processes such as logging in of information from calls into the CRM system, which retains valuable customer information in the company and not just with the salesperson. Performance can be more closely monitored with coaching delivered to close any gaps.
Outsourcing to lower cost locations can also reduce costs while not compromising on quality standards. Emails and calls can be answered more cheaply, and customers can receive faster replies sometimes, because the customer service department can now operate literally round the clock supported by offshore staff in different time zones.
Clearly, not all business can be conducted over the phone or by email. Large customers may wish to have regular sales visits. Even then, a transfer of tasks that can be handled by office-based staff can liberate the field sales manager to have more time to do what he does best, bringing in new customers and growing existing relationships.
We can go even further, by providing online self-service channels to customers who can then perform some transactions directly. This works well for routine activities which customers can carry out round the clock since they are now no longer limited by office hours.
Such automation reduces the need for manual intervention, and the data collected can be valuable in revealing insights to create even better products and service. With the availability of Software-as-a-Service and cloud-based solutions, the need for upfront investments is reduced, and allows scaling as your business grows.
Other forms of eCare can include service delivery through digital channels, especially for consumer-facing businesses, where social media, digital chats and community solutions can lead to increased customer satisfaction at a lower cost.
It may seem counter-intuitive but seizing the opportunities presented by cost-optimisation not only helps the bottom-line but can lead to better service levels.