Innovation, we know, comes from many sources. Sometimes R&D invents a new or refined technology. Other times, the Operations Division finds a more efficient processing step or the logistics department identifies a new market based on shipping routes. As Day & Moorman (1) point out in their book, “Strategy from the Outside In,” efficiencies in production do not lead to the same expected values as could be expected from a customer-centric strategy.
Of course, Sales and Marketing divisons bring back ideas for New Product Development (NPD) from each interaction with their customers. (As a side note, firms need to ensure they have a robust CRM system in place to capture all of these interactions.)
But, have you considered your front-line customer service representatives as sources of ideas for new products or services? Call center employees, in particular, engage in customer communications dozens of times through the course of any work period. Customers are the lifeline of an organization and given the adage that “The Customer is Always Right,” the call center employee can be a rich source of ideas for product improvements, modifications, or enhancements.
Many people, unfortunately, don’t have a full understanding of all that call center employees do. Sure, many call center employees have little experience (it is an entry level job, after all), are forced to read through droll scripted responses, and often lack empowerment to take direct action to resolve a customer’s issue.
At the other end of hte phone, though, recent studies (2) show that customer incivility toward employees has adverse effects on service quality, since employees are likely to reciprocate by treating customers in a likewise uncivil manner.
This is clearly a “LOSE-LOSE” situation. Jaarsveld (2) and colleauges have found that customers can be uncivil toward employees because they are “justifiably frustrated with poor quality products and service,” taking out their frustration on the call center employees.
One remedy, obviuosly, is to provide high quality product and services in the first instance. Each step in the NPD Process is designed to ensure customer needs are adequately addressed through market research and that products pass all technology readiness tests.
Secondly, instead of just developing a new script for call centers when a pervasive product issue arises, why not feed the problem into the idea pipeline for new product development. Rapid deployment of new products, modifications, or enhancements, will lead to a more successful branding experience for the product platform, and for the customer.
Finally, preventing low quality products from entering the marketplace will improve employee morale since customer service staff that encounters uncivil custoemrs will report less emotional exhaustion and job burnout, therefore increasing their ability to provide excellent service to all customers. This happy call center employee is now an even more valuable member of your cross-functional NPD team, sharing his or her priceless customer insights.
© 2010-2011 Global NP Solutions, LLC
1 Day, George and Christine Moorman, Strategy from the Outside In: Profiting from Customer Value, NY, McGraw-Hill (2010).
2 Jaarsveld, Danielle D., David D. Walker, and Daniel P. Skarlicki, “The Role of Job Demands and Emotional Exhaustion in the Relationship Between Customer and Employee Incvility,” Journal of Management 36(6): 1486-1504.