Louis Ross

A collection of best practices and lessons learned – hope you find a pro tip or two you can use!

Service in the B2B2C World

Direct Selling Customer Service Spectrum

In direct sales (network marketing), the customer service provided by the corporate office needs to be like no other.   On one contact the company could be answering a customer’s basic initial inquiry (who are you or how does your product work?); the next contact could be an explanation of the intricate details of the compensation and genealogy plan to the company’s top distributor.  It is critical that companies using the direct selling model understand the differences and great opportunity that exist in the wide range of customer service.

As you can see in the Direct Sales Customer Service Spectrum, a person falls into one of the six major categories (staying high level here – there are many more sub categories in the spectrum).  Each category has typical questions and services unique to where the person is on the spectrum – and each service interaction should be very different, based on the person’s category.  The great goal of successful direct selling companies is to provide service and take action to motivate each person to move a step in the direction from A to Z on the spectrum.  (The questions below each category on the spectrum are just one example of the 100s of questions typical of each category.)

Concurrent to this effort, it is critical that the company understands that every interaction (toll free phone call, web site visit, YouTube video, or question posted on social media, etc.) is an opportunity to build or destroy the brand.  Everyone on the spectrum is a consumer at heart, but it is the quality of the tailored service he/she receives in their interaction that confirms the value proposition and has the opportunity to inspire them to grow the business.   The goal of all direct sellers should be to create an army of raving, lifetime product evangelists.  Instance specific, tailored service with a spectrum vision is the method to accomplish this goal.

Save money with a great knowledge strategy

Time is precious and expensive.  Don’t waste it training employees/agents on ever changing knowledge that they can quickly look up in a knowledge base (KB).  Invest your time training agents to quickly navigate systems, to recognize caller condition, to understand the ROI of concessions, and what it means to be a brand ambassador.  A highly skilled agent can make a call or interaction with a company very pleasant, all while skillfully looking up the latest knowledge.

Some companies have complicated “go to market” offerings.  For example, a company might need 3,000 or more knowledge base articles (each article can contain one or more questions and answers) to support its multiple product lines.  Some companies are rapidly changing and 20-40 of these articles might change every day.   It is responsibility of the organization’s subject matter experts (SMEs) to update these KB articles.  To make sure each bit of information is available; is switched from “wrong” to “right”.  Imagine how expensive it would be to train agents on this information every day.  Knowledge that often times will change before they use it.  Knowledge that can just be looked up when needed.

Some companies have simple market offerings and hardly change.  They might only have 100 bits of information that agents need to know to answer questions and provide great service.  These agents might be considered very skilled because they know all the information.  But do they have high skill?

Click here to learn the difference between knowledge and skill.

The bottom line: a knowledge base is a tremendous asset to a company. Leverage this asset by making the information available in your public facing website in a helpcenter. (Zendesk provides an excellent option in Guide.) Most customers want to self serve these days, so a searchable helpcenter allows them to get answers 24/7 without having to contact customer service. Customers are happy and the company saves money with fewer contacts. It’s a win-win.

It takes work to maintain the asset: here is the Knowledge Wheel of Life to show how every single question of Customer Service can build the asset.

The important difference between skill and knowledge

Skill and knowledge are two different and equally important aspects of building brand.

Your company probably has a customer service or distributor support team that interacts with your customers more than any other group or team in the company.  If you seek to build your brand – to extend the value proposition of your company to its customers, you need agents who have skill and who have access to knowledge.

Skill is the asset you profile and hire to, you tailor during training/onboarding, and you continue to build during the (hopefully) long tenure of the employee.  While skill can be hard to measure, picture it as an ever growing resume; a list of abilities that person has.  The situations, challenges, system functionality, etc, that the person can adeptly maneuver.

Knowledge is a commodity.  It is binary.  It either exists or it doesn’t.  It is either correct or incorrect.  Either the marketing teams, often called SMEs (subject matter experts), have documented the details of the product (its benefits, its current price, etc.) or they haven’t.  Either the shipping costs and return terms have been updated to reflect the current promotion, or they haven’t.

When skill and knowledge are confused, service and hence, your brand, suffers.  The price of the product changes for a promotion, but not all agents know this fact. Are the agents who “got the memo” more skilled than those who are incorrectly denying callers the deal?  Or are the agents in the know just using a scoop of knowledge that they read in the internal knowledge base (KB) (your company has one, right?)

Click here to read how a proper knowledge strategy saves you money.

Have you ever called a company and interacted with an agent that was an expert on the information but left you frustrated because they didn’t solve your problem?  You know your request was reasonable (you spent a lot, and this is your first request for a refund/reship, even though it is a few days past their return policy) and due to the agent’s low skill, your request was not honored.  You really wanted to like this company and support them, but the agent knew the information, in this case the return policy, and refused your request and refused to escalate.  If the agent would have had skill in recognizing caller condition and the ROI of a concession, you would have been a promoter of the company, not a detractor.  The result is a service failure.  Service failures lead to the destruction of brand.

Knowledge and skill are different and each is needed.  Your goal: information that is updated by SMEs and accessible to all, and employees who are continuously trained to recognize opportunity to extend the value of your product.