3 Reasons to start doing customer service research today

As a UX researcher, there were several points in my career when I was doing customer service research. Throughout this time, I learned that customer service is a goldmine with a wealth of insights about users. Yet it is often ignored, or underutilized…

Doing customer service research has the potential for big business impact. In this article, I’ll share 3 reasons to start doing customer service research today and how to convince stakeholders of its value.

What is customer service research?

Customer service research may have different flavors. Ultimately, it is about using insights from (or about) the customer service area in your organization for product decision-making. Some examples of activities you could do:

  • Analyze customer service data, e.g., customer support tickets. Some examples of questions you may want to answer: Who contacts customer service? At which points in the journey? What issues do they come to customer service with? What are their root causes? Are there differences between types of users in terms of customer service volumes? You (or together with data analysts) could do quantitative and/or qualitative analyses (ideally, both), depending on the type of data you have available.
  • Do research with customer service representatives (i.e., employees). For example, you could interview or shadow them during their work. You can learn a lot from customer service representatives directly, especially if there is not much customer service data available.
  • Research customer service topics with your target audience. Customer service often plays an important role in the decision-making and the experience of users. You may want to understand what expectations users have when issues arise and what steps they take to resolve them. Or evaluate if your product’s customer service options are findable and usable.

However, doing customer service research may require buy-in, or interest from your stakeholders. It always helps to do research that ties to business objectives and helps stakeholders deliver on the KPIs that they care about. There are 3 ways that customer service research can support your organization in reaching its objectives.

Why start doing customer service research?

#1 Improve UX

Customer service insights offer opportunities to improve user experience, as contacting customer service mostly reflects a failure in the user experience. So, customer service may be symptomatic of the problems that products created for customers (or users). The best user experience may be the one where you don’t need to get in touch with customer service.

“Most of the time contacting Customer Service reflects a failure in the user experience.”

Kim Salazar, NNGroup

By understanding why people come to customer service, product teams can design solutions that anticipate or, better, prevent customer issues (or the need to contact customer service). This also allows teams to focus on new metrics, such as reducing customer service volumes, which can have a big business impact.

#2 Maximize profit

Besides reducing friction in the user experience, customer service research offers opportunities to deliver on business KPIs. Customer service research may be relevant if your stakeholders want to reduce costs or maximize their (net) profit.

Some time ago I worked as a UX researcher embedded in a product area that focused on a specific customer segment. By analyzing customer service data, we found that this segment was growing fast, but also that it generated a much higher rate of customer service volumes. Long-term, this was, of course, problematic financially.

With the cost reduction goal in mind, we needed to understand why this segment came to customer service, and what was different for it. Such insights helped my product teams design solutions focused on anticipating customer issues and providing usable self-service options, which alleviated the load on customer service.

#3 Increase loyalty

You may also consider customer service research if your stakeholders care about customer loyalty. They may want to improve or avoid damage to customer loyalty. Customer service can shape the long-term relationship with the customer – it can especially undermine it.

“Companies create loyal customers primarily by helping them solve their problems quickly and easily.”

Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman & Nicholas Toman, Harvard Business Review

Customer effort (‘work’ people need to do to get their problem solved) can be a good predictor of loyalty. So, understanding which kind of customer issues take more customer effort and why, can help design solutions that minimize the burden on customers, and thus may improve their loyalty.

Closing thoughts

As a UX researcher, front-line collaboration (i.e., collaborating with internal employees who interact with users directly) can be a valuable skill with which you can have more impact in the organization.

Personally, I see a lot of potential with customer service research (I shared some of my experiences in a recent talk at the UXinsight Festival 2021). Bringing different, often silo-ed, business areas together can be of great benefit to organizations. And as UX researchers, we may be in the unique position to do so.

Have you ever done or considered doing customer service research? Are there other ways it can help stakeholders achieve their goals?

Photo by Mike Meyers on Unsplash

Anna Efimenko

Anna Efimenko (she/her)

With a decade of experience in the research field, Anna is passionate about designing experiences informed by data and driven by empathy. For a big part of her career, she supported multi-disciplinary teams at using qualitative and quantitative data to inform product design, strategy, KPIs and organisational structure. She is excited about mixed-methods research and collaborations with other insights disciplines (e.g., analytics, data science, customer service). Anna loves to contribute to UX research community through mentorship and knowledge exchange.

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