Is Customer Support helping you build better products?

A process for converting customer support demand into features and fixes your customers will love.

Posted by Jeff Schnurr on January 04, 2015 · 5 min read

REP Cycle

Every department needs to think about value creation, and how to make the company stronger. In Customer Support, value is created when a customer has a great service experience, and a problem is resolved. That effort results in a positive customer experience today, but how can it be leveraged to enable a better experience tomorrow? The REP model (respond, empower, and prevent) provides a way to think about Customer Support value creation beyond the interaction.

The REP model is a process, with the output of each stage becoming the input for the next. Flowing through this process are individual service needs - each one unique in its own right, and possibly experienced by many customers. For example, a customer request for an order status is a single and unique service need, with a defined scope and method of resolution. If three customers request an order status, it’s still only one service need, delivered multiple times.

It’s important to define service needs in the customer context. Reset router is not a service need, but the action you take to resolve it. Customers report they can’t access web pages - that’s the service need.

Each service need has a lifecycle:

  1. Creation - the day the service need was born. Maybe it was a defect in a shipped product, a new process that customers don’t understand, or a fix for another problem with an unintended consequence. In any case, the natural flow of product use becomes interrupted for the customer, and cognitive load is created when they must stop and ponder the best way to remove some friction.
  2. Optimization - by now the service need has a defined scope, some awareness, and perhaps a name or tracking identifier. A process exists to workaround or resolve the need, and multiple instances are handled in a similar way. If the frequency is high enough, knowledge content or tools are created, and the cost of each instance comes down, while resolution time improves.
  3. Elimination - when the root cause is designed out, and the customer no longer experiences that cognitive load in the first place. Perhaps a new product release fixes a bug, or a confusing UI is simplified with better input validation. Whatever the case, the issue has lost all relevance - it just doesn’t exist.

The REP model pairs Support team tactics to each phase of the service need lifecycle:

  1. Respond. When a new service need is created and a customer brings it to our attention, we react. An efficient Tier 1 team quickly identifies the issue as unfamiliar, and escalates it up the chain. Diagnostics are collected, workarounds created, and each customer is taken care of, one by one. This is the most recognizable and managed aspect of the Support function, and the traditional role of the Contact Center. The treatment of each customer during the process will be critical, as we attempt to create customer satisfaction by demonstrating how well we react.
  2. Empower. Service needs we’ve seen before don’t need the same level of engagement. The focus is on empowerment - taking the best available information about the service need and making it easily accessible to the customer. It may be knowledge content, an insert shipped in the box, or a new tool on the website. The customer still has the service need, it’s just easier, faster and less expensive to resolve it.
  3. Prevent. This is where the Support team runs out of gas, and engineering needs to step in. The evidence produced in the Respond and Empower phases come together as a meaningful dataset, with actionable insight that the engineers can work from. The Support team stands willing and able to support the process - producing helpful qualitative feedback, recommendations and design input.

You can imagine this as an assembly line, with raw materials (new service needs) constantly entering the system, being processed through the Respond, Empower & Prevent stages, and producing eliminations of the service need as output.  While the Support team is constantly dealing with service needs at different stages in the process, it’s the efficiency and quality with which the whole process is managed that determines the level of value add.

Fully optimized, the REP process is a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement. Customer Support becomes a strategic point of intelligence collection, helping the organization understand customer pain points and produce direct remedies in near real-time, leading to better products and happier customers.

Now that’s value creation.