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To deliver great customer service, CSOps needs to be aligned with DevOps. Here's how to bring the two closer together.

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Customer experience is at the heart of digital business today. Whether you’re a bank, a retailer, or a streaming service, user expectations have never been higher. And it’s never been easier for those end users to switch to a competitor.

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As demand for digital grows, critical incidents inevitably occur. In fact, they surged 19% from 2019 to 2020. And when problems arise, the speed and quality of incident response is key to minimizing financial and reputational damage.

The challenge for many organizations is that customer service teams on the front line are too often siloed from response processes and subject matter experts (SMEs). They can neither take full ownership of the issue nor assemble the right team rapidly to respond to incidents.

To accelerate and enhance incident response, organizations need to empower their customer service agents with intelligent automation, while creating alignment between these folks and DevOps teams.

Here I’ll take a deeper look at the problem, before laying out a couple of solutions.

The problem with many incident response processes

Today, many digital-first organizations are on the back foot. Appetite for seamless, always-on services continues to rise following the pandemic. But the complex IT infrastructure on which these experiences are built means that incidents are inevitable.

The difference between success and failure is increasingly defined by how quickly and efficiently incident responders are able to find and remediate problems – ideally before their users are even aware of them. Unfortunately, over half (51%) of firms find out about technical issues directly from customers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, 71% report having unhappy customers.

This hurts companies on several levels. Unhappy customers usually means high customer churn, diminished brand reputation, and even challenges acquiring new customers. That alone can weigh heavily on growth prospects.

But there are also knock-on effects internally. Customer service agents overwhelmed with tickets can become stressed and frustrated when they can’t resolve incidents effectively. And DevOps teams are constantly interrupted, reducing the time they have to innovate for the company. Both teams can suffer from burnout and attrition, at a time when such skills are at a premium and the jobs market is undergoing a period of intense volatility.

The damaging disconnect between CSOps and DevOps

From healthcare to banking and communications to entertainment, consumers rely on seamless access to digital services. This has made customer service teams a critical function for organizations. Incidents can happen at any time, anywhere. It is the job of customer service operations (CSOps) as first responders to minimize customer impact and escalate to SMEs if they can’t resolve an issue personally.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. CSOps teams are often disconnected from their technical counterparts. They don’t have contextual insight into what’s happened or even the best SME to escalate an issue to. They may be working with a multitude of siloed point solutions which add time and toil. There’s limited shared insight between CSOps and DevOps. And because customer service agents don’t have end-to-end visibility over incidents, they can’t close the loop with important customer progress updates. Multiply these challenges out against a rising number of daily tickets and teams start to feel like they’re drowning.

Consider a not-untypical scenario. A customer submits a helpdesk ticket after experiencing some performance issues. The CSOps agent receives the ticket via their helpdesk portal and decides it’s a back-end tech problem. Now they have to switch solutions to reach out to DevOps via Teams/Slack etc to see if anyone is aware of the issues. If not, the customer agent may have to switch again to an internal wiki or other resource to find the team responsible for the affected service. Then they hop onto an internal help desk platform to file a ticket. Following this, only by periodically jumping onto the comms channel will the agent be able to see when the incident is resolved and pass on that info to the customer. They will likely need to proactively reach out for any progress updates.

The result of this reactive, disjointed set of manual processes should be pretty clear: broken SLAs, angry customers, disillusioned CSOps, and frustrated DevOps.

Empowering customer service teams and creating alignment with DevOps

The solution? Customer service teams should instead be empowered to take full ownership of all issues from first report to close. But they can only do so with the right tools and workflows (which should preferably be automated). Agents need real-time visibility, context, and the ability to directly mobilize the right technical and operational teams to solve customer issues. And they need to be able to do all of this while proactively communicating with customers.

Achieving this would not only help to improve morale – by putting agents back in control of their own destiny – but also accelerate incident response, ensure SLAs aren’t breached, and keep customers happier with regular updates.

CSOps agents can take ownership by first building closer relationships with technical teams. By explaining the value of the customer signal to incident resolution, stronger, more efficient bi-directional processes can be built over time.

CSOps teams can also leverage automation and machine learning to support this new approach.

Take automation first. It can help agents to quickly validate customer-impacting issues and then run pre-configured actions to resolve incidents or escalate them to the right SME. Not only can this reduce resolution times, it can also ease the strain on back-end teams by automatically adding contextual customer info when tickets are escalated. Fewer incidents will be referred to SMEs using this approach, which means more time for DevOps to innovate.

Meanwhile, machine learning can allow teams to sift through large volumes of collected data and deliver actionable insight for faster, more accurate response to incidents.

Ideally, organizations should look to deliver these capabilities from a single platform, helping to deliver a single source of the truth for DevOps and CSOps teams to build their bi-directional processes around. Thus, engineering teams can easily share incident information with customer service agents. And the latter can get the visibility they need to solve problems faster, limit unnecessary escalations, and improve customer service.

It's all about bringing order to the chaos of incident response, by bringing DevOps and CSOps closer together.

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