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Widen's story: Improve customer service with human contact

The transition from full-service to self-service can have unintended consequences


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Companies strive to keep customers happy. Why? Because happy customers buy more and this leads to higher revenues. Yet firms also need to manage customer service expenses to produce profits. Therefore many are moving to self-service models to reduce calls to live people. With this in mind, the transition from full-service to self-service can have unintended consequences, especially if it’s not a match with the culture, customers and product.

Consider Widen, a software as a service (SaaS) firm headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin and a leader in digital asset management. At the SpeechTEK 2017 conference on customer service experience, Lanita Haag – director of customer support (right in photo), and Melanie Olson, community and events manager (left), shared the Widen story of self-service and full-service support. It’s an inspiring pursuit of passionate purpose.

The Culture

Widen is a 65-year-old company with a history of being high-touch and hands-on. The team values responsiveness – setting an expectation to get back to customers on the same day. Widen has more than 500 loyal business customers in more than 150 countries around the world.

The company is a WorldBlu freedom-certified organization built these core values:

1. Integrity

2. Transparency

3. Fairness and dignity

4. Choice

5. Purpose and vision

6. Accountability

7. Reflection and evaluation

8. Dialogue and listening

9. Decentralization, individual and collective

Widen’s theme is Eudaimonia. It’s a Greek word that means happiness, health and prosperity for everyone. It’s often stated as human flourishing.

The Switch

Around 2009, a new CEO came in with a fresh strategy to create stand-alone applications for the consumer market. The revised purpose was to move from hundreds of customers to 10,000+. This strategy was in line with the software trend toward self-service. Widen moved all services into the cloud to gain efficiency so less staff would be needed for support. They defined repeatable, one-size-fits-all processes.

When they assessed progress for the 2012-2014 period, they found customers were not happy – there was a 1.5 percent decline in customer satisfaction. Employees were not finding meaning in their work and were not connected to their customers either. An assessment showed Widen was not living true to its core values. This move had taken away choice and transparency and it make the job harder for customers. The move into the consumer market was not a fit.

The Return

Widen went back to reaffirm who it was by aligning its values with talents and competitive advantage – to discern its passion. It then aligned that passion with its purpose. It stated the Widen Experience: We work to develop products, services, solutions, teams and relationships that drive connected experiences.

It pursued that purpose by increasing engagement with customers through running the Widen Summit, changing its website, expanding the help desk team, conducting more training to grow people, doing in-person customer visits and dinners and much more. It invested in culture.

Note that firms can also do other things to improve customer engagement. An example is ChoiceView from Radish Systems. ChoiceView allows customers to visually interact during phone calls and chat sessions with the company, whether it’s with an automated voice system, bot or live agent. According to the best-selling book, “Brain Rules” by Dr. John Medina, stimulating more senses — such as seeing and hearing – increases understanding, recall and retention by as much as 600 percent.

The Results

When Widen assessed progress in 2016, it found amazing results. Customer satisfaction increased by 11 percent. Net Promoter Scores, or the likelihood a customer would recommend Widen to a friend or colleague, went from 34 in 2012 to 48 in 2016. Customer retention went from 89 percent in 2012 to 95.4 percent in 2016 with a goal of 97 percent. Attendees in the Widen Summit grew by 146 percent in five years. Employee headcount grew by 38 percent from 2014.

In its return to its core principles, Widen discerned its passion, aligned it with a clear purpose, pursued that purpose, and assessed progress. Although Widen did not name it as such, they followed what I call the "Pursuit of Passionate Purpose" process, which can produce extraordinary results.

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