Among its many changes, digital technologies are reshaping organizational boundaries, especially when it comes to customer service personnel. It starts with the redistribution of work.

In our brave new world, insurers who wish to delight their customers are turning to digital channels to quickly and painlessly handle routine requests. This frees time for customer service employees, allowing them refocus their efforts on complex cases and often changing the nature of work they do. Their jobs have become more managerial, and require them to bring multiple resources to bear on challenging problems. Moving beyond their traditional roles, customer service departments are now expanding their functions, often taking on key roles in marketing and product development.

Customer service always has involved aspects of marketing, since the customers they satisfy are likely to return and perhaps tell a friend or two. But it’s different now. The customer’s power to quickly spread the word about a particularly easy or particularly frustrating claim-reporting experience, for example, has been magnified by customer’s access to social media.  That’s where savvy customer service comes in.  If the organization is carefully monitoring what is said about it on social media, it can alert a customer service to a particular issue. That service person can contact the customer on the same social channel and offer help, immediately diffusing the situation in a public way and becoming part of the business’ marketing effort.

Then there’s product development. Customer service has a unique perspective and a trove of accurate data on how existing products and services are used. It also has information on product gaps. Inquiries about insurance coverage that the carrier does not provide, for example, can indicate a need ripe for product development.  In some cases, this data can be combined with new data sets from the Internet of Things to provide a rich picture that can evoke ideas for innovation.

With this in mind, shrewd companies have stopped looking at customer service simply as a cost of doing business, and now regard it as source of innovation and new business development.

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