Reimagining the future of global customer service and support using the follow the sun (FTS) model
Sustain your service value and create a world-class organization by putting follow-the-sun principles into practice.
Read time: 4 minutes
Envisioning the future is something that’s universal to humanity. From cave paintings to the latest streaming series, civilizations of every era have imagined how life could look in a remote futurity. And sometimes, those visions become reality. Take robots, for example. Sixty years ago, they were mostly a stack of metal boxes. Today, they’re virtually indistinguishable from actual humans — with the artificial intelligence to boot. One thing is for sure, the future moves fast.
Within a mere century, we’ve evolved into a global world. Organizations went from local to national to international. Brick-and-mortar businesses transitioned to ecommerce models with the capability to ship anywhere. Digital Native Brands (DNBs) were born. And then came the events of the past few years. We’ve entered a new era where location is now relative. Colleagues can work side by side or continents apart in ways that are still taking shape. Another prediction: the future is global.
And for organizations of all shapes and sizes, technology has changed the landscape across the board, even for more traditional industries like banking and insurance. Digital information — how it’s collected, how it’s shared, how it’s used — has become the new currency. And quite certainly, the future is digital.
But building an agile, global, digital support organization that provides consistent results and excellent service in today’s world is no small task. It takes intense work, keen insights, and a commitment to constant innovation and evolution. However, when people, process and technology are united in progress, that’s where the magic happens.
Global business needs global support
In the mid-nineties, a type of global knowledge workflow model emerged called Follow the Sun (FTS). Based on agile methodologies similar to GDSE (globally distributed software engineering), its genesis was to meet the needs of global software teams that were working together, yet oceans away. The basic premise of the FTS model is that by allowing development, projects, support, etc. to continue 24/7 (with handoffs between working hours based on time zone), time-to-market decreases and employee satisfaction increases. Always-on support, wherever, whenever. Sounds easy, right?
Unfortunately not. Apart from a handful of examples, the FTS model has yet to be practiced at full scale in any industry some 30 years later. Challenges with language barriers, coordinating handoffs, and cultural differences have been preclusive to lasting implementation. However, for support and service organizations that operate at a global scale, the FTS methodology can offer enormous benefits and have wide-ranging impacts for both you and your customers.
The FTS model is just that — a model. But its principles are worth practicing. If your service teams support or need support at a global level, here are four ways to start focusing on the future.
1. Unify cultures through company culture
Strong company values can transcend cultural differences. A powerful mission, a vision that exceeds the organization, and a culture of collaboration and cooperation can bring employees together into one worldview.
By adopting a growth mindset and focusing on flexibility, adaptability, teamwork, and continuous improvement (in tandem with operational efficiencies), the scale of your service value becomes much greater than the sum of its parts.
Creating a culture of excellence means providing outstanding service — not just for today and tomorrow, but always. Build long-term, sustainable value by uniting your teams, keeping standards high, and staying focused on your vision.
2. Automate to innovate
There is no knowledge without information. And there’s no information without data. If your customer data is locked up within systems or employees don’t have the right access, getting a clear picture of what’s happening within your organization is close to impossible.
Cleaning up, standardizing, and classifying data is how it transforms into information. And once you can turn that information into insights, the path is cleared for the deep knowledge needed to revolutionize your service organization.
Having clear, reliable information optimizes automated functions like callback queues, chatbots, and online self-service — freeing teams to focus on solving the more complex problems that require human interaction. The results are excellent customer experiences at every touchpoint.
3. Transition SLAs to XLAs
At the end of the day, the goal of the FTS model is to provide more than outstanding support — it’s to provide outstanding experiences. While most Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are designed with defined goals and outcomes, Experience Level Agreements (XLAs) are centered around the total experience and business value provided to the customer.
Designing service agreements based on the end user has many upsides for both employees and customers. By nature, XLAs are a more cooperative, collaborative way to innovate and drive results. Offerings like tiered support levels to satisfy the needs of multiple business types (enterprise, SMB, etc.), bundled services, and customized plans are all great ways to get started.
Ricoh provides information management and digital services to over 1.4 million customers worldwide. We enable organizations to capture, manage, connect, and secure their data to drive powerful results. By unlocking information trapped in systems, tools, and manual workflows, we help businesses realize the potential of their people and build more meaningful customer experiences.
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