Customer Service Acronym Image

Customer service, or a company's lack of customer service, is a detail overlooked by many businesses. For example, think about the last time you called a credit card company's customer service line. After being routed through the standard "Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish" system of questions, you were connected to a representative. Depending on the reason for your call, you may have been transferred to several different representatives, each one trying to solve your issue using varying levels of background knowledge on the subject. This same scenario holds true for the customer service lines of most organizations, including IT help desks.

Make room for the CenturyLink Cloud Customer Care Team. The lead, Michael Talbert, has spent many years operating behind-the-scenes on customer service teams such as this. You may remember reading about Michael from this piece, which showcased his team and the ideas behind their formation and process. He's experienced the same frustration at the multiple-step process described above that may or may not end in a resolution of the problem. So, when he joined our team at CenturyLink, his first order of business was to build a team (and a process) that took the commonly-experienced frustration away. He built it by throwing out all the old rules and ways of doing things, which in turn generated a lot of new, innovative, and disciplined practices for his team.

The team sat down and discussed all the pain-points that either they or our customers had experienced -- things they had seen go wrong in the past, organizational structures that didn't make sense, etc. -- and then made a conscious effort to mitigate or alleviate these headaches altogether. Instead of the typical 4-tier approach to tickets and requests for help that many organizations use, Michael decided there would be no tiers, only skilled, extensively-trained, and empathetic support engineers. In his words, he was building a team of "unicorns" -- senior engineers who can code, have extensive knowledge in underlying systems, and have the talent and experience to gain and keep the trust of CenturyLink Cloud customers.

One of the intriguing, original, and noteworthy ideas the team had was to build automation around their everyday tasks so that they could spend more time helping and responding to customers and investigating issues. They did this in two major ways: incorporating automation into their ticket-routing process and building an automated "bot" assistant to keep them on-task.

Before I talk about the bot, which is as cool as it sounds, the automated ticketing process also deserves some praise. Instead of relying on Tier 1 staff to be the first point of contact for a customer, the team uses automation to route all their tickets on the back end. The automation process moves the tickets through the different queues within the system, such as pending, in process, etc. This helps the engineers by eliminating human error in assigning the tickets to the right people at the right times. It should also be noted that this automation is designed specifically so that it doesn't feel like the customer is interacting with a "robot"; any direct contact with the customer is in person.

And now back to the bot, or as she is known to the Customer Care team, "Alice." Alice is highly-integrated with Slack, the collaboration and messaging app we use within our teams. Slack is a solution that is widely used at CenturyLink; it allows our teams to focus by enabling separate messages, discussions and notifications by purpose, department or topic (these are known as "channels" within Slack). It drives communication and collaboration, keeping us organized and allowing us to better support our customers.

Alice is the "glue" that holds our support organization together, keeping everyone on task by reminding them when to contact certain customers or when to perform a certain piece of maintenance as part of a specific customer's SLA. She also keeps track of support tickets and notifies the team if they aren't picked up in a timely manner. Alice even automates the beginning and end of support staff shifts. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is! Alice brings immense value by ensuring that all open tickets are automatically reassigned to an available support engineer when another engineer is done with their shift. This guarantees that there are no customer tickets assigned to an unavailable engineer.

As formidable as Alice already is, the team is excited to continue working on her functionality for the benefit of everyone -- especially our customers. Some of the most exciting updates they have in the works involve enhancing her ability to perform validation tasks. For example, the team hopes to develop scenarios where she can set up trace routes, or MTRs. This would allow her to ping between machines and discover issues that an engineer would typically have to discover manually. This means a faster and more hassle-free approach for everyone.

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