Guest post by Jim Muehlhausen, author of Business Models for Dummies

Those of us over forty remember the days when “customer service” meant someone attending to your every need. Gas station attendants pumped your gas, travel agents handled every aspect of your business trips, and you spent Saturday morning working with the friendly bank teller who handled your banking needs.

Today, a high level of customer service does not mean waiting hand and foot on the customer. The desires of the customer have changed. Speed and ease are the new benchmarks for service, not hand-holding. Most of us are glad to pump our own gas, fetch our own soda, or book our own travel if it accomplishes the task quickly and easily. It’s about “check next” not being waited upon. So how to savvy companies leverage this dynamic for competitive advantage?

Step 1 is to let go of the notion that personal service equals customer service. Speed and ease equal customer service these days and it doesn’t matter if it’s a computer, data, or an ATM that delivers it.

Step 2 is to make a list of all the data the customer might want.

Step 3 is to find a way to give it to them. For most companies, this means opening up internal data systems to customers. With the rapid adoption of mobile devices, the best way to jump ahead of the completion is to allow mobile access to internal data to customers. Before we go through some examples- one caveat. There are hundreds of potential options for data sharing, so let me shorten the list. Only consider options that lower costs AND increase service levels. This will eliminate all the “it would be nice” options.

Examples of opening up internal systems ..… that lowered costs AND increased service

If there is a theme to these opportunities, it falls under the heading “Remove Tolls”.  A toll booth operator prohibits you from driving down the road until you pay a toll. Many legacy customer service operations do the same thing. I simply want to know where my package is, but I have to call into someone who can answer the question and pay a “toll” with my time to find out. By tracking the nature of customer service inquiries, you can determine what “tolls” you have erected for your customers. Eliminate them via technology and self-service to gain an edge on the competition.

You can learn more about business model innovation on our blog www.businessmodelinstititue.com