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Evolution of the Contact Center

June 13, 2012 2 comments

The purpose of a contact center, your contact center, is to support the customer driven enterprise. It is the hub of customer communications, interactions and engagement, now and will be, well into the future.

From Customer Centricity to Customer Experience and Customer Journeys, the simple premise is to always consider the customer the center of everything you do as a business—where better to serve these needs than from the contact center?


As technology evolves, so too does the way your customers use technology to both communicate and to get her job done. The question you should be asking yourself, ‘How do I keep pace, making sure I have the right Vision, Goals and Strategy to execute’? In a short post, I can only scratch the surface of the six core tenets of a solid customer communications strategy. In this context, the contact center and customer service seem interchangeable, but this is not quite true.

The modern contact center can and should be so much more than faceless, emotionless communications. In the perfect world, a product should do “what it says on the tin” and “the best customer service is no customer service”. The reality is that communicating with your customers is critically important, and this will always be the case.

People

In the contact center, the people have historically been those with service representative or agent somewhere in their title, yes that simple. Now and in the future, this is no longer going to be acceptable. Organizations need to change this, if they want to grow and prosper; is it enough to simply survive, or is thrive the operative word? The ‘front face’ and ‘voice’ of all organizations is expanding beyond customers service to different parts of the enterprise; marketing, product, sales and the executives.

Products and services are becoming more complex. Engagement, collaboration and knowledge sharing are not just ideas, they are action words. The number of people who need to understand your corporate vision is bigger than ever. The people in the organization need to be empowered to act, flexible in approach and dynamic in delivery, even more so than the technological components.

Process

A process is a series of actions. Coordination is that series of actions within and across the enterprise, either with people or systems. Sometimes, a process is simple and does not require a lot of coordination, sometimes it is quite complex. A process can be how a person needs to accomplish a task, or how a machine needs to accomplish a task. The key is not how well defined a process is, rather how easily it can be changed to meet the needs of the customer.

Paper based, rigid and often manual processes are no longer in vogue. Customers are no longer interested in listening to a static script, following your defined path, nor being pushed towards your most efficient route. The front office needs to be coordinated with other parts of the organization. Yelling over the cubicle does not count as coordination, sticky notes do not count as managing information and firing off an email is not business process management. (If you would like to get a better sense of how I see processes evolving, here are my thoughts on the Digital Interaction Processes )

Technology

Technology can mean many things, different to each persona and perspective. For this discussion, the channels of communications supported by your organization are the focus. Channels supported need to adapt to the changing usage by your customers. It is likely that your customers enjoy changing modes of communication, possibly even mid-stream, during a process. This is their prerogative. Real-time, synchronous channels are more expensive, but studies show that satisfaction rates are also higher on these channels.

Customers do want to use new channels such as social media and web-chat to interact with a businesses—but they want these in addition to (not instead of) established, ‘traditional’ ones (Phone or Email). That’s because their channel choice will depend on why, where and when they are contacting the business.

Often customers will use (or would like to use) multiple channels during a single ‘transaction’—for example, researching a new product or service online and reading peer reviews (community) before purchasing in store then using help forums to discover new features. And if there’s a problem, they may want to talk to someone. Technology certainly includes more than just channels of communications. Your ability to integrate data and information from the old and stodgy to the new and cool are critical to the success of the modern contact center.

Governance

Co-creation emphasizes the generation and ongoing realization of mutual organization-customer value. Historically, organizations would spend time and effort to extract as much value out of a relationship as possible. Customers are now more knowledgeable, connected and interactive with each other than they have ever been. The governance model of the customer driven enterprise will increasingly be focused on co-creation. Your contact center needs to be part of the game.

Co-created value arises in the form of personalized or unique experiences for the customer (value-in-use). Value is co-created with customers if and when a customer is able to personalize his/her experience using a firm’s product-service proposition. An example of value extraction is the parking lot attendant who charges you an extra day for a 1⁄2 hour overage, or the rental car company who charges ridiculous rates for gasoline. Businesses need to get smarter here.

Metrics

Metrics are similar to the governance, but there are subtle differences. Where governance focuses on value co-creation, metrics are how things are measured. Too often, metrics are used to validate Return On Investment (ROI), where the importance of metrics for the modern company is further ‘down-stream’ in areas such as customer loyalty, customer satisfaction and retention.

In the contact center the traditional metrics are Average Handle Time (AHT) and first call resolution. The legacy operational cost savings metrics might actually get in the way of positive customer experience, driving down satisfaction and loyalty ratings. More and more of the forward-looking organizations are using handle time as a training tool, not to measure the business. A very interesting measurement is customer effort, which asks a very simple question “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” and has shown to be predictive of repurchase, for example.

Approach

Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, (this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective, determination to reach an identical objective)—for example, an intriguing endeavour that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. (Wikipedia). We believe collaboration and co-operation are closely aligned, with emotional elements highlighting the differences. The more someone is controlled, the less positive the experience ‘feels’. Being proactive is simply getting ahead of potential issues, not waiting for them to happen to you.

Is it possible to put it all together?

Yes it is. It is going to take work? Yes it will. I do not believe you can accomplish it all at once, nor should you try. That said, understanding how all the of the elements are interrelated is an imperative. Some of the elements are within the control of the IT department; some are in Sales and Marketing, while you can control some as well. A technology solution will provide a solid base upon which you can meet the goals and objectives set forth by your mission as an organization. The strategy to accomplish each goal is about the people and the process; supported by technology.

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Do Customers Want or Use Social Channels for Service?

May 11, 2012 1 comment

Customer Service using Social Media Channels is a nascent discipline, which is good, because fewer customers than most people think are actually using it – but its time will come.  Just look at the usage from the customers perspective, barely 17%. American Express and ECHO just published some findings that paint an interesting picture. I would also challenge some of the results, or methods, or both. Not because I know better, but because I am confused about what exactly they are asking and how they asked. When these results are compared with some recent research (company perspective) I conducted with  thinkJar, there is a bit of a gap between what companies are spending time and money on, and what their customers are actually using.

OK, I am going to dissect the above a bit, and ask others to tell me I am wrong. My take on the data is that while 17% said “yes”, only 1/2 of those used social to “seek a response from [the] company to help [you] with a service issue”. It is obvious that is was not a ‘select one choice’ question, more likely a ‘select all that apply’, which makes piecing it together that much more complex. Even then, these are certainly not all customer service issues. For example, ‘praise’ is certainly not an ‘issue’, but could be tracked, possibly recognized. My point here is that no matter how you look at this data, it is 17% or lower, who are using social channels for something most people would call “customer support”.

A secondary issue I am having – it is all about me, sorry – is the stated methodology. I am hoping someone can help me out: “Research was completed online among a random sample of 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 18+. Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between February 22-29, 2012.” If this was truly an “online” survey, then the results are skewed. Meaning, when you ask people who are online if they use a digital channel you will get different results than if you stand on the street or call on the phone. But ECHO are smart folks, so I must be missing something. Any ideas?

Preferred Channel depends upon Complexity

Yes, Yes, Yes – Absolutely! It is beyond complexity too, it also includes the level of personal data involved. The complexity part makes sense, more on that in a moment. From a data perspective, at one end of the spectrum is ‘none’ the other end is that there is a social security number involved. It could be the simplest of issues, but if a customer needs to provide very private data, they will use the phone. According to the research, for a simple inquiry, ‘website or email’ was the top choice, at 38%. Now, I am going to pick on ECHO again, just a bit. There is a pretty big difference between a website view (aka; self-service) and email (please help me), but who am I to criticize? The major point to note here is that ‘Social Networking Site’ at 7% was tied for least preferred channel – even for simple!

As an inquiry becomes more complex, the preferred channel transitions to the higher touch, synchronous choices, such as face to face; 24%, up from 11%, and phone; 38%, up from 16% and (“speaking with a ‘real’ person” – love that). In the ‘more’ complex range, ‘website or email’ drops to 15%. No surprise, ‘Social Networking Site’ was tied for least preferred; 3%. Finally, for “difficult” inquiries, phone jumps to 46%, face to face up to 30%; Social finally has sole position as least preferred, at 3%. This is probably not a surprise. Is it?

Conclusion, of sorts

There is some interesting data hidden in the AMEX/ECHO report. There might even be some interesting information and a few insights, but you need to use this along with your own customer data. I wrote recently about trusting data versus your gut, and this certainly applies here. It is also very clear that while customer are increasingly using social channels for different reasons, the traditional channels are not going anywhere any time soon. Forrester data suggests that people often do not start on social channels, they start on traditional channels, switching only when the experience is poor. Are companies driving this initiative? Who let the Genie out of the bottle and who is trying to put it back in?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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It is time to move on to ‘How’ – Where the Rubber Meets the Road for Customer Service

From products and pricing to service and social, there is no shortage of talk on what companies need to do to achieve service excellence. For the past many years, specific to ‘social’ the number of people who are more than willing to share ‘what to do’ is staggering. It is easy to say what to do, to be an advice giver. That said, telling someone how to do something is not nearly as easy.

There is not only a tremendous difference between ‘what’ and ‘how’, the ability to cross the chasm between is where companies succeed or fail. Transitioning from what to do to how to do it takes hard work, planning and execution – especially in the realm of customer service!

Customer Service Mission:
A mission is the very big, long-term end-result or achievement in your sights. A Customer Service mission is the biggest and most important thing you and your team aim to accomplish. Mission statements can be tied to financial metrics, directly or indirectly, but financial metrics can also get in the way. A mission is a ‘what’ not a ‘how’. What is your customer service mission? Do you know it by heart?

(A quick sidebar regarding a mission: The company certainly needs to have a mission, but that is not the same as the customer service mission. For example, a company mission may be to reduce the need for customer service. That is not going to fit for the customer service team, now will it.)
Service Goals and Objectives:

With respect to customer service, goals and objectives are often interchangeable – just as long as you are clear. There might be a slight nuance that goals are customer facing and objectives are internally focused, but they should be very well aligned. Each is an end game towards which actions and activities are focused.  But, we are still in the land of ‘what’, not yet progressing to ‘how’; that said each should be smaller than the mission.

Customer Service Strategy:
Here is where I think organizations lose sight of their purpose. If there is not a clear mission, or set of goals (or objectives), a strategy is almost a waste of time. The idea of a strategy is to focus the team towards achieving the goals and objectives, towards the mission.  I believe too many people jump to strategy, when they mean mission. The importance of strategy, is that we finally have moved from ‘what’ to ‘how’, hallelujah!

What is a strategy?

A well thought and constructed plan of attack with actions that will be used to achieve the desired objective. The strategy is the first, most important step in the ‘how’ process.

Customer Service Tactics and Actions:
Simply stated, tactics and actions are what is done to deliver on the strategy. This is where the rubber meets the road. Although tactics and actions are more about doing (versus thinking), in customer service, poor execution of tactics and actions will have far reaching consequences; leading eventually to inability to succeed at the mission.  The inability to succeed at the customer service layer will impact the ability for the organization to achieve the higher mission as well.

The Outline

Mission = the most important thing you and your team aim to accomplish

  • Goals = an end-game towards which actions and activities are focused
    • Strategy = the plan of attack
      • Actions and Tactics = the execution of the strategy

What it Might Look Like for You

Customer Service Mission: We at <company name> believe that you, the customer, are part of our family. We are dedicated to treating you with respect; being courteous towards you and creating a positive experience for you each and every time we connect. We hope to convey that we are a caring and genuine team, here to help you to the best of our ability; in-person, on the phone and across all digital channels.

  • Goal 1: Increase Customer Satisfaction
    • Strategy: Improve Service Experience
      • Be responsive and courteous
      • Offer Chanel Choice
      • Remove or reduce problematic metrics (AHT, FCR)
    • Strategy: Improve Self-Service
      • Offer How-to guides
      • Increase use of Video
    • Strategy: Focus on Product In-Use Experience
      • Facilitate online community
      • Incent to contribute, engage further 1:1
      • Encourage social sharing; product
  • Goal 2: Increased Loyalty and Retention
    • Strategy: Create Passionate Customers
      • Offer extra value to repeat customers
      • Train Customer Service Reps as brand advocates
      • Reward Agents with a positive experience
    • Strategy: Facilitate Organic growth
      • Encourage customers to share brand stories
      • Encourage social sharing; experience
      • Recognize Super-users
  • Goal 3: Meet Customer Expectations
    • Strategy: Manage expectations
      • Publish response time service levels
      • Consistency across interaction channels
      • Hit response targets
    • Strategy: Service with a smile
      • Empower agents to make decisions
      • Rewards agents who go above and beyond
      • Remove robotic scripts
  • Goal 4: Bring Social into the Process fold
    • Strategy: Operational Efficiency
      • Web-Self-service, let people help themselves (WSS is the doorway to SCS)
      • Decide on the Proper Process for Social Contacts
      • Proper Process to capture knowledge and reuse
    • Strategy: Offer Channel Choice
      • Deflection as an outcome, can be right (caution advised)
      • Understand your customers, where they want to talk to you
      • Active Pull to proper channel (Content /Value) – not push

So What?

I cheated a bit, and used the results of the research Sword Ciboodle and thinkJar did to drive the conversation. Well, maybe that is not cheating, but the results did show that organizations are focusing heavily on the Goals I listed above.  Gartner (8 Pillars of CRM) and Forrester also have been know to recommend building the Customer Service program with specific goals and objectives in mind – no, not just operational efficiency, but how the impact can be felt directly by the customers.

What are your Goals and Objectives as an customer service organization? If you are Vendor or Analyst reading this, what how do your clients articulate their Goals and Objectives? Do they have a Customer Service Mission Statement? Please, feel free to add to the list and do not beat me up too much for missing something. To give credit where credit is due, thanks to Clare Dorrian for editing help and good ideas!

The Phone, It Still Matters in this Social, Cross-Channel World

November 22, 2011 12 comments

(This is an expanded post based on the original – with a bit of a teaser on survey results at the bottom)

First talked about in 1844, written about again in 1854, patented (US) in 1876, argued about for another 10 years, connected across the US in 1915: The Telephone. We cannot forget the importance of Alexander Graham Bell (and many others, to be fair), a native of Edinburgh, Scotland a short trip from the Ciboodle HQ outside of Glasgow. So, here we are nearly 100 years from that first cross country call and the phone remains relevant, even more important than many communication channels which have come on the scene since. Friend Mark Tamis suggests that given my thoughts and writing regarding cross channel, I could have been a bit more creative and played on the word ‘cross’ a bit m0re – he is probably right – but I digress.

A Chat With Paul Greenberg

“When push comes to shove, social stuff is still, and even email, is degrees of separation. People are nastier in emails than they ever are in person…Consequently, the real one-on-one interaction is always the telephone” Paul Greenberg

I had a great opportunity to spend a few minutes talking with Paul Greenberg while at the Destination CRM show in NYC. It just so happened that during this time we had a video crew on stand-by and were able to spontaneously capture the moments on film, with excellent lighting of course.

During the emergent phase of Social Communications, the phase we are in right now, the core objective of many social platforms is to go get something done on another platform. To some, this is go read this article, to others; this is please go buy something. In the customer service realm, this is often to shift the communications from a channel that is hard, like email or Twitter, to something synchronous and real-time. It is still too difficult to resolve a personal, complex or sensitive issue on a Facebook wall or in 140 characters.

Multi-channel customer service is the wave the present and we will certainly ride this wave into the future. We will see an increase use of social channels for many different things, but we will hop from one channel to the next (cross-channel) and make contextual decisions based on many things. In the end, when there is an emotionally charged issue, or an urgent issue such as a service outage, insurance claim, bank issue – in person or face to face communication and the telephone will remain critical to problem resolution for many years to come.

“The phone is ultimately how things will get resolved, if it is big enough”

A bit of a Teaser

What do you think? Am I being over simplistic? Too conservative in my approach and thoughts? I invite you to give some feedback and challenge me a bit. Esteban Kolsky and his Research firm thinkJar are just now completing a survey and I am finding the results very interesting. As a bit of a teaser, out of 300 respondents, when asked the question “What social service channels does your organization currently support?” over 60% said they support Twitter and a handful more (literally) said they support Facebook. This is a cross industry, cross continental result set – one that we will be digging into (ie, slicing and dicing the data a bit) in more depth in the upcoming weeks. Does that number surprise you? It did surprise me….

Customer Service Through Social, Is It Worth Doing?

November 13, 2011 1 comment

It is something many smart people have written about and it ‘feels like’ the right thing to do. Talk about it in a meeting, and you get ‘head nods’ of affirmation. But, we need to ask the tough question to find out where we really stand, as well as ‘why’. I am hoping that you are willing to be part of that process. Along with thinkJar, we are conducting a research project that challenges “Social Customer Service” a bit. Practitioners are invited to participate in the research, first by visiting the Survey (It should take about 10 minutes, tops) and/or participating in a follow-up discussion, if you are ready, willing and able.

The research and analysis will help to reveal insights in four key areas:

  • Is the move to customer service using social necessary and beneficial?
  • How to move from ‘traditional’ multi-channel to social multi-channel and cross-channel customer service?
  • Knowledge management and social knowledge must collude, how can they be accomplished?
  • Are communities what make ‘social’ work for customer service? Or is something else required?

Organizations face a variety of challenges, both technical and cultural, when they are considering adopting and emerging customer service processes. Yes, as much as customer service using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Forums and Blogs has been talked about (evangelized, proselytized) on all the aforementioned channels, this is still very much an emergent practice. The survey results, interviews and subsequent analysis will help businesses to navigate the confusing and sometimes misdirected and hyped messages.  Hopefully, if all goes to plan, the results will help the decision making process when it comes to adding and  integrating new social channels effectively. One important debate topic, which the survey hopes to shed light on, is whether or not investments in social customer service is “money well spent.” Everyone’s knee-jerk reaction to this is ‘Of Course’ – but when you ask “why”, the answer is harder, and less consistent.

While Esteban will surely be chiming in with his own thoughts, here is a quick snippet: “We have been theorizing long enough, this is a good opportunity to ask the questions, directly to the practitioners regarding the direction of using social channels for customer service,” said Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of thinkJar. “Further, this is an opportunity to understand both how the decisions are made and how the outcomes are measured.”  One of the interesting things I have done with the first part of this research is to first isolate the announcement of the survey view email to specific folks and ask my executive peers and account teams to send the request directly. This second wave is view social channels, and I have a theory that the results will be a bit different (we will  be able to segment the data).

The survey will be open for participation through November 23, 2011. If you are not interested in the survey itself, but would like to participate in the research, please reach out and we can arrange a call. Or, if you know of someone else, please take a moment and forward the link above, along. The results will be shared openly in January 2012. Again, the survey link is here we are hoping you are willing to take the time.

(For those who have read my thoughts over the past couple years, you probably know my thoughts on this topic. Even so, it is a valuable exercise to take a hard, objective look to make sure we are headed down the right path!)

Is the Office of the CMO the Right Place to Drive Customer Engagement?

October 23, 2011 6 comments

Primary sourced research is valuable, adding one’s own interpretations (which I will) is the added benefit of blogging. The most recent IBM research “From Stretched to Strengthened – Insights from the Global Chief Marketing Officer Study” (URL) is a good read. Research based on CMO conversations is arguably meant for a CMOs. As usual, I found myself considering this from a different perspective. The question which kept popping into my head was whether the office of the CMO is the right place to drive the call to action suggested by the report. I am not it sure is, there, I said it. The CMO should be part of the team, but not the leader of the team. I believe that the research needs to be read by others within the organization as well.

The three imperatives identified by the report, in no particular order:

  • Deliver value to empowered customers;
  • Foster lasting connections;
  • Capture value, measure results.

Being brutally honest, I agree with the first, not so sure about the second; at least not in the way the company will make it happen. Finally, while I agree results need to be measured, I am not sure what “capturing value” is about (in this context). The message that keeps hitting the reader over the head is that CMOs are more than a bit nervous regarding the new, cool ‘socially’, stuff and are now concerned about the amount of data coming their way; because of all this new stuff. There is a bit of parroting going on as well, talking about engagement, but, in my opinion, not a clue how to actually do it.

Seasoned marketers are having a tough time understanding social media and are concerned with multi-channel initiatives (called channel choice,  just wait until they try to solve cross-channel) and are unprepared for shifting customer communication preferences. I suppose that I should not be too surprised by some of the findings, as the areas of concern are relatively new (3-5 years) and were not top down initiatives; they came either from the bottom up, or from customers themselves.

Some issues and concerns

While I do agree, strongly, with the following sentiment, this is going to be a struggle of monumental proportions to execute solely within the marketing organization:

“The most effective CMOs focus on getting to know individuals, not just markets. They mine new digital information sources. And they use customer analytics to turn data into insights on which their organizations can act.”

Traditionally, marketers look at markets, while Customer Service talk to customers (Figure 6 in the report proves the point). How do you convince a CMO who has “Data explosion” at the top of the list of concerns to speak with and listen to individual customers? Without a doubt, the more customers you connect with, the more insights that can be gleaned. But, that does of course mean a whole lot of data, no? Please, do not get me wrong this is critically important, but hard. The CMO cannot do it alone, nor should they try.

In the ‘Tough questions to consider’ area, I cannot help but to think that these are the exact same questions that customer service and multi-channel contact centers have been working to solve for the past 5-10 years (not that we are there yet):

  • How are you gearing your ‘teams’, programs and processes to understand individuals and not just markets?
  • Which tools and processes are you investing in to better understand and respond to what individual customers are saying and doing?
  • How do you safeguard your customers’ data and privacy in a multichannel, multi-device world?

Yes, the intersection of business process, CRM and contact centers is the future of customer experience. The umbrella term is Business Technology. These core elements are the center-piece of the contact center, now and in the future. The companies who get it will be sharing the responsibility of delivery, and there will be a person accountable for the results – not likely to be the CMO.

Does this map to earlier research?

An earlier IBM report, which I also wrote a post about (The Perception Gap), shows that many organizations are missing the point. “Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them”. It is clear to most people that talking is not the same as engaging. Here is what I think is not so clear, listening is NOT the same as engaging. Active listening maybe, proving you heard what was said (by actions and words), now that is engagement.

It begs the question: are the CMOs really the ones who are going to engage? If the objective is really about helping customers to enjoy the products and services they have just purchased and your desire is to collaborate and to co-create new products and services, is the CMO the right person (office) to lead this charge? I would say “No” because marketers are used to looking at markets, not engaging with individual customers. I am sure I will get a lot of flack for the blasphemous comments, but I ask you to consider it for a moment.

In the image to the right, the report suggests “Outperforming” organizations “invest more effort in capturing and using data to foster customer relationships”. Yes, the data does suggest that to be the case. However, they also invest more effort in Segmentation/targeting as well as Action/buy and I am hard pressed to see conclusive evidence suggesting which one of the investments is driving the success. Given what I like to talk about, write about and analyze, I would like nothing more than for the chart to prove a causal relationship. However, it does not answer to the needs of the customer either (this is an inside-out versus outside-in perspective).

The previous IBM research paints a different picture of what the customer wants (or at least what they say they want). Back to my core concern, do you trust the CMO to make the required changes to meet the customers where it will work?  If you are the CEO, are you driving the CMO in the right direction? Or, if you are the CMO, does it make more sense to get a bit closer to the contact center and work together to properly engage with the customers on their terms and offer the real value that they are looking for? (Too harsh?) It is always possible that my comments are also too myopic coming from the other direction, but I am not convinced that is the case.

The Evolution of Customer Service

October 7, 2011 6 comments

Customer expectations are evolving and customers are more vocal and willing to share both when something is good and something is bad. Customer service is also evolving, frankly, in order to keep pace with customers; but is the pace fast enough? The pace of the change; driven by customers, is accelerating because the social web (commerce and network) has enabled and empowered customers. Try and think back 10-15 years ago; did you make purchases online? Other than ask friends, did you read online reviews? What levels of service were tolerable, did you accept?  When you needed to contact a company did you consider sending a text? You might have sent an email, but when something really needed to happen, you picked up the phone. You might have even sent a letter, you know, the kind requiring a stamp.

In the chart below, I worked to encapsulate and share my view of the top-level changes within customer service. I intentionally did not assign dates to the past, nor the future; the past could be yesterday or last year, the future tomorrow or 2015. This is a not an all or nothing phenomenon, your organization may have certain elements well within the futures bucket and others stuck in the past.  The chart is a refinement of my Evolution of CRM chart, published about a month ago. I am looking forward to sharing these thoughts and more at the Contact Center Expo next week in London

Element One – People

The people involved in customer service, historically, had been the people with customer service somewhere in their title, yes that simple. Organizations need to change this, if they want to grow and prosper (survive?). Products and services are becoming more complex, other parts of the organization absolutely need to become part of the customer engagement process. I am not simply talking about transferring phone calls; it is much bigger than that. I am talking about collaboration and knowledge sharing. You might even call it social business, but I do not want to get ahead of myself.

Element Two – Process

Gone are the days of a paper manual with defined processes for as many scenarios as management can think up. Actually, for some those days are not actually gone. Customers are no longer interested in listening to the script, following the guided path nor being pushed towards the efficient route . If the ‘people’ part of the evolution is accurate, then organizations will also need a way to coordinate activities with other parts of the organization. Yelling over the cubicle does not count as collaboration and sticky notes do not count as knowledge management.

Element Three – Technology

A technical discussion could be approached from many different directions. With respect to this conversation, the more interesting technical element has to do with the channel match which needs to occur between the desire of the organization and the needs of the customer; i.e. the channels of communication used by each. Not only do organizations need to adapt to the changing channel usage by their customers, they need to realize that customer ‘channel hop’ – changing their mode of communication even mid-stream within an interaction happens. Organizations need to consider active pull, versus push to optimize their channel strategy. Active pull means that the value offered on channels you would like people to use is valuable to them, not just you. Real-time, synchronous channels are more expensive, but studies show that satisfaction rates are also higher on these channels.

Element Four – Duration

Historically, the length of time spent by either side of an interaction was limited to the specific activity performed, or issue discussed. Customer Service metrics are often tied to duration, like average handle time. While not every interaction will take on a life of its own, interactions will create a string of communications and form the basis of an ongoing relationship between customer and organization. Enhanced, more sophisticated activities like co-creation and ideation will now take place as well, during product use when it can be most beneficial. This is not about creating life-long friendships, your customer does not want to be your BFF either, this is about working together to mutual benefit. Take the time required to solve the problem, and make sure the customer’s concerns are heard.

Element Four – Centricity

As noted above, metrics and KPIs have been driving Contact Centers since the beginning of time <hyperbole>. The truth is handle time and concepts such as first call resolution will continue to be used, but they will not be the only driving force. As a matter of fact, these metrics will move further down, possibly even to tertiary consideration. As opposed to simply figuring out how quickly they are able to get the customer off of the phone, customer service professionals will consider more than just the current case and will be given latitude to do the right thing and stay on the phone to help the customer. Insights towards customer need by the agent will be augmented by business intelligence both real-time and in aggregate.

Element Five – Approach

Few people appreciate being caught off-guard, unprepared or surprised. Customer issues are more often than not identified first by the customer. What if the customer service teams could identify potential issues and do something about them before the small issues become very large issues? This can be accomplished simply with operational metrics made available to agents (insights). Spending a few more minutes on the phone with a customer, to really understand the root cause of an issue is worth the time and effort.  Or, how about proactive notifications of outages, or product issues (positive call deflections)? Further, taking the time to collaborate with the internal organization, providing superior value to customers, will also reap rewards in the form of loyalty and future business.

Is it possible to put it all together?

Yes it is. It is going to take work? Yes it will.  I do not believe you can accomplish it all at once, nor should you try. That said, understanding how all the of the elements are interrelated is an imperative. Some of the elements are within the control of the IT department; some are in Sales and Marketing, while you can control some as well. In the end, it not really about control; Customer Service is about doing what is best for the customer. What do you think? Am I way off base?