A series of recent experiences on the customer side shed light on what I believe is a growing problem, possibly made worse by the public nature of communications – or possibly just poor grammar.
Cannot or Can’t is an expression of inability or incapacity – “I can’t take the garbage out”
Will not, or Won’t is also deliberate choice not to act – “I won’t take the garbage out”
For those of you with kids, those phrases are really quite different if they are used in response to “hey, would you please take out the garbage”. My reaction would be (has been?) very different in each case. Yes, I realize that some kids will use improper grammar and use one, and actually mean the other, so please look beyond that point.
When someone in customer service says “I cannot help you”, I believe that what they often mean is that they won’t help you. However, if those words are used, while they might be honest, they might incite a much stronger reaction. Think offering a hotel voucher due to a delayed flight, or a refund for a poor experience or some other scenario. Read between the lines of ‘ I could help, but I am choosing not to help, so I won’t’ – yeah, probably not going to fly.
The unfortunate use of “Can’t” is when a subordinate is acting as a face for a more senior person or larger organization. Is this an act of proper deflection, a way to defuse the situation? “My boss says I can’t” Which is a proxy for, my boss can, but won’t and I will get in trouble if I let you talk to him (this exact scenario happened to me last week).
This may simply be a game of semantics, but it is a bit more complicated when the social web becomes involved. I cannot think of many more examples, or maybe I simply won’t try 🙂
Customer service is a mission critical, strategic, imperative, and it drives customer experience. Your products and services are evaluated every moment of every day. When the ‘evaluation’ is not going so well, the phone rings, email chimes, social networks sing. Brand performance (your brand), loyalty and customer satisfaction are driven by the experiences your customers have with your organization every day, every touch and every interaction – full circle.
Service organizations, whether for product companies, constituencies or service businesses are working diligently to orchestrate experiences that are positive, engaging, meaningful and consistent across all channels and touch-points. Imagine being the maestro of an orchestra with expertise levels that range from 20 years to 1 year (nails on a chalk board…). Providing consistent experience across channels and between channels is really, really hard! Further, throw in costs (people and technology), revenue, policy and productivity and your job became even harder.
Getting There, it is Possible
R “Ray” Wang wrote a blog for Harvard Business Review about a year ago, the key points are still resonating. In the post he identified nine characteristics of engagement systems that differ from the transactional systems. Take a look for yourself (after you finish reading this of course). But, I would like to focus on a few of the key points, just now:
First, there are systems that are “Design for sense and response.” These systems of engagement keep the ‘ear to ground’ in order to assess en masse. No transaction system was ever meant to perform this type of function.
Second, in order for the response part to work, systems need to “Foster two-way, engaging conversations.” What this means is that, we must avoid the one sided, unidirectional, broadcast type conversations. In order to accomplish this, systems and people need coordination and a joined up focus.
Third, if the ‘Social Web’ has taught us anything, it is that patience is a dying characteristic – You must deliver (service, answers, help, responses) in real time. Engagement systems need to focus not only on immediacy, but context as well. Users can see activity streams, real-time alerts, and notifications on all their devices.
Finally, you need to reach your constituents, customers, partners and ecosystem on the channels they want, not just the ones that work for you. Your systems of interactions or engagement need to touch corporate departments, personal networks, and mobile devices.
And the way in which you get this done is with a Platform built today, with an eye on tomorrow.
How do you put the Systems Together?
Integration needs to make things easier for the knowledge worker rather than introducing overhead and friction. The consumer Web set the baseline expectations for ease of use including mobile and tablet access. On my small phone, my contacts are linked across 4 different networks and my little device helps me get things done – are you systems integrated?
Work streams and processes need to include integrated, permission based system access including activity streams and community type interactions. This is coordination and collaboration at both the human level and the system level. I need to find the people and information I need to solve a particular problem. The only way to do this is in context. Some people call this search, I like to call it find – similar but different. Hard, yes, but possible.
I will leave with the following. Before I do, I would ask you to consider the following question and comment back. Is this a social issues, an analytics issue or a service issue?
According to an IBM research study – “Social media conversations about parking in Bangalore are three times more negative than in other cities.”
And to this you might say “So, What?” But, let us think about this for a moment. If a city could monitor with an operational ‘eye’ (as opposed to just analytical), the city could learn even more and might actually be able to come up with some tactical solutions, and meet the need of the constituents.
(Disclosure: This post was written for KANA as part of their KANA Connect Customer Conference which is in full swing in Vegas. You can see other posts on the KANA Blog)
For those unaware, KANA Software announced Tuesday, that it has acquired Ciboodle – the company I have been at for the past year and a half. The technological components are a great fit; the vision, framework and solution are excellent. As with any merger, there is work ahead required to execute on the vision. One of the most challenging elements, as identified by some of the industries finest minds, is going to be the merging of the cultures. The cultural elements will have a direct and large impact on the ability to execute against the vision, so we better get it right. Culture is the sum total of personalities, driven by the leadership driving towards common goals.
While I am sure many of you have been part of an M&A process, my personal perspective comes from the following: In 1997, when I was a wee lad, Kenan Systems (a 250 person private company) was acquired by Lucent technology (>100,000 people) for $1.4B. Having matured considerably by 1999 I was part of Octane, who were acquired by Epiphany for $3.2B (Monopoly money). While I do live in Vermont, I have worked for both Silicon Valley tech companies and a Scottish software company, come on, how many people can say that!
Let’s get to it!
Bain and Co published ” Building a winning culture ” (link below) where they outline the key attributes of a winning culture; high aspirations and a desire to win, external focus, ‘think like owners’ attitude, bias to action, individuals who team finally, passion and energy. These seems completely logical, obvious even, but how do two companies 5000 miles apart, an 11 hour flight (if connections are on time, but I digress) and 8 time zones different realize these attributes within the logical 4 walls?
Let’s start with some words from Mike Hughes, CEO of Ciboodle (For effect, please use your very best strong Glaswegian accent as your internal voice when you read this):
“I think that the folks from both organisation’s have the same can do attitude and are keen to capitalise on the opportunity ahead. We clearly have an excellent stack and the motivation of the people will drive this into a real integrated suite in a very short period of time. That will happen because the folks in the business are stoked to make it happen. It’s not often that a opportunity of this magnitude and significance comes along, we understand that and collectively we will deliver.”
From my perspective, this hits 2 of the attributes pretty directly, as well as one that is missing from Bain; executive desire to live the message. Adding my own perspective here, even within the first week the teams have allowed, encouraged even, participation from both sides of the deal to speak with influencers, analysts and press. This might seem like a small thing, but it is quite big. I am personally very encouraged by these actions – and most appreciative.This illustrates that the days of command and control are numbered. Both the KANA team and the Ciboodle teams have been active in person, on the phone, through WebEx sessions, email and social channels.
External Focus, Bias to action
These two are absolutely critical, my opinion, especially given the industry we live in; Customer Experience and Customer Service Excellence. Both KANA and Ciboodle have a passion for excellence and delighting customers, which should be quite obvious from the posts by Clare Dorrian and Vikas Nehru (Links below). They are words, so we cannot lose focus and must prove ourselves with action; to our current customer base and the current in-flight projects. Here is the kicker and the single biggest risk factor identified by Bain: “Do not get caught-up in internal politics or navel-gazing”. The energy drain from internal politics (which I witnessed during the Kenan / Lucent acquisition) can be very damaging from many perspectives.
The ‘bias to action’ describes me personally pretty well and from early indications my new counterparts in Sunnyvale. I am a bit impatient and I want to get things done. I can see the value that the marriage can bring to customers. I can be a little over-the-top sometimes, but as I have said on a few analyst calls and briefings with industry folks, there are more toys in the toy chest. To the broader ecosystem, I would say that what KANA adds to the Ciboodle Agent Desktop can help our customers to realize the vision I have been putting out here for a while (I suppose I should say what Ciboodle brings to KANA, oh well, sorry). I do realize that it is not only about technology, it is about helping people to get their jobs done.
“The strongest cultures bind people together across both hierarchy and geography, guiding them to make the right decisions and advance the business without explicit direction.”
Here is what the leadership team need to do and I have confidence that it will be done. Can I commit to time frames? Probably not, because if I did I would likely have a very short tenure at my new home. The leadership team need to set expectations about the importance of culture issues within the new organization. The leadership team itself need need to have the common vision which can be shared with the rest of the organization. Everyone needs to have a sense of ownership and accountability. Within large organizations it is too easy to ‘ride and glide’. Everyone needs to pull their own weight. Clarity, communications and ‘walking the talk’ by the leadership will go along way to setting the proper tone. My reflection of week one suggests exactly that, and we need it to continue, even accelerate.
Finally, the winning culture is about the performance values, behaviors added to the personality of the resulting organization. To be fair, I only have a one sided view on this one, but will say that the Ciboodle side has been known for our sometimes quirky personality. We have done things a bit differently (for longer than I have been around). I am not too familiar with the KANA ‘personality’ and I am looking forward to seeing what the proper blend will be – and I will try hard to influence it, I see that as one of my jobs (I am physically half-way between Sunnyvale and Glasgow).
I mentioned above that the culture of an organization is the sum total of the personalities within the organizations. Where this merger is very different from previous mergers I have been a part of is the enabling technologies which are available. No, technology cannot solve this problem but it should be leveraged to make things easier. Proper collaboration can be used to effectively reduce the timezones, shorten the distance and allow for real 21st century productivity. The resulting culture, driven by individual personalities, will drive a new corporate personality; some combination of KANA and Ciboodle, and I am looking forward to being part of the process.
Articles and related material
I realize that I have been quiet as of late and have not posted very much. Frankly, I did not have a lot I wanted to say – yeah, for those who know me well, you might find that hard to believe. There are a few things coming together, thus I will get back on track soon.
It is a bit of cop-out then to fill the space with a guest post – unless it is written by a good friend and colleague. Clare Dorrian has a title (VP Marketing, EMEA), but the title does not do justice for what she does or who she is…. Here is her perspective on yesterday’s announcement. Is there some marketing within this post, I suppose, but there is a lot of passion as well – I will be sharing my thoughts early next week.
By Clare Dorrian
So in case you haven’t heard the news, it’s official. Ciboodle has just been snapped up by KANA.
As a company, it goes without saying that we’ve realized incredibly valuable growth under Sword: we now have a sturdy foothold in North America and an enviable client roster that includes Nicor National, Admiral, Bally Total Fitness and Domestic & General; our product team has grown by more than a third and our solutions expanded to address social customer engagement as we’ve worked shoulder to shoulder with extraordinary flagship customers to develop exactly what the market required. Long nights and weekends, many trips to Chicago and the East Coast, frustrated spouses, missed families and the promise of making a critical impact on the Customer Service industry. Not bad for just less than four years…It has been an important and valuable chapter, to be sure, but we now need to move up a gear.
Why? Because the truth is, us ‘Ciboodlers’ are ready for more. Our vision to be the world’s most trusted and leading customer service software company can only be realised by continually growing the functionality and value of our products and services to significantly expand the way in which we help our customers. To get there, we need to be part of an organisation that can help us reach our limitless potential—a company who like us, lives and breathes Customer Service, who is committed to helping its customers deliver on-point and lasting relationships, who is driven by the belief that their technology solutions need to stay cutting edge, and who invests in R & D and constant contact with customers and the market, knowing that searching for top-flight customer service ideas produces bottom line results.
And that match making process is hard. Finding a partner who had similar ambitions and similar credentials is not something that happens overnight. BUT I’m delighted to say we’ve found our match in KANA.
This is a critical step in the build-out of Ciboodle’s Customer Service vision and a decision I’m excited about for us as a company, and on behalf of Ciboodle and KANA’s joint customers. We’ve both been successful in our own space but have approached it from two different positions of strength: Ciboodle focusing on the Contact Center, Agent Desktop, Business Process Management and Case Management solutions and Social Community, KANA meanwhile has focused on Email Response Management, Knowledge Management, Web Self-Service and Chat, and more recently Social Listening. By combining the two, not only does Ciboodle gain greater scale in terms of global presence, resources and expanded offerings, we will together, accelerate both companies’ product roadmaps by 12-18 months, allowing a sharper focus on strategic initiatives like cloud computing, mobile and big data analytics – areas that you, our customers, industry analysts, our partners and fellow Ciboodler’s have told us are important to our success. Not forgetting to continue to invest in those existing awesome areas of both products sets you have come to know and rely on.
Over the coming months, we will be working around the clock to fine tune and unveil more detail on where we are headed, applying the same innovation and same commitment you’ve come to associate with the Ciboodler’s you know. And the more I tap into KANA’s employees’ ideas, passions, and aspirations for our company’s future, the more I realise that all of us agree, that our combined brand, KANA, will continue to stand firmly behind all of the qualities that you trust us to be:
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.