Archive

Archive for the ‘Contact Center’ Category

There is a Big Difference Between Can’t and Won’t

July 18, 2013 3 comments

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 🙂

Thoughts?

 

Context Integration, the Future of System to System Interactions

April 22, 2013 1 comment

Context integration is the future of system to system interaction. By prioritizing relevance, customer needs and jobs-to-be-done, context is the reason to operationalize big data.

Definition: Context integration is the instantaneous combination of information and process integrated at a point in time, location, to the right person, on the right channel and on the right device.

During the past 20+ years, the way in which system and/or application integrations have been conceptualized has not really changed all that much. Sure, it is possible that I am being overly simplistic, but up until now, there have been only two types of integrations process and data. Yes, the protocols have changed, APIs, REST, SOAP – pick the acronym, and designs changes (spoke and hub, point-to-point, bus,etc.,..). However, what is often assumed is that a person will make the determination as to why a particular data element is on a screen, or not. Now, there is too much data, too much information it is time to refine the process.

Data Integration

Data movement in one direction is the easiest (not always easy, mind you) type of integration. Yes, there are nuances, but overlooking these nuances puts the complexity on the low end of the spectrum. One directional data integrations are typically read-only (or a copy). For example, taking data out of an operational system and putting it into a reporting system (I am not talking about transforms just yet). If you desire the data more quickly, say real-time, slide the complexity to the right a bit. Want to be able to write/update and have this reflected in the source system; bidirectional, slide the scale bunch more to the right.

Action item: we need to progress from data integration to information integration, there is too much data, people need information.

Process Integration

Process integration often require detailed use cases, user scenarios and can often be quite complicated. Process integration is best described by old school triggers. Something happens in system A, but the users on System B need to be both alerted, they need to do something and hey need to know what to do. Too often, this type of integration ‘channel jumps’ and the recipient receives an email, text or page in order to go take some action, in some other core system. These types of integrations take place in everything from sales, to support, operations and marketing, as well as everything in between.

Similar to the data integration conversation, when it is one direction and the originating system does not need to be notified upon completion, complexity is reduced. Now, if there are multiple process flows in the secondary system, and each is complex and the originating system needs to be aware at each stage (think credit check, for example), slide the complexity scale a bit to the right some more.

Action item: We need to move beyond the task list of things to do, to being told what to do, how to do it and when to do – why? only if asked.

What does Context Integration Look Like?

As stated above, context integration is information plus process, it is real-time, but may or may not be bidirectional. What I mean is that communication is bidirectional, but it might not be operating on the same data. Delivering the right information to the right person at the right time is hard, just start by sliding the scale way way to the right. For starters, there is now a third system involved within each integration scenario, the analytics engine. Breaking it down further:

  • Information equates to ‘what’,
  • Process equates to ‘where’ and ‘how’;
  • Context equates to ‘why’, as-in ‘why is this important to me, now’?

In order to accomplish this feat, we need more insight. We need to spend a bit of time translating data into information, processes into specific tasks and actions and help the user to understand why something is displayed or being done. In a very real way, right time information may also be considered to be proactive, as expectations are low in this area, but changing rapidly.

The two primary systems and their users need intelligence, something that has been done by humans, until now. The possibilities are awesome, the complexity enormous, the risks, very real. The intelligence comes from the aggregation of social data, combined with filtering, analysis and direct (ie predictive) insights. The salesperson wants more than just new information, he/she wants the question they forgot to ask – don’t only tell me something new, suggest what I should do.

The following are just some quick ideas, there are so many more and if you would be willing to add your own, I would appreciate it!

Example – Sales

  • Data – The CRM (SFA) application has a copy of purchase and/or case history, maybe event data, purchase history and company financial information

  • Process – The Marketing Automation System responds to a visit by a lead to landing page a task is created to make a call or send an email

  • Context – The intelligence platform creates a set of tasks, based up information from Linkedin (say through InsideView integration) that certain people are active on Linkedin and have changed jobs, company purchase history and trends are used to suggest tone of message and 3 independent tasks are created. If the CRM system notes the user is accessing information on an iPhone, the tasks are delayed a few hours, as the emails and tasks are better done on a larger screen. Tasks and reminders are created and scheduled.

Example – Service (Customer Support)

  • Data – The Contact Center has account service history, household purchase history, number of claims displayed on the screen (or a couple clicks away).

  • Process – Add to the above, notifications of device recalls, health alerts, community posts, credit checks, invoice verification, payment verification, (think billing and finance).

  • Context – In financial services, think fraud alert. For example a user social check-in in New York and credit card use in Paris. In travel, make agents aware of weather or flight delays, tell client new flights are booked. Help systems should be product and location aware as well as being proactive.

Example – Customer (Me)

(There are too many customer examples to count, feel free to add your own)

  • Data – Give me access to my account information through a portal or smart device

  • Process – Notify me of potential fraud, account balance issues, credit issues, ask and wait for response. If an application is incomplete, point me to the place to complete it. If a doctor or hospital is too busy ask me if I want to reschedule.

  • Context – Notify me of weather on my travel route, give me options: car; a new route, plane; a special number or email address, finance; tell me my bank account is low before the rent check is due. Tell me to watch out for an issue, before I have it – the customer side of proactive support.

The Front Line

October 10, 2012 2 comments

Every Tuesday evening (9 pm EST) a group of people get together on Twitter to discuss Customer Service. You could call it a Tweet Chat, Twitter Jam or a Virtual Water Cooler. The Hashtag; the way in which participants can both filter out noise and denote participation is #custserv. I do not participate every Tuesday, but try and listen in and join in when the timing works and have been doing so for quite a while. The focus last night was on front line agents. The chats are archived, diligently by Marsha Collier, here. but just to share some quick stats regarding last night (October 9, 2012); 95 participants (give or take) and my absolute favorite zero links, in the >750 messages exchanged.

But, how much can actually be shared in 140 characters? Do people simply ‘talk’ and not listen? Everyone has their own approach some topic are more spirited than others, that is for sure. Some people represent big business, some medium, some one person solopreneurs; some consultants, authors, speakers, vendors and practitioners. The egos are checked at the ‘door’ everyone has an opinion that matters. To answer my first question, yes, quite a lot can be shared in 140 characters, it does amaze me sometimes. Of course, there is the occasional ‘sound bite’ but those are becoming more rare.

OK, so how important IS the Front Line Service Person?

As I stated, the topic was regarding front line agents – my quick response to this was “Frontline is an attitude, not a person”. Moving beyond the soundbite, there is a series of subtopics which arise and can be discussed. When I said it, what I was thinking about was actually a bit of a technical spin, but even then there is so much more. The topic of the human element is very important and I will leave that to experts like Kate Nasser – check her work, it is time well spent. However, increasingly, the front line of your organization is technical – sometimes guided by humans, sometimes not. While I do not want to conjure images of battles, the front line of modern warfare is almost all electronic, with human input and intelligence playing a supporting role.

(No, I do not want you to consider doing battle with your customers – I was just making a point. Do a Google search for Front Line, I dare you)

Yes, each bit of technology should be carefully vetted, reviewed, scrutinized and checked again before deployment; but technology as the most likely front line agent is highly likely. From static websites, to FAQs and videos to knowledge bases and Integrated Voice Response systems and automatic email replies and avatar type text chats, non-humans are the only way many businesses are going to be able to scale. Because, in the end, businesses are there to make money. It is a tough, competitive, world out there and every chance they get to be more efficient will be taken.

Is this about Customer Service, Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction or Social CRM – Yes!

Service to Customers needs to be more than just words

September 25, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Any Thoughts?

(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)

One Week In, KANA Plus Ciboodle.

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.

Prologue

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.”

Action Items:

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).

Personality

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

Let The Vision Unfold.

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:

Forward thinking
Honest
Tireless
Fiercely responsible
Diligent
And fun.

Stay tuned…

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.

Is Social Process really Digital Interaction Process?

You can run, hide, duck, turn, cover your eyes, plug your ears, maybe then you will have successfully avoided hearing, seeing or otherwise experiencing the Facebook IPO. I sometimes; no, quite often, wonder what the fascination is all about. What exactly has changed? What is really different? Is it that Everything simply happens faster. Yes that is one part, I suppose. I am not sure that is always good though. When presented with the opportunity to put our foot in our mouth, we see it as an opportunity not to be missed and take full advantage.  We share (Tweet, Post, Email) without thinking, only now it is more permanent (Google never forgets). This raises the question, what role are these ‘social’ channels in customer service?

The words we grew up with, now mean different things; Social, Engagement and Mobile, new context, new meaning. Think about it, when we were young(er) a ‘Social Engagement’ that was ‘Mobile’ could have easily meant a dinner party on a boat. A set of recent articles also suggests highlighting the importance of human social interactions to our well-being (HBR). Things do happen faster and some of it is social, some is just not – how can a company understand what is social, where does customer service really fit in, what is not and respond accordingly…at scale?

Introducing my Version of the Digital Interaction Process

I had the opportunity to co-present with Steven Thurlow, (our very smart CTO) to a small and engaged audience on Thursday. The topic was Social Customer Service. It was largely based on recent research done with thinkJar we shared the findings and went a little beyond as well. We took the opportunity to poll the audience, always wanting to learn. Guess what, the phone and email are still still ranked as the most important customer service channels. Surprised? I was not to be frank.

Near the end of the presentation, I shared the diagram below and talked people through it.

First, before I discuss it, I need to give credit where credit is due. My own thinking was (and is) influenced by conversations with Brian Vellmure and Esteban Kolsky. In my opinion social is a way of being and acting. According to many current discussions, one cannot be social be without digital (yeah, I know, not quite true). If I send a DM (Direct Message) on Twitter, is that social? If I message you on Facebook, is that social? Any more than an email, phone call or heaven forbid knocking on your door? Getting to the diagram; on the left is ‘Social’ and public, on the right is ‘Engaged’ and private (1 to 1, you and me).

The influence that Brian had on this was to remind me that what everyone is calling ‘Social’ is really digital. Once the conversation is taken private (DM, SMS, Email, Kiosk) it is no longer ‘Social’, until one side or the other decides to bring it back into the public realm (vent, complaint, review, kudos). The influence Esteban had was that in a way, you could overlay his infinity diagram (here) on top of this as the processes are continuous. On the left is the outside world, on the right is the inside world. If you get the stuff on the right working, then the stuff on the left is positive and good. Conversely, well, I probably do not even need to say it. Each side is a closed loop in its own right, but connected to the other side – a continuum of sorts.

A note on overused words. I have many words listed within the diagram many are over used within industry publications, blogs and articles on social media. often they are not only misused but only industry insiders are the only ones who care about them and pick them apart. There is a need, however, to be clear when they add value. For example, I put in there the word ‘engagement’. I am actually not a big fan of the word, but it makes sense in this context because it says ‘one person interacting with another in a way to adds the intent, context and a personal touch’. If Engagement is used to describe the activities on the left side, I think that is where it is misused. Yes, I know a presenter or Marketeer wants to engage their audience, elicit a response…another day.

Silos

There, the other word that everyone loves to hate. We all want to break down the walls, remove the divisions between departments, make sure everyone has all the data. OK, I got it, thanks for the advice (I live in Vermont, the livestock would have nothing to eat during winter without silos, but I digress). How exactly should I accomplish this goal? Does marketing need the invoice history? Does the product team need to know there is a billing dispute? Each team should focus on that person they are working to create value with and for. Spend time working to understand what they need and what you can offer. They might be a customer, they might be a prospect, influencer or partner. The key point is that they are a person first. What I mean by engage is to speak with this person at a human level. This by the way is the influence of Paul Greenberg, check his post on Engagement Here is a quote:

” The social customer is no longer a customer to gawk at, just a customer to deal with – like any other customer, with one explicit difference. He/she scales. Meaning they know how to impact other customers on a large scale who are “like them” in interests, and use the social channels that are not controlled by the company to do so.” – Paul Greenberg

In my follow-up, I suggested that:

“If Social CRM is about a companies programmatic response, then engagement on the customer’s terms defines the format of the response. Therefore, Social CRM is different for every type of business. In order for it to work, both sides need to mature and be willing to invest emotionally and intellectually.”

What I believe the diagram does is to dissect the issue and puts it back together. I try to illustrate the point that we are shifting from a focus of trying to control the left, to working with the person on the left. Talk to that person, interact with them at a person to person level, be human and be humane. If you want to call this Social CRM, maybe it is, if it is not Social CRM to you, then no worries – it is what it is. The key point is that the strongest bridge between your company and customers (past, present and future) are people. If you try to talk to everyone, worse, at everyone, then you are just broadcasting. As the number of people who choose alternate digital channels increases, it is only going to get harder…

What do you think, am I close?

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.

stats for wordpress

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!