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From the Long Tail to the New Normal

March 26, 2012 6 comments

In this next installment of my ‘connect the dots’ series I am going out on a bit of a limb. My objective here is to help people understand the importance of ‘New Normal’, in writing this I have a better sense of it myself. Working backwards, the ‘New Normal’ is very similar in concept to what Seth Godin calls “Weird”. The best way for me to describe ‘Weird’ is that it is the rest of the story, left out in most Long Tail discussions. The Long Tail, as discussed by Chris Anderson, talks about the outliers, the ones who live and purchase at the edges of the spectrum. In other words, the Long Tail does not talk too much about the rest of the distribution, at least not from the customer-centric perspective. While I have heard New Normal used before, I have not seen many illustrations of what it might look like (other than teenagers walking down the street texting from a mobile phone).

The value of the diagram is to illustrate to others, using specific examples and to talk about the ‘New Normal’, moving beyond buzzwords or hyperbole.

The New Normal has been and can be used to understand many of the changes and challenges many people have been talking about for a while now. Ideas such as; The Social Customer, The Collaborative Organization, Social CRM, Social Business  and more might be better understood with a simple illustration.  Think about the distribution of communication channels used 5 years ago, versus now. We simply have more choices. This is not only about customer communications, think about the ways in which you communicate with your peers now, versus 5 years ago. Would it be interesting to chart some this with your own data?

What exactly is ‘New’ about the New Normal

When applied to a business context, the bell curve is being ‘flattened’.  While Chris Anderson and peers talked about Amazon and Netflix –this is now about your products, services and your customers. The long tail is now the ‘tail wagging the dog’. Let’s bring this a little closer to home; the customer journey. What follows is an objective view, with some sweeping assumptions and data without research data as the foundation. For the purists among you, I am focused on the journey and channels of communication, not the product economics of weird, nor long tail.

Consider the number of modes of communication that a customer used from evaluation to purchase for your product 10 years ago (If you did not have a product 10 years ago, think of your own journey). There might have been a Yahoo search, then a phone call. Maybe an email and a website visit. For the sake of this conversation, let’s speculate that the number of channels used averaged 3 and for 70% of the customers they used between 2 and 4 channels. The rest likely used between 1 and 5 channels. This brings us really close to a pretty, normal distribution, though slightly narrow and steep.

How about today? What would the number of channels look like for the same (or similar) product purchase journey? Again, not scientific, but the data is likely available for your business – Could we guess average of 4 channels? This is just one channel more, on average, but it changes the game. Based on the flattening of the curve, to get to that 70% of your customer base it is likely something like “70% of the customers use between 2 and 7 channels; a pretty big range, not as simple as it used to be. The key point here is that you need to dig in deeper and understand what they are doing on each channel. How many channels would we need to include to get to 95% of your customer population (the -2σ to 2σ in the illustration above)?

The important part of the flattening is not only the reduction in the middle, it is the increase on the edges. I want to be clear on a few things. The new Normal for your customers is dependent upon where they have been. The pace of change is determined by you and your customers, not by a consultant or analyst. Just for fun, if you want to see a Normal distribution in action, take a look at this graphic of the snow in Vermont, as it careens off the bell curve in 2012.  All I can say is, I hope this does not represent the ‘New Normal’. There is a whole lot more to this story – just think about it. As always, the time Sword Ciboodle allows me to think through these concepts is greatly appreciated!

Sources:

Mirror Images

January 17, 2012 1 comment

For a some time, I have been watching, reading, discussing and doing my best to understand the very broad field of customer service, customer relationships and the supporting strategy, technology and processes which go along with each discipline. Along the way, Social CRM – a complex overlay on all of the above, has become everything from a hot topic to nothing more than part of buzzword bingo and back again. At the same time I have also been trying to keep tabs on Enterprise 2.0, Social Business and Collaboration (not Emergent). Going back and reading my own early thoughts here I can see that in some ways my own thinking has changed, but in many ways it has simply matured. I have been saying for a fairly long time that Social CRM and Entperprise 2.0 are closely linked. In September 2009 I said it here and here. I am not patting myself on the back here, more being self critical. I said this 2.5 years ago and frankly we have not come very far.

This line of thinking have caused the following questions to nag at me a bit:

  • Does better agent (employee) engagement lead to better customer engagement?
  • Does better employee satisfaction lead to better customer satisfaction?
  • Does better user (employee) experience lead to better customer experience?
  • Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?

Taking a bit of a leap from where my own thinking was a couple years ago to now considering how many elements need to be, or are essentially mirror images between inside and outside the organization. I am not going to be able to tackle all the questions in a single post. As any good learner does, I asked a few friends for some help.

Does better employee satisfaction lead to better customer satisfaction? Mark Walton-Hayfield of CSC had this to say (BTW – congrats to Mark and all of CSC on the Paul G Watchlist Review!):

“In summary YES! However, you need to make sure that people are empowered and that businesses deliver on their promises to customers too.

People who are encouraged to make decisions by themselves at work and who have the authority to solve problems with the outcome of keeping customers happy are generally more satisfied with their job than employees who need to seek out a manager for approval. Business owners who empower their employees tend to have both a lower staff turnover and higher customer satisfaction levels too.

A core tenant of modern leadership thinking is that you need to make people (at all levels) understand why they are being asked to do something and the part that they play in the bigger picture. By leading people through great communications which encourage motivation and with empowerment designed into the operating model you are creating an environment within which people can be proud and satisfied in the work that they do. For those people who are customer facing (and even those who are not) this will most likely translate and spill over into better relationships with customers. These customers will perceive that the representatives of the company are going the extra mile (and they probably are) and so over time this will improve customer satisfaction.

However, this comes with a warning – ensure that you have delivered upon your original promises to your customers and that you are responding to them in an effective manner on those occasions when you are not”

Mark Walton-Hayfield | Social Business Strategist | CSC | MarkW_H

I happen to agree with Mark’s thoughts, it makes logical sense, but why does it seem so difficult to carry out in practice? For commoditized products and services, where low cost is the differentiator, this might be very difficult to carry out, no? This is not a disagreement with Mark, more of an expansion of his thoughts.
Moving on to some other tough question, I posed the following to Laurence Buchanan of CapGemini (Also a CRM Watchlist winner): “Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?” In hindsight, this was a bit of a leading question, isn’t it? In a way it is playing with buzzwords.

“Customers have always been social. For as long as trade and commerce has been around, customers have spoken to each other about good deals and warned each other of rip-off scams. But when we think of a social customer today we use the term to describe a customer who is a) connected to people and information via digital channels and social networks and b) someone who leverages that connectivity and information in their relationships with vendors and other consumers. For example, a customer who is connected to a network like Tripadvisor might use information from that social network to influence their choice of holiday as well to influence others in their network through their own contributions. The motivation of a social customer will vary greatly and may include simply getting a better deal, building up trust and respect from peers, or naming and shaming a poor product or service.

Employees have always been collaborative. Ok, perhaps not as collaborative as they could be (!), but we have always had to work with others to get the job done. The collaborative employee mirrors some of the traits above. Although the networks might be different, the collaborative employee is certainly connected to people (e.g. other employees, suppliers, customers…) and to information. In addition, the collaborative employee leverages that connectivity to help them work more effectively (e.g. breaking down internal silos), to build relationships or to build their profile within the enterprise.

However, the boundaries between the social customer and the collaborative employee are increasingly blurred and increasingly irrelevant. People play multiple roles in their daily lives (consumer, employee, supplier), information (and transparency) now flows much faster inside and outside an organisation and networks are increasingly interlinked. More and more it will be harder to separate the social customer from the collaborative employee.”

Laurence Buchanan | Principal, Digital Transformation | CapGemini | buchanla

Sharing the wealth a bit, I asked Prem Kumar of Cognizant the same question as Laurence, “Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?

“If you recollect the concepts in the book reorganizing for a resilient organization, orgs (organizations) need to have people with specializations, areas where they have high efficiencies, areas which could be highly routine and monotonous. There is not much need to take decisions, and even if any, they would happen with in a predefined scope, options. This is what brings the scalability, the industrial scale. Collaboration happens at a minimum in these organizations, especially between people who need to make decisions on non routine issues. These are the people who have been empowered to take decisions.

One of the reasons for this collaboration that Ranjay mentions in his book is innovation, to meet the demands of the evolving customer. I do not remember if he talks about customer support, but here is again an area where you need to take decisions as well as collaborate with various dungeons in the org. ‘Responsiveness’ is the key reason for collaboration I guess. That means responding, at speed.

Now cut to the era of the social customer as he is right now. What he asks is public knowledge, so add the PR angle if there was not enough pressure on being responsive already. No wonder you need to be even more connected, at speed. Collaboration has been clamoring for attention for a few decades now, but now it has become inimitable, unignorable.

Collaboration is no longer a motivating factor to do better, it is now a hygiene factor; you stay healthy if you do it, else you fall sick. It is not doing pilates, it is eating good healthy food. Which means, it’s not about putting extra efforts, it’s about changing our habits, or mind frame for the better.”

Prem Kumar | Strategist | Cognizant | Prem_k

I really like that last point by Prem, collaboration is now a hygiene factor, it is a requirement to doing business. This is actually one difference, where the characteristics are not mirrored. Customers do not need to be social in order to be customers. But, social customers do require the internal organizations to be collaborative. All that is left to tackle are the remaining two simple questions.

Links provided from Mark W-H

Engagement, Intent Driven Involvement

January 8, 2012 5 comments

Recently, friend Paul Greenberg penned a short post (ok, a not short, 2-part series very worth reading) where he talked about the end of one era transitioning to the beginning of a new one.  The points are sound. But, I would like to explore a different viewpoint, or maybe just add my own perspective.  I believe that when we look back in a few years, we will see that the transition is going to take a bit longer than we imagined it would (In other words, it is not “the End” but it is “Ending” slowly). I am not going to nit-pick on words, this, is not about that. I might even suggest to Paul that he consider updating a Wikipedia entry (more on that in a minute). I will say that a more meaningful mutual benefit can be achieved if each side is willing to give more, as the value exchange equation is always a bit one-sided.

What is really being described here is a maturity model; on BOTH sides of the equation, this is new. 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.  Since the customer will mature at his or her own pace, we <company> are often left to guess where they are along the maturation curve. It is also important that a distinction be made between engagement and involvement. For the sake of this discussion (ie, no primary research references) I will draw the distinction along a continuum, where involvement occurs first and then by the addition of an emotional element engagement happens. Engagement is a deeper level of involvement, by being ongoing (As Paul notes) or emotional, possibly even intent driven.

A Bit of Research

Looking at Wikipedia as a starting point, as I remembered friend Prem Kumar referencing Employee Engagement in a post a while back. The Employee engagement Wikipedia entry is rather nice, while the Customer version is utter crap.

First the Customer side:

“Customer engagement (CE) refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.”

Feel free to look for yourself. It misses the mark totally.  Friend Graham Hill had some thoughts on the topic as well –  Graham challenges the Inside-out marketing team only approach, and I agree. That said, what if the customer is able to define (control, augment) the rules of engagement, then maybe something has changed in the past 5 years, no? Conclusion; the maturation of the Social part of CRM part of the equation is to carefully manage actual engagement. Actual engagement is an actual bi-directional conversational flow/dynamic, input and involvement.

What if we tried to adapt the Employee engagement model for the customer? There would need to be some very obvious changes, but it is a much better place to start – and if after you take a look at this and then take another look at Paul’s post, you can see he is onto something. Take a look at the below and think about whether it is possible to alter some of the words, replace a few and begin to change the poor Customer Engagement definition above.

“Employee Engagement is the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of ownership where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole.”

Employee Engagement impacts Customer Experience

There are lots of people writing about engagement, a term that is becoming as nebulous as social itself; but at least there is some history to work with here. Respected analyst/researcher Bruce Temkin has published a report regarding Employee Engagement as well. Bruce has spent many years thinking about Customer Experience. In the report, he draws a strong link between Employee Engagement and Customer Experience:

“The analysis uncovers a strong connection between employee engagement and customer experience as well as between employee engagement and productivity.”

Great, but…Where is the link between Employee Engagement and Customer Engagement? Does strong Customer Engagement lead to a more positive Customer Experience? I am not going to speak for Bruce, but I am going to hazard a guess that the link is not there because Customer Engagement is nebulous at best and as I have stated very poorly defined with competing agendas. Employees have, in theory, a specific mission: do a job and help the company grow, right? According to Gallup, 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, compared to 11% of the disengaged. There is also a direct link to the bottom line according to research.

In the end, being Social is about being human. Social Media and Networking are really just new channels that we are all trying to figure out how to use a bit better. ie. How can we be as human as possible using electronic means. The technology is new, we are just trying to figure it out. As we become better at the usage of the channel, then we can move from demands to requests, from hyperconnectivity to right connectivity and from being social to being engaging. Engagement in this context is not like the picture above, because it can end at any time, quite easily. While technology is only a part, it is still an important part.

The Contact Center of the Future

December 15, 2011 1 comment
  • The future of customer service is agility; the ability to adapt to the changing needs of your customers
  • The future of service excellence is differentiation, the ability to create personalized and engaging service experience
  • The future of service process is contextual optimization; the capability to coordinate and/or collaborate, internally, while staying focused on supporting customer jobs
  • The future of the service desktop is an intuitively designed, content rich, positive user experience
  • In the future (now actually) your team needs to provide a faster, superior, efficient service experience every day, to every customer on every channel

(Check out a video interview with Kate Leggett, Esteban Kolsky and a couple of Ciboodlers.)

A responsive organization is an integrated organization. The simple recipe here is 2 parts people 2 parts process and 1 part technology, all very important ingredients (after all what would fish be without the chips?). I am not convinced that an integrated organization equates to a social organization; but they are kissing cousins and my social business peers might be able to convince me if they believe it to be required. An integrated and coordinated organization are table stakes in order to service the ever more sophisticated, demanding and complex customer. Again, this might equate to be the social customer, that is TBD – but I do not want to get stuck on social this and that. For better or worse, each customer has the expectations of a preferred premium experience.

I started this post with the thought that I was to write a bit of a prediction post for 2012. Thus, it seemed natural to write about the Contact Center of the Future. But, I have two major struggles with the task at hand:

  1. In the Future, there will not be a ‘center’ there will be sets of roles logically aligned and systems physically connected; the people will be everywhere, the data here and there.
  2. The future will obviously include 2012, but it also includes 2013, 2014, etc.,… The point is that 2012 will be part of the journey, but not the endpoint (we are only scratching the surface).

A well-structured, modern contact center allows for the emphasis to be properly placed on helping and engaging with customers; past, present and future. With each type listed, your organization needs to show value and establish trust. The contact center of the future will allow agents to more easily add that human element to each interaction, fostering relationships, and pushing the needle in the right direction. No matter what needle you look at!

A Scenario

As I am writing this, at least in part, on Cyber Monday, I am of course influenced by the latest and greatest of tech toys. I am not yet a fan of 3D viewing in my home, but I suppose all it will take is one grand experience at a friends house and then I will be sold.  That of course got me thinking about how video will make its way into the contact center -err, communications hub, or customer service area. There will be a dedicated team for certain industries, where video will begin to make a big impact. Think business to business for auto-manufacturers or heavy equipment. As devices and technology get more complex, it will take better visualization techniques than we have currently to make things work.

Multi-channel and Cross-channel complexities go well beyond simply the scope of customer service, the contact center or marketing – these are company wide issues.

  • Fact: Customers expect to be able to make a purchase using a mobile device
  • Fact: Amazon allows anyone to scan a bar code in a physical store to compare a price
  • Fact: Displaying something in a store is more expensive than storing it in a warehouse
  • Fact: If you are planning to compete on price alone, you will lose

Here is the scenario

Customer A does some research on Google for a new television (the new 3D version I was talking about above). The customer notices that is available at the local Best Buy, around the corner. Since the new 3D glasses are involved, there is some hesitation to simply ‘pull the trigger’ online, as the glasses need the ‘will my wife actually wear these things’ question answered. Customer goes to the store, looks at the unit, tries the glasses on and begins to wander the store to ‘think things though’. Remembering the scanner application he downloaded last week, the customer scans the bar code sees that it is available at Amazon and also reads the reviews. The dilemma: The TV is available on Amazon for $200 less and it can be at the door in 2 days….

Amazon might be cheaper, but do they also have geek squad? Is Customer A confident that when he gets home he is able to mount the television on the wall, connect the wires to new fancy Dolby surround sound and internet devices. What will Amazon do when Customer A sends an email, rings the phone, looks for a forum or post the question on Twitter? Truth be told, I am not sure of those answers, but I do know that Best Buy has all of the these things as well as a contact center. I am not saying Amazon does not, I am just less familiar.

One final thought, the phone is part of the contact center of the future – just sayin’

Some other good folks who spend their days thinking about Customer Service, Contact Centers and the required technology share their thoughts regarding the Contact Center of the Future. Esteban Kolsky (thinkJar), Kate Leggett (Forrester), Steven Thurlow (CTO, Sword Ciboodle) give more than just an opinion on what is required to the needle forward.