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Evolution of the Contact Center

June 13, 2012 2 comments

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

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


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

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

People

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

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

Process

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

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

Technology

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

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

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

Governance

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

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

Metrics

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

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

Approach

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

Is it possible to put it all together?

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

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?

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!

How I Think About Things

April 24, 2012 12 comments

I am not trying to define, nor redefine – been there done that. What I am doing is to simply share how I think about things.

Customer Engagement

Customer Engagement is the extent to which an organization commits, both emotionally and intellectually, to communicating and interacting with their customers, relative to accomplishing shared goals driven by customer need. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of interaction and ownership where the company wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of the customer.

Customer Relationship (Management)

Customer Relationship (Management) is the proper balance of people, process and technology; practice and strategy required to meet the customer centric goals and objectives of your business. It needs to provide all business stakeholders the data, information and insights regarding current, past and future customers (people) and the ability to interact, inform and engage (see above) with these same people.  

If you are interested in what led me to this, feel free to watch a short video with Paul Greenberg, and my detailed thoughts based on the video interview. What are your thoughts? To keep things balanced, should there be another word between ‘Customer’ and ‘Engagement’? Maybe Centric, Focused, Service?

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:

Cues, Signals and Understanding

February 28, 2012 5 comments

The intersection of, Customer Service and Social CRM is about being human, listening for signals and watching for cues. The secret sauce is understanding what you have observed and acting accordingly. On the one hand, you could call this a lesson in Social CRM, while on the other hand, you could call this being human 101.

It is a bit like being married – as any man will tell you, the spousal response  “I am fine” means anything but that! It is not the words, but the context, which supports my key point, cues; verbal and non-verbal add context. The ability to understand the cues and act upon them is the difference between a good and poor experience (or sleeping on the sofa). In the world of contact centers and customer service, it is the difference between good and bad customer experience.  As an aside, ‘acting’ upon something can easily be doing nothing.

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article that illustrated the point quite well. The setting is a restaurant, the ‘Agents’ are waiters and waitresses and the patrons are, well, customers. There are some spot on reflections of a service experience, which serve as examples examples:

  • Timing: The time of dining and/or dress might suggest that dining is not the main event.
  • Guests: Kids at the table might suggest that speed up the service and give the dessert menu to mom.
  • Drinks: A request for the wine menu suggests, not only that a drink is in order, but that the dining experience is might be more relaxed and casual.

Are these meant to be rules? No, guidelines maybe, things to think about which can lead to a better overall experience. How does this, or can this help in the contact center? Is this only for small businesses, or large ones as well?

“Some restaurants still employ waiter scripts, but now they are being used to dig for guest information. At Romano’s Macaroni Grill, an Italian-themed chain, waiters are taught to use their scripted offer of house wine to find out if the table will want a fast, leisurely, or lively meal.”

Scripts, scripts, hmmm…

Rigid process versus guide and adapt, sounds familiar doesn’t it. Table dynamics suggests how the waiter should act, or react. In other words, how or how not to Engage the people at the table is a critical lesson to learn, quickly as well.  Given all of the talk of engagement, it is important to point out that choosing NOT to engage is an equally important possibility.

“We changed ‘suggestive selling’ to ‘situational selling,’ ” says Rene Zimmerman, senior director of training and development for Bob Evans Farms Inc., a family-style restaurant and food maker. Instead of offering every breakfast guest one additional item, say biscuits and gravy, waiters are taught to adjust their offer depending upon the guest. For a diner who places a lighter order, like a bagel and fruit, the waiter might suggest a cup of coffee or tea.”

Here are the lessons, from a restaurant we can learn:

  • Service is a differentiator
  • Scripts need to be dynamic
  • Upsell or Cross-Sell (or nothing) needs to depend up the cues
  • Value is more than just product, it is the whole of the experience

Why do I believe that this could be considered Social CRM? If we believe that Social CRM is the company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation, then it makes perfect sense. As I suggested recently, engagement is really at the behest of the customer. Choosing not to engage is an acceptable outcome, they just want a meal and to move on to their next activity. This is not a Marketing activity, this is mostly service, with a bit of sales.

One point I would like to leave you with is this: Until technology can truly simulate/accurately represent looking someone in the eye when you are talking to them, technology will be just that, technology. Physical cues are lost on the phone, we can only do our best to interpret. Verbal cues are lost through Email and Social Media (excluding YouTube of course).

What can else can we learn here?

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

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Best Practices for Social CRM?

February 13, 2012 13 comments

They do not exist. They will never exist. You do not need them.

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FC Expert Blogger Daniel W. Rasmus wrote a great article on Friday “5 Reasons Best Practices Suck ” the post was an easy read and definitely had an edge. Something the reader could really sink their teeth into. You see, the author uses a Vampire metaphor to make the point. In a way I am a bit jealous, as this is the type of post that needed to be written, one of those that you say – ‘I wish I could have written that’ – Well, I did not write it, but it struck a nerve on a number of fronts so I am going to use it as a launching point.

If we have learned anything during the past few years it is that the pace of change is absolutely ridiculous. No matter what part of the organization you are in, your ability to keep pace is challenged daily. If we can accept this as a truth, then there is uniquely one best practice that might stand a chance, how we adapt to change. Other than that, all other ‘Best Practices’ are simply roadblocks to success and excuses to remain irrelevant. The use within Social CRM is certainly not an exception here. The past couple years have been about experimentation, the data shows that to be a truth. It is not time to codify the experimentation and call it something it is not. It is time to refine it, adapt, learn and share the knowledge.

I am going to share a part of the post, cheating if you will, stealing part of the ending. Maybe a bit unfair, but you may choose to leave now and come back.

“Best Practice is a forensic science, an autopsy on a corpse. Learning is an activity of the living. Millions of good practices can co-exist and co-evolve. But there can only be one Best of Show, Best Record of the Year or Best Picture. And these never repeat. They are bound to the time of their making.”

Placing this into context, Social CRM is about your relationship with your customers.  It is about your communications, listening, internalizing and responding. Best practices are either about taking something someone else learned, with their customers, in another organization, at another time and making it gospel. Or, it is about taking what you have done, patting yourself on the back and writing it in stone, like an epitaph. Neither is going to work. Why? Because when the new device, new toy, new shiny object comes along, your customers are going to change, yet again.

“The Best Practice makes an organization feel a sense of accomplishment and closure. It gives it focal point for celebrating its hard work. But in a blink, entropy and pandemonium invade again. People can sense the real power: the dynamic, ever-changing flow of knowledge, just below the thin skin of codified policy and practice.”

Good practices do exist, they are needed and they can and should be shared. The successes and failures are important stories to be told. But, they are stories, there for you to pick out the pieces which make sense to you, your team and your organization. Don’t assume someone else knows best. Has anyone really been doing what you have longer than you have been doing it? Sure, some parts, of course. But all of it?

Interestingly, in doing some research recently with ThinkJar and my own team at Ciboodle what struck me is that companies looking to implement Social Customer Service had no practices from which to draw. They listened to their customers, internal teams and understood the vision of their own organization. Fortunately, for us all, the business side of Social is very young, so there has not been enough time for anyone to claim “Best Practices for Social CRM”

Vampires do not exist, they will never exist and they would suck the life right out of you (if they did exist).

(There, I said it. A personal objective for 2012 is to sharpen the tools a bit, and be a bit edgier.  It is time to let the inner New Yorker out and see the light of day.  I am hoping that my Klout score gets a boost.  <yeah right!> It is time to stop beating around the bush and get shit done.)

Passion is Contagious

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

This is a Guest Post by one Rachel Tait. I have the pleasure of working Rachel at Sword Ciboodle and her passion is contagious. Considering my previous post this seemed a natural to share with a wider audience (the Steelers part was almost a nonstarter :-). It is also interesting to note that we did ust open up new offices in Chicago, with nice view and Rachel made a side comment about the new view and feeling a bit inspired to finish this post – it can be the little things.

Steelers fans

Passion: “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate” (Dictionary.com).

So, if that’s passion then what comes with it? In my opinion: focus, learning, interest and continuous improvement. Passionate individuals and organizations never stop learning, and in terms of customers, your passionate ones are often those that are most loyal, most valuable and importantly most vocal across all communication channels.

I’ve got a long list of things that I’m passionate about. I don’t want to bore you but on there would be chocolate, wagamama (delicious noodle house in the UK… unfortunately not available in Chicago. Sad face), Scotland, NFL Football and of course marketing. On marketing, I’ve always been passionate about it and I like to think I always will be. I did it for 4 years at university, have worked in this field since graduation and everyday know that this is the job for me. I’m not saying there are days when marketing isn’t the top of my fav list – ask some of my colleagues in the Sword Ciboodle office, the stories they could tell! But to this day, I’ve never got home and started looking into how I change careers to become a dentist, carpenter or Shetland Pony Breeder. In fact, with my passion comes an interest in advancing my knowledge in marketing and supporting disciplines.

For organizations that want to make waves in their industry, and stand out as the best, one of the secrets is to get passionate about your customers, and make them get passionate about you. Care about how they get treated, learn about what they want, and then go out of your way to deliver it! Don’t just find out why they like you, find out why they love you. And when you know why they love you – make sure you’re delivering these products/services/traits to them, and others like them, in spades. It’s important that you don’t just run through the motions in a predefined script or process (yes Abercrombie and Fitch I’m looking at you…. the fact your sales associates follow me around asking if they can help me because they were told to do so whenever they see a customer is more than a little creepy, and annoying). Go beyond what is expected or required, show off your passion and theirs will follow.

If you can grow this passion within a small customer base, you will often find it grows exponentially as beyond anything passion is infectious. Just look at sports fans! As a proud supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m never more passionate, loud and proud than when surrounded by my other Black and Gold brethren. And when I say surrounded, that’s not only when watch games but also in groups online. I recently joined www.32loud.com which is a website which welcomes fans from all of the NFL’s 32 teams, and I joined because they are targeting those that are vocal to be part of their online community. They got to me via a facebook group for Steelers fans based in Chicago, which has 400+ fans who post on the ups and downs of the Steelers on a daily if not hourly basis. So what made me join? They locked into my passion. They have a leaderboard on the website, which ranks the teams in terms of number of members, number of posts, number of likes etc. Can’t have the Bengals or Ravens out doing my boys so I got onboard and ‘got loud’.

Like 32loud, find passionate voices out there, and let them know you’re not only listening to them but taking on their comments. Log into your company facebook, hold interactive focus groups, hey stand outside with a sandwich board speaking to people if that works for you! Just do something, as passion isn’t something you can just say you are and that’s that. It requires action, and not just one off action, but continuous action. Anything less is just lip service.

I know it’s not as simple as just getting it done, and many ‘ducks need to be in a row’ for this to happen – including people, technology, budgets etc. However, without a vision, and a commitment to achieving that vision, the norm will remain just that – normal, beige, ‘just ok’. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many examples of cutting edge companies that are ‘just ok’….. and for Rachel Tait.com, marketing extraordinaire to the stars, just ok isn’t an option….

Mirror Images – Customer Experience versus Employee Experience

January 21, 2012 2 comments

In my first Mirror Images post, I referred to Social CRM as a “A complex overlay” on top of customer service, customer relationships and the supporting strategy, technology and processes. If we can accept this, that Social CRM is an overlay, then we should be able to agree that it does mirror Social business (or Enterprise 2.0), as Social Business is also an overlay on top of many standard business practices and concepts. Diving deeper to a more definitive concept; is employee experience the mirror of customer experience? Unfortunately, most people who talk/write on the topic of ‘experience’ focus on the customer aspect and neglect the employee experience; the literature therefore is not as extensive.  In this area, topics typically include empowerment, engagement, and satisfaction. There is very little that directly talks to employee experience, after all it is just a job, right – no, wrong. Moving forward, this is going to have to change.

Your own Marketing team is working very hard to enhance the customer experience, hoping to take advantage of what mobile and tablet devices have to offer (Cool UI) to build stronger relationships with people (customers and prospective customers). But, let’s not forget that before you drove into work this morning, you were a consumer, using these devices and you were the target of these efforts, by some other company. The number of connected TV sales is expected to double in 2012, these same people are highly likely to have an Xbox, an iPod, Kindle, KindleFire or some other next generation device. Now, you are sitting in front of screen, your team is sitting in front of an even bigger screen, maybe with a headset connected and they are using circa 1990’s technology to help your customers. What gives?

Think about it, all of this effort which is customer facing and your internal teams are frankly having a lousy experience. Can we gamify work a bit, to make it more fun? Or is that pandering to misaligned expectations of a certain employee type or demographic? As a did in my previous post,  I turned to friend for some help and insight. I asked the question to Mark Tamis and we had a bit of an electronic conversation or Socratic debate. My going in position is the better employee experience will lead to a better customer experience, as this is the logical answer. But, as Mark points out, it is not that simple.

Does better user (employee) experience lead to better customer experience?

MT: First of all, I believe the question leads to trying to compare apples to pears.

ML: That is better than apples to oranges, no?

MT: French expression badly translated

MT: The customer has gone through a journey and his experience has been shaped by interactions at every touch point (dealing with your company, in-store experience, exchanging with friends, family and peers and so on), whereas the employee experience is shaped the interactions with colleagues, suppliers, systems and – only at very precise touch points – clients. So although the customer and the employee are intimately linked, they are not on the same journey.

ML: Valid point, but at that critical point where the journeys intersect will define many things and likely be more impactful to the customer. We have both been known to say that the experience perceived is more important than the intended design. Like most of life we spend most of the time learning and preparing for those moments where we have to act. While not on the same journey, the journey’s are linked and aligned.

MT: By the very nature of company-customer relations, the employee journey is sub altered to the customer journey which leads to the chicken and the egg problem of when a negative customer experience is taken out on an employee who is not able to or not empowered to do anything about it, which in turn leads to a negative employee experience that negatively influences the way the employee deals with the following customer et cetera.

ML: Very interesting, and I agree that the employee experience impacted by the customer experience and journey. I will suggest that the employee would only partially hold his own organization accountable for the treatment by the customer, unless it is a trend, and they are not empowered to do anything about it. While valid, employees should be able move beyond this type of reaction.

MT: Partially, but up to which point? Either stop trying to fight it and become demotivated, go on a crusade and risk being shot down, or simply…leave.

MT: Breaking this vicious circle consists of first by understanding the customer’s journey and coordinating efforts to improve it and second by providing the employees with the infrastructure (data, insight, tools and processes) and conditions (work conditions, a company culture that facilitates collaboration) to do so. Ultimately it comes down to reducing frictions (for the customer and for employees) to help the customer in his job to be done and reach the desired outcomes.

ML: Who is responsible and accountable for removing the fractions? It must be on the employee side, management etcetera, driving for a positive employee experience.

Mark, great stuff and I do appreciate your time and thoughts. I believe we are mostly aligned, though I will admit it is bigger and more complex than I had originally thought. The two journeys are different but it is those all important intersections where things happen. The key question is what will the state of mind (on each side) be at those points? Business units and IT departments will need to invest more in the design of services, for the internal customer. The expectations by everyone; not just the younger or Millenial crowd, are higher, and need to align with customer expectations. In order for a true person to person relationship to be established, experience must be aligned on both sides of the firewall. This is clearly not all about technology (yes, I do work for a technology vendor) but at the same time, technology is a huge part of the equation, there is no getting past that point. For contact center agents, their experience is critically important, and I believe there is a connection to customer experience – a big one.

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.