Posts Tagged ‘Call Center’

Theory is Great; Solving Real Problems Rocks!

June 24, 2011 1 comment

Earlier this week Sword Ciboodle announced new relationship with Nicor National. We put out a press release (which is ‘old school’), and I challenged our new Public Relations team to dive a little deeper into Nicor National’s perspective regarding the selection process.  Despite being an ‘outside agency,’ I consider Liz and Anne an extension of our team, so it was time well spent as the begin just their second month with us. The rose to the challenge and spent some time with the customer!

Why is this exercise important? Well, let’s face it- press releases have their place, but we thought we could get a little more insight on what Nicor’s choice really means to them and their customers.  After we issued the official release, Liz sat down with Barbara Porter, Vice President of Customer Service and Business Development of Nicor National to have a candid Q&A.  The Questions below are direct from the conversation, my color commentary should be quite clear.


Q: Before deciding to engage with Sword Ciboodle, how did you manage your customer relationships?

A: We had multiple systems, about 10 or 11. It was just becoming far too complex to manage our interactions with our customers.

My POV: In talking with customers and doing industry research, companies are lumping these two problems together, when they can be separated. Many companies are deciding that the transactional and data parts of many systems are just fine. It is the user experience that is becoming harder and harder to manage.

Q: What was the moment that really signaled it was time for Nicor National to change?

A: Our processes just weren’t customer friendly anymore. It was difficult for both our reps and customers and once that became very apparent, we knew we needed toexplore other options.

My POV: Putting the customer’s needs at the center of an infrastructure change can be an uphill battle. The ROI can be difficult to measure – possible, but not easy. Doing right by the customer always makes sense – period.

Q: What made you decide to select Sword Ciboodle?

A: We actually met Sword Ciboodle at a conference. We realized quickly that the team had great experience in our industry and truly understood our business at ahigh level. That’s just as important to us as the technology.

My POV: It is refreshing to hear a comment like this – for one, that the world of Marketing cannot simply be solved only using “Inbound” approaches. Business still takes place between people, in person, where you can shake hands and discuss business over lunch.

Q: Are you exploring other methods of engaging customers such as through social media channels?

A: Yes! Our customers have been indicating they want this more and more, particularly to communicate with us in general, pay bills, check their status and other areas that help maintain their relationship with us. We currently use a system called Allegiance to create customer surveys, as well as receive direct feedback from customers. We are hearing more and more from them that they want social functionality.

My POV: This is fun to hear and interesting at the same time. Those of you who know me, well ‘commentary’ will simply not cut it. I will try to schedule more time with Ms. Porter and dig in a bit more on this one.

Q: Anything else you think people should know?

A: All along our focus has been to create a positive experience for both our staff and customers. The two go hand-in-hand. We know Sword Ciboodle is going to help us deliver on that commitment. Once the program is entirely rolled out and themultiple systems are gone, it’s going to be fabulous!

My POV: Serving Nicor National and its customers is especially going to be fun and interesting because this is an industry where it can often be tricky to deliver truly personalized customer service. We are looking forward to following their success…

Liz was kind enough to add the following POV as well “We love any opportunity to brag about our clients’ customer successes- particularly when it pertains making consumers’ lives easier. We hear customer service “horror stories” everyday, so it’s a pleasant change of pace when we get to examine companies who are ‘doing it right.'”

Here is a link to the ‘old school’ release. Will we continue to issue press releases? Yes, because there is still value in sending them out, people do read them – I am told.

Coordination, Collaboration and Co-operation; An Approach to Service Excellence

Customer service excellence is a core value of many customer service organizations, as it should be for yours. Service excellence is achieved by an almost harmonious dance between the people, processes and technological components. When asked, many simply say: “the team just gets it done”. My question is, ‘how’? My postulate is that this capability can be explained by the proper balance between coordination and collaboration, enabled by a co-operative desire.  Processes that are highly responsive to customer needs require complex data, knowledge management, sophisticated rules and cutting edge communication devices. But, in the end, it really comes down to how people (knowledge workers, customers, partners) react and respond to the environment around them. The systems need to work like they do, complexity hidden when possible.

I believe that with all of the talk, writing, and proselytizing on collaboration and activity streams the essence of where coordination fits into the customer service realm is being marginalized, or even lost. If a customer calls with a billing question, I should not need to collaborate in order to find the answer; I should just be able to either answer it, or pass it to someone who can, simple.  Therefore, I suggest that coordination is of at least equal importance and collaboration is required when coordination will not work. The objective of collaboration is not to collaborate, it needs to be results driven, the problem is collaboration is recursive, thus it takes time. To be clear, I am not suggesting no use for customer collaboration, I am suggesting a time and place for everything. There are instances, such as co-creation where coordination is secondary and that collaboration is critical.

Some Background

I felt it was important to do a bit of research, if only about definitions, to make sure that I personally understood the differences. I am not trying to go down the definition route, but it is not simply semantics either. The diagram above is my visual attempt at segmenting, but also highlighting the overlaps. But it does not tell the whole story, nor might it fit your tastes. Does it?. I simply believe that coordination needs to be considered first, ahead of collaboration, as I believe it to be a peer with collaboration with respect to customer service.

Coordination is the organization of the different elements of a complex body or activity so as to enable them to work together effectively (Google definition). I would add that ‘effective’ often translates in business terms to execution and efficient. When a situation occurs, I want my team to be coordinated, roles and responsibilities well defined and each person completely clear with respect to their actions. An interesting extension is that parts of co-operation make there way into the discussion, as often all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions.

Co-operation is the process of working or acting together, which can be accomplished by both intentional and non-intentional agents. In its simplest form it involves things working in harmony, side by side, while in its more complicated forms, it can involve something as complex as the inner workings of a human being or even the social patterns of a nation. (Wikipedia)

A quick summary thus far; Coordination is the ability and capability to work together, where co-operation is the willingness to work together – where does that leave collaboration?

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 endeavor that is creative in nature  — by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. (Wikipedia). I believe collaboration and co-operation are closely aligned, with emotional elements highlighting the differences.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, titled “Nice Guys Finish First”, columnist David Brooks stated the following:

“In pursuing our self-interested goals, we often have an incentive to repay kindness with kindness, so others will do us favors when we’re in need. We have an incentive to establish a reputation for niceness, so people will want to work with us. We have an incentive to work in teams, even against our short-term self-interest because cohesive groups thrive.”

The Takeaway

Many people smarter than I am have put a lot of thought into the goals and objectives of collaboration. It would seem obvious to state that there is a right way to collaborate, and there’s a wrong way to collaborate.  If teams lack a strong focus on the results of their efforts, then success will be very hard to measure. The objective of collaborating cannot be to collaborate – and hope is not a strategy. If the barriers to bringing in others to help you solve a problem seem too great, people simply will not stand for it, and will avoid it altogether.

It is always important to view the marketplace through the lens of your customers, advocates and partners. A company who truly understands and implements consistent, multi-channel, cross channel customer service experience has figured out how to manage the interdependence between predictable and unpredictable workflows. This is a coordinated approach to customer service excellence.

But what is the link? It goes beyond reacting to customer needs, to anticipating customer needs. The path to anticipation involves collaboration (knowledge and intelligence) but the response needs to be coordinated. If a customer contacts you with a serious problem, would you prefer to collaborate with others in the organization to figure out how to fix it, or would you prefer to have a coordinated effort in place, where the work sent work items to the right person to fix the problem? (Remember, collaboration is recursive).

Coordination enables the alignment of processes and related information around specific goals and objectives. In the case of customer service, the goals and objectives would be customer satisfaction, often driven by metrics customers care about, like first contact resolution (FCR) and time to resolution. The collaborative element is powered by the willingness of the team, ie co-operation and enablement. A quick note about resolution; customers who have an issue, problem or concern want to be heard and want issues resolved. Collaboration, by definition, will take longer than coordination, thus a coordinated approach is the objective. If this cannot be accomplished, yes, collaborate and figure out the answer!

More often than not, the resistance to coordination is that customers seem to be moving faster than an organization can adapt. There is the battle ground between coordination and collaboration; how can I coordination activities if I cannot anticipate and I do not know what is coming next?  It is important to note that in order for any of this to work, a common vocabulary needs to be put in place – this includes customers! If everyone is not talking the same language, the customers, no level of coordination or collaboration will be enough to save you! I gave some specifics around the alignment between Service, Sales and Marketing on this topic, at a recent talk in London.

An important source for this post was Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, By Ranjay Gulati. (link).  My goal was to give context specifically to customer service. Prem Kumar also has a nice post and accompanying slide deck which explores this issue from a different and important perspective.

These thoughts are an offshoot of topics I am exploring through a collaborative effort (pun?) with  Julie Hunt. The outcome of that effort is a white paper called “Focusing on the Total Customer Service Experience” –  Summary information here; if you would like a copy,  no registration forms, just an email to us,

Why do people think Twitter is a good Customer Service platform?

October 29, 2009 29 comments

Because Twitter helps customers solve problems and they can vent – there a simple answer. But, the current approach will not scale!

I believe the following statement to be true:

The need to broadcast a problem to the world would not be necessary if the customer had confidence that their issue would  be solved timely and to their satisfaction.

There are lots of and lots of good reasons to broadcast, this post is not about all those good reasons: Co-Creation, Innovation, Community, Collaboration, to name a few. This post is also not about Service Communities like Lithium and Helpstream, Parature and others. While not about them, they might be part of the solution.

Using Twitter for support masks a larger issue. Therefore I believe the following also to be true:

If your customers are trying to get your attention on Twitter to solve a specific ‘me only’ problem, your processes are either horribly inefficient, broken or you have product issues.

Twitter is not SocialCRM. Twitter is immediate gratification meets CRM

There are lots of companies who are taking the opportunity to try and make things right, by watching for issues on Twitter and helping those in need. Unfortunately, this also promotes bad behavior, let me paint a mental picture:

In order to get your cable box fixed you needed to go down to the local service provider office. It just so happens that you have your 5 yo daughter in tow. The drive is 20 minutes, you figure the line should not be too bad – ooops, wrong, you need to stand in line for an hour or more. While in line, after 1/2 hour the person who just came in the door starts to yell really loudly about poor service.

In the real world, we all know what would happen (or what should happen anyway). The person yelling would be asked to quiet down, or leave. This would be done nicely of course, but that is what would happen. Right? How do you suppose it would go over if after the second ‘rant’, the best technician in the company walked over and opened up a new station at the counter, and called that individual over, fixed their problem, then left? <rhetorical>

But, this is exactly what happens on Twitter, day in and day out. No scenario or metaphor can perfectly represent the Twitter scenario in real world. Are Twitter users playing the system or cheating the system? Or simply taking advantage?  I am aware of the United video (this fits into the broken category), as well as some really great uses of help and support, like Best Buy.

The Reality

Companies who are responding well are putting the best and brightest Customer Support people in the  role of Marketing and Support, and calling them Support. They have a direct line to anyone who can help solve your problem.  This will work for a while, maybe even a year or two – but then everyone will have the secret number – and we will yell and scream, but still be stuck in the queue. Support communities may very well help here – but not for all industries, company sizes or geographies.

The key is turning the data into information and turning the information into insights, then the insights into action. When this really gets mature 3-5 years, we will be able to predict – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As the Twitter user population grows as well as Facebook and others, the call center and help desk models will simply not be able to scale. Organizations use predictive models to determine staffing and there only so many ‘A’ players (the ones the vendors are using to filter and watch Twitter).

Take the opportunity to learn and figure out what is broken or wrong, and fix it. In order to learn, you need to put processes in place to learn. Am I wrong?