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Posts Tagged ‘contact center’

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?

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.

Is the Office of the CMO the Right Place to Drive Customer Engagement?

October 23, 2011 6 comments

Primary sourced research is valuable, adding one’s own interpretations (which I will) is the added benefit of blogging. The most recent IBM research “From Stretched to Strengthened – Insights from the Global Chief Marketing Officer Study” (URL) is a good read. Research based on CMO conversations is arguably meant for a CMOs. As usual, I found myself considering this from a different perspective. The question which kept popping into my head was whether the office of the CMO is the right place to drive the call to action suggested by the report. I am not it sure is, there, I said it. The CMO should be part of the team, but not the leader of the team. I believe that the research needs to be read by others within the organization as well.

The three imperatives identified by the report, in no particular order:

  • Deliver value to empowered customers;
  • Foster lasting connections;
  • Capture value, measure results.

Being brutally honest, I agree with the first, not so sure about the second; at least not in the way the company will make it happen. Finally, while I agree results need to be measured, I am not sure what “capturing value” is about (in this context). The message that keeps hitting the reader over the head is that CMOs are more than a bit nervous regarding the new, cool ‘socially’, stuff and are now concerned about the amount of data coming their way; because of all this new stuff. There is a bit of parroting going on as well, talking about engagement, but, in my opinion, not a clue how to actually do it.

Seasoned marketers are having a tough time understanding social media and are concerned with multi-channel initiatives (called channel choice,  just wait until they try to solve cross-channel) and are unprepared for shifting customer communication preferences. I suppose that I should not be too surprised by some of the findings, as the areas of concern are relatively new (3-5 years) and were not top down initiatives; they came either from the bottom up, or from customers themselves.

Some issues and concerns

While I do agree, strongly, with the following sentiment, this is going to be a struggle of monumental proportions to execute solely within the marketing organization:

“The most effective CMOs focus on getting to know individuals, not just markets. They mine new digital information sources. And they use customer analytics to turn data into insights on which their organizations can act.”

Traditionally, marketers look at markets, while Customer Service talk to customers (Figure 6 in the report proves the point). How do you convince a CMO who has “Data explosion” at the top of the list of concerns to speak with and listen to individual customers? Without a doubt, the more customers you connect with, the more insights that can be gleaned. But, that does of course mean a whole lot of data, no? Please, do not get me wrong this is critically important, but hard. The CMO cannot do it alone, nor should they try.

In the ‘Tough questions to consider’ area, I cannot help but to think that these are the exact same questions that customer service and multi-channel contact centers have been working to solve for the past 5-10 years (not that we are there yet):

  • How are you gearing your ‘teams’, programs and processes to understand individuals and not just markets?
  • Which tools and processes are you investing in to better understand and respond to what individual customers are saying and doing?
  • How do you safeguard your customers’ data and privacy in a multichannel, multi-device world?

Yes, the intersection of business process, CRM and contact centers is the future of customer experience. The umbrella term is Business Technology. These core elements are the center-piece of the contact center, now and in the future. The companies who get it will be sharing the responsibility of delivery, and there will be a person accountable for the results – not likely to be the CMO.

Does this map to earlier research?

An earlier IBM report, which I also wrote a post about (The Perception Gap), shows that many organizations are missing the point. “Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them”. It is clear to most people that talking is not the same as engaging. Here is what I think is not so clear, listening is NOT the same as engaging. Active listening maybe, proving you heard what was said (by actions and words), now that is engagement.

It begs the question: are the CMOs really the ones who are going to engage? If the objective is really about helping customers to enjoy the products and services they have just purchased and your desire is to collaborate and to co-create new products and services, is the CMO the right person (office) to lead this charge? I would say “No” because marketers are used to looking at markets, not engaging with individual customers. I am sure I will get a lot of flack for the blasphemous comments, but I ask you to consider it for a moment.

In the image to the right, the report suggests “Outperforming” organizations “invest more effort in capturing and using data to foster customer relationships”. Yes, the data does suggest that to be the case. However, they also invest more effort in Segmentation/targeting as well as Action/buy and I am hard pressed to see conclusive evidence suggesting which one of the investments is driving the success. Given what I like to talk about, write about and analyze, I would like nothing more than for the chart to prove a causal relationship. However, it does not answer to the needs of the customer either (this is an inside-out versus outside-in perspective).

The previous IBM research paints a different picture of what the customer wants (or at least what they say they want). Back to my core concern, do you trust the CMO to make the required changes to meet the customers where it will work?  If you are the CEO, are you driving the CMO in the right direction? Or, if you are the CMO, does it make more sense to get a bit closer to the contact center and work together to properly engage with the customers on their terms and offer the real value that they are looking for? (Too harsh?) It is always possible that my comments are also too myopic coming from the other direction, but I am not convinced that is the case.

Service Can and Should be Proactive – Social or Not

If there is data available, or simple process improvement that could easily elevate my service experience, as a consumer, why are companies not doing it? Telecommunications carriers are such easy targets that I hesitated to write this post. I can offer offer simple advice, as a practitioner, from both a process and technical perspective, so maybe, just may they will listen – and readers can learn as well.  It is not that hard, it is just about putting the right information in front of the right person at the right time. Interestingly, this is about two of the biggest providers in the US and both happened during a one week period.

The Response to an Issue can be more Important than the Issue Itself

I am a technologist, often an early adopter and also a pragmatist; Shtuff happens, I get it. It could be weather, it could be solar flares, it might even be a software glitch. What I have little patience for is what I believe to be ultimately quite simple process fixes, which can easily be implemented but for some reason, have not.

  • AT&T had an outage in Vermont last week. It was early in the day, 7:30 am to around 9:30am. Local technical and socially connected posted on Twitter and tried to get AT&Ts attention. The response from AT&T was slow, almost non-existent on the social channels. No recognition of the problem, until after it was fixed. The customer service team on Twitter did work through their queue from the night before (easy to spot), and did not send any broadcast messages. Some discovered that if you switched off 3G, Edge provided service for phone only. AT&T did not make that statement, a user did. AT&T did not even RT that post. Response grade C-
  • My 16yo had an issue with his HTC phone, so we did a warranty replacement. Many steps completed without any issue – including a whole 10 minutes in a Verizon store, well done. New phone arrived, activation easy, still good. The front of the little instruction packet had a number (long 10 or 15 digit number) and a note under it with a URL to FedEx for tracking. So, my 16yo took the old phone to FedEx with the enclosed label; only to find out it was a USPS label – odd, but not a huge problem. Brings the box to USPS and off it goes. One week later, Verizon calls and wants to bill us $500 for the “yet-to-be” returned phone.  We find the little packet with the tracking number, take a look at the website and tell the agent (who also checks). We also remind the agent that we have insurance on the phone and if it dropped in a lake, we would still get a new phone, no questions. Why was the call ever made (there are two reasons why the call should not have been made)? Response grade B, but the last impression is what sticks.

My simple advice:

  • Customer Service can be Proactive – It is possible, it can show you care and save inbound calls
  • Engage when it counts, walk the walk – Recognize an issue, help customers through an incident and be human, the Social part of Service is not just about PR
  • Put data where it can be most useful, turn data into information – If you have information which can prevent a call from happening, use it.

I suppose it is possible that because I live and breath this sort of thing and know what our software can do I have a different take on things, but really is it that hard?

The CRM and Disruption in the Contact Center

August 7, 2011 1 comment

I am very much looking forward to attending CRM Evolution in NYC next week. I am honored to be sitting on some very good panels with great people. At first glance, the panel discussions are only loosely related. After all, one is about “Disruption and the Lean, Mean CRM Machine” the second is about “The Intelligent Contact Center“. How can they be related – after all one is about CRM and the other is about the Contact Center. Unless of course, people in Contact Centers use CRM Software – if you ask them what they use, CRM is actually an unlikely answer!

To quote Michael Krigsman, moderator of the first panel “The world of CRM has changed profoundly during the past several years.  New trends, such as the cloud and social, have changed the way users and vendors view the entire CRM landscape”. The additional question which comes to mind, what do customers think about all of this? Which parts of CRM – or Contact Center technology are truly disruptive to customers? The customers do not really care where the system is, as long as their problems are solved. Or is there more to it? As an end user, does the technology in use have meaning to you?

The second panel, one which i submitted to the conference and asked Esteban Kolsky to moderate takes a look at the contact center. The primary customer of CRM right? “Technology advances allow for a seamless customer experience; are your teams able to keep up? How do these technologies combine to improve customer experience?”  With technology advances allowing for better experiences, are companies actually providing better experiences? What is the actual relationship between CRM, technology and process and the contact center? A quick thought is that the contact center allows for the combining of data, information, through technology allowing the people and systems to make smart decisions.  But, is that all? What about the human factors, engagement and relationships – where do these important aspects fit it in? Technology cannot solve that problem, though it can help.

I hope to see you in New York!

Social CRM is not “Dead”; Social Media needs to Evolve

June 29, 2011 8 comments

IBM Institute for Business Value has released the second of their two part series “From social media to Social CRM“. Just by the title alone, you might have guessed that IBM does not quite agree that the epitaph has been written, nor spoken regarding Social CRM. After reading, and re-reading, this, the second in the series IBM report, I find it a rather bold approach to both social media as well as Social CRM. The study actually ties the two closer together than anyone has to date. While there are a few ideas and conclusions I might alter, there are some really interesting points as well and it is worthwhile for you to read directly.

The report surfaces some really interesting ideas about Social CRM and social media, which at first blush, I can almost guarantee that many of the regulars who read my blog will at first, disagree with. I can say that because I did at first as well. Frankly, I wanted not to like the paper, with some of my own thinking progressing beyond Social CRM; but that is not where I ended up.  The diagram above, and the messages in the report paint a picture where the maturity of social media will only be realized by a progression to Social CRM.

“If companies want to unlock the potential of social media to reinvent their customer relationships, they need to think about CRM in a new light while building a strategic and operational framework that provides both structure and flexibility.”

I found this to be quite refreshing actually; suggesting that Social CRM is the strategy end-point of social media. Whether it is ‘the’ strategy end-point or ‘a’ strategy end-point is to be determined, but IBM makes a strong case. My perspective is, and has been, that Social CRM is not one thing, but many different things, which is why it is hard for people to use it as a label. Sometimes, labels allow us to put things in buckets and sometimes they get in the way. Again, the jury is out on that one too.  Just look at the term ‘social’ it meant one thing for the past 50 years in business, only in the past 5 has it become something different.

Where I believe thinking went astray, by those who believe Social CRM has run its course, is by associating only ‘Social’ to CRM where it should be ‘Social Media’ – but, SMCRM is an acronym that would never stick.  The nuance is that social media encompasses both the technology (channel) and culture, where ‘social’ is just one part. But, what to call it is not really as important as what it does and how to accomplish your business goals. Among the issues preventing the maturation might be where social media resides within the organization. The place where customers would expect the convergence is an integrated contact center, the problem is that few companies have one. As the IBM report states, typically, 52% of the time, Marketing is responsible for social media strategy, and only 20% of the time Customer Service is responsible. With respect, we are asking one department, in isolation, to manage a continuum of experiences.

How does Social CRM fit with(in) Customer Experience?

Are we talking about Customer Experience, Customer Service Experience or Social CRM? Customer Experience is quite big (more in a minute) and cannot be managed any more than relationships can be managed. I would also suggest (and I have) that Customer Service Experience is a subset of Customer Experience; I believe Social CRM to exist in the same way, it is a subset of the solution, not the whole solution.

A Peter Drucker quote comes to mind: “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.  With this in mind, I would like to extend these great words and suggest that ‘a Customer Experience is not what you design it to be, it is what a customer perceives it to be’. I would also add that managing experiences or perceptions is very difficult  (Hollywood and Disney can manage perceptions, most businesses cannot).

The maturation of social media to Social CRM can and will help by providing “integrated insights to improve customer experiences”, as stated in the IBM report. Reading Kerry Bodine’s recent blog and referenced Forrester report on Customer Experience in parallel with the IBM report was quite fun (geek fun, of course). In Kerry’s report, CEM is described as a very broad and important topic – which it is! The far-reaching impacts of CEM include all of the customer communication touchpoints, which includes Social CRM engagement, as well as many many other touchpoints?

“Customers interact with companies across hundreds of discrete touchpoints as they discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, and get support for a company’s products and services” and “customers interact with a company’s employees and partners either directly or via some intermediating technology”

CRM (Social or not) does not include a display ad, the coffee cup, the shower curtain in a hotel room, all important to CEM, though not to CRM. Where CRM comes into play is when a human contacts a human – period. Trying to tie the two together, if there is an intermediating technology, CRM is not likely to be involved. If a company is speaking directly to a person, and the channel of communication is public; aka social media, then the term Social CRM makes sense. Per the IBM research, social media, when used correctly is about engagement, thus needs to be part of a broader Social CRM strategy.  Proper CEM strategy is bigger than CRM and Social CRM but needs to include both if the approach is to be considered complete.

The constant debate of trying to separate out people and process from technology is tough, but important. “Service excellence is achieved by an almost harmonious dance between the people, processes and technological components.” I believe this can be stated for both Social CRM and Customer Experience – but that is just me. Just because a vendor is making a statement, does not make the statement wrong – nor right.

If you made it to this point, you might be interested my post earlier this spring called “The Perception Gap in Social”, based on data from the first IBM report in the series. Full disclosure, IBM is a Sword Ciboodle Partner, and Sword Ciboodle is certified on IBM’s insurance framework

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.

Perspective

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.

Creating Graceful and Rewarding Customer Service Experiences

The ability to provide customer service excellence is achieved by a harmonious dance between the people, processes and technologies supporting every modern business. These core building blocks make up the foundation of all world-class customer service organizations. Does this sound like your kind of customer service?  Remember, customer service experience is the customer’s perspective, in response to your efforts. Your objective is to meet expectations, dare I say exceed, shooting for wow! correct? You are almost there; the machine is well oiled and firing on all cylinders – then the music changes (mixing metaphors, of course).

The funny thing about customers is that the expectations are never static; they are in a constant state of change.  For one, when you exceed expectations, you just reset the bar. What is required to support this objective is dynamic ecosystem of technologies and with cultural changes allowing you to adapt to the changing needs of your customers.  In order for the people – your customer support team; to meet these demands, a set of foundational technologies is not only required, but it is essential.

While things do change, not everything has the same rate of change. Many of the components such as Transactional systems, data warehouse, process governance, supply chain management need to be comfortably set in place, and simply do not change with high frequency. At the other end of the spectrum are social and mobile applications, with new ones cropping up almost daily; applications your customers (and agents) want and ‘have to have’.  How can you bridge the gap? What kind of system sits in between and will allow you to differentiate your business from everyone else? You need to adapt and not have your team step on each other’s toes.

If we are to believe the American Express survey numbers, where “70% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service – up from 9% last year”, then I would suggest that a customer centric approach to your customer service technology framework is critical to success.  As an aside, this statistic bothers me, as it suggests a high tolerance (and willingness to pay) for lousy products, but that is a topic for another day. Customer champions (advocates) need to work tirelessly to resolve conflicts and cross-departmental silos and battles, which will certainly occur. Additionally, please make sure to include (as opposed to exclude) your valuable information technology folks as your success will depend upon their support.

This is part one of a two part series. Please take a look at Part two:, “The Dynamic Customer Service Experience Framework” found on the Sword Ciboodle sponsored, Under The C blog.

We  (Julie Hunt and myself) explored these points, looking at them from many different perspectives – having fun along the way.  The detailed thoughts are shared in a White Paper titled “The Total Customer Service Experience”. If you would like to receive the full version of the white paper, please just let us know.  No registration forms, just send us an email – whitepaper@sword-ciboodle.com, and we would be happy to forward along a copy.

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, whitepaper@sword-ciboodle.com.