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Posts Tagged ‘contact center’

The Importance of Positive Customer Service Experiences

Customer experience is made up of the sum of all interactions and touch points between the people, products and services a company provides and their customers.  Customer service experience is a subset of the overall customer experience, with a slightly different focus. Specifically, a customer service experience is the sum of the interactions between you and your customers when they are trying to communicate with or to you, often regarding something that has gone awry.  Customers of all types (not just social customers) are emotional and tend to rate experiences based upon the expectations set (either specifically, or ones we set in our mind) – yes, they are often shared, both good and bad. The simple question is: “Is your business organized in such a way to accelerate your company’s ability to deliver a service experience, which meets or better, exceeds customer expectations?”

Every business has unique opportunities to create meaningful connections with their customers every day.  The idea, of course, is to embrace customers, offering exceptional value with each touch point.  Within customer service, if the team serves as an advocate for every customer, building trust along the way loyalty often comes along for the ride.  And to be quite direct, incremental revenue and a passion for your products is possible as well, but it is not as simple as that, it takes work.  People like buying from people they know and trust – get to know your customers! Each part of the organization can and should make a difference. Is this the case in your organization?

The customer need not initiate every interaction. A simple reminder via email or SMS as notification of an appointment, for example, can be very well received. Do you have in place the proper foundation – cultural and technological – to meet the demands of your customer and advocates?  Many customers are less satisfied with contact centers (ie phone calls) than they are with the trendier contact options (Social), but the investments are still towards the new flashy and ‘cool’ applications. Many customers do still prefer the phone – statistics prove it. This kind of disconnect has created a conundrum which is receiving attention from on-high, your CEO.

Executives are taking notice and have made it one of their business priorities to get closer to their customers.  I have been known to ask; “what exactly does ‘getting closer’ mean?” Executives have begun to realize that embarking down the wrong relationship-building path will continue to critically hurt their overall business strategy.  Leaders are now facing a decision: continue to let customers down through inadequate capabilities or embark on a journey to evolve their customer service experience.  Companies cannot do this alone, a new vision and a framework for support has become paramount.

To succeed with all customers, social and more traditional, companies need to create and maintain consistency of experience across all channels. A complete interaction experience goes well beyond just listening to your customer. It branches out to action, enablement and empowerment. Not only do companies need to learn how to interact well with customers using all channels; from the phone to social media, they also need to ensure experiences for the customer that deliver real value to the customer in exchange for time, attention, actions, information, and anything else that companies want from customers.

Few organizations are capable of providing the cross-channel consistency, an imperative for modern customer facing organizations. Unfortunately, the internal cultures of companies have not been built for this model. In order to achieve success, I am suggesting that companies must first change to better embrace their customers, not just as industry-mandated customer service operations. Companies will need to enable and empower employees to act as customer advocates who help customers successfully do the jobs they need to do with the company’s services or products. The company’s view of and objectives for customer service will need to change to provide very different kinds of training and guidelines to allow customer service staff to work creatively, cross-channel with customers. To succeed, companies will need more than collaboration platforms, though they can help. Coordination needs to come before collaboration, I will be exploring that in a future post.

During the past month, I was able to explore, in depth, many of the points above with Julie Hunt. Looking at the above points from many different perspectives – having fun along the way. Some the key questions addressed are:

  • How can you meet the demands of a multi- and cross-channel customer?
  • Do you know what your customers want from a ‘social’ relationship with you?
  • How can you align processes with the needs of your customers?
  • When does the difference between an Interaction and a Transaction matter?
  • How to focus on what your customers remember, for service interactions?
  • What is the proper balance of investment in ‘Social’ channels versus ‘Traditional’ channels?

If you would like to receive the full version of the document, please just let me know.  No registration forms, just an email to me, mitch.lieberman (at) gmail.com or to whitepaper (at) sword-ciboodle.com.

The Changing Culture of the Contact Center

October 31, 2010 7 comments

My apologies for the delay in this post, I meant to get it done sooner. As I said in my previous post after the RightNow user conference, I was able to spend some time with customers, end-users and practitioners in order to understand a bit more not only about the specifics of their success, but how and why. In speaking with different folks, I decided to take a different approach in the discussion, wanting to probe a bit on the changing culture of the call center during the past 15 years. This proved to be a very interesting tact, as the culture has changed. Specifically, 15 years ago, knowledge workers within the call center (or contact center if you prefer), had good verbal communication skills, but lacked computer savvy. Now, things are basically reversed. That might be an over-simplification, but it is basically true. While a fair number of things have in fact changed, some are not so different than when I first prototyped a customer self-help system in 1998 – If you can enable customers to help themselves, they will.

As Social engagement practices mature, which they absolutely need to do, because Social behavior is going to drive how customers communicate their needs to your organization. Customers are going to communicate with you via social media, so we all have to be ready. It is not ‘if’, but ‘when’ and ‘how’. In addition to the obvious benefits to your customers, the benefits to you and your organization by enabling, supporting and even promoting social media for customer service, will allow for insight to more easily find its way back into the core business to help improve core functions.  From a cultural perspective, one trend that is certainly ripe for change is how front line employees are compensated. Social Media channels not only allow you contact center agents to help your customers, but allow them to do it in a way that adds the human element back to the equation. These critical teams players, your contact center agents, within your organization need to be trained and treated with the respect they deserve. As your organization works to become “more social” please think about who will be on the front lines.

Conversations

Lisa Larson – Director of Customer Care at Drugstore.com

Both drugstore.com and beauty.com fall under Lisa’s watchful eye, a new generation of contact center, which include more channels than ever before. They include Websites, FAQs, Chat, Email and oh almost forgot, phone. Yes, Lisa and team are on Twitter was well; Directors Desk for Drugstore.com and Beauty Advisor for beauty.com The idea? To use the tools and technology available to her to improve the quality of customer service, making sure each customer interaction is meaningful to the most important person – the customer. Lisa and team are keeping pace with where their customers are and where they need help. Lisa and team are using Chat very successfully for high value products, increasing the conversation rates for these products by almost 40% when compared with not using Chat.

Lisa has a team of about 150 people across the board to make sure her customers are happy. They are there to solve problems, and make the experience as close as possible to the beauty consultant you might work with at the local store.  In order to provide that experience to the customer, the employee – knowledge worker needs to be given the tools and resources (and love) so that they can pass it on.  Lisa spends a lot of time making her team gets what they need. With regards to the culture question, it is important to Lisa to bring on team members who have actual people skills. Many people come into the call center these days with great technical skills, but talking on the phone and interacting at a personal level, with a business proper bent is something that is not as common as it was 15 years ago.

As Lisa pointed out to friend Brent Leary in a recent Interview:

“When you put a face out there, or you put people out there and they get to know who you are, they treat you differently.  Our goal is to serve them and to solve their problems, and do it well.”

Maryellen Abreu – Director of Global Technical Support at iRobot

From a certain vantage point, iRobot is pioneering a new market, which has unique challenges. iRobot needs to quickly find out what customers want, and adapt accordingly. From another vantage point, customers are customers, and iRobot needs to deliver great service and support, because this is just what smart companies do! A very successful part of the initiative is the Web self-service, which has been very successful from both sides – customers are able to help themselves more often than not and this keeps the operation expenses of the contact center in check.

“iRobot designs and build robots that make a difference”

Maryellen also shared the following tidbits, which I found very valuable:

“In regards to our call center culture, we ask our reps to Think like a customer. If the customer is not happy, let us know. Call Center feedback is absolutely critical to our success.”

It was important for me to dig into the culture and objectives by which Maryellen manages her center, and directs her team. In the information RightNow shared with me, iRobot was able to see a “30% reduction in call volume”. Now, call volume is an interesting statistic, because it only tells part of the story. When I worked with a few large insurance companies, we were able to see a similar drop in volume, but the calls that remained were all the tough kind (long, complex and did not follow a standard path). This was before the age of Social, so I wanted to see what had changed. I will add that for certain customers with specific problems, iRobot does not have any issues with bringing the users into their private communities and asking the customers to give detailed input into the products and experience.

“Our calls went down 30% in volume but the average call length did not change significantly. When we added Targus Info to populate/verify the customer’s address, we were able to shave approximately 1 minute off each incident that required a shipment. As I mentioned, we do not focus on reducing talk time, we focus on customer satisfaction. Typically long calls result in a low CSAT and we calibrate accordingly.”

Both Maryellen and Lisa are taking similar approaches:

  • For Customer Interaction – Where, When and How their customers want to communicate
  • For Measurement – Do what it takes to get the job done, talk if you need to talk AHT looked at, but does not drive the center
  • For Employees – Allow them to feel and act empowered, give them flexibility, not scripts; guidance, not rules

(Disclosure – I was an appreciative guest of RightNow Technologies. RightNow paid for my travel and expenses pertaining to the user conference only. RightNow is not a client of mine, or anyone else within my firm. For some visualizations of the experience, please take a look. I did have a great time in Colorado, not something hard for a Vermonter to do!)