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Posts Tagged ‘CRM’

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.

The Dynamic Customer Service Experience Framework

Customer Service is not only about one technology; it is about the set of technologies you will need to bring your business into the modern age. It is about starting with a clear and concise vision of the service experience you intend to deliver to your customers. In order to accomplish this, you do need to understand your customer needs and how your customers seek value. It is clearly, the ‘Jobs to be done approach’. These types of activities are very different from mapping internal business processes to look for efficiency. Evaluating your technology stack, with your customer service experience lens, is an important exercise. Everything you do should begin with a strong foundation. We all learned these lessons from very early on; from education, to athletics and yes, even business.

The Innovative part of the Technology Ecosystem

Whether it is Facebook or Twitter; Linkedin, Quora or FourSquare the activity that is important to you is, or will be, happening on a platform, through a channel, right in front of you, where you can’t get to it. The social media platforms, as they have become to be known, are where customers are, so your organization has to go there. But, which ones? Will this answer change in a week, a month, a year? The fact is that these external forces are part of your business, which you will fight to control (technologically and process wise) and will fail, thus figure out how to leverage and embrace them, not fight them. These platforms represent your ability, your advantage to innovate and transform your business.

Your ability to control which channels and technologies your customers use is long past.  Is it possible that your best and most powerful long-term strategy is the ability to make tactical decisions faster than your customers expect (exceed expectations)?  Does responsiveness outweigh the business value of implementation via a coordinated, planned and sustainable architecture — or not? In any case, the framework suggested allows for varying rates of change across layers; what was yesterday’s innovation, might just become tomorrow’s differentiators (not to confuse too much).

Coming full circle; The ability to provide customer service excellence is achieved by a harmonious dance between the people, processes and technologies supporting every modern business. These are the core building blocks making up the foundation of all world-class customer service organizations. Does this sound like your kind of customer service? – It should and it can!  Remember, customer service experience is the customer’s perspective, in response to your efforts. Be sure that the customer’s perspective is all that you want it to be.

This is Part two of a two part series. The first in the series; Creating Graceful and Rewarding Customer Service Experiences can be 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.

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.

Who Leads the Social CRM Market? – An Analysis

April 23, 2011 3 comments

The question was raised on Focus and my answer may have surprised a few people. I started my answer with a disclaimer “I work at Sword Ciboodle” (a technology vendor for those of you who do not know). I then proceeded to state my opinion that no technology vendor currently leads the market, even questioning if there is a “market” for Social CRM, my logic is that technology is only one part of the problem. By the way, the word Social is starting to get in the way:

“The leaders in the market are the consultants and analysts. The reason is simple, I am not convinced that Social CRM is an actual market. Integrating Social Channels into a customer strategy is something that needs to be done, absolutely. Connecting the Social dots is something that does need to be understood and practiced, but a market, not sure yet.

When I was speaking on the topic last year, I was cautious to describe it as ‘CRM in the Age of Social’. Customers have problems to solve, companies need to figure out how to solve those problems – just with a whole lot more channels. My first statement about consultants and analysts was not a knock, it is a recognition of the complexity of the problem, people and process first, not technology.

CRM is often discussed by its 3 core components, Sales, Marketing and Service – when we discuss Social CRM, which one are are talking about? Or are we talking about all 3 and more? Are we talking about Business to Business or Business to Consumer? There are 6 segments at least, where I believe there might be 6 different leaders”

Social CRM does Require Technology, but it is about People

A previous topic also on Focus sheds some light on my answer; “What are the top reasons for integrating Social Media with CRM”. Caty Kobe expands the question/problem statement to facilitate the discussion: “What are the top reasons why an organization should integrate CRM with social media channels” – There is the explanation to my answer, right there, simple. I did not even need to go to the answers (though friend Brian Vellmure has a good one), just the question.

Social CRM, from the technology perspective, is about integration of new channels, Social Media is a channel. Properly, Social Media is dozens of channels, where you need to choose the ones right for your business. The hard part, the real work, is choosing which channels to integrate and then designing the processes around these channels – the people part. Just “being there” because someone told you to is not a reason! Too many industry insiders (Vendors, Analysts and Consultants) are trying to put Social CRM into one simple bucket, it is not simple, and it is not one thing.

We need to find a balance among the new terms, big words and fluffy buzzwords. It is not all new – parts are new, the combinations are new, but in the end, Social Media is just a channel. If you are trying to figure out the Social CRM puzzle and you are doing your research, you might find definitions and descriptions; something like ‘The company’s response to the customers’ control of the conversation’ (@pgreenbe). If you are not comfortable with that one, I am sure you have found one you like. There is only one correct answer to the question of what is Social CRM, yours. Not OK with that, how about focusing on the strategy, not a definition? Looking back to a great post by friend Wim Rampen, who outlined a concise Social CRM Strategy:

“A Social CRM Strategy is all about understanding Who the customer is, through Listening to Engaging with and Collaboration between Customers, Employees and Partners and aimed at Developing Innovations that allow Customers to do What Jobs they need to do, by means of a Personalized Design that empowers Customers, Employees and Partners to influence How well Customers and Companies can meet their Desired Outcomes.”

Wim outlines some great actions, I encourage you to go back and read the original post and the conversation which followed. Notice that Wim only touches upon the technology components. Recognizing that they are there, but not focusing on them first. Some may find this strategy to constraining, some may find it to broad. The beauty of sharing it is that people can take from it and see how it fits within their own organization. It is not only about building new strategies and new frameworks – honestly I think some of the new stuff, without even a hint at looking at the old is pure rubbish. You will need to take this strategy and apply it to your programs of work. If we all spent a little bit more time understanding where we have been, we might be better at figuring out where we need to go.

So, Who is in the Lead?

Finishing off with the Social CRM Market question, which I do not want to leave hanging. There is not ‘a‘ Market, there are many different Markets, including both technology and consultative, there are data questions and process questions. From integrating social channels into your Customer Service operations (where Ciboodle excels) to Socialytics (which Ciboodle does not do, but we have friends who do) – and all the bits in between. For now, it is about how to integrate; technology and process, Social into the programs of work for the foundational components of CRM; Sales Service and Marketing. In the future, we will be able to get rid of the ‘Social’ descriptor and go back to focusing on doing business. The organization or person in the lead is the one who solves the problem you need fixed – not the one with the best marketing department.

A Conversation with a Friend

February 26, 2011 2 comments

Earlier this week, I was able to catch-up with friend Graham Hill via Skype.  Before you get too far, this is not an interview style post. This is an extension of the sharing of ideas to a broader audience. I first met Graham, in person, about two years ago, his insights into CRM, Design Thinking, Innovation, Co-Creation and a broad variety of both business and technical topics is simply awesome. We touched on many different topics, and true to form, after the call, Graham shared links and resources, which I thought would be worthwhile to share beyond just our conversation. I do have a lot of reading to do, that is for sure! We did spend a fair bit of time talking about SMS as well, in relation to some research I am currently working on – post forthcoming.

First a new approach / framework for requirements gathering with a focus on the agent/user call the i* Framework. The framework takes a new approach to designing systems based on how work is done and how value flows through work systems. Graham was passionate about this particular framework and it sounds very interesting and valuable to designing systems.

The i* framework conceives of software-based information systems as being situated in environments in which social actors relate to each other in terms of goals to be achieved, tasks to be performed, and resources to be furnished. The i* Framework proposes an agent-oriented approach to requirements engineering centering on the intentional characteristics of the agent.  Agents attribute intentional properties (such as goals, beliefs, abilities, commitments) to each other and reason about strategic relationships.  Dependencies between agents give rise to opportunities as well as vulnerabilities.  Networks of dependencies are analyzed using a qualitative reasoning approach.  Agents consider alternative configurations of dependencies to assess their strategic positioning in a social context. The framework is used in contexts in which there are multiple parties (or autonomous units) with strategic interests which may be reinforcing or conflicting in relation to each other.  Examples of such contexts include: business process redesign, business redesign, information systems requirements engineering, analyzing the social embedding of information technology, and the design of agent-based software systems.

The Second link which references the part of our conversation which touched on Value Networks and Collaboration. A new approach to modeling collaboration within an organization.

Work life is completely changing as social networking and collaboration platforms allow a more human-centric way of organizing work. Yet work design tools, structures, processes, and systems are not evolving as rapidly, and in many cases are simply inadequate to support the new flexible and networked ways of working.

Value Networks and the true nature of collaboration meets this challenge head on with a systemic, human-network approach to managing business operations and ecosystems. Value network modeling and analytics provide better support for collaborative, emergent work and complex activities.

Third – We both get a bit passionate when relationships within the business world end-up being unequal. The following talks about companies are managing customers for value over their whole lifecycle, not just at sales touchpoints. This topic is particularly important to me at the moment in my new role. Here is the link (It is an HBR article and is a PDF)

Companies have powerful technologies for understanding and interacting with customers, yet most still depend on mass media marketing to drive impersonal transactions. To compete, companies must shift from pushing individual products to building long-term customer relationships.

The marketing department must be reinvented as a “customer department” that replaces the CMO with a chief customer officer, makes product and brand managers subservient to customer managers, and oversees customer-focused functions including R&D, customer service, market research, and CRM.

Any conversation between two passionate people within the CRM domain, which did not spend just a few minutes talking about loyalty, would be a missed opportunity. Thus, true to form we spent a few minutes talking on the topic, with more reading for me on the topic! The following is an excerpt from another PDF, this time from the Economist, shared by Adobe and of course, part II (also a PDF).

Most companies today face a two-fold dilemma. In many product and service categories, competition based on both price and quality is increasing. Customers, faced with so many good choices, are making decisions based on a variety of complex factors. Even in business-to-business sales a similar dynamic is evident, as loyalty and relationships play less and less of a role in many contracts.

In this environment, the enterprise interested in winning, retaining and deepening customer relationships can no longer do so simply by creating a better product or even by holding down costs. For many companies, both strategies are essential simply to stay in the game. Increasingly, executives are finding that the winning differentiator is no longer the product or the price, but the level of engagement—the degree to which a company succeeds in creating an intimate long-term relationship with the customer or external stakeholder.

Sharing thoughts, information and resources is how we all learn and get smarter. Graham has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience. In a social world where too many people are trying to replace experience with book knowledge, Graham strikes a great balance (with more of both, than most) – and most important, he is willing to share. As you can probably gather, we touched on lots of different topics and and the discussion was quite enjoyable. I am looking forward to our next conversation, and getting together with Graham in NYC this summer – Enjoy!

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!)

CRM, CX, RightNow – A Perspective

October 19, 2010 9 comments

It was a great few days at the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, CO. RightNow invited me to attend their annual, US, user conference as well as the preceding influencer day leading up to the conference. During the first day, we heard from many members of the RightNow team, from executives new and seasoned. We talked about Call Centers, Contact Centers, Communication Centers, Social Hubs, Social Media, Social Communications. We touched on Cloud (Private and Public), SaaS (I asked about IaaS and PaasS), Chat, Email, Twitter, Facebook, Web Experience, Knowledgebase, Self-Service, Forums, Communities and Social Experience…and after the first hour, then we really got movin’.

Helen Hunt Falls (No, not that one)

Being at a user conference (versus general industry event) is a great way to hear what the customers are actually doing with a specific system. RightNow scheduled time for me to speak with Lisa Larson, Director of Customer Care at drugstore.com and beauty.com and MaryEllen Abreu, Director of Global Technical Support at iRobot. In addition to the scheduled talks, RightNow did make it easy to get together informally with other customers. I was also able to have a quick lunch with Boyd Beasley from Electronic Arts, informal chats with DirectTV and an in-depth conversation, which I hope to continue with some smart folks from the Naval Federal Credit Union. It is important to note that conferences like this are a good opportunity to spend time with industry folks, who we can bounce opinions off of, and share ideas. Denis Pombriant, added his thoughts soon after the influencer day, and his perspective is certainly worth a look.

While many of my peers are talking about Social CRM, on blogs, in articles and through white papers, a few RightNow customers are actually practicing it (but they do not call it Social CRM). Beauty.com offers assisted shopping through Chat – with a 40% conversion rate – and engagement through Twitter (routing as needed). iRobot uses Twitter to engage with customers, and solicit feedback about their products, even extending invitations into the Beta Forums for co-creation and product feedback. DirectTV shared a great story about using Twitter during Super Bowl Sunday, posting the best way to rid your dish of 2 feet of snow (using a super-soaker won).  All interesting stories, but the way in which success is measured does vary a bit; some look at money, some look at advocacy while others are just doing it because ‘it feels right’.

I will be writing a follow-up post where I will be focusing on the cultural aspects of the call center, a fun and interesting topic. As a bit of a teaser, I asked practitioners their thoughts on the changes in culture, philosophy and knowledge workers within the call (contact) center in the past 10 years. If you have some thoughts, please drop me a note.

I wonder what SaaS providers could learn from Telecom?

I would also like to comment on some of the great additions to the RightNow team, as well as some behind the scenes (or not quite spotlighted as much as they should be) folks. First, Wayne Huyard was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer. Huyard is a seasoned executive with experience at MCI, WorldCom, Verizon and Cerberus Capital Management. I was particularly interested in his background in Telecom, as I see a convergence of the SaaS business model into what other service providers (yes, like Telecom service providers) offer. This was inline with the question on my mind (one I was able to ask Mr. Gianforte, CEO) and that is whether SaaS solution providers resemble traditional software companies or service providers. The quick answer is ‘there is a little of both’. Vendors in the technology space seem to be converging on a model all to familiar to the Telecoms of the world, just sayin’

John Kembel, Vice President of Social is not exactly new, but possibly from a CRM traditionalist point of view, he might be considered new. John came from the HiveLive acquisition, a little over a year ago. Hearing John’s thoughts about how to integrate community to, with and for CRM (or customer experience) was time well spent. John is a design thinker, which is a great quality and background to have in order to understand the how CRM fits into the Social Web. My conversation with John was enhanced by a discussion with Andrew Hull, Director of Product Marketing. Andrew was able to share some of the new features within the product, such as the soon to be released Facebook interface (allowing users to see a Facebook tab and contact center people to see what they need). From its roots, RightNow is still big on Chat, which does work for many companies, but not for all. Finally, and my biggest ding, if it is one, is the Agent user experience. I am not a huge fan of Microsoft Outlook, thus the RightNow UX, which is Microsoft centric is not how I would design the UI. I believe the knowledge worker of the future needs an experience similar to the people they are on the phone (Twitter, Facebook….) with. I have hope, and heard rumblings that the future may offer some choice here.

Among the hidden gems, or ‘not given the spotlight often enough’ were my many conversations with Nitin Badjatia, during the conference. I met Nitin through Twitter about a year ago, and we have run into each other a few times, most recently at the VRM + CRM conference in Boston. Nitin is a very smart, experienced, likes to fly under the radar kinda guy. Nitin is opinionated – in a consensus building sorta way.  His background in the Knowledge Management is awesome, bringing his experience from Knova and industry. Nitin (and others within the experience strategy team) add tremendous  value within the RightNow ecosystem. It is not always about spotlight, rather helping customers to solve tough problems, which RightNow seems to be in a good position to do. I wanted to extend my thanks to the whole RightNow team for including me.

(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 🙂

It is about the People, then the Product

June 24, 2010 2 comments

Paul Greenberg did a great job of highlighting some cool folks with his “Following on more than Friday” post. I am humbled to be on that list and Paul, right back at you. But you knew that and I do not think it is a stretch to suggest that we have all learned a lot from you! We all learn from different people in different ways, which is what leads to the variety and diversity of opinions. We also all have our own purpose for being here. No, I am not going all philosophical, I mean Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube and Blogs. While there are some great people who get it, there are a large number who don’t. Yes, that is a bold statement, bordering on ‘them is fightin’ words’.  I could call people out by name, but that would not be very social, not really interesting either.

What is more interesting is to extend Paul’s list a little, with some smart folks who live on the vendor side of things. These folks not only have some great things to say, but are also translating that into product; by listening, engaging, reading and thinking. My focus for this post is people who spend time thinking about small businesses and the issues they face. I also have a soft spot for people who are within the vendor world, because that was me not too long ago. I am not saying one product is better or worse than another, nor am I endorsing any one product here (disclaimer: no one on this list is paying me). I am focusing on the people not the products. Some have blogs, of these some are personal, some are company, some do not have blogs, but they still share. The common denominator is that they all have active Twitter accounts, thus that is the link I am providing. The path you take after that is your choice, like Social XYZ, to me it is about the people, so, that is my focus today.

They have more to offer than just a product! (in alphabetical order):

Jon Ferrera  (@jon_ferrara) Nimble (Product – Nimble, Beta soon)
T.A. McCann (@tamccann) Gist (Products – Gist, Google Apps Version too, Live*)
Pam O’Hara (@pmohara) BatchBlue (Product – BatchBook, Live*)
John Rourke (@johnrourke) Bantam Networks, (Product – BantamLive, Live*)
(* I am using the word “live” as they are all SaaS based applications)

Since I am focusing on the people, and not the products I can get away with not specifying a product grouping or market segment. All the products live somewhere within the CRM and/or Social CRM landscape, though Gist can live within, or as part of another application. The others may extend beyond what people think of as CRM as well. More importantly, each of the people focuses on solving specific business problems, and their products follow their lead. My interactions with each of these people came to be differently, some by research, some by twitter and blogs and some via a somewhat colorful Twitter conversation, but all is good now. I am appreciative for the time spent and more so, the time sharing issues and ideas, not only product.

Jon Ferrara has a long history within the CRM space, founding Goldmine 20 years ago. After interactions with Jon via Twitter, and Blogs we scheduled a call to talk. Here is the really neat thing, Jon was willing to talk to me the first time, while I was still with SugarCRM. He knew what I was doing, and of course what he was doing, but the interactions (including RTs ) were and are always positive. I have enjoyed the many interesting articles which he has shared, and learned from his comments. I look forward to the product. My sense is that Jon is more worried about the size of the pie, not the size of his slice. Jon has said to me on more than one occasion that if he focuses on the success of his customers, then his own success will just happen.

T.A. McCann has a neat background which goes back to working in the Exchange group at Microsoft. I do not have an extensive background with T.A. but have had some great interactions with Greg Meyer (@GregAtGist) and he set up the discussion with T.A.. During the conversation, T.A. and I talked about many different aspects of information, mostly social and aggregate, but the value of having it when you need it. He has a very pragmatic view, with the ultimate ROI of all of this – Time gained, time saved and efficiency. That is of course an over simplification, I will be writing up a post with more details soon. T.A. shared a passion for the space, which I look forward to seeing more of in the future. A passion and energy is good for us all.

Pam O’Hara has been thinking about small business for a long time. The CRM part came out of a need for the small business owner. I did recently speak with Pam, and had forgot that I had participated in a few of her TweetChat sessions (#sbbuzz). That is of course because those were a really long time ago, eons even (last year). Because of her focus on small business, Pam has an acute sense of time (spent, wasted and what it costs). Whether this is because Pam is focused on creating a better work/life balance for herself and her employees, or the focus is on the customers, it does not matter, we all benefit. Pam is constantly focused on efficiency, which is a good thing.

John Rourke is a little more colorful, could be the New Yorker in him (being one myself, I can say that). The first few interactions with John, were, let’s say interesting and direct. But, I take ownership for the escalation, and blame the channel (Twitter). Trying to understand someones personality, and objective in 140 character snippets without the context of ever meeting face-to-face is not a good idea. This is an example of ‘ I should have picked up the phone sooner’ After some time went by, John and I did pick up the phone and talk. John is laser focused on the business problem faced by his customers. He is willing to share his ideas openly. John might sometimes a little too focused on product, but it is not hidden or in any way obnoxious (really). Like me, John is a passionate person, and his passion for what he is doing is good for all of us.

I have been in the CRM space for a long time. When I spoke with these folks, there was very little talk of technology and infrastructure, at first this was surprising. Then it occurred to me that as an application for small business that is their problem not yours. Besides, these folks would rather talk about the business problems not the technology ones… I am constantly listening and trying to learn, in order to do that it is a requirement to extend the people you listen to, and be willing to contribute. The common theme here is that we are all overwhelmed with information, and time is a valuable commodity, making their contributions that much more meaningful. 10 years ago everyone was focused on real-time information, guess what, it happened. Another theme within this group is not about real-time information, it is about the right information at the right time.

Very Detailed Thoughts on Social CRM and the Value it Provides

June 14, 2010 3 comments

“Social CRM is based on the simple premise that you are able to interact with your customers based on their needs, not your rules. It is an extension of CRM, not a replacement, and among the important benefits is that it adds value back to the users and customers.  It is the one part of the social business strategy which addresses how companies need to adapt to the social customer and the expectations these customers have with respect to companies they do business with. With a focus on strategy, customer engagement and relationships, Social CRM moves beyond management of customers, transactions, and money.

Social CRM is a strategy first, but it will not be successful if it is not supported by people, processes and technology with defined goals and objectives. The way customers are interacting with companies and a companies’ brands is changing and this poses a challenge; a challenge of volume of new data, scale and speed.  Social customers are now in control of a significant part of the business ecosystem, not just as purchasers, but as influencers.  Individuals are influenced by friends, friends’ friends and friends’ friends’ friends. For Social CRM to be successful, and by extension the businesses who employ the strategy, we must recognize the power of social networks.”

A balanced approach is a critical success factor

We believe that one of the most important extensions that Social CRM adds to traditional CRM is the inclusion of a business strategy (maybe even a Social Business Strategy), specific to customer engagement and customer experience, beyond just an implementation strategy. Traditionally, CRM has been thought of as just a technology framework, thus Social CRM is often discussed as simply new tools on top of that framework. We work hard to build the case that Social CRM has value beyond simply social technology. Yes, social technology is a big big part in many instances, but it is more about how you, as an individual, and as a company, interpret information and communicate. If Social CRM goes the way of CRM and simply becomes a technology platform with bolt-on utilities and some new channels, I will personally be disappointed. I do not believe that is the way it is going.  Social CRM is not only about strategy either, it is about a balanced approach to modern business problems – modern problems are driven by modern customers, who are hyper-connected and smart (in other words, they started using the technology first).  The balance includes many many elements, and as an organization you should make active decisions on what to use and when to use it. Choosing not to do something is different from simply not doing it.

A Social Business will likely begin at the department, or even individual layer within an organization, the tools and technology will aid the executive office in adding cohesion to the strategy.  It would be preferable, moving forward, that the Social Business strategy would begin from the top with executive support and from the bottom with a willingness to try new things, working towards the middle, together. Social CRM and online communities might be different from the internal parts of the organization and their collaboration efforts, but as Social Business matures as a practice, the two concepts will continue to merge. Each organization will not need to completely rebuild (retool), but they will be able to build upon the solutions already in place and extend them to meet the demands placed by the consumer, partner or supplier. Important to both, crucial even, are the cultural issues which will likely arise due to a lack of understanding, a resistance to change and the earlier struggles which a more than likely to occur due to uncoordinated efforts to track the connection to revenue (Yes, in all this Social, business do still need to make $).