Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service Experience’

Customer Experience; It does not Start nor Stop at the Door

November 2, 2011 1 comment

(I am certainly not a food critic – but like most I do enjoy a positive dining experience; for a restaurant the experience is certainly greater than just the meal.)

Being the socially connected type (think iPhone: Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter – not High School or Tennis Club) my experience usually starts well before I get to the restaurant and ends well after I leave. Until recently, I did not even write restaurant reviews. I have shared my experience in different ways; through social technology.  I am not going to try and figure out how the dining experience itself is broken down, food critics have that nailed. I can guess there is an atmosphere part, a food part and a service part – and probably other parts. Traditionally, 90% of the experience, or more, was contained within the 4 walls of the establishment; pre-2009. The rules are changing, and “12 years of experience” does not say much against the changing nature of the game. To me, it is what you have been doing and thinking during the past 2 years that will determine your ability to survive.

Enter the Social Web

With the growing population of patrons who own smart phones along with well established poor manners (guilty); we share, share and share some more. Prior to 2009 the number of times I would share a particular dining experience could normally be counted on one hand, at a future social engagement; dinner, bar-b-Que or a soccer game, talking to other parents while watching the kids. Fast-forward to 2011, I am multi-modal, sharing my location (Geo), a review (Yelp) a picture or experience (Twitter) and maybe pulling it all together via an update (Facebook). When I get notice something which needs more attention, I write a blog (like this Red Roof Inn post, which I just checked, had almost 4000 views). The total number of people who have access to seeing this post is > 5000 (If a few friends Re-Tweet on Twitter, that number will grow much larger). I am a realist and the number of people who read it or care is likely much much less (say 50 – 1%). But that is still 10x what it was pre-social. There is the additional element, something I tell my kids when they post to Facebook; “Google never forgets”. This is now searchable and will live on well beyond just a quick in-person conversation.

In the small town atmosphere where I live, Burlington, Vermont (Williston, actually a bit east) many local restaurants (and other businesses as well) have jumped into social media with both feet. Unfortunately, some believe that social media is simply another outbound marketing channel; you know, they talk and we are supposed to listen. But it gets worse, they do not have email skills either.  There is a relatively new restaurant called The Farm House Tap and Grill  (built where the only McDonald’s in the downtown area stood). I had high hopes, getting ready to go to the restaurant for the first time.  I am not going to repeat my review as that tells most of the story. What was more disappointing was the response or lack of on different channels. In fairness, I did not try to call, I had no interest. What I did get back was the following:

“We realize that we did indeed go way past our quote times, that is our fault. I have been in the restaurant business for 12 years now and I too value a good customer service experience, which is what we strive for. I encourage you to come try us again, particularly not on UVM parents weekend when we clearly were overran.”

It was nice to receive a response via email (several Twitter replies went unanswered, here is the Twitter handle, judge for yourself). While there was recognition of an issue there was no attempt to make it right.  What was I expecting, nothing too much – maybe just a bit more than I got. Maybe an offer of an appetizer on them. We all know that an appetizer is net neutral from a cost perspective, I would likely have had dinner as well. Not even a suggestion of which day/time might be better (other than that day was bad), nor if I am flexible. Nothing to a follow-up response. If someone has a bad experience, do what you can to make it right.

These things are just so easy. At some point, the novelty or ‘newness’ will wear off, and then they will be left with – well, themselves. So that I show a positive example, a local restauranteur who does it right, take a look at this twitter stream  (Handy’s Lunch) – it is really not that hard. There are so many good sources of information where businesses can learn. They can read the statistics which say things like ‘help a customer with an issue and that person a much more likely to return’. Why establishments ignore the easy stuff and focus only on what a text book says is a bit concerning.

It is also worth noting that The Farm House Tap and Grill does a lot of old school social good. Using local farmers and donating a percentage of food sales in November to rebuilding the Intervale farm impacted twice this year by flooding. If they considered the value they could bring over time, maybe they would truly engage – maybe I am asking too much.

Am I being too harsh? Unfair?

Advertisements

Standardized and Automatic are not the same as Efficient and Consistent

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Modern customers (aka Social Customer or 21st Century Customer) are demanding, multi-channel and empowered. Your customers, being modern, expect each experience to be positive, efficient and valuable. Finally, there is the desire that the brand experience will be consistent across the different points of interaction. That said, ‘consistent’ should not be confused with “the same” or “standardized” experience. When a customer logs onto a website via their mobile; a 2 inch by 4 inch form factor screen, there is no expectation that the experience will be the same as when this same customer logs on via their 27 inch iMac.

Expectations are funny though, because what the customer expects to accomplish ( their job to be done) is similar across channels, but again, not often the same. Every business needs to reconcile jobs to be done, customer experience and customer service. Put simply, there is an objective which your customer is seeking to achieve, information to be found or a purchase to be made. Applying business rules and considered processes in front of customer interactions can increase efficiency and add a level of required consistency to each interaction.  Specific to customer service, business ruless and process can help a service organization deliver not only consistent communications to their customers, but also personalized ones. The name of the game (if it is a game) is to empower the each agent with the right information, at the right time, in context. In this era, the “360 degree view” might be too much.

Worlds Colliding

In the context of this short article, Business Process Management (BPM) is to be taken at face value.  It is simply what it sounds like; how a business manages processes. Things like how an order happens or how a return happens. When those simple examples are given, you might think about policies and procedures, Visio workflow diagrams and rules engines.  Of course, from a back-office perspective these kinds of activities need to be reproducible and standardized.  But, this view also conjures up visions of command and control and rigidity. Automation might solve your problems, but it may or may not solve your customers problems. Add the modern customer to this discussion; the result is that command and control will not work, it just won’t.  Where is the balance (your balance) between flexibility and effectiveness?

In doing a bit of research, I like some of the thinking being done over at Forrester. In bringing the worlds together, Derek Miers begins to talk about business process as practices, not only a set of procedures. If you consider layers of an organization, the further back you go, the more rigid (procedural) the process needs to be. As you move closer towards the top, the customer side (communication channels), more flexibility is required as processes “are goal-centric and guided, rather than controlling”. Put this together with work that Kate Leggett is doing, with a strong focus on customer service and service experience:

“Companies need to queue, route, and work on every interaction over all communication channels in the same manner, following the company business processes that uphold its brand”.

Bringing it together

The future of exceptional experiences, both in customer service and more general brand interactions is about integrating the data, process and carefully considering and respecting your customer’s time as well as needs. Creating a more effective process is about the efficiency required by your customer, not your back-office team. Creating consistent experiences means that data and information access across and between channels meets the expectations of your customers and makes sense. From a customer service perspective, customer service needs to evolve

The parts of the organization that are positioned to support these customers need to be part of the development process (design and implementation) of the business process practice areas. Where possible policies and procedures need to evolve into practices and ‘doing the right thing’. Sharing a final thought: Traditionally, CRM has been data and record centric. More modern systems and practices are pushing towards process centric CRM. Actually, the right answer is the combination of data-centricity and process-centricity; it is called Customer Centricity.

The Evolution of Customer Service

October 7, 2011 6 comments

Customer expectations are evolving and customers are more vocal and willing to share both when something is good and something is bad. Customer service is also evolving, frankly, in order to keep pace with customers; but is the pace fast enough? The pace of the change; driven by customers, is accelerating because the social web (commerce and network) has enabled and empowered customers. Try and think back 10-15 years ago; did you make purchases online? Other than ask friends, did you read online reviews? What levels of service were tolerable, did you accept?  When you needed to contact a company did you consider sending a text? You might have sent an email, but when something really needed to happen, you picked up the phone. You might have even sent a letter, you know, the kind requiring a stamp.

In the chart below, I worked to encapsulate and share my view of the top-level changes within customer service. I intentionally did not assign dates to the past, nor the future; the past could be yesterday or last year, the future tomorrow or 2015. This is a not an all or nothing phenomenon, your organization may have certain elements well within the futures bucket and others stuck in the past.  The chart is a refinement of my Evolution of CRM chart, published about a month ago. I am looking forward to sharing these thoughts and more at the Contact Center Expo next week in London

Element One – People

The people involved in customer service, historically, had been the people with customer service somewhere in their title, yes that simple. Organizations need to change this, if they want to grow and prosper (survive?). Products and services are becoming more complex, other parts of the organization absolutely need to become part of the customer engagement process. I am not simply talking about transferring phone calls; it is much bigger than that. I am talking about collaboration and knowledge sharing. You might even call it social business, but I do not want to get ahead of myself.

Element Two – Process

Gone are the days of a paper manual with defined processes for as many scenarios as management can think up. Actually, for some those days are not actually gone. Customers are no longer interested in listening to the script, following the guided path nor being pushed towards the efficient route . If the ‘people’ part of the evolution is accurate, then organizations will also need a way to coordinate activities with other parts of the organization. Yelling over the cubicle does not count as collaboration and sticky notes do not count as knowledge management.

Element Three – Technology

A technical discussion could be approached from many different directions. With respect to this conversation, the more interesting technical element has to do with the channel match which needs to occur between the desire of the organization and the needs of the customer; i.e. the channels of communication used by each. Not only do organizations need to adapt to the changing channel usage by their customers, they need to realize that customer ‘channel hop’ – changing their mode of communication even mid-stream within an interaction happens. Organizations need to consider active pull, versus push to optimize their channel strategy. Active pull means that the value offered on channels you would like people to use is valuable to them, not just you. Real-time, synchronous channels are more expensive, but studies show that satisfaction rates are also higher on these channels.

Element Four – Duration

Historically, the length of time spent by either side of an interaction was limited to the specific activity performed, or issue discussed. Customer Service metrics are often tied to duration, like average handle time. While not every interaction will take on a life of its own, interactions will create a string of communications and form the basis of an ongoing relationship between customer and organization. Enhanced, more sophisticated activities like co-creation and ideation will now take place as well, during product use when it can be most beneficial. This is not about creating life-long friendships, your customer does not want to be your BFF either, this is about working together to mutual benefit. Take the time required to solve the problem, and make sure the customer’s concerns are heard.

Element Four – Centricity

As noted above, metrics and KPIs have been driving Contact Centers since the beginning of time <hyperbole>. The truth is handle time and concepts such as first call resolution will continue to be used, but they will not be the only driving force. As a matter of fact, these metrics will move further down, possibly even to tertiary consideration. As opposed to simply figuring out how quickly they are able to get the customer off of the phone, customer service professionals will consider more than just the current case and will be given latitude to do the right thing and stay on the phone to help the customer. Insights towards customer need by the agent will be augmented by business intelligence both real-time and in aggregate.

Element Five – Approach

Few people appreciate being caught off-guard, unprepared or surprised. Customer issues are more often than not identified first by the customer. What if the customer service teams could identify potential issues and do something about them before the small issues become very large issues? This can be accomplished simply with operational metrics made available to agents (insights). Spending a few more minutes on the phone with a customer, to really understand the root cause of an issue is worth the time and effort.  Or, how about proactive notifications of outages, or product issues (positive call deflections)? Further, taking the time to collaborate with the internal organization, providing superior value to customers, will also reap rewards in the form of loyalty and future business.

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. In the end, it not really about control; Customer Service is about doing what is best for the customer. What do you think? Am I way off base?

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?

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.

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.