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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

The Evolution of Customer Community

Community: a group of people sharing common characteristics, common history or common social, economic, or political interests, often located in close physical proximity to other members; interactions are usually face-to-face. 1

Online Community: Same as above, with two big caveats, the proximity is virtual and interactions are digital. The small caveat is that online the commonality among members might not be as significant, but are just as real (like shared product, service or technical interest).

It is not New, but it is Different

What should be evident is that the idea of a community is not a new concept. What is new, however, is the transition from physical proximity to virtual proximity. In the purest of context, virtual communities began about as quickly as the Internet itself, predating the Web or fancy graphical interfaces. Virtual communities progressed from bulletin boards to forums and now we have something even better. What we have now are enhanced graphical capabilities and multiple device support; the user experience is better. One problem remains; integrating communities with the rest of the business. Too often, communities are sets of isolated conversations lost in the vastness of the web.

           Communities should be used to bridge the gap from social media conversation to digital interactions with a purpose? Today many organization are trying to figure out how to leverage social conversations and these new connections to deliver a better customer experience. Customer communities are great way to accomplish this goal. As much as we would like to do it, taking  the online conversations people are having about your company in Facebook and Twitter and dumping them into a CRM system just does not provide a whole lot of value. As you have learned with forums, your customers really do want to connect with you and while the basics have not changed, customers expect more as does your business.

But. In order to really leverage the benefits from social, you have to bring together people, processes, and technology necessary to listen, guide, and engage your customers in the digital world. That means paying attention, understanding who your customers are, and providing them with relevant information for the appropriate stage in the customer lifecycle. In that way, you can truly leverage the capabilities of social media to deliver the kinds of customer experiences that will keep them bringing their business back again and again.

Communities provide a smart way to build engagement in a way that provides your customers with navigable issue resolution, as well as to provide feedback and insights to you and your team.

A customer community allows you to collect and analyze data, derive insights about your customers that will then allow you to provide them with relevant, appropriate information at key points along the journey. Today’s forums, or customer communities, can be strongly linked to social networks in order to maximize insight, streamline campaigns, and drive organizational shift to bring your company into the social age. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

(This post is written as we announce our recent work in building a bridge between SugarCRM and Get Satisfaction)

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Enterprise Customer Experience, A Convergence

January 22, 2013 5 comments

Customer Experience is the superset of sensations, emotions and perceptions felt by your customers before, during and after product or service use. Enterprise Customer Experience represents the people, internal processes and technology required to listen, guide and engage your customers in the digital world; all towards creating better and enhanced experiences. Designing positive experiences begins with understanding needs and wants. Seems logical right? How else can you understand what your customer’s wants and needs, if you do not listen first?

The very next part is to prove that you are listening, if actions do not result, then it is not really listening at all. Yes, in this day and age, you do need to provide proof. For, example, if you do not plan to take any actions based on what you hear, are you really listening? That said, there are many ways to show that you are listening. The first is transparency, allowing people to see inside the organization where they can witness what you are doing, often at their bequest. The second, more interesting way is to specifically give people what they are looking for, as in information, service or a product enhancement.

To customers, being open means more than simply looking through the window, but being able to walk through the front door and participate. An engaging conversation is one where all voices are heard and respected and no one is simply listening, waiting to talk. In order to improve customer experience, you, your team and the whole organization needs to convert the listening to information that can be used to collaborate, co-create and engage at a personal level with your customers. This will take analyzing the data, providing relevant, consistent content, where and when your customers want it, need it and are expecting it.

It is time to move beyond what needs to be done and why it needs to be done.  Some parts of your organization are more advanced than others, some are ready and some are not.  The starting point should be clear. What is less clear is exactly HOW to progress in a uniform fashion from understanding what needs to be done, to actually doing it.  It is time to progress from departmental Social Media initiatives to organizational digital communication programs. These programs should have defined and coordinated objectives. As the team and understanding of the technology mature, Social CRM is next logical step, with both business and technical integration and a digitally aware customer data model.  Internally, CRM will have certain objectives, but it is time to add customer centricity, directed individual engagement and customer collaboration to those objectives. Finally, the end-game, Enterprise Customer Experience. Just my name for it, I suppose, but it seems to fit.

I put together a few slides where I tried to visualize some of my thoughts. The copy is taken from a white paper we just released as well. If you would like a copy of the white paper, please just send me an email mitch.lieberman – at – dri-global.com and I am happy to forward it along.

Social Media Initiatives are too often:

  • Departmental and Uncoordinated,
  • Loosely defined and with soft qualitative objectives,
  • Lacking strong guidance that aligns with corporate vision
  • Have little or no Governance or Oversight
  • Driven by metrics with unproven value (like, follow, +)

Now to progress from disjointed efforts to coordinated and structured efforts,

Social Communication Programs that are characterized by:

  • Multiple, linked digital initiatives,
  • Defined and Coordinated goals (across departments),
  • Agreed to processes for Content,
  • Modestly Mature Governance,
  • Data Capture and Burgeoning Analytics,
  • Tighter agility to act upon lessons learned.

It takes maturation of the organization to make this progression. It is important to not that up until now the discussion is much less about technology than it is about people and process.  Once the organization has matured, it is then possible to reach enhanced customer experience through Social CRM by further integrating more baseline technology, carefully and methodically.

Social CRM sets the course for creating better Customer Experiences, through:

  • Coordinated Customer Facing Communication Programs,
  • Both Technical and Business Level Integration,
  • Advanced Analytics that Improve Customer Insights,
  • Mature, Modern, Customer Data Model,
  • Personal, Customer level Interactions and Engagement.

Now things start to get very interesting. Just when everyone was comfortable with the buzzwords, we are now ready to dump the term ‘Social’. The team realizes that social is a characteristic of people. The term is dispensed with and for the purposes of Customer Experience, the CRM platform is now in charge of the digital data and used for specific purposes.

It is time to execute CRM, across the Enterprise:

  • Data, information and knowledge is universally accessible,
  • Content and digital assets are consistent and shared,
  • Back-office to front-office Collaboration creates efficiency,
  • Customer facing processes are repeatable and embedded,
  • Community and Customer Collaboration are part of the platform.

Finally, it is time to complete the

Enterprise Customer Experience vision:

  • Customer centricity is a reality,
  • Directed engagement at the level of the individual
  • Analytics are predictive,
  • Customer expectations are understood and met,
  • Communications are conversational and collaborative,
  • The organization is highly collaborative,
  • Organizational culture is mature and ready.

The Front Line

October 10, 2012 2 comments

Every Tuesday evening (9 pm EST) a group of people get together on Twitter to discuss Customer Service. You could call it a Tweet Chat, Twitter Jam or a Virtual Water Cooler. The Hashtag; the way in which participants can both filter out noise and denote participation is #custserv. I do not participate every Tuesday, but try and listen in and join in when the timing works and have been doing so for quite a while. The focus last night was on front line agents. The chats are archived, diligently by Marsha Collier, here. but just to share some quick stats regarding last night (October 9, 2012); 95 participants (give or take) and my absolute favorite zero links, in the >750 messages exchanged.

But, how much can actually be shared in 140 characters? Do people simply ‘talk’ and not listen? Everyone has their own approach some topic are more spirited than others, that is for sure. Some people represent big business, some medium, some one person solopreneurs; some consultants, authors, speakers, vendors and practitioners. The egos are checked at the ‘door’ everyone has an opinion that matters. To answer my first question, yes, quite a lot can be shared in 140 characters, it does amaze me sometimes. Of course, there is the occasional ‘sound bite’ but those are becoming more rare.

OK, so how important IS the Front Line Service Person?

As I stated, the topic was regarding front line agents – my quick response to this was “Frontline is an attitude, not a person”. Moving beyond the soundbite, there is a series of subtopics which arise and can be discussed. When I said it, what I was thinking about was actually a bit of a technical spin, but even then there is so much more. The topic of the human element is very important and I will leave that to experts like Kate Nasser – check her work, it is time well spent. However, increasingly, the front line of your organization is technical – sometimes guided by humans, sometimes not. While I do not want to conjure images of battles, the front line of modern warfare is almost all electronic, with human input and intelligence playing a supporting role.

(No, I do not want you to consider doing battle with your customers – I was just making a point. Do a Google search for Front Line, I dare you)

Yes, each bit of technology should be carefully vetted, reviewed, scrutinized and checked again before deployment; but technology as the most likely front line agent is highly likely. From static websites, to FAQs and videos to knowledge bases and Integrated Voice Response systems and automatic email replies and avatar type text chats, non-humans are the only way many businesses are going to be able to scale. Because, in the end, businesses are there to make money. It is a tough, competitive, world out there and every chance they get to be more efficient will be taken.

Is this about Customer Service, Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction or Social CRM – Yes!

Service to Customers needs to be more than just words

September 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Customer service is a mission critical, strategic, imperative, and it drives customer experience. Your products and services are evaluated every moment of every day. When the ‘evaluation’ is not going so well, the phone rings, email chimes, social networks sing. Brand performance (your brand), loyalty and customer satisfaction are driven by the experiences your customers have with your organization every day, every touch and every interaction – full circle.

Service organizations, whether for product companies, constituencies or service businesses are working diligently to orchestrate experiences that are positive, engaging, meaningful and consistent across all channels and touch-points. Imagine being the maestro of an orchestra with expertise levels that range from 20 years to 1 year (nails on a chalk board…). Providing consistent experience across channels and between channels is really, really hard! Further, throw in costs (people and technology), revenue, policy and productivity and your job became even harder.

Getting There, it is Possible

R “Ray” Wang wrote a blog for Harvard Business Review about a year ago, the key points are still resonating. In the post he identified nine characteristics of engagement systems that differ from the transactional systems. Take a look for yourself (after you finish reading this of course). But, I would like to focus on a few of the key points, just now:

First, there are systems that are “Design for sense and response.” These systems of engagement keep the ‘ear to ground’ in order to assess en masse. No transaction system was ever meant to perform this type of function.

Second, in order for the response part to work, systems need to “Foster two-way, engaging conversations.” What this means is that, we must avoid the one sided, unidirectional, broadcast type conversations. In order to accomplish this, systems and people need coordination and a joined up focus.

Third, if the ‘Social Web’ has taught us anything, it is that patience is a dying characteristic – You must deliver (service, answers, help, responses) in real time. Engagement systems need to focus not only on immediacy, but context as well. Users can see activity streams, real-time alerts, and notifications on all their devices.

Finally, you need to reach your constituents, customers, partners and ecosystem on the channels they want, not just the ones that work for you. Your systems of interactions or engagement need to touch corporate departments, personal networks, and mobile devices.

And the way in which you get this done is with a Platform built today, with an eye on tomorrow.

How do you put the Systems Together?

Integration needs to make things easier for the knowledge worker rather than introducing overhead and friction. The consumer Web set the baseline expectations for ease of use including mobile and tablet access. On my small phone, my contacts are linked across 4 different networks and my little device helps me get things done – are you systems integrated?

Work streams and processes need to include integrated, permission based system access including activity streams and community type interactions. This is coordination and collaboration at both the human level and the system level. I need to find the people and information I need to solve a particular problem. The only way to do this is in context. Some people call this search, I like to call it find – similar but different. Hard, yes, but possible.

I will leave with the following. Before I do, I would ask you to consider the following question and comment back. Is this a social issues, an analytics issue or a service issue?

According to an IBM research study – “Social media conversations about parking in Bangalore are three times more negative than in other cities.”

And to this you might say “So, What?” But, let us think about this for a moment. If a city could monitor with an operational ‘eye’ (as opposed to just analytical), the city could learn even more and might actually be able to come up with some tactical solutions, and meet the need of the constituents.

Any Thoughts?

(Disclosure: This post was written for KANA as part of their KANA Connect Customer Conference which is in full swing in Vegas. You can see other posts on the KANA Blog)

Message Heard Loud and Clear, You have no Interest in my Business

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Life is truly stranger than fiction. You cannot make this stuff up. But, before I go there, let me do a little compare and contrast and start with how things should be done.

L.L. Bean Does it Right

 

I made a commitment a long time ago not to simply rant, but also to tell the stories of good. This is a simple story really, as it should be. The family were up in Maine, saying goodbye to a long time family home. One day it was raining, so we decided to just head to Freeport, 15 miles away and the home of L.L Bean, among other outlets. We did not make any big purchases, just a couple pair of inexpensive sunglasses ($18 each pair). The pair my son bought lost a screw and one of the ear pieces about a week after purchase. An email, a response in 20 minutes, knowledge of my purchase, clarification of which pair broke, new pair in the mail – done.

 

Large Financial Services Firm Does it Wrong

 

Managing a portfolio of money. We are not talking Rockefeller nor Trump dollars here, but let’s just say more than the sunglasses. Emails, phone calls, opportunities to show value and caring; nada, zilch, nothing.  Days go by and I need to send another email, make another phone call. An email labeled “URGENT” – oh, I better get to that. Wait, it was something they needed and did not have everything in place. As a matter of fact, the “URGENT” issue took a week to resolve, because they forgot to send something out of the office. I am not going to even touch the legalese and bureaucracy issues, as much of that is not in their control, however, they could have made it more tolerable.

 

Lessons Learned

 

I will most certainly make a purchase at L.L. Bean again, no hesitation. If the product they offer is more expensive than other locations, online or not, yes I will still strongly consider it. Did L.L. Bean “Wow” me or greatly exceed my expectations? No, not really. Wait. Huh? They exceed the norm, but like I said with a family home near the store, L.L. Bean has had consistently met my expectations of them, which of course exceed most (all) other retailers. What about the financial services firm. Business is lost, specifically that location. Is business lost to all branches of that firm, quite possibly. Will I name them publicly? Not sure yet. I may point them and some friends at this post and privately let them know it is about them.

 

The world is now a very transparent place. We all have choices… Let’s spend a minute or two looking at the various metrics. Sure, I am probably skewing things, but it is worth a shot:

 

NPS – Yes, I would  and  will recommend L.L. Bean, no I will not the Financial Services firm
Effort – L.L. Bean is very easy to do business with, I will do business with them again for this reason
Satisfaction – L.L. Bean met my expectations, their own bar is high, but that is fine
Effort and Satisfaction for Financial Services firm – seems obvious to me…

 

Did I take to the Social media waves with frustration and negative commentary, no I did not. I see no reason in this instance unless I call out the firms specific location. I did give props to Bean, because I felt they deserved it.

 

Who’s on First?

Abbott and Costello are probably my favorite comedy double act of all time. Strike that, they are my favorite comedy double act of all time. I used to watch them every Sunday morning at 11am growing up. Within that context, easily my favorite routine, possibly their most famous is their baseball routine; Who’s on First. The general premise behind the exchange has Costello, a peanut vendor named Sebastion Dinwiddle, talking to Abbott who is Dexter Broadhurt, the manager of the mythical St. Louis Wolves. However, before Costello can get behind the plate, Abbott wants to make sure he knows everyone’s name on the team…

Fast forward 30 odd years, and the new double act seems to be Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Experience – you can add the ‘Management’ part if you are so inclined. It seems that every conversation that starts with CRM these days, ends with Customer Experience. But they are strange bedfellows, because one is an Inside-out view of the world and the other is an Outside-in view. Similar to Abbott and Costello, all we want to know ‘everyone’s name on the team’. It sometimes feels like the definitions conversation many have had during the past 3 years or longer. Also, the whole ‘relationship’ bit is quite contentious.

Every conversation about CRM should consider customer jobs to be done (JTBD, thanks Mark Walton-Hayfield for that thought), thus there is an experience happening, in some way shape or form… But, not every experience needs to consider CRM (I touch on this in a post written last year). This is hardly a new conversation, when I began thinking about this, I reached out to my trust network and Paul G came back with the following from CRM at the Speed of Light’s very first edition which came out January 2001 and is on page xvii of the introduction.  Paul noted that this was “LITERALLY the first time I EVER talked about a definition of CRM in any way at all”:

“Okay, enough of this. So, you ask, what is CRM? What is the purpose of this book on CRM technology and the Internet? The more substantial definition of CRM is being left to Chapter 1. However, I’ll throw in a short, distilled, filtered definition (120 proof) of CRM to begin to satisfy your terminological blood lust. CRM is a complete system that (1) provides a means and method to enhance the experience of the individual customers so that they will remain customers for life….”

(Paul mentioned to me that he has some thoughts that he will be sharing directly in about a month’s time)

Cause and Effect

CRM can drive customer experience, but customer experience cannot drive CRM.  Customer Relationship can be impacted by the experiences had with the company (Thanks Scott Rogers for that thought) That said, lessons learned and listening to voice of the customer can impact what data is stored and how to act, of course. CRM is an enabling strategy and technology, used by people inside the organization. Where CRM gets a bad rap is when people believe that CRM and SFA (Sales Force Automation) are the same thing. ‘I don’t know, third base’. They are not the same thing, SFA is an inward focused, manage the pipeline, manage sales process, manage money and very often does not do much to provide external value. Customer Experience is an SFA afterthought, it just is!

How about Social CRM, does that get us closer? Customer Experience and Social CRM are not the same thing, either (again, my blog from last year). I am not going down the path of definitions, been there, done that. Social CRM is about a specific response, by companies because customers now want to have a say in the boundaries of the customer / company conversation. Social CRM takes into consideration how, when and where a company engages in the conversation will impact the experience of the customer. Interestingly, many examples of customer service done right could be called service experience, customer experience or Social CRM, take your pick, there are supporting arguments for any of the above.  I also believe that the word Social is over used and more often than not people actually mean digital, topic for another day.

What about Design?

Proper customer experience design should focus (at least in part) on what good CRM tells you to do. For example, if you are using CRM to manage complaints, the customer data should specify the type of response, the channel of the response and the timing of the response due to the customer. This is not customer experience, is it? A few of the larger analyst firms have so closely linked CRM and customer experience that a conversation about one cannot really be had without the other. Well, that is not totally true, people talking about customer experience do not seem to jump into a CRM conversation, but those talking about CRM quickly jump into a customer experience conversation, hmmm….

Something I have said a few times, you can manage data and you can manage process. Not so sure you can manage customers and I am confident that you cannot manage experiences. We can simply do our best to manage what we would like the experience to be, we can design it and pay attention to detail, it is what the customer perceives it to be – period.  How does, or should CRM play into the design process? For example, where does automation fit in, is automation a bad word? It sounds impersonal. But as Esteban Kolsky shared, people simply want the right answer and they want it now:

“For the first time in more than 15 years, automation through multiple channels is growing and the satisfaction scores are rising steadily. People are liking what they get, for the most part, and companies are improving how they do things. In the early 2000s, purchasing a ticket by phone using United’s telephone network would take over one hour and involve an innumerable number of steps; today it can be done in 5-10 minutes in far fewer and easier steps (mostly thanks to speech recognition).”

Just remember, if you want to know ‘Why’ – He is the left fielder… The answer is ‘Because’, the center fielder.

Evolution of the Contact Center

June 13, 2012 2 comments

The purpose of a contact center, your contact center, is to support the customer driven enterprise. It is the hub of customer communications, interactions and engagement, now and will be, well into the future.

From Customer Centricity to Customer Experience and Customer Journeys, the simple premise is to always consider the customer the center of everything you do as a business—where better to serve these needs than from the contact center?


As technology evolves, so too does the way your customers use technology to both communicate and to get her job done. The question you should be asking yourself, ‘How do I keep pace, making sure I have the right Vision, Goals and Strategy to execute’? In a short post, I can only scratch the surface of the six core tenets of a solid customer communications strategy. In this context, the contact center and customer service seem interchangeable, but this is not quite true.

The modern contact center can and should be so much more than faceless, emotionless communications. In the perfect world, a product should do “what it says on the tin” and “the best customer service is no customer service”. The reality is that communicating with your customers is critically important, and this will always be the case.

People

In the contact center, the people have historically been those with service representative or agent somewhere in their title, yes that simple. Now and in the future, this is no longer going to be acceptable. Organizations need to change this, if they want to grow and prosper; is it enough to simply survive, or is thrive the operative word? The ‘front face’ and ‘voice’ of all organizations is expanding beyond customers service to different parts of the enterprise; marketing, product, sales and the executives.

Products and services are becoming more complex. Engagement, collaboration and knowledge sharing are not just ideas, they are action words. The number of people who need to understand your corporate vision is bigger than ever. The people in the organization need to be empowered to act, flexible in approach and dynamic in delivery, even more so than the technological components.

Process

A process is a series of actions. Coordination is that series of actions within and across the enterprise, either with people or systems. Sometimes, a process is simple and does not require a lot of coordination, sometimes it is quite complex. A process can be how a person needs to accomplish a task, or how a machine needs to accomplish a task. The key is not how well defined a process is, rather how easily it can be changed to meet the needs of the customer.

Paper based, rigid and often manual processes are no longer in vogue. Customers are no longer interested in listening to a static script, following your defined path, nor being pushed towards your most efficient route. The front office needs to be coordinated with other parts of the organization. Yelling over the cubicle does not count as coordination, sticky notes do not count as managing information and firing off an email is not business process management. (If you would like to get a better sense of how I see processes evolving, here are my thoughts on the Digital Interaction Processes )

Technology

Technology can mean many things, different to each persona and perspective. For this discussion, the channels of communications supported by your organization are the focus. Channels supported need to adapt to the changing usage by your customers. It is likely that your customers enjoy changing modes of communication, possibly even mid-stream, during a process. This is their prerogative. Real-time, synchronous channels are more expensive, but studies show that satisfaction rates are also higher on these channels.

Customers do want to use new channels such as social media and web-chat to interact with a businesses—but they want these in addition to (not instead of) established, ‘traditional’ ones (Phone or Email). That’s because their channel choice will depend on why, where and when they are contacting the business.

Often customers will use (or would like to use) multiple channels during a single ‘transaction’—for example, researching a new product or service online and reading peer reviews (community) before purchasing in store then using help forums to discover new features. And if there’s a problem, they may want to talk to someone. Technology certainly includes more than just channels of communications. Your ability to integrate data and information from the old and stodgy to the new and cool are critical to the success of the modern contact center.

Governance

Co-creation emphasizes the generation and ongoing realization of mutual organization-customer value. Historically, organizations would spend time and effort to extract as much value out of a relationship as possible. Customers are now more knowledgeable, connected and interactive with each other than they have ever been. The governance model of the customer driven enterprise will increasingly be focused on co-creation. Your contact center needs to be part of the game.

Co-created value arises in the form of personalized or unique experiences for the customer (value-in-use). Value is co-created with customers if and when a customer is able to personalize his/her experience using a firm’s product-service proposition. An example of value extraction is the parking lot attendant who charges you an extra day for a 1⁄2 hour overage, or the rental car company who charges ridiculous rates for gasoline. Businesses need to get smarter here.

Metrics

Metrics are similar to the governance, but there are subtle differences. Where governance focuses on value co-creation, metrics are how things are measured. Too often, metrics are used to validate Return On Investment (ROI), where the importance of metrics for the modern company is further ‘down-stream’ in areas such as customer loyalty, customer satisfaction and retention.

In the contact center the traditional metrics are Average Handle Time (AHT) and first call resolution. The legacy operational cost savings metrics might actually get in the way of positive customer experience, driving down satisfaction and loyalty ratings. More and more of the forward-looking organizations are using handle time as a training tool, not to measure the business. A very interesting measurement is customer effort, which asks a very simple question “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” and has shown to be predictive of repurchase, for example.

Approach

Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, (this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective, determination to reach an identical objective)—for example, an intriguing endeavour that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. (Wikipedia). We believe collaboration and co-operation are closely aligned, with emotional elements highlighting the differences. The more someone is controlled, the less positive the experience ‘feels’. Being proactive is simply getting ahead of potential issues, not waiting for them to happen to you.

Is it possible to put it all together?

Yes it is. It is going to take work? Yes it will. I do not believe you can accomplish it all at once, nor should you try. That said, understanding how all the of the elements are interrelated is an imperative. Some of the elements are within the control of the IT department; some are in Sales and Marketing, while you can control some as well. A technology solution will provide a solid base upon which you can meet the goals and objectives set forth by your mission as an organization. The strategy to accomplish each goal is about the people and the process; supported by technology.