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.
(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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.