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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

From the Long Tail to the New Normal

March 26, 2012 6 comments

In this next installment of my ‘connect the dots’ series I am going out on a bit of a limb. My objective here is to help people understand the importance of ‘New Normal’, in writing this I have a better sense of it myself. Working backwards, the ‘New Normal’ is very similar in concept to what Seth Godin calls “Weird”. The best way for me to describe ‘Weird’ is that it is the rest of the story, left out in most Long Tail discussions. The Long Tail, as discussed by Chris Anderson, talks about the outliers, the ones who live and purchase at the edges of the spectrum. In other words, the Long Tail does not talk too much about the rest of the distribution, at least not from the customer-centric perspective. While I have heard New Normal used before, I have not seen many illustrations of what it might look like (other than teenagers walking down the street texting from a mobile phone).

The value of the diagram is to illustrate to others, using specific examples and to talk about the ‘New Normal’, moving beyond buzzwords or hyperbole.

The New Normal has been and can be used to understand many of the changes and challenges many people have been talking about for a while now. Ideas such as; The Social Customer, The Collaborative Organization, Social CRM, Social Business  and more might be better understood with a simple illustration.  Think about the distribution of communication channels used 5 years ago, versus now. We simply have more choices. This is not only about customer communications, think about the ways in which you communicate with your peers now, versus 5 years ago. Would it be interesting to chart some this with your own data?

What exactly is ‘New’ about the New Normal

When applied to a business context, the bell curve is being ‘flattened’.  While Chris Anderson and peers talked about Amazon and Netflix –this is now about your products, services and your customers. The long tail is now the ‘tail wagging the dog’. Let’s bring this a little closer to home; the customer journey. What follows is an objective view, with some sweeping assumptions and data without research data as the foundation. For the purists among you, I am focused on the journey and channels of communication, not the product economics of weird, nor long tail.

Consider the number of modes of communication that a customer used from evaluation to purchase for your product 10 years ago (If you did not have a product 10 years ago, think of your own journey). There might have been a Yahoo search, then a phone call. Maybe an email and a website visit. For the sake of this conversation, let’s speculate that the number of channels used averaged 3 and for 70% of the customers they used between 2 and 4 channels. The rest likely used between 1 and 5 channels. This brings us really close to a pretty, normal distribution, though slightly narrow and steep.

How about today? What would the number of channels look like for the same (or similar) product purchase journey? Again, not scientific, but the data is likely available for your business – Could we guess average of 4 channels? This is just one channel more, on average, but it changes the game. Based on the flattening of the curve, to get to that 70% of your customer base it is likely something like “70% of the customers use between 2 and 7 channels; a pretty big range, not as simple as it used to be. The key point here is that you need to dig in deeper and understand what they are doing on each channel. How many channels would we need to include to get to 95% of your customer population (the -2σ to 2σ in the illustration above)?

The important part of the flattening is not only the reduction in the middle, it is the increase on the edges. I want to be clear on a few things. The new Normal for your customers is dependent upon where they have been. The pace of change is determined by you and your customers, not by a consultant or analyst. Just for fun, if you want to see a Normal distribution in action, take a look at this graphic of the snow in Vermont, as it careens off the bell curve in 2012.  All I can say is, I hope this does not represent the ‘New Normal’. There is a whole lot more to this story – just think about it. As always, the time Sword Ciboodle allows me to think through these concepts is greatly appreciated!

Sources:

Mirror Images – Customer Experience versus Employee Experience

January 21, 2012 2 comments

In my first Mirror Images post, I referred to Social CRM as a “A complex overlay” on top of customer service, customer relationships and the supporting strategy, technology and processes. If we can accept this, that Social CRM is an overlay, then we should be able to agree that it does mirror Social business (or Enterprise 2.0), as Social Business is also an overlay on top of many standard business practices and concepts. Diving deeper to a more definitive concept; is employee experience the mirror of customer experience? Unfortunately, most people who talk/write on the topic of ‘experience’ focus on the customer aspect and neglect the employee experience; the literature therefore is not as extensive.  In this area, topics typically include empowerment, engagement, and satisfaction. There is very little that directly talks to employee experience, after all it is just a job, right – no, wrong. Moving forward, this is going to have to change.

Your own Marketing team is working very hard to enhance the customer experience, hoping to take advantage of what mobile and tablet devices have to offer (Cool UI) to build stronger relationships with people (customers and prospective customers). But, let’s not forget that before you drove into work this morning, you were a consumer, using these devices and you were the target of these efforts, by some other company. The number of connected TV sales is expected to double in 2012, these same people are highly likely to have an Xbox, an iPod, Kindle, KindleFire or some other next generation device. Now, you are sitting in front of screen, your team is sitting in front of an even bigger screen, maybe with a headset connected and they are using circa 1990’s technology to help your customers. What gives?

Think about it, all of this effort which is customer facing and your internal teams are frankly having a lousy experience. Can we gamify work a bit, to make it more fun? Or is that pandering to misaligned expectations of a certain employee type or demographic? As a did in my previous post,  I turned to friend for some help and insight. I asked the question to Mark Tamis and we had a bit of an electronic conversation or Socratic debate. My going in position is the better employee experience will lead to a better customer experience, as this is the logical answer. But, as Mark points out, it is not that simple.

Does better user (employee) experience lead to better customer experience?

MT: First of all, I believe the question leads to trying to compare apples to pears.

ML: That is better than apples to oranges, no?

MT: French expression badly translated

MT: The customer has gone through a journey and his experience has been shaped by interactions at every touch point (dealing with your company, in-store experience, exchanging with friends, family and peers and so on), whereas the employee experience is shaped the interactions with colleagues, suppliers, systems and – only at very precise touch points – clients. So although the customer and the employee are intimately linked, they are not on the same journey.

ML: Valid point, but at that critical point where the journeys intersect will define many things and likely be more impactful to the customer. We have both been known to say that the experience perceived is more important than the intended design. Like most of life we spend most of the time learning and preparing for those moments where we have to act. While not on the same journey, the journey’s are linked and aligned.

MT: By the very nature of company-customer relations, the employee journey is sub altered to the customer journey which leads to the chicken and the egg problem of when a negative customer experience is taken out on an employee who is not able to or not empowered to do anything about it, which in turn leads to a negative employee experience that negatively influences the way the employee deals with the following customer et cetera.

ML: Very interesting, and I agree that the employee experience impacted by the customer experience and journey. I will suggest that the employee would only partially hold his own organization accountable for the treatment by the customer, unless it is a trend, and they are not empowered to do anything about it. While valid, employees should be able move beyond this type of reaction.

MT: Partially, but up to which point? Either stop trying to fight it and become demotivated, go on a crusade and risk being shot down, or simply…leave.

MT: Breaking this vicious circle consists of first by understanding the customer’s journey and coordinating efforts to improve it and second by providing the employees with the infrastructure (data, insight, tools and processes) and conditions (work conditions, a company culture that facilitates collaboration) to do so. Ultimately it comes down to reducing frictions (for the customer and for employees) to help the customer in his job to be done and reach the desired outcomes.

ML: Who is responsible and accountable for removing the fractions? It must be on the employee side, management etcetera, driving for a positive employee experience.

Mark, great stuff and I do appreciate your time and thoughts. I believe we are mostly aligned, though I will admit it is bigger and more complex than I had originally thought. The two journeys are different but it is those all important intersections where things happen. The key question is what will the state of mind (on each side) be at those points? Business units and IT departments will need to invest more in the design of services, for the internal customer. The expectations by everyone; not just the younger or Millenial crowd, are higher, and need to align with customer expectations. In order for a true person to person relationship to be established, experience must be aligned on both sides of the firewall. This is clearly not all about technology (yes, I do work for a technology vendor) but at the same time, technology is a huge part of the equation, there is no getting past that point. For contact center agents, their experience is critically important, and I believe there is a connection to customer experience – a big one.

The Contact Center of the Future

December 15, 2011 1 comment
  • The future of customer service is agility; the ability to adapt to the changing needs of your customers
  • The future of service excellence is differentiation, the ability to create personalized and engaging service experience
  • The future of service process is contextual optimization; the capability to coordinate and/or collaborate, internally, while staying focused on supporting customer jobs
  • The future of the service desktop is an intuitively designed, content rich, positive user experience
  • In the future (now actually) your team needs to provide a faster, superior, efficient service experience every day, to every customer on every channel

(Check out a video interview with Kate Leggett, Esteban Kolsky and a couple of Ciboodlers.)

A responsive organization is an integrated organization. The simple recipe here is 2 parts people 2 parts process and 1 part technology, all very important ingredients (after all what would fish be without the chips?). I am not convinced that an integrated organization equates to a social organization; but they are kissing cousins and my social business peers might be able to convince me if they believe it to be required. An integrated and coordinated organization are table stakes in order to service the ever more sophisticated, demanding and complex customer. Again, this might equate to be the social customer, that is TBD – but I do not want to get stuck on social this and that. For better or worse, each customer has the expectations of a preferred premium experience.

I started this post with the thought that I was to write a bit of a prediction post for 2012. Thus, it seemed natural to write about the Contact Center of the Future. But, I have two major struggles with the task at hand:

  1. In the Future, there will not be a ‘center’ there will be sets of roles logically aligned and systems physically connected; the people will be everywhere, the data here and there.
  2. The future will obviously include 2012, but it also includes 2013, 2014, etc.,… The point is that 2012 will be part of the journey, but not the endpoint (we are only scratching the surface).

A well-structured, modern contact center allows for the emphasis to be properly placed on helping and engaging with customers; past, present and future. With each type listed, your organization needs to show value and establish trust. The contact center of the future will allow agents to more easily add that human element to each interaction, fostering relationships, and pushing the needle in the right direction. No matter what needle you look at!

A Scenario

As I am writing this, at least in part, on Cyber Monday, I am of course influenced by the latest and greatest of tech toys. I am not yet a fan of 3D viewing in my home, but I suppose all it will take is one grand experience at a friends house and then I will be sold.  That of course got me thinking about how video will make its way into the contact center -err, communications hub, or customer service area. There will be a dedicated team for certain industries, where video will begin to make a big impact. Think business to business for auto-manufacturers or heavy equipment. As devices and technology get more complex, it will take better visualization techniques than we have currently to make things work.

Multi-channel and Cross-channel complexities go well beyond simply the scope of customer service, the contact center or marketing – these are company wide issues.

  • Fact: Customers expect to be able to make a purchase using a mobile device
  • Fact: Amazon allows anyone to scan a bar code in a physical store to compare a price
  • Fact: Displaying something in a store is more expensive than storing it in a warehouse
  • Fact: If you are planning to compete on price alone, you will lose

Here is the scenario

Customer A does some research on Google for a new television (the new 3D version I was talking about above). The customer notices that is available at the local Best Buy, around the corner. Since the new 3D glasses are involved, there is some hesitation to simply ‘pull the trigger’ online, as the glasses need the ‘will my wife actually wear these things’ question answered. Customer goes to the store, looks at the unit, tries the glasses on and begins to wander the store to ‘think things though’. Remembering the scanner application he downloaded last week, the customer scans the bar code sees that it is available at Amazon and also reads the reviews. The dilemma: The TV is available on Amazon for $200 less and it can be at the door in 2 days….

Amazon might be cheaper, but do they also have geek squad? Is Customer A confident that when he gets home he is able to mount the television on the wall, connect the wires to new fancy Dolby surround sound and internet devices. What will Amazon do when Customer A sends an email, rings the phone, looks for a forum or post the question on Twitter? Truth be told, I am not sure of those answers, but I do know that Best Buy has all of the these things as well as a contact center. I am not saying Amazon does not, I am just less familiar.

One final thought, the phone is part of the contact center of the future – just sayin’

Some other good folks who spend their days thinking about Customer Service, Contact Centers and the required technology share their thoughts regarding the Contact Center of the Future. Esteban Kolsky (thinkJar), Kate Leggett (Forrester), Steven Thurlow (CTO, Sword Ciboodle) give more than just an opinion on what is required to the needle forward.

The Phone, It Still Matters in this Social, Cross-Channel World

November 22, 2011 12 comments

(This is an expanded post based on the original – with a bit of a teaser on survey results at the bottom)

First talked about in 1844, written about again in 1854, patented (US) in 1876, argued about for another 10 years, connected across the US in 1915: The Telephone. We cannot forget the importance of Alexander Graham Bell (and many others, to be fair), a native of Edinburgh, Scotland a short trip from the Ciboodle HQ outside of Glasgow. So, here we are nearly 100 years from that first cross country call and the phone remains relevant, even more important than many communication channels which have come on the scene since. Friend Mark Tamis suggests that given my thoughts and writing regarding cross channel, I could have been a bit more creative and played on the word ‘cross’ a bit m0re – he is probably right – but I digress.

A Chat With Paul Greenberg

“When push comes to shove, social stuff is still, and even email, is degrees of separation. People are nastier in emails than they ever are in person…Consequently, the real one-on-one interaction is always the telephone” Paul Greenberg

I had a great opportunity to spend a few minutes talking with Paul Greenberg while at the Destination CRM show in NYC. It just so happened that during this time we had a video crew on stand-by and were able to spontaneously capture the moments on film, with excellent lighting of course.

During the emergent phase of Social Communications, the phase we are in right now, the core objective of many social platforms is to go get something done on another platform. To some, this is go read this article, to others; this is please go buy something. In the customer service realm, this is often to shift the communications from a channel that is hard, like email or Twitter, to something synchronous and real-time. It is still too difficult to resolve a personal, complex or sensitive issue on a Facebook wall or in 140 characters.

Multi-channel customer service is the wave the present and we will certainly ride this wave into the future. We will see an increase use of social channels for many different things, but we will hop from one channel to the next (cross-channel) and make contextual decisions based on many things. In the end, when there is an emotionally charged issue, or an urgent issue such as a service outage, insurance claim, bank issue – in person or face to face communication and the telephone will remain critical to problem resolution for many years to come.

“The phone is ultimately how things will get resolved, if it is big enough”

A bit of a Teaser

What do you think? Am I being over simplistic? Too conservative in my approach and thoughts? I invite you to give some feedback and challenge me a bit. Esteban Kolsky and his Research firm thinkJar are just now completing a survey and I am finding the results very interesting. As a bit of a teaser, out of 300 respondents, when asked the question “What social service channels does your organization currently support?” over 60% said they support Twitter and a handful more (literally) said they support Facebook. This is a cross industry, cross continental result set – one that we will be digging into (ie, slicing and dicing the data a bit) in more depth in the upcoming weeks. Does that number surprise you? It did surprise me….

Customer Service Through Social, Is It Worth Doing?

November 13, 2011 1 comment

It is something many smart people have written about and it ‘feels like’ the right thing to do. Talk about it in a meeting, and you get ‘head nods’ of affirmation. But, we need to ask the tough question to find out where we really stand, as well as ‘why’. I am hoping that you are willing to be part of that process. Along with thinkJar, we are conducting a research project that challenges “Social Customer Service” a bit. Practitioners are invited to participate in the research, first by visiting the Survey (It should take about 10 minutes, tops) and/or participating in a follow-up discussion, if you are ready, willing and able.

The research and analysis will help to reveal insights in four key areas:

  • Is the move to customer service using social necessary and beneficial?
  • How to move from ‘traditional’ multi-channel to social multi-channel and cross-channel customer service?
  • Knowledge management and social knowledge must collude, how can they be accomplished?
  • Are communities what make ‘social’ work for customer service? Or is something else required?

Organizations face a variety of challenges, both technical and cultural, when they are considering adopting and emerging customer service processes. Yes, as much as customer service using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Forums and Blogs has been talked about (evangelized, proselytized) on all the aforementioned channels, this is still very much an emergent practice. The survey results, interviews and subsequent analysis will help businesses to navigate the confusing and sometimes misdirected and hyped messages.  Hopefully, if all goes to plan, the results will help the decision making process when it comes to adding and  integrating new social channels effectively. One important debate topic, which the survey hopes to shed light on, is whether or not investments in social customer service is “money well spent.” Everyone’s knee-jerk reaction to this is ‘Of Course’ – but when you ask “why”, the answer is harder, and less consistent.

While Esteban will surely be chiming in with his own thoughts, here is a quick snippet: “We have been theorizing long enough, this is a good opportunity to ask the questions, directly to the practitioners regarding the direction of using social channels for customer service,” said Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of thinkJar. “Further, this is an opportunity to understand both how the decisions are made and how the outcomes are measured.”  One of the interesting things I have done with the first part of this research is to first isolate the announcement of the survey view email to specific folks and ask my executive peers and account teams to send the request directly. This second wave is view social channels, and I have a theory that the results will be a bit different (we will  be able to segment the data).

The survey will be open for participation through November 23, 2011. If you are not interested in the survey itself, but would like to participate in the research, please reach out and we can arrange a call. Or, if you know of someone else, please take a moment and forward the link above, along. The results will be shared openly in January 2012. Again, the survey link is here we are hoping you are willing to take the time.

(For those who have read my thoughts over the past couple years, you probably know my thoughts on this topic. Even so, it is a valuable exercise to take a hard, objective look to make sure we are headed down the right path!)

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?

The CRM and Disruption in the Contact Center

August 7, 2011 1 comment

I am very much looking forward to attending CRM Evolution in NYC next week. I am honored to be sitting on some very good panels with great people. At first glance, the panel discussions are only loosely related. After all, one is about “Disruption and the Lean, Mean CRM Machine” the second is about “The Intelligent Contact Center“. How can they be related – after all one is about CRM and the other is about the Contact Center. Unless of course, people in Contact Centers use CRM Software – if you ask them what they use, CRM is actually an unlikely answer!

To quote Michael Krigsman, moderator of the first panel “The world of CRM has changed profoundly during the past several years.  New trends, such as the cloud and social, have changed the way users and vendors view the entire CRM landscape”. The additional question which comes to mind, what do customers think about all of this? Which parts of CRM – or Contact Center technology are truly disruptive to customers? The customers do not really care where the system is, as long as their problems are solved. Or is there more to it? As an end user, does the technology in use have meaning to you?

The second panel, one which i submitted to the conference and asked Esteban Kolsky to moderate takes a look at the contact center. The primary customer of CRM right? “Technology advances allow for a seamless customer experience; are your teams able to keep up? How do these technologies combine to improve customer experience?”  With technology advances allowing for better experiences, are companies actually providing better experiences? What is the actual relationship between CRM, technology and process and the contact center? A quick thought is that the contact center allows for the combining of data, information, through technology allowing the people and systems to make smart decisions.  But, is that all? What about the human factors, engagement and relationships – where do these important aspects fit it in? Technology cannot solve that problem, though it can help.

I hope to see you in New York!

Social CRM is not “Dead”; Social Media needs to Evolve

June 29, 2011 8 comments

IBM Institute for Business Value has released the second of their two part series “From social media to Social CRM“. Just by the title alone, you might have guessed that IBM does not quite agree that the epitaph has been written, nor spoken regarding Social CRM. After reading, and re-reading, this, the second in the series IBM report, I find it a rather bold approach to both social media as well as Social CRM. The study actually ties the two closer together than anyone has to date. While there are a few ideas and conclusions I might alter, there are some really interesting points as well and it is worthwhile for you to read directly.

The report surfaces some really interesting ideas about Social CRM and social media, which at first blush, I can almost guarantee that many of the regulars who read my blog will at first, disagree with. I can say that because I did at first as well. Frankly, I wanted not to like the paper, with some of my own thinking progressing beyond Social CRM; but that is not where I ended up.  The diagram above, and the messages in the report paint a picture where the maturity of social media will only be realized by a progression to Social CRM.

“If companies want to unlock the potential of social media to reinvent their customer relationships, they need to think about CRM in a new light while building a strategic and operational framework that provides both structure and flexibility.”

I found this to be quite refreshing actually; suggesting that Social CRM is the strategy end-point of social media. Whether it is ‘the’ strategy end-point or ‘a’ strategy end-point is to be determined, but IBM makes a strong case. My perspective is, and has been, that Social CRM is not one thing, but many different things, which is why it is hard for people to use it as a label. Sometimes, labels allow us to put things in buckets and sometimes they get in the way. Again, the jury is out on that one too.  Just look at the term ‘social’ it meant one thing for the past 50 years in business, only in the past 5 has it become something different.

Where I believe thinking went astray, by those who believe Social CRM has run its course, is by associating only ‘Social’ to CRM where it should be ‘Social Media’ – but, SMCRM is an acronym that would never stick.  The nuance is that social media encompasses both the technology (channel) and culture, where ‘social’ is just one part. But, what to call it is not really as important as what it does and how to accomplish your business goals. Among the issues preventing the maturation might be where social media resides within the organization. The place where customers would expect the convergence is an integrated contact center, the problem is that few companies have one. As the IBM report states, typically, 52% of the time, Marketing is responsible for social media strategy, and only 20% of the time Customer Service is responsible. With respect, we are asking one department, in isolation, to manage a continuum of experiences.

How does Social CRM fit with(in) Customer Experience?

Are we talking about Customer Experience, Customer Service Experience or Social CRM? Customer Experience is quite big (more in a minute) and cannot be managed any more than relationships can be managed. I would also suggest (and I have) that Customer Service Experience is a subset of Customer Experience; I believe Social CRM to exist in the same way, it is a subset of the solution, not the whole solution.

A Peter Drucker quote comes to mind: “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.  With this in mind, I would like to extend these great words and suggest that ‘a Customer Experience is not what you design it to be, it is what a customer perceives it to be’. I would also add that managing experiences or perceptions is very difficult  (Hollywood and Disney can manage perceptions, most businesses cannot).

The maturation of social media to Social CRM can and will help by providing “integrated insights to improve customer experiences”, as stated in the IBM report. Reading Kerry Bodine’s recent blog and referenced Forrester report on Customer Experience in parallel with the IBM report was quite fun (geek fun, of course). In Kerry’s report, CEM is described as a very broad and important topic – which it is! The far-reaching impacts of CEM include all of the customer communication touchpoints, which includes Social CRM engagement, as well as many many other touchpoints?

“Customers interact with companies across hundreds of discrete touchpoints as they discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, and get support for a company’s products and services” and “customers interact with a company’s employees and partners either directly or via some intermediating technology”

CRM (Social or not) does not include a display ad, the coffee cup, the shower curtain in a hotel room, all important to CEM, though not to CRM. Where CRM comes into play is when a human contacts a human – period. Trying to tie the two together, if there is an intermediating technology, CRM is not likely to be involved. If a company is speaking directly to a person, and the channel of communication is public; aka social media, then the term Social CRM makes sense. Per the IBM research, social media, when used correctly is about engagement, thus needs to be part of a broader Social CRM strategy.  Proper CEM strategy is bigger than CRM and Social CRM but needs to include both if the approach is to be considered complete.

The constant debate of trying to separate out people and process from technology is tough, but important. “Service excellence is achieved by an almost harmonious dance between the people, processes and technological components.” I believe this can be stated for both Social CRM and Customer Experience – but that is just me. Just because a vendor is making a statement, does not make the statement wrong – nor right.

If you made it to this point, you might be interested my post earlier this spring called “The Perception Gap in Social”, based on data from the first IBM report in the series. Full disclosure, IBM is a Sword Ciboodle Partner, and Sword Ciboodle is certified on IBM’s insurance framework

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.