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Posts Tagged ‘SocialCRM’

Who Leads the Social CRM Market? – An Analysis

April 23, 2011 3 comments

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

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

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

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

Social CRM does Require Technology, but it is about People

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

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

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

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

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

So, Who is in the Lead?

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

Where Does SMS Fit in the [Social] World?

February 27, 2011 6 comments

I wanted to see if I could write an entire post using an iPhone, for some reason, it seemed an interesting way to think about SMS, (the protocol behind text messaging) as a channel communication.  I did get the first 250 words ‘penned’ on the device, but failed to complete the task. I wanted to learn more about SMS, both technically and culturally. SMS/texting is a bit Jekyll and Hyde, as it seems to be among the most private form of communication available, yet, at the same time it is extremely social (ask a teenager), there in lies the intrigue. During my journey, the most consistent thing I found, was inconsistency! In my current role with Sword Ciboodle, spending time thinking about intelligence in the contact center consumes a lot of my time – Where does SMS fit? Do you have the answer?

I started my exploration with a query on Twitter. My simple question was “If someone hands you a business card, there is implied permission to call/email. What about texting? Why?” As some responses began to come in, my curiosity was piqued and I began to wonder about  the broader SMS topic as well as where this peculiar channel fits into the customer service as well as the Social CRM realm. I then began to think about forms (requests for data online and off) and wondered if by giving a mobile number, there is an implied permission to use SMS. I expanded my research to the usual places (Google and Wikipedia) as well as to request the assistance of a few good friends.

SMS is often like ‘phoning from under the table’. Were you ever in a meeting and it was running over time, and you had to SMS your next meeting, or SMS the person chairing the meeting so you could get out? That’s the sort of back channel, back door to the main conversation that SMS enabled. It’s not the main conversation, it augments the main conversation. Kids do this all the time.  Five kids in a huddle are talking to one another face to face, and another ten people via SMS, at the same time, and they are often in the same conversation. –  Paul Sweeney, Friend and Head of Innovation VoiceSage

Paul’s comments really struck a nerve, mostly on the wide and varied use of SMS. His point on ‘augmenting’ the main conversation is a good and important one. In this case, it is like a back channel, with urgency and immediacy attached. I am not sure about your phone, but SMS seems to take priority, popping up and interrupting everything else. That said, I  fear that we are no closer to defining how exactly SMS fits into a channel, social or communication strategy. Still struggling, I decided to reach out to another friend, Barry Dalton, Senior Vice President of Technology, for Telerx. Barry hit on a couple of  excellent points, and finally I can being to see how the pieces fit together:

When I call you, whether you’re a business acquaintance or dear friend, you have the option of picking up or letting the call go to vm [voice mail].  SMS does not afford the receiver the same control.  Have you ever sent a text and not gotten a response?  What was your feeling?  The sender knows the text went through.  The expectation is that it will be responded to, pretty immediately.  Whereas a voice mail left has a lesser expectation of immediate, or any, response.  So, in that sense, with that expectation from the sender, I think it is viewed as more invasive and thus more personal.  As for the person to company, its not so much the intimacy as it is the expectation of immediate response.

One particular point struck me, and that is that SMS is more invasive, it is not only push, but it is push NOW! As Barry highlights, there is a bit of uncertainty associated with not receiving a reply to a text. With family, the order is; Are they ok? Is the phone off? Am I being ignored, how rude! With business associates, it is the same list, just in reverse. As Paul stated “It retains those characteristics of being “of the moment”, thus the etiquette that has evolved.” Though I am not quite sure what the etiquette has evolved to, that is the question. Barry added some great and important points. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did spend some time on a Skype call with Graham Hill on this topic and Graham was of like mind here – “When you give out your mobile number, there is not an expectation that people will initiate the conversation via text”.

A bit of background and some data

According to Wikipedia, SMS / text messaging is the most widely used data application in the world, with 2.4 billion active users, or 74% of all mobile phone subscribers. Yes, that is both bigger than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined and more far reaching. The popularity is greater in emerging markets as well.

Starting with a little compare and contrast:

  • For India: Mobile phone usage is (752 Million as of Feb 2011, with a 65% penetration) larger than the Internet usage which is (100 Million as of December 2010, 8.5% penetration). Various sources suggest that SMS usage in India is about 60% **.
  • For the United States: Mobile phone usage sits at about 293 Million mobile phone users, with a 93% penetration. The number of Internet users is about 240 Million, with about a 77% penetration. Percentage of US subscribers who use SMS (versus number of messages) is unclear to me at this time.
  • Both countries have about 40% Internet usage from their mobile devices, but the raw numbers are obviously quite different.

Getting back to SMS, while mobile phone talk usage use increased 1.8x between June 2005 to June 2010, the number of text messages sent in the US increased 37x in the same time period (CTIA). As I alluded to above, I believe SMS usage is skewed, especially in the US and hard to put percentages around, unless you slice and dice the data across many variables (age, gender, education, location, business…) SMS has an interesting history as well. SMS is sent over the control channel required between the mobile handset & the tower, which is the basis of the 163 character limitation. “SMS is sent over the control channel required between the mobile handset & the tower. This is a channel that the telecom operators need to have, its sine qua non – an inescapable cost thats already written off.” (Prem Kumar) The control channel is something that is needed, existed already, is underutilized bandwidth and did not cost the carriers anything extra – think about that when you consider your bill.

The Task at hand, Where Does SMS Fit?

I am not talking about ‘Social’ everthing , I am talking about communications, protocol and etiquette. When someone hands you a business card, the current standard is phone and email. Often, there are two or more phone numbers, office, mobile and maybe fax. More sophisticated folks may use Google voice, or some such technology, giving only one number. When a business has your mobile number they need explicit permission to use it for marketing purposes. According to Graham, businesses have not fully grasped the potential of SMS. My perspective, is that they are focusing on all of the other applications which sit higher on the stack of the mobile device. SMS is a perfect medium to drive a call to action. The character limitation is a perfect ‘excuse’ not to include details, because you cannot actually do it.

Where and how should SMS fit into the overall customer experience? SMS seems like a powerful yet simplistic communication protocol, which everyone with a mobile device has access to (though in the US there is an extra charge). It is fast, and works through walls (you know, those building where phones barely work, yes SMS works). There are some fantastic uses of SMS:

  • Your car is ready, please come by and pick it up, thank you for your business
  • You are nearing the limit on your <insert many things>, would you like to add to the balance now?
  • We are running a special on double mocha lattes, please stop by, show the attached code
  • Here is your boarding card sir/madam, just use the attached QR code to board your flight.

Notice that the main use is outbound, SMS, in the context of business to consumer does not appear to be (not in the US anyway) a synchronous, by directional form of customer communications. I would like to hear a good example of a customer using an inbound SMS to take action. Send ’em if you got ’em! What are the boundaries of your mobile number? Would you expect a new acquaintance to send you a text message?  What if an online form asks for a mobile number? Say for your kids school, the cable company, the electric company? Is the answer the same?

Yes, I am asking a lot questions in this particular post. Some friends made some interesting comments when I asked the question on Twitter the other night. Barry suggested that Customer Service has skipped SMS, which I’m some industries is true. But, there is value. A special thanks for friends listed below as well as those through Twitter who offered feedback during my exploration. I would like hear your thoughts!

A Conversation with a Friend

February 26, 2011 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Service, Do Not Waste Your Opportunities!

February 6, 2011 Leave a comment

According to Wikipedia, the obvious source for…well, everything, just ask my kids, there is a definition of Customer Service. Wikipedia of course needs sources, so they quote Jamier L. Scott: “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.” Not too bad, not totally complete either, but a worthy place to start. The important point here is that there is not mention of technology, no mention of product type, industry, nothing, nada, zilch!  Since we are moving closer and closer to a totally service based economy, many many more parts of the organization are involved in Customer Service – not just those with ‘Service’ hidden within their title. You may sell a product, but whether you like it or not, you actually sell a service and give an experience!

A Tale of Two Experiences

I was on a quick flight home on Friday, noonish, from NYC to Burlington, VT. The carrier was USAirways, the airport LaGuardia. The weather was not a factor, no mechanical, no last minute changes and the airport was quiet. Unfortunately, the person at the gate could not have looked more miserable, this was issue number one. Later, the gate agent needed to make an announcement, which of course was drowned out by another announcement, issue number two. Instead of one of them stopping and waiting (both USAirways announcements), they both kept going. Then, I went up to the agent and asked what he said, and he was perfectly annoyed (yes, my perception) at the fact that I was asking a question. He even said: “I just made that announcement”. I said, I understood, tried to make light of the fact that someone else was talking at the same time, yet he did not see the humor and gave me an answer, with attitude. I am not comment on  the very strong accent, making his directions hard to understand – oops, I guess I just did (BTW – I do now hang my hat with Sword Ciboodle and a good Scottish accent can be quite thick🙂. This was so very simple, yet it was a lost opportunity, no lines, no weather, no crowds, nothing. Too many employees, act like simple laborers and just do not seem to care.

I went skiing on Saturday at Sugarbush Resort, just down the road from my home (45 minutes). The weather was great, new snow, and lots of people with the same idea! That said, we (middle son and I) put on our gear, hopped on the lift (lower lift was not much of an issue) and began the day. As we approached the lift, the person there greeted us with a genuine smile, and made a comment about the new snow, great weather and told us to have a great day. When we were at the upper lift, which had a bit of wait, the lift attendant was equally engaged. I could see his skis off to the side, but he was working that day. He had his sunglasses on upside down, and he asked how our runs had been and waited for the answer. He smiled and and wished us well. It just so happened we rode up with a volunteer ski patrol, same experience. Now, just to share, we spent a lot of time skiing in the woods, where there was a good 2-4 feet of powder and lot of trees (to avoid and use as brakes!). I do remember the skiing part of the day, more, but the overall experience does include the people.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. In flying, the experience begins the moment you pull into the airport, in skiing the experience begins when you pull up to the mountain (often in business you do not make your own reservation).
  2. No one I interacted with in either scenario had “Service” in, or hidden within, their title (though “gate agent” is close)
  3. My experience did not involve technology one bit (unless you consider the loud speaker).
  4. Beyond this experience, I would choose skiing over flying 9 out of 10 times, so it might not be a fair fight.
  5. Smiles are contagious and so easily to do!

What have you done to enable your extended organization to focus on the Customer Service experience for your customers? We all talk about technology, investment, ROI, KPI, TCO – how about talking about smiles, being nice and just being human? I am not only talking about your contact center either, just sayin’

What Would Einstein Say About Customer Service Complexity?

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Nothing.

Einstein’s theory of relativity, E=MC2, is known by every school child post 4th grade. By 6th grade most school children all are told what the letters stand for, but it is highly unlikely that they actually know what is means. Have you ever tried to describe to someone what the formula actually means? Here is the Wikipedia link, good luck.

Hiding Complexity takes Hard Work

Each time an additional channel is integrated into your customer service strategy, the complexity of your processes increases. As practitioners in describing complexity, we often work very hard to simplify and describe it using metaphors and stories, else people will not read what we have to say. Somewhere during attempts to explain, respect for complexity is lost and an oversimplification process begins. The result is that we are left holding the bag. The job of the Contact Center is to make the lives of our customers simpler and to focus on their experiences. The more we try to hide our internal process complexities from our customers (because, frankly they do not care), the harder we have to work.

According to Gartner, within the next 5 years more than half of contact centers will include some level of real time participation by customers in the service process. One interpretation of this is that social and collaborative technologies are more than just new channels or extra channels. How can (or should) a contact center deal with the insertion of these new real-time variables if they do not fit smoothly into the currently designed business processes? The modern contact center need to be able to “enable the contact centre worker to become a real-time advocate on behalf of the customer” (Steven Thurlow, CTO Sword-Ciboodle).

Is it Really that Hard?

Yes, but it is matter of perspective. If you go about trying to solve a problem which approach do you prefer?  Do you prefer planning for the unexpected, possibly that the problem is slightly harder to solve than you anticipated? Or the reverse, at first glance it does not look too hard, thus you are sure it will not take much to solve (I call it the wishful thinking approach). In a recent Forrester report (author Kate Leggett), the most difficult type of contact to handle in the customer service contact center has high interaction complexity and high process complexity. Kate refers to this as Intelligent Dialogue, which describes it quite well. When I wrote a position piece on the topic last summer, the name I gave was not nearly as good. The concept is straight-forward to describe, but requires work to implement. Like any project done right, please do not skimp on planning and design hoping to ‘figure it out as you go along’.

During the next few years you will likely be able to automate more processes as you understand them better and they become repeatable, but more and more I believe a better word to use is optimized. When customer experience is involved the ‘automation’ word (and world) scare me a bit. Your customers are changing their habits quickly, I believe this trend will continue, you need to be able to be agile and change with them. Each business will need to decide which segments require a human evaluation, and which do not. It will be important to break down the essential elements (of a case or request) into discrete components, and allow contact center workers the capability to evaluate each component first in isolation, then together as part of the whole. Ideas like the sentiment, intent, tone, channel and dare I say ‘influence’ (Yeah, I know that one might raise some eyebrows) combined with pure informational elements; communications history, transaction history as well as other elements.

I am not trying to scare anyone, these are all solvable problems – I am simply requesting that you think about it.

The Changing Culture of the Contact Center

October 31, 2010 7 comments

My apologies for the delay in this post, I meant to get it done sooner. As I said in my previous post after the RightNow user conference, I was able to spend some time with customers, end-users and practitioners in order to understand a bit more not only about the specifics of their success, but how and why. In speaking with different folks, I decided to take a different approach in the discussion, wanting to probe a bit on the changing culture of the call center during the past 15 years. This proved to be a very interesting tact, as the culture has changed. Specifically, 15 years ago, knowledge workers within the call center (or contact center if you prefer), had good verbal communication skills, but lacked computer savvy. Now, things are basically reversed. That might be an over-simplification, but it is basically true. While a fair number of things have in fact changed, some are not so different than when I first prototyped a customer self-help system in 1998 – If you can enable customers to help themselves, they will.

As Social engagement practices mature, which they absolutely need to do, because Social behavior is going to drive how customers communicate their needs to your organization. Customers are going to communicate with you via social media, so we all have to be ready. It is not ‘if’, but ‘when’ and ‘how’. In addition to the obvious benefits to your customers, the benefits to you and your organization by enabling, supporting and even promoting social media for customer service, will allow for insight to more easily find its way back into the core business to help improve core functions.  From a cultural perspective, one trend that is certainly ripe for change is how front line employees are compensated. Social Media channels not only allow you contact center agents to help your customers, but allow them to do it in a way that adds the human element back to the equation. These critical teams players, your contact center agents, within your organization need to be trained and treated with the respect they deserve. As your organization works to become “more social” please think about who will be on the front lines.

Conversations

Lisa Larson – Director of Customer Care at Drugstore.com

Both drugstore.com and beauty.com fall under Lisa’s watchful eye, a new generation of contact center, which include more channels than ever before. They include Websites, FAQs, Chat, Email and oh almost forgot, phone. Yes, Lisa and team are on Twitter was well; Directors Desk for Drugstore.com and Beauty Advisor for beauty.com The idea? To use the tools and technology available to her to improve the quality of customer service, making sure each customer interaction is meaningful to the most important person – the customer. Lisa and team are keeping pace with where their customers are and where they need help. Lisa and team are using Chat very successfully for high value products, increasing the conversation rates for these products by almost 40% when compared with not using Chat.

Lisa has a team of about 150 people across the board to make sure her customers are happy. They are there to solve problems, and make the experience as close as possible to the beauty consultant you might work with at the local store.  In order to provide that experience to the customer, the employee – knowledge worker needs to be given the tools and resources (and love) so that they can pass it on.  Lisa spends a lot of time making her team gets what they need. With regards to the culture question, it is important to Lisa to bring on team members who have actual people skills. Many people come into the call center these days with great technical skills, but talking on the phone and interacting at a personal level, with a business proper bent is something that is not as common as it was 15 years ago.

As Lisa pointed out to friend Brent Leary in a recent Interview:

“When you put a face out there, or you put people out there and they get to know who you are, they treat you differently.  Our goal is to serve them and to solve their problems, and do it well.”

Maryellen Abreu – Director of Global Technical Support at iRobot

From a certain vantage point, iRobot is pioneering a new market, which has unique challenges. iRobot needs to quickly find out what customers want, and adapt accordingly. From another vantage point, customers are customers, and iRobot needs to deliver great service and support, because this is just what smart companies do! A very successful part of the initiative is the Web self-service, which has been very successful from both sides – customers are able to help themselves more often than not and this keeps the operation expenses of the contact center in check.

“iRobot designs and build robots that make a difference”

Maryellen also shared the following tidbits, which I found very valuable:

“In regards to our call center culture, we ask our reps to Think like a customer. If the customer is not happy, let us know. Call Center feedback is absolutely critical to our success.”

It was important for me to dig into the culture and objectives by which Maryellen manages her center, and directs her team. In the information RightNow shared with me, iRobot was able to see a “30% reduction in call volume”. Now, call volume is an interesting statistic, because it only tells part of the story. When I worked with a few large insurance companies, we were able to see a similar drop in volume, but the calls that remained were all the tough kind (long, complex and did not follow a standard path). This was before the age of Social, so I wanted to see what had changed. I will add that for certain customers with specific problems, iRobot does not have any issues with bringing the users into their private communities and asking the customers to give detailed input into the products and experience.

“Our calls went down 30% in volume but the average call length did not change significantly. When we added Targus Info to populate/verify the customer’s address, we were able to shave approximately 1 minute off each incident that required a shipment. As I mentioned, we do not focus on reducing talk time, we focus on customer satisfaction. Typically long calls result in a low CSAT and we calibrate accordingly.”

Both Maryellen and Lisa are taking similar approaches:

  • For Customer Interaction – Where, When and How their customers want to communicate
  • For Measurement – Do what it takes to get the job done, talk if you need to talk AHT looked at, but does not drive the center
  • For Employees – Allow them to feel and act empowered, give them flexibility, not scripts; guidance, not rules

(Disclosure – I was an appreciative guest of RightNow Technologies. RightNow paid for my travel and expenses pertaining to the user conference only. RightNow is not a client of mine, or anyone else within my firm. For some visualizations of the experience, please take a look. I did have a great time in Colorado, not something hard for a Vermonter to do!)

CRM, CX, RightNow – A Perspective

October 19, 2010 9 comments

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

Helen Hunt Falls (No, not that one)

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

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

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

I wonder what SaaS providers could learn from Telecom?

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

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

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

(Disclosure – I was an appreciative guest of RightNow Technologies. RightNow paid for my travel and expenses pertaining to the user conference only. RightNow is not a client of mine, or anyone else within my firm. For some visualizations of the experience, please take a look. I did have a great time in Colorado, not something hard for a Vermonter to do🙂