Beyond the Call Center: Meeting Expectations of Consumers Across Generations



By Christian Szpilfogel

The proliferation of digital devices and always-on networks have entirely transformed how many of us approach and interact with nearly everything in our lives—how we arrange transportation (Uber), how we answer random questions (Google and Siri), and how we communicate with one another (emojis and messaging apps). Why would we not expect to interact with all organizations this way? It’s fast, convenient, and natural for many of us. Isn’t this what we expect from our favorite brands? For example, Amazon’s 1-Click® checkout process is arguably a key reason it’s one of the world’s ten largest retailers. But few organizations offer seamless communications within their digital touchpoints.

Knowing your customer has always been important to business success. Given these newly heightened expectations resulting from digital advancements and trends, understanding how your customer wants to interact with your brand is more important than ever. Gartner, Inc., an information technology research company, predicts the competition for customers will be dominated by customer experience by the end of the decade. Will your organization lead the way in connecting its specific customers’ preferences to communications strategies or follow its rival?

Who Is Today’s Customer? Identifying your customers and their preferences is a fundamental first step in developing your strategy. Making this complex, today’s consumers span a number of generations—ranging from the post-war era to trendy teens and “tweens”—each preferring a different way to communicate with each other and with businesses. And because many or even all of them are your customers, it is important to identify and overcome the challenges you’ll face personalizing interactions with members of each generation.

As you evaluate each key demographic, consider the most traveled customer journeys encountered with your organization and how interaction preferences may differ at various touchpoints. As an example, simple transactions may be preferred over text messaging by Generation X, while financial consulting calls for voice or video.

Consumers in their mid- to late-eighties certainly don’t have the same buying or communications preferences as teens. Acknowledging these differences and personalizing services across the generational spectrum will allow you to excel at customer experience. In order to do so, you must consider trends found within and across these generational groups.

Customer Journeys: Surprisingly, there is a wide gap between organizations’ views of customer satisfaction and what is reported by customers. This has attracted top business thought leaders such as McKinsey and Co. to examine the root cause; a leading one is the difference in how each party views interactions with the other.

Organizations tend to develop and monitor processes at each discreet touchpoint. For example, a customer searching the company website for information is one discreetly managed touchpoint. The resulting web chat for more information is another; the submission of an online purchase form, yet another; and sending the bill, still one more. In many instances, each touchpoint is owned by a separate manager, staffed by a different team, and measured by a distinct key performance indicator.

Customers see all this as one interaction, which management leaders have come to call the customer journey. In your customers’ eyes, making a purchase is a single event. While three of the four touchpoints may have been handled perfectly, failing in the fourth one renders the entire journey dissatisfying. Without taking a holistic view of the journey, simply emphasizing two opposing key performance indicators at two different touchpoints may set the system up for failure.

Mature Customers and Their Journeys: Once you know your customers, you can segment how each key demographic approaches the highly used customer journeys. A banking institution may start with retirees and people peaking in their careers, as these demographics consume more services and hold higher balances than younger generations. Considering retirees, the highly traveled journeys may include receiving investment advice and managing IRA accounts. Their preferred touchpoints are probably paper or email statements, voice calling, in-person visits, and even video chat. Not only will these modes of communication be more generally preferred by the target demographic, but the sensitivity and complexity of the information transmitted are inappropriate for text messaging and SMS. And forget about social media.

Digital Natives Prefer Mobile and Social: Younger generations overwhelmingly prefer using their smartphones to do just about everything. This ranges from shopping online and surfing the Internet to keeping in touch via text, checking email, Twitter, or Instagram. A recent study showed that younger smartphone users (ages 18 to 29) primarily use their phones to avoid being bored. Unlike older generations, they rarely use them to make phone calls but instead prefer texting, tweeting, or using a digital app to execute everyday tasks such as ordering a pizza; calling to place the order is considered a last resort.

When considering customer journeys for this demographic, think digital. The more automated, digitized, and in-app the touchpoints are, the better. If you can, insert hooks into social media platforms to post winning moments in real-time. When that perfect pair of shoes is customized and ordered, help your proud customer tell the world.

It’s Time to Move Beyond Simple Call Centers: Most of today’s consumers are self-reliant and happy to manage their relationships with businesses using minimal human interaction. They expect the flexibility and convenience of communicating using the methods of their choice anytime, whether that’s the Internet, mobile apps, email, text messaging, social media, or even a phone call. Companies unequipped to serve customers as they wish will not remain competitive for long.

Christian Szpilfogel is the VP of Strategy at Mitel.

Transform WFO to CXM

Developing a Long-Lasting and Positive Customer Experience

By Ray S. Naeini

It’s not about customer service anymore; it’s about customer experience. Today’s enterprises strive to develop long-lasting, positive experiences with customers. However, traditional WFO (workforce optimization) solutions alone are inadequate in resolving CXM (customer experience management) challenges. CXM requires certain fundamental paradigm shifts in serving and interacting with today’s customers:

Inside-Out Versus Outside-In: Enterprises have used a variety of WFO and workforce management (WFM) solutions to better serve customers to develop customer satisfaction. They drive this with their internal business processes with the intention of externally creating customer satisfaction – the inside-out method. Unfortunately this is inadequate to enable them to successfully implement a true CXM to deliver a positive customer experience. Therefore, an outside-in method is needed, in which enterprises first focus on understanding customer experience and sentiment to determine the internal optimizations. This is essential given today’s customers’ extensive use of digital and social media to communicate.

Capture All, Analyze All: CXM can be more successful when:

  • One hundred percent of customer experiences are captured at every touch point and every channel used by customers; sampling does not provide sufficient insight.
  • A systematic analysis of all captured interactions is conducted in order to produce actionable knowledge and trends obtained from the outside that could determine internal actions to create a positive customer experience.

Capturing all interactions and transactions from every customer touch point creates massive amounts of data, which requires big data management technologies.

Produce a Holistic View: Multichannel analytics can assist managing big data by automatically analyzing captured data from each channel and producing actionable knowledge. Nonetheless, there remains the challenge of associating and encapsulating relevant data from multiple channels to produce cohesive actionable knowledge, creating a holistic view across all channels.

What You Don’t Know: Enterprises can be caught off guard when they use multichannel and cross-channel analytics merely to look for specific subjects they know about. Cross-channel analytics equipped with trend analysis is required to discover the building up or diminishing of trends, which is critical in understanding the tendencies and inclinations of customers.

Seamless Customer Experience:Consistency across channels, sometimes called omni-channel customer experience, is a major driver in developing positive customer experiences. This means that customers may start with a self-service channel, such as the enterprise’s website, and then transition to an assisted service such as chat, email, or agent with no reduction in the quality of their experience. This can be accomplished by understanding customers’ general behaviors while using each individual channel to holistically view the customers’ experience, with the ability to drill down. Such insights can then be used to align each channel to offer seamless customer experience.

Unify Enterprise Silos: Omni-channel customer experience requires the unification of enterprise data silos to capture the customer experience at every touch point to analyze and continuously improve customer experience in a customer’s journey throughout the enterprise. This includes telecom platforms (PBX, IVR, voicemail, and Internet access), customer interaction, and transaction applications (CRM and WFO). Unification can directly benefit the enterprise in increased productivity, the resolution of problems, and the discovery of true customer sentiment, and the voice of customer (VoC).

Are These Initiatives Enough? The simple answer is “no.”

The fact is that all initiatives related to improving customer interactions when the customer is actually connected to the source of the service (such as an agent) are only half of the solution.

The other half is provided by optimizing the service routing and all entities engaged in the routing of the service to the right supplier of the service as efficiently as possible. These entities include network routing elements, ACDs, IVRs, PBXs, service centers with specific capacity, and skill sets or capacities to process customer service requests.

 Cognitive CXM: The overall initiatives introduced in this article can create a foundation for developing a true CXM solution. However, solutions can be continuously and automatically improved when operating as a learning machine. This continuous acquisition of knowledge and trends related to customer sentiment and the entities providing services to customers is called a cognitive CXM solution – the ultimate CXM outcome.

Ray S. Naeini is the CEO and chairman of OnviSource, Inc.

Nine Tips for Top-Notch Customer Service Leadership

Finding the Right Contact Center Leader Is Key in Order to Realize Success

By Brian Costanzo

Customer-centric companies make the customer-care function a strategic asset, both in terms of how they interact with customers and how they use data, insights, and feedback. Customer-centricity, however, does not just happen. In fact, for some firms customer focus is more of an aspirational slogan than a practical reality. Transforming routine contact center service into true customer advocacy takes strong executive leadership.

Leadership is easy to say but sometimes difficult to find. Luckily there are good indicators for picking contact center executives with the necessary leadership skills. Here are nine characteristics to keep in mind when making this critical selection:

1) Buys into and shares a company’s vision for customer-care delivery: Vision starts with the business owner or CEO, but the contact center leader must understand and embrace it. A great executive will walk away from opportunities where there is no “meeting of the minds” for how customers should be treated and how this treatment will evolve in the future.

2) Operates on both the strategic and tactical levels: Siobhan Tautkus, a principal at Manchester, New Hampshire-based Abbott Executive Search, confirms that the contact center executive needs to have both strategic and tactical skills. “What good is a vision if you can’t implement it?” she asks.

To Lisa Oswald, senior vice president of customer service at Travelzoo Inc., “A successful contact center executive is one who can master both strategy and execution, someone who can visualize the future and then build and operate an efficient system to deliver it.”

3) Solves problems and produces quantifiable results: Whether the issue is high turnover, inadequate staff development, lagging quality, or other potential contact center challenges, top executives will have a data-driven story to tell. “Anyone who puts their time and energy into their profession is absolutely going to measure the results of what they’ve done,” says Tautkus. “No employer can afford to hire someone who flies by the seat of their pants.”

4) Exudes confidence and will stand up for customer care: When it comes to selecting effective contact center leadership, high-energy candidates definitely have the edge. Part of this is a matter of interpersonal style. Leaders naturally attract attention for their bearing, presentation, and ability to be direct, straightforward, and articulate. They also must be willing to stand their ground.

According to Richard Shapiro, president of the Center for Client Retention, “Customer care is one of the most important departments in the company, and it is critical to have an advocate who will fight for staffing, training, and technology to support the department.”

Lisa Oswald at Travelzoo adds that great leaders are set apart by their ability to inspire, motivate, and communicate.

5) Takes business ownership of IT systems affecting customer care: The contact center executive need not be a techie per se, but reasonable technical acumen should be part of the package. The leader’s knowledge and skill, according to management consultant and author Scott Klososky, extends to creating tech strategy, picking vendors, overseeing technical projects, and utilizing data analytics. The contact center must proactively lead when moving to a next-generation technology platform. According to Klososky, “This is [the contact center’s] set of tools, and it must not be dictated or chosen by IT people or operations people.”

6) Has cross-functional and multi-industry experience: If delivery of customer care is a strategic differentiator for companies, customer-care experience should be a career differentiator, too. Executives should not be pigeonholed in a customer-care department. Rather, an executive’s experience in marketing, operations, or other business areas can contribute to a stronger customer-care program. The same goes for multi-industry experience.

According to Richard Shapiro, “I believe there is tremendous value in having a background in various industries. Service is service, and loyalty is loyalty; building stronger customer relationships should always be the goal in any industry.”

7) Matches channels to circumstances: In going multichannel, the right customer-care leader will be focused and selective. “A company’s multichannel strategy has everything to do with the product – what are you selling or servicing? – and the demographics of the audience,” says Lisa Oswald. “Consumer preferences – where and when your customers want to be serviced – should dictate channel strategy. For instance, the go-to-market service strategy for a new online game is likely to be very different from a luxury goods retailer.”

8) Never settles for good enough: Few companies have reached customer-care nirvana. There’s always room for quality improvement, and a great leader will never be satisfied with the status quo. As Siobhan Tautkus says, “The good person is constantly looking at the KPIs and saying, ‘We need to move the goalpost.’”

9) Makes demonstrable contributions to the bottom line: Customer care is not a profit center, but there are ways to show return on investment in customer-care programs. According to Shapiro, these include measuring whether loyalty or purchase intent have been impacted, reducing negative social media postings, and enhancing business reputation.

Consider these nine characteristics as you consider your next customer-care leader.

Brian Costanzo, CAE, is president and CEO of SOCAP International, the nation’s association of Fortune 1000 customer-care executives.

The Phone Is Dead – Long Live the Phone

By Jeremy Starcher

As consumers go, we’re a self-sufficient bunch. If we can figure out how to hook up streaming media services to the dozen devices in our homes, get a refund on an online purchase through a chat session, or troubleshoot our Wi-Fi network through online support forums, all without requiring the help of live voice resources, we’re likely to take that option. And if you’re part of the mobile-first generation, you may not even remember a time when the 800 number was your only option.

So why do some customer interactions still require a live conversation? In Forrester’s December 2015 Customer Lifecycle Survey, respondents indicated that use of the voice channel increasingly evolves as an escalation – not a primary – service channel.

Often this means that consumers have exhausted their digital efforts. It can also mean that the interaction may be a complex inquiry, an emotional reaction, or a time-sensitive issue.

Regardless of the reason, these types of interactions provide a unique opportunity to learn more about customers’ behavior and can give insight into the kind of content customers need to stay online.

These interactions also present a new problem. Customers are tech-savvy and familiar with online personalization. How do you help them cross the digital divide when they need to speak with you and still maintain that personalization they’ve come to expect? More than ever before, it’s critical to transition these interactions the right way to protect the customer experience and your company’s efficiency.

Rebooting Customer Service: Businesses have focused on creating great digital experiences in response to the ubiquity of smartphones and the growing adoption of consuming content digitally. As a result there is the potential to view the voice channel as yesterday’s solution and the last resort.

Guess what? Customers feel the same way. But nevertheless we continue to see the need for supporting voice interactions.

The key is to break out of traditional thinking: Change the way we view live voice service. Reboot the idea that the voice channel is dying. Embrace the opportunity that speaking with someone using our digital channels provides us.

What could we learn if we connected a customer’s online experience with a voice interaction and, better yet, resolution? What insights could be acted on if we had a complete, end-to-end view of a customer’s online efforts and the resolution required and received inside the contact center?

The best way to accomplish this is to seamlessly transition customers from an online interaction to a voice interaction when and where appropriate. When implemented correctly, a well-placed “Call Me” option can create immediate value to customers and your business.

For the customer, it removes the hoops and hold time associated with a live call while increasing overall satisfaction. For the business, the data associated with the “Call Me” request can be transformational regarding efforts to understand how the customer ended up on the voice channel, providing new insights into how to optimize the digital experience.

Consider your customers. An increase in tech-savvy customers means an increase in the customer types who have already tried to solve their own issue by using your online FAQs, Googling possible fixes, and logging into the support community.

If these customers have an unresolved issue, they are less likely to follow your service 101 template. This includes IVR, on-hold messages, and agent scripts. These customers want a personalized experience designed to take into account all the options they have already tried.

They expect you to know their history, both from a CRM point of view and a recent activity point of view. If they visited your website, logged on to their account, surfed your FAQ page, text chatted with a rep, and still weren’t able to solve the issue, they want you to understand the entire context. They certainly do not want to repeat any of those steps with a live resource.

IVR cannot help solve this problem. A well-designed routing platform with hooks into CRM, billing, and other systems cannot help. You need to intentionally transition these customers to a voice channel in order to provide the key to understanding their entire experience. You need to tie their online, digital experience with the resolution they received from your contact center.

With a simple click of a button, you can give your customers the experience they desire while linking together their digital and voice paths to resolution. This provides you with an omnichannel view of the customer’s entire journey.

Omnichannel, Uni-View: The primary issue facing organizations isn’t how to capture customer data. Rather, the challenge lies in how to use this existing information to create a positive customer experience and to learn how to optimize the digital experience.

Information is already being collected from nearly every imaginable system: CRM systems, purchase interactions and transactions, POS data, websites, loyalty programs, mobile devices televisions, digital and social media, subscriptions, and gaming systems.

To effectively use information to create a positive experience in the voice channel, data associated with customers and their recent activities need to be accessible to the agent. To enhance their experience in your digital channels, you need visibility into problem areas where content may need to be edited or page mapping may need to change to optimize the likelihood of customers resolving their issues.

Imagine an agent who is empowered to help customers based on their personal experiences with the brand. Personalized information – such as which Web pages a customer recently searched or how long he or she spent on the mobile app before calling – are valuable data points that can create a richer and faster interaction.

Understanding customers’ past interactions and timelines are also key to accommodating each customer’s unique situation. The easiest way to provide that data is directly between systems. Transitioning a customer from your online channel to your voice channel allows you to link the two experiences together.

For example, sending the session ID associated with the customer’s online visit allows your data scientist to link these two experiences together. This bridges both worlds and gives a view into customer behavior you never had access to before.

Rather than view the voice channel as a last resort, the way many consumers do, companies that see the voice channel as an opportunity to learn more about customers’ online patterns of behavior are in a position to maximize the effectiveness of their digital channels.

It may seem counterintuitive, but placing a “Call Me” button in your digital channels might be the best option to lower your customers’ overall need to use the voice channel.

Jeremy Starcher is vice president, callback cloud, at Virtual Hold Technology.

Delighting Your Customers

By Donna Fluss

Last year was a wonderful year for the world of service. It was the year that executives finally realized (or accepted) the important role of quality service in building their brand and differentiating their company and offerings. This has been reflected by a willingness to invest in initiatives to enhance the customer experience.

Just as important, management now also acknowledges that delivering outstanding service, including sales, is not just the responsibility of their service organization or contact center. Instead, great service needs to be an integral part of a company’s culture, the overarching operating imperative that guides every employee’s interactions with customers and prospects and dictates how departments work with each other.

Below is a list of ideas for building a corporate structure dedicated to delighting customers. Some of these can be accomplished by changes in best practices, organization, and training, while others require major investments in people, processes, and technology. Many of these suggestions are strategic and will have a broad impact on your company, while others are tactical.

DMG recommends selecting two or three from the list and including them in your plans for the remainder of this year:

  1. Make It Easy for Your Customers to Conduct Business: This is an extensive and ongoing initiative that requires a company to review and analyze every step of the customer journey
  1. Look at Business from Your Customers’ Perspective: Stop trying to force your customers to adapt to your business practices; they are going to do things the way they want, with or without your cooperation.
  1. Personalize the Service and Sales Experience: Figure out how to give every customer or prospect what they want.
  1. Be Transparent: This is both strategic and tactical. Train your employees to “own” customer service: if something’s wrong, fix it; if it’s good make, it better.
  1. Take Down Organizational Silos: If your organizational structure stands in the way of progress, it results in extra effort for employees and customers; it’s time to take it down and rebuild it.
  1. Enhance Your Self-Service Solutions: There are new and effective self-service capabilities and apps. It’s time to update five- to ten-year-old applications, particularly if they are your primary interface to customers. Look at interactive voice response (IRV) and websites, too.
  1. Go Social: Social media is the least expensive focus group and method for capturing the buzz about your company and competitors. It’s also time to use social media for social customer care.
  1. Build Customer Engagement: Reach out and interact with your customers in their channel of choice; be there for customers when they want or need you.
  1. Actively Listen and Acknowledge: Create a closed-loop feedback process to solicit and respond to feedback from customers and prospects.
  1. Deliver Random Acts of Kindness to Your Customers: Let your customers know you appreciate their business.
  1. Create Customer-Friendly Rewards Programs: Use rewards and incentives to show your customers you appreciate them and their business.
  1. Encourage and Reward Employee Advocacy and Engagement: Invest in your employees; they are your best advocates.
  1. Fix Known Problems: Identify and fix any problems; all companies have them. Reward and recognize employees and customers for helping you resolve issues.
  1. Reward Innovation: Recognize and reward new and creative ideas and concepts.

These are a few of the initiatives companies should consider on an annual basis. The most customer-friendly organizations are not those that think they have all the answers, but rather those that are willing to work with customers to find new approaches and solutions.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. Contact her at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com with any questions you may have or to learn how to make today’s innovative and powerful technologies and best practices work for your organization.

[From Connection MagazineMarch/April 2016]

Five Little Words

By Sherry Gouel

In this age of the Internet, websites, and social media, our process of gathering information has drastically changed over the past decade. Any information we need is at our fingertips – just a few clicks away. While technology is great and certainly has its benefits, I remember a time where, without hesitation, I could pick up the phone and speak with someone in customer service. Yes, I’m dating myself, but there was something nice about hearing a human voice at the other end of the phone, and it was especially nice to hear the words, “How can I help you?” These five words would produce a sigh of relief in the anticipation of finally connecting with another human being who would understand my dilemma and make it all better.

I’m not underestimating the convenience of today’s technology. Most often I go to websites and search for information; usually the answers are there. I have often used Web chat to ask a question or confirm an answer, but sometimes the answers are not so obvious. Some websites encourage you to email your questions, promising a reply within twenty-four hours.

But there are times where I just want to speak to someone instead of typing on a keyboard, and I always appreciate the companies who provide a customer service telephone number on their website. Even so, if I do call the chances are I will be placed on hold for several minutes, listen to the company’s promotional ads, and be reminded that I can visit their website for faster service. I appreciate the convenience of the Web, but websites will never replace the reassurance of the human voice. No matter how much technology evolves, the Internet will never match the human connection, emotion, and empathy that go along with the words, “How can I help you?”

So how can the call center industry compete with technology? The purpose of call centers is providing services that outperform machines. Agents in the call center industry take calls all day to answer client questions and help with an endless list of predicaments. The voices that answer these calls are important. Their voices convey the comfort of the human connection, and this is a valuable element.

In this day of everything digital, call centers remain in the business of people talking to people. Regardless of its stated purpose, calling into a call center has a customer-service component. The voice on the other end of the phone should communicate to the caller, “How can I help you?”

Every call that comes in is different in nature; therefore, agents provide a truly personalized service to each caller. Their tasks go beyond just taking a message or answering a question. They provide a human touch to an ever-expanding digital world.

I sometimes watch kids who text as fast as I can speak, and I’m not sure whether to feel awe or sadness. This new generation is constantly trying to find ways to access instant information. We are prompted to type a question or submit a request electronically rather than ask another person for answers or assistance. And we’re all becoming more comfortable doing so.

It’s important for the call center industry to continue to provide the human touch to our clients. As the scale tips more toward everything digital, hearing someone say, “How can I help you?” is more than just five little words. It’s a small reminder that there is still some human left in humanity.

Since 1993 Sherry Gouel has been in charge of marketing and sales support at Szeto Technologies, a company that has provided telephony solutions since 1986. She can be reached at 888-421-3737 or sherry@szeto.ca.

[From Connection Magazine – January/February 2016]

The Cost of Poor Training

By Peter L. DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineMy wife ordered a coat online from a well-known regional chain for a Christmas present. She has a history of positive shopping experiences at the chain’s physical stores and assumed their virtual store would be no different.

The coat went on sale the week before Black Friday, and when combined with a 30 percent off coupon the price was slashed in half. This made a too-expensive coat suddenly affordable. With free shipping, my wife clicked “submit” and smiled, satisfied over the really great deal she got.

Her satisfaction didn’t last long. Two days later the coat went on sale again, this time discounted even more. With the new sales price and another 15 percent discount, the coat now cost one-third of the original price.

She checked the store’s policy about making adjustments for sales prices. Their website stated that they would issue a credit if a sale occurred within two weeks of the original purchase. Unfortunately she couldn’t do this online. When she placed her original order, she couldn’t log into her account – one she had set up to receive all the discount coupons – so she completed her order as a “guest.” This wasn’t an issue until she tried to log in to get the adjustment.

So she picked up the phone.

The first rep couldn’t make the adjustment, but she could fix the log-in problem. Twenty-five minutes later that issue was resolved, and my wife found herself transferred to someone to issue the promised credit.

This guy cheerfully agreed to make the adjustment for the sale price but couldn’t include the coupon. My wife pushed, but he didn’t budge.

She tried a new approach. “But if I placed the order today, I’d get the sale price and be able to use the coupon.”

“Yes, that’s right,” the rep said. “I can place the order for you if you’d like.” It seemed like a good solution to him. “Then just return one of the coats.”

“That’s a lot of extra work and expense,” my wife countered. “Can’t you just make the adjustment in the computer?”

He gave a long explanation that she didn’t fully understand.

“So what you’re telling me is that your hands are tied.”

He didn’t like her summation, but that’s about what it amounted to. In the end he placed the order for her, again with free shipping. He charged her card for the second coat and told her to return the first one for a full refund. Of course she’d have to pay shipping or go through the hassle of returning it to the store. This part of the call took an additional twenty minutes.

The next day the first coat arrived. The color wasn’t even close to what she expected. “Maybe you’ll like the second coat better,” I said. I had no idea how wrong I would be.

A few days later the second shipment arrived. The box seemed too small. With apprehension, she opened it. Inside was a pair of boots. The order and paperwork was correct, but the packer picked the wrong item. Most likely someone else opened a box expecting a pair of size 13 black men’s work boots only to find a bright purple woman’s coat.

My valiant wife made another call to the customer service department. Though it took her a long time to explain the details of the two sales, the two coupons, the two orders, and the two packages – one of which was wrong – once the rep comprehended the situation, she knew just what to do. She said the first rep (or the second one) should have been able to make the full adjustment without placing a second order.

Then, after only a minute or so of typing, she announced she had corrected everything. All my wife needed to do was to return the boots to the store, and she would receive credit for the first coat.

And everything worked out as promised.

To summarize, my wife wasted an hour of her time; three call center reps combined invested an hour of their time. The store paid for free shipping twice, and my wife had to return the wrong item to the store. And this doesn’t even address the grief the other shopper went through to send back a woman’s coat when he or she ordered men’s boots.

If only the first rep had received the necessary training to issue the credit the store’s website promised!

[From Connection Magazine – January/February 2016]

Customer Journey Analytics Is a Customer Priority

By Donna Fluss

Customer Journey Analytics (CJA) is an enterprise application that provides a 360-degree view of a customer’s interactions with an organization and evaluates his or her experience every step of the way – from the customer’s perspective. CJA solutions are intended to give enterprises a method for tracking, capturing, and evaluating how their customers feel throughout their journey.

Although CJA solutions identify high-level servicing trends and opportunities for the enterprise, they should also enable companies to understand their customers on an individual basis and help to deliver a consistent, frictionless, and personalized omni-channel experience. These solutions should make it easy, advantageous, and desirable for customers to do business with them.

CJA Defined: Customer journey analytics can be defined as “an analytical solution that captures, measures, analyzes, and evaluates the quality and outcome of the customer experience throughout all phases and interactions for all customer-facing touch points, channels, and activities. This includes IVR and Web self-service, live-agent and back-office interactions, fulfillment or follow-up activities, and all actions initiated by the customer or agent on the customer’s behalf.” This is a broad definition that addresses all aspects of the customer relationship; CJA solutions are intended to help organizations view the customer experience from the customer, member, or constituent perspective.

How CJA Works: Customer journey analytics solutions provide a map that depicts each customer’s interaction with an organization from the first touch to the last. CJA solutions capture, analyze, and deliver findings to managers so they can use the information about a customer to identify areas of opportunity to improve and optimize each contact in order to deliver an outstanding experience.

Customer journey analytics solutions capture customer profile data from the customer relationship management (CRM) system, also known as the customer system of record. A CRM system tracks each customer’s relationship and history with a business. The CRM system is a repository for important information about the customer, including demographics, tenure, lifetime value, preferences, buying behaviors and patterns, and so forth. A CRM suite should be used to track all sales, marketing, and servicing interactions, transactions and activities throughout all channels, and touch points, including, calls, interactive voice response (IVR), emails, chat sessions, short message service (SMS), and social media, as well as the Web, storefronts, branches, back-office, and partners.

Customer journey analytics solutions must be able to address structured and unstructured feedback from all customer-facing applications. Besides the data from the CRM solution, speech and text analytics solutions are an important source of direct customer feedback. Feedback actively collected from customer surveys, as well as passively gleaned from social media posts, should also be incorporated into the analysis. Although contact center quality assurance (QA) programs typically take an internal view of the customer experience, this information should also be fed into the CJA application, as it’s helpful to know if the organization and agent did what they were supposed to do at each touch point. It’s also a good idea to include data from the desktop analytics application to obtain a more complete view of how a customer was treated.

Final Thoughts: The benefits of CJA are great, but the effort required to collect and process the data, as well as the more important task of adapting corporate culture, is substantial and takes many years. CJA solutions can provide the transparency and visibility that allow companies to put their customers’ needs first, facilitating an essential change of perspective and priorities for most organizations.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. Contact her at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com with any questions you may have and to learn how to make today’s innovative and powerful technologies and best practices work for your organization.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

How Would You Like us to Contact You?

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineAfter our basement flooded and the insurance company said, “Sorry, you’re not covered,” I knew it was time to find a new insurer. As I scanned a website for an insurance agent’s phone number, I spotted an information request form. I filled it out, including the customer-centric option: “How should we contact you?”

The five choices were phone, email, text, fax, and mail. While the last three seemed highly unsuitable – text would become cumbersome and fax or mail would take too long – I vacillated between a phone call and an email. I selected email, largely because it would provide a documentation trail of our communication.

I clicked submit.

Soon my phone rang. It was an agent from my prospective insurance company. Normally a phone call would have been fine, even preferable. But why did they ask what I wanted if they weren’t going to do as I requested? We weren’t off to a good start.

I reminded the agent that I preferred email communication, and we switched to email for our subsequent interactions. To the company’s credit, the agent stuck with that channel. As we moved towards finalizing the policy, I had a series of questions more suited to the efficiency of a phone call. This caught the agent off guard, but she answered my questions and confirmed my understanding. I now have insurance through a new company.

This reminds me of the time I looked for a new auto mechanic. The one I picked allowed people to request an appointment online. I filled out the form. They, too, asked how I wanted to be contacted. I selected “text” since I assumed this was the ideal channel for a succinct confirmation message.

They emailed me.

The date I requested was full, and so was my second choice. Obviously their appointment module was a static form and not integrated with their actual schedule. I emailed them back with a third date, and I received a follow up email with a question. We went back and forth with email messages, taking most of the day to set an appointment. A phone call would have been so much more efficient.

Since then I’ve realized that email is their default mode. Though I’ve requested texts to confirm appointments, they’ve never once done so; it’s always email. And when I ask them to call me when my car is ready, they usually don’t bother to communicate at all. The only time they did call me was when they under-billed me. Apparently they thought a phone call was the best way to resolve that.

Considering this, a few thoughts come to mind:

Offering Options Is Good: Letting customers and prospects pick how they prefer to be contacted is a customer-friendly move and a great idea, especially given that customers usually have options of who to do business with and are quick to exercise those options.

Not Honoring Those Options Is Bad: Not using the channel a customer requests is worse than not offering the option in the first place. If you can’t (or won’t) contact customers by the method they request, don’t bother to ask.

Not Responding at All Is Worse: Making no effort to contact customers when they request it is the worst possible mistake. How hard would it be for my mechanic to let me know when my car is ready? He can call, email, or text. Instead I’m left to guess when I can pick up my car.

Know When to Switch Channels: Sometimes a preferred channel bogs down communication. When emails or texts go back and forth without resolution, it’s time to pick up the phone, but before doing so, make that suggestion through the customer’s channel of choice.

Asking how customers want you to contact them is great if you follow through, but if you don’t do as they request, you’re better off not providing this as an option. Conversely know when it’s appropriate to switch channels. Providing excellent customer service relies on excellent communication, whether it’s within the requested channel or outside of it.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from www.authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

Is Being Effective Good Enough?

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineIt doesn’t matter if a call is answered in a modern contact center or by one person in a small, single-phone office. In both cases customers evaluate them the same way and expect the same outcomes; each call is compared with every other call and judged accordingly, regardless of who took the call or the technology behind it.

Consider three recent experiences I had in calling businesses without a call center.

1) A Husband-and-Wife Team: I needed to have a home inspection. A friend recommended a husband-and-wife team. He handled all the inspection; she handled all the office work. When I called, the quality of our interaction left me in awe. Not only was she professional, personal, and efficient, but she also excelled at high-level traits we value in the call center industry, such as tone, pacing, and pitch. It was as close to a perfect call as I’ve ever experienced.

When I had to call back to reschedule, she had a positive, no-problem attitude. Though I was inconveniencing them, there was no hint of that in her voice. Again the results were impressive. Even more amazing is that she handled this call while in the car on her way to pick up one of her kids. I would have not known had she not apologized.

2) The Small Office: Next I called a local service company. I easily accomplished my objective of scheduling an appointment. Though the person wasn’t skilled at customer service, I was pleased with her quick response.

Later I called back with a time-critical question. It was after hours, and she chastised me for calling in the evening. However, she did answer my question. Again I was happy to have an answer.

The next day I had a follow-up question. This time my query was met with unrestrained impatience. She promised me a return call later that day and then changed it to “within twenty-four hours.” The callback never came, but someone did show up two days later. In the end, my frustration with her was offset by the professional work of her staff.

3) A Family Business: My third call was in response to a postcard sent by a landscaping company. The wife answered the phone. She was friendly, although too casual for my taste. Still we established a rapport despite her lack of professionalism. Her overly familiar demeanor coupled with the absence of a hold button caused me to shake my head. In addition I don’t believe they even had an answering machine, because she always answered the phone regardless of how many times it rang; the record was nine. Often self-deprecating, she was nonetheless helpful on each call. In my many calls, her call handling never changed. I give her high marks for consistency.

Her husband, who handled the landscaping with their kids, was much the same in his conduct, overly friendly to the point of over sharing. Still, the finished product was well done and at a reasonable price.

Being Effective Is Essential: In each case I deem my interactions as effective because I accomplished my desired purpose. Being effective means the caller’s reason for calling is addressed, and the customer is pleased. A rating of “effective” sets the minimal expectations for a call center. Effective is our baseline.

Not Effective: Calls that are not effective are failures: The callers’ objectives weren’t accomplished, and they weren’t satisfied with the results. Too many organizations run call centers that are not effective. Wrong information is given; billing errors are not corrected; callbacks don’t happen; and repeated calls occur, with no movement toward resolution.

Surpassing Effective: Other call centers offer the other extreme, being effective and then offering more: professional, accurate, consistent, and empathetic, with first call resolution.

Whether you have one phone or hundreds of agents, first ensure you are effective in handling calls. Then take things to a higher level by being more than effective; become everything your callers hope for when they contact you.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from www.authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine – July/August 2015]