Bringing the Human Touch to the Digital Age

By Georgi Bohrod

We are all too busy. Most of us are sorely time-impoverished. The more we can do to reduce complexity and brain overload, the better. That frees up time for the truly high-value, complicated stuff.

As consumers, we expect frictionless commerce on the transaction side supported by cohesive, integrated systems. At the same time, when we want and need to interact with a person, we expect excellent service.

This might be one of the reasons why there has been a clear trend recently to bring call centers back to the United States. Whereas the call center function was viewed as a cost center and a commodity, companies are now waking up to the fact that they need to take control over their customers’ experience. Bringing the human touch to the digital age has become a strategic imperative. Service is the new sales. Here are the key technologies that can help bring personal relationships back into the mix to ensure extraordinary customer experiences.

The Secret of Social: In the nineties Customer Relationship Management (CRM) became a core component of a seamless transactional experience. These days it has become even more important when trying to manage the explosion of additional channels through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media. Many of the original vendors have noticed this and added “social” to their traditional CRM offering.

CRM, however, is not just a point solution for sales, support, or marketing anymore. The big secret of “social” is that everyone is part of the customer service process – even the guys in accounting. Therefore, CRM has to become pervasive as the communication vehicle for end-to-end relationship management throughout whatever channel the customer at any particular moment wants to use.

The Future Looks Bright: Other fundamental components are predictive analytics and big data. As recent headlines illustrate, this evolution of the business intelligence segment has matured to a frightening level. Increasingly meaningful personalization is upon us. Predictive analytics has the potential to qualify potential buyers much more accurately by simultaneously mining from a plethora of sources on the Web.

In addition, it can segment existing customers by identifying possible upgrade opportunities; in the world of collections, predictive analytics can help flag high-risk areas for delinquency. This provides a better experience for members by predicting their communication preference and best time of availability and by proactively reaching out to contact customers at the optimum time. The possibilities for significantly enhancing the overall customer experience are tremendous.

Mobile Apps: Last, consider mobile apps. Not only have the sales of smartphones outstripped PC and laptop sales, the bigger shift is the ease of use of delivering applications to end users. Where even the most intuitive websites might still face adoption issues, it seems that interacting on a mobile device by using an app removes all the fear, even when the same functionality is offered by both options.

A couple of years ago, Craig Donato, CEO of social marketplace Oodle, coined the term “re-humanizing commerce.” He noted that marketing approaches such as email spam, phone spam (a.k.a. telemarketing) produce rapidly diminishing returns. However, he says:

Succeeding with social commerce requires us to act human. Rather than searching for information, consumers are discovering things through trusted referrals and recommendations. Instead of being a marketing medium driven by click-through rates and lead conversion, Facebook is a medium of relationships and conversations. This is going to require some adjustments by marketers; in this new game, they are going to need to:

  • Practice the art of conversation. Social commerce is not about capturing leads and building databases. It’s about talking to people with an authentic voice, the same voice you would use if you were talking to them in person. (Remember, you’re talking to your customers in the same place they use to chat with their friends.)
  • Build and deepen customer relationships. Customers are the trusted network, the community that surrounds a business. By taking care of your customers, you not only deepen those relationships, but you also fuel referrals.

Cultural Transformation: A Case Study in Progress: One company, ResortCom International, has taken personalized service in a high-tech environment to a new level. Here is their story:

Background: ResortCom International is known as a top performer in global portfolio management, exemplified in healthy portfolios, low delinquencies, and low foreclosures. In addition to loan receivables servicing and portfolio management, their financial services division also specializes in maintenance fee billing and collections, merchant credit card services, tax withholding trust administration, custodial services, and lender support. As an international company, it provides services in many languages and currencies. It also has a division that provides full hospitality management service to a number of brands – most notably LaTour Hotels and Resorts with four- and five-star properties worldwide.

Situation: This company is in a unique position. In one way or another, it is involved in almost every aspect of the interaction between clients (mostly resort developers) and their members. They touch over 500,000 people annually from their 100-seat contact center. In its twenty-seven years of engaging in millions of conversations, they have had a front row seat to the changing expectations and behaviors of timeshare members (and consumers in general) across North America and Europe.

In 2012, ResortCom relocated its call center from Mexico to Las Vegas because of their commitment to the “people side of customer service.” For more than a quarter of a century, they developed a reputation for providing high-touch service to their constituents. With a hands-on US-based call center, ResortCom increased the ability to continue to listen and be flexible. Their technology infrastructure, powered by Oracle, simplifies these communications.

Inspiration: What inspired them to undertake a cultural transformation was Zappos. The philosophy at Zappos is to “wow with service and experience, not with anything that relates directly to monetary compensation.” According to their website, “Wow is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To wow, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average.”

Results: Following this model, the “wow” factor became the centerpiece of ResortCom’s call center success. They zeroed in on making fantastic customer service a profit center. According to Alex Marxer, president of ResortCom International, “Our philosophy combines the spirit of innovation and partnership. Not so amazingly, our ‘wow’ service model keeps our clients’ portfolios healthy and cash-flow strong, while ensuring a positive experience for owners and members through online self-service and a customer service staff with a concierge-like attitude.”

Marxer concludes, “We have learned that interaction with clientele can’t be an isolated approach. It has to permeate the whole culture. Friendships are built on trust. When your organization has reached out to its most important customers (in our case, owners/members), you must treat them with respect. The interaction between owner/member needs to be open and responsive, ensuring that the person designated as the online communicator is fully empowered to respond in a humanly compassionate manner.”

There’s an arc from human touch in the digital age to the digital touch in the human age. The good news is that technology is increasingly going where it ought to be: out of sight and enabling rich interactions and experiences.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2014]