Category Archives: Technology Sector Support

[Webcast] 4 Steps to Achieving Customer Process Excellence

There are few things more satisfying for any professional than taking apart a business process and reassembling it leaner, quicker, and more effective than it was before. Sadly, few professionals ever get the chance, or have the focus, to do this in a meaningful way. What many companies don’t truly see is the impact on their business of not reviewing, changing and adapting processes when:

  • Introducing new technology tools and platforms
  • Parts of the business change
  • Regulatory compliance tightens
  • Budgets are cut
  • Sales skyrocket
  • Customers complain
  • They’ve simply been in place for a while

Continually questioning why, how, what and when is a must for any forward-thinking executive. I’m reminded of Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and Habit 2 – “Begin with the End in Mind”. This must be the regular reminder in To-Do lists, Calendars, Meeting Agendas and the like in every company, and especially those in the technology sector (being the most innovative and progressive companies in most cases).

It’s amazing that companies do not constantly measure, analyze and change processes in a joined up way. Piecemeal updates usually cause imbalance somewhere along the line and result in poor process performance. This, in turn, creates dissatisfaction and increases the cost of transaction.

With this in mind, I’m presenting a webcast with John Ragsdale of TSIA on Thursday September 27 when we’ll look at this subject. Customer Interaction Design was developed a few years ago to improve customer-facing processes. The results have been dramatic, cutting call handle times, improving customer and agent satisfaction, and delivering tangible benefits within weeks of being implemented. We’re talking of millions of dollars of improvement, and happy customers and agents, by following a four-step process.

I have a couple of case examples to share. Please join if you can…

Three Reasons Why Hall of Fame Status Matters to Technology Company Customers

The 2012 MSN Customer Service Hall of Fame was recently announced and I was glad to see a few technology players in the top 10 or 15 companies.

MSN 2012 Hall of Fame Leaders Table

Looking at the top performing companies I realise that I know a few of them, either as a customer or through business. Without going into unnecessary, but potentially interesting, details there are some common traits irrespective of industry. They each:

  1. Satisfy a need and meet expectation
  2. Make it easy for me to find what I need when I need to look
  3. Humanise the interaction when I do have to make contact

Satisfy the need/Meet the expectation

 It seems strange that so many products and services are promoted as one thing but turn out to be another. This may be the result of overenthusiastic marketing, or Sales overselling, or the customer not finding it easy to understand what it does and doesn’t really do. In any case, products and services designed with the customer’s need in mind, and supported appropriately are bound to stand out from the crowd. When it comes to customer service, this is particularly important. When I read product reviews online, a one or two star rating doesn’t really put me off buying the product because the accompanying comments normally tell me more about the buyer than about the selling company or the product.

The comments that do make me reflect are the ones that identify what isn’t included, or what worked with difficulty. This is because I suspect I may have a hard time getting what I need from the product or service. So, sell me what I need and not what you have available and I will trust you again in the future.

Make it easy

Customers are generally realistic, but not always. So when things don’t go as expected, the company that anticipated I might get in touch and made answers easy to find and use online will gain my consumer appreciation. Online self-help tools are a great opportunity to validate that I do have a genuine problem, not an imagined and/or easily addressed one. But the knowledge-base content written by an engineer, in a technical language that I don’t understand, and clearly not with me (ordinary person) in mind, is an irritant and not a resource. So, instead of just ticking boxes by having the tools and content there, technology companies need to make their investment real by continually testing and improving usability.  

Humanise the interaction

I dread calling technical support helplines. I fear being stepped through the standard 42 step script that identifies that I have a problem. I know I have a problem, that’s why I called. If I have come from a diagnostic tool online, and a knowledge-base that did not help me, the last thing I want when I call or email or chat, is the human version of the same tools. Naturally, there are steps to be covered but agents must be empowered to judge the competence of the caller, asking a few validation questions before deciding how best to achieve resolution of the issue. Make me feel like a person, with ability but lacking knowledge, and I will again trust you in the future.

When looked at through the customer’s eyes I don’t think any of this is unreasonable. Through the customer service department’s eyes it probably spells “cost”, or “dissatisfaction”. I don’t think either is true. People are not standard and shouldn’t be treated as such. Professional customer service isn’t about the company process, but is about serving customers. Hall of Fame top performers know and get this. 

Do you agree?

Can You Successfully Sell to Customers That Ask for Help?

In short, the answer is “YES”. But so many companies do a bad job that it must seem, to them, like an impossible task. Here are some insights distilled from my own experience and observations as I prepared for my recent presentation at TSW in California.

  1. Be the consumer – for a moment, put yourself in the customer’s place. Ask yourself if YOU would find your pitch, timing, and approach to promoting a product or service during a customer service or technical support call attractive? If you’re honest you’ll probably answer “no”. We’ll explore the reasons for this a bit further down.
  2. Make the connection – the customer’s experience at the point of contact is entirely in the hands of the agent. This applies to every one-to-one communication channel and may also apply in social media channels. No connection means virtually no hope of a sale.
  3. Decide why you’re doing this – I mean corporately. The personal reasons can follow. For the company, making an offer to customers that have received help can be both a great opportunity or a huge risk. If your reason is something like “because we need to” or “because we can”, you can be pretty sure you will either not sell much or will irritate customers. Neither of these help your cause.

These points are not in any order of priority. But there is a point to this post. The low-cost support mantra adopted by many technology companies is an admirable financial aim and can be executed extremely effectively without dissatisfying customers. However, whether choosing self-help technology, community forums or any other method to minimise the cost of support, you may also close the door on furthering the customer relationship. All methods to reduce cost should be examined and engaged where they make financial sense. They can even improve customer satisfaction where the source aligns with customer preferences. But as alternatives to company employee interaction are implemented, remember that these cannot build a relationship with the customer.

Personal interactions are precious because the customer is speaking with the company. The production line approach to handling calls, emails and chat sessions is very efficient but diminishes the opportunity to do something else with that precious engagement. One of my former bosses said “people buy from people”. This applies in both consumer and enterprise environments. I recently read that the truth of this is that “people buy from people they think like them”. In the support environment, “like” equals “helps and engages” so success is not just a resolved transaction, it’s also the foundation to taking another step or two.

During a call or chat session the customer shares a lot of information with the agent. Not just the facts and figures, but also their level of knowledge, emotional state, preferences and even aspirations. This is important information.

Successful help isn’t just about achieving resolution but is also about determining what will benefit the consumer. And this may go beyond solving the immediate problem to include the offer of an extended warranty if the customer is nearing the end of their current one. Or the offer of a technical assistance subscription if their knowledge is basic and they are likely to need (costly) help in the future. Or it might be an additional product that fits with the customer’s aims or answers a need.

My point is that dumbly making an offer (any offer) at the end of a support call makes the customer feel abused, and abused customers do not come back readily. Making the right offer at the right time in the right circumstance will achieve both a sale and a happy customer. The income created offsets any additional costs and, further, improves the likelihood that the customer will buy from you again, creating a future revenue opportunity.

Do you have any related insights or experiences you can share?

SYKES Recognised by TSIA for Sales Assist

Technology Services World (TSW) continues to grow from event to event, this being testimony to its sector relevance and audience engagement. I hope that TSIA’s focus will broaden to other technology sector segments such as consumer.

SYKES’ Sales Assist was named a finalist for the Services Innovation Award on Monday, providing an opportunity to describe the product, approach and benefits to a sizeable audience. Competition was tough though, with ServiceSource named the other Services category finalist. As their submission was centred around their core service and platform I felt that they were likely to win. It’s difficult to present a process and methodology on paper and doesn’t always compare favourably with screen shots, dashboards and charts.

At the award ceremony, I sat somewhat nervously as the Innovation Awards part started and was knocked over when Sales Assist  was named as the category winner. SYKES is a people business and representing what we do on paper and in presentation slides is really hard, as it is for any contact center outsourcer, but when visitors meet with our people in-centre it all comes alive. They see for themselves the commitment and passion to deliver service to customers and with this it all makes sense.it alland is the thin line at the front of customer engagement.

Sales Assist is a great product, giving companies the method to build sales-through-support activities. So many companies seem to attempt this but fail to achieve a meaningful outcome. I believe it’s because the commitment to succeed is not full and badly prepared programs result in pilot program failure, leading to agents being unenthusiastic and customers disaffected.

Expo Theater Poll Result

TSW Expo Theater Poll result

I presented Sales Assist once again during the lunchtime session on Tuesday when we did a deeper dive into the five components. At the end I ran a poll to identify which components, in light of what we discussed, delegates felt failed their company’s efforts. The outcome was that 50% or more felt that four of the five (Hiring, Training, Management and Incentives) were major contributors to failure. A little way behind was Measurement with only one-third of participants identifying this. This isn’t a surprising outcome given the amount of measuring that takes place in a typical customer support program. I think Sales Assist can help companies perform better and create or improve a revenue stream.

I’ll be presenting Sales Assist again on Thursday with TSIA’s John Ragsdale. Please join us if you can.

Customer Service in Social Media – taking baby steps

I joined around 60-70 delegates last week in London for the Useful Social Media event Social Media for Customer Service Europe. The keynote speaker was Frank Eliason of Citi who, frankly, nailed the topic. Social media has been great for marketeers but presents challenges.

For example, “friends” do the most unfriendly things such as say bad things about your brand in public and on your Facebook site. They also ask unrelated questions where marketeers intended discussions around new products and services should happen. And finally, they have stopped calling for assistance and now tweet, asking the world instead. Or they express their frustration through Twitter when they did ask you and you didn’t reply.

It’s little wonder that senior company executives are wary of social media. Nevertheless, social media is here to be embraced, not least because customers like it and use it. As time passes late adopters will adopt, and laggards will lag (losing touch?), and generation Y and Z folks will dwell in cyberspace looking for near-instant gratification and help from peers.

The message I took away from the conference is two-fold:

  1. Don’t ignore or constrain social media – embrace it. You can’t contain, prevent, or avoid it but you can work within it to get the best and right results. It’s encouraging to see that social media roles are appearing at very senior levels in large organisations. A sign that engagement is happening.
  2. Customer service departments need to get involved. I was struck by how many marketeers were at the conference. Clearly this is where the early budget has come from but, as I expect there’s a lot for CS professionals to learn from what people say unhindered in social channels, they must get involved and wrest control of CS interactions from marketing. Otherwise, who know what advice and guidance customers will be given?

ROI was also under discussion and various points were made about the return companies gain on their investment. Universally, everyone said it was tough to conform with traditional company ROI calculations. I’ll probably post on this again in the next few weeks as the topic continues to appear. Part of the justification is finding the right format to satisfy the needs of executives, and ensuring that the arguments stand up to scrutiny.

What else did I take away from the conference? There weren’t many dyed-in-the-wool CS people there, so I expect that interest is from people with a CS role and an interest in social media. More people needed that see social media as a customer service channel, methinks!

If you have an opinion, please comment

Consumption Economics: Revolution or Indigestion?

At Technology Services Europe earlier this month, (Berlin Hilton, 15/16 March), JB Wood and Thomas Lah, two of the authors of “Consumption Economics“, delivered a thought-provoking and even troubling message.

The problem (if there is one) is that the services division of majorenterprise technology companies is a cash-cow, supporting product divisions that are in a spiral of narrowing margins and increased features as they strive to maintain/gain market position and defend against competitors. So products are weak and services, aimed at helping companies use the products they purchased, become the lifeblood of the company.

What’s wrong with this? Absolutely nothing, except that there’s a new kid on the block which is threatening the status quo. I’ll describe the before and after as well as I can.

BeforeEnterprise Technology Purchase Pattern

Your company buys the product and pays for professional services to help configure it for use. You also contract to pay maintenance fees for, say, the next four years so that help is on hand. You then start to push it out in the organisation. So far, so good, except that you have paid out the money and have lots of work to do to establish usage, probably finding out that a lot of development works needs to be done to make it do what the business needs. The authors created the first diagram showing how it works.

After

What’s now emerging is a new way, based on consumption. The upfront investment, if any, will buy hardware but, instead of buying software licences, and professional services, and maintainance, the company now pays as users consume the product features – like a pay-per-click, or downloading an app or plugin from a marketplace. In this case, the income isn’t heavily front loaded (diagram above) but is heavily backended (diagram below, from the authors) and is the result of vendor effort to develop consumption within the client company.

OpEx Cloud Purchase PatternOutcome

Many technology vendors will remodel themselves over the coming years as buyers become accustomed to paying in this way. One key feature of that remodelling will be seen in the contact centre where technical agents and customer service representatives must have new skills because their interaction with the user will go beyond providing help. Agents will handle product configurations and conflicts as before, but must also understand the user’s business so that they can recommend features, addons and plugins that are relevant, valuable and useful to users, thereby improving user effectiveness/productivity and vendor revenue at the same time.

I’m particularly interested because this shifts focus from technical support being a pure cost to the business (therefore, to be minimised) to it being a vital revenue-generating activity. This requires more than just a quick training session with current agents. It requires a new approach. Selecting and skilling agents to manage relationships, identify revenue opportunities, make an appropriate offer, and give technical help. All in one person. This is not impossible and can be achieved through making careful team selection, focused coaching, and appropriate metrics. I’ll be speaking about this at TSW Silicon Valley in May. Please join!

Is your business already changing to the consumption revenue model? Or not yet seeing the need for change? Or is consumption economics like indigestion – something that will pass?

3 Steps to Successful Vendor Management

I don’t manage vendors much these days but I know a lot of people who manage client accounts. On what makes for a successful client/vendor relationship (seen from the vendor side), they are unanimous on the following three things:

  1. Keep focussed, make things simple – big organisations are complicated and when internal conflict spills over to the vendor their desire to satisfy amplifies the conflict, making vendor success virtually impossible to achieve. So, simplify without dumbing down, prioritise – be reasonable (but ambitious) and don’t boil the ocean, stretch is good – but don’t break.
  2. Communication – not the contracted, structured, reporting stuff. The sharing type of communication. Tell your vendor what’s going on in the company; how the business is being affected by economic conditions, or competition; changes in management and corporate style; where the business is headed, and how things may shape up in the future. Naturally, you can’t share confidential information but you can speak with a trusted partner, can’t you?
  3. Share something of yourself – what’s your own goal? What are your interests and aspirations? Contracts and statements of work, though very necessary, are like a wall. If the parties stand either side then sharing is like lobbing bricks (or worse) over the top. But if you can open a door and share something then opportunities open up.

It’s in your vendor’s interest to do well for you. Turning in a green scorecard isn’t really it – that’s contract. A good vendor will go beyond the scorecard to find the other stuff that makes you, the vendor manager, shine. There’s nothing dishonest or immoral about this – a good working relationship with trust and understanding works for both parties and incorporates honesty and integrity. I’m not promoting under-the-counter payments or foreign holidays. There’s no place for that today and no need for it.

You’ve probably heard the saying “people buy from people”. I like this phrase because the four words contain so much. The key is relationship. This is supported by the pillars of understanding, trust, confidence and integrity. These stand on the foundation of “people serving people”Relationship Pillars Foundation

TowerGroup Conference – progress in a conservative world?

Banks don’t fare well in the Temkin Group’s recent UK customer experience survey. None are placed in the top 10 and only one makes it into the top 20. In fact, banks haven’t fared well for a while with anyone, being blamed for the last 4+ years crisis around the world and are the kicking boys for every aspect of corporate and personal greed. The media loves having such an easy target to point the public’s attention to.

I attended last week’s London TowerGroup conference (February 8 & 9). This was my first exposure to a banking event. I noticed conflict.

On the one hand, banking is, by breeding, a very conservative sector with structures and processes that remain largely unchanged for decades – perhaps even hundreds of years. Banks, card issuers, and the like, handle your money on your behalf. They bear little or no risk and you pay for their services either through fees (whether you realise it or not) or by allowing them to use your money but not pass on to you the full benefit. It’s quite simple really.

On the other hand, the world is moving much faster than they are. Technology enables instant, long distance, wireless, secure communication and transaction. Bank customers are pretty savvy and aspire to do lots of cool stuff using their mobile phone, mobile internet etc. But few banks are ready yet. Some are progressive, relatively speaking, but trail behind retailers and grocers (who, incidentally, dominate the Temkin rankings table).

Let’s briefly compare the banking and retail/grocery sectors

  • Banking: slow, steady, careful (?), big salaries/bonuses, not trusted/liked by customers, big profits, rarely go out of business (and when they head that way are often bailed out by government)
  • Retail: quick, dynamic, progressive, average salaries/bonuses, lots of loyal customers, low margins, go out of business or are taken over by competitors when they get it wrong

Why is this? What do banks need to do to be loved? Clearly, they need to change. TowerGroup analysts gave superb presentations about trends and the like in the industry but I wonder if focus within the sector is entirely healthy. Comparison with the outside world comes in two flavours:

  1. What are other businesses doing?
  2. What do customers want?

The best banks are showing a more retail/grocer-like face to the customer, and are making better progress as a result. Take a look at the efforts of Co-Operative Bank (#15 in the UK Temkin rankings) and First Direct (a very well regarded UK internet bank). Customers favour them. They clearly didn’t do what the others are doing but have made a difference that customers like.

“We listened to you and…” is quoted a lot by institutions. I say, thanks for the apps, and Saturday opening hours, and clear English T & Cs. But what took you so long? Customers have enjoyed internet shopping and communities, 24×7 opening hours and simple, honest words from retailers for years. Are banks catching up quickly or doing this grudgingly?

My closing comment – I joined one session that looked at Retail Banking in 2020. This was largely a focus on technology-enabled possibilities. Technology is exciting because of what it enables. I know because I provide insight and comment on the sector for my colleagues at SYKES. But I heard no prediction of changing attitudes and practices in the banking sector. This is troubling because without this banks will continue to be trundling behemoths, unloved and untrusted, and playing catchup at the customer’s expense.

PS – I met some really nice, super people and acknowledge their conversations and thoughts

PPS – what do you think?

Technical Support – the Onshore, Nearshore, Offshore Debate

The move offshore to India and other low-cost countries started away back in the late nineties/early 2000′s and heralded an exciting downward shift in the cost of providing support to customers. But has it helped businesses, or hindered them?

For some, it was a brave step – offering 40-60% lower costs, graduate calibre staff, and an unimaginable number of native English-speakers willing to work in a contact centre. For others it turned out to be a step too far – regulatory issues, cultural conflict, and adverse customer feedback. Let’s examine what happened.

  1. There were evidently some questions unasked, or long-term thinking left for later. What happens as demand grows? As competition increased?
  2. Customers began to complain. Strong dialect was typically cited, however, this masked poor business processes, little customer empathy, cultural misalignment and many other fundamental things.
  3. Companies found it very hard to manage remote operations because of legal, commercial and cultural differences.
  4. Having gone straight to the lowest English-speaking labour markets, the evolution of support becomes less clear with many companies examining even lower-cost markets where English is an outcome of the education system rather than culture.
  5. And what about other languages? For some, good shoring options exist – Spanish and French, for example. For others, the options are more difficult to justify.
    Labour Market Forces
    Labour Market Forces

It’s not exactly rocket science to state that you can attract top talent when you offer relatively high salaries and a career in a limited demand market. But when demand grows, economic forces drive higher salaries for the same/similar talent or requires compromise in moving down the pyramid – accepting lower skilled, but more readily available people. This applies to onshore, nearshore (not so far to travel) or offshore locations.

Fast forward to today. Most shoring options are now stable and plentiful. Many of the companies that went offshore have closed or sold their own centres and outsourced customer service and technical support. Why? The business benefitted from outsourcers better placed to manage the workforce, willing to meet service levels and able to cope with rapidly changing local labour market conditions. For technology companies, outsourcing customer contact management became as natural as subcontracting parts production and product assembly. The outsourcer focusses on satisfying one of many business needs.

But there are other factors to consider. Today’s technology consumer doesn’t merit a one-size-fits-all approach to support. Low cost consumer electronics can’t sustain a high cost support model, so self-help, community forums and offshore resource options make sense. High value customers merit more attention because they are repeat buyers, spending more in each transaction. This doesn’t mean that offshore/nearshore = low skills and onshore = high skills. It does mean that what your business needs, and what your customers want, are unique to you.

Few companies have the resources to finely model their customer service operation themselves. At the simple end of the spectrum, it’s about the cost of skills and required effort to manage and maintain. At the other end, many factors such as business growth, economic cycles, talent availabilility, staff development, attrition, technical skills, languages, multiple communication channels, customer sentiment/opinion, and added-value make the model very complex. Multiple shoring options are a few of the gauges and dials an outsourcer has to finely tune to company current and future needs. Even technical support is no longer just that, but an opportunity to establish rapport with the customer to win more or repeat business in a tough market.

And then there’s the political pressure. President Obama’s speech last week referenced the repatriating of US jobs from other regions through tax incentives. Will these be enough to make a difference? Or is the tide turning for technology companies anyway, because of customer preference/pressure?

Where are you in the cycle? Considering offshore or nearshore? Been offshore and considering moving closer to the demand?

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