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

BT: My Customer Experience in Jeopardy. Will they fail me?

Today is a red letter day, in a broadband sense. I decided a couple of weeks ago to switch my broadband and home phone from O2 to BT. BT made the switch relatively easy and simple and have kept me informed by phone, email and SMS since.

Until a couple of hours ago, all was well.

Then Khan called to say that my phone service commenced today and my broadband would be live on March 6th. Whoa! They were both to be live today. I am no longer a happy customer. The last two weeks good communications are now washed away. I can see only a week of inconvenience.

It’s not Khan’s fault, so I refrain from yelling at him. I am now not speaking to Khan, I am speaking to BT. I ask for an explanation but BT cannot give me one, except to say that a technical fault prevented them giving me broadband today. I probe further and am irritated by the lack of adequate explanation.

I outline my options

  • I can accept the one week delay
  • I can escalate this
  • I can tell BT to cancel the whole thing and find another provider to sign up with

This last option is the equivalent of throwing my toy out of the pram, or lying on my back in the middle of the supermarket and drumming my heels on the floor. But I’m prepared to do it because…

  1. I think this situation was avoidable
  2. The explanation is weak
  3. The “technical fault” is a cover for “someone didn’t see that the order wasn’t progressing as it should through the system”

But then I asked two questions – “Khan, what can you do to improve this? What is the best you can do?” He promises to keep my order on his desk, expedite it in the system when the process allows, and call me back either tonight or tomorrow morning with an update. He expects I’ll be online within 48 hours. I told him that a call tomorrow to say that the service would still commence next week wasn’t acceptable.

Has Khan saved the day? I hope so. . Let’s see how the story goes…

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?

Social Customer Service | Need to Scale the Team or Not?

Most company social media (SM) activity is promotional – brand, profile, product, offer. So the majority of available help is focussed in this area. Emerging, though, is the need to engagement with customers in a service and support, not promotional, environment.

In many cases, marketing departments are handling customer enquiries like a discussion, which isn’t good. Or are ignoring them, which is really bad. So, companies need to be customer service consistent at least, and this will soon be joined by the need to scale engagement team because social customer service will grow over time and as channels mature and companies succeed.

Therefore social customer service and support is not the domain of the creative team. If your service/support need is small now, ask yourself the question “will it remain small?”

Answer “yes”, and your design/creative/marketing department, with input from customer service will be fine. Answer “maybe not” or “no” and you could soon find yourself with a collection of small, disparate teams, dedicated by country, language or product line.

Is this a bad thing? For many companies it is because poorly regulated, inconsistent interactions is the least effective way to support customers and, in social channels, carries real risk of embarrassment or adverse (public) reaction.

How can consistency and scale be achieved? By design and deployment of the social service engagement to complement the creative and promotional aspects. This is not a creative agency/department core strength and is, perhaps, the unglamorous face of social media activity.

What’s needed for social programs that are established and need to be brought into alignment, or will scale as milestones are passed, is an approach and structure to provide a platform for the aims and culture of an enterprise social program. I’ve created an image of it here:

Social Team Infographic
Key Features for Establishing and Scaling the Social Support Team

The corporate steps every company should follow are on left side of the image. I may have over-simplified as it’s not my area of expertise, however, companies such as AntsEyeView, Radian6, Lithium and others are well positioned to advise or provide.

On the right I’ve summarized the key team elements. Excluded from this are corporate community management and creative resources because these sit on the left, but day-to-day community management and customer engagement is covered.

Many organisations manage with part-time and small teams working within or side by side with creative and customer service teams but, once your team grows beyond a single location or skillset, or gets to 10 or more people, a lot more structure and focus is needed maintain control and focus on what you doing. This doesn’t diminish the ability to adapt and flex to meet changing needs but does, however, require attention and process to prevent things becoming unwieldy and deliver consistently.

With scale comes the need to specialise. “Super-moderators”, natuarally skilled across the whole environment, are already becoming difficult or expensive to hire. Finding individuals with potential, and developing them through coaching is the way to increase capacity and deliver consistent outcomes.

More to come on related topics in the near future.

Industry certification in Social Media? Not a bad idea, but not necessary in my view

Jeremiah Owyang recently posted on this topic. I agree with what he wrote, but believe that certification is needed to achieve consistency and not expert status. To explain…

Industry-level certification won’t deliver much value in my view, as each company’s need, each program, each project and each channel is different. Additionally, social customer service is not yet established or consistent enough for such certification to be meaningful. Industry certification is like trying to hit a fast-moving target at half a mile with a bow and arrow. Fun setting up but hitting the mark is difficult.

He speaks of experience, which is a vital ingredient, but the demand for talent and experience could well have the same effect that the Y2K issue had on IT sector pay 11 or more years ago. Young, inexperienced people with little more knowledge than a regular IT user were paid a lot of money as companies screamed out for resources to help save them from the meltdown. The current demand is, I confess, a bit different but experience takes time and there isn’t enough time available to allow talent to mature at its own rate.

So, what’s the answer? Well, outsourcing could well be. I have a vested interest which I am happy to declare now. My employer is a contact centre outsourcer, employing around 45,000 people around the globe, and does a ton of recruitment, training and development every week.

Why is this relevant? Well, contact centre outsourcers focus on managing customer interactions and are not burdened with other company stuff such as research and development, marketing, managing channels, and fighting off the client’s competition (though the services delivered are a component in doing this). We focus on the conversation and taking it to the customer’s (and hopefully client’s) desired conclusion. To achieve this, at a cost that the client will pay and to the required standard, we have incredible resources to identify, recruit, train, develop, retain and manage the right talent. People are taken from little or no knowledge to “capable” in just a few weeks and continue to develop with regular coaching.

We do this on a huge scale for regular voice, email and chat programs, and on a smaller scale for social programs. Even though smaller, we still have more people engaged in social customer service and support than many specialist companies employ.

The result is that every client program has social-certified agents. No need to adopt someone else’s standards, or create from scratch. As every program is different, a key element is customising to satisfy the unique needs while leveraging experience from elsewhere. Success is achieved without running the risks brought about by limited capability and exposure. This way, no one goes online without achieving the agreed basic standard and what they are allowed to do is determined by their level of experience and achievement.

Why would a company develop their own program when they can leverage the experience and best practices of others? Which is better?

I’ll post again with more details on this topic over the next few days.

The impact of customer service in social media is a rounding error, Customer Response Summit 3

I attended CRS3 (Scottsdale, AZ) last month as a sponsor and speaker, and was impressed by the very open way in which delegates discussed their drive to improve their understanding of customer service in social media, and the ways they’re establishing and improving their existing activities.

For me, There were two standout presentations. I’ve added a few sentences to summarise the highpoints:

Jeff Russakow of Yahoo started proceedings. “Looking ahead,” he says, “the current is not sustainable in the future. The proliferation of devices with all the associated interoperability and configuration issues, and the much narrower margins achieved by companies, are a good indicator that the cost of supporting a customer has to change.” Clearly Jeff says this from his own perspective, however, the writing is on the wall for all businesses as consumer expectations shift and cost pressures build. So what does the future look like? Most likely customers will be given much better self-help and peer-help options such as online knowledge and community forums. Additionally, companies must do more to prevent the customer from needing help. Jeff called this “Tier -1”.

By building more features into products, companies increase their complexity. This increases the gap between what a product can do and the user’s ability. Much complexity needs to be hidden away and, as pioneered by Apple, the user interface will be simpler with individual applications designed around a task rather than a range of tasks. Similarly, the shift towards the cloud (and (applications installed there) will result in fewer installation help calls (because installation is replaced with configuration). As this type of call accounts for around 25% of help requests the impact is significant. I’m indebted to Jeff for his insights.

Carol Borghesi of Telus followed with a challenge to the claimed importance of social media, stating that “the impact of social media on customer service costs is so far a ’rounding error”. Additonally, “the future must be established by companies delivering against expectations they set with customers”.

 Carol also shared the following phrase “customer service is the drip tray of the organisation”. This resonated with me. The vast majority of customer interactions are necessitated by something that happened outside of the customer’s expectation. Whether this be a software installation that failed, or a credit card statement showing items you didn’t buy, or an abnormally high mobile telephone bill, the customer’s need to interact is not always as they wish.

Then, of course, it can get worse when the customer calls to make a change to an arrangement and has to get in touch again because the transaction was not carried out as agreed. Imagine the impact if a company always did what it said it would – the cost of customer support would reduce dramatically, customers would be happier, and margins would be healthier and customers happier.

Customer preference is important in the choice of communication channel, and this is where social media has a part to play. Before social networks, Twitter, community forums and chat came along the customer was able only to have a conversation or correspond by telephone or e-mail or in writing. The proliferation of online channels has opened up wonderful possibilities for the consumer but created a nightmare for the organisation. The best companies are those that are thoughtful about the customer’s preference and manage and meet customer expectations. These are the companies that will succeed!

There were a number of other thought-provoking what helpful presentations made. Full details will be available on the CRS three website. I met a lot of very good people this week and wish them all success on their journey in social media and improving the customer experience. The conference was held at the Western Kiel and resort and spa in Scottsdale which is a lovely location, and provided the perfect atmosphere is delegates sought to learn and contribute and improve.