Tag Archives: poor customer experience

[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…

Progressive: Unfortunate name for a backward company

I read this with disbelief. “Progressive settles with accident victim’s family after tale went viral” is a story of amazing corporate stupidity and self-interest that exploded online. Imagine the Progressive lawyers sitting on the defense side of the court as the bad driver is prosecuted. Read the article yet? Now what do you think of Progressive? A company to trust and do business with? Or one to avoid?

Only time will tell how much this case and the buzz created online will affect Progressive’s business. Their numbers may dip briefly but their image is now clearly tainted – at least for the segment of the population that uses the Internet to read the news, find information and transact business.

There are a growing number of examples of people in the public eye, and companies, doing what’s right for themselves and not what is right. In the case of Progressive they wanted to contain their expenses. In the case of British politicians the supplemented their income with spurious expenses, but got caught. Why did they do it? Because the system allowed them to do it.

I’m not promoting a lock-down of the system. More red tape and too many checks and balances just constrains to the point of suffocation. It creates hopeless, impossible situations for individuals and companies, and spawns an industry of smart people that work out what the rules don’t cover. No, I’m not promoting regulation, but I believe individuals and companies should think about what’s right for others.

Here are some customer service examples:

  • My Samsonite trolley bag comes with a detachable liquids pouch for the airport security area. This broke after 4 years, I wanted to buy another, and Samsonite replaced it free of charge. I like Samsonite.
  • I switched home broadband from O2 to BT. O2 kept taking money, telling me that BT hadn’t switched the service correctly. BT explained that they had. O2 hasn’t replied to two letters, or refunded the money. I don’t like O2.
  • My garage, Belmont, misquoted (negative £40) for a service on my car. I said I’d pay the full amount as it was clearly a mistake. They insisted they’d charge what they quoted. I like Belmont.

Multiply this millions of times every day around the world and it becomes clear why customers like or don’t like companies. When companies stand by their customer, even though it costs them on that transaction, they can look forward to repeat business. Customer’s defect when they find out for themselves that they’re paying too much, but they become advocates when the company tells them there’s a more appropriate deal available.

It’s time for corporate honesty, because regulation doesn’t promote doing the right thing. Regulation creates an environment of hair-splitting and legal argument, of blame and game-playing. Mind you, customers need to be honest, too, or this will never work.

What do you think, is honesty the way forward?

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…

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.

O2 Never Calls Back

On Friday our broadband connection failed. After running the usual diagnostics, I called O2. My experience with O2 support so far has been fine. But I have been disappointed this time.

I called on Friday evening around 7pm, after doing the usual fiddling, unplugging, plugging, changing etc, the agent escalated to level 2 as the problem was outside his experience to fix. Level 2 did some more tests, with my support, patience and more plugging/unplugging. The verdict: the case required an enquiry to BT to ‘test’ something. I’d receive a call back with a few hours (most likely sometime early Saturday) but it could take 24 hours as it was the weekend.

No call received by 7pm Saturday, so I called. The agent reviewed the case notes, told me that the report indicated all was well on the BT side and asked me to do some more plugging and unplugging etc. The verdict: an engineer needed to visit my house and the agent needed to approval to schedule this visit. He would call back within an hour or two to do this.

No call received by 7pm Sunday, so I called. The agent reviewed the case notes, said that approval was given and that he’d schedule an engineer call but couldn’t because he couldn’t access the system. He’d have a colleague call me. She called back a little while later and the appointment was made for today.

The engineer visited to check our connection but knew that the problem was with a failed card at the exchange because other houses were affected. Presumably these were spread across a number of home broadband providers, which is why it wasn’t immediately obvious.

The O2 staff were friendly, thorough and polite but, my point is this, why did I have to keep calling O2? I am now in the market for another service provider. Anyone interested?