Archives for November 2009

Top 50 Call Center Best Practices? What’s Missing?

I was struggling with a topic for this post until this afternoon when it was handed to me in my inbox.

As I’m sure do all of you, I get dozens of email invites a day to webinars.  And while I participate in many and appreciate the exposure to what’s being promoted on various social CRM, customer service and contact center topics, I wish I would be given more options as to the frequency of these notifications.  But that’s a topic for another post:  how to abuse your email list.

The email I received that sparked this post was titled “Top 50 Call Center Optimization Best Practices of 2009”.  I read on and, here’s what I was invited to learn:

  • Secrets of top call centers and how to successfully apply them (ok, I’ll let it pass that this was the fourth time the email referred to ‘call center’.  So, these best practices don’t apply to email, chat, SMS, web self service, social CRM?  Ok, not the point)
  • Proven best practices for quality monitoring, workforce management, reporting and analysis, customer surveying, pre-hire assessment, training, desk top integration and automation
  • Breakthrough strategies and techniques you can use to exceed customer expectations, raise performance and achieve your career goals
  • Powerful new ways to hire the best employees, set and measure the right performance objectives, accurately forecast workload and schedules, improve quality of service, effectively survey customers to boost satisfaction and win the support of top executives
  • About new call center optimization solutions that are affordable to organizations of all sizes (damn, there’s the sales pitch)

Whew!  That’s some list for a 60 minute presentation.  But again, not the point.

The point , or more the question, I’m pondering is where’s the customer in this list?  Oh sure, it gives obligatory mention to ‘techniques…to exceed customer expectations” like the sales course that will teach you the magic question to get your prospect to say ‘yes’.  And, ‘effectively survey customers to boost satisfaction’ like the process of surveying customers is going to create a delightful experience.

But in reality, this is a webinar that could have been delivered 20 years ago (if webinars existed then)

So, what’s missing?  The customer.  The customer’s wants.  The customer’s needs.  The customer’s point of view.

Is this as far as we’ve come in thinking about customer service and the ‘call center’?

If you were writing the agenda for this webinar, what would be at the top of your list?

ATM fees – 100% margin? Seriously?

For as many times as I’ve agonized in front of the ATM staring at the screen describing the fee I’m about to be charged, and asking me if I wish to continue, it never hit me until yesterday how truly insane these are, and how many loan sharks must be envious at the gross profit generated from these fees.

So, first the freshman finance refresher.  Gross profit equals revenue minus cost of goods sold divided by revenue.  Right?  Well, I’m putting it out there.  Show me the costs.  There are none.  Ok, so I’m paying for convenience?  What does it cost the bank to provide me convenience?  I can walk into the bank.  See a live person.  Maybe get a lollipop.   And do my business for free.  That business?  Giving the bank my money so they can loan it out and make more money.

But, if I go to the ATM, the magic box that allows the bank to be open fewer hours, hire and pay less tellers and have fewer branches, I’m saving the bank money.  And for that, I get the privilege of paying two bucks.  Or, if its four bucks, I cancel the transaction and end up taking out more money so I lower the effective rate of the fee.  I shouldn’t have to think that hard when I just need some cash for lunch.

So, who’s really providing whom the service?  Maybe the bank should pay me each time I use the ATM.

Happy Thanksgiving!  I thank you all for stopping by.

How do you protect your reputation in the partner ecosystem?

In a Twitter chat with Chris Reaburn and Russ Hatfield about Chris’s recent blog post we collectively stumbled upon this concept of customer satisfaction in the “partner ecosystem”.  And, more importantly, how do you manage and positively influence the customer experience within that ever-expanding service delivery value chain?

Even before the mass outsourcing of customer service to third party providers, organizations have been focusing on core competencies and farming out as many other functions as practical.  Supply chain outsourcing seems to me to have led the way.  Why make all the raw materials? Why do all the preassembly?  Heck, why do any assembly at all?  Design it, then have someone else build it and then stamp your brand on it.  Then, hand the finished product over to another partner to distribute it, collect the receivables and manage your cash flow.

Then we decided that this process was so efficient, we applied it to the servicing and support of our customer relationships too.

So, who gets whacked when a part of this process fails?  Who’s brand is on the package?  That’s who.  The customer doesn’t care about all this noise in the background.  She knows that she bought a product from your company and expects you to be accountable.  Even with good intentions, how can you be held responsible for so many disparate parties, all with competing agenda?  You built it [the ecosystem that is].  You own it.  And unlike a linear chain, the ecosystem is multi-directional and exponentially more complex.

So, what business models or KPI’s have you used or seen applied that effectively enhance customer loyalty in such a complex environment?

Social Media in the Contact Center: Beyond the tools. Before the tactics.

This week, I had the pleasure of guest posting my review of social media monitoring vendor Radian6 on one of my favorite blogs hosted by John F Moore.

As I detailed in that post, the focus of my evaluation of the social media monitoring space, and my recommendation to others, goes beyond features and functions of the software.  Because the landscape is changing so fast, vendors are going to either catch up to the leaders or disappear.  So, in that post, I outlined other criteria I recommend weighting heavier in your analysis.

But, even beyond those criteria, its not the tools or the tactics that will set your organization up for success here.  As social media is so in our faces as customer service pros now, it can be a bit overwhelming.  As such, many folks are focusing on tactics and technology.  While these are important, it’s my opinion that these decisions need to be addressed in the context of a higher level strategic framework.  Take comfort, however in the fact that, if this is where you’ve started, you’re not alone.  Most every organization I spoke with over the past six months is reacting to the hype and uncertainty by trying to put tools and tactics in place as to not be left behind. 

So, before looking at technology, the organization needs to develop a detailed strategy, starting with answering the question: “why do we need to be doing this?”.  “Are our customers even in the social space?”  Your customer service social strategy, which should be in lock step with your corporate strategy, needs to be followed by detailed business plans.

  • What is your social ecosystem?
  • What is your social architecture?
  • What architecture do you need to build?
  • What is your social CRM and data integration strategy and plan

Simple questions like “what is a contact” are not so simple any more when we start to talk about social contacts or passive contacts.

  • What will be your soical KPIs?
  • How will you organize around social?
  • What is your social technographic profile among your customer service personnel 

For more information on social technographic profile, refer to Forrester’s Groundswell.

Not to boil the ocean here.  But with scarce resources, answers to these questions will be the foundation of your success.

If your organization has these things nailed down, then good for you!  You are way ahead of the curve.  Because lets not forget.  While I believe social is here to stay, we’re still in our infancy.  If you think, however, that there still may be some gaps, and your organization is committed to weaving social into the operational and cultural fabric of your customer service business, taking a step back, or at least figuring these things out in parallel would be my recommendation.

The customer is [not] always right

 Ok, so this is not a radically new point of view.  However, although some may disagree about the adversarial tone of this post’s title, it doesn’t get discussed often enough that customer – company relationship are two way streets.

Other successful relationships in our lives are based on trust, mutual respect and understanding.  So, why should we as customers think these same principles wouldn’t apply to our commercial relationships?  We, as consumers, have a responsibility to uphold our end of this equation if we expect a superior experience from those with whom we choose to spend our dollars; even in one-time transaction-based relationships.

This concept hit me on the head recently as I was observing, at close range, the negotiations between a company and a potential software vendor.  Anyone that’s been through this process will relate to this statement.  Without fail, every such negotiation I have been involved in that is contentious in nature, sets the relationship off in the wrong direction.  The vendor feels they got taken advantage of and goes into implementation with a ‘do the minimum’ mentality.  And the customer has unrealistic expectations, regardless of the price they paid, based on the promises made during the sales cycle.

So, here’s a list of what I call Customer Responsibilities.  Take ownership of these things, and watch your relationships flourish.

  • Be educated.  Syms, a discount clothing retailer, tag line is “an educated consumer is our best customer”.  I think Sy Syms was talking about this very subject.
  • Be reasonable.  You are well within your rights to negotiate and even ask for things you know you’ll never get.  But, don’t blow up the experience by insisting on them. This stems from being educated.
  • Be transparent.  This doesn’t mean showing all your cards at negotiation either.  But, if you have skeletons like bad credit or have intentions for the product beyond its intended use, or you have deadlines or budget constraints, disclose those things or you’re wasting everyone’s time
  • Be a partner.  Think beyond the transaction to what the long term relationship with your company can mean for your supplier and work together to create mutual value
  • Be the bigger person.  Sometimes the guy on the other side of the table, whether sales, service, accounts receivable or other, is going to behave badly.  Rise above it and work even harder at winning them over. 

Think forward to your future relationships.  What can you do differently to get the relationship off on the right foot, keep it there or get it back on track?

Are you experienced?

In my recent post about the delightful on-line shopping experience I had at eBags.com, I referenced a quote from Rudy Vital, former Chief Customer Officer at InContact.  As part of a keynote panel at the 2009 North American Conference on Customer Management, Rudy answered a question about adapting a loyalty program to an emotional experience in part with this:

“This used to be a product and service economy. Not anymore. It’s an experience economy. People are spending money for experiences. Why? Because products are commoditized”

This stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking about companies that are not only succeeding, but thriving regardless of cyclical economic conditions by delivering a unique experience that connects at some deeper level to the consumer. (here’s the entire summary of the NACCM keynote)

Here’s my top ten list (in no particular order) and the experience that I think sets them apart:

  1. Apple – its not the phone, media player or laptop.  Its iTunes.
  2. Wegmans – the grocer puts employees first, before even customers and it shows when you ask someone in the store for help
  3. eBags.com – crowd sourcing providing peer reviews and recommendations reducing the stress of buying a personal, tactile item such as luggage on line
  4. Amazon.com – for all the same reasons as eBags plus…The Kindle
  5. Lego – for understanding its not about plastic bricks, its about adventure.  And for its recognition and connection with loyal adult fans of their products
  6. Best Buy – Geek Squad and Twelpforce.  Sorry Circuit City
  7. Cabela’s Outfitters – They dont sell long underwear, boots and guns.  They sell the outdoor lifestyle.  Their stores make you feel like you’re an adventurer even if you’ve never been deeper into the woods than the shrubs in the back yard.  And this.  Vice Chairman James W. Cabela spends hours each morning reading through customer comments and hand-delivers them to each department, circling the issues he’d like to have addressed.
  8. My local Dunkin Donuts – Its unfortunate you all can’t experience this.  Every morning, without fail, I walk in the door and, without uttering a word, I’m presented with my coffee exactly the way I like it.  I can’t say enough about how that gets my day off to a great start
  9. USAA – I had the pleasure of having USAA as a consulting client and I’ve never had interaction with a company that is as committed to customer service agent training, development and empowerment (except maybe Zappos).  
  10. Ritz Carlton Hotels – the famous motto: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”  A while back, for a period of 6 months, I was a regular customer 5 days a week on a consulting assignment.  That gig ended.  A year later, I stayed at a Ritz on vacation and they remembered everything about me, from the newspaper I wanted in the morning to the extra towels that were already in the room.  Anticipating customers desires is at the core of their success

That’s my list.  Do you have any hidden gems to add to the list?

Independent Booksellers need a Blue Ocean

I heard a story on NPR a couple of weeks ago that struck me as truly unfortunate.  (What just struck me as I wrote that line was that I listen to NPR a lot.  And, I get a lot of ideas from all their great programming.  Go figure)  Anyway, the story focused on the American Booksellers Association’s formal request to The Justice Department to launch an investigation into unfair pricing practices of best sellers by Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.

The letter starts with a mission statement about the ABA that reads: “A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible”.  Well, I suggest the ABA, and its member independent book sellers need to forget about Amazon, Walmart and Target and redefine its mission.  In case the ABA hasn’t been near a computer with an internet connection lately or driven further than a mile from their offices, the execution of that mission has pretty much been assumed by the adversaries its going after in this letter, both on-line and in the ubiquitous super centers within a stone’s throw of….well…everything.

So within the boundaries of the 2 minute story on the radio, I came to the following conclusions.  And if I can figure this stuff out, certainly the smart people at the ABA can come to the same conclusion.

1. This tactic by the ABA is just plain lazy and uncreative protectionism ripped from the playbook of the mid twentieth century old economy laggards such as the American steel industry.  We see where that got them.

2. Nobody likes a whiner.

3. The ABA is missing a golden opportunity to create a Blue Ocean.  For those not familiar with Blue Ocean Strategy, here’s the highlights.  In short, a blue ocean is a completely new marketplace that you create for your business, rather than competing in a Red Ocean – the existing market or industry where the water is bloody from intense competition and a continuous drive towards commoditization.  An example of a company that created a blue ocean is Cirque de Solei innovating a completely new category; part circus, part theatrical stage show, totally new.

ABA needs to let the big guys duke it out in the red ocean and create a unique market, not based on selling books, but on creating a superior artistic and literary customer experience.  How about taking a page from the gallery world?  Or, put a new, more intimate spin on the Barnes & Noble reading room concept.

There are a myriad ways independent book sellers could focus on the reader’s experience as opposed to selling books, creating Blue Ocean.  Oh, and I’m guessing they would sell more books at higher margins than they do today.

What unique experience would draw you away from your laptop and into an independent book seller?

Its in the (e)Bag!

I admit that as a consumer, I’m not exactly ravenous. Give me a cool new gadget, and I’ll fork over my last dime.  But for most other stuff, I’ll use the old stand-by until it falls apart, corrodes, wears out or I lose it.  So, it was no surprise to me the other day when I was looking at my ratty old computer bag and realized that it was over 15 years old.  On top of that, it and I had logged over six hundred thousand air miles together to four continents.  In other words, that bag was done.

So, after just having read Groundswell again, the book by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff that made a splash a couple of years back laying out all this social media stuff, I was inspired to put one of the companies referenced there, eBags.com , to the test.  The Groundswell references eBags as a model for ecommerce, crowd sourcing and community interaction to drive sales, repeat business and enable loyal customers.

So is it true?

Absolutely!

So what made this experience outstanding?  

Every ecommerce site worth its salt should do the basics:

  • I was looking for a ‘messenger bag’.  I found a category for messenger bags right on the home page.
  • I had heard of a particular brand I wanted to look for.  I used the search and I got back relevant results

But what sets eBags apart? Bags and luggage are typically a tactile purchase.  I was leery about buying one from a picture.  After all, regardless of how many pix they have of the product, I couldn’t tell if 15.4″ was big enough, if the strap would be too long or short, if the latch would be easy to open and a myriad other feature questions that usually require kicking the tires.  That issue faded fast.  Why?

  • Customer rating – right at the top of the product page “91% of reviewers would buy this again”
  • “Will this bag fit my laptop?”  a measurement guide right there on the product page where I could look up my exact laptop model to determine the fit
  • And finally, the review that clinched it: 
  • “This is a very well-made, durable bag. As is sometimes the case, the price for durability is that the bag is a little on the heavy side. Loaded with a 15 inch laptop, accessories and files, it can be a formidable load. Fortunately, the strap is long enough to function as a cross-body bag, helping to ease the weight. I get many compliments on the earthy/artsy appearance of this bag. Its unique among messenger-style bags and an excellent alternative to the ubiquitous backback for toting ones technology.”

It was as though that was me writing that review.  I could score it and saw the scores of others that found that review valuable. 

These are the things that put eBags in the class of Amazon for ecommerce.  Its not the products.  Its bringing together relevant information and ‘people like me’ that I can learn from and help me feel confident in my decision.  No marketer barking at me.  My peers telling me “hey its all good.  This product will work for you”.  And if it doesn’t, make it absolutely painless to undo.  Check, check and check!

I read a post today with a quote that struck me “people buy experiences.  products are commodities”.  eBags has a keen understanding of this concept, even for products that are typically highly personal and tactile.  they’ve made the experience the reason to keep coming back, not the bag.   

By the way.  Want to see the one I bought?

Still knock-kneed about your role in Social Media? Start with Active Listening

This is another one of those items that’s been sitting in my gotta put this in writing file.  This post from John F. Moore finally spurred me into action.

Still some of the most frequent questions I hear about social media, and in particular customer service’s role in social media, are rooted in a fear of the unknown, the perceived risk of such an unstructured channel and what I believe is some circles in social media potentially over complicating things a bit.

Customer service, maybe because of historically being painted into the ‘cost of doing business’ corner, seems in large part still a bit knock-kneed about taking the social CRM reigns within their organizations.

Amber Naslund, Director of Community at Radian6, a leading social media listening platform, in a recent webinar suggests easing into social media by first passively listening to what is being said.  Passive listening can be done very simply and with little expense.  Passive listening allows you to eavesdrop on the conversation with virtually no risk. 

In your personal lives, I’m sure you’ve all Googled your name (and if you haven’t I’d suggest it) just to see what might be out there on the web about you.  This is pretty much the same approach.

In a corporate setting, where resources are scarce, I’m going to suggest a slightly modified approach – active listening.  An initial active listening project is a more formalized method for eavesdropping on social media. An active listening project will help you justify the time and effort spent by establishing a project with a fixed time horizon and defining measurable questions to be answered; building your business case and defining your ROI model.

Active listening, formalized as a defined project, can address two key issues:

1. Build a level of confidence in your capabilities while contributing significant input to your social strategy development.

2. Answer the ultimate question “should I be engaging in social media?”

While many of you reading this may emphatically answer that with “YES!”, for some, engagement may not be relevant, at least not right now.  Some conversations I’ve had recently are with 100 year old plus, global brands with a fairly low tolerance for risk, perceived or real.  And, many of their key consumer demographics may still be largely engaging in off-line word of mouth.

So, if, during your active listening project, you hear your customers enforce, engaging in conversations where you should be participating, then go for it.  Take that information and develop your plan and don’t hesitate any longer.  Or, your competition will engage your consumers for you.

If, on the other hand, you listen and hear crickets, step back, continue to monitor and reevaluate systematically over time; spending today’s dollars and resources on providing exceptional customer experiences through other channels where your consumers are currently active.   

As for tools to help organize the information, whether in passive or active listening mode, there are  a myriad free tools to help you search, filter and organize topics of interest such as your company, brands, competitors and industry trends.

Here are two pretty good lists of free tools for starters:

Level Ten Design

Marketing Pilgrim

More on an approach for an active listening project later.