Archives for May 2010

Twitter Follow Friday #5

So, it’s Friday again! Where did this crazy week go? I’m sitting here in Starbucks (paying for WiFi :( ) before I take off for a relaxing long weekend with the family.  Before you head off to kick off your Summer, follow these folks on Twitter!

@CRMStrategies – Brian Vellmure is one of the first folks I found and began following on Twitter, in any category.  I was drawn to Brian’s blog because of the balance in his writing between academic analysis of CRM issues and their real world application.  I then had the opportunity to meet Brian in person at Paul Greenberg’s Social CRM Summit in Washington this past Winter.  If you’re a client in need of a CRM/SCRM consultant, Brian is one of the most unassuming I’ve every met.  Never one who feels the need to demonstrate how smart he is.  Smart and personable? Like peas and carrots.

thinkBIG_blog – Ken Peters was introduced to me by Ted Coine, one of my Twitter inspirations.  Ken does think BIG.  He’s a heretic.  For that, he lands on my list of all time favorite thinkers.  Ken continues to bring a unique thinking to brand development and creative services.  His tweets are always informative.  But beyond being a valuable resource, he makes YOU think.  Check out this recent tweet “Are so many people satisfied with mediocrity that striving for excellence now seems arrogant? I dont care. I’m still striving”  And check out his website Nocturnal (for all you fellow insomniacs)

theMetz – Adam Metz: smart, creative, more energy than I’ve seen in a crazed English football stadium and just plain hillarious.  Adam runs a social media consulting firm The Social Concept is his site.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Adam at the Social CRM Summit.  He blew me away with is creativity and insight.  If your a brand looking to build consumer advocacy, Adam will take your brand under his wing and it will fly as a result!

I wish you all a safe and enjoyable weekend.  If you would, take just a brief moment this weekend to stop and reflect on the men and women who sacrifice every day for our freedom.  Happy Memorial Day.


Twitter Follow Friday #4

Wow, this new gig at work is…a lot of work.  But we’re doing good work.  As a result, two Fridays ago, I missed this post.  And for this past Friday, I’m doing the Monday morning quarterback version of my folks to follow on Twitter.  Late, but hopefully worth the wait.  Here we go:

@ericjacques – Eric is a customer service guy.  We used to have a saying in sales (yes I was a sales guy) about the credibility of people offering advice.  That advice usually carried more weight if the one giving the advice had “carried a bag”; meaning had actually done the job, owned a quota, been responsible for delivering financial results.  Eric is one of those people.  Just check out how Eric describes his day job (on your way to reading his incredibly insightful blog) “I basically spend my days fixing customer interactions that have gone wrong”.  Talk about being in the trenches.  Eric has real world practical knowledge and is a wonderful sharer and collaborator on Twitter.

@9InchMarketing –  Stan Phelps is on a mission to bring awareness to the little things.  He’s putting a customer experience spin on the old ‘stop and smell the roses’ approach to life.  He’s writing a book about marketing lagniappe (lan-yap) called In Search of Your Purple Goldfish via…The Purple Goldfish Project.  Marketing Lagniappe? Little extras in the customer experience that are unique, immediate and make a lasting impression.  Check out the running list and submit your entries @ his Purple Goldfish site  (The real reason I follow Stan?  He taught me an awesome new word :)

@COMPCOMM – Complaint Community is providing a valuable public service in the name of improving customer service and the customer experience.  For customers in the UK, Complaint Community provides a platform to bring together customers with issues and companies with whom they have the issue on a neutral field in hopes of resolving problems.  The community is impartial and independent, while adding an ‘arbitration’ component in the form of advisors that guide customers on the validity of their complains and bring companies to the table to hash it out.  They’re like the United Nations of customer service!  Check them out.

I wish you all a great week filled with prosperity.  Follow these folks and your week will overflow with it.

Automatic Shouldn’t Be Robotic

We’ve all experienced them.  And, done well, I happen to be a big fan.  The automated inbound/outbound IVR.  You know.  The machine voice that interacts with you on the customer service line in lieu of a live agent.

They started out as the “Press 1 for Sales; 2 for service” application.  And many still survive in this format.  Then, they evolved to “Press or Say 1…”  And, when these were the only alternatives, I wasn’t such a fan.  Not because of the technology per se, but because of how it was abused.  Or more to the point, how I was abused while interacting with it.  Hence the expression “IVR Jail”.  I could get in.  But, there’s no way Dr. Evil IVR programmer was letting me out.  If they could keep me in the IVR until I disconnected in frustration, the company just saved about $20 in agent call handling costs.  And in general, that was the ultimate motivation; to save the company money through call deflection.

But today, these technologies include speech recognition and sophisticated voice activated response that can create a real win-win.  A positive experience for those preferring self service, like me.  And a cost reduction for the company.  How about that!

So, when I received an appointment reminder from my son’s doctor yesterday via an outbound IVR, I couldn’t understand how Robot from Lost In Space got my number and for what reason was he calling.

One thing I did know for sure was that my local hospital (area code 484) outsourced this to some third party IVR or contact center (the call came from area code 303).

So, I wonder.  Who made the decision to automate this customer touch point?  What were the decision criteria to outsource it?  Was it a pure financial decision?  Did anyone consider the impact on the customer experience?  

My friend Chris Reaburn blogged recently about the customer invoice as a touch point by which there is opportunity to enhance the customer experience.  Chris has some great ideas.  What organizations need to do first, however, is do the basics right.

With outstanding examples of elegantly crafted voice response systems like Julie from Amtrak and Bank of America’s smooth talking IVR gent, there are plenty of examples by which to model this channel.

Make a few calls and listen, Doc.

Flip Goes The Contact Center

Are contact center outsourcers feeling the heat?  If not, perhaps we all have our heads stuck in the break room freezer while the building is burning down around us.  Because change is happening and it is going to continue to erode the core of the contact center business: agent-based contact handling.  There is a whole lot of research currently published that points to this fact that we all know intuitively.  Demand for phone-based customer service is on the decline.  There are many drivers behind this shift.  This quote from Gartner’s Michael Moaz in his lastest Magic Quadrant for CRM Customer Service Contact Centers says a bunch about one of those drivers. 

“A new generation of customers has a deep resistance to telephone-based customer service”

This fact is irrefutable.  So in response, every contact center is, or should be working on addressing this shift in channel preference and integrating new capabilities.  But, that alone, will not guide the contact center industry to sustainable future growth.

Now I know that every outsourcer worth salt has some portfolio of solutions beyond ‘butts in seats’.  Those solutions range from technology platforms like custom IVRs and auto dialers to analytics and contact center consulting services.  But, at the end of the day, these services continue to play a supporting role to the leading role of contact handling operations.  All you have to do to validate this assertion is look at the net margins contact centers generate.  Despite the move to diversification, margins and revenue mix across the industry continue to reflect the fact that ‘call floor’ is still king.

How long is this business model sustainable?  How long before the bottom falls out?  Well, that’s the challenge.  Change is happening more subtly.   And with current razor-thin net margins (publicly traded firms average in the 2-5% range), subtle change can easily tip these margins into negative territory.

What to do? What to do?

All ye heretics, join me in a group contact center headstand:

In the new world of the contact center, interaction handling will play a supporting role.  What we’re all really after is the data.  The insight into the customer; her experience, preferences and needs.  From this information, we can deliver technologies and analytic services that have a broader strategic value across the client enterprise.

If you’re in the contact center business, you might be looking at this and saying: “We already do all that new model stuff”.  And, this is a true statement in many cases.  The key question you need to ask is what strategic focus do these services have within my portfolio.  Can these solutions stand on their own?  Are clients lining up to pay you real money for delivering these solutions?  Or, are they hanging out in pre-sales purgatory?  Thrown in as a deal sweetener to get the seats. 

Having had the experience, and at times frustration, of launching a consulting business within a software company, the key challenge is to build a portfolio that aligns with customer expectations, yet breaks the mold of customers’ perceptions of you as a call center outsourcer.  Only then, will client value perception align with client value realization in such a way to generate higher margin revenue for your business.

Higher value for clients, higher margins for the outsourcer.  Everyone wins.

Twitter Follow Friday #3

Back for more?  Here’s some more great Twitter rock stars (don’t cringe…they really are!)

@customermgmtiq – Blake Landau is the twitter voice for this outstanding customer service community Customer Management IQ that delivers a tremendously diverse collection of content on best practices and thought leadership on all things customer service.  And Blake is genuine, unpretentious and always willing to lend a hand, provide guidance and help connect fellow professionals

@KateNasser – The People Skills Coach.  So, need I say more? Couldn’t we all use a little refresher on our people skills.  Yes, even you ravenous social networkers.  Maybe even especially now, we need to never forget that nothing substitutes for personal, face to face conversation. Check out the first line of Kate’s bio on her blog.  Doesn’t that just make you want to hang out with her?  Absolutely!

@wimrampen – Here in the USA, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the local customer is the prototype by which all customers can be modeled.  Not true.  Wim is from The Netherlands and views his “passion about customers” through a completely different lens.  It’s important for all of us to take a peep at the world from a different perspective every once in a while.  Wim is also a pioneer thought leader in the specific area of social crm and its strategic and operational impacts on customer relations. 

…Is it still Friday?  Whew! Just under the wire.  Follow these folks and I’ll see you next Friday.

Who’s the face of your company?

The answer is – Everyone.  Every employee, every supplier, every contractor or business partner.

In a recent blog post Things To Tell People Who Give You Money, Chris Reaburn raised my eyebrow with this line:

“A bill is another customer touch point, but one with a unique opportunity to reinforce the value that the provider brings me on a monthly basis”

As an interaction touch point, I agree with Chris.  An invoice is a communication channel of sorts through which value-added information can be delivered to enhance the customer experience.  As example, he mentioned how some utilities are now reporting comparative consumption data vis-a-vis similar households in the neighborhood.   

So, that got me thinking about all the touch points that impact the customer experience.  And, not only value creation at each touch point, but image creation and customer equity enhancement.  We traditionally focus on “front office” functions of sales, marketing and customer service as the responsible parties for customer interaction.  Then I saw this:

This was on the desk of a lobby receptionist at a Fortune 500 headquarters.  The cynic can view this in the same light as those motivational posters that line the contact center break room walls.  They are empty words without a corresponding culture and organizational alignment.  And, in reality, titles are free.  Just do a quick search on LinkedIn for former dot com CEOs.  So, I asked the owner of this title to describe what it meant to her.

Turns out she was given rein to create her own title and this is what she came up with.  That comment told me all I needed to know about what’s behind the words.  This person truly believes and understands she has a tremendous responsibility with respect to the company’s public image.  And, the organization has empowered her in this capacity.   

Companies have been talking about customer centricity for years.  And, we’ve seen too many PowerPoint slides showing the customer as the center of the corporate ecosystem, with all functions focused on the customers’ every need.  The reality, in most cases, is far from those pictures.

Ask around your organization: “who is your customer?”  Ask Finance, AP/AR, Manufacturing, Engineering, pick a department.  See what kind of responses you get.