Moving Pictures

Any Rush fans out there? Well, if you are, I’m sorry to disappoint. This post is not a transcript of Neil Peart’s YYZ drum part. What it is in fact is a cry for help.

Search “customer service is the new marketing” and Google will feed you back about a half a billion results. Its not a new topic. But I’ve always been more concerned with the subtext of the sentiment. It just screams of the inferiority complex many customer service organizations exhibit within their corporate ecosystem.

A cure for this sense of feeling like the corporate doormat is innovation. Customer service doesn’t usually outrank marketing on the innovation front. But there’s still hope. And the white night is video. In light of twitter’s release of Periscope this week, It seems like a great time to revisit this topic.

Video is driving greater transformation in the way brands engage with their customers. Its engaging, personal and social. And the landscape of tools available is expanding rapidly. So, why aren’t more customer service organizations leveraging it as part of their engagement strategy?

Video – The New Digital Thank You Note

For this post’s video, click on the link and check out this clever short form video engagement solution!

http://www.vsnap.com/me/CjWzyU

Why Driving Away Customer Contacts is the Wrong Approach

We all love IVRs!  Ok, no we don’t.  Study after blog post after twitter rant confirms that customers generally would rather take a sharp stick in the eye.

Then it’s web self-service.  Everyone wants self-service!  In fact they prefer it over human-based interactions.  Right?  Not so much?

So, why is it that, for certain individuals, words like IVR and other self-service elicit such guttural, vial reactions?

It’s not that IVR and other self-service solutions are inherently evil.  The answer lies in that, in a great many cases, these solutions have been implemented to do one thing.  Reduce the number of interactions that are handled by a human, thus reducing the cost of service.  And, over the past 30 years, that has been the overarching myopic focus of customer service organizations, regardless of industry.

Because, any company that isn’t maniacal about pushing customers to lower cost channels, driving down average handle times, burying the 800 number on the 10th page of the website and reducing the total number of customer interactions will surely not be long for this world.

Oh…wait.  Zappos, eBags, Virgin & Marriott among others do exactly the opposite.  And they seem to be doing o.k.

The fact is your company, any company, should want to talk to as many customers as it possibly can, through whatever channels your customers choose.  By this, I don’t mean talking to the same customers about the same problem or issue over and over.  Rather, cast as wide and deep a net as possible.  Why?  Because, if you make the investment in and take the time to listen to those unsolicited customer voices, the insights contained within will deliver a return far greater than the narrowly focused cost saving efforts of restricted access.

A strategy of cost containment and access reduction limits the insight into customer preferences, needs, problems to be solved and ultimately, their behavior.

Slide1

What if we looked at the service delivery model differently?  If, rather than the conclusion of the interaction being the end of the process, we need to view that step as a means to a different end.  Then the business justification becomes clearer.   Investing in more ways for customers to communicate with your brand as the means of gathering a greater volume of unsolicited customer feedback can drive innovation in everything from product development, retail experience to back office processes and everything in between.

Slide2

Pretty intuitive.  Right?

Now let me not be so naïve as to suggest that anyone in your organization, especially your CEO or CFO, is going to write a blank check for you to go out and double the size of your customer service organization, reengineer your IVR and website and dump a whole bunch of money into new channels just because of the argument above.  Sorry to say.  But, you’re going to have to prove it.  And the proof is going to be different in every organization.  So, pick an issue.  Run a pilot.  And build the business case.  If, during that pilot, you identify that you don’t have the data, can’t get to it, or don’t have the ability to analyze it, you may need help from the outside.

Also note that this model of customer service as enterprise analytics hub will likely require different skills and resources within your organization as you are changing the value proposition for customer service as an enterprise function.

We’ll explore those skills and the process for transformation in upcoming posts here.

Syndicated, Social & Customer Service Data

Social-Media-InsightsSpencer Geren, my friend and big data evangelist, made a compelling case for the incremental value created by augmenting syndicated data in Consumer Packaged Goods with social web data.  In Spencer’s example, social data provides the opportunity to understand the “why” behind the sales and consumption numbers.

As background, Dion Hinchcliffe made a very good baseline case here for the value created by combining big data and social media.

While you can make the argument that this root cause level data is already available via customer surveys, focus groups and other such methods, there are key differentiators that make the pursuit of Spencer’s concept worth the investment.  A few differentiators that this strategy provides include:

  • Unsolicited vs solicited consumer feedback: unsolicited feedback especially peer-to-peer, gathered via social chatter is more authentic.  And, by not forcing answers to specific questions, potentially leads to unexpected yet more valuable insights. 
  • Timeliness of insights: social data provides a source of more real-time feedback to brands compared to the typical time delay associated with syndicated data alone.  Actions taken in that time compressed state can translate into significant sales and market share impact.
  • Why is always more actionable than What: As Spencer noted in his piece, social data provides insights on the behaviors and real-time reactions that will drive the consumption numbers in the future.

So, as a customer service guy, I of course look at this issue through that lens.  Multi-channel customer service data provides even greater value along those three elements above.  Multi-channel customer service data, by definition:

  • Is unsolicited
  • Is timely
  • Provides the insight into customer behavior

The point here is two-fold.  First, marketers and market researchers should be tapping into this customer service data as a value added tool in their quest to predict future customer behaviors.  Secondly, as I argued in my recent post on Salesforce.com’s blog, customer service as an enterprise function has the opportunity to use social, multi-channel and other big data sets to reinvent itself from traditional reactive processes to a proactive deliverer of customer insights.

Microvideos. What Are They Good For?

This week’s guest post is from my good friend Seth Goldstein.  Seth is an Internet and social media marketing pinoeer based in the Philadelphia area. You can find him online in most places, but mostly on Google+ and Twitter.

imgresInstagram Video and Vine are locked in a massive battle for the hearts and minds of social media users.

Both services offer the ability to record small clips of video and post it online via their individual apps. Instagram Video gives its users 15 seconds, about the length of a short commercial, and Vine allows for 6 seconds. Now you’re probably wondering what you could do in 15 and 6 seconds respectively. A lot. You can do stop motion videos, you can do quick tips, you can record memories and even current events.

But, despite these possibilities, what are microvideos really good for? I was a bit a bit skeptical when Vine made it to Android and Instagram soon followed. I saw some neat stuff being created, but I also saw a lot of really boring, dull and stupid stuff. It took me a few weeks of seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly to finally come up with some good uses for microvideos.

Instagram Video, with it’s 15 seconds recording time, is just enough time to engage with users. It allows for a complete thought in bite sized chunks. I’ve seen it being used by photojournalists in North Korea, giving outsiders a look into this reclusive society. I’ve seen videos of the protests in Egypt. I’ve also see stupid videos of people’s cats sleeping.

There are definite uses for these services. It’s how people use then that either makes or breaks their brand.

Speaking of brands.  Both Vine and Instagram Video are great for brands to branch out and show their customers and potential clients what they’re all about in a bit sized chunks of multimedia.

Companies can use both services to show their creative side, events, offices, and personality.

Vine is better for stop motion videos. So brands need to think about what they can do that will make their Vine videos pop. On Instagram brands can expound more and can because of that be less disjointed. You can tell more of a story.

Regardless of the service, microvideos are here and will probably be around for a while as a tool for both the marketer, journalist and average user to use and build on.

The Social Customer Service Talent Show

talentMany of the most progressive companies are blazing a path forward with new business models and technology to support a shift from reactive customer service (solve my problem) to proactive customer engagement (insure I don’t have any problems…or at least anticipate and minimize them).

This shift to proactive customer engagement has far-reaching implications across the enterprise. Too many to explore with any meaning in one blog post. So, since I’m sitting here in a contact center, lets dive into what that means here. For one, just when some of us old-schoolers have started to get their arms around the shift in terminology from “call center” to “contact center”, we now need to focus on this transition to the customer engagement center.  Yes.  In this case, a name is not just a name.  It is a vital element in supporting the enterprise shift to proactive engagement.

Proactive, predictive, multi-channel, cross-channel, omin-channel. In this human-capital intensive function within the enterprise, I’m wondering how’s all this impacting your customer service human capital strategy? The skill profile of the omni-channel customer engagement center representative is certainly different from that of the single-channel phone or email agent. So too are the methods by which the customer engagement center will acquire these human capital assets. The days of recruiting, staffing and deciding whether or not to outsource this function based solely on cost are long past. Customer demands of the engagement center are rising at a steady rate.

The complexity of this environment is not the only contributor to the need for broader and deeper communication skills. The ever-increasing public exposure of both service successes and epic service failures leaves no place for poor service to hide.  No longer is it even minimally acceptable for customer service agents to mechanically read from a script, capture some call notes and insure that the 53 elements of the quality form have been adhered to.  Customer service representatives have to be effective communicators.  Be able to think on their feet.  And possess sound judgement in order to do the right thing for the customer AND the company.  Oh, and the organization needs to empower the front line troops to do this.  But that’s another story.

In addition, the customer engagement center, through my lens, is fast become one of the focal points in the organization for not only collecting, but aggregating and analyzing the exponential growth in customer data.  Customer engagement professionals will need the skills to deliver actionable insights to various data consumers across the enterprise.  No longer is it sufficient to produce a static report and blast it out in email.  Not if customer service is to realize the strategic importance of sales, marketing, product development or other more traditional “knowledge capital” functions.

So, where is this new breed of customer engagement professional going  come from?  What does that hiring profile look like in your organization?  How are you going to identify those current customer service reps with the potential to take on this new role?  What are the new training requirements?  Methods? What does this do to how you model the finances of customer service?  It is certainly a different justification process.

Perhaps THIS is how marking and customer service finally get engaged…and tie the knot.