Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Data-Driven Approach to Re-Engineering Your Call Center

By Ed Ariel

Vice President, Customer Service

Many changes have been made over the years in the name of making things easier for the customer: Questions and Answers (Q&A) became Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs),which then morphed into Self Help (no initials, doomed for failure). But did those changes really help the customer? There is a lot of talk nowadays about re-engineering the call center to take better advantage of technology. You can make small changes for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon, or you can take a data and customer-driven approach that positively impacts your organization and your customers. 

At ezCater, we are insanely focused on being insanely helpful to our customers at every touch point. When we discuss implementing a new technology, the critical question is always ‘why?’ Whenever introduce a new technology unless it maintains (at a lower cost) or improves (1) the level of service or (2) the experience for the customer.  

Many companies implement re-engineering plans with the primary goalof reducing costs. Reducing costs without improving the customer experience may provide a short-term benefit, but if customers do not receive the level of service they expect, they will eventually stop using your service.  In that case, short-term gains will be quickly wiped out bya lower customer lifetime value.If you try to offset departures by acquiring customers at a faster rate, you may then end up with another costly repercussion: higher customer acquisition costs.

This is not to say that reducing costsis always detrimental.  Show me a call center without customer chat or a work force management tool and I will show you a call center with some easy opportunities for improvements to the customer experience as well as cost reductions.  

To determine if a new technology will also enhance customer experience, look to the data. This data should come from two main sources:
  1. Your frontline service staff
  2. Conversations with multiple vendors and new technology users
Your Frontline Service Staff

The best companies hire the best people and utilize those people to improve their service.  There is no better way to collect data on features that your customers arerequesting or features that will improve the service experience than from a highly skilled and motivated support team.

Your support people have the most direct interactions with your customers. They hear what your customers like and don’t like, and, maybe most importantly, how your service compares to competitors.

Set the expectation that staff should be acting oncustomer feedback as early as the interview process. The goal of continuous improvement from your service team should be reinforced throughout training and used as an ongoing evaluation metric. The best members of the service team are the people who listen to the customer, probe for additional information, and present well-thought ideas to the management team.

Conversations with Multiple Vendors and New Technology Users 

There is usually a push to move fast once your company has decided to make improvements. This is rarely recommended. The best next step is to start collecting more data.  This data will generally fall into three areas:
  1. Measure what you are trying to improve. Is it length of interactions with a customer, how long an agent takes to complete a task, the level of satisfaction achieved by a customer Figure out what your goal is and how to articulate it. 
  2. Talk to existing partners and industry contacts. The easiest data to collect is from your existing vendor partners. Who do they use to solve this issue or, even better, who do their partners use to solve this issue?
  3. Talk to the solution providers (even if this is internal). This is your opportunity to ask the hard questions: “We see that you, Company B, and Company Care the industry leaders.  What makes you the best choice?” This is a logical question that will immediately give you a list of the differentiating factors for each vendor and quickly eliminate options that will not accomplish your goals.
The process you follow to re-engineer your call center is critical. Once you identify opportunities for improvement, gather as much data as possible from multiple sources, even though it can be a slow process. In the end, the data will reveal better solutions and allow you to focus on the most impactful changes – even if sometimes that data will tell you that no change is necessary.

Ed brings more than 20 years of experience building, implementing and managing comprehensive customer service and business process improvement programs and teams. Ed has a winning record of simultaneously boosting customer satisfaction and company profitability by building and directing great teams and equipping them with top-notch technology. Ed has held leadership roles in customer service, operations and risk management at Fidelity Investment Systems Company, TNCI Operating Company and AT&T. Ed holds an M.B.A. from Bentley University and a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Intuit Site Tour Insights:
The Customer Care Team is the Real Talent

By Patricia Jacoby

Publications Editor
Frost & Sullivan


Recently, Customer Engagement Leadership Council members and select Customer Contact West: A Frost & Sullivan MindXchange event attendees had the opportunity to tour Intuit’s innovative Customer Contact Center in Tucson, Arizona. Intuit is a business and financial software company that develops and sells financial, accounting and tax preparation software and related services for small businesses, accountants and individuals.

Intuit has numerous teams generating customer insights that are fed back into their core product teams to eliminate customer pain in their offerings. The organization also has top-notch teams that do frontline care and sales. This interactive site tour showcased Intuit’s people, call center philosophy and dynamic capabilities.

As the physical tour concluded, a group of customer contact industry leaders gathered with hosts Don Yager, Director, Learning, Development, & Quality/Tucson Site Business Leader and Jeffrey Laird, Director, Awesome Help and Service, to explore Intuit’s organizational culture, location, products and more. Here are highlights and key take-aways from their informed discussion:

Intuit Customers Prefer Video

The first insight shared by Don Yager was on the use of video in the contact center.  Intuit had learned that their customers preferred video over other communication channels by more than 20%.

The hosts observed that this was true across all generational lines (not just the millennials, for example) and although they had not yet determined a specific reason why this was true, they planned to continue testing, as is their modus operandi. Intuit stressed the importance of ongoing testing for these kinds of issues and channel questions. Perhaps the fact that Intuit customers of all ages preferred video augurs an age of the technology leading the generations, not the generations leading the technology choices.

Next, the hosts discussed bringing customers into a lab setting to help design Intuit’s mobile User Interface, or UI. They explained how Intuit tested for colors, back-drops and other key components of the customer experience, leading to many “aha” moments, such as the strong customer preference for video.

Another site tour participant asked whether different agent characteristics were required to work with video. The Intuit executive expressed that the most important characteristic was a professional attitude, and that once they got over the initial newness, most agents liked working with video. He did add however, that their agents were not strictly required to be on video, and that if a CS representative was particularly uncomfortable with video, they would find other ways for them to contribute.

The Brand Is King

The discussion moved to the importance of brand management and building the brand, especially as it relates to customer-facing contact center employees. Specifically, one of the touring executives asked how the contact center represented Intuit’s core values. The Intuit executives present expressed that their organization offered intrinsic benefits such as giving every employee 32 hours a year to pursue a passion, and that egalitarian brand values were modeled from the top down, with minimal levels and an overall Intuit style of transparency across the organization that included the contact center.

Further, Don Yager explained that Intuit contact center employees were valued as not only a key part of the organization and it’s branding, but were considered perhaps the most important part of the organization due to their product knowledge and constant interaction with customers. This was clearly summed up when one of the Intuit tour guides stated that the “front line are the experts” and underscored that they know more than any project manager or engineer.  Finally, he noted that the customer care team is regarded as the real talent. 

When one of the customer contact executives inquired about the role of demographics in the Intuit contact center, Intuit indicated that they did not currently approach customer care based on demographics, though that is something they plan to observe and test going forward.

Leveraging “Styles of Influence” for Better Teamwork

The conversation then moved to “Styles of Influence” (SOI) a key training and assessment tool used at Intuit. This measurement tool helps individuals and their co-workers understand key behaviors. Once certain behavioral drivers are determined, this information can be utilized to help others to understand and work with a given style. Style is assessed across cognitive, relational, goal and detail scales. At Intuit, everyone’s SOI is listed in an online directory and SOI’s are used to help identify individual and team strengths and opportunities too. 

Circling back to the brand discussion, one of the final questions asked pertained to how the brand was reflected in Intuit’s external communications. Tour guides Don Yager and Jeffrey Laird both referenced that Intuit’s branding is carried throughout software experience design and partner sites as well.

Finally, it was noted that Intuit’s senior management recently gave the green light for internal funding to improve Intuit’s infrastructure, including their call center, the heart of customer engagement for this organization and for so many others.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Digital Innovation with a Soul

By Hilary Hahn

Vice President, Employee Experience, Culture & Client Strategy
Frontier Communications

It has been said recently that “experience is the new brand.” According to a recent study, by the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

Our team believes this, and therefore we take the customer approach that “service is the new marketing.” In today’s world, consumers buy products that they expect will simply work, and when they don’t, consumers expect that they will be able to fix the problem by self-help or google; if and when that fails, they reach out to the brand for service and support. This is a defining moment. Sometimes it is the only interaction that occurs between a brand and their consumer. So, service matters.

Our ability to consistently solve complex problems for customers, and to also anticipate their future support needs and solve for these as well, is a highly valuable capability that comes at a relatively high cost. Brands want to engage effortlessly and effectively, yet how do they budget for the high volume of customer needs? One of the best ways is to understand why customers contact them. Looking at these big-bucket trends will most often identify lower-value work that does not require a human being to solve. There is no question that low-value, high-volume, repeat interactions can be accomplished with lower-cost digital solutions. Enter the BOT.

But here is our question: while my email in-box is bombarded every day by companies requesting my time to discuss how their new chat-bots, voice-bots, and messaging-apps are poised to take over the way business interacts and supports customers, there are very few companies who are putting a human experience into the digital ones.

One of our team’s cornerstone values is to be human. We make it our business to bring our humanity and empathy with us every day, because ultimately, we know we are supporting people, not just the products they use. Equally, we believe there is a need to build bots with artificial learning capabilities that are grounded in human empathy.

It was a giddy moment upon checking in at The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas recently, when I was handed a second plastic key card and informed that this was “Rose”. The black card read:“I AM THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION YOU NEVER ASKED.”On the back of the card I was invited to text my inquiries to a phone number.

I ran to my room determined to ask ROSE all the questions about Vegas that I always wanted to know but were afraid to ask! While I will not share the answers here, I will share the experience.

Applause to Simon Petigrew and team who are behind this product/service launch, especially because they have created Rose with an appropriately sexy, chatbot-persona. For example,“she” will send you an emoji lip kiss if you have thanked her.

Some of her responses are also sassy, i.e., “it’s been a pleasure to have you push my buttons. xoxo.” They have some quirks to work out as the responses to actual questions seem to come in rapid fire, feeling robotic versus human, but they are working on the delivery, and the AI bot is in its early learning phase. I am definitely looking forward to my next visit to The Cosmopolitan to see how ROSE is evolving.

Regarding new technology for the contact center, we are fortunate to have engaged with someone whom I believe is part genius, part artist, and part mad scientist!

He has put a human face on artificial intelligence injecting emotional intelligence into the equation. Why? Because when humans interact, we want to get "feedback."

There are a slew of companies offering machine-learning bots today, but none that look, learn and respond in a truly human way yet. This company is building an AI model that is different, not only because of how human “he or she” looks, but primarily because of facial expression. This machine infuses the interactions with a wrinkled nose, a concerned look, a raised eyebrow. And at the right moment, a compassionate smile.

As the creator, Mark Sagar, says, “the face is the mirror of the brain.”

We are excited to think about ways that this technology can transform the customer experience. Our aim is to improve customer retention and loyalty, with a goal to reduce the future need for assisted care with every customer interaction. This involves digital innovation with-a-soul, as much as it requires the cognitive skills that humans offer to solve complex interactions. We are focused on both.

The future is already here.

Hilary Hahn excels in building long-term strategic client relationships by operationalizing stakeholder strategy, and uniquely creating customer-experience consultant partnerships. She was brought into Frontier Communications to develop a lean-startup customer experience concept, that grew from greenfield to $100M annual revenue in 3 years. She helped develop a culture of high engagement that is being leveraged across the Frontier customer service organization, building an inside-out employee-centric approach to generate high customer feedback results. She is a strong believer that human-to-human interactions will remain in servicing for high-value cognitive work, and is an AI enthusiast when empathy is attached to the solution.

Hilary has been a speaker at numerous industry conferences and can be found
publishing and posting opinion surrounding Customer Experience. Follow her at
https://www.linkedin.com/in/hilarystrausshahn and on Twitter @HilaryHahnNow