Closing It Out - Customer Relationship Management

I’ve been talking about Natalie Petouhoff from Forrester Research and customer care rock star Frank Eliason of Comcast throughout this chapter. So rather than talk just about them,I set it up so you can talk with them. First we’re going to listen to Natalie to see what she has to say about customer service best practices and then we’ll hear Frank on the same thing.

Mini-Conversation with Natalie Petouhoff
Dr.Natalie Petouhoff,Senior Analyst,Forrester Research

I’ve known Dr. Nat for several years and am always amazed at her knowledge and articulate expression of that knowledge. She is able to stay ahead of trends in her work at Forrester and was one of the first analysts to see the value of social media and community in customer service. She focuses on the quality of the customer experience and the effect that has on brand equity,revenue,and profits.

Prior to Forrester, she spent years in management consulting and at systems integration firms,including Hitachi Consulting,PricewaterhouseCoopers,and BenchmarkPortal as well as working at GE,GM,and Hughes Electronics. She has been on network television and radio espousing her innovative ideas for customer service and is no slouch at writing,having written articles in many industry publications and co-authored four books,including Reinventing Your Contact Center: A Manager’s Guide to Successful Multi-Channel CRM and Customer Relationship Management: The Bottom Line to Optimizing Your ROI.

Talking to Your Customers Is Ruining Your Business
Forrester Research surveyed nearly 5,000 consumers. While 45 percent still want to talk to a customer service agent,55 percent are disillusioned and disappointed—at least enough to take their business elsewhere. Self-service rated worse. And because self-service channel interactions are so dismal at helping customers complete their goal,customers often pick up the phone expecting the agent to make up for the poor self-service experience. Angry customers are generally difficult and lead to agent frustration,stress,and attrition.

To determine why the experiences were so poor, Forrester also surveyed business and IT leaders. Fifty-seven percent of the companies reported that their adoption of customer service best practices was poor/below average. This flies in the face of the fact that Forrester Research also shows companies that provide better consumer experiences are more financially successful. So why don’t more executives understand how not adopting customer service best practices is risking their company’s bottom line? And what can they do about it?

  1. Get relevant Get ready to hang up your company’s “going out of business” sign. Forrester predicts that companies that understand the new paradigm—that customer service experiences,expectations,and thus loyalty are the future growth and revenue drivers—may still be in business in ten years. Companies that don’t put customers first,won’t be. No customers,no business; it’s that simple. Executives must drive the adoption of customer service best practices as a corporate-wide financial strategy. And these customer service experiences should be part of a broader effort to adopt Experience-Based Differentiation (EBD),which Forrester defines as a systematic approach to interacting with customers that consistently builds loyalty. To make customer service experience initiatives relevant,measure,measure,measure. How to get started?

  2. Get data Tap (or develop) your Voice of the Customer (VoC) program and customer service analytics data to rate actual customer service interactions against best practices. Successful measuring initiatives include: 1) a repeatable process for collecting insights and data, 2) a process for taking the information and making changes to the business,and 3) a champion with executive level power,for instance a chief customer service/experience officer,to remove roadblocks,provide resources,and budget. Create a business case for change and a customer service improvement plan and schedule. Continuously engage the CEO,COO,CFO,and CIO or CTO in the progress. If the changes are going to stick,these executives will need to lead cultural attitude changes toward people,process,and technology. Otherwise the initiative may be perceived as another “management improvement initiative du jour” and lead to dissension and low employee moral. Worse yet,resources are wasted on an initiative that never reaches the customer.

  3. Get real Get to the root causes of what stresses out agents and customers. Customers get frustrated when they can’t complete their goal in one interaction with a company. Obviously,agent performance,which affects the customers,is affected in turn by stress and often the stress leads to agent attrition. Some of the not always obvious factors include ineffective agent-assisted service and self-service technologies,and poorly mapped out company-customer interaction strategies. But it can go further than that and even be part of human capital leadership issues such as:
    • Poorly defined hiring processes
    • Inappropriate job assignments
    • Unclear or confusing performance goals and career paths
    • Poor supervisor-to-agent staffing ratios
    • Poor teaming and leadership capabilities of managers
    • Inconsistent quality monitoring /coaching programs
    • The lack of a formal process to escalate calls to experts

Conversely,empowered agents can become brand ambassadors. Spend some time and train agents on the impact their attitude has on customers. Show them how one bad experience can cause bad word of mouth and be detrimental to the company’s brand—and how poor experiences lead to customers going elsewhere. Agents will begin to understand that without customers,agents won’t have a job. Impress on them the value they provide to the company,the brand,and to creating lifetime customers. Then support them with organizational structures,processes, and technology best practices required to create great customer service experiences. Make “once and done” an actuality,not a slogan.

From a customer-centric point of view,providing contact centers with the right people,processes,and technology is critical for great customer experiences and avoiding unnecessary frustration for both agents and customers. And from a company-centric view, adapting customer service best practices (both agent and self-service) will not only increase “first contact resolution,”a major driver of customer loyalty and repurchase probability,but also provide the foundation for customer experiences that generate higher revenue and profits.

Thanks,Dr.Nat.Frank,it’s your turn.
Frank Eliason is an innovator when it comes to customer service. The resulting effect was viral and buzzworthy. But this guy doesn’t let it go to his head. As director of Digital Care at Comcast, he is constantly looking for ways to continue the innovations he started. He’s not into the glory, but he is into his customers. Comcast (and we) are lucky to have him at the Digital Care helm.

Mini-Conversation with Frank Eliason: Customer Service 3.0
As we all know,customers are talking. This is nothing new,but since the start of customer reviews on place like Amazon,customers have gained a much larger voice. This continues to grow with places like Facebook,Twitter,and many others. Companies have long debated the best approach. At first marketers decided that they wanted to go out and sell to the community. Judging on click-through rates for ads,especially on websites like Facebook,this was not a strong approach. Next up on the hit parade was PR. What was missing from both of these approaches was a two-way dialogue. Customers did not want to be told a position or sold-what they really want is an opportunity to have a conversation. This brings us to Customer Service 3.0. Although I must say calling something 3.0 feels so ’90s at this point. It is really the natural progression of customer service.

Customer service done publicly on the Web is no different from how customer service professionals coach how to handle calls,chat,or e-mail. The first step is hiring the right people for the positions. I always have found that passionate people make for the best customer service representatives. You know the type: if you’re a manager they are coming to your desk regularly because they disagree with a policy or procedure that has a negative impact for the customer. I know they can be tough to manage,but they are always striving to do what is right and customers love them for it. It is also easier to coach as to why the policy is in place than to coach about when people should have brought concerns to your attention. The next step is to define your goals within the space. Our goals were easy: listen and learn from our customers,and offer assistance when possible. It was really an effort to meet the customer where they already are. Since starting this initiative we have learned a lot. Here are a few things that may help:

  1. Listen first Do not jump into a space because it is the “hot” trend or the CEO or someone in the organization says we need to be there. First listen and understand the space. Are your customers or prospective customers there? If not,it may not add value. It is also important to understand the dynamic of the space to determine the best approach. For example, we reach out to customers in many spaces on the Web and we take different approaches depending on the space. In forums on the Web,we typically use private messaging instead of posting to the website. This is so we do not interfere with the peer-to-peer relationship. On Twitter, we respond to someone needing assistance with simple words like “Can we help?” This allows the customer to decide if they would like our assistance or not.

  2. Personal connection We know on some of the best calls there is a personal connection that develops between the representative and the customer. Sometimes it is the way the representative empathizes with the customer’s experience. The same holds true in social media. This is about relationships and connections. This is why the brands most recognized for their work are clear about the person on the account. We strive to humanize in many ways. On Twitter,each of my team members has their own account. We also use our own avatar (pictures representing us). Some on my team use a symbol,while others,like me,use a picture of themselves. On my Twitter page you will see Comcast links,but also links to my personal blog and family website. You can think of it this way: when someone calls,you always provide your name in the introduction, and you should do the same here.

  3. Keep it real In this space,it is important to be as open and honest as possible. If you do not know the answer,you need to say that. Avoid spin on topics and be accepting of all feedback. Another way to keep it real is to add transparency to things that are being worked on. As an example,if you are working on customer statements,let your customers know in social media and ask their feedback. They would love to have a say on what you are working on.

  4. Only sell when appropriate Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than when someone strives to sell something and did not even resolve the reason for the call. Also selling for the sake of selling never goes well. We all coach to “earn the right to sell by resolving the reason for the call.” Also we teach representatives not to throw something against the wall to see if it sticks. Make sure in social media spaces the same holds true.

An effort to meet your customers where they already are does take planning,knowledge,and the ability to get things done. It is also important to partner with many areas of the organization,including PR and marketing. We actually define the roles for PR and service. PR handles corporate positioning and press-related blogs. My team handles customer-specific related concerns. Social media engagement can be a very rewarding space for companies,but it is important to plan and do it right. People that represent your company need to have access to different parts of the company to resolve concerns in a timely manner and share feedback. As we look through the historical aspect of service,it all started with in-person service and through the years we added in mail,phones,e-mail,and chat. And now the next evolution is the social media frontier.

One last thing. There is one thing that customer service isn’t. Maybe you remember the Twilight Zone episode about aliens who come to Earth in peace and start to set up tourism to their planet. The Earthlings who go there send back postcards on how wonderful it is on the aliens’ world and how everyone should come visit.

One day, one of the aliens drops a book that those who can translate the alien lingo find out is titled How to Serve Man. You’d think that it was a wonderful guide on Earthling treatment and customer service,wouldn’t you?

It wasn’t. It was a cookbook.Okay. Let’s get cooking, in a much nicer way, and get on to the next chapter.

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