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Becoming the Contact Center of 2015: Using the VOC to Become the Chief Customer Officer

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Achieving First-Contact Resolution and Quantifying Its Top Line Payoff webinar, featuring John Goodman, is now available on demand!

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In my first two articles in this series (1, 2) we’ve covered what constitutes a great Voice of the Customer (VOC) and how do you create an integrated, end-to-end picture of the Customer Experience (CE). This article will help call center directors to be successful at the left half of the feedback arrow in the figure below, namely using the VOC to impact the rest of the organization and become the Chief Customer Officer.

As previously noted, to effectively manage the CE, the VOC must provide an end-to-end, unified picture of the CE. This VOC allows you to help the organization to:

  • Understand the full customer experience including that of the large majority of customers who never contact the call center
  • Show that every department benefits from an effective contact center
  • Set priorities across all the organizational silos and create the economic imperative for action
  • Assign ownership of the implementation of the CE improvement projects to the function best qualified to lead the effort, and
  • Measure the effectiveness and financial impact of the improvements

To be successful at the above objectives, you must provide:

  • Timely reporting of customer data tailored to the each stakeholder audience
  • Linkage of the VOC data to revenue and profit implications to create the economic imperative for action
  • Translation into specific recommended actions and targets – be a consultant!
  • The ability to track the impact of the action suggested by the VOC at both a process level (has the problem frequency been reduced?) and an outcome level (has customer satisfaction, loyalty and word of mouth improved?)

To become this successful consultant you need to beef up your analytical and reporting abilities and focus on making your clients (the other departments) look good.

The Call Center is Uniquely Qualified to Lead the VOC Analysis and CE Improvement Effort

The call center is uniquely positioned to take the lead on VOC and Customer Experience for three reasons. First, the call center is in the center of the flow of data on the customer experience. Operations data tends to be a leading indicator, suggesting what the company is about to do to the customer or the types problems being found in the quality process.

Second, the call center, being expert in the full range of the customer experience, is well qualified to take the disparate data from multiple sources and integrate it. While this data analysis is messy, the call center is familiar with interpreting multiple data sources to create a picture of what is actually happening in the marketplace.

Finally, the call center is best qualified to take data from the VOC and understand the full range of causes and possible solutions or fixes. These range from improved sales and marketing literature to set more realistic expectations to just in time education or provision of a number to call when the first sign of a problem is noticed.

One pitfall that many executives fall into is trying to build a comprehensive VOC process without showing the value and success resulting from a unified VOC. This inherently requires massive systems and broad compromises in data collection strategies across multiple silos. These efforts are almost always doomed to failure if proposed as a first step due to the magnitude of the effort and the number of functions that must agree to participate.

A more successful approach is what the author has termed, “better a small success than a big disaster.” The strategy is to collect data on several candidate customer problems on an ad hoc basis from the most important three or four silos and then select the most promising problem and build the baseline business case and performance level using manual analysis if needed. While messier, it has a dramatically higher chance of success. Once the data on the size of the problem and its economic impact is produced, buy-in from an ad hoc or existing quality improvement cross-functional team is significantly higher. Also a champion from the department that will gain the most benefit from the improved CE, often the marketing or operations department, can usually be recruited to support the effort with the quality department doing the short-term analytical heavy lifting

How the Call Center Director Can Get a Seat at the Executive Table by Supporting CMO, CFO and COO Success

To get a seat at the table you need to act as a consultant to the functional executives and create a track record of delivering top line results while letting others take the credit. One of the first things a consultant learns is to never embarrass your client and always make them look good. To start creating the track record, you must identify a single opportunity to enhance the top line and an executive who is willing to work with you to capitalize on the opportunity.

The author has found the best approach is to start with a relatively fixable problem involving multiple functions and departments that is generally recognized as an issue causing tangible damage to revenue and/or producing extra service cost. Quantify the impact of the initiative in a manner the CFO will accept using principles of service impact on word of mouth, loyalty and risk reduction. This wins you a seat at the table.

You should offer to do the heavy lifting for the measurement, analysis and pilot test of the improvement and let your client take credit. As Mary Ellen Burris, SVP of Consumer Affairs (who drives the customer experience) at Wegmans Supermarkets says, “Let the other executive take most or all of the credit for the success. Everyone knows that you helped create the success.” You then get a reputation within the company helping both the bottom line and other executives’ careers.

There are three critical factors that, applied in order, will almost guarantee success and give you the opportunity to offer to coordinate the overall customer experience. These three factors mirror the activities discussed above: good data, management commitment, and successful implementation. This is a repeatable cycle since after you have the first success you go back and get more data and do it again and build on previous successes.

Two questions immediately arise. First, why does good data come prior to commitment? Second, are not there a lot of other things that need to happen as well? If the data is compelling, line management, especially the marketing, (supported by the CFO) is motivated by a desire for an increased top line and will take actions towards success.

Also, in most cases, you can position the improved process as a pilot test, which might not work. When things are a pilot, skeptics spend less time attacking them because of their belief that the pilot will fail. If properly designed, TARP experience shows that well designed pilot tests almost never fail but do generate data, which shows improvement that the skeptics can no longer refute.

Once you have a well-documented success, you can then repeat the cycle. Soon, everyone at the table including the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and the Chief Executive Officer will look to you as the trusted advisor on managing the customer experience. Only then should you offer to take the title in name as well as in function.

Try implementing two innovative strategies that prevent problems, reduce costs and dazzle customers. These are “Psychic Pizza” and “Sip of Water.” Both respond to customer needs before they encounter problems or questions.

  • The “Psychic Pizza” concept – Using internal operations data to anticipate and delivered education and/or service to your customer “just in time” or better yet, before they even know they need it; as in the pizza delivery man approaching your door and saying, “This is the pizza you were about to order!”
  • The “Sip of Water” concept - You have heard the saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” But if you can get the horse to just take a sip, he is much more likely to continue to drink.

The benefit of these strategies is that they can be implemented in small pieces rather than requiring massive changes.

Recommended Actions for Enhancing the Call Center’s Impact on the CE

1. Gain agreement from Marketing and Finance that great WOM and less customer attrition will enhance revenue and margin and reduce cost.

2. Map key customer facing processes, especially the ones that generate the most complaints. Gather just enough data to get a good picture of low-hanging fruit that provides an opportunity for measurable success:

a. Estimate the revenue implications of a few key dissatisfiers in a manner the CFO will accept

b. Humanize the data with quotes from a few loyal customers

3. Pick one target issue that can be fixed within weeks (not months or years) and estimate the payoff of fixing an acknowledged issue

4. Mobilize action on that one issue and let the line manager get primary credit

5. Measure and document the success and give the other executives the credit

6. Move on to the next target

7. Only after several tactical successes, go for a broad strategy

In summary, the key to the call center director getting a seat at the table with the CFO, Chief Marketing Officer and COO is to show how a quality customer experience is the foundation of an enhanced revenue stream and bottom line and that the call center can 1) create the Voice of the Customer needed to guide CE management and 2) provide the leadership, facilitation skills and knowledge of the customer to systematically and innovatively improve the CE. My book, Strategic Customer Service covers more on this topic.