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Expert's Angle: The People in Your Neighborhood: The Customer

Meet the Customer

This is an amazing time for customers of all kinds. Today’s customer is empowered like never before to seek out alternatives, which makes making excellent service a greater priority than ever before. In this amazing time, customers have become conditioned to expect the ability to instantly connect to providers and get problems solved quickly. They want access to information and functionality to address issues themselves whenever possible. If that is not possible, or if they run into problems, they expect the ability to pivot immediately to a live agent who can solve the problem they cannot – immediately! For folks running contact centers, this wily, irritable, unpredictable creature – the Customer – must be at the center of every decision.

Now, businesses have been working with customers since the dawn of business time, so what has changed? Perhaps the greatest difference between today and even as recently as ten years ago is the advance of connective technology. Computer amplified communications abilities have raised customer expectations significantly. Customer Satisfaction, the goal we’re all chasing, is about customer expectation. If a person expects junk for $1, and then gets something marginally useful, they’re pretty happy because the product exceeded expectations. If someone goes to the fast food restaurant and buys something that’s not particularly satisfying but fulfills a short-term need, they’re at a minimum satisfied. The product exactly meets expectations. The customer didn’t get too much, but they didn’t pay too much, either.They never expected that much.

Customer Expectation vs. Satisfaction

If the business can exceed customer expectations, the business begins to create real strategic value in the contact center.

There is an idea of transcendental quality which is defined as “I know it when I see it.” The idea of transcendental quality comes into play when we talk about price, we have an idea – possibly difficult to articulate exactly – of just what kind of quality we should get for a certain price. Price is an important factor as we set our expectations. If the transaction is in balance, the customer is satisfied.

The relationship between expectation and satisfaction is simple enough, and not too many would argue with it at this point. The challenge for businesses is to understand that expectations will continue to rise and the CRM strategy of the organization has to plan on changing with the customer. This can be a pitfall for organizations - what was good enough yesterday is not good enough today, and unfortunately, what’s good enough today is not going to be good enough tomorrow.

So we have a moving target – the Satisfied Customer. The customer is moving your goalpost – no fair! It may not be fair, but that’s the game we’re in. And we must remember, we’re not doing this out of the altruistic goodness of our hearts, the customer pays the bills, and customer satisfaction pays off in return business and valuable loyalty.

Now that we understand our constantly evolving challenge, we need to look at how we meet those rising expectations. It takes a village to satisfy a customer and we’re going to take some time and look at the folks in the contact center “neighborhood” who need to work in concert to provide a powerfully positive experience for the customer.

Common Pitfalls: Lack of Control, Lack of Leadership, or Both

In this series we're going to talk about all the people who play a role in how well your customer care center meets customer expectations. We’ll look at the stakeholders – the people in the neighborhood- from the agents to the managers to the IT guy to the vendors to the people in the C-Suite. We'll look at quality factors from maintainability to usability to agent efficiency and everything in between, but those will be the trees-- the forest exists only for one reason, to support the customer.

The pitfall, the trap that CRM efforts can fall into, can generally be tied to one of two things - a lack of control and/or a lack of focus.

A lack of control tends to happen when we don't know what's happening in the system - it's a big black box. We put money and effort in, something happens, and we get a result. We don't always like the result, but if we can't look inside the box in an intelligent way, we can't address the quality of the product.

The lack of focus is more complicated. It comes from the fact that we are humans working with other humans to serve other humans. We all have our own agendas, and often, if not always, those agendas conflict. While the self-interest of stakeholders can play a role in the problems that result from competition, realized in what we would call politics or turf battles, I don’t believe that generally it is a craven, malevolent, atavistic self-interest. People in general, are simply trying to do their best for the company and the customer. It takes leadership to make sure that the goals of stakeholders within the company are aligned. We’ll look at each of the stakeholders over the course of this series, and we’ll make this point again and again. What we’ll suggest is simple, but not easy.

So What Do We Do?

The first goal must be to get the system under control. When we say “under control,” I don’t mean that all your problems are solved. I mean you know what you’re dealing with. You know what’s working, what’s not, and where your problems are. Improvements can’t happen until you know what you’re dealing with. When you’re lost in the woods, the first thing you need to do is determine your position. If you’re going the wrong way, you don’t want to keep going. If you don’t know which way you’re going, then you don’t know if you’re going the right way or the wrong way. It is not much different with a contact center.

Our first impulse is often to ACT. Fix the problem! But until we know what we’re dealing with we can’t be confident in what the treatment should be. When you go to the doctor, she (hopefully) doesn’t just start giving you pills. First, the doctor takes vital signs, and determines what and where the problem is. Then and only then does the treatment begin. It is the same for the contact center.

Remember that the customer comes first, and then begin the process of establishing control.

Get the system Under Control. Take measurements and vital signs to establish what is happening in the system end to end.

  • To take control of your system you need empirical data, you need to document the system’s flow and ensure that it’s as straightforward as possible.
  • You need to pull useful reports on your agents and your communications channels.
  • You need to coordinate all your channels.
  • Whenever possible, reward the customer for doing what you want!

Document your system and all channels

  • PBX
  • IVR/li>
  • Contact Center
  • Web site
  • Facebook and Twitter and social media

Evaluate Agent effectiveness

  • Service Level
  • Training
  • Knowledge Base

Evaluate Customer Satisfaction

Are your customers happy? There’s really only one way to know –ask!

  • Conduct a survey; email is usually best. 5 questions on a Likert scale (1-5) establishing what customers like and don’t like. Any longer and you alienate the customer you’re trying to schmooze. (If possible, reward participation in the survey. You’re using their time!)
  • Use your IVR and your call center. Call in like a secret shopper. Get a feel for yourself how good the service is. If you think it’s bad, your customers will too.
  • Track user feedback on social media sites like Twitter. Your customers are out there talking about you – you need to know what they’re saying. If they’re talking about you, good or bad, talk back to them.

Once the system is Under Control, Determine Who’s In Charge

Once the system is under control – you know what’s happening. You know the good, the bad, and the ugly and can document all empirically, then you can start coordinating improvements. At this point you’ll need a LEADER. You need an executive level champion who can break ties, settle disputes, and provide a big picture view of what the common goals are. This is an important and powerful role. Without a strong leader and a strong strategic vision for CRM, all tails will try to wag the dog.

The question of who’s in charge is not always as obvious as we might think. You could say the CEO, but in many cases the CEO necessarily and properly delegates tasks to different directors. There needs to be a leader who understands the customer experience and can coordinate IT, Marketing, Sales, and the Contact Center itself to work together towards the common goal. This is not easy, and we’ll take closer looks at the folks the leader must lead in subsequent articles. The bottom line is, there must be a clear vision of customer service, and one LEADER who can see the system end to end. Without this role, the customer’s experience will be at risk as internal corporate factions battle to push distinct visions of how the system should work. The CRM apparatus is important, and someone with power in the organization needs to be taking its pulse regularly.

Chris Burgoyne is a Quality and Delivery Manager for Vision Point Systems. He holds a Masters degree from Virginia Tech University.