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  • 04:33:46 am on April 15, 2009 | 4 | # |

    Blogging is a Relay Race, not a Solo-Endeavor

    Well, this is going to be my last post here.  I am passing the baton.

    After nearly one year posting weekly, and sometimes even daily, I have to go.  I am leaving eVergance, searching for other horizons.  It was a hard decision, and long-thought out, and I know it will lead me closer to my hopes and dreams.  I shall miss this, but I am certain to come up with some other place where to blog.  That is pretty darn sure.  I am not sure yet where I will end up, I have to take a vacation after nearly 10 years of constant work.  I shall know more in the coming weeks, I do have some ideas of what I will do – nothing concrete yet.  If you follow me on twitter you can find out where things go.

    As for the blog, it can’t go anywhere but up.  My successor is one of the people I always admired.  Allen Bonde, formerly an analyst for Yankee and founder of the Allen Bonde Group, has an amazing grasp of the market.  I always wanted to grow up to be like him while I was at Gartner.  He will take control of this blog going forward, and you are definitely in for a treat.  I am certain that it will take him a few weeks to get warmed up (as I did when I started), but his insights and experiences far surpass anything I could do.  I would most definitely keep reading as he warms up, and pretty soon you will understand why.

    So, I bid you adieu.  So Long, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Bye.  Thanks a lot for the time, readership, and the many good memories.  This was one of the most amazing experiences I ever had in connecting with you and I will take all I learned and the trust you put on me and make it into something better in the future.  Promise

    Be seeing you soon…

     
  • 07:00:40 am on April 13, 2009 | 5 | # |
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    Customer First? or Customer Only?

    Been reading a lot lately, trying to get caught up after spending so much time in the trenches doing some real work.  Almost everywhere I turn I read about “Customer First”.  Putting the customer first, or ahead of everything else you do.  Why, there is even an entity in the UK that is called Customer First to ensure UK organizations remain true to their customers.  Closer to home, Continental Airlines has been talking about the great results of their Customer First initiative, as well as Northwest Airlines (which merged with Delta recently, another Customer First organization) and even an organization as distinct as the City of San Antonio has gotten on board.

    With all these people you’d think that customer first is all it takes to succeed – but I would like to bring up a more interesting point: it is not about putting the customer first, it is about making the customer the ONLY reason for your existence.  Putting the customer first means that there are other things to distract you from your commitment to your customer.  Making the customer the only thing means that their needs will supersede all others.  It may seem a trivial difference, and hair-splitting semantically speaking, but think about it for a second…

    Do you want to commit all your resources to making your customers happy – or just the ones you can spare?

     
  • 03:22:06 pm on April 7, 2009 | 0 | # |
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    How is that “new” customer service going?

    Some time ago I wrote about this “new” customer service brought on by the economic downturn.  I said back then that these moves were not based on core, sound principles and thus they would not last long.  It takes three weeks for people, and between six and eight weeks for corporations, to make a habit stick (think new years resolutions and the time when they affirmed or broken – or rather, how your gym seems to be more empty in Februay than it was in January).  We are a little bit past that time now — how is that new customer service working?

    My perspective? I started seeing some complains come across twitter for customer service problems that had gone away and are now coming back, and I began to hear again from our customers about overloading their systems, how they can reduce the costs of supporting clients with longer handle times, and whether it is a good idea to have those automated and electronic systems put back into action.  In other words, we are going back to normal.  Just as Will Smith said in “I, Robot” when they learned that the robots that were supposed to serve are actually trying to take over the world — “Somehow I told you so just doesn’t say it”.

    Remember, to make changes stick you need to change the core – not just the surface… What are you seeing out there? Am I wrong?

     
  • 04:59:51 pm on April 6, 2009 | 1 | # |
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    Do Unto Others, or The Golden Rule in Customer Service

    There is one major problem with customer service setups today -each channel is treated differently, yet we expect customers to have seamless, similar experiences across all of them.  The flaw in this reasoning, it is nearly impossible with normal resources to manage any one channel properly – less along two, three, four or more.  You want to replicate, centralize, and leverage as much as you can to bring into action the economies of scale.

    A client of mine who undertook the painful and lengthy process of mimicking in all channels what they were doing in their most successful one (telephone) was able to increase customer satisfaction by almost 30 points in a standard business cycle (one calendar quarter in their case) for most of their channels.  Even telephone, which had not changed, received higher scores.

    Similarly, another client decided not to undertake the “huge burden” (their words) of centralizing channels or even replicatiing workflows and rules. As a result, they ended up spending almost 20%+ year after year for supporting separate channels.  This caused them to rethink their strategy of suppoorting separate channels and actually drop some of the channels they were supporting.  Yes, this is the opposite of what you want to do if you want to increase customer satisfaction.

    Are you supporting all your channels as a single channel?

     
  • 12:18:48 pm on March 19, 2009 | 0 | # |
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    On Dashboard, On Scorecard, On Metrics and Measurement…

    Wrong time of the year… I was trying to mimic Santa saying the name of the reindeer (you know, “Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!” – yeah, my brain is twisted sometimes, I know).

    Anyway, The idea of this post is to begin a discussion on metrics in customer service.  I covered a little about it during the series of posts on customer acquisition costs and benefits (to refresh your mind, post 1, post 2, and post 3 – go on, read them – I’ll wait).  That was the beginning of a slippery slope.  Following that Pulitzer-prize-worthy series I began to spend more time thinking about it.  See, one of my charters here at eVergance is to start a Measurement practice and I have been doing some work with that, following early work I did work while at Gartner. I created some slides, and some beginning of a methodology and I am getting some good ideas about how to make it work.  I wanted to share my top three “discoveries” I made and get your opinions.

    Discovery #1 – Yes, Virginia… feedback actually works.  Another poor reference, I know.  I have been advocating EFM (enterprise feedback management) since I created the concept while at that research firm named above (I am no name-dropper, once should be enough).  The idea is to tie the feedback you collect with existing data circulating through your enterprise.  Until not long ago we thought that doing so could improve product management, R&D, customer profiles, and BPM.  I am beginning to see Feedback differently now.  When used properly, and it works, it actually becomes the moving force that will help your measurement program progress from Reporting to Analytics to Continuous Improvement (think about this for a while… it is the subject of another post).

    Discovery #2 – United we stand.  Promise, that was the last bad reference.  Most organizations have recently taken the idea of using scorecards, dashboards, and feedback.  Of course, they are all being used in separate projects or pilot programs – even some stand-alone deployments.  Well, guess what?  That reasoning is flawed… you have to use dashboards, scorecards, and feedback around the same subjects, same topics, and same processes.  That’s right – unite your projects and programs already in progress under one common name.  Call it… Continuous Improvement or something like that and enjoy the success.

    Discovery #3 – Start small and go from there.  Now, most people look at Feedback or Measurement initiatives and get petrified by the sheer magnitude of the ultimate solution.  In most cases analysis paralysis takes over and the projects don’t advance or advance very slowly.  That, of course, is not the best way to do it.  You have to experiment, test the tools and your capabilities – see if you can make it work in your organization.  Start small.  Pick one area where you could benefit from (or test) a scorecard, a dashboard, an improved feedback or measurement initiative. “Play” with it and see what happens.  Then, take those lessons and begin to expand it across business units and eventually the organization.  Call the entire process something like, I don’t know, Continuous Improvement and work with it.

    I hope that by now you got the subtle hints of what you are supposed to be doing.  Are you ready for Continuous Improvement?  What do you think about it?

     
  • 09:24:00 pm on March 4, 2009 | 3 | # |
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    Chat? Again? Are You Serious?

    Ladies and Gents, it it time again to revive a tool or technology I gave up for dead some time ago. You see, back in 2005 while updating a hype cycle for Gartner I said that Chat and Email where both going to become obsolete before they reached the plateau of productivity.  That meant that some other technology or tool would replace them or they would cease to exist.  In this case, I was deeply involved in the Customer Interaction Hub (CIH) and thought it was going to be the replacement for all stand-alone channel tools.  The prediction on chat caused some stir (about 15% of my 2005-2006 calls were related to it) since lots of people were using chat and wanted to know what to do.  My advise back then, just because it will disappear from the hype cycle does not mean it is not useful – keep using it and getting benefits out of it.

    There were two reasons I declared it obsolete: lack of innovation, and lack of adoption.  In other words, nothing new was being produced or planned, and not many people were using it anyways (still today, adoption for Chat is circa 10%, not what you would call critical mass).  Among adopters of chat, they were mostly using it as a two-way conversation tool, as a cheap (if well done) alternative to phone for real-time escalation for their self-service sites.  I know of several technical support implementations, and some ecommerce sites, that have been successful with it – but for the most part it was an expensive (when done incorrectly), low use, and complicated tool to understand.

    Fast forward some 3-4 years, and I am sauteing the crow to eat it – again (for the record, the best way to eat crow is sauteed with kosher salt, covered with a Marsala wine reduction sauce – delicious).  Yes, I was wrong.  Not only it did not become obsolete, it actually became useful.  In my defense, the model that works is the one I espoused for the CIH – but I did not think it was going to be done on an channel-by-channel basis as opposed to a single framework as the CIH proposes.  Further to my defense, although I was wrong in declaring it obsolete, the way it has come back and works is as an integrated components in a contact center, working in conjunction with business rules and knowledge management (almost a CIH, but not exactly).

    Why am I bringing this up?  No, I don’t like to admit when I am wrong (although I will gladly do it if necessary), but because I want you to take another look at Chat.  Yes, Chat – I am serious.  The power of chat as an escalation channel for real-time communications is unparalleled (even call-back cannot accomplish the same, and I already talked about that), and if you do it right (you know, integrated with business rules, automate it with chat bots, tie it to your KM deployment to help you agents, offer it at the right time and the right place) you can certainly see many benefits.

    Have you taken another look at Chat lately? What are your thoughts?

     
  • 06:49:27 am on March 3, 2009 | 7 | # |
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    The End of Customer Experience Management?

    My former colleague at Gartner, and good friend, Ed Thompson is an exceptional analyst.  He probably did more to advance the understanding and knowledge of Customer Experience Management that just about anyone else in this world.  He is the one who got me more interested in this aspect of life, and we wrote a lengthy paper together on how to do CEM properly which is still one of the best read documents at Gartner.  He used to have a set of slides to explain Experiences that was outstanding, and in one of those slides he had examples of people paying more money for more exotic experiences.  For example, people that would pay more to go to an ultra-luxurious hotel instead of a 5-star hotel – just for the added experiences.  He reasoned that customers were willing to spend more in better experiences and if you provide better experiences to your customers you can then charge more and justify the cost of the extra benefits.

    I  agree with the concept, and I have helped countless clients do just that.  They enjoyed great benefits for their commitment to the idea of providing a superior experience at the same or higher cost, and their customers saw that and gladly paid for it.  Fast forward to today’s depressed economic situation (no, I did not say depression – we are a long way from that).  I wrote an entry last month about how some companies are realizing these days that they need to preserve their customers and they need to improve customer service with better experiences.  Back then I said that this behavior probably would not last the downturn, and as soon as things got back to “normal” and revenues increased these “new” experiences were gone and service would go back to what it was.  Service providers had not made the necessary investments in superior experiences, they merely had more time to provide better service (less customers, more time spent per customer).

    I have been thinking lately about all this and where does it end, or where does it go.  My conclusion? Regardless of the outcome of these economic hard times, customer experience management is approaching its long, but certain, end.  Hear me out.  I was listening to the radio today and someone was talking about “the thrift syndrome”, whereas people in bad situations committed to saving money and change their lifestyles, spend less in the future regardless of their situation (the theory is that they lived well with less they’ll continue those habits to be ready for the next downturn).

    Now, this is where it all comes together… 1) people spend more money for a better experience, 2) companies see they can provide a better experience without spending oodles in customer experience management, and 3) “the thrift syndrome”… get it? people will spend less and won’t care about the experience, companies will do better without caring about the experience – and we have the end of customer experience management!

    What are your thoughts?  Am I wrong? Am I a sophist in the making?

     
  • 05:29:00 am on February 25, 2009 | 4 | # |
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    Actions Speak Louder Than Words in Customer Loyalty

    Let me ask you a question: would you recommend me to your friends and family?  Yes, that question… the “L” question.  If you say YES, then you are loyal.  If you say NO, then you are not.  That is an abusive oversimplification of a very, very complex topic – but one that we are able to make mostly because we don’t really understand Loyalty and we do think that everything in this world should be measured.  That question (and its twin sister, “would you use the service or product again?”) supposedly measure loyalty.  Why, there is an entire methodology (NPS or Net Promoter Score) devoted to the study of the answer of those questions.

    Alas, if you have my previous entry on loyalty you know that I think that Loyalty is so badly used in organizations that it is useless.  Thus, asking those questions will not yield any insight into the loyalty of your customers, rather yield some insight into your customers’ ability to answer questions one way – and act a different one.  I have not yet seen any proven correlation between answering those questions and being loyal (sorry Fred).

    Now, let me turn the concept a little bit on its side.  Let’s say for the sake of argument you could measure loyalty.  Let’s say that you want to make sure that your customers would indeed recommend you to their friends and family, or even use the product or service again.  Would you really take their word at face value? or would you rather have some proof, some evidence that they will act as they say they will?  Yeah, thought so.

    Here is the simple way to save yourself the money and not buy into the NPS hype and methodology.  Don’t believe your customers’ words, believe their actions.  Implement frequent shopper or user programs, adopt a referral program – and then see the value of your customers’ actions replace the empty words.  Reward your customers for using you frequently (remember, it costs ten times or more to get a new customer as it does to retain an existing one – use those savings for good).  Pay them, and their friends, for referring new people into your service or organizations.  Make it worth their time to be loyal – and they will.

    What do you think? Take their words or their actions? Have you done this? Want to talk more about it? Leave me some comments or email me.

     
  • 06:52:12 am on February 19, 2009 | 3 | # |
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    Writing Global Surveys for Success, Not Failure

    Interesting title, don’t you think?

    Most companies that take on writing global surveys have failed at it.  Some of them did it once and the never again.  Others are still doing it wrong but since the results they get are what they want, they won’t change for fear of actually finding what their customers think of them.

    This is a touchy topic since it is very easy to fall into stereotypes and make generalizations about entire countries or regions, and end up looking like a bigot.  Which, I am not.  Thus, I am not going to point to any specific country or region around the world and say “these people do this” or “those people don’t understand that”.  Instead I am going to point at the more general problems and trends, and we can later work together if you are interested in a specific country or region.

    Four key things to remember when doing global surveys:

    1. Some people are polite.  Some cultures are too polite to really tell you what you want to know.  The best you will get is a polite response saying things are fine, when they are not.  This means you will learn to write the questions in different ways for those groups, and you will use different scales.  I know of at least one case where a client of mine with a 90% satisfaction score had an attrition ration in excess of 26%!  How did we solve it?  We figured out what questions to ask and what were the best scales to find out what customers really meant.  Trial and error works great in these situations.

    2. Some people are brutal.  On the other hand, some people are brutal.  You ask for feedback? no problem, you stink and your product is so bad it hurts me to use it… just like everybody else and all their products!  The key in this situation is to put things in proper perspective.  Sure, the brutal criticism may, just may, be well warranted – but chances are that everybody is getting similar feedback.  So, take the time to put it into perspective.  Try to benchmark your performance against your competitors or even your partners.  Work with a local service provider that can help you understand how your ratings rank in comparison, and work to improve your processes and products, not your scores so much.

    3. Languages are all different, literal translations are bad.  Asking someone if they are satisfied with the bad behavior they received from the last interaction is not a good question to lead off a survey.  Alas, I have seen it.  When you construct questions in one language, literal translations sometimes change the meaning of the question in a different language.  The more diverse the languages and differing their grammars and syntax rules, the worse it is.  Do it right, craft new questions with similar meaning in different questions.  However, they don’t have to ranked or rated the same way, nor be the exact same question – why?  See point 4.

    4. Reporting should be detailed, not generalized. Here is the biggest thing about doing global surveys, which I hope you gather from what i said before: each survey should target specifics for each region or country, and as such should be reported separately.  So, even if you use the same questions and scales, do not mix the results of two different locales in the reporting.  Let me say it again – do not mix results.  You probably already knew that, or probably figured out from the earlier points I made – so I won’t preach it again.  OK, just one more time – don’t mix results from different places.  Why? two words: skewed results.

    Bottom Line: write your surveys for each region or country in the region or country, using local resources.  Don’t cross-tabulate as scores don’t mean the same in different parts of this world. And make sure you report for each region or country, not across all of them in a single, global score.

    Need more? Got something to add?  That is what comments are for… feel free to let me know what you think.

     
  • 07:08:32 am on February 10, 2009 | 2 | # |
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    Surveys Done Right – Part 4 – EFM Best Practices

    Ok, final part of this series.

    We so far have covered point-of-service surveys, customer-satisfaction surveys, and best-practices for surveys.  On to the best way to implement enterprise feedback management in your organization.  This is a set of best practices I use with all my clients to get them to understand what is the best way to adopt an Enterprise Feedback Management initiative.  Since I was told the previous posts were too long – on to the rest of this!

    Most organizations embark on feedback management programs with no clear objective or purpose, except to simply collect information from the client. This results in long, rambling surveys, improperly worded questions and poor response rates. More importantly, it results in an annoyed customer who must put up with an ill-prepared organization as well as valuable feedback being discarded because the organization doesn’t know what to do with it.

    Best Practice 1 – Determine the W’s

    Who: Most important in a feedback management program is determining the specific customers involved by segmenting . All other questions – what, when and why – are derived from knowing your feedback collection target. Some customers and segments will be more comfortable answering short surveys, while others won’t take the time. A survey for customers whose historical response rate is less than 10% would be a waste of time. However, direct feedback collection (via a conversation or call-out campaign) may yield a higher rate, as well as more feedback. Throwing a survey “over the wall” to see who answers is inefficient. Different users should be targeted using different methods. This most critical “W” must take precedence.

    Why: The most complicated question to ask in determining whether to collect customer feedback is why. Specific reasons for collecting the data (such as improving profile, maintaining customer satisfaction and ensuring compliance) tend to be overlooked once the project starts. Lack of a reason for collecting feedback leads to similar problems as a lack of purpose or an objective: messy, complex feedback events that achieve little success. World-class organizations focus on the specific reason to conduct the project as a way to determine the best questions to ask. This piece of data relies on knowing who is being asked for feedback and, along with the response, makes up the basis for answering the last two questions.

    What: Asking for feedback with no specific purpose often leads to violating the simple rules for surveys. The best surveys have one specific purpose, and all questions or actions support that purpose. Knowing what is being sought, as in a piece of information or insight, goes a long way toward reaching this goal. “Fishing” surveys, which usually have no purpose, tend to irritate users and accomplish nothing. Response rates are higher for single-purpose feedback events, and insights are easier to come by than for complex, multipurpose or no-purpose events.

    When: The best time to capture and channel feedback varies depending on the situation and process. Organizations deploying a feedback project must understand that for each situation it is imperative to capture feedback at the appropriate time. Asking for customer feedback or capturing feedback four weeks after an event leads to faulty memory of the event, thus inaccurate feedback. Conversely, requesting feedback before an interaction is complete, even if it takes several days, yields inconsistent feedback. For each project, consider when and how to capture feedback from customers as part of the planning and decision-making stage.

    Best Practice 2 – Create an Objective and a Goal

    Once your organization answers these four questions, it has the necessary information to set the survey objective. Goals, such as collecting information, measuring customer satisfaction and understanding what customers want, do not make for acceptable objectives or well-measured goals. Specific objectives must be aligned with an existing, ongoing or impending corporate strategy. For the success of the feedback collection event, the goal must be related to a well-understood metric already in use.

    In determining the objective and goal for your project, it is not sufficient to ask, “What am I trying to find out?” Qualify the objective based on the purpose in obtaining the information. Determining overall customer satisfaction, for example, will yield only the number of people who are satisfied but not the strategic value of the data. Why is this data important? Do you want to up-sell or cross-sell based on satisfaction, improve target markets, or increase response rates by knowing whom to target? Knowing the answers to these questions is more important than simply knowing the overall satisfaction level of your client base.

    Best Practice 3 – Define the Insight You Seek

    Outlining the results sought does not mean knowing the number or metric that will result from the feedback event but the statement that needs data. Most organizations blindly implement a feedback event, then spend a lot of time analyzing the results in the hope of getting useful insight. World-class organizations, however, already know the results but are unsure of the data that supports the outcome. For example, an organization that conducts a survey in the hope of
    determining how many satisfied customers are repeat customers knows which data elements to collect, their lifetime, how often to collect data and repeat data collection, and the meaning of the results. The enterprise may not be sure if the number is 15% or 20%, for example, but knows the intent of gathering the data.

    Organizations that undertake feedback management based on specific insights sought spend less time analyzing the data in the hope of finding the insights and understanding the correlation between data points, insights and strategies. In contrast, organizations that don’t implement these processes tend to expend too many resources pouring over collected data trying to make sense of it and relate it in a manner that translates into insights.

    Your turn – what do you think? Have you done this? What results have you achieved? Please leave a comment with your impressions…

     
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