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  • 03:58:39 pm on February 2, 2009 | 1 | # |
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    Surveys Done Right – Part 3 – Survey Best Practices

    OK, on to part 3 – best practice for surveys.

    I have been working on and off on this topic for a while, updating it and making sure it was still valid.  This is the knowledge I have gained over the years of doing surveys.  Enjoy, and do let me know what you think of it.

    Know What You Want. It is essential to know before crafting the survey what information you need to get out of it. Most surveys look for customer satisfaction, others are trying to determine how to improve the delivery of service. Yet others may be trying to determine the effectiveness of a certain service or program. The most important thing to know is that each of these goals should be unique and single – one survey per goal, with documentation before you release it.

    Determine Effectiveness. Survey methods will be unique for each channel (for example, Web, e-mail, phone) and customer segment (geography/postal code, age, gender,  buying/service patterns). Each customer segment is unique and will react to channels and survey methods differently. For example, a customer registering a newly installed personal computer may or may not have a readily available Internet connection during the registration process. A survey that requires customers to go online to complete an installation satisfaction survey may be an annoyance. However, the addition of a simple question, such as “Connected to Internet?” or “Store survey results until next Internet logon?” will advance the process. Effective surveys are delivered at the conclusion of a service interaction via the same channel as the service provided.

    Adhere to the “KISS” Principle. The keep it short and simple (KISS) principle applies to these surveys. Customers are more likely to complete a survey when the time to completion is explicitly displayed at the beginning of the process, the purpose of the survey is clearly stated and the use of information is defined. For example: “To help us improve our service to you in the future, please participate in our satisfaction survey. The survey will take less than one minute, and no information specific to you will be shared or distributed to any third party.” We recommend no more than three to seven questions per survey, one common topic, and short and succinct wording. Furthermore, to make it easier to answer and to tally responses, multiple-choice answers are recommended. Writing questions is a complex and iterative process. The most critical step in the survey process is to test questions. Before implementation, survey questions should be tested in focus groups, followed by a small pilot survey run and measured against a real customer base for a short period.

    Ensure Consistent Gathering. Hand-picking the “right” respondents to achieve higher scores is a common problem when gathering responses. For example, enterprises that discard participant data because the customer appears upset, not in the right frame of mind, biased or not really friendly rob themselves of critical insight and end up with skewed results. Customers who are the least “friendly” or sympathetic are often the most honest in their responses and central to a better understanding of where service delivery may be failing. Survey response gathering should be done consistently, either to all subjects in the target group (if feasible) or by following a predetermined random algorithm that will be applied to all customers (for example, every fourth caller into a Web site or call center).

    Read the Answers. More than 60 percent of enterprises generate a single data point from a survey – one that usually supports their original view of the level of customer service satisfaction – and ignore an analysis of the possible implications of the data. A well-designed survey will reveal trends, patterns and outright new information that are valuable to improving the customer service operation. This information should be used as part of an EFM system (read “Finally, A Definition for EFM“) to better understand, know and serve customers.

    Act on the Information. Even the best surveys, designed and executed with the best of intentions, are a waste of effort unless a set of specific actions is put in place to respond to customer input.  Alas, the majority of organizations fail to change the customer service organization or workflows based on survey results. Conducting a survey just to know where things are will upset customers who believe that the survey is intended to improve things. An enterprise that surveys customers but fails to act on the data will actually damage the relationship with the customers more than if they had never been surveyed. Even if the only purpose of the survey is to capture the status of customer satisfaction, customers should be given the opportunity to suggest specific input as to how they would like to see interactions improved. In all cases, the end result should be the same: Whatever needs to be fixed should be fixed, and what should be improved must be improved.

    Repeat It. Improvements to the customer experience happen through an iterative process. Responses captured once will be inadequate for determining a trend. If we don’t know whether customers are more satisfied today than last quarter, we are bound to lose customers, and the purpose of the survey will be lost. At periodic business cycles (such as quarterly), as determined by the business, the survey should be repeated, and all the above steps should be done again – including knowing what we want from the survey.

    Let Customers Know. Improvements to customer service as a result of customer feedback should be communicated back to the customers. Let them know that their input is taken seriously and used. Few organizations that conduct surveys do this, yet it is a critical part of customer experience management and of EFM strategies, and it should be done to encourage future participation from customers and to improve customer loyalty.

    So, what do you think?  Am I missing something?  Of course, the bottom line is that you should only do this as part of anEFM strategy… right?

  • 02:04:52 am on January 25, 2009 | 6 | # |
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    Surveys Done Right – Part 2 – Customer Satisfaction

    I have been dreading writing this entry since I came up with the idea for the series (have you read part 1 yet?).  It is not that I don’t know what to say, or that I don’t want to do it.  It is simply that my fear of providing “sample” survey that will later become “real surveys” for all people without customization or personalization really, really takes hold in this arena.  I mean, who has not had to write a customer satisfaction survey in the past?  It is probably the most used, misunderstood, and poorly implemented of all surveys out there.

    If we go by the surveys that I have seen, customer satisfaction surveys should only have one question since that is what most people care about anyways: “overall, how satisfied are you with us?”.  It seems that if the customer says they are overall satisfied then there are no problems.  Further, as long as we get a sufficient number of customers to say they are satisfied (somewhere in the mid-70s to mid-80s), and the number remains consistent or (gasp) even grows a little  we are perfectly set from the customer experience, loyalty, and satisfaction point of view.  After all, if 80% of people are satisfied – isn’t that good?  Well, yes and no.  I wrote about how you can ensure you will get a 90% of more in customer satisfaction surveys in the past (second most popular post in this site).  It is possible to score high – even increase your scores, and not be doing a good job.

    So, before we jump into the description of the survey and the sample questions (and before I beg you again to personalize and customize them), let’s make sure we understand one thing about this survey.  This “sample” survey is not intended to tell you how many people like you.  It is intended to, historically, provide a trending line of your customer satisfaction overall – but more important it is intended to give you real answers to partial satisfaction questions (e.g. were satisfied with the speed of the answer?) in accordance to your strategy (you do have one of those right?).  Finally, consider that I used these questions for customers that have customer satisfaction as a key metric and part of the insight.  I still believe that customer satisfaction is too flawed as a metric to be used reliably (also read this one), but a trending report cannot hurt – as it wouldn’t with any other metric.

    Too many words to get here, so here are the the essentials of a customer satisfaction survey (part 3 of this series, best practices for writing surveys – stay tuned!):

    • First, the most important part – KISS (keep it short and simple).  I use the rule of 5+/-2 (five, plus or minus two), with five being the magic number, and three and seven the limits.
    • Second, you MUST personalize the questions to the specific items you want to measure satisfaction on – which is why there are some questions below to use, but they may not fit what you are looking for.  Tie your questions to your strategy
    • Third, send them out every business cycle (varies by industry and function), and make sure you use panel management tools so you won’t keep sending them to the same person over and over (we know what they think – no one should get more than one a year), and that you don’t send them to people who won’t respond.
    • Fourth, statistical significance is great for market research or election day polls, not so much on customer satisfaction.  Make sure you get a large enough number to make it varied (I suggest at least between 3-4% of the population) and I am talking responses – not invitations.
    • Fifth, make sure you use the same questions the next time you send them out (yes, exactly the same wording) so you can keep historical trends.  Remember, customer satisfaction is an OK metric to keep as long as you use it as a historical trending metric, not a KPI

    Those are the basic rules for these surveys, but more will arise as you begin to implement them.  Of course, best practices for EFM and Surveys apply, so those are to be considered as well.  Now, without further ado, the list of questions I’d like to propose for your consideration:

    1. Overall, what is your satisfaction with Company XYZ? (hate this question, but it is an easy one to answer)

    Now, this question is to be answered in a numerical scale, I favor a scale of 1-4, you can use whatever works for your objectives.  A scale of 1-10 is popular with people who endorse NPS (Net Promoter Score), but I don’t buy into that.  A different way to ask this questions, which I prefer, is:

    1. Overall, would you say you are satisfied with Company XYZ?

    This question is answered with a simple YES-NO.  Why do I like this question? Two things, first the wording predisposes the respondent to say yes (which is a positive score).  Second, you can setup your scripts to react in the case of a negative answer – and since the question predisposes the respondent to say yes, when someone says NO they really mean it.

    From the following questions, pick some of the ones that reflect your objectives, vision, strategy, and purpose for this survey.  Remember, personalization and customization are highly encouraged – so if these don’t fit your needs go ahead and change them accordingly.

    2.1.  What is your satisfaction with Company XYZ web site / self-service solution?

    2.2. What is your satisfaction with Company XYZ representatives on the phone?

    2.3. What is your satisfaction with Product ABC from Company XYZ?

    2.4. What is your satisfaction with Company XYZ return policies?

    2.5. What is your satisfaction with Company XYZ use of email for customer service?

    Well, you get the idea.  Keep in mind that how you ask the question is going to depend on the answer, and see Q1 above to see some examples of different ways to write the questions.  Needless to say, again, the questions you chose for the second part are related to your specific, strategic goals and are bound to change for your survey.

    This is the longest post I wrote since we started this blog, but I wanted to make sure it was clear and explicit.  There is, of course, lots more to read and write about customer feedback, customer service, customer satisfaction… well, anything dealing with customers.  You will read more and we move along – but how do you like this post?  Interesting? Are you using it?  Please let me know your thoughts and experiences… and thanks for reading!

  • 02:52:15 am on January 16, 2009 | 3 | # |
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    Guy Kawasaki is right, I was wrong…

    OK, this is going to be a short entry (no, don’t celebrate – I will go back to my old self in the next one).  This is a very hard for me to say… but… here it goes… I…was… wr…. wrong.  That’s right I was wrong.  I decided to come clean and admit it.  Not only was I wrong, but Guy Kawasaki was right (yeah, no big surprise there – I know).  Allow me to ‘splain myself.

    I was reading Guy’s post on the Art of Customer Service, which I believe is a summary of a chapter in his latest book, on how to do Customer Service well at an organization.  And he goes on with a list of 16 items to consider.  He says lots of truths (start at the top, accept responsibility, empower your employees, etc.).  All proven truths about customer service and which I have  said and written about over the years.  Then he writes (on number 12) Use Operators.  Then, the next one, Use a callback System.

    My first reaction was, like I always do when I hear this advice, was to think “Boy, is he wrong.  He does not know of the higher costs without returns if you use humans, or how good automated systems can be if done properly, and how expensive and useless callback systems are.  I have been researching this stuff for a long time, I know this stuff really well — I am right, and he is wrong”.  That was just about a split second before the devil’s advocate side of my brain (I think it is a small portion of my super-ego) fired back saying “Why? Why is he wrong”.  That was the end of a peaceful afternoon.  The brainstorming that ensued led me to this post.

    See, I can easily say that something for customer service should be done one way or the other.  I have lots of experience and examples of organizations doing it differently and getting bad or horrible results.  Also have many great examples of others who did it my way and succeeded.  Alas, there are also examples of organizations that took a chance with a technology, a tool, or a method that was not endorsed by an”expert”.  Organizations that found that using Operators instead of a PBX got them good results.  Others who found that using a callback system was just what they needed for the experience they were creating.  People who took chances, did something different and triumphed.

    That is when I had this epiphany – I was wrong, and I have been wrong many times before.  I will, from now on, endorse people willing to take calculated risks.  Instead of using my knowledge to say what cannot be done, turn it around and advice companies how to do things differently and succeed.  How to analyze risks and rewards within a vision of their best interest (and that of their customers) and move forward with things that may not have been recommended.  See, Guy was right – and for teaching me that lesson I thank him.

    What about you?  Have you done something against the norm and triumphed?  Let me know your story…

  • 06:14:49 pm on January 15, 2009 | 10 | # |
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    Surveys Done Right – Part 1 – Point-of-Service Surveys

    I am going to break some very old rules of mine to write this post.  Ever since I introduced the three-layer model for surveys while at Gartner (point-of-service, customer-satisfaction, planning) I have been getting requests for “sample questions”.  I have maintained, and continue to do, that I cannot provide sample questions since all questions need to be created according to the situation, respondent base, strategy and vision for your feedback initiative, as well as the standards and rules you set for your surveys.  Of course, they also have to be personalized to respondent and situation, and be written to match delivery and collection channel.  This is as basic as it gets when writing surveys.  My concern / problem is that when someone gets “sample questions” they become “THE questions” without further tinkering, and that is just wrong.

    So, the counterpoint to that is that I have seen the concept implemented (point-of-service surveys) with some truly horrendous ideas.  I have experienced “short” surveys of 10 questions asking all sorts of things, and questions so badly written that it is almost impossible to answer.  Thus, as a public service (yes, I know I am a selfless philanthropist when it comes to surveys) I am going to break the rule and make this post about two things: a reminder of how point-of-service surveys should be done, and a set of sample questions (which I will regret for a long time, and possibly my grand-kids will as well).

    First, how does this work.  Point-of-service (also called point-of-delivery) surveys are SHORT (yes, needs to be shouted), 2-3 questions surveys aimed to discover the efficacy (not the efficiency) of the service interaction.  In other words, did we do a good job delivering service and was it what you needed.  It is intended to spot any problems during delivery, and to fix them before they become customer service issues or lead to customers not being satisfied.  Simple, huh?

    Now, the main point of doing this is preventing service issues from becoming problems.  Thus, the critical part is not doing the survey, but actually having processes in place to reach out to customers and fix their problems when either of these questions returns a negative answer.  This is where most companies fail, they don’t have documented, specific processes in place to take care of negative answers quickly (yes, speed matters).  The reason I am bringing this up, even if you copy the questions from the bottom of this post – please, please, please make sure you have the necessary processes in place before doing these surveys.

    Final point I want to make, then we move to the actual questions.  Channel of delivery matters.  If at all possible, try to keep the survey in the same channel where the transaction took place, and to follow the interaction immediately.  If the customer called, make the survey an IVR-driven survey post-call (no, don’t have another call for follow up… it does not work that way).  Email came in? email going out (as quickly as possible, not 2-3 days later).  If you cannot maintain the channel of service be the channel of delivery (or you cannot make it immediately following the transaction) then your best bet is using email surveys.  No, not email with links to online surveys — email surveys.  The questions are within the email and they can answer simply and quickly.  OK, getting off the soap box now (yes, I am passionate about this “stuff” being done well).

    CAVEAT: I know I said this before, but please, please, pleaseeeeee customize these for your situation and personalize them. Please?

    Question 1 (this one should never change): Did you receive the answer you needed?

    Question 2 (choose from the three below based on what else you need to measure):

    Q2.1: Did we do a good job delivering the answer? (my favorite, but a little broad in meaning)

    Q2.2: Was our service cordial and polite? (in other words, who needs some training or talking to)

    Q2.3:Was our representative knowledgeable? (again, training or knowledge management issues)

    Q3.3: Was our representative prompt to answer your questions? (do they know what they need to know?)

    You get the idea, depending on what part of the interaction is critical you can change the second question.

    So, please don’t let me down. Customize, personalize and (more important) let me know how it goes…

  • 12:40:21 am on January 14, 2009 | 1 | # |
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    So, They Finally Learned Customer Service, Right?

    If you hang around twitter these days, well – you are wasting precious time.

    No, seriously – if you do you will notice people tweeting more and more about the “new” Customer Service at most large corporations.  You will see how Telco X was much better than it used to be, or Bank Y has finally gotten it right.  The impressions are that since the economy turned south, these companies learned the true value of their customers.  If you are going to base your perceptions on that datum only you may end up with the idea that these large organizations that used to be terrible at customer service have finally, finally learned how to do Customer Service right.  And you may be happy about the prospect of finally getting decent or good service from your service providers.

    Well, hate to burst the bubble – but that is just not the way it is.  Sure, some of them may have improved some – even more than that depending on where they started.  However, there are three reasons why this is not going to be a long-term trend:

    1. Nothing has Changed.  It takes months and large investments of resources (people, time, money) to make changes to customer service.  Takes long re-training and hiring processes, changes to processes, systems, and rules, and lots more.  This is not accomplished in a short period of time.  Even if the changes are implemented the time it takes to extend to the entire organization is more than you can imagine.  It is not uncommon for these initiatives to be implemented in multiyear projects.  Corporations have not yet changed anything (or not enough), they simply have more idle time due to less business and those CSRs can spend more time with customers.

    2.  It is Event-Driven.  Economy goes down, we need to keep the remaining customers happy.  Tell everyone that they need to keep customers happy, empower them to offer more, let them satisfy the customers, change our business rules to reflect that.  All that will get short-term results: shorter transactions, better feedback scores, more satisfied customers.  What it does not do is make those changes permanent.  Once things go back to “normal” (meaning you realize the costs of this “good” customer service vs what you used to do is higher and go back to the previous state) theses initiatives will likely cease.  It won’t be overnight, but it won’t take that long either.  Businesses tend to have keen-jerk reactions only to change soon thereafter to something more moderate.  Expect the same here in about 4-6 months.

    3. Tactical is not Long Term.  That’s right, there is no vision, no strategy, no plan.  Simply a “liberalization” of the business rules and inflection points in favor of the customer.  Being simple tactical means that it carries the burden of proof without expectations.  In other words, there is no expected ROI or benefits in this move.  Alas, if there is no show of value (that is long-term value) in the decision to change within a relatively short time-frame (1-2 months) things will go back to normal (read as they were before) in no time.  There has got to be some expectation of a return of some type before it is made permanent – and a strategy sets those expectations (btw, it also takes a long time to set those expectations, not that easily done).

    So, have these large corporations finally learned customer service done right? Probably no.  Actually, highly likely no.  However, if they are smart they will see this as a good first step and continue down this path.

    Don’t you agree?

  • 05:12:12 pm on January 12, 2009 | 0 | # |

    Solving the WHYDFMT Problem in Customer Service

    Come on, say it out loud three times real fast.  Solving the WHYDFMT problem in Customer Service, solving the… forget it.  Quite a mouthful, ain’t it?  Alas, this is the quintessential problem of customer service and the one you need to tackle.  Forget channels, and feedback, and measurement and all that stuff.  That is secondary.  If you want to build a successful customer service and support strategy this is where you are going to focus: WHYDFMT.

    Which, when spelled out, means What Have You Done For Me Today. This is the attitude of customers towards customer service – and the reason you must do things differently.  Let me explain.

    I have written countless times that Loyalty does not exist (come to think of it, it is the most popular post in this site – if you have not read it yet, take some time to do so – I’ll wait right here).  It should not be measured, sought, or intended.  I have not been listened by lots of people, but lots of head-nodding ensue.  WHYDFMT is why loyalty is not a goal for your organization.  Customers, when dealing with customer service, take the attitude that each instance is a fresh, brand-new, out-of-the-box time for your to prove your love for them.  Each time they approach customer service they want something and they don’t care what you did for them last time – actually, that reinforces the feeling of entitlement (I promise, I am not bitter or resentful – just noticing things).

    You gave them a credit last time they were late with their payment, well – do it again.  You refunded a fee they did not understand (although they signed up for it when they contracted the service), well – do it again.  This creates a problem within the organization where managers don’t want to continue the trend and CSRs don’t want to deal with customers.  It creates a big problem for management when customers are willing to criticize them for the performance today and forget the performance yesterday.  It makes the company look like it provides bad customer service based on, maybe, one bad instance.  That is bad for your brand and you have to change it.

    So, how do you solve this problem?  Let me point you to the solution in an example: Zappos.  That’s right, the telephone / online shoe sales organization. By design, every single instance when a customer contacts the organization will be a delightful experience.  Every single time.  It is part of the corporate culture, it is part of their brand – some even would say part of their mysticism.  This is who they are, not what they do.  This is their persona, their representation to their world, their promise to their customers and to themselves.  That is why it works.

    So, as usual towards the end of the post, what shall you do to partake on this?  First, recognize Loyalty is not a worthy pursuit (yes, again) and focus instead of delivering excellent experiences.  Each time and every time.  Easiest way to do that?

    1. Conduct Feedback Events – use surveys, or any other tool, to ask customers what problems you have in your experiences today.

    2. Implement an Experience Initiative – Zappos did not get to excellent experiences by wishing them, they planned for them.

    3. Continuous Improvement – over time, even the most excellent experiences tend to become dated. Update them.

    In other words, to solve the WHYDFMT problem – avoid the question.  Make it very clear, explicit, and documented (have you seen the feedback that Zappos gets from customers – almost fanatical) that you are about your experiences and customers won’t ask that question anymore… and they will become loyal (sorry, parting pun – could not resist).

    What do you think?  Is this something that may work for you?  Let me know your thoughts and experiences — and as always, email me if you want more details or have any questions (ekolsky at evergance dot com).

  • 06:35:06 am on January 9, 2009 | 0 | # |
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    Forget Parallel Computing…The Money is in Parallel Servicing

    I know this will be hard to believe – but I am a nerd, a geek, a lover of all things technology.  Why, in the old days when Windows 3.x was just beginning I made a few extra dollars building computers from spare part for fellow students (hey, it was way cheaper and popular back then), not to mention that I am certified for Novell and Microsoft networks (yes, I was a sysadmin at some point in life).  I love technology and I use my knowledge as much as possible.

    As I was cleaning one of the hard-drives in my computer last week I came across a paper I had written at some point in life contrasting the use of parallel and serial ports in computers.  Now, this is not a big deal these days with USB and Firewire and the myriad other connection options – but back then it was the only way to connect.  In this paper I looked into the technological considerations, including speed, of using one or the other.

    Here is the summary you need to know for the purposes of this post.  Parallel ports work, as their name implies, by sending data at the same time through all possible pins or channels with no interruption.  This translates into a top speed of around 4 Mbps.  Serial, on the other hand, work by sending data bits one at the time and waiting for confirmation before continuing.  This reaches a top speed of 115 Kbps.  The difference is somewhere around 12 times faster for parallel ports once you count in things like hexadecimal conversion, acknowledgments and enhanced ports and accelerators.

    Why am I bringing this up?  I am not trying to date or label myself, I am using this as the starting point for a new model for customer service – parallel servicing.  All the customer service we do today is in serial form.  A customer contacts us, and they wait.  We take one action, they wait.  We solve their problem, we think, and then we wait to make sure it was solved, or we wait for them to come back.  Not only that, but we cannot serve multiple customers at once unless we deploy more “ports” or resources.

    The concept of parallel servicing is not having to wait, to be able to service customers at a higher speed, with certainty of delivery and better results.  How would you like to be able to service more customers with just your current resources but faster?  Three steps to get you there:

    1. Proactively Service Customers.  I wrote about this many times, talked about it for a long time – and no one listened (it’s OK, I am used to it).  You have the tools, technologies, and know-how to implement proactive service today – with no major investment.  As simple as writing a few triggers for your database, then letting them run their course.  As you get more comfortable you can get more courageous — the sky is truly the limit.  A new patch released? Send an email to people who own the product you are patching.  Complementary product created for your best-selling product? Up-sell.  You can even charge for it in a subscription service!  So many ways to do this… so easy to do.

    2. Change your Processes.  Yes, I am telling you to change your processes. No, I don’t know how (but would be glad to do the work for you if you want, just call me).  The secret here is to find serial processes that can be converted to parallel processes.  Why would a customer have to wait for one action to take place before a second starts?  Look, you know your processes, you know where you can find actions or functions to improve.  Once you get used to the idea of parallel servicing you will notice more and more areas where it makes sense.

    3. Automate. Nothing makes processes go faster than automation – and you can run multiple instances at the same time (sorta like a parallel communication bus).  Look for areas where you can automate to improve the speed of your processes.  In lots of cases, you can turn long processes into sub-second actions on the computer – virtually parallel servicing if there is no delay!  Think about where automation makes sense, and do it.

    Final words: you don’t have to do all this at once.  I am a firm believer in evolutionary changes, not revolutionary ones.  Go slow, little by little, and notice the results.  Get more courageous as you succeed.  Do more and see the speed of your service processes improve, then end up with a great example of parallel servicing.

    What do you think? Interesting enough to try?  Leave me a comment, let me know how it goes…

  • 06:07:36 am on January 2, 2009 | 4 | # |
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    The Top Five New Year’s Resolutions for Customer Service

    This new year, 2009, is going to be a difficult year – no questions about it.  I wrote an article for Loyalty.com sometime back (which they said they would have published by now — oh well, maybe next year) that discussed why good customer service is critical in these economic times.  If you are interested in reading it just let me know, be glad to send you a copy so you can be the cool person in the office to have it.

    When this whole mess began to become public there was a lengthy discussion between bloggers and twitterers on whether marketing was something you spent on or cut back during tough economic times.  The idea being that the funds spent on marketing where not sure to give you a similar return when there was no money, so why bother – spend the money more wisely elsewhere.  Of course, that argument is made by people who don’t know what they are talking about… any mission-critical process for your organization should be continued regardless of what it is.  I wrote about it in my previous blog (the predictions for 2009).  And, the data points that I am getting from clients are confirming it – proven projects that affect the bottom line will be funded through this downturn.

    So, after the long introduction… here are the top five resolutions for customer service in 2009:

    Resolve to be more patient.  This is simple.  Your customers have more stress, less money – or less desire to spend it.  They are bound to contact you to try to free some cash.  They may even contact you to get out of a contract or commitment.  In either case, your patience pays off in the long turn.  Helping them now, and even changing some rules to make it so, will make them more loyal in the long run.  Yes, even if they leave you, they are bound to come back.  To achieve this resolution you should  empower your agents to do more, give them more freedom to bend or change some rules – and make sure your customers know about it.

    Resolve to get in better shape.  This is a great time to examine what you are doing, how and why – then look for better ways to do it.  In a lot of instances the fix will be free or very low cost — but it will pay long-term dividends by having better processes and integration between them.  To achieve this resolution you must analyze, prioritize, and fix your processes, then implement the changes and continuous performance improvement programs to ensure they are constantly optimized.

    Resolve to fix broken relationships. You have some hurt feelings among your customers.  Even if you don’t know it – some of them are not happy.  You have to find out about it, and fix their problems – or at the very least make the decision that there is nothing you can do.  Chances are your feedback program is not capturing the proper feedback from the right customers to make sure you know what is going on with them and what they feel – and want.  Just by the mere acting of knowing what is broken – not even fixing it – and letting your customers know you know you can move forward.  To achieve this resolution you must look into your existing feedback strategy, or create one if you don’t have one, and make sure it is capturing the critical feedback you need from the customers you want to measure.

    Resolve to try something new. How is your customer service doing with Tweeter department? Blogging? Communities? These new “things” (actually channels of mass communication and a pillar of the community service I described in a previous blog entry) are not going away.  They are growing.  Fast.  Remember when email first came into the customer service radar?  Well, that is where we are with the new social media channels.  This is one of my two predictions for 2009To achieve this resolution you must catalog and plan for all the new technologies, tools, and solutions that have come across your desk and you considered deploying for customer service.  Good news, most of them are still free to try.

    Resolve to listen better. Your customers are talking – are you listening? Really? This resolution is like an aggregation of the ones above, but nevertheless a valid one.  I have seen many predictions already calling 2009 the “year of feedback”.  I agree, without the marketing phraseology, that feedback is going to become a key component of corporate strategies as we move forward and that loyalty is closely tied to feedback (if you don’t believe me, just think of any relationship outside of a commercial one – and you’ll understand how listening and adopting the feedback from the conversation will make a difference).  To achieve this resolution you have to become customer-driven.  Check out my previous blog entry for that.

    So, have you made your resolutions for 2009? What are they?

  • 01:16:29 am on December 24, 2008 | 1 | # |
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    I Spy, I Spy with my Little Eye… a Very Interesting 2009

    I have been feeling odd, weird the last couple of months.  Was not sure why, until I finally realized – I had not written my predictions for 2009!  Seven years writing predictions, year after year, it becomes second nature.  You have to figure out what will happen next year, write it down, publish it, and then become thoroughly humiliated 12 months later when you review your predictions.  Or, in my case, become satisfied of the wonderful job you did predicting the year 12 months before (yeah, right).

    This is going to be a very interesting year.  There are three major forces converging:

    1. Despite what you think or believe, we are deep in the middle of a global recession and no one knows when we will come out of this one.  The effect that this recession will have on all our lives, and our jobs, is not quite clear.  One thing is for sure – there is a financial consideration that will rule most of the decisions you will make in 2009 – regardless of other considerations.
    2. The role of IT in the organization has changed dramatically in the last few years.  While ten and 15 years ago you would have been very hard pressed to find any organization willing to place their IT above any other necessary function – or even call it a necessary function – we are now facing a world run by geeks (pardon the expression, run by technologists).  In addition, the value of IT in the organization has been proven time and time again (even if you choose not to ignore those 5-year, 50-million dollar CRM implementations to nowhere) as critical for the better working of the organization.  Finally, as the amount of data that needs to be processed increased by leaps and bounds with the complexity of the operations of most organizations, IT is not the place where you are likely to see cuts.
    3. Customers are driving decisions. Yes, we have said this many times in the past, almost to make it meaningless… but the social revolution is changing things.  Customers are in control, and they are realizing that.  They know they can make changes happen by blogging, tweetering, and expressing their views.  And they are keen on taking that forward.

    So, where does a business turn in 2009 when it has to use less money, rely on IT, and bow to customers?  There are two things that will happen in my opinion, and both make for a great and interesting year.

    The Corralling of Social Media. Ah social media, the last frontier.  The place where new technologies, at least these days, seem to go.  This is a conglomerate of many things (blogs, tweeter, social networks) and most organizations have taken the blind approach to it.  Either they ignore it or they try something without a real strategy or purpose.  The idea is that it will somehow profile itself better as time goes by, and more organizations will be able to figure it out.  After all, that is the way it has happened so far – right?  Well, this time is different.  See, in all those previous technologies we saw time being an aid since the organization had to discover the technology, figure out how to use it, and then make decisions about implementation.  This time, it is the users who are driving the progress.  Your customers have already adopted blogs, and communities, and social networks, and tweeter and all those technologies – they are now waiting for you to join them.  See, this about truly working with your users – not just saying it.  You dive into the social ether and take charge – and there are rewards.  All you have to do is have a purpose and a strategy.  This is what is going to happen in 2009 – a very large majority of organizations will figure out their purpose and create a strategy for social media.

    The Real Improvement.Really, we are going to change for the better – and that is not just another promise!  I promise (no pun intended, but well achieved).  See, we are getting to the point where we are constantly telling clients how we will change for the better – yet, we never get around to it.  The focus on the organization above the customer (away from customer-centric and customer-driven) means that we will only push so far in improvements, but they tend not to cause a change in either the corporation’s behavior or the customer experience.  And that is not real change, it is lip service.  Smart organizations are beginning to see that delivering on promises to customers, monitoring their needs and providing for them truly pays off by making customers more loyal and resilient to competitors.  The return on not having to regain customers (read my previous blog series), or get new ones to replace exiting ones is invaluable.   Now, in 2009 we will see more and more organizations become smarter about their processes, about their customers’ needs, and about their execution — they will become smarter, flexible, and will truly improve their processes to match their customers’ needs.

    And one more thing.  I keep getting asked whether 2009 will bring drastic cuts across IT, how deep they will be, whether they will be equal to the ones following the Internet bubble explosion.  I truly, honestly don’t know.  However, I know what I learned in seven years at Gartner – two make a pattern, three make a trend.  That means that if any data item is repeated three times or more, then it is likely to be the answer.  Why am I bringing this up?  One of the most valuable services Gartner offers their clients is as a repository of information.  By talking to vendors, providers, consultants, and end-users we get the truth about the market.  Alas, if my conversations with customers, colleagues, and my research through the last few months proves true (and I am way past three similar data items by n0w), then projects with true return on investment (that means, impacting the bottom line directly) will continue to be funded for as long as possible – regardless of the department or process they support.

    What did we learn in the last downturn that is proving valuable this time? That life continues and you have to continue funding your mission-critical processes.  In other words, make sure the projects you undertake next year have an impact on the bottom line and document (through continuous improvement, measurement and metrics) before, during, and after.  I know that is sounds simple and basic – but are you doing it?

    What do you think?  Am I wrong?  Of course, I don’t think so… but would love to hear what you have to say… did I miss something?

  • 05:58:58 pm on December 16, 2008 | 5 | # |
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    Shifting Priorities, or How to Become a Customer-Driven Organization

    So, how tired are you of hearing me — what’s the right word here… oh yeah — “emphasize” the need for customer centricity?  I wrote about it before in this blog, and I wrote and preached about it for over seven years at Gartner.  It was almost like a battle-call, each time I talked to a customer we always started with a discussion on customer-centricity.  So, with that in mind — how sad would you be if I were to tell you that customer centricity is a thing of the past?  How about if I told you that customer-focused organizations are not likely to make it either?  Shocking, I know… but let me explain.

    We are entering a state of business that is way different that we have seen so far.  Until now, and for the most part still continuing for the vast majority of organizations, our approach to business has been us versus them.  Company versus customers.  Come on, be honest – even when you talked about customer-centricity you were still trying to figure out how to create the best possible solution for your organization – not your customers.  Still there are plenty of verticals where this is the norm rather than the exception.  We are, by nature, trained to seek our own benefit above others.  That was fine —  until now.

    See, among the changes brought by social media (you know, that whole feedback-driven, blog-centric, twitter-infused model of businesses) came the recognition that customers are strong. not one by one, but as a group.  There are plenty of examples of businesses that either took advantage (Comcast) and reaped the rewards, or failed to notice it (Motrin) and paid the price.  The social media “revolution” has actually managed to change the world of business for those astute companies that noticed it.  The new world is no longer customer-centric — it is now customer-driven.

    Converting your business to customer-driven means that what you do is what your customers want you to do, and tell you to do.  You make the decision, of course, to engage in that business model.  However, if you do – their feedback drives your organization.  There is no more ignoring what they tell you or what they need – instead those demands become your driving force.  The reward for that? Loyalty and repeat business.

    Are you still with me? Still interested?  Good, here is what you need to do.  You don’t have to change that much what you do, just how you react.  See, the core principle of customer-driven businesses is feedback.  No, you are not getting away from that so easy.  You have to create your feedback strategy (and I am not just talking about surveys here), deploy it, collect feedback and constantly analyze it and implement changes based on it.  If you cannot make your organization move dynamically, this is not for you.  If you cannot quickly react to changes in what your customers need and want, then don’t bother.  This is for dynamic organizations that want to hear what their customers have to say – and react to it.

    Here is an example of a customer-driven business model.  Egg Bank in the UK heard their customers’ complaints about the lack of a specific type of account.  They thought it would be a good idea to create it, but they also wanted to make sure they delivered it exactly the way their customers’ wanted.  They implemented a series of short surveys to collect input on how to deliver that service.  They put out the survey for just three days and collected all sorts of feedback.  They later analyzed the information collected and within a week they had created a new product, conforming to their customers needs and desires, and it was an instant success (guess where the initial marketing list came from… yep, the people who provided feedback).

    Are you ready to let your customers drive your organization?

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