Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Effectiveness of Self-service: Are you lovin' it?

Theme: Self-service has traditionally had a major impact on the business efficiency (by reducing costs). But now it is being widely adopted by businesses as a means to increase the effectiveness, by enhancing the user experience. Learn what has been happening and some useful information in the notes below.

When I first heard the term Self-service, the vision that popped-up in my mind was that of the Big M. Que-up, pay for the goodies, pick up the tray, lug it across to a table (if you can find one), and don't forget to dump the tray in the bin when done....

This vision sure has E F F I C I E N C Y ..written all across it. Efficiency for the Big M. Convenience? Sure, convenient for me to some extent. It's fast, isn't it? Else who would call it fast food? Gives me loads of pleasure going through the exercise? Umm... not really.
So the message is - if there is no other choice, if I want convenience right now, because [I'm in a hurry] [I'm not really hungry] [My wallet is screaming..time for refill] (pick your choice), then Big M is the choice.

Else what? What if I'm looking for effectiveness? Like impressing my girlfriend, taking a business contact out for lunch, trying to multi-task my lunch through that business report... then Big M will miss me.

In Customer Interactions, Self-service comes up either in Web transactions (Net banking, E-tickets, FAQs..); or Voice transactions - the classic DTMF IVR that everyone knows and has endured. Equate the Customer Interaction Center to the McCustomer IC; and all the corresponding scenarios will again have the same 10 alphabets written across them, in bold .. Please don't consume my Call Center Agents Mr. Customer, fumble your way through the Web and/or IVR Mr. Customer, and we will reward you with some extra [Frequent Flier miles] [Credit Card reward points] [A surprise gift?] [..], because you saved us some money.

What about effectiveness? What if businesses gave an overwhelming experience to their Customers ? That of doing transactions for which they earlier required live agents? But transactions they can now effect through Self-service, without waiting in a que listening to promotional messages, and getting irritated in the process? Processes that the Customers will cherish for their Effectiveness...

Think again. The E-ticket example I quoted under Efficiency was actually the wrong'un, and my compliments if you - the alert reader - spotted the Effectiveness part of it. E-ticketing is convenient AND effective for me. For one, in these days of 128 bit encryption security, I'm not allowing any human to read my Credit Card details, and I'm getting the E-ticket right here, ready to be printed. Makes me want to do it with loads of pleasure - my definition of effectiveness.

Sample the following similar processes you can create on the IVR to have "effective" voice Self-service:

  • Reset password
  • Lodge Insurance claims
  • Effect address change
  • Mobile phone activation (Remember the "Lara" persona of Vodafone in Customer Interaction Center: Business context)
  • Obtain stock quotes
  • Trade stocks
  • Pay bills
  • Fill up forms
  • Schedule appointments
  • ...... (Continue creating your own list)

Three to five years back, I would have been conferred the Man Booker Prize for creating the above fictional points. Today with the power of Speech Recognition, many more in addition to the above, have become solid reality.

The reality of creating a true Win-Win situation. The reality that affords the Businesses to create the Efficiency-Effectiveness balance. The reality to create The Effective Experience (TEE).

[Even managed to add effectiveness in my experience...(well, for my daughter really... so naturally even I'm lovin' it). The ambience / play-land / Ronald / McToys.... are all TEE for my daughter, and compels us to visit the Big M.] (Tip: Simply enabling old processes with Self-service is not TEE. TEE needs to be created afresh).

Which processes are you going to create afresh and put on your speech enabled Self-service? TEE off in the right direction... The course begins.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

The Predictive game: Reaching out to prospects

Theme: The 'Shotgun' approach - that of madly dialing out - needs curbing. WHY is it detrimental to the business and How to avoid common pitfalls

When the going gets tough, the tough get going! The markets just got tougher, and as a result, the tough Business Leaders have the crisis of increasing-sales-at-any-cost on their hands. That calls for rapidly building the sales funnel, and one quick-fix solution is to start firing calls at the masses. If that's all there's to it, with no prior thinking through, then this, I'm afraid, is the 'Shotgun' approach. Fire, miss, reload, fire, fire, fire, miss? no.. hit (good... get on with the game), fire..& keep firing away... Hit and trial.

The phenomenon of outbound contact itself is not new. Businesses have always been reaching out to the target population, but back then people dialed the numbers manually, on a relationship basis, connecting emotionally to us as human beings. But today, businesses increasingly deploy a technology known as Predictive Dialing. A technology that has reduced us - the unsuspecting 'Suspects' - to mere 'dialing lists'. The element of Relationship has approached near non-existent levels.

We have been harassed so much that the technology itself has come under the scanner of the regulators, resulting in the United States FTC regulations, Do Not Call lists and the likes.

WHY has this happened? What is the missing element? How can businesses preserve and enhance the Customer relationships while riding high on the benefits offered by Predictive Dialing technology? WHY is CRM missing in their Market share enhancing activities? How can business leaders initiate outbound contacts integrated with - or as a part of - true CRM?

Many years ago I attended a seminar addressed by Bill Pennabaker - the Global Director for Avaya's Predictive Dialing Applications business. Bill began his viewgraphs with the visual of a telephone (a Dialer), and followed it up with the picture of a fortune teller, complete with the Crystal Ball! A novel way to introduce the audience to the subject of 'Predictive Dialing'.. A telephone assisted by a fortune teller who 'predicts' the future.

While that was tongue-in-cheek humor; it is applicable to the overzealous businesses who are reaching nowhere with the so-called-sophisticated predictive dialing technology with their 'Shotgun' approach. They literally need a fortune teller to unravel their future - a future that seems increasingly murky otherwise.

The fortune teller - if they could lay their hands on one - would give them precisely the same reason for their consistent failure; namely, the lack of the relationship element.

Business leaders invest in a piece of technology once, and assume that that is a panacea for their reach-out problem. Whereas it is only the beginning. The beginning of the end, if nothing else is done about it. The Predictive Dialer is a mere tool, which requires thinking people, business sense and appropriate strategies; to achieve the maximum benefit.

Just because you can dial thousands of numbers in a day does not mean you should do that.
Just because you can program your dialer to retry a number 10 times in a day does not mean you should do that. Glance through the following indicative guidelines and check if you are committing some of the follies, or whether you are missing out on some possible initiatives:

Some DOs:
- Sort the list before you push it into the dialer e.g: in a collection campaign, call customers with higher outstanding amount first to maximize the revenue impact
- Gradually build a 'preferred calling time' table, as and when customers do indicate the same. Filter the list against this table before feeding in the dialer
- For above strategy to work, it is important that you chop the list into 'packets', and periodically feed these 'packets' in the dialer, as per the 'preferred calling time' table.
- Maintain a Do Not Call list of your own (apart from the federal/state DNC) and update it when people indicate they should not be called. Filter the list against this table as well.
- Invest in an Operational CRM (refer What exactly is CRM?) and deploy it commonly across inbound and outbound processes
- Consider deploying Predictive Analytics solutions that integrate with your Predictive Dialer. This will help to automate strategies like preferred time to call, maximizing the revenue impact, managing multiple dialers as one, etc.
- But it is critical that you first implement the strategies yourself, and then invest in Predictive Analytics, so that you are clear with what works for you. Else you might commit the same mistake, assuming that technology does everything, whereas it does not
- Some campaigns have either very short or very long handling time. e.g: a live connect might simply say 'not interested' and the call is hardly 30 seconds, but if interested the conversation might go on for tens of minutes. Consider splitting such campaigns across two teams. When the dialer reaches a live contact, the front end team takes the call, and if prospect is intersted, the call is immediately transferred (along with the CRM screen) to the second team. This way both teams' handle times are more consistent, and consequently, the Predictive algorithm of the dialer works more efficiently (Hint: Intuitive readers might have guessed it already, the team sizes will not be the same. The front-end team is much smaller)

Some DON'Ts:
- Don't dial a number if it has already been dialed by another department's campaign, have it marked as Do Not Call. (This calls for some back-end integration)
- Don't dial customers who have already called-in. Flag the number Do Not Call once the inbound agent updates the CRM
- Don't dial numbers if the reason(s) to call become invalid during the currrency of the campaign. For instance if a customer who is on your collection campaign, has paid up in the meantime, take him off the list as soon as you can get the information from the back-end system
- Don't retry a busy number for at least 30 minutes. Chances are that if the number is busy now, it will be busy after 5/10 minutes as well
- In some dialers, unless the preceding number is reached OR tried N times (say 5/10), the next number is not dialed. Don't allow such settings (refer above DON'T). Override these settings and go through the numbers cyclically. Else your Hit Rate will suffer badly, and Agent idle time will shoot up
- Don't attempt Predictive dialing for very sensitive campaigns containing customers in VIP/Platinum category. The very best technology will still produce nuisance calls, and you don't want very important and influential people hung up on, because no one is available to talk to them

Above is a very brief list of the more common indicators. There are many more that will apply as per specific business situations. So expand the list as you think fit, but please think through the business repercussions before putting that next campaign on your dialer. If you are already doing everything on the indicative list - Congratulations. You are in my club!!

Predictive dialers have had enough bad press themselves, and created enough damage to the brand image of some of their users. But you know it is because of the 'Shotgun' approach. Now it's time businesses should step in wearing their thinking hats, and begin the era of establishing "Relationship oriented Proactive contact" with the Customers.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Don't move your lips when you say Quality

I am yet to come across a business or meet a CEO that does not brag about "Quality"! "Sure, we produce / deliver / promote / utilize / create - Quality".... I see their lips move, doing a good service; and rarely more.

What about your experience? Did ever your experiences differ from the above, and you heard - "Well, I don't know whether I should admit this, but honestly we strive hard to produce sub-standard stuff... our creative folks are busy figuring out why and how are our customers still getting a high quality experience... and we will fix these anomalies soon..."

I bet your experiences in reference to Quality are exactly same as mine.

Having made the point, now let us delve deeper into the fabrics of these organizations, beyond the facade of the freespeak. We would be dismayed to find that an overwhelming majority of these "Quality promoters" do not have any structured Quality process when it comes to managing Customer Interactions.

People who follow "Exceed your expectations" or "Consulting for Success" closely, will intuitively know that this is the weak link. The business might have built the greatest product, and a robust supply chain, and may command an overwhelming shelf-presence. But the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and their Contact Center Quality Management department CREATES this weakness, by being absent in the corporate structure.

Then there are those who do have the said department, but merely monitoring Agents' Quality - to hire, train, promote, and improve their Agents through the stick-wielding approach (which most agents resent, by the way). These organizations may do well in the short term, but that's because there is a superficial correlation between agent quality and Customer Interaction quality. But these short term 'coincidences' will at best appear as good efforts so far as their customers are concerned. The customers will rarely rate these organizations as 'great'!

What most of the business leaders miss, is the phenomenally higher potential they can exploit with a Customer Interaction oriented Quality process. If only they could learn to glean Customer insights from these interactions, listen to what the customers are saying about them and their competition, get fantabulous product ideas, and also make agents more aligned (as opposed to merely improve them) to the customer expectations!!

Technology is rapidly making these erstwhile 'flights of fantasies' a solid reality. All it needs is the right attention from the CEO!!


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Methodical madness: Do what makes sense to you

You hear me (okay read my stuff...and I hope regularly at that) on the Business of running a successful business. I rant on and on:-

  • manage Customer Interactions well,
  • give Customers real choices (not in Henry Ford's Model T style),
  • and make Customers feel they are in control, to convert them into staunch advocates...
(You might want to jog your memory from the following: CRM (Re) Defined, Customers have choices, and my (hopefully by now) famous "..the thought - business of the customers, by the customers, for the customers - shall never perish from your mind" from Work Force Management: Business Impact)

Weird thoughts, you might say.

Then I hear Seth Godin on the subject of Weirdness (It's not weird when it's your weirdness). Seth says it all, when he mentions the keyword believe (and he does not play golf..).

I believe it's all about doing what makes sense to you - which in turn should be what makes sense to your customers. Then never mind whether it appears as madness to the non-believers.

And finally, I think most of the time this 'weirdness' stems from the overzealous 'increase the specialization at any cost' syndrome - you want to be one up, you want to differentiate, you want a punchline in your promo - never mind whether the customers want it or not. To that extent it is not a science! It is a mere reaction, a reaction to your competitor's offering.

But if you do what you do, because it makes sense to you, with a clear reasoning - then of course it is a science.... or maybe not! Maybe it's an art as well as a science. And what makes sense to your customers will only make sense to you if you believe in what I believe - else it's my 'weirdness'.

So my advice to you Business Leaders is - Go create a chaos, a systematic chaos- by doing the right things for your business!!


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Seth's Perspective: How poor processes create disillusioned Customers

On June 12th, I wrote the article Customer: A Victim of poor Business Processes.

And today I looked up Seth Godin's blog, and got a perfect illustration on a poorly executed business process - The thing about coupons.

Seth's personal example re-iterates my earlier point of how businesses (consciously or otherwise), alienate their customers instead of attempting to create staunch advocates!

Mr. / Ms. CEO, I hope you understand the critical brand impact of the customer experiences Seth and I refer to.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Customer Interaction Center: Business Context

In my earlier articles, I have attempted to establish the importance of Customers & Customer interactions - refer to CRM (Re) Defined, Customers have choices, & What exactly is CRM?.

The above articles examine the fundamental concept of WHY should Customer Interaction Center be an integral part of your business. To summarize the linkages between the earlier articles, (and to offer a starting point if you have missed those articles):-

  • No Business is an island
  • Customer is the core around which the business is built
  • Customer is the Key success factor & needs to be nurtured and converted into a staunch advocate
  • Business needs to build a meaningful relationship with customers- CRM is therefore a MUST - regardless of what is deployed and how
  • Customer Interaction is the cornerstone of Relationship building, hence Collaborative CRM is the foundation of any CRM strategy
  • If your business strategy flounders on any aspect of the "true" CRM, Customers have the choice of abandoning the business relationship

With these linkages clear, it is time I turned your attention to the basic inter-dependencies equation of the Business Enterprise <-> Customer Interactions.

Very few businesses really succeed in making Interactions as an integral part of their business, and most organizations keep Contact Centers as a dump for complaining customers, primarily because it is easy to fall in the "Cost Center" thought process. You can choose to take the easy way of keeping the Contact Center isolated; or build a perfect Customer Interaction Center that is kept fine-tuned on an ongoing basis. But the latter is possible only if you appreciate the Enterprise <-> Customer Interaction dependencies. And this appreciation can only begin with the true understanding of the overall constitution of the Customer Interaction as embedded in your entire Business Enterprise.

Visionary Business Leaders view their entire business as a smoothly functioning unit - like a well engineered Car. Their Customer Interaction Center (read Contact Center), is also an integral part of this integrated machine. The dependencies are therefore both inherent and inevitable. Hence you cannot just arbitrarily change strategy elements in either the business or the customer interaction dimension.

I chose the analogy of a Car because it self-explains many of the core principles you should appreciate. Can you simply decide to increase the width of the car by another 8 inches without changing anything else?

  • What happens to the dashboard design?
  • How would the seats be realigned?
  • Can the engine still carry the additional weight of the chassis?
  • How will you maintain other controls within same reach of the driver?
  • What happens to the engine block design under the hood?
  • Why do you want a wider car - does it increase passenger capacity?
  • What does it do to the aesthetics? Should you increase the length as well?
  • What is the cost impact? Impact on fuel efficiency?
  • Will you be able to sell more with this change?.....
    endless questions... And the same happens when Customer Interaction Center is an integral part of your business.

Notice also, that not all changes in the Car will create a major impact. How about changing the seat covers from fabric to leather? Maybe some cost impact, but I'm sure it does not lead to a engine block redesign...

Same goes with the Customer Interaction Center as well. The importance is in understanding what are the parameters that have a far-reaching impact on other strategic dimensions. So when I am asked for example, which technology do I recommend, my answer to my clients is:- "choose the experts who can make your Car run". It is not very important how the Car looks, with fabric seats or leather, whether it costs $500 lesser, whether the boot space is 500 Liters or 550.. But it is critical that your Customer Interaction Center vendor(s) should make the Car run,.. now.. as well as keep it running appropriately in future.. as per your business needs.

Hence it is critical that you have expert consultants examine the framework in light of your core business objectives and value proposition. For example, it should not be a simple - "deploy your Interactive Voice Response with some navigation and forget about it". The consultant will design an appropriate 'Persona' for your Speech recognition enabled IVR by identifying how do you want to sound to your customers? - youthful and energetic, or mature and business-like, or playful and informal, or exuding calm & measured in its response?

WHY would the consultant do so? Because IVR is your first touch point to your voice callers, and as such it must identify with the brand image you are trying to portray to your customers. Else you spend millions of dollars in advertising & promotions, and at the same time your IVR is busy distorting that brand image when each new customer calls in.

A positive persona example is that of "Lara", helping pre-paid customers to register with Vodafone Australia. This "28 year old brunette" having a penchant for pouplar music, appeals to the key demographic profile for Vodafone pre-paid - namely the 18 to 35 year olds. But just imagine Lara being erroneously plugged in your IVR if you were an old and the most prestigious bank catering to 40-something businessmen, who are seeking Power, Prestige, and aspirations of a CEO Lifestyle?

So Business Leaders, move over from the age-old tradition of towing your Contact Center behind your powerful Car. Integrate the Customer Interactions seamlessly within your business, and experience the power it will generate for you. If you need a hand in the re-design, we are there to help. Go realize your dream!!