Sunday, November 21, 2010

Multi-player board games via Smashtalk text messaging. Good or bad idea?

Imagine playing Monopoly or Bridge or Yahtzee via text messaging. Smashtalk is designed to support applications sending and receiving Smashtalk text messages. Player A starts the game on their smartphone and invited 3 friends to play. The invitations are sent from the board game. Players B, C & D receive the Smashtalk message and activate their copy of the game on their smartphones. Now the games communicate with each other using Smashtalk messages.

The "Reply All" feature allows for each player to communicate with the other players just by replying.

When Player A takes a turn, the update to the game board is sent to the other players' instance of the game via Smashtalk message. The result of Player B's turn is sent via a reply all text message to the other players.

OK. Obvious questions.

Why not real-time instead of text message? Connectivity requirement. Text messaging does not mandate continuous real-time connections. Commuters on trains or passing through tunnels are unaffected. Connection speed is not an issue either. There is also the issue of playing a game as time permits. Each player takes their turn when they get a free moment whether that be at work, school, traveling or at home. Near-real time has some distinct advantages.

Can't this be done with old-style SMS? Yes but with a lot more human intervention. Smashtalk uses the CC: list to know who the players are and who needs to receive the game's update messages. Old-style SMS would require the players to build the player list as a part of starting the game and then make sure the SMS interface in the game built each SMS with the text address of each player. Smashtalk automates this function. Starting the game is simply a matter of accepting the invitation.

Wouldn't the games eat up a lot of text messages? Games would likely need quite a few text messages but an unlimited plan makes the problem go away. As more carriers adopt data plans with limits, unlimited text becomes the most cost-effective model.

So what do you think? Would you be interested in playing popular board games with your friends via your smartphones? Would the use of text messaging as the update mechanism be an advantage or a nuisance?

I want to hear your thoughts.

Monday, September 13, 2010

History in Spirals

History is a wonderful subject of study if the study includes the “cause and effect” behind the events. Some would say that history repeats itself. I would suggest that history does not repeat but rather history occurs in a spiraling pattern. What seems like repeating events are actually events that are similar in many ways but significantly different in others. Some would equate this to pendular motion rather than a spiral motion. To my way of thinking, the spiral is more accurate as the pendulum returns to nearly the same spots on each swing. The spiral moves within the same relative range but continually changes altitude thus events in the past, when well understood, will share some common threads with the events of the present.

Thus the beauty of knowing history is the opportunity to recognize those common threads when they appear which leads to an understanding of what is likely to follow. The history of customer service technology is a clear example of this.

In the very early days, customer service was provided by the owner of the local store. The proprietor knew customers personally and willing to go the extra mile to keep customers happy. The successful merchants grew as did the cities in which they were located.

The introduction of the telephone dramatically changed the service delivery model. No longer was service a face-to-face experience. The telephone allowed customers and agents to be far from one another. In the same way that merchant size offered a potential pricing advantage, so too did the telephone allow the large merchants to reduce their cost of service by locating the service personnel in places with much lower operating costs. “Let your fingers do the walking” became more than a catchy jingle for the Yellow Pages. It became a wonderful description of how customer service was delivered. Efficiency was the order of the day. Consumers bought into the idea that 24 x 7 services via a toll-free call was as close to nirvana as anyone could imagine.

Like all innovative ideas, after a number of years, the innovation became commonplace. In the early 80’s, the idea of personalizing service delivered via the phone began to gain steam as customers starting growing tired of being “just another number” in the eyes of the merchants. It was time for technology to fix what had become a problem. The fix came in the form of specialized software.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software was and is intended to help the agent on the phone provide service that is as personalized as the clerk in the store. Years of transaction information and preferences were combined into a single system intended to allow the agent to appear to be someone who has a personal relationship with each customer. Lots of money was invested in training the agents in the use of the CRM software in order that the CRM software be as useful as possible.

This CRM model became the new innovation which every business looked to adopt. It was the customer service history spiral coming back around to its beginnings; personalized service but this time, without having to meet face-to-face.

The CRM excitement lasted throughout the ‘90s. Then came the Internet.

The Internet changed a lot of aspects of business as we know it. It certainly has had a big effect on the delivery of customer service. The Internet brought about a highly connected consumer population that took CRM for granted and placed a higher value on 24 x 7 self-service. Self-service came in the form of web sites and intelligent IVR systems; systems that allowed the customer to service themselves whenever and wherever they happened to be. In the same way that call centers and their toll-free numbers provided a way to greatly reduce the cost of service delivery, the Internet brought about a similar reduction in transaction costs through a pure technology play.

It should come as no surprise that the next turn of the spiral is coming into view. The very technology that has been deployed to help avoid the need for customers to speak with agents has left only the most difficult questions for the agents to tackle. Sadly, few companies have any idea what their customer service staff actually know. We are not talking the simple stuff like how to check an account balance or pay a bill. We are talking difficult technical questions and complex transactional problems that cannot be addressed by any self-service system.

The coming turn of the spiral will require an investment in the agents as well as their tools. The breadth of media forms currently offered to customers along with the increased complexity of the questions customers are raising means businesses need to be looking at investing in both people and technology in order to stay competitive. No agent can possibly know all the answers to all the questions that are starting to come at them. Specialization of agent resources will require targeted training efforts as well as new software tools not yet developed. The bottom line is that this round of the spiral, like the CRM period, will require investments in both people and technology.

The question is are you ready? Are you ready to identify agents by specialization? Are you prepared with programs that foster the growth of agents into specialized topics? Are you ready to properly deliver customers to the agents that can handle this new level of media and subject complexity? If not, it is time to start.

If you would like help preparing your company for the coming change in world of Customer Service Delivery Systems, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Customer Service Staff: The Last Investments

I listen to a lot of webinars focused on how to improve the delivery of customer service. I read lots of analyst reports about the state of customer service and where investments are being made and expected to be made in the future. As I am sure you can imagine, a lot of focus is on adding new and better technology to improve the service delivery model.

What I rarely hear is how investments in improving the level of knowledge within the service staff is a priority. I’ve given this question a bit of thought and have come up with a couple of answers.

First and foremost, vendors have a well-known agenda; sell more products. Vendors sponsor many of the webinars being conducted on a daily basis. Obviously, the purpose of these webinars is to highlight a customer service problem followed by solving that problem using the vendor’s products. Sadly, the vast majority of the technologies offered to solve the problems are based on the assumption that agents are most effective when they learn to use tools. “Buy more tools and have less problems” is a common theme but a misleading solution. New tools do little to address the customer service problem without appropriate training. Training. Rarely is this term heard amongst the discussion of customer service solutions. Perhaps that is why the conversation continues on without abating.

Training customer service staff is a necessary evil in too many companies. Why is this? Simple. Humans are messy! Humans bring problems with them when they come to work. Humans want fulfillment from work, want acknowledgement and want the opportunity to succeed. Humans are expensive.

The standard metric in North America and Europe is that personnel costs are 60-70% of the cost of running a contact center. Want that number to skyrocket? Chase off your best talent on a regular basis. When an agent leaves, all the investment in training goes right out the door. Ever see an IVR walk out the door? Web server?

The sad fact is that many companies seek to use technology as a way of shifting the knowledge burden away from the agent and put it on the back of technology; technology designed to allow the agent to move closer to an interchangeable part than ever before.

Self-service systems like the web and IVRs have, in fact, turned the equation back 180°. Agents are once again getting a continuous stream of challenging questions as the easy stuff is being captured in the self-service options. As you would expect, agent training is moving back up the priority list. Training for the sake of training is as wasteful as no training at all. So what’s the solution. Yes, it’s a bit of technology.

What every contact center needs today is technology to help identify what each customer service knows as compared to what they need to know. The technology needs to also help program a career path for each and every employee so that the training investment does not walk out the door. Most employees like staying with a company as long as they know they have a future, know what steps they need to take to better their future and can track how they are progressing towards that future. To do anything less is to invite your most expensive company assets to seek fulfillment elsewhere.

If you are unsure where to look to find technology that can address the problem of managing the training needs of your customer service staff, I invite you to take a look at Silver Lining Solutions. They have a complete set of tools designed to help every business address each agent’s unique training needs. If you are concerned with optimizing the value each customer service resource brings to your transactions, you need a complete skills management system

If you would like help designing a skills management system into your Customer Service Delivery System, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Next Big Thing in Mobile Technology

I was recently asked what I thought was going to be the next big thing to drive the mobile telephony industry. I imagine many of you chat amongst your colleagues about this same question. To really understand what is it that is coming, it is useful to realize from whence we have come…..and how few times the mobile telephony market has really changed.

One of the earliest market revolutions in the mobile space was the Motorola flip phone. Protected by patents, Motorola enjoyed a tremendous market advantage as consumers quickly adopted the fold-out design over the bricks and “candy bar” phone models offers by competitors. As the phones shrunk in size, so did the flip phone. It was amazing to watch how many companies released flip phone models immediately after the patents expired. Clearly, there was a large market that liked the clamshell design.

Palm/Handspring brought out the next milestone in the mobile world when the PDA and mobile phone were merged. Yes, Handspring was first but Palm eventually mimicked Handspring and then outright bought the company. The Smartphone became a genre of mobile device that has grown into a very large and competitive market.

Research in Motion (RIM) took the smartphone market to a new level when it introduced e-mail servers that could continually synchronize the e-mail on your corporate server with the e-mail application running on your RIM Blackberry smartphone. Suddenly, the business community had a reason to take a serious look at smartphones. RIM has enjoyed tremendous success by continuing to enhance this simple concept; staying connected with the office without being in the office.

The iPhone was the next major milestone. Apple’s first introduction to the mobile device world came as a natural extension of their highly successful iPod music players. In the same way the market-leading PDA, the Palm Pilot, morphed into a smartphone, Apple’s iPhone took the easy-to-use design concepts of the iPod and morphed then into a new style of smartphone. While the initial versions of the iPhone were 2-3 generations behind in functionality compared to competing smartphones, the usability and sleek design made it an instant hit with consumers.

It is time for the next milestone to appear. The question is what will it be and who will bring it to market?

Sadly, the mobile telephony market is maturing as the past leaders with pockets bulging are not interested in taking risks. Their revenue streams are to be nursed along with evolutionary enhancements rather than internally-created obsolescence.

In the mobile operating system market, there is Google’s Android and Apple’s IOS battling for market leadership. Android is available on a variety of devices while IOS is found only on Apple devices. RIM’s OS has a following of developers whose products are primarily geared to the Enterprise user while Microsoft has killed off their earlier mobile OS in favor of something completely new. If that were not enough, Intel and Nokia and looking to push Moblin as the mobile OS of choice for the new versions of the Atom processor while HP/Palm are looking to mimic Apple with their WebOS offering on proprietary hardware.

So out of this hodgepodge of operating systems and vendors, each having its own unique distribution model, where is the next “big thing” to originate? Will a carrier be involved in the design? OK…you can stop laughing now. Will the idea come from a small company without an installed base to worry about or will one of the established players merge more technologies together to create a new genre of devices?

I have an idea of what the next new genre is all about and would like to hear what you think the next “big thing” will be. Post a comment describing your idea and target market. Who knows what ideas may be sparked from an open dialogue about the future of mobile telephony.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why the outrage about AT&T and iPhone4?

AT&T is the displaying the financial calculations of a company that has a monopoly.  Why invest in systems capable of handling the known volumes when it is a temporary condition?  Why really work to build out the network when a VZ-version of the iPhone will drop AT&T's traffic numbers by 50%?  Why do anything but the minimum when the goal is profit?  Is it really that hard to come to terms with the fact that AT&T knows where it stands and has chosen to act the way it is based solely on profit?  Have you forgotten where AT&T came from?

Wake up people.  Until Apple signs a deal with VZ, the addiction to the iPhone means the local "drug dealer" can treat you like dog food because you can't go anywhere else to satisfy your addiction. 

AT&T is a bottom-line company.  Network expansion and large web server farms cost money.  Why spend it if there is no need?  Simple, short-sited business decision.  Until Apple sees an impact on sales, expect AT&T to do nothing that takes away from its bottom line.  Apple is the tail wagging all of AT&T.

If you don't like it, find a local 12-step iPhone program.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Why All the Fuss About Social Media?

Social Media is quite the rage these days. I must be seeing at least 2-3 webinars per week on the subject from various companies and vendors talking about how Social Media is impacting our lives, our customers’ lives and the world around us. In many cases, borderline panic is the underlying message.

What is Social Media really and is it deserving of this much attention? Is there really a need to panic? What is it about Social Media that really needs to be understood? All good questions and each deserving an answer.

Let’s start with the basics. Social Media refers to a large and growing number of web sites offering a means of electronically sharing ideas, photos, videos and just about anything else imaginable. Some sites allow users to control who can view posted content and others have unrestricted access to all content. Some sites are focused on specific purposes such as restaurant reviews or communicating with friends while other sites are simply a location to upload photos and videos to be shared with the world. Underlying all of these sites is the near-universal connectivity of the Internet.

So how do these sites have an impact on the world of business? Opinions. Millions of opinions. Opinions on just about every topic imaginable. Some opinions are sound and others are not. Some ideas are well researched and others are not. All the ideas constitute something that at one time was considered important enough for someone to take the time to post to a site. If that opinion involves your company, the potential for impact, negative and positive, is present. Therein lies the quandary surrounding Social Media; are the opinions worthy of concern or worthy of encouragement or maybe not worthy of anything?

In the distant past, customers had a limited reach for influencing the opinions of others. Friends, families and colleagues were possible audiences for the opinions but the impact of any 1 person was rarely a concern. The sharing of a single personal experience rarely made a significant impact on the overall business. After all, how many people could one person reach with their story?

Social Media has changed that equation. The pervasiveness of the Internet, upon which Social Media is built, allows customers to potentially reach million of “friends” in a matter of minutes. A single opinion posted on a Social Media site can have an immediate impact on a company and its existing and potential customers. Social Media has effectively put the world’s largest megaphone in the hands of virtually every customer. How this megaphone is used is what deserves the attention of every business.

The foremost concern of every business is the negative review. While the now-famous “United Breaks Guitars” video series is an extreme example of a customer-voiced opinion, the reason these videos came into existence is the same as the millions of negative reviews being posted on a regular basis; the customer sought service through normal channels and was left unsatisfied.

Yes, it is that simple. Reading a sampling of the negative posts, it is pretty clear that service was sought through normal channels and when not received, the customer vented their frustration on their favorite social media site.

Thus we arrive at a business decision involving 3 choices:

1. Invest in a social media tracking system in order to capture the negative postings and work to resolve the problems.

2. Invest more resources in the existing customer service systems so that no customer fails to receive service in a timely and effective way.

3. Balance the investment in both improving the existing customer service systems and initiating an effort to capture the relevant social media traffic.

The right choice has as much to do with the customer demographics as it does with budgets and personnel resources. The right choice also has to do with how the Marketing department is using Social Media as a tool for generating sales traffic.

Therein lies the 2-edged sword of Social Media. Social media sites can be a great way to help build a loyal following of customers and advocates. Creating a virtual community of customers provides a great opportunity to promote new products, solicit feedback on existing products and desired products as well as encourage customers to become advocates for the products. If the effort to promote also serves as a magnet to attract negative feedback, then this ought to be considered an opportunity.

In fact, I suggest that any company looking to embrace social media solely for the purpose of capturing negative feedback is wasting both time and money. Without the marketing effort working to build a loyal community of customers through various social media channels, the endeavor is certain to fail. Selective participation by vendors on social sites is generally rebuked by the regular participants.

The bottom line to any business regarding social media is to recognize the opportunity to use social media as a marketing channel first and foremost. If your existing customer service delivery channels are not doing the job, fix them. The social media channels may be used as a means for routing unhappy customers to a service resource that can help but should not be considered a primary pillar upon which a customer service delivery systems is built. Adding more moving parts to a broken system does not result in an improved system.

If you would like help developing and deploying an effective Social Media strategy, I am happy to help. Please call me and I will be happy to provide assistance: 602-492-1088.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

UC and the Contact Center: The Real Approach to Success

Unified Communication (UC), as both concept and product, has been around for over 10 years. In fact, I remember working on my first UC client 15 years ago. So why has it taken so long for the idea to really take hold, or has it? Better yet, what is the attraction that UC holds to the contact center that has folks looking to give every agent a UC client on their desktop? Well, that all depends upon who you consider an “agent”.

Fifteen years ago, back in the stone age, there were only a handful of ways communications happened in the business world: telephone, fax, brick-sized cell phone, pager and e-mail. Compared to today, a very simple list of methods to reach out and touch someone. A “Unified Communication” client needed only to provide a singular interface to the telephone system and e-mail system as the other communication forms were largely reachable through various e-mail gateways. The hard work was the connection to the PBX as every PBX had a unique interface.

Those that deployed these early UC clients were able to improve the speed with which users dialed the phone, created conference calls and accessed unique PBX features that were hard to use. Phone numbers on web pages were dialable through a “Swipe & Dial” capability. Caller ID became useful through the link to one’s address book. In short, the early focus of UC clients was on making it easier to utilize voice services.

Fast forward to today. Voice calls still represent a large percentage of communication activity in the business world. E-mail is now accessed through smartphones as much as it is through our desktop applications. Microsoft Office has sweetened the pot by bringing “Smart Tags” to the full suite of applications. Smart Tags allow names and phone numbers found within any Office application to be linked to one’s Outlook address book thus the name of a colleague appearing in a document will have a drop-down box available via right-click that then displays all the available means of contacting the highlighted person. Add to this convenience the “always on” nature of smartphones with Internet access, text messaging ubiquity and the rise in Social Networks and the landscape of communication choices is the broadest it has ever been. Today’s UC clients need to provide connectivity to all these forms of communication in a seamless fashion including recipient status and one’s own status. In short, the business user with a fully functional UC client has access to some very powerful technology to help them be connected and stay connected to those people who matter.

So how does this apply to the contact center? Here is where the current UC model breaks down.

Today’s Unified Communication client, while a powerful application to enhance the communication tools utilized in the business, lacks a few key features to make it suitable for the contact center.

Contact centers are all about delivering service to customers. The service delivery model commonly involves communicating with customers using a variety of media. This service delivery model, when well designed, also requires that there be continuity between prior interactions and the current interaction. Here is where the UC client falls down; continuity.

While the common UC client is very adept and consolidating the wide variety of communication forms into a single desktop application, the tools are not designed to capture the detailed account of what brought about the latest interaction, the outcome of prior interactions and the follow-up dates for future contact with the customer. In short, the UC client is not a replacement for a quality CRM application. The UC clients being sold today are ideal tools for consolidating but are lousy for tracking and sharing customer interactions. Thus we get to the core reason UC clients are not a good choice for customer service agents.

A quality CRM application provides the means for capturing all aspects of each interaction between a customer and a service delivery resource. That service delivery resource may be an agent in a contact center or may be a product specialist in the back office or perhaps someone in the warehouse. Any resource that can be involved in the service delivery process needs an access method for updating the CRM system.

Does that mean every employee needs an expensive desktop license and associated training for the CRM application? No. What it does mean is that while the UC client is a useful tool for each and every employee, those who also interact with customers need to have a means for connecting the UC tools and the CRM tools together. In other words, the UC client can serve as the software interface used by non-agents provided there is a means for capturing a summary of the interaction into the existing CRM system. Such a design delivers all the needed functionality with a minimum amount of user training.

Thus we have the designated lines of demarcation. The dedicated contact center staff need a quality CRM application with the UC connectivity embedded into the desktop application. The ROI of such an investment is easy to calculate and justify. The Unified Communication client, suitable for the balance of the employees within a business, certainly delivers benefit to the organization though the ROI is a bit softer. Where the 2 worlds overlap, the UC client needs to be connected to the CRM system resulting in the best of both worlds.

If you are in the market for a Unified Communication client and looking to deploy the client within the service delivery realm, ask the vendors how their client connects to your existing CRM system. You may be surprised at the answer and grateful that you asked.

If you would like help insuring that your Unified Communication client does what it should, I am happy to help. Please call me and I will be happy to provide assistance: 602-492-1088.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Science of Business – Made Easy! [Inertia]

The law of inertia is very simple.  It states that an object in motion will stay in motion until it is acted upon by something that changes it direction or speed of motion.  The law of inertia also states that an object at rest - motionless - will remain at rest until an external force causes motion of the object.
So how does the law of inertia apply to a business?

The laws of inertia apply to businesses in a wide variety of ways.  Let’s start with motion.  Within every company, the act of delivering a product or service to a customer involves motion.  More deliveries equals more motion.  Less deliveries equals less motion.   Sending out flyers to prospects equals more motion.  Asking for referrals equals more motion.  Behind each of these motions is someone putting forth effort.

Essentially, inertia is a product of effort; effort from employees and effort from customers.  Employees contribute to the inertia levels through their actions to help grow the company.  Whether it be selling, delivering, servicing or supporting those who do these things, each employee’s efforts towards making the company a success contributes to a higher level of inertia. 

Customers contribute to the inertia-building effort too.  Buying products or services are the obvious means of contribution.  Sharing their positive experience with others and making recommendations to friends and acquaintances contributes greatly to the inertia-building effort.  A new restaurant relies on customers telling their friends of “their great meal” if they hope to survive more than a month. 

As motion is equated to inertia, the more motion, the higher the level of inertia.   Inertia translates into customers buying more products without a direct selling effort.  Inertia is what keeps a company relevant in a marketplace though the newest product was announced long ago.  Inertia is the momentum that produces sales without constant promotion, incentives and discounts.  In short, inertia is what allows a company to get through the dips in the sales numbers and ride out the occasional rough spots that happen to every business.

So does every company have the same level of inertia?  No.  Inertia is not just a function of effort.  It is also a function of velocity and size.  Let’s start with velocity.

Velocity refers to the speed at which an object is moving.  The same object traveling at half the speed will have half the inertia.  The company whose “speed of business” is half that of its same-sized competitors will have half the inertia.  Its ability to weather the downtimes will be less than its competitors as it has less inertia.  Velocity is evidenced by the speed of order delivery, the number of sales calls made per day versus the nearest competitor and the speed of service delivered to customers.  Want more velocity?  Do these things faster and without errors and you will have more velocity.  Faster but with lots of mistakes will reduce velocity and inertia. 
Size or mass is the other factor influencing inertia.

If you roll a billiard ball and a bowling ball down a sidewalk at the same speed, which is harder to stop?  Exactly, the bowling ball.  Its mass is so much greater than that of the billiard ball, it has more inertia.  It is much the same situation in business.
The large, multi-national companies we read about every day have a tremendous amount of inertia.  Years in the making, these companies have many thousands of employees and customers helping to create more inertia every day.  For them, economic downturns are unpleasant but rarely fatal.  The inertia they have built up over many years of growing to become a large company gives them the inertia needed to get through the rough spots.
The small business does not enjoy the same inertia without having a much higher velocity level; higher velocity making up for the lack of mass.  The small business needs to be much more diligent about inertia-directed efforts every business day.  The small business needs to make sure every customer is an advocate and every employee determined to make the company a success.  There is no “down-time” for the small business as its inertia can quickly slip away.

Back to the rolling balls.  How much more effort does it take to keep the billiard ball rolling down the sidewalk as compared to the bowling ball?  A lot more!  The billiard ball has a lot less inertia to keep it rolling without a constant push.  That’s the same in business.  The benefit of the billiard ball is that it takes a lot less effort to impart a greater level of velocity than the bowling ball.  In a large business, it takes a lot more people exerting effort to enjoy the velocity that fewer people can produce within the small business.   

We’ve covered the differences between the small business and the large company from the standpoint of existing operations, but what about starting a new business?  How does a business get inertia when it is just starting?  Good question.

Our 2 balls are now sitting side by side.  Per the definition of inertia, both balls have inertia, the amount of which is tied to their respective masses.  Which is easier to start rolling?  That’s right.  The billiard ball is much easier to start rolling than the bowling ball.  Less mass means less effort to get started.  Again, the same rule applies to the world of business.

The small business, like the billiard ball, takes less “effort” to get rolling.  The financial resources required to start a small business are generally less than that of a large company, the number of employees needed is smaller and the timeframe to go from idea to door-opening is generally much shorter.  The large business is on the other end of the scale.  Starting a large company takes much more start-up capital, more employees and often much longer to organize.  As you might imagine, very few companies start out as large companies.

In fact, most large companies of today were small companies when they started.  Southwest Airlines started with 3 planes.  McDonald’s was a single restaurant.   General Electric started with a single light bulb.

Just in case you get the idea that the singular objective of every business ought to be maximum size, let’s put that notion to rest.  While it would be silly to suggest that keeping a company small by inhibiting its growth is a sound business strategy, I would suggest that growing the company at all costs may also not be the ideal objective.  As I have pointed out, there are certain advantages to large companies that small companies do not enjoy.  Inertia is one of those distinct advantages.  Inertia does come with a downside however.  Nimbleness.

Let’s go back one more time to the rolling balls.  Assuming they are both rolling at the same speed, which ball is easier to divert or change the direction of its motion?  That’s right.  The billiard ball.  Its smaller mass and smaller inertia make the billiard ball much easier to divert than the bowling ball.

Again, the same holds true in business.  A change of business direction is much easier to accomplish in a small company than a large company.  There are less employees to recruit to the new idea.  There are less customers to notify.  There are fewer barriers in the way.  In business, any major change of direction produces an upset of routine that needs to be addressed throughout the organization.  Everyone needs to understand what is happening, why it is happening and how they will be effected.  In a company of 100 employees, that is much easier to manage than a company with 10,000 employees.   Remember that every employee is contributing their part to the company’s inertia.  To get everyone to change the focus of their inertia-generating efforts is no small task.  It takes a lot more than a few memos and phone calls to get all the employees in a large company to be fully productive after a major operational change. 

Mergers of large companies are great examples of this.  When Nations Bank bought Bank of America – and kept the Bank of America name – it took over 4 years to bring the 2 organizations into a single entity.  Changing the names on the branches and buildings alone took over a year.   America West Airlines and US Air have taken over 2 years to merge and there is still no singular name in place.  We’ll see if United Airlines and Continental Airlines can merge any faster.

The fact is that really large companies find it very difficult to change directions because of the large amount of inertia they have developed.  It is much easier for a large company to acquire a small company who leads in a market where the large company wants to enter than it is to try to take existing resources and have them start a new company in the same market.  It is this nimbleness that makes small companies the pioneers behind so many new technologies and new markets.
The final item to point out in this discussion of inertia has to do with the inertia of a conglomerate.  Today, there are only a handful of conglomerate companies left in the world.  Conglomerates are companies that own businesses in a wide variety of unrelated markets.   Berkshire Hathaway is a well known conglomerate owning an insurance company, railroad, bakery and many other companies.  What makes a conglomerate different from a singular company of equivalent size has to do with how the individual businesses behind the conglomerate are operated.  The wise leader allows each individual business to operate independent of the other entities.  In this way, each operating business is able to build and manage its own inertia without the distractions of the other businesses.  The inertia of such a conglomerate is the sum total of the inertia of the individual companies.
The poorly run conglomerate attempts to create “efficiencies” by collapsing common business services into a single entity while the individual companies try to remain independent.  Sadly, the benefit brought about by the cost savings is far less than the loss of productivity as layers of bureaucracy within the common services effort slow down even the most simple of business tasks.  The net result is that the “efficient” conglomerate resembles a handful of billiard balls held together by duct tape trying to roll down the sidewalk.

The lesson here is to realize that inertia is a result of efforts acting on the mass of the business to produce velocity.  It is a result of efforts by employees and customers to create forward motion within the business.  The small business can enjoy great levels of inertia from a handful of focused and motivated employees because its mass is small.  The large company requires similar efforts from its employees but the impact of any one person’s efforts are much harder to measure due to the difference in the mass of the business.

Regardless of whether you business is small, large or something in between, inertia is something every business owner needs to understand.  It is a law of the physical universe and it is a law of the business world and it impacts your business every day.

If you would like help understanding what is creating and what is hindering inertia in your company, please call me regarding available consulting services:  602-492-1088

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Science of Business – Made Easy! [Friction]

Friction is one of the more useful terms in business for which the origins are clearly in the field of science. Friction, by definition, is the rubbing together of 2 or more surfaces. That rubbing produces heat, wear and eventual failure of components. Friction is why cars have radiators and door hinges need oil. Friction is present in almost all mechanical processes and something to be mitigated as it cannot be eliminated.

In business, friction is equally ever-present.

In business, there are common phrases heard around the office such as “rubbing someone the wrong way” or “I am getting heat because I disagree with the plan.” Each of these phrases draws on the science behind friction. In these cases however, the rubbing is not physical but emotional. When 2 people disagree, their personalities and viewpoints clash and “rub” against one another because they are not going in the same direction. That rubbing produces friction and just as in the science world, the result is “heat”. Just as in science, the harder the rubbing action, the more heat that is produced.

When a manager announces a change of direction or policy, those who find themselves at odds with the change can be expected to produce friction as the direction they desire to go is not the direction of the business. Until such time as their agreement on the change is secured, it would be expected to hear “squeaking”, “groaning” and other audible indications of friction. This is just a simple rule of science.

Friction occurs in a great many other parts of the business world. In fact, whenever 2 or more people come together, there is always a possibility of friction. Sometimes the friction happens quickly and then dissipates such as a small misunderstanding and sometimes the friction can last a very long time with its continuous production of heat. You’ve heard of employees needing to “vent” their frustrations. Yes, that’s heat coming from some source of friction in the business.

Just as in the mechanical world, friction is the enemy of the production system. When the factory machines start to squeak, maintenance personnel need to be quick to locate the source of the noise and get things back to operating quietly. Left unattended, every shop foreman knows that a squeak is a warning sign of something much worse to come if left unattended. In the business world, this same rule applies.

If an employee starts to “squeak”, immediate attention is needed to uncover the true source of the squeak and return the employee to being a productive contributor. Left unattended, the squeaking can get louder, can start “sympathetic squeaks” elsewhere in the company and even lead to a breakdown in the production in the business. As in many machines, the squeak may be a bit hard to detect at first but like a good shop foreman, a good manager who has been around his employees for years can detect a squeak long before it is detectable to the average employee. Sometimes the only manifestation of friction is heat. If you have worked in an office for any length of time, you can tell when a cloud of friction has settled in versus when the business is firing on all cylinders. The key is to be sufficiently alert and observant to recognize the signs of friction.

Friction exists in the world of science and the world of business. No way to escape the fact that every business will experience friction at one time or another just as every machine needs a bit of maintenance now and again.

In the world of machines, friction is often overcome with various forms of oil. It may be grease, liquid oil or water but unless the parts creating the friction were never designed to meet – in which case you fix the broken parts - the solution is to add a lubricant. In cars engines, motor oil provides a thin layer of lubricating material so that parts that appear to be rubbing are not actually touching one another. Door hinges get a bit of grease to stop hinges that are making noise. In many cases, the oil also helps to keep the rubbing parts cooler.

In the business world, the “oil” comes in the form of communication. In fact, communication is the only solvent that addresses business friction. Communication removes the friction that comes from misunderstandings and confusions. Communication, like oil, may be needed in varying quantities depending upon the circumstances.

A brand new car motor needs 4-5 quarts of new oil and the oil needs changing more frequently in the early life of the motor. In a new business or when a major restructuring occurs in an existing business, there is a similar need for large quantities of “business oil” until the new motor is running smoothly. Call it a “break-in period” if you like. The fact is that any sort of dramatic change or continuous series of frequent changes in business direction needs to be accompanied but large quantities of communication if there is a desire to hold down the level of squeaking. Failure to do this produces disastrous results.

So how do you “change the oil” in your business? Periodic meetings with the employees. Regular messages from all the levels of management in the company. In organizations that recognize the importance of constant communication with the employees, they are consistently the smoothest running companies you will find. Squeaking is a rare event and easily addressed as there are few other noises to drown out even the smallest of squeaks.

The fact of the matter is that today, a great many companies are running so lean that the time needed to communicate to the company’s “engines” is often pushed down the list of priorities. The oil is left in an extra 5000 miles and the filter is not changed. Little squeaks develop and are ignored as there are tasks considered more important. Suddenly a major breakdown occurs and management has a terrible look of surprise on their faces. Shame on them. They have no reason to be surprised. They failed to maintain the company in good working order and it broke down. The problem and its solution are now more costly and will waste more time and energy than if the simple maintenance process of communicating with the employees had been left atop the priority list.

Communication is truly the lubricant that solves the friction that happens between people. In life inside and outside of the office, this fact holds true. The next time you start feeling heat in the office or start to hear a “squeak”, find the source and talk with them. Listen to what they have to say. Understand their viewpoint. You may not agree with the viewpoint but you must understand it. Do this and watch the squeak go away. Watch the heat disappear. Watch the working harmony return to the business.

If you would like help implementing a communication system designed to keep the wheels of commerce lubricated, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Do You Have the Skills?

All of us have a unique blend of talents, abilities, experiences and interests. It is those things that make each one of us unique. It is those differences that ought to be the cornerstone of every contact center but sadly are not.

Historically, call centers have operated on a nearly-binary evaluation of the agent population. The call center manager had a list of basic “skills” and perhaps a low, medium and high ranking system associated with each skill. Each agent was given a ranking for every one of the basic skills and the process of “skill mapping” was considered complete. Thus we had the basis for queuing calls; there were “electronic” buckets of calls for each category of transaction and each corresponding skill level.

As you can imagine, the idea that something as simple as low, medium and high working as a way to segment agents and customers was deemed useless some time ago. In fact, virtually every vendor selling software into the business world today in which the software is designed to assist in the servicing of customers has some form of rule system for segmenting both agents and customers. How well they work and how useful the rule engine is as compared to the basic 3-bucket system is a matter of opinion but one thing is very certain; without a comprehensive assessment of attributes for every service person who comes in contact with customers, any rule engine is crippled.

This may come as a shock to you but very few companies make the effort to really understand the unique characteristics of every employee. Sure there are efforts within the call center to assess the skills of agents according to a short list of criteria, but what happens to that list when new forms of interaction media are introduced. The call-oriented lists quickly lose their usefulness when non-voice interactions arrive on the scene to say nothing of the massive number of back-office staff for whom even less is known.

Any business looking to truly optimize a customer service function needs to have a system in place that allows for the ongoing assessment of each customer service resource. A system that provides a means for organizing the needed training to enhance the existing skills of the staff. A system that allows for a “career path” to be set in motion whereby the appropriate training modules are delivered, knowledge verified and results recorded. A system in which all of this can be accomplished with a minimum of user intervention.

Do such tools exist today? Absolutely.

Today, it is possible to not only know about all the unique characteristics of each customer service employee, but it is possible to automatically update the employee information to reflect each completed proficiency exam or each completed training course. If the interaction routing system uses this type of information to determine where to deliver a given interaction, the automated updating of the employee’s attributes means the delivery system is also updated – no human intervention necessary.

Imagine being able to include a complete staff training program as a part of a new product rollout and have that staff training program designed so as to have no impact on the current service delivery model. Imagine being able to quickly recognize who among the staff meets specific criteria to undertake supporting a new interaction media type. Imagine each employee having a customized career path that includes training modules and proficiency exams that assure them of new responsibilities and promotions yet without impacting their current work schedule. This is just some of the value an intelligent resource management application will deliver. Some of you would call it “skills management” and you would be correct. Sadly the term “skill” has many different meanings in the call center world so I have chosen to avoid that term and its inherent confusions.

Companies such as Silver Lining have developed tools that address the business challenge brought about by efforts to optimize the service delivery model yet are hindered by a lack of sufficient knowledge about the talents and knowledge of each customer service resource.

As in most business problems, the biggest hurdles are often tied to people. Skills Management software like that from Silver Lining can bring down that barrier so that the business can move forward towards its optimization targets.

If you would like help designing a skills management system into your Customer Service Delivery System, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Science of Business – Made Easy! [Gravity]

Gravity is all around us. It is part of everything we do every day. So what exactly is this thing called Gravity.

Let’s start with the definition. Gravity, according to the Collins Junior Dictionary, is “the force that makes things fall when you drop them.” Now that’s pretty simple. It doesn’t take being Isaac Newton to realize that apples will always be falling from trees.

So what does falling apples have to do with business? Glad you asked.

Think of your business as a very large apple. That apple is resting in your hand. Lift up that apple until your arm cannot go any higher. OK. What are you now doing to that apple?

I imagine everyone is thinking “holding up the apple”. You are correct but what are you actually doing to keep that apple up in the air? Would you believe you are actively pushing the apple upwards?
Yes, that’s right. The effort you are expending to hold the apple in the air, assuming the apple is motionless, is just enough effort to counter the force gravity is applying to the apple to make it fall to the ground. You are literally pushing the apple up continuously in order to keep it from falling.

Your business operates according to the “Laws of Gravity”. Regardless of whether your business is large or small, it is subject to the same laws of gravity as the apple.

In business, there are only 2 directions allowed: up and down. The apple is either lifted in an upward direction or it falls to the ground. Your business is either being “lifted” up by the efforts of the employees or it is “falling” to the ground. Nature does not allow for a business to operate at an equilibrium state for any length of time. In other words, you cannot have sales or production at a flat level for any length of time. In business, there are no exceptions.

So what does it mean to “lift” your business? Active engagement in the growth of the business “lifts” the business up and keeps it growing. Look at your sales figures. Are they going up or going down? How about your revenue numbers? In fact, if you look at all the various statistics used to measure the success of your business, there are only 2 directions you will see in anything but a shuttered company: up and down.

The more active the employees are at “lifting” the company, the higher the sales figures and more likely the company becomes successful. The importance of contributions from every employee are not to be overlooked. All of us have probably known of employees who loafed about on the job and really did not put forth a great deal of effort in doing the best job they could. These types of employees effectively add to the overall weight that the balance of the employees must overcome in order to keep the company going up. Get too many employees riding on the shoulders of others and soon the “shouldered” employees start to get dropped; figuratively and literally. When a business suffers drops in its sales numbers over a sufficiently long period, staff reductions are inevitable. Thus, the dropping of employees comes to pass in the form of layoffs; there are not enough “lifters” to compensate for the loafers.

As a business owner, if you drop a lifter from the company, you have made the problem worse. It is vital that every business recognize who are the lifters and who are not. Who are the really heavy lifters and who are the lightweight lifters? Should it become necessary to reduce the number of employees, it is critical to the business to start with the loafers, then the lightweight lifters and then the heavy lifters. Look at the statistics for each employee to determine where each employee fits on the scale of “lifters”.

So what in the business world constitutes gravity? What is it that all the lifters are lifting against?

In simple terms, competition and noise.

Every business has competitors. These competitors are actively seeking customers just like your business. How much effort you must expend in order to counteract their sales efforts depends upon the overall market size and your company’s size relative to your competitors. The more competition you face, the more gravity is present working against your lifting efforts. If the overall market is large and you face a lot of similarly-sized competitors, your lifting efforts will not need to be as large as that of a small business competing against very large competitors. The key is to recognize what market you can successfully play in given your lifting power and the gravity imposed by your competition.

Look at what happens when a Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Barnes & Nobel moves into town? These behemoths can present formidable competition yet the nimble businesses in town - recognizing the “gravity” they present - looks for ways to shrink the target market to a size where their lifting capacity is greater than that of their competition. Specialty retailers are often unfazed by the introduction of a “big box” retailer. The really clever retailer takes advantage of the situation and promotes his unique products as “special” and “personalized”. In other words, the smart business reduces the size of the target market they are trying to “lift” to something of a size that allows their current lifters to continue to overcome competitive gravity.

Along with competition, the other component of gravity is noise.

Noise is the cumulative distractions that all of us encounter in our daily lives. The deluge of advertising, radios, televisions, ringing phones and the general status of the economy all contribute to the overall noise level through which a company’s messages must emerge. How does the right message get to the right person at the right time in order to bring about a realization that whatever you are selling is something needed? If your prospect is looking for a solution, the task is easier. If the problem you are trying to solve is not yet known, the task is much harder.

It used to be that what are considered noises today were once considered sources of valuable information. TV ads were informative. Now we TiVo our way through them. Radio shows were sponsored by a single vendor whom everyone knew. Now we have subscription radio so we can avoid the ads. Newspapers were the primary source of news about the world around us and now the Internet allows for easy access to more news than any of us are prepared to digest.

So how do you combat the noise factor. Networks. Social networks, referral networks and business networks. When ads are generally distrusted, consumers turn to friends and colleagues for insights. They look to someone they trust to give them guidance. The Internet provides instant access to thousands of viewpoints about almost everything that is for sale. Consumer Reports has been replaced by social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and YouTube. Clever usage of these tools can result in customers becoming advocates and helping in the lifting efforts. Does that mean traditional advertising does not work? No. It means that you need to be asking your customers how they found out about you (survey) and track any changes in behavior. You may be surprised to find out that a great many of your customers included on-line research in their buying decision process. If you are not building your “network”, you may be missing a lot of opportunities to secure customers.

Thus we have the 2 sides in the battle for business success; the lifters and gravity. The simple fact is that as long as the capacity of the lifters is greater than the forces combining to create gravity, the business will be successful. Allow gravity to get the better of your company and without immediate action, the business will fold under the weight.

Do you know who are the lifters in your company?

As always, if you would like help implementing these ideas in your business, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088

Monday, April 26, 2010

Capturing the Mobile Consumer One Phone at a Time

What if you could provide a simple way for customers who view a print ad to get connected to your web site for more information or to make a purchase? What if you could give someone your business card and they could add you to their address book without typing a single letter? What if you wanted to add your event to someone’s electronic calendar while they viewed your promotional poster? Today, all this is possible and so much more.

The technology to make all this happen is QR Codes; a 2-dimensional barcode standard that started in Jap
an and has now reached every corner of the world. QR Codes are an easy way to encode lots of information into a barcode that can be scanned by most of the today’s camera phones.

So what can the barcode contain? Let’s look at the standard content that can be encoded:

  • Contact information – All the basic contact info that one would enter into an Outlook or Google address book can be encoded. Scan the code with your smartphone and instantly the information is ready for saving into your mobile address book. Even the capability to include a short memo about the contact info can be encoded. Why isn’t this on the back of everyone’s business card?

  • Calendar event – Event title (include the venue), start date and time and end data and time can all be embedded. How many event posters line the construction barriers within our major cities. Unless stamped “Post No Bills”, the wooden barriers become billboards for all the local nightlife in a matter of 24 hours. Every event poster ought to have a QR Code printed on the poster. What better way to remind someone about the event than to have the event pop up in their personal calendar?

  • E-mail address – Yes, this one is as simple as it sounds. Encoding any e-mail address (think unique address for tracking purposes) produces a pre-addressed e-mail screen pop-up when the barcode is scanned. Want to hear from your customers, put the barcode in the owners’ manual and encourage your customers to contact you via e-mail. Put the barcode on promotional materials and capture the e-mail address of the sender – a prospect looking for more info about your product or service.

  • GEO location – Google is using this capability to help drive use of Google maps. Tagging vendor locations with a barcode window sticker allows customers to know where they are. Geocaching participants really appreciate this kind of marking when trying to find a hidden stash.

  • Phone number – Want an ad viewer to be able to easily call you if they want to purchase a product or have a question answered? A phone number QR Code will put the number in the phone’s dialer window once scanned. All the consumer needs to do is press “Send” and the call is initiated. Once again, if you want to make it easy for prospects and customers to reach you, why not help them dial the phone.

  • SMS – How about helping the ad viewer to send a text message that is a query for more info? Perhaps the text message is a contest entry based on the sender’s mobile phone number. Perhaps the contest is to scan all the ads posted throughout a city. Each ad would have a different scan code reflecting the location. Track the received text messages and award a prize to the lucky person who completed the task. Lots of possibilities here only limited by your imagination.

  • Text – Straight text. Pure and simple. Could be the ad copy in a different language. Could be the hours of operation. Any textual data you want to communicate could be encoded in a QR Code.

  • URL – Launch a browser and go to a specific URL. That’s what can be done with an encoded URL. No one really likes entering letters from a 10-digit keypad. Why not use a barcode to embed the mobile-browser version of a site so that the mobile phone user does not need to key in the address. Once visited, the URL can be saved to the phone so it’s forever easy to reach the site. Perhaps there are special landing pages for specific promotions. The possibilities are endless.

So how do you go about creating a QR Code? Easy. I have included 3 sites which have FREE QR Code generators. The resulting bar code can be saved to a variety of formats for inclusion in a various graphic and word processi
ng applications:

All of this wonderful barcode magic happens when consumers install a QR Code reader on their phone. The good news here is that the readers are FREE. Nokia has gone so far as to include QR Code readers on some of their phones as an include application. If you need a reader for your camera phone, here are a couple of sites which will direct you to FREE readers:

So how d
oes all this apply to the customer service world?

Easy. It’s all about capturing the consumer and making the process to gaining information as easy as possible. Whether you want them to call, text or visit a web site, there’s a barcode that can be built for that. Want to make it easy for your contact info to go into someone’s address book? There’s a barcode that can be built for that. Want to use intelligent contact routing systems to identify who has scanned a QR Code to send an SMS or make a call, there’s a barcode that can be built for that.

Maybe the ideal usage is to capture the interest in an item via SMS scan code which, upon receipt in the contact center, is analyzed to determine the identity of the sender. Knowing who scanned the code, bus
iness rules are applied and an appropriate URL is sent via SMS back to the customer directing them to a specific URL. High value customers go to a different page and view different content than low value customers. Leveraging the existing customer segmentation model that is in place is very easy with QR Codes.

The bottom line is that consumers are relying on their mobile phone more and more. Why not take advantage of that and help put the mobile phone to use to capture interested consumers.

Imagine the buzz you could create by creatively using QR Codes within a promotion campaign. Wouldn’t it be great to have a QR Code refrigerator magnet that when scanned, ordered my favorite pizza to be delivered. I know a barcode can be made for that. I just wonder who will be the first pizza shop to send me the magnet.

If you want
to send me an e-mail to chat about creative ideas you have for using QR Codes, here’s my e-mail address:

If you would like help designing QR Codes into your Customer Service Delivery System, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088

Monday, April 19, 2010

eServices: A New Version of Some Very Old Ideas

As an active participant in the high tech industry for many years, I have seen more than my share of innovation. I am certain that there is no end to the well from which creative ideas spring forth. I am also certain that a great many of the ideas many consider to be revolutionary are really old ideas adapted to embrace the innovation happening all around us today.

The whole market for products now marketed under the banner of “eServices” is the most recent example of what was old is now new again. Currently included under the eServices umbrella for most vendors are e-mail, chat, co-browse, SMS, Social Networking and Knowledge Management.

E-mail has been around a very long time. When first introduced, there was a flurry of activity to embrace e-mail as the next big thing that for the upcoming generation, would replace the phone as a preferred means of communication. Large e-mail work silos were erected to support the expected flood of traffic. The good news is that the flood did happen though a bit slower than forecasted. The bad news is that the e-mail silo rarely had any connection to the voice side of the customer service equation leaving voice agents unable to respond to questions originally posed in an e-mail. Storage of these messages within some type of “contact record” was also missing. In short, the media chosen by the customer had the effect of dictating future contact methods as continuity was broken as soon as the media channel changed.

Text chat had a similar introduction into the customer service arena. Big push, high expectations and silos built to support the coming flood. Unlike e-mail however, chat has only recently seen serious attention as the addition of “pop-up” offers based on web site activity have helped coax customers to accept the offer to connect to an agent via chat.

SMS is seemingly unique in the customer service arena. Clearly, the use of the actual SMS interface for the sending and receiving of information is indeed new, but for years, the idea of reaching a customer service resource via text pager was offered as a connection channel. Some of you may not remember text paging but it was the forerunner to today’s SMS. In fact, I helped design a working prototype e-mail server that sent e-mail via the paging network to paging cards installed in laptops. At that time, cell phones were bulky and mostly bolted down in the trunk of one’s car. 3G referred to a clothing size. Pagers were the electronic leash of the day. SMS moved the text paging to the cell phone and provided a reply function few pagers offered. As much as SMS is an improvement, message size limitations still exist within the world of SMS.

Knowledge management is also a new version of an old model. Compuserve forums were one of the more common methods for customers to seek answers from a vendor without direct contact. This was before the Web and high-speed access were available. Vendors would have staff monitoring and responding to questions on various forums and doing their best to answer customer questions. Customers were often encouraged to provide answers as well with various incentive programs rewarding those that really contributed to the effort. Today’s knowledge management is a vast improvement on the old tools. The web has provided graphics and hyperlinks. High-speed access means downloading files is easy. Sophisticated indexing routines means finding answers is easier than ever. In short, the knowledge management tools of today are not new but are certainly a vast improvement over the support forum model of years past. Oh, and lest I forget, the new generation of knowledge management systems is able to be integrated into the existing customer service delivery system unlike the earlier incarnations.

Knowing the history of these media forms is useful only if there are lessons to be learned. There are.

Integration is lesson 1. The initial forms of all things called eServices were originally deployed as stand-alone customer contact channels. This produced different desktop applications for each new media type, different service delivery models with prioritization and segmentation as unique as the media themselves and different infrastructure making shared resources an impossibility. Today’s eServices products are designed to be integrated into existing customer service delivery systems. Avoid the mistakes of the past and take the integration step. Contact media silos have no place in the modern world.

Survey your customers is lesson 2. What do they want to use? Do they seek answers on Facebook or would they prefer to reach an agent on the phone? Are they willing to share their experiences with others or do they just want answers? Is text messaging a way to initiate a phone call or is it really a desired form of having an extended conversation? Respond to your customers’ opinions and you may find they reward you with greater loyalty. Who knows but you may find that customer’s opinions may also save you some money that would have otherwise been wasted on unwanted technology.

Reporting, reporting, reporting is lesson number 3. Often the most overlooked part of any new media, reporting is essential for determining the return on the investment. Too often, reporting is limited to activity counts and stopwatch metrics which, while necessary, do little to determine the impact of the introduction of a new media. Are activity volumes elsewhere being affected by the new media? Are the customers who are using the new media changing their buying patterns in any way? Is there a growth in the overall number of customers that can be attributed to the introduction of the new media? Are the reports integrated to the existing reporting systems thus it is possible to track activity by customer as well as by media channel? These types of reporting metrics are vital for determining the actual impact being generated by the new media. Don’t let the sparkle of a new channel blind you to the need for comprehensive reporting.

The bottom line is that the new world of eServices is a wonderful opportunity to apply new technology to old service models and to do so in a way that avoid the mistakes made in years past. Those who learn from the past will be richly rewarded.

If you would like help designing eServices into your Customer Service Delivery System, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Market Reveals Itself

What is this market many of us today refer to as the “Contact Center” market?

If you are in the call center business, you have probably lived through the marketplace name change from “Call Center” to “Contact Center”. Seems a bit of new technology forced the name change as E-mail and Chat really were not “call” oriented though many a vendor fashioned ways for the voice infrastructure to be used to process this “new” form of interaction. Sadly, the call center vendor community did not have a well conceived response to these new media forms resulting in e-mail and chat interactions being serviced in silos away from the call center. Lots of money was spent and is still being spent in an effort to respond to these non-voice interactions initiated by the customer. Some vendors went so far as to incorporate these non-voice channels into their outbound contact efforts. Sadly, even these enlightened few did not grasp the larger picture. The market revealed a bit of what it really was and so few noticed.

The “Contact Center” became the standard name when referring to the place where interactions between consumers and vendors occur. Sadly, the majority of vendors still operate with E-Mail and Chat as silos with voice, both inbound and outbound varieties, still king. Recognition of the value of integrating all media into a single interaction model has largely escaped the contact center community. I suggest this was due to a lack of market leadership; no vendor, spokesperson or other visionary person having the vision and visibility to marshal the technology players and their customers in the direction the market was going.

Along comes the Internet startup world bringing to life services like Twitter and Facebook. What a revolution! Not! Twitter and Facebook are new generations of some very old models. Compuserve was probably the most commonly known “forum” model which allowed any customer to share their thoughts at any time as long as they had a modem connection. Today, the Web, internet-enabled phones and a desire to share everything about ourselves with anyone who is interested has created a new generation of “Compuserve”.

These new technologies have given consumers a big platform to voice their opinions on a global scale. This change has not gone unnoticed by the vendor community who are scrambling to capture the thoughts of their customers. Want to be famous overnight? Create a clever video highlighting your complaint, upload it to YouTube, e-mail all your friends to watch it and wait for world to catch on. (As a side note, I suggest that had the customer’s initial complaint been resolved when first voiced, the viral rant would never be created.) Vendors are acutely aware that a lot of “good will” can be lost very quickly when a customer’s complaint goes viral. Thus, from a vendor’s point of view, angry customers are to be soothed and happy customers are to be held up as examples. In simple terms, there is an advertising component and a service component to this new social media world.

Again, the market revealed a bit more of itself and still no one noticed. The lack of market leadership and vision grew more obvious yet the vacuum remained.

Now we hear of great strides being made in the “back office” arena in which many of the tools used to streamline the “front office” are being re-purposed to provide value to the work being done behind the scenes. Customer segmentation, prioritization and performance tracking are being introduced to the back office lexicon. In the same way that the first screen pop produced an amazing Eureka! moment for the front office, the application of intelligent automation to the back office is producing a similar result. Around the globe, companies are awakening to the realization that there are flexible tools that can increase efficiency and effectiveness throughout the organization.

Will this be another silo in the making or will the front office and back office realize they are both part of the same effort and find ways to join together? Again, where’s the leadership as the market yet again reveals a bit more of itself.

So what exactly is this market that I have been suggesting is slowly being revealed. I call it the Customer Service Delivery System market. This market recognizes that any activity within a vendor that involves a customer is part of the Customer Service Delivery System.

Front office, back office, side office or remote office. All are part of the Customer Service Delivery System if the work performed involves a customer. Every option given to a customer on a web site, a discussion forum, opt-in message stream or retail outlet is part of the System. In this System, customers are not just points of origination and receipt; they are integral to the process and need to be given every opportunity to participate in the design of the process. “Customer-crafted” experiences should be the goal of every vendor.

Today there is a great deal of lip service being paid to the idea that companies are putting the customer first. Bunk. As a consumer, when I am given the tools that give me the option to design what I hear when I call, when I am given the option to select who helps me if I need a resource, when I am given the option to decide what method is to be used to reach me for various types of information, when I can monitor the status to my requests without 3rd party assistance, then I will agree that the customer is front and center in the mind of the business.

The vision of Customer Service Delivery System recognized that the customer can be trusted to look in the windows of the business and watch the service process unfold. Many factories do this as a PR move. Why not do the same for the service delivery process. Electronically allow the customer to view the service delivery process, as it applies to them, at any time. A well constructed Customer Service Delivery System is something to show off rather than something to hide.

The Customer Service Delivery System knows about all past interactions and connects past interactions with current activity. A single process that crosses media boundaries is not an issue but an opportunity to highlight that focus remains on the customer. Connecting the multiple interaction events that comprise a single issue is an expected part of the service process. Intelligent systems use the interaction history to determine the best course of action or perhaps the various service options to be provided to the customer. It is also important to keep in mind that every interaction may have multiple branches thus it cannot be assumed that the current call is related only to the most recent web activity.

The Customer Service Delivery System is certainly not static relative to deployment or design. New media forms representing new ways to connect with customers will continue to be developed. A well designed system will embrace the new media with the best method for integration the new media as the real decision point. The overall goals and objectives of the system remain unchanged.

Today, the customer service is the market into which billions are being invested. Incremental steps involving large sums of money in order to accomplish what? Is there a plan in place? Is there a larger goal in mind? Do your own research. Look at the vendor’s messaging. Read the annual reports of the customers cited as examples of leading their markets.

Every company in the world is made up of one or more products, a Customer Service Delivery System and else.

It is time to recognize that the market has revealed itself and to embrace it. It is time to craft the plan to bring life to the Customer Service Delivery System and allow every customer to “craft” the system to suit their preferences. It is time to stop thinking in silos and reacting with surprise to each new interaction technology that arrives on the scene.

It is time for the market leaders to lead. It is time for the consumers to demand they be integral to the Service Delivery System.

It has always been time but now we all know the “for what”.

If you would like help designing an optimal Customer Service Delivery System, please call me regarding available consulting services: 602-492-1088