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

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wanted: A New Means for Comparing Numbers

How is it that we get all excited when a market is expected to grow by 20% and not get excited when a market is expected to grow by 5%? Now that you have stopped laughing, you are saying to yourself, “Because 20 is bigger than 5. Duh!”

That’s exactly the point, is 20 actually bigger than 5? If the total revenue for a market is currently $50 million and is expected to grow 5% ($2.5M) , isn’t that much better than a $5M market growing 20%. ($1M).

In the customer service business, it’s always nice to hear about companies who have improved their “customer satisfaction” numbers. I like knowing there are businesses who are really making an effort to do better. But how much better are they really doing. If my company has a customer satisfaction rating of 40% and it improves to 50%, do I tout the 25% increase or say it went up 10%? What if my competitor started at 80% and went to 90%. What should they report? More importantly, how do I compare these 2 companies.

What is needed is a new way to reports growth rates. A new mathematical model that allows for a real apples to apples comparison. A model that takes into account the starting point and ending point and recognizes that it’s important to know how far the needle moved as well as where it started.

Does that mean we start using logarithmic values? Perhaps some new “growth factor” can be formulated to indicate the true distance covered when reporting sales growth and revenue growth numbers. Perhaps some PhD will use this idea for a thesis and solve the problem for all of us…..assuming the analysts pick up the idea and run with it.

The bottom line is this. Without a means of comparing apples to apples, it is almost impossible to evaluate the financial strength of one company over another or the size of one market over another. Multiple points of measure need to be computed and evaluated in order to grasp the significance of any one number.

Will it happen soon? I hope so though I recognize that numbers are wedded to obfuscation.

What do you think? Would a “growth factor” make your life easier?