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


  1. Nice post. I especially liked your comment, "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 companies that can deliver on this promise will be successful through this downturn and thrive after the the recovery.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I am always amazed at how "secretive" companies are about service delivery. The ultimate, in my experience, was a Ferrari dealership in Tampa. Customers were encourage to watch their car being serviced in a comfortable lounge. Everything was also viewable via the web through web cams in the garage. The service area was spotless. Your Ferrari never needed to leave your sight. Too extreme? Not really. All it took was a realization that customers care about their cars. Ferrari owners may care more but that does not mean the MB, BMW or Lexus owner cares any less.

    Saturn was very innovative in its service delivery model until GM was forced to impose "old rules" on the new model. We've seen how that turned out.

    What unique customer service models have you seen?