Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Android Report

To all my friends and anyone else who happens upon this blog posting, I have decided to document what I believe is the solution to the ongoing struggles I have experienced in the last 18 months trying to get Android to function in a consistent and reliable manner alongside my Outlook-led life.  I believe I have tamed the beast.  To all my Apple buddies, I am not sure Apple has a better approach to my situation according to many to whom I have consulted so save your breath.  iPhone is not in my future.

Here’s the situation and the final answer.  

I run Outlook as a stand-alone e-mail application.  I connect to 5 different mail servers, one of which is an Exchange server.  I do not use the Exchange as a primary mail server but as just another POP3 account.

The challenge is calendar and contact list synchronization.  E-mail from all 5 systems works great….other than native Android does not have any method for bulk deleting messages from the phone.  Yes, it does seem odd but Google is relying on the handset vendors to provide a true message delete function.  At least this is true for Gingerbread.

Anyway, calendar and contact sync’ing are a problem. 

Google wants everyone to sync to a Gmail account.  2 things wrong with that:  I don’t trust Google with the info and there is no elegant way to keep my Outlook info in sync with Google.  Android to Google sync is fine if you are willing to accept the field layout that Google enforces.  These layouts do not map well to Outlook thus a choice is forced on the user; accept the Outlook layout for calendar and contact info or accept the Google layout.  Google used to have an Outlook client to Gmail sync app but has discontinued the support of that app unless you are a paying Google apps user.  I did try the tool prior to it being discontinued and there were lots of issues with both contacts and calendar items so no real loss IMHO.  As I am reliant on Outlook, making Gmail the primary system is not possible or viable.

I also discovered that every Outlook Sync app that I could grab from the Google Play site, paid and free, had issues with Outlook 2010.  I suspect there was something in the MS upgrade from O2007 to O2010 that wasn’t kosher but the result is that I am not able to find a single synchronization app that works with a standalone Outlook 2010 install.  I suspect had I the option to start over with a brand new .PST file, things would have been different.  Not that I mind too much but I find it interesting that MS has modified the storage format and/or APIs to the .PST file to such a degree that what works with O2007 does not stand a chance with O2010. 

So here’s where I have ended up.  My Nexus S Android phone on Gingerbread is sync’ing with Outlook 2007 via MyPhoneExplorer (MPE).  I did send off money to the developer as a token of my appreciation.  MPE is configured to only sync from Outlook to the phone.  No 2-way sync.  No worries about some app enabling a sync to GMail and messing up my phone which then messes up my Outlook.  Yes, this has happened more than once.

The nice part about MPE is that although the push is 1 direction, I still get a pop-up that displays any differences between the phone and Outlook so that I can allow individual phone updates to be pushed into Outlook.  Painful?  Sometimes, but always better than scrambling the calendar or address book in Outlook.  Trust a bi-directional sync?  No way.  I have wasted way too many hours rebuilding Outlook to risk an issue.  I gladly screen the individual changes.

The bottom line is that I do like to tinker with computer gear and my Android phone allows me to do a lot of that.  If my tinkering helps 1 other Android user avoid the late night rebuild efforts I have undertaken, then that’s a good thing. 

The next step is to get a Key Lime Pie-based phone when they ship and do it all over again.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Coming Full Circle: Computing Goes Back to the Enterprise

Clouds are all the rage in the computing world.  Clouds are being promoted as the ideal computing model for today and the future.  Beyond the obvious call center services, office productivity applications are now cloud-based as are all the social media sites in vogue today.  There are dozens of companies who will host entire computing infrastructures thus removing all the server farms from the control of the enterprise. 

Clearly, there are financial incentives that make cloud computing the preferred method of supporting computing needs of today rather than the traditional enterprise hosting model.  The question to be asking now is “How long with this model last before we switch back to enterprise hosting?”

For those too young to remember, cloud hosting is a “been there, done that” model.  Used to be that mainframes were the only computers and companies would open timeshare accounts if they needed large-scale computing resources they did not possess. 

Dumb-terminals gave way to PCs when the technology and associated knowledge of computing started to advance.  Throw in Local Area Networks (LANs) and suddenly it was possible to harness a lot of computing power with a relatively low price compared to “big iron.”  Distributed computing took root and looked to be the model for the long-term future. 

Along came DARPA and their need to connect a number of universities to its massive collection of computers.  The Internet was born with CMU creating the first browser to help bring images to the PC on your desktop.  Quickly the computing model swung back to large computing systems being accessed remotely albeit with a dramatic change to the underlying computers.  Throw in plentiful bandwidth, orders of magnitude faster than 1200 baud modems, and LANs gave way to a web of Internet-connected servers that hosted the content needing to be accessed. 

So if you believe that technology operates in cycles, what will be the catalyst that will move us away from cloud computing and what will the next model look like?

The catalyst is PRIVACY!

Today, web sites all over the world are buying and selling our private information.  Hackers are grabbing passwords as such an alarming rate it’s any wonder the credit card industry is still in business.  Governments are creating regulations and passing laws that make access to business and personal information stored by the service providers as easy to access as a phone call.  The tipping point is coming and when it hits, there will be a swift migration back to the secure world of the internal data center.  No one will trust that their sensitive information is safe.

The good news is that all the knowledge about building apps that run on mobile devices will continue to be useful.  Bandwidth will continue to be plentiful.  Knowledge of hosting infrastructure will still be valuable as individual companies will host all their own services.

Social media and free e-mail services will provide transitory storage services as local storage will take a quantum leap forward allowing all personal data to be kept local.  The web will continue to be an information resource but not a storage location. 

How soon will this transition happen?  I believe this transition will start in less than 18 months.  When you look at what is happening within the hacker community, web site privacy and laws being passes around the world, privacy is already under attack.  BofA has had to issue me new credit cards 3 times in the last year due to “unexplained charges.”  No admission of security failure; just “fraud prevention.” 

While I may be off on the timing, I am certain I have nailed the catalyst.  Opportunities will abound for those who understand history.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Signs that Customer Service Matters

I recently found myself trying to reach Customer Service executives in a large number of US companies.  After a full day of research, I came to a very sobering conclusion:  Most large companies in America have no interest in hearing from their customers.

Today, the most common way to electronically reach individuals in a company is e-mail.  US Mail still works but I cannot tell you how many people have told me that the letter I sent was probably “still sitting in their mailbox at work” as they never check their mailbox anymore.  So, e-mail it is.

So here’s your challenge of the day:  Pick 5 big companies with whom you do business on a regular basis.  Identify the senior customer service executive from the information on the company’s web site and send them a nice e-mail telling them how much you like their products.

You can’t find their e-mail address?  Not surprising.  Putting an e-mail address on a web site is a spammer’s dream.  So that leaves you with guessing the e-mail address.  “firstname.lastname” is pretty common these days.  Surprisingly, this logical form of e-mail naming is not very common for senior execs which takes me back to my original point; if you want people to be able to reach you, have an e-mail name or alias that follows a logical model.  Anything less is purposeful obfuscation. 

“I don’t want all the SPAM that would arrive if I was reachable using a common name” is the excuse I commonly hear.  In a large company, it would seem to me that an admin could be assigned to screen out the flotsam messages and forward the valuable messages to the senior exec.  Some may claim the work to be tedious but so is throwing out junk mail that arrives in our USPS mailbox each day.  It’s just part of what you do if you have a mailbox.

My experience has shown me that it is a rare occasion that a senior executive can be directly addressed by e-mail.  Try all the various naming conventions you want.  Very few will be found to be workable.  Notable exceptions include Steve Ballmer, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Karen Puckett and Hubert Joly. 

The sad reality is that too many companies want the public to think they are customer-focused when the reality is quite the opposite. 

The next time you see a company promoting their exceptional service, see if you can electronically reach their senior executives.  The companies that are serious about service will have the e-mail option available for you.  The posers will have their executives sequestered where no one can reach them because they are “too busy” to have someone screen their messages.

I’d like to know the names of companies where you have been able to reach senior management.  There ought to be an Honor Roll for these folks.  They are the real Customer Service executives.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Next Quantum Leap in Device Convenience

I was asked the other day to describe the next generation of technology and how it would change our daily routines.  I suspect the question came up after having viewed an interview with Intel’s “futurist” and their thoughts about technology.  

When I look at my daily routine, I start with the common thread.  “What do all my activities have in common and what makes each unique?”  

From what I can tell, the only things that are common among all my activities are my physical body and my communication skills.  Thus, a device or service needs to always be available to enhance both of these regardless of what I am doing.  

So let’s take a look at the other things that this new generation of technology needs to do to meet my ever-changing activity list.

I wake up in the morning.  My device knows my preference for my desired wake-up time and then adjusts for early appointments or flights.  Rules I set handle the 80% and I manually adjust the settings for the other 20%.  As soon as I turn off the alarm, my device notifies me if I have any e-mails that have arrived overnight from designated senders I consider important.  When my device knows I am sleeping, it mutes the ringer except for calls or messages from people I have tagged as vital.  

I am always asked if I want to hear the messages and I can “snooze” the offer until a later time, cancel the offer or accept the offer.  

I tell my device to create my morning setup:  The setup consists of which lights I want on, what TV or radio channel I want to hear, the HVAC temp I want and if I want the blinds opened.  Everything is WiFi enabled so this is not a challenge.  I get ready to head out the door and I tell my device to switch to “work” mode and things shut off and the thermostat changes.

NFC in my device followed by a voice recognition match unlock my car.  I place my device in the dashboard cradle and immediately my seating preferences, mirror settings, radio settings and temp controls are all set to my preferences as stored on my device.  Both telephony and data services while driving are based on extending the functions of my device once connected.  Antenna boosters help avoid dropped calls and lost data.  GPS is device based with the in-dash head unit providing the viewing screen.  In fact, I can access and control all the functions of my device from the head unit.  AM/FM will be car radio supplied but downloaded music is played from my device through the amplifiers in my car’s audio system.  

Voice recognition is used to allow me to be notified of important incoming communications as well as the ability to engage in outgoing communication activities.  

As I arrive at work, NFC allows me clear all building security systems and reach my office.  Once at my desk, I “dock” my device and it quickly synchronizes designated data files with the company storage systems.  Phone preferences and all messaging preferences are in place on my device and imposed on my desktop equipment via the “dock”.  

Attending a meeting, I “undock” my device from my desk and dock it with my tablet.  Once again, the device becomes an extension if not the “CPU” of the device to which it is docked.  

If I go out for a lunch meeting or to visit a client, my device will offer me GPS maps if it knows I am going to a location I have not been to before.  As it has my detailed calendar, I can call the party I am meeting or confirm the reservation through a voice request.

During any appointment, the device changes notification modes reflecting my knowledge of manners and etiquette.  If I travel near a location associated with an item on my ToDo list, I am asked if I want to stop to handle the task.  GPS instructions are offered if I decide to tackle the task list item.  

At the end of the day, I return home and reverse many of the steps.  As my home is filled with “docks” in a variety of types and locations, I can move my device as I move about the house.  Voice commands are always available to adjust the entertainment system and environmental systems.

All of what I have described can be done today but it isn’t being done for a variety of reasons.  Cost is probably the largest obstacle.  There is such a wide variety of devices in one’s home that can be automated but the cost of the automation is extreme.  WiFi thermostats are readily available.  WiFi to IRD controls are available for almost every entertainment device so that part is covered.  Blinds are easy.  Even the “docks” are available today.  It’s the manufacturing scale that will not allow the prices to come down to a highly consumable level.

Automotive connectivity is a bit of a tough nut.  Detroit likes the revenue it generates from selling added electronics.  I am not sure what it will take to establish a standard for “automotive personalization” that would allow me to personalize a rental car as easily as my personal car but that is what needs to happen.  I can easily see that each car manufacturer would design their own software apps thus a traveler would need to carry around the application for each car manufacturer and possible model in order to have a clean experience.

The rest of the model comes down having enough horsepower in the device that it can perform the speech and logic functions I have described.  The device also needs to fit in the palm of my hand.  

If this sounds like today’s smartphone extended in all sorts of useful ways, you are on the right track.  It may well be that the “brain” is something that is placed into the smartphone just as it is connected to the desktop, car or tablet computer.  If the devices into which the “brain” is connected provides all the input and output services, the smartphone becomes just another type of dock for the “removable brain.”  It may also be that the “brain” docks in a devices that docks in yet another device thus my smartphone docks in my car with the “brain” docked in the Smartphone.  That removable brain fits in my pocket, is fully encrypted and has plenty of storage for all my important data beyond just my preferences.  Upgrading the “brain” becomes rather easy so long as the form factor remains stable.  

The balance of the requirements come down to intelligence to know how to connect to all the communication and data services of the “dock” to which it is connected.  

That’s my idea of what the next generation of technology will bring to us.  The technology is already lining up behind a few key barriers.  When those barriers come down, our daily habit patterns will undergo a dramatic shift.  I am looking forward to that shift.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Missing Element in Performance Measurement

Can you imagine having your work performance measured and analyzed every minute of every day?  Today, most call center agents know exactly how that feels.  Today’s modern call center is designed to capture performance measures about every aspect of every interaction an agent has with a customer.  In fact, outside of the computer chip plants, I suggest that customer service interactions are the most instrumented parts of most companies.

All this measuring and all this evaluating in order to deliver the highest level of service possible and yet there is a big hole in the entire process.  While there are daily measures of agent performance, when was the last time you heard of an agent’s current knowledge levels being measured?  In fact, in a great many companies, once an agent has attended training and passed the exams accompanying the training, the assumption is that “knowledge gained is knowledge retained.”  I beg to differ.

Studies have shown that information learned but not utilized is quickly forgotten.  A recent study of physicians attending an eLearning course found that the doctors had forgotten 50% of the material in 8 days and 90% of the material in just 8 weeks.  I cannot imagine that the retention rate of the contact center agent is any better.

It is time for companies to regularly measure knowledge just as they regularly measure performance.  Agent knowledge levels have a direct effect on agent performance.  Where knowledge gaps are identified, gap-filling training courses needs to be delivered. 

Agent performance measurement is an ongoing and continuous process in all contact centers.  It is time to incorporate knowledge measurement into the equation and fill a vital yet mostly ignored characteristic of all high performers; they know the material they need to know. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Next Productivity Boost

Throughout history, great advances in productivity have come about when business systems thought to be discreet by design were brought together.  Henry Ford’s assembly lines brought together various discreet steps in the manufacturing process to produce large gains in factory productivity.  Today’s multi-modal shipping systems put containers on ships and transfer them directly to trucks without having to unload the contents of a single container.  The productivity gains have been tremendous.

Today’s business world is filled with software systems that are discreet knowledge-based tools designed to produce productivity gains in every part of the enterprise.  Computers have provided a means for connecting discreet systems into a more powerful unitary model that has driven these gains. 

The challenge facing every business today is how to continue to produce performance improvements.  What will bring about the next performance boost?

Taking a look at what brought about the prior increases, it is pretty clear that the bringing together of discreet systems is common to almost every productivity boost.  In the case of the call center, there is a large opportunity that has gone largely ignored; connecting learning systems with performance measurement systems.

Today’s call centers are heavily wired to track and report on just about every action an agent takes in support of a customer.  Stopwatches measure virtually every duration possible.  Outcomes of each and every call are recorded and tracked.  Even words spoken and voice tone are tracked and analyzed in today’s call centers.  All this is being done in the name of performance management.  Sadly, little attention is paid to the knowledge level of the agent as an instrumented system.

Therein lies the next wave of performance improvement.  Through instrumenting the agent education process, call centers will be able to identify the impact knowledge is having on the overall performance goals.  In today’s model, agents are continually receiving coaching as the “go to solution” for so many performance problems when, in fact, the problem may well be a gap in knowledge.

Connecting an instrumented education system to an existing performance management system will produce insights into performance outcomes that will open the door to entirely new levels of understanding.  A fully connected performance system will allow for correlations to be identified between training and performance.  Knowledge erosion, a naturally occurring process, can be identified alongside other performance inhibitors.  Resolving the real underlying performance problem rather than the symptom will bring about lasting performance gains.

Imagine being able to have a system that prescriptively identified the various options for correcting performance drops that have statistically proven themselves to be effective.  Imagine being able to boost the performance of the agents in the second quartile to a 3rd of 4th quartile level through systematic efforts that have been proven effective statistically.  No more guesswork.  No more hoping that coaching will solve everything.  Combining an instrumented education system with the existing performance analytic systems will produce exactly that.

History has shown time and time again that big gains come from connecting together disconnected systems that share common resources.  In the call center, that resource is the agent; the most expensive resource in the call center. 

Instrumenting the agent education process and connecting it to the existing performance measurement systems is the next productivity booster.  It is time for the innovators to step up and deliver this boost.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Customer Crafted Service – A Deeper Dive

The Customer Crafted Service Model, as described in my previous posting, “The Next Frontier”, highlights the concepts for building a customer service system that reflects the demands of today’s customers; customers who have more choices in all areas of products and services than ever before.

At the center of that model is the customer – the decision maker regarding all facets of the interaction.  Surrounding the customer are the various communication tools that are available today.  All forms of mobile devices along with traditional devices are supported.  Customers are free to choose the form of communication that meets their current situation and preferences. 

Wrapped around the communication “ring” is the “data” ring.  Within this ring are the various data repositories which contain all interaction, transaction and tracking history.  This data is the same data that the agent views when called upon by the customer to help resolve a problem. 

Essentially, the Customer Crafted Service model has as its foundation the concept that the customer has the power to choose which communication method to choose at any given moment and through that method, has the ability to access all of the information that is available regardless of the communication method selected.  Within this model, there are no silos of data permitted.  There are no “advantages” for a customer to select 1 communication method over another. 

Of course, many will say that this idea is not viable or not possible given the multitude of vendors needing to be connected together in order to have the necessary level of seamless integration.  Hogwash!  Be patient and demanding and watch the web community create the conduits.  In fact, the integration will be the easy part.

The real challenge is the “customer crafted” part of the model.  This is the part of the model that takes differentiation to an entirely new level.  Personalization like you have never imagined is a vital part of this model.  In fact, the Customer Crafted Service model is the only design that communicates who is the focal point as a part of every interaction.

How you achieve the level of personalization that translates, in the mind of the customer, into a competitive advantage is something I have thought about for a number of years.  I am willing to share this information and all the concepts behind the Customer Crafted Service model to those who are truly interested in leading their market.  Here’s my offer.

I will host a 1 hour webinar briefing on the Customer Crafted Service model to any organization that wants to look at an entirely new way to view their customer service strategy.  In the briefing, I will present the reason it is time to drop the status quo and re-think how service is delivered.  I will present the architecture of the Customer Crafted Service model and how it differs from today’s service models.  I will wrap up the session by describing how this system becomes so highly personalized that customers will wonder why everyone doesn’t offer the same service.  The Customer Crafted Service model is the next generation of service that is available starting today. 

The cost of this 1 hour briefing is $200.00.  I can be reached through my web page @ 

The economy is getting ready for a big turnaround.  If you would like to put your company in the best possible position to take advantage of the coming boom, you need to have deployed your service model based on the Customer Crafted Service concepts.  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Customer Crafted Service – The Next Frontier

The customer service model has undergone a great deal of change in the past few years.  Social media and the explosion of mobile computers, i.e. smartphones, have created a new series of challenges for companies looking to service customers in a way that builds the relationship.  What place should mobile have in the overall customer service plan?  Is voice self-service supposed to be a service platform or just another way to diverting calls away from expensive agents?  Are web sites contributing to the service delivery model or are they their own island where customers come and go without leaving a trace?

It is time to develop a new approach to delivering customer service.  It is time for the vendor community and their customers to take a step back and really look at what they need to be doing rather than reacting to each and every new media type that hits the market.  It is time for the Customer Crafted Service (CCS) model.

Today’s customer service model typically depicts the customer coming at a company through a myriad of channels, each channel having unique properties.  The view is of the customer “storming the castle” looking for solutions to their problems.  The job of the company is to react properly to each “invasion” in hopes of avoiding future invasions.  This model, in existence for dozens of years, does little to embrace the new technologies that are available.  Time for a new model.

The Customer Crafted Service model starts with the customer in the center.  That’s the control point in the process.  Around this center are wrapped the various communication systems which the customer can use to contact the company.  Among these systems are the usual suspects like voice, web, e-mail, SMS, chat and various social media forms.  Because these forms touch the customer, they must be designed to be configured by the customer.  In other words, each of these media forms must be able to be tailored by the customer to suit their preferences – NOT the preferences of the company. 

These communication systems are the layer between the customer and the data systems which collect customer interaction history.  In this many-to-many model, all communication systems are able to access and edit all the information in the data systems.  These data systems are the same data system to which the agents connect when helping a customer. 

The details on how each of the communication systems and data systems are customized will be covered in the next posting. 
The Customer Crafted Service model is not a radical change from many of the service models which exist today.  What is very different is the point of emphasis – the customer.  It is long past time that the customer be front and center in the customer service world. 

Take a look at your own customer service model.  If you would like help changing your service model to embrace the Customer Crafted Service model, I am available to help you on a consulting basis.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stop Instrumenting and Start Solving Problems

Taking your car to the mechanic.  Most of us have engaged in this ritual.  Some of us recall the process from many years ago when the local garage sold you gas and fixed your car.  Now, it’s all science and technology.

I bring up the modern car as it is analogous to the modern contact center in many ways.  Look at a car made in the 60’s.  They operated with a handful of simple principles.  Engines all operated by the same rules.  The gauges on the dash told you the basic info you needed to know when driving the car.  When something broke, most mechanics could quickly diagnose the problem from a simple description of what happened when you heard the “clunk”.

Call centers used to be operated in a similar manner.  There was a basic ACD that held the calls in various queues and agents took calls on a FIFO basis.  When a queue backed up, agents were shuffled about until a more optimal distribution of manpower was achieved.  Reporting was also pretty simple as the ACD could provide AHT, AWT and other volume and time-related metrics. 

Today’s contact center is like today’s automobile; everything is monitored and computer controlled.  Nothing goes unmeasured or untracked.  The “dashboard” in today’s contact center looks more complex than Mission Control in the early NASA years.  Everything has “sensors” that continually monitor the operation in order to maintain peak performance.

Sadly, all of this instrumentation has one big flaw.  Today’s automobiles are no different.  When something goes wrong in the contact center, the bells go off, the alarms ring and lots of screens become populated with red objects.  There are lots of devices that are telling you that something has gone wrong, where it has gone wrong and how it is effecting other parts of the organization.  What they can’t tell you is “Why” and “How do I fix it.”

Today, you take your ailing auto to the dealer and they plug in a computer to the car’s interface and lots of data is dumped out for the mechanic to review.  Rarely can the computer tell you why something broke.  Sadly, in many cases, the computer fails to be able to tell you what needs fixing.  Its sensors are designed to capture failure not diagnose cause or suggest corrective measures.

Take a look at your ACD reports.  Do they tell you why a statistic has taken a trip South?  Do they tell you that specific actions will correct the problem?  Are your QM systems, speech analytic systems or customer survey systems any better or more “intelligent?”

What is lacking to close the loop is a system that can bring together all the data from these statistical gathering systems along with the statistics from all the existing knowledge enhancing systems and find correlations between the data points.  In other words, find any and all causal relationships between the various data sets. 

Such relationships, based on historical data, will highlight what steps to take to bring about a change in behavior in any monitored statistic.  AHT going up.  Take a look at all the data sets where there is a strong correlation between the AHT statistic and any other statistic.  Here you will find the answer. 

Take the AHT situation for example.  AHT is going up.  That’s considered bad in most shops.  Looking through the correlated statistics, you find that a specific training module on fully acknowledging the customer in order to end a call politely has a high correlation with AHT.  You also see that statistics related to coaching sessions appear to also have a high correlation. 

About this point you realize that the prescriptive answer to the problem, statistically speaking, is to have the agent(s) take the training module and then reinforce the training with targeted coaching. 

Now many of you are saying to yourselves that you already know how to fix these types of problems; that’s where experience becomes valuable.  I suggest to you that the “shade tree” approach has long ago outlived its usefulness.  Today, there is no time to experiment with what you think will work.  The luxury of "trial & error” is no longer available as virtually every market has become highly competitive and time sensitive.  The need for continual improvement only works fiscally when the actions being taken are immediately producing the desired results. 

What every contact center needs today is a prescriptive system that provides an intelligent approach to resolving the alarms.  No one needs more alarms today.  The modern contact center of today is so highly instrumented that nothing escapes measurement.  What it missing is the piece of technology that takes in all the inputs from all the instrumentation and can produce actions plans when things go wrong.  That missing piece of software is not missing any more.  It’s just not yet discovered by enough companies.

Optimizer by Silver Lining Solutions provides the analytic tools that provide the action plan when things go wrong.  Optimizer takes in data sets from all monitoring system that can export data.  Learning systems, coaching systems, ACDs, QM tools and the like all produce tremendous data sets.  Optimizer turns these data sets into useful information whose value goes far beyond making screens red and triggering alarms.  Optimizer provides the answers to the question of “What steps should I take to fix the problem?”  Answers that are based on statistics – not personal opinion. 

It is time to close the gap that all the instrumentation has created.  It is time for a system that takes in all the existing data sets and uses them to produce timely and accurate responses to the under-performing parts of the contact center.  It is time for Optimizer.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Customer Service “Leap of Faith”

Customer service departments share a great many common practices. They hire new agents as needed and put them through the company’s standard on-boarding program. This usually includes a number of training courses and simulation exercises designed to make sure the new agent has the basic skills to do their job. The new agent, comfortable in their new cubicle, then begins the process of improvement.

Every phone call is recorded and many are evaluated looking for areas of improvement. Performance metrics are captured reflecting how quickly and skillfully the agent can respond to customer requests. Statistics such as average call duration, percentage of calls needing to be transferred, percentage of calls needing to be escalated and other metrics are monitored in an effort to identify where improvements can be made. There is also the need to attend ongoing training courses to continually broaden the agent’s base of knowledge. All goes along well during the “grace period” for the new agent.

And then comes the big leap. A Supervisor or Manager will review the statistics and upon seeing a statistic that is not meeting the standards, make a judgment call about the best course of action to improve the performance level. That course of action is frequently the assignment of additional training in a specific problem area. I use the term “judgment” as too often this is exactly what is done. The Manager has assumed that training is the answer and thus has made the dreaded “Leap of Faith.” If the problem calls are about Product X, then the needed training must be the Product X training course. There is no fault here as the “judgment call” is necessary given the lack of tools to bring facts to the decision process.

The “Leap of Faith” comes from the fact that without a tool to correlate the results from training classes to the performance measures that are being captured, there is no way to know if additional training is part of the solution or part of the problem. It might well be that the Product X course has not been updated in a number of months and that its content is now woefully out of date. Customers are asking questions about Product X for which the training course has not provided the answers.

A tool that correlates the results from course completion tests with the results from performance measurement systems will quickly identify which educational efforts are highly correlated to which levels of performance results. Such a tool guides Supervisors and Managers to intelligent decisions about the course of action that will produce improvement in the shortest amount of time. Straight statistical connections. No guessing. No wasted time or money. “High test results from Course A consistently result in high performance measures for statistic 5.”

Want to know how to improve a measure’s statistic? Locate the training or coaching process that has the highest correlation value to the failing statistic and schedule the agent accordingly.

Without knowing where there is a statistical cause & effect relationship between training and performance, contact centers have no choice but to make the “Leap of Faith” and hope they are making the right decisions that will produce performance improvements. Sadly, many companies I have visited have found that correlations they thought existed don’t. Even the more senior agents can subjected to useless trainings without a performance management tool that can clearly identify what correlates with what.

Silver Lining’s SkillsAssess software product includes such a tool; SkillsAnalysis. SkillsAnalysis is a module that can take in any number of performance metrics from any number of systems along with any number of assessment results from any number of training and coaching systems and analyze every possible combination for correlation. The results can be and have been eye opening.

The training organization benefits from knowing exactly how much they are contributing to the overall success of the contact center. The statistics can prove which courses have a direct, positive effect on the performance measures and which ones do not. Imagine being the VP of Learning and Development and being able to prove to the budget committee that not only is L&D having a positive impact but that additional funding is warranted to revise courses that are underperforming.

Using SkillsAnalysis, the Supervisors and Managers have certainty that the course of action they schedule to address a performance problem will produce the desired outcome as there are statistics that historically back the decision. Minimum interruption within the agent’s schedule. No wasted time on actions that don’t produce improvement.

So is your contact center regularly making the “Leap of Faith?” Does it operate according to the “Once trained, knowledge gained” concept? Is it time to connect your investment in performance measurement tools with your investment in agent training tools and create some synergy? It is time for Silver Lining Solutions’ SkillsAnalysis.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Is Apple Immune to the Osborne Effect?

The iPad3. The iPhone5. Both products are expected to be released this year. Both products are expected to offer vast improvements over current versions. Both products are both the best kept secrets and the worst kept secrets at the same time.

So how is it that Apple avoids becoming subject to the “Osborne Effect?” I know, sounds like a rhetorical question but it isn’t. I really do not know how Apple continues to sell monstrous numbers of products when a new model is known to be right around the corner.

Traditionally, car companies highlight new models and various technology enhancements prior to a model being available for purchase yet they go to great lengths to keep the shape of a new fender or front grill from prying eyes. If you knew that the model of car you were thinking of buying was expected to undergo a significant change, would you wait? Would you use the upcoming arrival as a way to get a better price on the existing model?

Apple’s forthcoming iPad3 is pretty much known to have a better screen and a better processor and yet Apple continues to stock the store shelves with iPad2s and is offering no discounts. The iPhone5 is coming and will likely be 4G and have a bigger screen. iPhone 4S is still selling very well. Certainly there is more time between now and the release date for the next iPhone but in the past, sales remained steady up to the release date. Strong enough anyway to deplete the channel of inventory.

Automobile companies have a similar sales strategy but they heavily discount older models in order to get them sold and the price tag makes them less of an impulse buy.

So here’s the big question of the day. What is it about Apple that allows them to continue selling existing models up to the day the new model goes on sale or is this just a myth? Let me know what you think.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Innovation Applied to Existing Technologies

It rains a lot in Oregon so wipers are pretty much a necessity. Watching them go back and forth one afternoon got me to thinking, “I wonder how many cars are made today that do not have intermittent wipers?” I suspect that the answer is very few if any. Were Low – Medium – High not sufficient? Certainly better than On/Off as an option. How many of you would trade in your intermittent wipers for a “standard version with 3 speed settings? Yeah, me too. I like my variable speed option.

I am certain that there are a great many other examples of “industry standards” that were vastly improved and became the new “standard” in an industry. I bring this up as this is the situation with text messaging.

Text messaging continues to experience explosive growth in spite of the rhetoric of industry pundits that suggest it is “old fashioned” and “out of date” technology. Tell that to the growing base of consumers who are increasingly dependent upon text messaging as a primary communication means. The automobile industry shot down the idea of intermittent wipers for a variety of reasons including claims of consumers being “very happy” with their Low/Medium/High wipers. Surprisingly, the carriers and handset vendors today are saying the same thing about text messaging with a Reply-All option – “the consumers are very happy with the current technology and we do not see any need to improve things.”

To be fair, I have had some conversations with technologists who claim that the plethora of web-based group text services are the way of the future. I point out that such claims were made of the instant messaging world and look where that industry is now.

What is really encouraging is that of all the consumers to whom I have introduced the concept of Reply-All text messaging, not a one has told me they did not want it on their phone. Most said that were it available to them, they would seriously consider changing phones. Seems maybe the idea is too obvious to be valuable to the vendor community?

Smashtalk is the patent-pending technology that has the capability of providing every mobile phone user with the capability of enjoying text messaging with a Reply-All option while maintaining full backward compatibility with existing text messaging technology and infrastructure. Smashtalk is running today on PCs and Macs and is suitable for inclusion in any mobile handset.

I’d like your ideas about how to awaken the handset vendors and carriers alike to the modern day version of intermittent wipers; Smashtalk. How much more useful would text messaging be to you were you able to hold actual multi-party conversations via text messaging. The technology exists. Those who can put this technology in your hands don’t think it’s an innovation that is wanted by the consumer. I think they are wrong. I am hoping you agree.

If you would like to have the Reply-All option on your phone, I ask that you do something each time you send a text message and think, “I wish I had a Reply-All option right now.” I ask that you tweet the following:

I want Smashtalk so I can have the Reply-All option for my text msgs . #ATT #Verizon #WindowsPhone #Android #Motorola #Smashtalk

Thanks for your help in awakening the mobile industry.