Monday 30 May 2011

Killing 2 birds with one stone – why cost reduction within customer service doesn't mean decreased customer satisfaction

 I often meet with clients who want to kill two birds with one stone; reduce customer service costs, whilst also increasing customer satisfaction. Many technology-centric CRM programs of the past did not share these aims. They attempted to design solutions inside-out from the company's perspective, rather than from the customer's perspective. In many cases these programs tried to control the customer; for example defining the channels that the organisation made available for customer service requests. In a drive to reduce customer service costs, expensive human interactions were blocked from the customer by customer service numbers hidden away on a little known web page, multi-level IVRs, voice self-service solutions, chat-bots and lists of online FAQs. In the main these solutions were designed to benefit the company, keeping customers away from call centre agents and therefore reducing costs but not necessarily improving customer satisfaction.

The communications revolution of the last few years has meant that companies can no longer control their customers. Customers now control which channel or device they use, which social network they turn to, which sources of information they trust and chose to mash together. The communications & connectivity changes present a threat to many organisations used to an ingrained mindset of command & control, but there is also an opportunity for customer service organisations to leverage the technology changes to drive win / win outcomes, namely reducing customer service costs whilst improving customer satisfaction. Below  are four examples of some of the tactics different organisations have deployed to help achieve these dual aims:

1. The best service is no service - Bill Price, former VP Customer Service for Amazon famously described his outlook on customer service in his job interview with Jeff Bezos, saying: "Well, the best service is no service. You hire me, and I'm going to try and help reduce the need for customers to have to contact Amazon for service. Why should they? They order things online. Things should work out fine, right?" (See full Customer Think's interview with Bill Price here). Amazon designs for no service. This starts by thinking about the jobs customers are trying to do when they interact with Amazon and working out how they can help customers achieve their outcomes online. Clearly achieving this stretches far beyond thinking about the online experience; the processes that enable the desired outcomes of customers stretch far into the organisation and it's eco-system of suppliers.

2. Pro-actively identify problems, fix them at source and update all channels - building on the Amazon example above, many organisations are now setting up command centres to stay connected to the pulse of the customer, attempting to spot trouble brewing and then proactively take action; firstly to update all channels letting customers know that there is a problem and what they are doing to fix it and secondly to fix the problem at source. Dell, for example have pioneered the use of a Social Media Command Centre to try and spot topics that matter to customers as soon as they bubble up on the social web (described in my post on improving social media monitoring). A leading US cable TV company has a swat team concept where they bring together a cross-functional team to investigate opportunities or threats fast and act appropriately e.g. launching an outbound communications campaign or fixing a network problem at source.

3. Leverage peer to peer as a support channel - I've written previously about the GiffGaff case study. Around 90% of GiffGaff's customer service happens within their community forum.  GiffGaff customers fix each other's problems on the forum, suggest new product ideas, recommend the service to their friends and even build smartphone apps for the community. The average response time within the onion support forum 24x7 is under 3 minutes. Furthermore, Telefonica Group who own GiffGaff estimate that their customer service model costs 4 times less than the traditional contact centre-centric model, yet their NPS score is 75 - way above the industry average (note GiffGaff publish their customer satisfaction scores here). 

4. Integrate your community  forum across the social web - BT do a great job of integrating their community forum across their various social channels. Their online community brings together their YouTube channel (for customer support videos), their Twitter stream, their ideas page etc. They have also integrated their forum to their Facebook page to maximise the reuse of content and allow customers to choose the channel of choice.

One thing to bear in mind if you are attempting to replicate some of the tactics above is that simply deploying the tactics alone may well not produce your desired outcomes. In other words, simply creating a community forum does will not turn you into a GiffGaff. There are many examples where forums have actually increased customer service costs and created additional calls for the call centre to deal with. Fundamentally, the success of deploying the tactics above relies on the adoption of a service dominant mindset. To understand more about Service Dominant Logic, a topic first described some 7 years ago by  Steve Vargo read this great post by Graham Hill or take a look at this presentation by Wim Rampen. 

Service dominant logic aims to broaden the traditional goods-dominant logic, placing service provision rather than goods as the basis for economic exchange. With a service dominant mindset the customer is always a co-creator of value therefore we design from the customer's perspective recognising that value is created through usage not at the point of transaction. With a service dominant mindset the tactics above are far more likely to be able to deliver the dual aims of reduced service costs and increased customer satisfaction.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

What comes next after Facebook and Twitter and the challenges of skating to where the puck is going to be

I've been thinking recently about what comes next after Facebook and Twitter. I looked at interesting initiatives like the Future of Facebook project but I also realised pretty quickly that for the majority or organisations the reality is that thinking about what comes next after Facebook and Twitter might be entirely the wrong question. 

If the last 5 years have taught us anything it is that constant disruptive change is here to stay. Think about the rapid rise and fall of mySpace and SecondLife, the seemingly unstoppable rise of Facebook and Twitter, the rapid evolution of Facebook into a social commerce platform, the speed at which the tablet PC has entered daily lives…. We don't yet know what will come next after Facebook and Twitter, we don't know what disruptive device will be launched next by Apple or another hardware manufacturer. We don't now what game changing moves Google or Facebook will make next; nor do we know what new social network is currently being dreamt up by a college student in San Francisco, London, Tel Aviv or Bangalore. What we do know is these things will happen. What we do know is that constant disruptive change is now the norm and that without question each change will have an impact on the way that consumers interact with brands and with each other. Of course we also know that most brands will struggle to keep up with this constant game of catch up and that those that fail run the risk that their customers will simply disengage and swarm on to the next device, app or social network…

Whilst I am all for organisations keeping their finger on the pulse of the communications changes happening right now, I suspect that better questions for the majority of organisations might be:

How can we build stronger customer relationships based on true value co-creation that will be less susceptible to cannibalisation by passing fads?
How can we keep track of where our customers are currently engaging with our brand and with each other? How can we spot changes?
How can we cut through vast quantities of customer data with accuracy and drive insight into action faster than the competition?
How quickly can we embrace change within our organisation?
How can we leverage innovation from our customers and partners as well as from the vast armies of open source, SaaS, web and app developers who are either looking to build upon the dominant platforms of today or trying to create the platforms of tomorrow?
What are the foundational elements that enable us to become more agile and integrate (again and again) to new devices, new services, new apps, new networks…? Hint: from a customer perspective think about the way in which you are constantly monitoring the jobs customers are trying to do and how you can help them create value; from a technology prospective think information architecture, open standards / service integration, reusable services, MDM, CRM… from an organisational perspective think about the way in which IT and the business work together (left brain and right brain working in unison), the breaking down of internal silos, the way customer facing staff are empowered to collaborate, fix issues and take action… See my post on "Solid Foundations, Cool Innovations - the importance of CRM to SCRM".

There is a well worn cliche in business circles which is "skate to where the puck is going to be". The reality is that few of us are Wayne Gretsky and can predict where the puck will be 100% of the time. The majority of organisations would gain greater benefit from improving their core customer relationships and their speed & agility so that they can take advantage of changes faster than their competitors, rather than trying to predict what will come next after Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday 12 May 2011

Is control still an issue for brands?

Mitch Joel, author of the must read "Six Pixels of Separation" wrote an interesting post recently that got me thinking about control. Mitch wrote:

"We're at this strange new intersection where the expectation is that every brand has relinquished the control over their messaging and that they're listening (and hopefully reacting) to this ever-growing chorus of feedback."

I agree whole-heartedly with his comments that in many ways "Control" should now be a  dead issue; something that was surfaced by the Cluetrain Manefesto over 12 years ago and has been discussed to death by leading marketers who have long accepted that their monopoly on control has been eroded (if not usurped) by consumers. As Mitch points out in Six Pixels, that does not of course mean that brands are irrelevant. They "still control their vision, mission and the marketing materials that go along with it, while consumers can now say whatever they want about the brand and mash-up those materials as they see fit." In other words brands can still listen, engage, provide consumers with collateral & material, but ultimately consumers will supplement their view of the brand with their own comments and their own research on what other people are saying etc.

Yet, something nags at me… I don't agree that the topic of control is dead (or should be dead) everywhere just yet. I am fortunate to work with a wide range of organisations in Europe; some who are at the leading edge of high volume business to consumer digital marketing and others who still think that social networks are just toys for college kids and see little or no relevance of social media to their business. Within less mature Marketing departments I still find that despite all the debate and discussion "control" remains the elephant in the room; the issue that people have failed to address or discuss. This manifests itself in Marketing departments who:
  • Have been brought up to believe that they can control every aspect of the brand right down to the font size and are struggling to let go of that belief
  • Don't engage with social media at all (the ostrich head in the sand approach, see "Characterising different approaches to social media")
  • Treat social media as an outbound broadcast channel and fail to look at it in the context of the broader customer experience
  • Make meaningless claims about customer-centricity but don't back those up with their actions
  • Discourage or heavily moderate customer comments & feedback on their site
  • Restrict access to social networking tools internally within the organisation (as 50% of UK employers still currently do)
  • Fail to provide any form of guidance as to how employees can respond to customers using social media (if they allow response at all)
I wish control were a dead issue but at one end of the maturity spectrum (which of course varies greatly by industry and by geography) I still see organisations who haven't yet go to grips with this basic topic and badly need to. Whilst marketing theorists may well have moved on, I don't believe every brand has yet.

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