IQPC Europe, a global organizer of business conferences, recently held its Executive Customer Contact Exchange, where contact center and customer service executives and senior managers gathered to find out about developments in the management of customer interactions and the customer experience. Attendees had a variety of reasons for coming; the largest group consisted of attendees who (29%) said they were interested in customer experience management (CEM), while others expressed interest in specific applications or systems (18%), multichannel customer service (10%), self-service (10%) and social media (8%). The remaining one-fourth said they were interested in various subjects including performance management, outsourcing, agent training and scheduling. The low interest in social media seems to go against the media hype about this channel but reflects my latest research into the state of technology in contact centers, which shows that less than one-quarter of companies have implemented social media.
I’ve grouped my own observations from the conference under four interrelated headings.
“Systems just make bad processes go faster.” Most of the discussions concluded that the real problem most centers face is bad processes, and if companies don’t fix them, even the most advanced technology will only help them mess up faster. As one speaker from O2 put it, implementing a better system is only a small part of improving interaction-handling, and if you don’t address business objectives before implementing systems, changing processes and training users, you won’t improve. This seems particularly true of multichannel customer service. As I wrote recently, we are now in an era of multichannel customer service, and companies that do not support multiple communication channels will find that some consumers won’t do business with them. But getting it wrong is almost as bad as not doing it. Customers crave consistency at all touch points, and to deliver that companies must improve their processes for each channel and make them as consistent as possible across channels. Regarding systems, I noted that apart from one or two vendors, almost no one commented on cloud-based systems, which suggests that this delivery method is not at the top of the agenda for most users yet.
“The key to success is engaging people.” This theme came out during almost all user cases studies and presentations. As noted, process improvement is critical, but there was pretty much universal agreement that if you don’t engage the right people throughout the implementation of new processes and systems, it will fail. Step one is to involve the right people in defining the business issues and objectives. Take for example an effort to improve first-contact-resolution rates. Why not take the radical step of asking agents for input? After all, they are the ones who face the issue every day and will be the ones charged to execute the chosen solution. Users also need to be involved at every step of the implementation: in selecting the system, getting it running and configured correctly and then becoming champions of it during the rollout. Remember that people don’t go to work to do a bad job, but they do need to be motivated — and not just through monetary rewards. Several speakers remarked on the benefits achievable through a rigorously focused training and coaching program.
“Wrong measures drive wrong behavior.” Contact centers have long focused on performance metrics, and my latest research into contact center analytics shows that many still focus on efficiency metrics such as queue lengths, average hold times and the like, even though analysts (including me), consultants and vendors urge them to adopt outcome-related metrics for employees and customers. For example, one discussion around net promoter (NP) scores took a new twist by suggesting that agent performance should be judged on the NP scores for the customers the agent interacts with. I’m not sure about that one, but I know that too many agents are judged by metrics that don’t relate to the behaviors companies expect from them or the outcomes companies would like to see from interactions. Efficiency metrics have their place, but it is time to adopt a more balanced set of metrics to monitor and assess how well employees are performing and what business outcomes they are delivering.
“A fool with a tool is still a fool.” Again, systems alone cannot make the difference. In my experience people in contact centers have been obsessed with technology, almost as if they hope it can make up for bad processes and inept agents. Several speakers confirmed that without proper training, supporting processes and “a large slice of common sense,” systems won’t solve the problem. This was evident in several discussions around social media. You would think from listening to the hype that all companies have implemented social media and that social media has taken over from all other forms of interaction. As mentioned earlier, my research shows this is far from the truth; social media is the least used channel for business and customers most often resort to calling the contact center when they cannot get satisfaction from other channels. Social media should be viewed as what it really is: an additional channel of communication. It is, however, one with new rules: It is far more public than any other, has the potential for extremely high volumes of interaction, transcends business units (especially marketing, sales and customer service) and sadly, as one speaker pointed out, is easily abused. Companies should consider these issues before they rush into implementing social media, and the first tool they should buy is one to “listen” to what customers are saying on social media so they can decide on their strategy.
Lastly I want to add a few words on CEM. Despite its being cited as a subject of interest for attendees, I did not hear much overt discussion of the topic. I believe this is because, as my research into CEM shows, many people haven’t really “got” what it takes to manage the customer experience. They know that it is part of customer service and part of multichannel communications, that it depends on employee performance and engagement, and that it is related to use of social media. But companies also need to figure out what people, processes and systems it impacts. CEM is not CRM in another form. CRM focuses on internal marketing, sales, customer service and case management; CEM focuses on the customer. In a sense, then, CEM is outwardly focused; it is about proactively managing the customer experience at every touch point, across all channels of interaction. And it is a concept and a practice that is still developing.
Richard Snow – VP & Research Director