Don't Outsource Your Customer Service Operations To Cut Costs

Outsourcing contact center operations helps organizations deliver better customer service. In Forrester’s recent survey of 304 North American and European network and telecommunications decision-makers, we found that nearly 20% have already outsourced some or all of their contact center seats or are very interested in doing so. Outsourcing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition — organizations can leverage outsourcers to fill language gaps or react quickly to seasonal volume changes. Organizations can also choose to outsource only a subset of non-mission-critical customer service processes.

In all cases, outsourcing is major decision which carries a significant amount of management overhead, and should not be pursued solely as a cost-control strategy. Look to outsource if you want to:

  • Improve the quality of services delivered. Leading outsourcers adhere to strict quality measures that allow them to support customers more consistently and use tools and techniques that promote cost-effective and reliable standards.
  • Focus on core business activities. Using the expertise of an outsourcer whose primary business is managing contact centers allows you to focus on core business activities that strengthen your value proposition.
  • Deliver a consistent customer experience. Many companies use processes that are inefficient and don’t deliver the same customer experience across the voice, electronic (e.g., email, chat, SMS), and social (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) customer interaction channels. Outsourcers can help standardize this experience.
  • Scale capacity up and down. Organizations can’t always predict the volume of interactions they anticipate over time. Outsourcers allow you to quickly ramp up or contract enabling you to deliver service in line with your  target service levels.
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Thoughts On Customer Service Solutions For The SMB Market

In a conversation with Alex Bard, CEO of Assistly (now desk.com, part of salesforce.com), I learned a few interesting things about customer service solutions for small to medium-size businesses (SMBs): (1) Companies can be too small to have customer service organizations; (2) the main competition of vendors of SMB customer service solutions is not each other, but Post-It notes and Gmail; and (3) the service that SMB customers demand is exactly like the service that enterprise customers demand.

So what do each of these points mean?

  • Companies can be too small to have customer service organizations. Without a formal customer service organization, customer-facing personnel such as customer relations managers, CEOs, and marketing folks are on the hook to answer customer inquiries. These employees wear many hats, are on the road a lot, and communicate constantly with one another. And, more than likely, their companies also don’t have formal IT organizations. This means that customer service software must be tailored to a business user: easy to deploy, easy to configure, and supporting a multitude of mobile devices. Customer service software must also have built-in collaboration features, alerts, and notifications allowing personnel to quickly work together on a customer issue for quick resolution.
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Which Contact Center Technologies For Customer Service Deliver The Most Business Value?

We know that the contact center solution ecosystem that customer service organizations use is made up lots of complex technologies, as highlighted in our  latest TechRadar™report. So how do you know what technologies are the right ones to invest in — the ones that will deliver real business value?

To figure this out, Forrester partnered with CustomerThink to survey customer service organizations to understand the adoption rate of 18 contact center technologies. We also looked at the business value that these technologies deliver as defined by three questions: 1) How critical is each to business success? 2) What is the technology’s market reputation for value? and 3) How difficult is it to implement and use? Here are our highlights, and you can find actual statistics in our report:

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Poor Data Quality: An Often Overlooked Cause Of Poor Customer Satisfaction Scores

Customer service managers don’t often realize that data quality projects move the needle on customer satisfaction. In a recent Forrester survey of members of the Association of Business Process Management Professionals (ABPMP), of the 45% who reported that they are working on improving CRM processes, only 38% have evaluated the impact that poor-quality data has on the effectiveness of these processes. And of the 37% of respondents working on customer experience for external-facing processes, only 30% proactively monitor data quality impacts. That’s no good; lack of attention to data quality leads to a set of problems:

  • Garbage in/garbage out erodes customer satisfaction. Agents need the right data about their customers, purchases, and prior service history at the right point in the service cycle to deliver the right answers. But when their tool sets pull data from low-quality data sources, agents don’t have the right information to answer their customers. An international bank, for example, could not meet its customer satisfaction goals because agents in its 23 contact centers all followed different operational processes, using up to 18 different apps — many of which contained duplicate data — to serve a single customer.
  • Lack of trust in data negatively affects agent productivity. Agents start to question the validity of the underlying data when data inconsistencies are left unchecked. This means that agents often ask a customer to validate product, service, and customer data during an interaction — increasing handle times and eroding trust.
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Customer Service: Out With The Old . . . And In With The New

Customers dream about personalized, contextual, proactive customer service experiences — where companies deliver an experience tailored to their persona, their past purchase history, and their past customer service history. They want each interaction to add value and build upon prior ones so that they don’t have to repeat themselves and restart the discovery process. They want to be able to choose the communication channel and device they use to interact with a service center. They want to start an interaction on one channel or device and move it seamlessly to another. Check out RightNow’s vision video that brings these points to life.

Most customer service organizations are still struggling with the basics — the hygiene factors in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — in meeting their customers’ expectations. There are benchmarking tools that you can use to figure out how well your organization is doing and to get actionable recommendations on how to do better. But, as you focus on the tactical improvements that you need to make this year, it’s important to keep tabs on the optimal experience that customers would like you to deliver to help shape your long-term direction for customer service. Here’s my abbreviated personal list:

Out with the old . . .

. . . and in with the new

Commentary

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Forrester's Top 15 Trends For Customer Service In 2012

With 2012 still bright and full of hope for most of us, what are the key trends that customer service professionals need to pay attention to as you plan for success this year? Here are the top trends that I am tracking. Get my full report here.

Leaders Will Empower Their Agents To Deliver Optimal Service

Trend 1: Organizations Will Internalize The Importance Of The Universal Customer History Record

Customer service agents must have access to the full history of a customer’s prior interactions over all the communication channels — voice, electronic channels like chat and email, and the newer social channels like Facebook and Twitter — to deliver personalized service and to strengthen the relationship that customers have with companies. In 2012, vendors will continue to add  the management of social channels to their customer service products. Companies will slowly continue to formalize the business processes and governance structures around managing social inquiries and move this responsibility out of marketing departments and into customer service centers.

Trend 2: The Agent Experience Will No Longer Be An Afterthought

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Which Contact Center Technologies For Customer Service Are Being Adopted?

The contact center solution ecosystem that customer service organizations use has grown more complex over time, as highlighted in our latest TechRadar™ on these solutions. Customer service executives struggle to enforce consistent processes for their agents to follow so that those agents can deliver optimal customer experiences. The amount of data and information that agents need to use to resolve customer inquiries is exploding. Vendor mergers and acquisitions as sectors consolidate are creating product and support risks.  And new contact center solution delivery models, including managed services, outsourcing, and cloud-based offerings, are presenting new opportunities.

To define the context for making smart contract center strategy and technology decisions for customer service, Forrester partnered with CustomerThink to survey 75 contact center professionals to understand which technologies were being used and who was making purchasing decisions. We found that:

  • A set of core technologies are must-haves for contact centers. Core contact center technologies enable agents to manage voice calls, email and chat requests from customers, log and manage inquiries via case management systems, and manage and optimize agent workforces. These solutions are mature and continue to deliver significant business value. 53% use case management solutions; 58% use workforce management solutions; 48% use quality monitoring; 62% use voice IVR or self-service speech platforms; 44% use email response management systems; and 50% use chat solutions.
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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 10

We live in a world of increasing complexity: an increasing number of communication channels, an explosion of social data, the intertwining of sales, marketing, and customer service activities, and a growing amount of information and data that customer service agents need to answer customer questions. These issues complicate the challenge of being able to provide customers the service that is in line with their expectations — service that keeps customers loyal to your brand yet that can be delivered at a cost that makes sense for your business.

Being able to deliver the right customer service  involves:

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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 9

Step 9 of my 10-step program on how to master your service experience is to leverage social technologies for customer service.

Your customers are using social media in their private lives. Facebook has more than 800 million users that collectively spend more than 3 billion hours a year on the site. Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn have large numbers of followers as well. What are you doing to engage your customers in the medium where they are spending their time?

You can’t add social technologies in a silo; they have to be intergrated into your customer service ecosystem so that they extend and add value to your current operations. Here are six ways to add social technologies for customer service in the right way:

  • Start by listening to customer conversations. These conversations can surface general issues with products, services, and company processes. Make sure you create workflows to route surfaced issues to the correct organization so they can be worked on.
  • Flag and address social inquiries. Understand the general sentiments expressed in these conversations, but also identify specific customer inquiries and route them to the right agent pool for resolution. Tie feedback to customer records so that agents are aware of customer sentiments so that they can personalize future interactions.
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Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps: Step 8

Step 8 of my 10-step program on how to master your service experience is to tame your knowledge problem.

A good knowledge program is one of the foundational elements of a good service experience. Many informational requests can be easily handled using a simple FAQ, which deflects calls from your contact center and keeps your customers satisfied with relevant answers. Agent knowledge that is the same across communication channels guarantees that your customers receive consistent and accurate answers.

But getting your arms around your knowledge assets and maintaining them is hard work. I use a six-step best-practice framework to get you going with knowledge management:

  1. Align the organization for success. To be successful, you need an executive sponsor who will fund your knowledge program and allocate resources to the effort. You also need to put together a project team, follow proper project management practices, and define a rollout and adoption strategy.  
  2. Design a framework for knowledge management. Knowledge base content must be easy to find and use. Before starting to create content, you need to determine usage roles, content sources (i.e., what content lives inside the knowledge base and what content lives outside of it but is accessible via knowledge base searches), content standards, and information architecture and localization requirements.
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