Customer Service Done Right In 10 Easy Steps

Today, the gap between a customer’s expectations and the service they receive is huge. Customers are increasingly knowledgeable about products and demand value-added, personalized service.

Companies know that good service is important: 90% of customer service decision-makers tell Forrester that it’s critical to their company’s success, and 63% think its importance has risen. Yet companies struggle to offer an experience that meets their customers’ expectations at a cost that make sense to them, especially in these economically challenging times.

The end result for companies is significant: escalating service costs, customer satisfaction numbers at rock-bottom levels, and anecdotes of poor service experiences amplified over social channels that can lead to brand erosion. 

Mastering the customer service experience is hard to do. Focusing on the end-to-end experience can help you move the needle in a positive direction. In this 10-part blog series, I will outline one tip each day that you should think about.

Tip 1: Do you know how your customers want to interact with you?

Customers know what good service is and demand it from each interaction they have, over any communication channel that they use. Forrester’s data shows that in general, customers still prefer to use the phone, closely followed by email and web self-service. That being said, customer demographics affect channel preference with the younger generation more comfortable using peer-to-peer communication and instant service channels like chat. Its important to understand the demographics and communication preferences of your customers.

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More Market Consolidation With Oracle Acquiring RightNow: More Questions Asked Than Answered

It’s exciting to see the news of yet another acquisition in the world of customer service with the announcement of  Oracle’s intent to acquire RightNow. Today’s contact center ecosystem is complex and comprised of a great number of vendors who provide overlapping and competing capabilities. I’ve previously blogged about what these critical software components are. The reason why these acquisitions are good is that they align with what customers want: a simpler technology ecosystem to manage from both a systems perspective and a contractual perspective. And suite solutions available from unified communications (UC), CRM, and workforce optimization (WFO) vendors are evolving and include comprehensive feature sets. These vendors have either built these capabilities out or acquired them via M&A activity — and we expect more M&A to happen.

Now, to focus on the RightNow acquisition. This acquisition, at a high level, is a win-win for both companies:

  • RightNow gets the big-company marketing, professional services, and sales reach of Oracle to grow beyond its current run rate and compete more effectively with salesforce.com, Microsoft, and to a lesser degree SAP. Forrester rated RightNow as a leader in our Forrester Wave™ for CRM and CRM customer service suites.  
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Getting The Customer Service Agent Experience Right Is Good For Business

There is an explosion of customer service products and services, and companies are turning to customer service as a way to differentiate themselves: 90% of customer service decision-makers tell Forrester that a good service experience is critical to their company's success, and 63% think the importance of the customer service experience has risen.

But we know that businesses must be pragmatic in choosing initiatives that will help deliver service in line with customer expectations, and at a cost that makes sense to the business.

Companies are looking at many ways to move the needle on customer service by leveraging the power of social media, mobile, and new cloud-based deployment methods. However, I hear few companies talking about what they are doing to optimize the customer service agent’s experience so that he can deliver better service to his customers.

Today, customer service agents use tens, if not hundreds, of disconnected systems to address a customer’s request. Have a look at the  example  of a desktop that Jacada gave me — lots of apps, and even some green-screen apps!

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Forrester’s Tech Radar Assessment Of 24 Contact Center Technologies For Customer Service

The contact center technology ecosystem for customer service is a nightmare of complexity. At a high level, to serve your customers, you need to:

  1. Capture the inquiry, which can come in over the phone, electronically via email, chat, or SMS, and over social channels, like Twitter, Facebook, or an interaction escalated from a discussion forum.
  2. Route the inquiry to the right customer service agent pool.
  3. Create a case for the inquiry that contains its details and associate it with the customer record.
  4. Find the answer to the inquiry; this can involve digging through different information sources like knowledge bases, billing systems, and ordering databases.
  5. Communicate the answer to the inquiry to the customer.
  6. Append case notes to the case summarizing its resolution and close the case.
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Salesforce Embraces The Social Customer — Deploying This Business Model Will Be Harder Than Deploying The Software

The statistics that salesforce.com broadcast at Dreamforce last week are impressive: a $2.2 billion annual run rate; 104,000 customers; and 35 billion transactions per quarter (see Benioff's keynote slides here). The conference was attended by 40,000 users, with a further 35,000 joining online. Salesforce.com’s cloud messaging is mature and no longer a focal point. However, what was most interesting from a customer service/CRM standpoint was the focus on the “social customer” and the way that CRM applications need to adapt to accommodate them.

Traditionally, CRM software has been anything but focused on the customer. It has been positioned as software aimed at the business user to increase their productivity and efficiency as they interact with customers, clients, and sales prospects.

Salesforce.com’s new CRM messaging spotlights the customer and the way that customers interact today using the new social channels and loose social processes to research and select products to purchase and get answers to their questions. Customers are also company employees and want to use these channels to collaborate with other employees at work in the same way they use these channels in their personal lives. This means that these social channels and processes need to also extend inside the enterprise. Check out salesforce.com’s interaction map for the social customer:

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Forrester Technographics Data Points To Increased Communication Channel Usage With Inconsistent Satisfaction Ratings

The most recent data cuts from Forrester’s North American Technographics® Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2010 of how more than 3,400 consumers interacted with customer service organizations in the last 12 months highlight some interesting trends:

  • For the first time, web self-service topped the phone channel as the communication channel most widely used by customers to interact with customer service organizations.
  • Consumers use the phone channel 50% of the time. However, other channels are more widely used than the voice channel: 58% of the time, consumers search for an answer on the Web; 61% of the time they send an email to customer service; and 66% of the time they search a company’s FAQ.
  • Social channels are used for customer service, but numbers are very low (1% of customers used Twitter, but 6% of customers used forums).
  • Live-assist communication channels (phone, chat, cobrowse) have much higher satisfaction ratings than asynchronous electronic channels (email, web self-service). Satisfaction ratings are:  phone (74%), chat (69%), cobrowse (78%), email (54%), and web self-service (47%).
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Turbocharge Customer Service With Social Channels

We all know that companies are trying to leverage social channels for customer service. But how can they be deployed in a way that adds value to an organization? Here are my thoughts:

You can’t implement social technologies in a silo within your contact center because you have to be able to deliver a consistent experience across the communication channels you support: voice, the electronic ones, and the social ones. Read my blog post on how you can do this.

Once you get the basics right, you are ready to add social media capabilities. Best practices include:

  • 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.
  • Extend your customer service ecosystem with communities. This allows your customers to share information, best practices, and how-to tips with each other, as well as get advice without needing to interact with your agents. But don’t implement them in a technology silo; they should be well-integrated with current contact center processes.
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Standalone Knowledge Management Is Dead With Oracle's Announcement To Acquire InQuira

Its exciting news to see Oracle announce its intention to acquire InQuira. We have been waiting for this news for a long time. The reasons are multifold:

  • Today’s contact center ecosystem is complex, and comprised of multiple vendors who provide the critical software components. Read my blog post on what these critical software components are. Customers are looking for a simpler technology ecosystem to manage from both a systems perspective and a contractual perspective.
  • Suite solutions, available from unified communications (UC), CRM, and workforce optimization (WFO) vendors, are evolving and include comprehensive feature sets. These vendors have either built these capabilities out or acquired them via M&A activity. And we expect more M&A to happen.
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Verint + Vovici: Another Example Of Market Consolidation In The Contact Center Space

Contact centers for customer service are a nightmare in terms of the complexity of the technologies. At a high level, to serve your customers, you need to:

  1. Capture the inquiry, which can come in over the phone, electronically via email, chat, or SMS, and over social channels, like Twitter, Facebook, or an interaction escalated from a discussion forum.
  2. Route the inquiry to the right customer agent pool to address it.
  3. Create a case for the inquiry that contains its details and associate it with the customer record.
  4. Find the answer to the inquiry; this can involve digging through different information sources like knowledge bases, billing systems, and ordering databases.
  5. Communicate the answer to the inquiry to the customer.
  6. Append case notes to the case summarizing its resolution, and close the case.

You want to make sure that your agents deliver answers in a consistent way and to make it easy for your customers to find answers themselves. To do this, you need to invest in:

  • A knowledge base for your agents. You also need to then expose a subset of the content to your customers via a web self-service portal.
  • A discussion forum where your customers can share information and escalate issues to a customer service agent.
  • Some type of process guidance to lead agents through complicated scripts so that they deliver service in a reproducible way.

You also need to understand what expectations your customer base has regarding your service offering by:

  • Surveying your customers
  • Listening to their sentiments on social media sites
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A Consistent Customer Experience Requires Consistency In Managing Voice, Electronic, And Social Interactions

Customers expect the same experience every time they interact with a company — whether it be when researching a product, completing a sales transaction, or getting customer service — over all the communication channels that a company offers. They also expect companies to have an understanding of their past purchase history and prior interactions. Finally, customers further expect that each interaction with a company adds value to their prior interactions so that, for example, they do not have to repeat themselves to a customer service agent when being transferred or when migrating from one communication channel to another during a multistep interaction.

How many companies can deliver a consistent service experience in this scenario?

Three fundamental elements are needed to deliver a consistent customer experience across all communication channels:

  • A unified communications model. Companies need to queue, route, and work on every interaction over all communication channels in the same manner, following the company business processes that uphold its brand.
  • A unified view of the customer. Each agent needs to have a full view of all interactions that a customer has had over all supported communication channels so that the agent can build on the information and experience that has already been communicated to the customer.
  • Unified knowledge and data. Agents need to have access to the same knowledge and the same data across all communication channels so that they can communicate the same story to their customers.
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