You Lost Me At Hello – When Customer On Boarding Goes Wrong
Technology analysts and consultants don’t like to keep things simple. It’s obvious really since simple isn’t good for business. It’s much better to provide things like decision matrices, toolkits, 10 step programs and maturity assessments than to provide clear and concise opinions or recommendations.
So it is with Forrester’s recent customer experience book “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business”. The authors recommend a set of six practices for organizations that want to deliver high-quality customer experience namely: strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture. While I agree that these are all important considerations if I was a business owner looking to quickly begin the transformation of customer experience and was told by an analyst that I had to carry out Design, Measurement and Governance, oh and while you’re at it change your culture as well I’d immediately think this is going to be too complex and costly. When it comes to customer experience are we over complicating things?
So it is with a little trepidation that I’m going to stick my neck out and say that rather than 6 practices or a tool kit or a matrix there are two, yes only two, steps to improving Customer Experience. These are:
1. Fix Broken Processes.
Customer experience is often defined as how customers perceive their interactions with your company. The key word here is interactions. Each one of these interactions is a business process. Many of Customer Experience leaders just execute their business processes properly. I don’t enjoy shopping on Amazon or visiting Tesco but I return because they deliver their services efficiently.
- Take the customer journey and ask yourself is this process working fine or does it need fixed, could it be simpler? Then move on to next process. Simplify business processes where possible. Ensure consistency of approach across multiple channels.
- Automate business processes where appropriate in order to free up your employees to focus on the customer and where they add most value.
This brings me to my second step.
2. Empower your employees
It is impossible to predict and to define a process for every customer scenario. Customers are unpredictable. This is where you need your employees to fill the gaps your processes can’t reach. But they can’t fill the gaps unless they are permitted to do so.
Does your employee really need approval to provide compensation for poor customer service? Does he or she need approval to match the offer of a competitor? Do your employees have all the customer information they need to make a decision?
We know customers hate having to talk to multiple agents, rude or inexperienced staff and being kept on hold. They love professionalism and getting issues resolved at the first point of contact. You won’t achieve any of this if your employees aren’t empowered. Your employees are the face of your organization, do you really want that face to be a demotivated, inflexible, rude one?
So how do we start to empower employees?
- Devolve as much of the non-strategic decision making from the center of the organization to the periphery and to your customer facing employees. For example customer compensation decisions, renewal decisions, process changes can all be carried out at the edge of the organization.
- Address customer data siloes. Ensure agents whether on the phone on in the retail outlet have access to all of the customer data to enable them to make more informed decisions.
- Don’t tie agents to processes or fixed scripts.
- Automate mundane or repetitive tasks to free agents to focus on process exceptions and unique, unpredictable customer problems.
So forget about six step customer experience plans, maturity assessments and decision matrices. If you want to start on a customer experience improvement journey the best bet is to do it one process at a time.
I know it’s open season on banks at the moment and writing a blog post on how bad banks are at customer service is like taking sweets from a baby. It’s definitely not the most original topic but hey I can’t help it and I’ll explain why later.
Two banking related problems stumbled into view this week.
First of all this week the RBS in the UK suffered a SW upgrade fault that caused problems for millions of their customers. Thousands of customers failed to have money transferred into or out of their accounts leading to significant problems. Now we all know every company makes mistakes, what differentiates leading customer service organizations however is how they respond when problems occur.
So how did RBs respond? Well here’s one example where they left a customer stranded at a Spanish airport for 4 days and wouldn’t increase his credit limit to allow him to proceed with his holiday plans.
It’s not as though this problem was completely unexpected either. They had a similar glitch last year as well.
The second banking event of the week concerns the ongoing problems I’m having with my own bank. In my white paper on how organizations can use Case Management to transform ustomer service I describe how last year it took them over 3 months to process a name change on my account. This year it’s taken them 4 months to process my car loan application. Some of the classic customer service issues I experienced were:
- Repeatedly having to submit proof of identity information.
- Failing to update me on the status of my application.
- Failure to meet any SLAs.
- Having to interact with multiple poorly connected departments
- Failure to have any coherent complaints management process
Both these events are clear examples of poor customer service processes. In the first case an inability to quickly adapt business process in response to unpredictable events and in the second an inability to manage processes that cross multiple departments and involve multiple participants.
So I hear you say, well if the service is so bad with your bank why don’t you leave? To explain why I don’t leave I’m going to quote Alvy Singer. Alvy Singer is the hero from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall movie and towards the end of the movie he uses a joke to explain why he keeps putting himself through the wringer of his bad relationship with Annie.
Alvy Singer [narrating] this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.
I guess I’m the customer service equivalent of Alvy singer. I need my bank because I need their eggs. I need them to continue to show me how bad customer service can be and give me the motivation to try and improve things.Their service is so bad that it’s good.
What do customers hate most about bad customer service? Well according to this survey by ClickFox a few common things get customer’s blood boiling. The top three were:
- 42% hate having to speak with multiple agents and start over every time
- 17% hate being kept on hold or not getting what I need on the first try
- 14% dislike rude or inexperienced representatives
Let’s address each of these issues in turn, understand why they occur and how the issues could be addressed.
- Multiple Agents and having to start every time. In the perfect scenario the customer would only have to speak to one agent who would be able to completely understand their problem and resolve it at the first point of contact. In reality this isn’t possible. For example in many larger organizations with multiple product lines or services the first line of service exist to triage the problem or to resolve the most common problems. Resolution at the first point of contact in many organizations would not be possible without a great deal of training. Whether we like it or not the issue of multiple agents is here to stay. The big opportunity for service providers is to better manage the frustration of the hand off and eliminate the customer having to start afresh with each new agent. What if we could deploy a customer service solution that could manage the end to end process, orchestrate multiple employees and integrate with multiple line of business applications and eliminate having to restart the process with every new service agent?
- On hold. Ok everyone hates being put on hold. In reality when put on hold the agent is probably frantically switching between poorly connected business applications to retrieve the customer information. What if the customer service representative had a 360 degree view of their customer? What if the customer service agent had rapid access, via their desktop web portal to customer information where ever it resides in the organization?
- Rude or inexperienced representatives. I found it interesting that rudeness and inexperience were tied together in this response. I’m of a firm belief that customer service rudeness and inexperience are closely related. In many occasions what the customer feels is rude service is in reality an employee tied by his or her employer to inflexible business processes. The employee has no authority or empowerment to use their initiative to resolve the customer issue. This lack of empowerment leads to high staff dissatisfaction, high employee turnover and ultimately inexperienced representatives. What if the agent was able to go off script, to modify their process if necessary in flight or choose alternative paths or approaches to resolve the customer problem? Would this empowerment higher employee satisfaction, lower staff turnover and eliminate the perception of rudeness and inexperience.
The three customer problems outlined above are all classic reasons for deploying a Case Management solution. The objective of case management applications include the integration of multiple line of business applications, the delivery of a 360 degree customer view and employee empowerment. Management of many customer service interactions is done today using CRM applications that quickly run out of steam when asked to manage anything more than a simple workflow and don’t adequately address the top three issues above. When we integrate CRM with a Case Management business application however we have the opportunity to address these customer problems and begin to transform how customer service is delivered.
Why bother outsourcing customer support when you can get your customers to do it for you. I’ve been watching the success of giffgaff with interest for a while. For those not familiar with giffgaff it is a UK mobile service provider where customers participate in the company’s business operations, specifically Marketing, Sales and Customer service.
As well as via the Giff Gaff community web page Facebook and Twitter provide additional channels for customer support. Support is provided socially, by fellow customers rather than using Giff Gaff employees.
This trend of setting up online communities to deliver peer to peer customer support has been dubbed “Unsourcing” and is not limited to Giff Gaff. The obvious reason for many organizations choosing to unsource is cost. Gartner estimates that using communities to solve support issues can reduce costs by up to 50%.
However viewing unsourcing as an opportunity to reduce customer support risks repetition of the same problems that have beset organizations who have chosen outsource their customer service to emerging economies, most importantly creating a disconnect between the organization and its customers. Simply viewing customer service as a cost center rather than for example an opportunity for differentiation and as a source of new product ideas is doomed to fail.
Unsourcing has a number of benefits. It allows Gen Y customers to interact with organizations via the social channels with which they are most familiar and to engage with fellow customers who share a common interest. In addition it creates a bond between an organization and its most important customers.
Unsourcing will become a key aspect of the customer service mix rather than a panacea. Organizations will still need to ensure that their customers aren’t left high and dry should they not get the right answer. If it’s a complaint they will need to ensure it is addressed as quickly as possible. They must monitor the channels to detect emerging trends, product problems or new product opportunities. In other words they will still need to tie the social or unsourced customer to business processes.
Customer Complaints continue to rise in the UK energy sector, British Gas alone saw a 30% rise in 2011. Common themes include incorrect billing, poor call center response and poor treatment by staff. Fundamentally mistakes in bills and meter reading are a failure a failure of business processes. On many occasions what is perceived as poor treatment by staff is in reality a staff member tied to an inflexible business process and poorly integrated business applications.