Forward to the Past, Instead of Back to the Future?

Back To The Future



It seems that everywhere I turn these days, Customer Experience professionals are touting something “NEW!”  Yet as I read their perspectives in blogs, social media websites like LinkedIn or as teasers to webinars, I find myself scratching my head and wondering what is truly new?

Social Media
Let me get the one point out of the way that arguably could be considered new, but truly isn’t:

(Said in a breathless manner) “social media!”  Sure enough, ten years ago there was no Twitter nor Facebook.

But there were chats, emails and bulletin boards.

Any service delivery organization that is concerned that many customers are posting about their service on Twitter, Facebook, etc., has a problem.  And they’ve likely had the problem for a long time.  Customers use social media to rant about poor service and frequently, the deaf ears their complaints fall on in those organizations.  Those delivery organizations should let their marketing teams gather that information and compile the statistics for them, but more importantly they should quit hyperventilating about needing to jump into providing customer service via social media and instead take a new look at themselves and fix what’s been wrong about their service delivery model that is causing these complaints to be made in the public realm.  And it would be a perfect time to make it very easy for customers to provide feedback directly to your organization.

So what’s changed?  Not a lot.

Customers can, and do post about poor service to their Twitter followers.  OK, the new bit here is that Tweeters can use a hash-tag to mention the company’s name in the hopes that their post will be seen by others who are experiencing poor service from the same organization; e.g., #chase.  Other than that, it’s the same thing that many did back in the late 90’s when we couldn’t get anyone’s attention in a company via phone calls. We sent an email to a senior executive and copied in loads of people that we knew and some that we didn’t, but we had their email address.  Basically it was Twitter of 1998 but even more effective since we almost always got to the CEO’s admin assistant who immediately escalated “from the CEO down.”

Back then instead of posting rants about service on Facebook, we could post about our displeasure on an Internet bulletin board/forum site and there was a pretty good chance that we would hear back from the company. One personal example of this was back in 2001 when I had some concerns about a Polk Audio subwoofer. I called the company and got a fairly high level response from a customer service representative that didn’t help me. I posted my concerns (hardly a complaint) with a request for any insights on how to fix my small problem on the Audio Visual Science forum. The owner of Polk Audio, Matthew Polk replied the same day, offering to call me direct to help me tune the speaker exactly how it should have been tuned.
Great Scott! Take that Mark Zuckerberg! My concern wasn’t mixed in with feed of incoherent Facebook rants that typically don’t include enough relevant information to successfully act upon. I was asking for assistance from fellow audiophiles who demand a reasonable amount of details about a problem or they publicly shame you.

Why organizations should not jump into social media service before they are prepared
Before you make a single move regarding providing customer service via social media, first consider the following points:

  • How well are you handling email and chat today?

  • Do you automatically log each email and chat as a CRM or Service Management case?

  • Do you automatically monitor the turnaround time for a real answer, not an automated “we got it” reply, and if so, what percentage fall within your stated response time goal?

  • For chat, what is your abandonment rate? Do you even monitor chat abandonment?

  • What is your customer satisfaction rate for providing service via chat and email?

  • Do you make it easy for customers to complain when they are not happy with service?

Unless you are doing an excellent job today with email and chat, why would you think that your organization can provide adequate service levels with their social media equivalents of Facebook and Twitter?  And where your failure to provide good service is now in front and center for the entire world to see.

Instead of allocating time and resources on attempting to provide service through social media, focus instead on business basics and what is causing customers to rant about your service on social media in the first place.  If you improve your service via existing channels, including providing a means to easily escalate service complaints through existing channels, you might surprise your Marketing team with a swift reduction of complaints in the digital public commons.

Mobile Caller Experience
The development of the mobile cellular service phone will be celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, with the first commercially available phone from Motorola reaching the market thirty years ago in 1983.

In the late 80’s I called American Express while mobile and asked the agent to check on something for me off line, and call me back when she had the answer.  Given the cost of mobile calls then, Amex allowed it. Great service, but offering call backs instead of a hold queue is rarely offered today.

I owned a Smartphone back in 2003, accessing my accounts and making purchases via mobile web which sometimes prompted me to call those companies when something couldn’t be answered on their Internet site.  And many were doing the same thing five years earlier while buying or checking service on the Internet but calling from a land-line.

So truly, what’s new?  OK, many more non-geeks are accessing the Internet via Smartphones, and  the cost of airtime is so low that companies could care less if you are on hold via mobile or at work\home on a land-line.  What is new are higher mobile Internet volumes but other than continuing growth, there is not much new in the time that organizations should have already addressed these channel issues.  While many customers are still accessing the Internet while perched in front of their laptop or desktop and calling via land-line while in a transaction or post transaction, and still waiting for contact centers to integrate their websites with their voice channel.

Here is an example of a typical caller experience regardless of calling from a Smartphone after interacting with an app, or from a land-line while interacting with a website where you have authenticated yourself and made clear why you are interacting with the organization. The call is answered by an IVR where you have to re-declare your intent for calling, then re-authenticate yourself, whereby you frequently hear the familiar two DTMF tones indicating a Take Back and Transfer to another site, where you are placed in a queue with everyone else who didn’t try self-service to hold for an indeterminate time.  (We call that the “bad customer for trying self-service” hold time.) But wait, once you are transferred out, the agent asks you to re-authenticate yet a third time, with the same information you already supplied again the second time in the IVR!

Gee, that’s not new is it?  We Internet using consumers have been getting this poor level of service since the mid-nineties and if you take the Internet data available out of the scenario, dropping data between IVR and agents has been going on for at least twenty five years.

Why have organizations not yet addressed these known customer experience problems?
This is a constant question raised in the Customer Experience professional community. The answers can be summarized as follows:

  • Ignorance

    • Organizations (clearly their management) do not consider Customer Experience to be a priority and do not recognize the Return On Investment from improving it.

  • Technical inexperience

    • All too often, we hear that a solution to any one of the issues raised here is too expensive.  When in fact, there are simple, low cost means to correct these issues. Too often, organizations rely on their internal IT teams who are focused on running and maintaining their current infrastructure, or their vendors, who are focused on selling their wares which likely are not inexpensive. They need to ask for outside, third party assistance to get around these barriers to success.

  • Business chaos

    • Mergers and acquisitions, constant changes in executive management and/or reorganizations all pull focus from fixing what smart managers know are problems.

You should be thinking about social media and mobile caller experience, but thinking about them in terms of what your voice, email and chat channel current states are for customer interactions.  If you are not managing cross channel interactions well today, then you are going to make a real mess of managing yet another non-real time channel with the addition of social media.  And you don’t control the delivery method/channel, so recognize that you may have new complaints regarding poor delivery by Twitter, Facebook or other social media sites.

Furthermore, if your company has a web presence that your customers access today, are you providing Click to Call functionality?  If not, then you’re going to feel even more pressure from mobile Internet customers once your organization provides mobile apps or mobile web presence.  Nothing new here, but more pressure for the same expected functionality.

If you have long queue times at certain time periods (or worse, regularly), then you probably are hearing about it today from your customers.  Have you thought about a call back feature for your current Internet, and land-line and mobile voice channel customers?  If you answered yes but found it too expensive, then perhaps there is something fairly new in telephony functionality that we will soon cover in a post here that is fairly new and not something old and hyped as new. One of VoxPeritus’ partners can help you and we will invite them to provide their solution in our next post.  To our delight, they are not hyping all of the challenges mentioned here as new, just their approach to helping you inexpensively solve them using your current telephony, instead of requiring complex and expense new infrastructure.

Think about those hyping mobile and social media as completely new channels with new challenges never before felt.  Then consider the points stated here about what these trends require for good customer experience.  Do you really want to trust your business to someone hyping fairly old and known problems as new issues? The VoxPeritus team believes that none of us should trust our business to anyone using hype to get our attention.  Experience trumps hype for good results.

Given our experience performing many caller experience audits, it is quite likely that your current voice channel customer experience is probably not great, and quite possibly could be less than good.  You should prioritize getting your house in order for your largest and still the top customer demanded channel. Nothing new there, except perhaps your renewed interest in doing the right thing for your customers, while defending your organization’s brand value.  Consider contacting VoxPeritus for a free caller experience audit of the top level of your main voice channel to understand the state of your organization’s caller experience.

Don’t fall prey to “social media is killing the phone” hype.  Consider the information provided in the following Infographic.  This is just one of many studies all saying that voice is still King and will remain so through the end of this decade. When you have your voice channel in order, including mobile caller experience, then perhaps you might want to begin to schedule time to address your email and chat channels before you consider taking on social media as yet another channel to manage well.

Kevin Brown
Managing Director
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Robert Bacal, noted Customer Service expert and author aligns with our perspective in his latest article: Eight Reasons Why Social Media Negatively Affects Customer Service and The Customer Experience

Call Centers Infographic
Image originally posted on Zengage, The Zendesk Blog