(lengthy post warning: over 4,000 words)
I wasn’t even close.
After the first of the three video webinars, we did with Microsoft on customer experience I wrote a blog post saying that I had found the four questions you had about customer experience.
Man, was I off.
The first webinar was the basic definition and set up – what’s customer experience, how it works, why do you need to do it, etc. You can find that webinar here – and the questions and answers here.
Then we did the second webinar. I introduced my framework for doing customer experience and furthered the concept from a project to an enterprise-wide initiative – including a discussion on metrics, technology, and early peek into results.
I did not write a blog after that one, there were no questions that were offered (even if there were more people in the second than in the first one).
Planning the last video was easy: we just needed to finish the “how do I go about implementing?” part of the topic and focus on results and examples. Simplest, and easiest, of the three. Sure, we grew registration and attendance by over 50% from the second one, and almost 80% from the first one, but it was straight up – who could have questions about that?
Did I mention this was a 30 minutes webinar? We had 12 questions that were not answered, in addition to the 3 I was able to answer during the webinar.
I am speechless – these are really good, interesting questions. I will do my best.
Let’s get to it.
Questions, and then – answers.
Q: You mention a reduction in costs for service operations, where does that come from?
A: ah, yes. A mileage questions. That is a your-mileage-will-vary question. I cannot tell you exactly where they will occur for you – that’s because your operations are different and your needs and different, and your approach will definitely be different than everyone else – but can give you areas and guidelines based on what others have found and ask you to figure out what is your need and what are your metrics that matter.
Some of the areas where we have seen some value returned:
- Efficiency. Improved and optimized operations achieve two things: faster processing and new processes that were previously not possible that deliver better operations. These efficiency improvements deliver value to the organization and the client that can get something they likely couldn’t before or took too long.
- Personnel. As you move towards automation, the need for personnel may be reduced. This does not necessarily mean fewer people – but most likely no more people to handle more volume (overall). Optimization via improved training and better operations also reduce the amount of downtime for personnel as they go through needed training and they use better systems that demand less know-how with better outcomes.
- Time-to-handle. Although time-to-handle is an old-time metric that should not be used anymore, the concept remains – if a call or email or chat can be handled in less time thanks to both automation and optimization, the saved time translates into value for the organization given the agent can do something else with the same time.
- Customer support operations. The total cost of operations of customer support departments will decrease over time as technology and corporate processes are leveraged as part of operations and personnel costs will trend down over time – this is a way to say that depending on who you manage your budgets, this may be a better metric to use than the others introduced above.
- New business models. We are starting to notice that support operations in an organization that has not had the ability to do certain things (merge marketing and service, for example, or sell from the contact center) are being deployed faster and easier thanks to the new models for customer service. These new models carry a strategic value at the very least, although on many occasions it improves revenues and reduces costs as well.
- Hardware savings. This is a cloud-based value-proposition: renting to use what’s needed versus the costs of owning and maintaining (especially if peak and off-peak prices can be negotiated) is a known benefit of using cloud operations. As we embrace them in customer service, we will see more and more how the savings can be allocated to different areas within service operations.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Since I don’t know your Service KPI an SLA I cannot make an accurate assessment of your situation and/or figure out what will be best. Alas, if you start looking at these topics you will likely find some metrics that will match your strategy and your approach and places where you could generate some savings.
If none of this works – contact me and we can discuss your situation further.
Q: Can I get this done without adopting a cloud-based deployment?
Half-kidding. Yes, you could. Anything is possible.
There are certain verticals or industries, or even operations that are unique, that have requirements for local (as in not-in-the-cloud) or on-premises deployments. As long as you make the solution available to your customers via a browser, mobile app, or some other solution that allows them to do what they need without major hassle and provide access to the right information while doing that – sure, it’s possible.
I won’t try to convince you to “going cloud” – even if it’s a commoditized architecture that will own the world in the next 3-4 years or less, and you won’t be allowed to play with anyone else if you don’t support cloud, and you are spending tons of money on operations that have since moved way past obsolete – that’s your corporate strategic direction or architecture and I would never try to convince your powers-that-be that they are pigeon headed on a topic that we have already resolved to be better, faster, cheaper, easier, and – well, incredibly flexible, dynamic, and results-oriented for CRM as nothing else.
Far be it from me to do that.
There’s also the issue of utilizing a cloud-centric platform model to allow customers to build infinite different experience ad-hoc to fit their current needs. You cannot do that on-premises – even on hosted SaaS or legacy SaaS (monolithic cloud, not three-tier open cloud), you cannot do that as efficiently. Or at all. Integration of functionality or data flows is expensive, cumbersome, and maintenance-heavy when you try to do that – and since information changes fast (which for most organizations and situations is what happens) you will end up paying a ton of money on maintenance and support for new point-to-point integration (a fact that three-tier open cloud can solve easily by leveraging services and tokenization).
Bottom line: sure, you can deliver partly on the promise. But you won’t get the benefits we have been discussing in the three webinars on customer experience that is focused on the customer needs, with ad-hoc outcome-built experiences, aimed at meeting expectations each and every time that a flexible, dynamic platform can deliver – and no other model can equal.
Q: How long does it take to do an end-to-end customer experience project?
A: There are two answers to this.
You can spend 4-6 months (very basically) doing a customer journey mapping (or similar) project to understand the needs and wants of your customers. Another 6-8 months (at the very least) documenting your processes. And yet, 3-4 more months (if not longer) building experiences that match your customer needs and your organization’s ability to deliver to them. Deploying them can take another 4-6 months on the short end of the spectrum.
You can then spend 3-4 months every year updating the experiences you build, testing new ones and changed ones, deploying them, and documenting the changes.
And then you can do that forever – or at least until you realize you are spending 70% or more of your time keeping up a static model and trying to make it work as you think it’s best – while your customers “reward” you with a 70-75% satisfaction rating and/or you keep an NPS around 70-72. Forever.
You would then be with the majority of the market today.
The second answer is where you realize the above model is unsustainable and you instead focus the next 18-24+ months on building a cloud-based infrastructure like we introduced in the second webinar and let it serve your customers ad-hoc as they see their needs changes and evolve, while you spend 15% or less of your time maintaining and keeping the infrastructure running.
Either way, end-to-end experiences are an iterative journey that you will continue to do forever – but the bigger question is: how long and how much you want to spend on maintaining your solution.
Q: What are the best platform tools?
A: I am not going to mention names, not only because Microsoft has kindly paid for my time doing this project and it would be unfair – but also because I don’t do vendor selection recommendations.
There are many vendors, all sizes, and all types, that can support what you need – and many other people that can help you make that decision if you’d like.From my perspective, Microsoft does have the needed elements to support your needs (else I would not be working with them, I thankfully get to choose my clients based on alignment between my vision and theirs) but I don’t recommend or endorse any vendors – even if they pay for my time or a project.
Having said that, I believe the minimum requirements for what you are looking for is in the following slide – which lists how the interactions of the future (read experiences) between customers and organizations will happen.
Hope that helps.
Q: Talking about customer service platforms. Are those platforms all customer designer or are there any cloud SaaS products for this area?
A: During the webinar, we introduced the model for customer service platforms based on a three-tier cloud architecture.
Are there vendors that can do all this? More than likely, close but not quite. However, as I learned in politics – I will change the premise of the question since I don’t like questions that point to vendors or technologies as the only solution to a problem.
Are there vendors that support open-public-cloud, platform-based problems? Yes, there are vendors that support it both via platforms (that provide from some to a majority of the services depicted above) and those that support it via services (for elements or industries that are either too specialized or too unique that a platform provider cannot do well).
What you will find, in the near- to mid-term future if not today, is that most organizations will actually design their own platform model and use vendors to deliver either the core services, exclusive services, or unique services – but the organization’s architecture and IT teams are responsible for putting together all the best services into a complete solution.
And – yes, some existing vendors you use today can deliver either the core architecture or the pieces for this new solution, there is no need to “forklift” the existing solution and put in a new one completely.
Q: Do you consider Things (IoT) to be Customers…potentially?
A: The beauty of the internet of things model is that it consists of sensors that are used to capture operational data in real time and feed it into optimized processes to execute faster. Thus, no. Things are not customers, although they can provide unique, real-time data that can be used to service customers – mostly because, customers are not sensors.
(the longer, ethical discussion on that answer will not be carried out in this blog post)
Q: What’s a good approach to conveying the importance of customer experience to upper-level small sample size, 4-6 practitioners, management?
A: We covered this a couple of times during the series. It’s worth repeating – this is about who the marketplace and workplace are shifting in the generational change we are experiencing.
The traditional model for CRM depending on an interaction between service, marketing, and sales that were not very well understood (but was presciently expected) and that resulted in what was touted as a 360-degree view of the customer: if we can capture all the information of those three functions (which, from the company perspective, are the building blocks of a customer-organization relationship) we can then know the customer intimately.
The problem with that thinking was that it originated from the company perspective – not the customer perspective – and thus lack the crucial understanding of how customers want to be treated, in favor or how companies think its best and easier for them to treat customers.
The following chart explains how the world is changing, and how the organizations must adapt to it.
There are three pillars to a new model of relationship, within a foundation of customer-led ad-hoc experiences:
- Age of the customer. Customers are in control of the conversation, and the company must acknowledge the change in the direction of information and power.
- Citizen programmers. As more and more corporate citizens can build smaller, ad-hoc solutions for themselves and for their customers the way both the functions and the information flows are building a new interaction model with customers.
- Digital transformation. The optimization of data flows, outcomes and processes led to better use of information and new, dynamic models for interactions with customers.
By adapting the organization to these trends and into this new model, you can easily begin to see a value proposition that showcases how the organization becomes a participant in the value generation at each interaction, versus simply trying to deliver what they think its best – and missing their customers’ demands.
Q: How can my business increase customer satisfaction if we are already being consumer-focused and customer-centric?
A: This is a delicate answer – without intending any ill to anyone, I doubt very much that any business is consumer focused and customer centric other than in words and simple actions.
This is where I paraphrase my friend Iñigo “that word, it does not mean what you think it means”
Simply, one of the things we learned early on is that being consumer-focused or customer-centric requires changes to the five tenets of running a business: people, processes, technologies, governance, and metrics. In my experience, there are no businesses that have yet made the complete transition. Bits and pieces? Sure. Plenty of them – but fully immersed? Not yet.
While your organization may be embarked in initiatives towards becoming more customer-centric or more consumer-focused (or the new ones, reducing customer effort, or increasing engagement from stakeholders and/or customers) none of these initiatives have an end-state. They are iterative, ongoing solutions that never reach a completed status.
Thus, even if you are underway in those initiatives to be more customer-centric or consumer-focused – you still have ways to go – you are not done because the needs and demands of both customers and consumers are constantly shifting and your organization needs to adapt to them.
Besides, one of the early lessons learned from early projects in customer-centricity is that metrics change – even KPIs – and there is no such thing as customer satisfaction as a metric that matters as much. Thus, if you are customer-centric or consumer-focused – you will have operational metrics and indexes to look into, that are not customer satisfaction, that will tell you more about the health and operations of your business than customer satisfaction.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for stakeholder engagement best practices?
A: I have to make an assumption: stakeholder in this question means internal stakeholder only (customers and consumers are eternal stakeholders as well in a customer-centric world – their needs become the marching orders for the organizational strategy).
If this is the case, then great – I recently wrote a white paper on how to engender engagement in employee populations.
I won’t rewrite the entire thing, but here is a link to it: Highly Engaged Customer Service Employees
Q: How critical is CRM for customer experience, and is there some innovation happening in CRM to easily enable better customer experience?
A: If you subscribe to my perspective – it’s mission-critical.
From my side of things, customer experience is defined and expected by customers at each interaction, with the operational parameters of the moment and relying on the information the company holds to deliver the expected outcome. In this definition, the organization is merely a collector and user of information, mixing it from the customer and other sources in the search for the single one-answer that is what the customers expect to see or hear. To make this work, having the right information, in the right place, at the right time is fundamental.
And that is where CRM comes in.
To be honest, the straight up value of CRM as a 360-degree view of the customer from the company perspective is disappearing quickly. Companies realized they have to partner with the customers and consumers to deliver on their demands and needs. Gone are the days when we could collect all information and bombard customers with marketing emails, for example, as now they have the expectation to only be contacted when they ask for it.
Alas, this is good news – the value of CRM has increased dramatically these days – from a mere collector of information to an aggregation and integration engine that, with the addition of analytics, delivers unique insights as the system of record for customer data.
How critical is CRM? Is the only way to deliver to customers the experiences they expect – because without the data and analytics of CRM no organization could understand the customer, their request, and the best answer in context – and this is the most important part: context provided by the collected and analyzed information guarantees a fulfillment of the expectations of each and every customer experience.
Q: What about customer expectations to be satisfied in an unreasonable amount of time. With the expectation of speedy responses, how can we bring quality?
A: Few things irk me more than an unbounded belief that the customer is always right – except for its cousin: customers want things done fast no matter what.
Research study after research study has already disproved both: customers are not unreasonable, but they are guided by their expectations – which are built upon past experiences. Customers don’t want fast, they just want fast if they think it won’t be accurate or true (many studies have proven this).
If customers have a reasonable belief that the answer will be correct, they are ok waiting longer than they indicate. They want a resolution, not a quick bad answer. To deliver on this, there are three concepts you need to understand:
- Expectation management. The easiest way for organizations to manage expectations is to set them in the customer. Building an infrastructure that delivers what the customers want, each and every time, effortlessly, is the way to set the expectations that they will get what they want and need every time. If you set the expectations, you can control what they expect.
- Win-win. The biggest problem we found with early customer-centric projects was that they focused so much on delivering to what the customer wanted or needed that they forgot to put in considerations for the organizational needs as well. A win-win balanced model where value, if generated for both parties at each interaction, is far better.
- Scaling via Automation. One of the biggest lessons we got from using social media in customer service was that we cannot continue to add people ad-nausea to our support operations (see win-win above) simply to meet the ever-increasing volume (and the lack of tools to manage it properly). We need to use automation as a way to reduce the operational costs and manage it better at scale.
Using these concepts and shifting the question from how we can deliver fast to how we can deliver well will give you the best solution that does both.
Q: Could you please explain or provide an example of how one can measure customer success when customer journeys maps have all been compiled?
A: This is not a question I like to answer because it forces me to concede, even slightly, that “customer journeys” are a thing. And while I acknowledge that there are many organizations that believe that compiling customer journeys is the best way to get to know what customers needs, they are missing the key concept of learning about customers: customers are fickle and ever-changing.
Documenting a journey today just means that you know what that one customer wanted today – not what everyone else does or what that customer wants tomorrow or next week.
I am opposed to customer journeys due to the static nature of them: it is hard once you documented a process on paper to make changes to it. I am also opposed because I don’t believe that customers and situations are that static.
This means that If I were to concede to their existence, then my answer to that question would be: make sure you do exactly ad documented. That would be customer success when customer journeys are mapped.
Now, let me turn things around a little and propose a different model – and different success metrics.
If you subscribe to my ad-hoc experiential model where customers decide at every interaction what type of experience they need, what information they require to complete the interaction, and how to approach the organization, then the model is not about measuring how effective the organization “guessed” the answer (fine, educated guess based on the documented journey maps) but how effectively it delivered per the customer expectations. And that changes the metrics – from efficiency (how well did we do what we were supposed to do) to effectiveness (how well does the customer believe we delivered against their expectations).
You will still have operational metrics and indexes to measure how well each part of every ad-hoc solution performs, but your focus is going to be in making sure that you know what the customer expects, and that you delivered against that.
How do you measure that? You measure your operations better as indexes (I wrote an entire blog post on that many years ago) and you know their expectations and impressions better by asking them directly. Not if they are satisfied, but if the interaction just completed met their expectations.
Then you can show the movements along those indexes and customer-focused metrics and show management that what you are doing is worth continuing.
Or – send them to talk to me.
((disclaimers: I said this before, but – Microsoft paid me for my time and effort in doing this webinar series, but not for the opinions. I mentioned them a few times along this blog post as a potential solution, not as an endorsement of their product but because their solution met the needs of the questions. I did not mention any other vendors out of courtesy – but you know as well as I do (and they do as well) that there are other vendors that can do what was asked. I don’t endorse vendors or do vendor selection, I am the worse resource when it comes to that, so my mentions of vendors are more along the lines of research that matters versus name-dropping. Said it before, but worth repeating, that all these answers, charts, content, etc. are mine and mine alone – errors are mine. Also, credit goes to me. Thanks. No one ever told me what to say, or how, or what topics to mention or not. Microsoft, as well as all my other clients, are aware of that before we start, and we have a fine relationship going back many years where, sometimes, I upset them and sometimes I said things they don’t agree with (as I am sure it happened in this long post), but they know better than trying to curtail my ideas and opinions. For that, I thank them. And you for reading.))
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