Be where your customers are right now

The August bank holiday is gone. Summer is over and now were coasting to the end of another year. But for a retailer this is the build up to the golden quarter that most likely began once the last one ended in January or February. The run-up to Christmas and the New Year is when the tills really start ringing!

But this period of the year should not only be about sales alone. The year on year growth in online sales means that the customer journey is evolving. You need to be prepared, you need to be thinking about how to optimise that journey for a number of reasons:

With all that extra business there is a great opportunity, but also danger. If you are still not getting the customer journey right then your customers are telling their friends – and they are telling their friends. Review sites, customer forums, social networks – they are all where customers are talking about your brand and products right now.

If you get the customer journey wrong then it will not just dampen sales this quarter, it can have long-lasting consequences. Customers will defect, and will publish their experience ensuring that future searches for information about your brand find those stories.  It is a time to win new advocates, reward loyalty and establish long standing relationships.

The trick is to think about the customer journey and to be where they are today. Not where they used to be or where you hope they will be, or where an industry guru says they will be in the future – find where your customers are right now and focus on delivering this generation customer service.

Be where your customers are. The companies that get this right will be increasingly profitable.

Walmart Customer Selects a Fabric Reintroduced to Product Mix


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The contact centre of the future – part one

What will the contact centre of the future look like? It’s a question that I will be exploring in three blogs over the next couple of weeks.

Nobody can actually predict the future, but we can see changes in the industry that, when extrapolated, do lead us to quite a different environment to what we are familiar with today.

Multichannel customer service, social media interactions with customers, and the increased complexity of customer interactions mean that the contact centre of the future is more likely to be run by a specialist customer service company than being an internal function within a brand that needs to interact with customers.

But this increased complexity changes a number of areas within the contact centre itself, often in ways that are not immediately obvious and regardless of whether it is outsourced or not.

The traditional approach to a customer query would be for the customer to call the contact centre where an agent would deal with the query. The generalists on the front line would do their best to handle the issue, but would direct the caller to a more specialised agent if the problem were too complex.

This process works fairly well when customers all come into the system using a uniform point of entry, they are funnelled towards the expertise. But in the present day we are already seeing a change in how enquiries are routed because there are now two requirements from an agent:

  1. Know the product that is being supported.
  2. Know the channel that is being used to contact the brand, so responses can take place within the same channel.

So in the present day environment it’s no good directing an enquiry from Twitter to the best product expert on the team if they are only familiar with Facebook and voice as support channels. There is a new dimension of complexity in how the routing must take place.

Taking this multi-dimensional support structure forward leads us to the conclusion that contact centres will become increasingly virtual in time; with the requirement being to spread support experts across a number of contact channels and also a number of time zones it becomes less desirable to collect the entire team together in one place.

What will become really important is the intelligence of the routing algorithms so that the person supporting the required channel with the right expertise can be found quickly and without the need for bouncing the customer around inside the support network.

If finding the right person quickly becomes one of the key issues driving contact centre performance then it is likely that the right people will be more distributed – agents more often working from home with a control centre ensuring enough people are available to cover the required product knowledge and channels.

Agents working from home has been presented in the past as a more flexible way of working that also has business continuity planning advantages – you never have all your eggs in the same basket – but I believe that it may soon become normal out of necessity.

In the next article, I will explore how the increasing complexity of multichannel support is increasing the calibre and profile of the agents in contact centres.

waiting for the future • esperando el futuro


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How many different phone chargers do we need?

The other day I was talking to a friend about just how many different chargers I need to carry around for different devices. I have phones and tablets and for many of these devices I have a personal one and a business one. Almost all of them have a unique charger that doesn’t work for other devices.

I started looking around online, wondering if anyone have made a similar complaint and if there had ever been any plan for standardisation. I quickly found a Cnet article from last year suggesting that the European Parliament had unanimously voted through a measure that would force all phone manufacturers to adopt the same type of charger.

This might not help if you also have a Kindle and iPad, but getting all the phone manufacturers to work together would at least be a step in the right direction. With so many devices all using the same charging cables, it is likely that other types of device would adopt the same standard.

But, as I mentioned, that Cnet article was published over a year ago. Regardless of what the European parliament say they want to see for phones used in Europe, I haven’t seen much improvement in my own life and I assume this applies for most people.

In an ideal world, our devices would recharge without cables, using electricity from the cloud in a similar way to electric toothbrushes being able to charge just by being placed near a base station. Imagine a single base station at home that could charge all of your devices simultaneously – that would be great.

But how far in the future is all this? The current system of needing a different cable to charge each device reminds me of the dial-up internet days when any business traveller had to carry about 20 phone jacks to ensure it was always possible to plug into a hotel phone.

There is no competitive differentiation in chargers. Nobody makes a purchasing decision based on the charger being ‘better’ in different phones. This would be a great way for the phone companies to give something back to their customers – please listen to the voice of the European Parliament!

Charging a Lot


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Stop Press! Some banks do offer great customer service

It’s unusual to see much praise for customer service teams in the press, complaints about awful service are more common, but now and again a journalist will publish an article that heaps praise upon an individual or team.  Last week this was the case in London’s Evening Standard newspaper where financial columnist Jeff Prestridge lavished praise on an employee of Barclays bank – Paul Collins from the Kensington branch.

As the article notes, Barclays has not done very well recently in polls that aim to review the levels of customer service in various banks. Advice website Moneysavingsexpert ranked their customer service the lowest of 14 banks in the UK. But is this fair?

As Jeff Prestridge has shown in his article, our impression of a big business can be entirely based on the actions of one individual. In his case, Paul Collins smiled and made Jeff’s visit to the bank much easier than expected. This gave a great impression of banking with Barclays despite what any of the surveys and polls might say.

But, providing great customer service is not just about having a smiling face at branches. Customers form an impression of a brand when they call, email, start an online chat, or see how the brand responds to a tweet. What brands really need is to bottle the helpful approach of Paul Collins in Kensington so this can be applied across every different channel. Great customer service in this modern multichannel environment is extremely complex to get right.

We are working every day to ensure that our clients offer great service across all the channels they are using because it is these individual interactions that form an opinion of the brand. If Jeff would like to see some of our teams in action talking to clients on social networks, by email, on chat, and on voice calls then he would be very welcome!

Barclays Bank - Frederick Street - Jewellery Quarter - Night Safe


Photo by Elliot Brown licensed under Creative Commons

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Is it fair to charge extra for better #custserv?

What would you do if you called up the customer service line for your mobile phone operator and a voice offered you an immediate service if they could charge your bill 50p, or waiting for an available operator as a free alternative?

In many cases people in a hurry will just add the fee to their bill, but is it right to offer this kind of queue-jumping service? EE has just introduced this measure and they argue that the additional cash generated is going to be ploughed back into improving the service offered.

I am usually in favour of service providers offering a premium option that can be accessed by paying an additional fee. It allows customers the choice to opt for a better service if they are prepared to pay a little extra, but in this case I’m not so sure.

In this example, someone with a critical issue who does not opt for the priority service will wait far longer for help than someone with a trivial issue who has paid for the upgrade. It doesn’t seem fair and if the wait times are not acceptable then surely the focus should be on improving service levels for all customers?

What do you think? Is it fair to charge extra for faster service and would you pay? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @simondillsworth.

VC 50p


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Look beyond your peers when comparing #custserv levels

As the work of a customer service team has become more transparent and visible, the importance of their work has become more obviously valued. Now that the customer service team is so clearly the link between most brand names and their customers, these interactions and relationships are becoming increasingly strategic to executives who want to offer great service and create good relationships.

But often the examples of ‘great service’ cited online are clearly where an individual or team has risen to the occasion. These examples of great service sound fantastic, but they are rarely an example of everyday service performed well. But this is what every company actually needs to achieve – service that works well day after day.

So it was interesting to see that Micah Solomon in Forbes magazine has outlined what senior executives need to understand about the customer service process as it works today.

You can read the full list of Forbes recommendations here, and it comprises some basic tips such as understanding the systems, but I thought it was very good advice to look beyond your own industry. Customers are communicating globally using many different channels and they don’t care if they are contacting the customer service team at a publisher, a retailer, or a telco. So if you are only ever judging your service levels against immediate peers today then you might be letting down your customers – as well as your own team.

What do you think are the most important points that an executive needs to understand about how customer service works today? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Shopping Scene from Beijing

Photo by Trey Ratcliff licensed under Creative Commons

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Is every part of your company now customer-centric?

Forbes magazine recently published an interesting focus on marketing recently that explored various examples of customer service from companies such as Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos.

The focus of the piece was on marketing and how every good business can learn from great examples of customer-centricity, but it got me thinking about the fundamental question, is there any business today that can afford to not be customer-centric?

Putting the customer first and living by maxims such as ‘the customer is always right’ have been part of corporate strategy for a long time, but most companies are in the process of redefining the relationship with their customers at present because much of that relationship is now conducted in public – away from the contact centre.

Adding service channels such as chat, Twitter, Facebook, and the use of social review forums like TripAdvisor has put the customer service team at the forefront of the customer relationship more than ever before. The interactions are public, unlike days gone by when a poor interaction could be hidden away because it was either on a call or email that only the individual customer and the brand could see anyway.

So with the customer relationship so much at the forefront of what every company is now doing, it is time to revise exactly how every part of your company is working. Are they all truly customer-centric? Think about the sales, marketing, public relations, and strategy teams – are they all taking a lead from customer services?

They really should be.

What do you think about the way companies are being reshaped? Is it really the customer service experience that is shaping modern organizations? Leave a comment on the blog here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.

Southwest Airlines


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