Archives for posts with tag: customer experience

I’ve been thinking about the idea of impermanence for awhile now as it pertains to social customer care. Tenuous perhaps, but this train of thought, this idea of – impermanence – has been sitting at the back of my mind, nagging away; I can’t seem to shift it. This nagging thought can be directly attributable to a number of posts written by Nathan Jurgenson, Snapchat’s in-house researcher.

He writes in Pics and It Didn’t Happen [The New Inquiry]: “What would the various social-media sites look like if ephemerality was the default and permanence, at most, an option?”

The thought intrigued me. What would social customer care look like if we pushed it to an extreme and applied the same sense of ephemerality to it? Here are my initial and somewhat unstructured thoughts.

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The customer service model as we know it is built on permanence and through this permanence comes consistency and efficiency: the cornerstones of our modern day service experience. Organisations can provide the same experience, the same resolution time and time again, over and over again. Resolutions can be commoditised, packaged up, shipped out. This works because the organisation controls the systems of delivery.

But what happens not if, but when, customers refute the assumption of permanence? What happens when ‘temporary‘ becomes the norm. What happens when ‘temporary’ defines the characteristic of the solution or experience at hand? The solution is experienced once by its chosen audience, and then gone. This impermanence or temporariness of the experience determines how that service is provided (if at all), how the resolution is constructed, the tools required to create, curate, deliver it, and ultimately experience it. What happens if the chosen audience only has 10 seconds to view it, understand it… and then never to be seen again. How do you design a service or an experience that is ultimately self-deleting?

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The service model that we know, built around permanence, is self-fulfilling. The knowledge base re-inforces this notion of permanence. Adds credibility to it. Substantiates it. It gives organisations a sense of security and importance.

This sense of permanence, however, makes it difficult to re-invent, renew, re-invigorate. It makes it difficult to question the past. It makes it problematic to move forwards, to create new experiences. We feel the weight of it bearing down on us.

In his post, The Liquid Self, Jurgenson writes:

“My worry here is that today’s dominant social media is too often premised on the idea (and ideal) of having one, true, unchanging, stable self and as such fails to accommodate playfulness and revision. It has been built around the logic of highly structured boxes and categories, most with quantifiers that numerically rank every facet of our content, and this grid-patterned data-capture machine simply does not comfortably accommodate the reality that humans are fluid, changing, and messy in ways both tragic and wonderful.”

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But what would happen if we turned our back on this sense of permanence? What would happen if we rejected the burden of having to create something durable and lasting? What would happen if we could disentangle ourselves from equating authenticity with permanence? The knowledge base as the sacred source of truth. This isn’t about being forgetful either.

What if we accepted the elusive nature of impermanence? Accepted that the context of the knowledge base should not be the sole determinant of authenticity. The service experience like some kind of convenience food, consumed in the moment, experienced in the moment, resolved in the moment? Isn’t that enough?

The temporariness of the experience makes it by default personalised and contextual. This sense of personalisation is heightened by the fact that the audience for whom it is created is chosen. The choice is deliberate, intentional; in many ways this sense of impermanence is far more restrictive than our current service model. The fact that the experience will shortly be gone raises the level of acuity through a heightened sense of urgency.

The irony of this, however, is that in creating ‘disposable experiences’, it may actually force organisations to redefine, reconsider, rethink what truly needs to be permanent in the eyes of their customers. In the act of creating experiences that are impermanent, organisations perhaps, create value by default in those things that are then considered to be permanent. Without this, permanence becomes a playground for the mundane, the routine, the complacent. In this context, apps like Snapchat should not be instantly dismissed, but rather heeded as a warning to what the future of customer service might hold.

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I came across a post by Tony Reeves on his blog – Techtrees – a moment ago – Global Fluency and 21st Century Skills. What interested me was the model he had adapted from elsewhere, which I have copied below (I hope you don’t mind?).

The fact that he had taken and adapted someone else’s model reminds me of Wikinomics and the idea of ‘a shared canvas where every splash of paint contributed by one user provides a richer tapestry for the next user to modify or build on’. I love, that’s a strong word to use in connection with the internet, the idea that in this age when we start to create, when we start to write, the idea of the ‘shared canvas’ is built into the very fabric of what we are creating. To think otherwise is naive. We create for others to build on, to create something new, to take something and refresh it, add a different perspective, sometimes to even make it better.

But back to Reeves’ adapted model.

21st Century Skills - Tony Reeves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reeves went on to write: Business and the global economy need workers, managers and leaders who can organise information and work collaboratively to find rapid solutions to complex problems.

This got me thinking about the skills needed for social customer care, or indeed, using Reeves’ terminology – ’21st century interaction skillset’. I’m slowly moving away from the phrase ‘customer service’. Someone yesterday mentioned it’s all customer experience anyway. I’m using the phrase ‘customer interaction’: ‘interaction’ as a placeholder (interaction is an ugly sounding word, but you understand what I’m talking about), and actually I’m also wondering whether we need the word ‘customer’ either. I think it was Lyle Fong (Lithium) who said in an interview with Ray Wang (Constellation Group): What happens when we treat customers as part of the company? I’m not sure yet what’s coming next, what ‘customer service’ will look like, but I do feel the underlying model is changing.

I’m thinking less about service as a fixed entity: fixed set of people, fixed location, fixed time period, fixed resolutions. I’m thinking about all the different interactions that could take place by all the different people that could participate. I’m thinking about something that is more fluid, flexible, ‘on the fly’.

So what I’m wondering is whether at a time when the way organisations have provided ‘customer service’ is so obviously shifting and changing, to what degree these same organisations are thinking about the different skills, literacies and, to use Reeves’ word (albeit in a slightly adapted way) ‘fluencies’ required for 21st century ‘customer service’.

I was having fish and chips the other day with my sons. The waiter came over bringing the menus with him. A few minutes later he returned to take our orders, placed the order with the kitchen, and then after that came back with a fishing game for the kids to play. The kids were delighted and it not only made a great distraction, it also was a welcome change from the usual colouring-in.

It got me thinking that even though this was a simple twist on distracting the kids while they were waiting for their food, they had obviously taken the time to think about this part of the meal. What was also great was that they had kept it within the context of fish and chips.

How do you fill your customer’s waiting time? What could you do to make it different or fun? How could social media make a difference to someone when they’re queuing in one of your stores? Or when their car is broken down by the side of the road and they’re waiting for one of your field agents to come and pick them up?

I was working with a colleague – @PdeRobert – a few months back to try and show how social customer care channels have evolved, and we came up with the following graphic:

Foviance Social Customer Care Channels

After revisiting it recently here are some of my observations:

  • The means by which customers communicate with companies has changed.
  • Both a multichannel (ie. phone, online, store) and a multiplatform (ie. blog, microblog, video) world now exist. Think of the Conversation Prism and the role played by smartphones and apps.
  • Options don’t disappear, they continue to sit alongside each other. This results in the rich variety of options that exist, some of which are literally at the end of our fingertips now. We may replace one channel with another, but this is perhaps due to changing the technology we use.
  • Communication has been freed up in both time and space. It is not fixed to a physical object that sits in one location. I can communicate at anytime and from anywhere.
  • Technology has resulted in the possibility of more complex types of communication. Even at this still rudimentary level of evolution, Augmented Reality shows all of us the possibility of something new and different.
  • As we move outwards, so the role of the company fundamentally changes from creator to participant. Historically, the company has created the means by which its customers communicated with them. Without a postal address, telephone number, fax number, email address a customer could not communicate with a company. Over the last few years, the means of self expression has been democratised through social media and smartphones/apps.
  • As we move outwards, so communication moves from a closed transaction between company and customer to an open interaction between people, of which the company is just one part of the conversation (if at all).
  • Communication is no longer a single linear action. Apps empower me to distribute my query or my complaint to a multitude of destinations.

However, what I dwelt on a few nights ago was how channels of communication have over time moved from the physical to the virtual. In a sense, the handshake has been replaced by the ‘@’ symbol. A world in reverse, where we spend an increasing amount of time in our virtual worlds. Our IRL experiences (‘in real life’) re-inforcing, perhaps reminding us, of the nostalgia of a time long since past.

In this virtual world, physical proximity has been replaced by a different type of proximity that promotes, perhaps indulges, spontaneity and impulsiveness. The ‘throw-away experience’, in a sense. The ability to discern becomes paramount for companies.

And in this increasingly virtual world, the desire for a greater sense of being human, the need for a more personal touch, becomes all too powerful. In that brief moment, I want you to feel my pain, my excitement, my anger, my frustration. I don’t want you to simply listen to me. I want you to hear me. To empathise with me.

In this increasingly virtual world, this sense of physical loss is replaced by the need to underpin the empty space with some kind of emotional connection or re-affirmation. I don’t just want you to listen to me or hear me, I want you to remember me. I want you to acknowledge, in that brief moment, that I exist, that my problem is important.

And all too often I will be left disappointed. But that, perhaps, is the trade-off in our increasingly virtual world.

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Added 25th February 2011: I posted the following question on Quora on 14th February 2011: As methods of communication become more virtual will ‘in real life’ experiences take on more importance? I received a great answer from Dan Lovejoy, with a couple of links:

YouTube video he created: Real/Life

Media Naturalness Theory (Wikipedia)

I’ve read a number of posts and articles over the last few months about customer satisfaction. Some of the articles support the idea that businesses must try to satisfy their customers’ needs in order to improve customer loyalty, while others adopt an alternative view that meeting customer satisfaction does not result in any tangible signs of increased loyalty. Yet others are now shifting away from customer satisfaction and focussing on customer effort.

How do we make sense of all these differing views competing for our airtime? They all seem valid in their own way. Take the idea of customer effort, I’m surprised we’ve not thought about this before. If as a customer, I can achieve my desired outcome by travelling down the path of least resistance, why wouldn’t I be satisfied? Whether that path of least resistance includes Twitter, email, the phone, chat, Facebook makes little difference.

Perhaps the key is to focus less on satisfaction as the endgame and more on creating a path of least resistance between the customer and their desired outcome. Satisfaction or least effort may well be a natural outcome of this.

At the end of the day I’m not sure if customer satisfaction or customer effort is more about truly understanding a company’s customers or understanding the machinations of the organisation itself. But then what do I know about satisfaction?

I’ve been reading about the use of Klout within a customer service context, in particular Assistly’s decision to adopt Klout as their ‘standard for determining online influence‘.

This move, along with the increasing use of sentiment within customer service, continues the ongoing blurring of the lines between customer service and marketing. Silos are being eroded at the point at which social cuts across them.

I believe that understanding sentiment and influence has a place within customer service. Services like Klout have a role to play. They provide a more contextual view, and in so doing ultimately may result in a more relevant outcome for both customer and company.

Where caution may need to be exercised, however, is ensuring that the experience and its associated resolution do not become defined by incidental drivers.

That a particular customer complains should be treated in terms of what the complaint is and not because of their Klout score, the fact that it was Tweeted rather than emailed, their number of followers, the real-time nature of Twitter (what does ‘real time’ mean anyway?).

That a particular customer has a high Klout score and by assumption a greater influence (let’s not confuse influence and reach, do we understand what each is?) and possibility to turn the situation into a firestorm should not be a determinant of the type of service they receive. If the same person with the same complaint uses email instead, how would it be dealt with?

Matthew Thomson, the ‘chief biz dev guy at Klout’ writes on a blog post by Justin Flitter: I hear both sides of this argument a lot. Brands and businesses think of using our data to “scale” and “prioritize”, not to discriminate.

Where prioritising, in a way, promotes discrimination (first class travel), scaling neutralises that sense of discrimination to one of averages (economy class travel). And in my mind, businesses do discriminate in a sense when customers use social. A customer who complains via Twitter is likely to receive a more timely, relevant and personal end-to-end service than if they complain by email.

The challenge is not in designing a service experience for someone with a Klout score of 68, but how to translate that timely, relevant and personal end-to-end experience across all channels.

I was reading about the launch of another two software  products over the last few days that will help organisations to better manage their use of Facebook and Twitter within their contact centre. Such products typically have an impressive list of functionality including the ability to know the instant, yes the instant (whether you  are geared up to do something about it the ‘instant’ it is posted is quite another question), your customers comment about you (as opposed to anyone else commenting about you), tracking messages against your customers, automatically routing comments to specific agents, supervisors pre-screening outbound Tweets or Facebook comments, queuing by top customers, influencers or sentiment, moving responses between email and Twitter and back, and scheduling Tweets and automated broadcasts.

These products have been created to help call centres overcome some of the issues that the use of social media has brought with it including the escalation of issues into PR disasters, increased volume of inbound messages originating from social media channels, complaints going unanswered in public, responding to the immediacy of complaints being posted, lack of visibility of activity resulting in very manual and time-consuming reporting processes.

I’m all for technology, and get just as excited about it as anyone else. Okay, I admit, I’m more likely to be excited about the new Windowsphone, than I am about the latest call centre software. But please, please please, don’t confuse functionality with aspiration. Being more open, authentic and empathetic is a cultural acceptance of the importance of these customer engagement characteristics.

The technology may well be designed to allow you to give instant responses and help avert PR disasters. Whether you can actually do that is another matter entirely. The technology will only ever reflect what your organisation truly is to begin with. To be open, authentic and empathetic to your customers, isn’t just a case of paying a monthly subscription fee.

I was really pleased to be asked a few months back by Sampson Lee, founder of Global Customer Experience Management Organization (G-CEM), to be a contributor to a whitepaper discussing the integration of social media across an organisation.

The paper is one of the few examples that considers the application of social media across r&d, brand and PR, marketing, sales, business operations, and customer service.

While my focus was customer service, I felt privileged to be a contributor alongside others such as Bob Thompson, Jim Sterne, Axel Schultze, Rick Mans, Wendy Soucie, Karl Havard and, of course, Sampson Lee.

Download: Social media under one roof

I hope you find the paper of interest.

I often get asked or hear the question being asked at conferences or roundtables about social media customer service: We’re on Twitter, do I need to be on there 24/7?

I am not sure why this question gets asked. Opening hours have very little to do with Twitter, but a lot to do with how a company not only views its customers, but how they wish to engage with them.

Whilst some companies have made the transition to call centres which are open 24/7, the traditional 9-5, 5 day week legacy still dictates opening hours for the majority.

If you do observe your customers, they will tell you how long you need to be on Twitter for, and if your hours don’t fit in with your customers, just let them know when you will be on and what they should do if they need to contact you outside of your stated hours. Customers won’t mind when you’re open, as long as you inform them.

At a recent conference a customer service director for a travel company told the audience that the peak times for buying tickets was a Sunday night. How many call centres do you know are opened on a Sunday night?

Ultimately, if you’re going to ignore the answer anyway, save yourself from asking the question.

I’ve got to hold up my hands and apologise: ‘I’m Guy1067, and I’m sorry’. Here’s why.

I was walking home the other day and it suddenly struck me: I’ve overlooked, perhaps even ignored, one of the most fundamental challenges that I talk and write about.

I talk and write about the impact social media is having on the relationship between companies and customers, on the way companies and customers are engaging with each other. I do this from the perspective of customer service, but try to place it within a broader context of business change.

I talk about the silos that still exist in companies, and how departments need to start working with each other. We are starting to see signs of it more and more. I talk about how companies need to become more collaborative, more open, more sharing, more empathetic. I talk about how brands need to approach their customers and, people in general, across the entire company. The customer experience is not the responsibility of customer service, marketing, sales, compliance, business operations…it is the collective responsibility of all of them. Each has a part to play, whether that is within a public domain or behind the scenes.

And yet, I came to the realisation the other day, as I was walking home, that I am guilty of doing the same when I write about social media customer service.

Rather than talking about social media as a company-wide initiative, I place it firmly within the customer service department.

Perhaps I need a new language for it, a new terminology, a new definition…that immediately places social media within a more collaborative and empathetic framework. A space where a company, its customers, people simply come together.

The traditional silos and paradigms are so much a part of my life, so inherent within my everyday thinking. I don’t even realise they are there any more. I don’t even realise I am doing it. And that’s why it is sometimes hard to wake up, rub the sleep away from my eyes and see them for what they are.

Following on from a conversation I had with a friend from a major telco recently, I started thinking about how we use metrics.

We often measure specific instances of customer behaviour without trying to relate it to an end-to-end journey. Perhaps this is a reflection of how businesses have traditionally operated – in silos?

I work in the ecommerce team therefore I measure sales, I work in the customer services team therefore I measure first contact resolution, I work in the marketing team therefore I measure email campaign open rates,  I work in the business operations team therefore I measure everything…

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But from a customer’s perspective the end-to-end journey might look like this: I want to buy a smartphone.

Monday: research it online via a company’s web site and whilst on there do an online chat about some products and tariffs, do a search on Twitter to see what people are saying about different smartphones

Tuesday: have a look at some handsets in store, talk to the sales agent about some choices, speak to my friends about what they’ve got

Wednesday: I’m not in any desperate hurry to get it, and I’ve heard that going via Twitter gets me a better price. I tweet to a specific telco about the phone I want and the tariff I am interested in. I get put on a callback list.

Thursday: Finally speak to someone from the telco about it. Try not to sound desperate, and slightly regret not going straight into the store. Desperation goes as I get a really good deal for going via Twitter. And the person I speak to over the phone is fantastic.

Friday: Desperation rises once again, as I realise it’s coming into the weekend and I won’t get the phone delivered until the following week. Go onto YouTube to see if there’s anything about the phone to try to pass the time. Find some unboxing videos. Feel slightly sad and geekish that I have resorted to an unboxing video. But think that wouldn’t it be great if a company sent me a ‘while you’re waiting’ email with unboxing videos in and other info related to my new handset.

Monday: Phone finally arrives…

Wednesday: Something is wrong with the phone and ring customer service after eventually finding the number online. Self service has much to answer for I think to myself! Go into a store to return the phone…

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How does a company measure that journey? Where does the journey start and end? Does it try to measure that? Can it even measure it? If it does, what does it do with that information?

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As customers, we seek information, purchase products, communicate with friends in an increasingly disjointed and fragmented cross-channel environment (online, offline, mobile). We instinctively switch between different platforms that are familiar to us, and sometimes experiment and subsequently assimilate those platforms that are less familiar to us.

As companies, we constantly try to understand, pre-empt, predict customer behaviour through metrics. We constantly play ‘customer catch-up’.

Do companies need to find new, different or innovative ways to look at measurement that not only brings departments together, but also works on different levels. How do I not only measure how many products were returned in a particular week, but the sentiment of the customers when they returned them, how many of those customers might be influencers or serial complainers, was there any impact on the NPS score, how did this relate to calls, emails, Tweets into the contact centre…

Do we need to bring marketing, insight, customer service, sales together? Customers touch on every part of an organisation.

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Are we driven by the paranoia of being supposedly able to measure everything? I don’t need to measure everything, and yet I need to capture everything, just in case. Just in case of what? Are we trying to overcomplicate what we measure? Do we know what it is we want to measure? Do we know what we want to do with the information once we’ve got it?

We measure first time resolution? Why? A customer isn’t interested in first time resolution. They’re interested in getting their problem fixed. Fantastic if it does get fixed first time, but if it doesn’t, that’s okay too, as long as you keep me informed. What effective measurements have you got in place to show whether this is happening or not?

For me it’s about getting the basics right for the customer, and measuring that. For a business it’s about something else entirely – ROI perhaps. Seems like we’re at an impasse from the outset. How do you measure the cost of that?

Hey people, let’s go easy on companies. We give them a pretty hard time. We’re rarely satisfied, always quick to react, often changing the goalposts depending on how we feel… and to top it all off, we expect them to be on Twitter 24/7, ready with a reply within seven minutes to my query or complaint.

And let’s not forget, my complaint is the most important one you’ve had today. I expect you to know who I am, I expect you to understand my predicament, I expect you to sympathise with me, to feel my pain. I know you’ve got rules and procedures, but perhaps just this once you could, you know, bend them a little for me? I’ve been a customer of yours for the last nine years, and I’ve recommended all my friends. Did I mention my cat is also really sick?

What’s that? There’s nothing you can do to help me? If you don’t help me, I’ll tweet to all my 57 friends, one of whom is Stephen Fry, who’s got hundreds of thousands of friends…

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No company will ever move as quickly as their customers would like.

Social media is an ongoing experiment, it is a mindset. Companies cannot change their mindset over night. Individuals can. People can. Customers can.

Companies will rarely live up to customers’ expectations.

Companies will always be aspirational, that’s why they have vision statements.

We applaud Zappos because they are the exception. We applaud Frank Eliason because he is the exception. It’s a mindset. It’s an individual.

Complaints are an opportunity to exceed expectations.

Companies think they know what’s best for their customers. Customers think they know how best to run a company. Pity they don’t talk to each other very often.

Social media is pushing everything outwards, decentralising processes and procedures. You can complain wherever you want, to whoever you want. Companies no longer own their own real estate, more and more outposts are emerging. Companies, simply can’t keep up. The paranoia of being where their customers are. The paranoia of being everywhere and nowhere.

The impact of social media is giving customer service a voice; a real voice. Is it the frontline? The new battleground? Is customer service the new customer experience?

The impact of social media is not about customer service becoming marketers, or marketers becoming customer service agents, because that approach still has appropriation at its core. It’s about customer service working with marketing, working with business operations, working with sales, working across silos…working collaboratively to create an authentic customer-centric experience.

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The best customer service is no customer service.