Wednesday, January 16

Speeding up innovation in the call centre

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Suppliers can help speed up innovation in the call centre by changing their “sales battleground”

When a customer wants to communicate or receive service from a brand, the expectation of a great experience plus options for how that service is received is now a basic right.

It’s not simply a “nice to have”, it’s a right.

Customers don’t want to have to wait for service whilst non-sensical tuneless muzak assaults their ear drums, with a message every thirty seconds telling you how important you are then leaving you in a long queue because, for the 300th day in a row, call volumes are unexpectedly high.

They don’t want to be forced into a single communication process – usually telephone with that irritating twenty-option IVR that takes you down a blind alley to a pointless end – because you are not listening intently to every damn option.

Okay – there may be a touch of poetic licence here but way too many customer experiences fall short of great, and customers are simply walking away, leaving feedback if you are lucky but very often disappearing into the ether – never to return.

The problem is it’s not that the majority of companies don’t care. Of course they care and they care deeply. A good understanding of the importance of great customer experience and service has been with us for a while now. The problem is contact centres are not agile. They are slow and difficult to change. The world of new possibilities is evolving at a completely different rate. New “market beating” innovations and new expert ideas get churned out seemingly every day.

The news and blogs leave us with the idea that the leaders out there are light years ahead of everybody else and unless you spend, spend, spend you will end up losing customers, revenues and profits which could have been easily avoided.

The technologists and the experts are giving very well-meaning advice but so many are missing the point.

Unless you are sitting on reams of spare cash there is not a chance in hell that anybody will be able to keep up – at least until the whole shape and structure of the contact centre changes – which it will in time – just not yet.

Statistics don’t create action if they are misleading

There are more options out there than we know what to do with. The advice and insight is also often misleading and designed to self-serve the supplier than truly help the end customer.

I recently read a statistic that told me 52% of consumers will switch if a brand they are dealing with does not personalise communications to them. In the business sector this figure apparently rises to 65%. A dramatic statistic if you choose to believe it – except it’s not completely true.

It might be true if everything else was equal but real world says that’s rarely the case. Yes, consumers increasingly want personalisation, but other aspects of the overall outcome/experience will matter more.  If brand A offers an overall better outcome than brand B but brand B offers better personalisation – I would need some convincing that 52% would go for the inferior outcome because the personalisation is better.

Complexity and breadth of choice inhibits change

Too much choice aligned with too great a pace of change creates complexity. Adding pressure to that complexity with negative impact if change is not made increases the need to make the right choice, therefore more careful consideration of all the alternatives, collaboration to a wider group of stakeholders etc. The implication may not be “analysis paralysis”, but it will slow change down – completely the opposite of what the 2018 contact centre needs.

Technology companies can do a massive amount to help contact centres innovate and become genuinely agile.

There is not a single recipe that holds true for every situation.  In my experience about 80% of the products offer relatively similar functionality and a fight of my product is bigger/better/faster/cheaper than your product rarely results in a differentiated customer experience. That said, the product companies can do a lot to influence the quality of overall customer outcome, speed up the decision process, de-risk implementation and directly impact bottom line. I repeat again – this has very little to do with feature/function/technology – the traditional battleground but in 2018 the wrong one.

What can a technology companies do differently?

A) Offer genuine customer-centric thought leadership. Plenty of technology companies will offer innovative thinking but that innovative thinking usually relates to their product. Ultimately, customer success relates back to the outcomes and experience associated with the overall customer process. The ability to offer value in improving the overall outcome/experience across the end-to-end is not a traditional domain of a product supplier but it significantly increases the potential impact created. Firstly, both supplier and company are working to aligned outcomes which will help increase the impact of their offering on their own customers.

B) Showcase the offering via process as well as product capability. The customer (i.e. end customer not the buying company) does not care about the product chosen. They only care about the choice they are given, the process they go through and therefore the outcome created.

C) Offer a method or diagnostic to objectively measure impact. Sounds obvious really but very few suppliers do it. They think that it is not their responsibility. In reality, not many companies are good at building quantified business cases for technology, so the focus moves to retrospective post-implementation impact measurement. This does not help as the decision to proceed will have already been made. Companies that can offer a method or partnership to measure impact will help arm the buyer with the business case that will almost certainly uncover quantified impact that is both surprisingly large and previously unknown.

D) Create a Proof of Concept that is quick, cheap yet comprehensive. Having worked both with suppliers and end users, I often find if the definition of Proof of Concept is left in the hands of the buying company then the time and complexity is usually considerably more than either needed or justified. Even experienced selection staff will want to prove they have done their jobs – working too hard on proof is rarely punishable so selection heads will err on the side of caution, particularly if they are dealing with unknowns. Focussing on critical success factors accompanied by a risk diagnostic helps this process. The risk diagnostic helps both buying company and supplier prepare for downstream issues. Most of these issues will have been observed before so it is critical for the supplier to be transparent and build an environment of trust.

E) The Best References are the ones that succeeded but did not go particularly well. Why spend time and effort introducing your prospective customer to your showcase references who say the supplier is brilliant and everything went brilliantly? To ensure closure of the sale! Really? Actually, this sort of reference helps nobody and actually fosters distrust. Make it part of your sales approach to introduce your prospective customer to success stories where more problems were encountered than anticipated. The company will not only thank you but trust you more as a result.

F) Make it easy for companies to buy. This is all about de-risking the process. Offer to rent the product on a monthly basis as well as perpetual licence. This is becoming more mainstream, but many companies still avoid this strategy. Offer guarantees as well as warranties. The best type of guarantee is a full money back. Suppliers tend to avoid it for obvious reasons but a money back guarantee associated with (for example) the first deliverable will rarely be taken unless the implementation is a complete failure. If that is the case, then it is probably in the best interests of everyone. Too many suppliers live with long term poorly referenced implementations for the sake of short term monetary gain. That strategy is rarely profitable. Offering a definitive guarantee will not only help the sale but create an environment of mutual trust.

The contact centre of the future will be as distributed or as centralised as the company decides it requires. Innovation needs to be able to be plugged in and unplugged as if it was an appliance. Processes need to be intuitive irrespective of where the change originated. Change needs to be cheap and de-risked. The problem is this threatens the traditional supplier legacy – until of course somebody changes the rules and the world is changed for ever.


About Author

Founder & CEO. Charles is an acknowledged leader in customer-driven performance change using both best practice and emerging next practice perspectives. He leads, mentors and coaches in both strategic and operational initiatives. A strong believer is the potential for "supercompany performance" he innovates using next practice thinking and methods to enhance the business. He researches heavily to retain his reputation as a thought leader, which he has applied across 40 countries, multiple sectors and companies such as Citibank, Nielsen, Microsoft, Vodafone, Tracker and governments in Middle East and Asia. Contributes to business journals and often invited as a speaker or chairman to events all over the world.

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