A future proof Customer Service solution that delivers outstanding CX

A recent Gartner report talks about “Customer Service Predictions” and gives 4 strategic planning assumptions that Gartner thinks must be followed by those companies that want to succeed by delivering an outstanding Customer Experience (CX).

Gartner’s summary is very clear: “Customer service is (…) the core business strategy to create a winning CX. Great service needs to be consistent across all mobile devices, as well as social and digital media channels. It also needs to be personalized (…)“.

The report outlines that in 2 years’ time…

  • Facebook and Twitter will have their own social media engagement applications for enterprise customer service.
  • At least 60% of the Internet users will opt for mobile customer service applications as their first option.
  • 50% of peer-to-peer community offerings will be packaged and sold alongside Web self-service offerings.

Among the key recommendations from Gartner is the need to have C-level buy-in, design a strategy and build the necessary skills/competencies. But obviously this has to be enabled by technology, and Gartner says: “expect best-of-breed software providers to be a key part of this journey

Oracle owns one of the best – if not The Best – technologies in the area of Customer Service. It is called Oracle Service Cloud (formerly RightNow CX), often recognised as a leader in Customer Service solutions for Small, Midsize and Enterprise organisations.

This technology combines web, social and contact centre experiences for a unified, omni-channel solution in the cloud. And it already addresses most of the things that Gartner is now saying that companies should focus on, probably making it the wisest technology choice.

Oracle Service Cloud social features enable organisations to manage social interactions as a fully integrated part of the CX. Companies can use the “Social Cloud” functionality to monitor and engage their customers via social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Blogs.

From a customer service perspective, Oracle Service Cloud allows a contact centre agent to create an incident (or Service Request) directly from a tweet, a post or a comment, and deal with that customer in his preferred social channel – or take it off-line as and when necessary.

Oracle Service Cloud also has a special Facebook application called “Self-Service for Facebook” that delivers the same exceptional support from other channels right from a Facebook page. And this works both in standard and mobile interfaces.

“Mobile” is another of Gartner’s predictions that Oracle Service Cloud is already prepared to address. The Oracle Service Cloud Customer Portal – that customers use to self-serve, manage accounts or engage with the company – not only provides a superior CX on full-featured browsers, but also includes an out-of-the-box set of pages designed specifically for mobile devices.

The third Gartner prediction is related to peer-to-peer communities. Once more Oracle Service Cloud is a step ahead. It offers community features integrated with its Customer Portal. Actually, it goes even further. It offers two different types of community: Support and Innovation.

The Support Community allows customers to ask questions and find answers in an peer-to-peer-type community, helping themselves and making them feel valued, without adding a single call or email to the company contact centre’s workload (perhaps even lighten it).

The Innovation Community is designed to give customers a voice in the company’s product/service innovation process, so they can help the company identify the new opportunities and bug fixes, or even guide the roadmap, prioritize/refine ideas and develop the next breakthrough.

There is also a very interesting finding in this report. Gartner states that “Many small or midsize businesses (SMBs) and enterprises have still not invested in multichannel customer service strategies and, instead, opt for a conglomeration of point solutions“.

My experience tells me that this is one of the main reasons why many companies strive to deliver a CX that differentiates them from the competition, and allows them to take the leap that will transform the business and make them a solid player in the market.

Oracle Service Cloud is that unified and omni-channel customer service platform that not only addresses today’s challenges and requirements, but is also future proof, offering the features and functionalities that customers are starting to require/expect and will demand in a near future.

Good design leads to outstanding CX

The Comcast-gate is still very much fresh in our memories. Thousands of opinions have been written about it, and shared (I did to – “Aggressive CC agents deliver outrageous CX”). The ones who nailed it are those who didn’t blame the employee, but the way the service model was built by the company.

In one of my latest posts (“You don’t buy customer loyalty… You earn it”) I point out that the delivery of a great Customer Experience is first and foremost dependent on the design of a good model. One that will allow, even the most junior or less apt / capable employee, to deliver an outstanding service.

We all had many bad experiences with contact centre agents. And we obviously got angry with them. The thing is we were calling because we had a problem, and the way we were (mis)treated by the contact centre agent made it even worse. Naturally we blamed it on him, because he is the one dealing with us.

But this is what is happening in the other side of the line: the contact centre agent is looking at three screens and flicking through tens of applications (KB, CRM, ERP, OMS, etc…) trying to find the solution or the answer for our enquiry/issue, regarding that one particular product/service (out of the hundreds his company provides).

When an employee is delivering a poor Customer Experience it is probably not his fault. It is more likely to be because the company set him up to fail. The service model was poorly designed. Sometimes it might have even started well, but the addition of new services, products or channels led to more policies, processes, procedures, systems… which increased the complexity of the job.

Believe me, I have been in many contact centres, and this is what I have seen in most of them. A few years ago I also had the opportunity to be part of a project in a telecom company, where we were building a CRM system for the sales force. The system was so complex that many times I thought “how can an average contact centre agent get his head around this system?

These cases are prolific in Telecom companies, as they provide hundreds of products, services, bundles, etc. There is one American telecom company (not the same I mentioned above) whose system is so complex that it took 12 months for a new employee to be completely proficient. But the truth was most of them left the company after 9 months (one can wonder why!).

The service model design must be good, in order to simplify the job, so that employees focus on the customer and his issue. The design of good IT systems is obviously part of that. A system that is user-friendly and easy-to-use can be swimmingly operated and free employees to focus on the customer and the service they are providing.

A good and well-designed IT system reduces the complexity of the job, and can even eliminate the need for long, intensive and costly training – consequently reducing costs for on-boarding and change management. An intuitive IT system can be operated with almost no experience and enables employees to do their job almost from day one.

Most companies tend to hold off great spending in the implementation of IT systems, dismissing the early design phase and jumping directly into the configuration of the software. They have not yet realised that a good design is exactly what will make the IT system simplify their employees’ job, and hence enable them to deliver an outstanding Customer Experience.

Oracle Service Cloud opens bigger gap with TOA Technologies

Oracle Service Cloud is, in my opinion, the best cloud-based customer service solutions and will now open an even bigger gap to the competition, with the addition of features and functionalities from TOA’s solutions – after Oracle announced the acquisition of TOA Technologies, leader in cloud-based field service solutions.

For some companies, and customers, field service is a critical aspect of customer service…

From a customer perspective, we know how painful it is to be at home waiting for our internet provider’s technician, that never arrives to fix our problem. Or how annoying it is to stay home an entire morning waiting for the delivery service that is due to arrive between 8 AM and 1 PM!

From a company perspective, we know how hard it is to have employees on the road – many of them contractors; delivering products/services; on schedule or responding to unexpected demands – and being able to manage, monitor or communicate with them. Trying to make everything more efficient and cost effective.

TOA Technologies’ solution were built to manage and optimize field services, by coordinating activities between dispatchers, mobile employees and their customers. Enabling real-time monitoring of service requests coming through the contact centre, allowing the routing and assignment of the right employee to dispatch, predicting service windows with accuracy, letting employees on the road collaborate in real-time and communicate with customers via any channel.

The solution seems to be mature and proved. Tagged as the best by Gartner – in the Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Field Service Management: “TOA is a best-of-breed field service optimization vendor based solely in the cloud” – and used with success in companies like E.ON, Orange, Ricoh, Telefónica, John Lewis, Virgin Media, Bupa or Vodafone.

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Field Customer Service - Oct 2013

TOA stands for “Time of Arrival”, and that should mean everything, for companies and customers. Reduce overtime, miles driven, cancellations and waiting time. Increase job completion rate and customer satisfaction.

Currently, TOA has three main solutions: ETA Direct Professional, ETA Direct Enterprise and ETA Workforce (for salesforce.com users). Let’s wait and see if TOA will remain a separate product or if its functionalities will be completely integrated or immersed in Oracle Service Cloud.


You don’t buy customer loyalty… You earn it

Even though sometimes they do things we don’t like, we are always loyal to our family and friends. This is what companies should aim for… to get loyal customers, that will not leave just because once something went wrong (Let’s not be utopian, even with the best products, processes or people, things will go wrong at some point).

The majority of companies will probably say that they have started looking at customer loyalty a long time ago. But allow me to strongly disagree. Loyalty cannot be bought. You cannot expect to have a loyal customer just because you were able to make him or her sign up for a loyalty card, and you offer £5 off the next buy after they spend £1,000.

Loyalty is a sentiment. It is an emotional attachment that cannot be bought with offers, discounts or promotions. It is more than that. It is an emotion that normally is consequence of a positive and pleasant feeling… i.e. satisfaction! And actually many studies and researches show exactly that. In business loyalty is directly proportional to Customer Satisfaction.

Loyalty = k x CSAT

Customer Satisfaction is collected through surveys, where companies ask customers whether the product or service has failed, met or exceeded expectations. When customers have high expectations and the reality falls short, they will be disappointed and less satisfied. On the other hand, if expectations are low, customers could be extremely satisfied with no more than ordinary service.

Customer satisfaction is therefore the difference between the customer’s expectation and what was actually delivered by the company.

CSAT = Delivery – Expectation

Companies normally use one of two ways to set customer’s expectations: by intent or by accuracy. John Lewis (well-known UK giant that tops every CX ranking in the retail industry) uses the first: “Never Knowingly Undersold”. Others prefer to use the latter: “Delivery in 48 hours”. Regardless of the tactic companies need to make sure expectations are exceeded or, at least, met.

A good delivery is dependent on a couple of factors. First and foremost, designing a good model. Companies cannot expect every employee to perform heroically, all day, every day, and forever. They cannot expect everyone to be outstanding, available and willing to make a huge effort and always go the extra mile. Companies need to design a model that allows everyone to deliver good service.

That design can have two main dimensions: A blueprint of the company (its organisation structure, processes and procedures, information/data model, main KPI’s, technology), and a mapping of the customer journey (his steps, attitudes, emotions, needs, goals). A good model will leave employees no choice but to deliver a good service as an everyday routine.

The other factor is the culture. And that culture must be aligned with the model. Culture will not tell employees what to do. It will rather tell them how to think.

Delivery Excellence = Good Design + Great Culture

Setting up the company with a model and a culture that enables an outstanding delivery, will definitely make customer expectations be met or even exceeded. This guarantees a positive and high customer satisfaction that in turn will make customers loyal to the company. Loyalty ensures that customer’s lifecycle is the desired CX infinite loop.

20140725 CX Infinite Loop

Don’t censor your critics, thank them!

One of the key steps to deliver a better Customer Experience is to listen to what the customers have to say and, on top of that, be responsive.

Today, social media is the main location for complaints or praises. And it has been, without any question, the most potent amplifier of customer voicing in recent years. Customers go to Twitter, Facebook, Blogs or review sites to share experiences.

Things that before would require loads of power, people, money, media lobbying, and huge marketing campaigns, are now created, organised, amplified and spread much more efficiently and quickly by the use of a #hashtag.

And it does not matter how insignificant is the customer and how big is the company. Everyone, including the media, loves a good David vs Goliath story. By default, everyone is sympathetic with the weak customer and distrusts the powerful company.

Companies cannot afford to ignore this explosion and this change. And today’s hyper-competitive and hyper-connected world demands presence, monitoring, accountability and responsiveness.

Customer’s feedback, either positive or negative, is invaluable, as it offers companies a veracious and real sense of how they are performing. And it is also one of the main ingredients of the perception that others (potential customers) have of the company in question.

But more importantly, customer’s feedback offer companies the possibility to turn around a bad experience, or to thank and amplify a praise for a good experience.

If companies do not listen to an unsatisfied customer, they are not only losing the opportunity of making it right (and most likely lose the customer forever), they are also letting the customer damage the company’s image and influence other’s perceptions.

And remember that the new world of media has shown us that truth is many times less important than people’s perception of the truth. A person or group can create a crisis over a false issue or an issue that no one has never thought about.

On the other hand, if companies do not listen to a loyal customer, they are losing the opportunity of capitalising on a good story, making the customer feel valuable, integrated in the process and part of the company, and possibly turning this customer into an advocate.

Voice-of-the-customer when captured, reviewed, analysed and evaluated, helps companies to identify trends, business opportunities, service needs, and sometimes even innovations for its products and services.

It is much faster to discover faults or bugs in a product from immediate customer feedback, than waiting for the poor quarterly sales results. Contrariwise, positive feedback gives potential customers a validation for their decision.

Take the example of two beloved companies, that score very high in Customer Experience rankings. Southwest Airlines and Dell. They don’t censor critics, they thank them.

Aggressive CC agents deliver Outrageous CX

Today I came across this outrageous example of customer service. Ryan Block, a journalist, recorded his call to the Comcast call centre, when he was trying to cancel his contract. The call turned into a “customer service odyssey“, with the call centre agent refusing to cancel the contract and even being rude at some stage. This reminded me of a very recent bad experience I had with Three (3), the mobile provider in UK.

Disclaimer: I left Three almost a year ago. Not because the service was bad, or because the customer service was not good enough, but because I needed a tariff to make/take calls when I’m abroad. And maybe because their target customer is different, they didn’t have competitive tariffs. I went to O2 – after the worse customer experience with Vodafone UK.

My girlfriend is still with Three. Last week she received a telemarketing call. The agent offered her a new phone and contract for £16/month. As it was cheaper than what she has (£21/month), she showed interest. But eventually found that the offer was not a replacement, but an addition. Straight away she said that she was not interested.

But the agent insisted, saying that it was a great offer. My girlfriend concurred but repeated she didn’t need it. The agent insisted again, saying she should take the opportunity of a good promotion to get a new phone. My girlfriend said that she would actually like to have a new phone, but didn’t make any sense to have two contracts and two numbers.

So the agent insisted again, suggesting her to give the old contract and phone to a family member or friend, and keep the new ones for her. My girlfriend replied that she didn’t have any family member or friend that would accept or need that, as everyone already had a contract and phone. But he insisted and said he would send her a SMS with the T&Cs.

At this point I already had enough of the conversation so I asked my girlfriend to let me speak with the agent. I picked up the phone and kindly asked him two things: a) if he didn’t understand that she didn’t need or want to take the offer; b) Why was he insisting with a person who told him 10 times “No, thank you“. He started pretending that the signal was bad and he could not hear me.

So, I asked him his name, employee ID and also the ID of the call. The answer was “Ok sir, if you don’t want the offer that is fine. Have a nice day“. To what I replied “I hope you don’t hang up the call before giving me what I asked“. Again the answer was that he could not understand. So I repeated slowly “Please give me your name, employee ID and ID of the call, if you can“. He hung up the call in my face.

Obviously I called Three customer service straight away, and asked to make a complaint against these aggressive and abusive telemarketing calls, and this agent in particular. The customer service agent listened, concurred the behaviour was not acceptable, apologised, logged the complaint, and promised his supervisor would call me in the next 48 hours to give me feedback/update on the situation. 48 hours passed, nothing so far.

So mapping once more the experience to the CX pillars (from Nunwood)…

Three didn’t behave uprightly (Integrity). And then despite making an effort to empathise (Empathy) they failed with their promise (Expectation) and didn’t solve my issue (Resolution), forcing me now to call back asking for an update (Effort).

Poor vs Great Customer Experience

5 weeks ago I went to the City of London Dry Cleaning Co. in Canary Wharf, as I had a suit and a jacket to dry clean. It was my girlfriend’s jacket. A very nice Massimo Dutti padded jacket with knit side panels and contrasting leather details. The gentleman looked twice to the label in the jacket and said “that is fine, you can leave it with us“.

A few days later I went to pick it up and noticed that the jacket was ruined. The leader smudged to the fabric, in the pockets and collar. I showed it to the lady who immediately looked into the label and, after confirming it was ok, said “leave it with me, I will find out what happened and sort it out“. A week later she called me saying that they were still looking into it. Ok, I said, no rush.

3 weeks later I happened to be passing by, so I went in, and asked for the jacket. It was there, with a letter from the company attached, saying that the jacket was cleaned as instructed on label and therefore it was not their responsibility. I had a bit of an argument with the lady. Told her that I thought they were not being reasonable and asking her to put herself on my shoes.

The truth was she didn’t care. Nor her company, for that matter. They blamed it on Massimo Dutti. At some point she was even rude (speaking over me) and ended up turning her back on me when I said that I was a powerless and helpless customer with a ruined jacket, that was just asking them to sort out a problem that they themselves created.

So I went to Massimo Dutti in Canary Wharf, asked for the store manager and explained the situation. He could have said he was not able to help me: a) I bought the jacket in Regent Street’s store 9 months ago; b) I didn’t have the purchase receipt; c) It was obvious that it was the dry cleaning fault. Instead, with a smile in his face, he said “I will certainly help you sir“.

He read the letter (from the dry cleaner) and checked the label. I asked if he thought it was not their fault. He said: “That doesn’t matter sir. If they don’t take responsibility, I will not let a customer of ours in that situation, with a ruined jacket. I will give you a refund or you can choose another product for the same value. I just need to see a proof of purchase“.

So, after I showed him a bank statement (he didn’t demand any print outs or anything) he said we could choose another product or refund. My girlfriend chose a new (very similar) jacket, that cost exactly the same, and even bought another blouse to match the jacket (which she paid separately).

Needless to say that my girlfriend and I will not return to the City of London Dry Cleaning Co. (who just lost two customers) and were delighted with Massimo Dutti (who just earned two loyal customers and advocates).

Now, from a Customer Experience perspective, and picking up the Nunwood CX pillars, here is what City of London Dry Cleaning Co. did wrong and Massimo Dutti did right:

  • Personalisation: An individualised attention, and an effort to understand my motivations, needs and circumstances, created an emotional connection.
  • Integrity: By being trustworthy and taking responsibility, they generated trust. Individual staff actions made me like and trust the brand.
  • Expectation: CSAT = Delivery – Expectation. By exceeding my expectations the company provided a good CX and now have a satisfied customer.
  • Effort: Removing unnecessary obstacles and bureaucracy, making it quick and easy to sort out my issue, they were driving loyalty and advocacy.
  • Resolution: Apologising sincerely, acting fast and resolving my issue turned a poor experience into a great experience, recovering an unhappy and frustrated customer.
  • Empathy: Listening, understanding and putting themselves in my shoes, they created a rapport. Furthermore, they concurred, explained and went the extra mile.

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