I bet your parents are like mine and love to share their call center experiences because they feel close to you when they deal in your world. It turns out that my mother has been dealing with a banking issue for some time now and has been assigned an agent to call directly. At first she thought she was fortunate to have a direct contact in a sea of 1-800 numbers and endless mazes of automated services but as she’s telling me about this, it’s clear that it’s anything but great.
We all can see that the bank is trying to provide a better customer experience by building a one-on-one relationship but my mother cannot understand why she’s in a silo where no one else in the bank can offer much assistance. Her agent is currently on vacation and no one else in the bank can help because her customer record hasn’t been updated with progress notes. She is unable to resolve the banking issue with another agent and is not happy with the idea of waiting until her agent returns. We can see how the bank is in desperate need of several process improvements but we are not “normal” customers. In their effort to satisfy, they have actually caused much dissatisfaction for everyone who falls into this coverage gap. Continue reading “Are your customer processes built on good intentions but fail operationally?” »
Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Northeast and changed the immediate futures of many. Focus will no doubt shift from extravagant extras to just rebuilding the necessities. For many local businesses looking to rebuild as well and turning to their loyal customers and the commitments made prior to this unthinkable disaster, you have to wonder when is the right time to ask your customers to be customers again.
For one local-area sports team, a letter was sent to its season ticket holders affected by the storm offering their support and reminding them their first payment was now due. If you are a season ticket holder it should come as no surprise that this money is due; you committed to these tickets nearly six months ago if not longer. As a team and a business in its own right, at a certain point disaster or not, there are still employee salaries and bills to pay. But if your home is gone or you just lost a family member in the storm and you get a letter like this, would you think the team is pretty insensitive to your situation? Or would you feel they were within their right to collect the money you promised to pay? Continue reading “When is the right time to ask your customers to be customers again after Hurricane Sandy?” »
A 2002 Harvard Business Review article stated that after a year, customers who were surveyed regarding satisfaction with a service interaction (with a financial institution) were more than three times as likely to open a NEW account, less than half as likely to defect and were more profitable than consumers who had not been surveyed (Dholakia & Morwitz, 2002). The only difference between the two groups was that one was surveyed and one was not; neither group received any direct marketing from the company during the year. The impact of surveying customers was shown to be profound due to the customers’ desire to be acknowledged by the company; the company also remains top-of-mind when product choices are made, simply because the process of asking a consumer’s opinion allows people the opportunity to think about your products and services that otherwise may not occur (Dholakia & Morwitz, 2002). Continue reading “The research proves it…we cannot wait to measure the customer experience.” »
I recently had to call the post office’s customer service number regarding a change of address form that got screwed up. Monday I waited on hold for 15 minutes and finally hung up. Tuesday, the same deal. I finally physically went down to my local post office on Wednesday to deal with the mess in person. And there I waited in line for 20 minutes before finally getting it sorted out. There was one (!!!) person working at the post office window to deal with the many, many disgruntled people there. It sure makes it easy to see why they lose money each and every day they operate.
While I understand the reality of our economy, it’s too simple to say ‘cut headcount’. Most financial people making the decision to cut headcount are not very skilled or intelligent. They are not capable of looking at the entire picture. They are simply making quick cost savings in the short run, without considering their long-term savings and growth potential. Who ultimately pays the price for cuts in personnel? First the customers pay, then the company. Your once loyal product advocates get cast aside in the name of smaller overhead and a more manageable bottom line. So what’s the solution? How can you reevaluate your business AND the needs of your customers to come to a more appropriate cost savings solution than just slashing headcount? Continue reading “When you cut headcount is your customer experience bleeding?” »
How many of you read the owner’s manual before trying out your new hedge-trimmer/Blu-Ray player/ceiling fan/blender? How many of you have ever read an owner’s manual? I have files full of pristine manuals just in case I need them one day. I’m pretty sure somewhere in those files is an owner’s manual for a double tape-deck, purchased back when they were state-of-the-art. When we want service, product repair, replacement parts, or need to ask questions about the functionality of a product, we don’t go digging through paper; we go to the Web. But what happens if the brand name on the product is not the company who manufactures and supports the product? Quite often this happens:
“I bought a COMPANY ABC product. It had the COMPANY ABC name on it. I called COMPANY ABC only to find out that it is not a COMPANY ABC product and they don’t service it. What the &*%@ are they trying to pull?
It’s not uncommon for companies to license their coveted brand name to other organizations. Continue reading “Are bad brand licensing agreements souring your brand image?” »
The holiday shopping season is not a surprise to anyone; it comes at the same time every year. I tend to pay homage to the companies who are able to create the illusion of a shortage for their games and toys. Which company wouldn’t love to be on the “Hot Toy List” for the holidays? My respect is given to the marketing team; those who create the demand and get the message out through that media that “THIS” is on the must-have list.
Each year I am struck by the fact that everyone knows what these items will be, well before Thanksgiving. What truly baffles me is that while these are the “must-haves” for the season, the retail stores do not have inventory of the items. In the interest of self-preservation, why aren’t the stores listening to customer feedback? It’s the same every year – we’re sold out of X, Y and Z. What customer experience analytics are being used to and who is getting this information? Should there be such a barrier to spending money in retail stores? Continue reading “How marketing is destroying customer loyalty.” »
Self-service is perceived to lower operating costs in contact centers, but many experience an increase in call volumes after implementing self-service solutions. Hopefully these insights will help you implement your own best practices.
Not so long ago in a land not too far away (Pennsylvania), people got completely swept up by the corporate culture of Green Mountain Energy. It was the late 90s and people were doing all sorts of crazy things, like choosing their own energy provider!
Pennsylvania had just been deregulated, New Jersey was well on its way and Green Mountain was working hard to become the incumbent of choice. They were out in force, sponsoring concerts and festivals, buying massive amounts of radio airtime, working with charities and grassroots organizations within the community – in short, actively interacting with and engaging their customers. What a concept!
Among certain groups, affinity for Green Mountain and their message of renewable energy was nearly maniacal. How many of you in the utility industry can say that you have a maniacal following among your customers? Do you think Green Mountain Energy could have achieved the same result by pushing their customers to an automated IVR or website to self-educate about deregulation, renewable energy, electricity generation, transmission, distribution costs, etc.? Not likely.
Green Mountain knowingly avoided such cost-controlled methods of dispensing information because they understood that their survival depended not on offering cheaper electricity, but on building a unique experience. Green Mountain Energy is hardly unique in that.
Creating such a long-lasting, loyalty-generating experience is what many organizations strive to do everyday. But you become maniacal about cutting costs encouraging your customers to self-serve and are actually distancing yourself from your own customer-base.
Can self-service equal self-termination?
A self-service model may very well save you money upfront. According to a DMG Consulting benchmarking study of enterprise, contact center and IT priorities, a self-serve initiative that is “… planned, designed, and rolled out properly can reduce the volume of calls to live agents by 20-to-90 percent, over time, depending on the purpose of the contact center and the tasks programmed into the (self-serve) solution .” That just might be software vendor hogwash. While these figures may seem compelling at face value, absent is the long-term risk to the relationship that begins the moment organizations stop conversing with their customers.
Research conducted by Customer Relationship Metrics within the utility industry and in others has shown that while customers are using self-service options for a wide variety of activities, they are also using those options to varying degrees. The old adage of “build it and they will come” is simply not proving true.
Utilities have spent time and money to allow customers to initiate, manage, and disconnect their own service. Currently the data clearly shows that customers are not initiating their own service. They are not micro-managing their electricity usage from Wi-Fi hotspots using SmartPhones as everyone predicted. And perhaps thankfully, they are also not terminating their own service. Here is the reminder that customer experience research should serve as a guide for implementation, since building self-service capabilities can require a significant upfront investment and effort.
Other self-service implementations introduce risk to the relationship not through waste, but through the loss of customer retention opportunities. The self-service portal offered by my cell phone carrier that allows me to manage my minutes, upgrade my rate plan and phone, also allows me to cancel service without ever speaking to a live human being. What a phenomenally bad idea. How many people might have been persuaded to stay with that carrier by a knowledgeable and savvy (trained) contact center agent? Some activities should never be offered as a self-serve option because of the potential amount of financial risk.
The Risk of Satisfaction with Self-service
Beyond the risks of wasted time and lost customers, the single largest risk of self-service models is to future revenues. Customers who self-serve report a lower likelihood to continue service with an organization. Customers who use self-service also perceive less flexibility in resolving problems.
Within the utility industry the issue of customer attrition may not be as big a concern as it is in other verticals. As of 2003, only 17 states (and the District of Columbia) had moved ahead with electric deregulation. Since then, the appeal of electric de-regulation has waned, but with changing economic climates, the fervor for electric de-regulation may return.
What’s more likely is that power companies will want to take advantage of the new smart-grid infrastructure they’ve built to offer customers internet, cable and/or telephone services. According to a CNNMoney.com study, the average digital cable customer pays almost $75 a month for service, with many customers paying nearly $100 a month . As a remote employee, I happily (maybe not so much) hand-over $90 to my local communications company each month for unlimited long distance phone service and internet. The point is, cable, internet and phone services generate A LOT of revenue. And if the investment has already been made in infrastructure that makes offering these services possible, why not take advantage of the revenue-generation opportunity?
This is where a disengaged, self-servicing customer-base becomes a problem. While these customers may not be dissatisfied with their utility provider, they also feel no loyalty towards the organization. It’s that (missing) feeling of loyalty that makes customers abandon their current cable, internet and telephone service providers in favor of an organization that has served them well in other capacities. Customer loyalty is earned through one-on-one interactions between delegates of an organization and its customers; it’s earned through problem-solving and collaboration – none of which can occur when an organization’s primary mission is to relegate customers to a cost-reductive self-help system.
This post is not intended to suggest that you shouldn’t pursue self-service solutions. The fact is that there is just as much risk (if not more) to being perceived as technologically archaic by your customers. But in order for self-service to ultimately benefit your organization, an implementation must focus on activities that are simple (high likelihood of a successful outcome) and activities that your customers are likely to want to conduct on their own. Most importantly, self-service should never be viewed as a way to avoid talking to your customers. The most successful self-service models invite customers to conduct the transactions they are comfortable doing on their own through a variety of different channels while providing live support each step of the way. Finding the right balance is your quest and customer loyalty is the holy grail you seek.
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1. DMG Consulting LLC – Self-Service: Putting Customers First Makes You a Winner (Whitepaper), April 13, 2009 – Donna Fluss, Founder and President of DMG Consulting LLC