Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Telco2: In Brief Review

Telco2 4th Executive brainstorm was last week, and it was in London, and it was some fun. It was also a little worrying. Thomas Howe did a great job of summing up over on Alec Saunders SquawkBox Perhaps it is a problem of "big numbers". There is still money in connectivity and IT outsourcing. The Telco's can't seem to get their heads around how to get started, and even it's worth doing. How to and why they should expose API's is an unknown. And these are some very big numbers, it is perhaps difficult to get excited. Now a bit of a drum roll please.... VoiceSage announced that a major study had come in from a large client showing an 800% overall improvement in the processes enabled by VoiceSage. Uh hum. Yes. VoiceSage brought their cash in 100% faster and the cascading effects of this were significant. So when I was saying we can make dramatic offers, I wasn't joking. Now here is the kicker: "Every $1 spent with VoiceSage makes or saves you $12": again, validated. So what's with the big diagram folks? (HT Dion Hinchcliffe) The Web and the Company will mash together. The ease with which this is possible has the potential to release a lot of new data, and create a benefits that are orders of magnitude above what current IT deployments are able to achieve. Oh and as I was at Telco2, Dion and his crew were building, in realtime, applications within the new Google hosted development environment. So, under the floor boards, the ants were already swarming. So, I can build an application in the cloud, host it in the cloud, scale it in the clowd, and promote it through Google, and manage the logistics of delivery through Amazon. That's cute. And what do Telco's do? We do what we always do, we provide you with connectivity........

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Telco2, London

Well, we are off to Telco2 in London on Wednesday and Thursday and presenting on the area of Communications Enabled Business Processes, i.e. how Interactive Voice Messaging can be used by regular business to drive results. It is pretty well attended by the Telco and Telco vendors, but one of the absolute reasons everybody should check it out, is their vision of the Two Sided Platform. The blogging will be in pause for probably a week, but as per the world of modern media I hope to post some twitters on interesting opinions as they emerge over the course of the two days. If you want to follow me, I am on www.twitter.com/PaulSweeney

Follow up those forms with a phone call!

DestinationCRM.com reports that a simple phone number on the webform can increase customer contact where good "follow on" leads to sales. So, either put your number on them there forms, or follow on with a phone call over times certain forms get filled out. You could lift your sales by circa 10% (apparently). The key thing is you have to make this contact happen within the first 30 minutes. response rates are much better in that time frame because people are still thinking about that issue and willing to engage. From elsewhere on the web last week someone asked "what's the number one predicator of bad customer service?" Ans: "They don't put their phone number on the website".

InsideARM point us towards an Aberdeen Research report that says the best performing collections agencies focus on  shift scheduling processes to that you can adjust staffing levels to meet actual demand. It makes sense, but the question is of course how do you manage demand as well? Outbound Interactive Voice Messaging can be used to completely eliminate many different types of inbound call, and can also be used to dramatically (yes, we have numbers to validate this!) improve your agent productivity vis-a-vis a regular auto-dialer. The rest of the points were as follows:

Focus on Training is also important: Agent training and coaching provides agents with the necessary skills and support system to properly utilize new product releases, tools and practices. More than half of best-in-class firms use e-learning to improve agent performance; another 39 percent employ periodic agent testing; 36 percent use issue resolution workshops; and 36 percent employ self-paced training.

Knowledge Management: Analytics is a key component of any workforce optimization suite because it provides the cornerstone to understanding the current and historical state of contact center activities.

Updated Technology: To optimize workforce utilization, a contact center needs integrated technology with multiple components. Forty-one percent of best-in-class companies have implemented workforce optimization suites.

Performance Management: Best-in-class companies that use workforce optimization solutions see increases in key performance management. Performance management solutions help companies improve sales or improve collections on outstanding invoices, according to the report.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Who Answer's The Phone? Who Answers The Missed Calls?

Lots of interesting themes linking up this week. So this is a post in two parts: Seth Godwin asked why most organisations are so "careless" about who answers the phone?
"Shouldn't every single inbound call be answered in one ring? Shouldn't there be as much spent on self-service customer support as is spent on the design of the selling part of your website? Shouldn't you be tracking in the finest detail what people have to say when they call in? Shouldn't you be rewarding call center operators by how long they keep people on the phone, not how many calls they can handle a minute? Shouldn't there be an easy, fast and happy way for an operator to instantly upgrade a call to management (not a supervisor, I hate supervisors) who can actually learn something from the caller, not just make them go away?"
Calls coming into any business can be analysed for underlying causalities. Seth wanted to say "hey, your product changed and I don't think that's been in a good way". Basically he wants to help you develop a product that appeals or re-appeals to the people that made your brand successful in the first place. Offering him another bar (of the same) chocolate is obviously lame. Routing him through to "Frank, our chocolate mixing guy", might seem weird at first, but hell, why not? Frank gets to talk to a customer and connect with a customer, with someone that actually cares about his part of the product development. At least, everybody will have an intelligent conversation. Of course its hard to have this conversation in the first place if you don't answer the phone. Ever heard the phone ring out in your office? Bet you have. Bet you have no way of knowing if it was important or not either. So the first take away: perhaps even more time should be spent in matching inbound callers, and their inbound calling contexts, to actual agent skills. I know this topic isn't new, but so few companies seem to be doing this well IMHO. And now to our second, related point: Jim Gilbert is a marketing guy at eDiets and has a lot to say about marketing and customer service in the catalogue industry. To speak to the issue at hand, when the phone rings in this environment he believes that their are four types of prospect inbound call outcomes: 1. calls answered where an order occurs; 2. calls answered where an order doesn’t occur — contact data captured by the customer service rep (CSR); 3. calls answered where an order doesn’t occur — contact data not captured by the CSR; and 4. calls not answered where no order occurs (calls abandoned). Jim, then goes on to give some ideas on how you might respond to scenario 4 in particular. In this scenario Jim reckons that you can do a "reverse look up of the ANI (automatic number identification) and perform a match up of that number with an address. The success rate of such match up's is about 30-40%. Similarly, you could also just send a "missed call interact" from VoiceSage and give the customer one of the 3 known reasons why they were calling (i.e. were you calling to order a catalogue, if so press 1, and then get them to confirm their address. If the address is incorrect hook them back to customer service and get the correct address). Simple. And hey, if you do this kind of thing really well, you will probably be very easy to contact if anything does ever go wrong with the service or the products you buy from this company, thus increasing my likelihood of buying. So take away 2, is the same as take away 1: even missed, dropped calls can be re-engaged with through good forward planning.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

All Behaviour Is Incentive Lead.

Customer behaviour is an interesting thing. That's why I read Gerard O'Neill's blog Turbulence Ahead, Seamus McCauley's Virtual Economics, and Tyler Cohen's Marginal Revolution. What do these have in common? They all take a micro-economic view of human behaviour in that people are basically, incentive led. The problem, is that we don't build the right incentives. I was much taken to day by a lead provided by Gerard to Nudges where they show examples of where small "nudges" to your behaviour can have dramatic effects. One trick is to put the "nudge" near a decision point: for instance, putting a sign "why not use the stairs" near the elevator increased use of the stairs by 200%. Marketers have known this for a long time but it still makes me wonder why we don't always put the right information or action choices near key decision points. If someone is late paying their bill, they know they are approaching a late fee, they are often making a decision to "not pay", to "forget to pay", to "re-prioritise" payment options. You can send a call / SMS / Nudge to them and just remind them that this is a decision point, and that it has consequences. I am also thinking about how all these "nudges" and "micro-incentives" could work in terms of social media. Given the liquidity of digital environments, it has to be a huge new area.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Gathering of Topics

I really like the idea of voice powered services particularly the idea of dialling your to do number, and getting things done. Irish company Dial2Do are doing just that enabling you to dial in and start sms-ing, emailing, and god knows what more. Check out Jott (for Blackberry :) and Pinger for examples of other companies that help you get things done with voice. From what I can gather with Dial2Do the guys in there are looking for all sorts of modes and streams to make and post to, but if rumour is true then the guys in spinvox not only have a cool Blackberry application that lets you "see inside your voicemail" by sending you an email summary, but they may be opening their whole TTS (text to speech) engine to all other applications as an API. Hey, the more people use it, the more powerful it becomes, great strategic move from SpinVox (if its true). UPDATE: of course I intended to mention SimulScribe, a leader in visual voicemail, and they have a full API for their solution. Ah, so why is this stuff interesting to anyone from an enterprise point of view? Well, how about putting systems in place so that customers can use these kinds of tools to "get things done" with you? Why do I need to speak with an actual agent, if I can just phone your company IVR and leave a Jott/2do/Vox? Ever leave a message with a bank's voicemail and feel no one listened to it, that maybe nothing is being progressed? Ah, yes. That's why we phone in again, right? Strikes me that enterprise companies can learn a lot from what is going on in the consumer field right now. And how people make decisions, compare options, make recommendations etc all changes with the net. Forrester's Charline Li pointed out to her "twitter followers", that they had released some details about how they were looking to measure "customer engagement" "Engagement is the level of involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence an individual has with a brand over time. The four components of engagement are: Involvement— Includes web analytics like site traffic, page views, time spent, etc. This essentially is the component that measures if a person is present. Interaction— This component addresses the more robust actions people take, such as buying a product, requesting a catalog, signing up for an email, posting a comment on a blog, uploading a photo or video, etc. These metrics come from e-commerce or social media platforms. Intimacy— The sentiment or affinity that a person exhibits in the things they say or the actions they take, such as the meaning behind a blog post or comment, a product review, etc. Services such as brand monitoring help track these types of conversations. Influence— Addresses the likelihood that a person will recommend your product or service to someone else. It can manifest itself through brand loyalty or through recommendations to friends, family, or acquaintances. These metrics mostly come from surveys (both qualitative and quantitative). Our argument is that companies need to start tying these metrics together to make sense of how engaged their customers actually are—and then make product and marketing decisions based on that knowledge". I guess my "bridging point" here is that planned/ active interaction, and passive/ receptive interaction really need to be finely aligned, so that you communicate with your customers when they need it, and that you really listen, and make it easy for them to speak with you, when THEY need to. Services such as VoiceSage can really help you reach out, put in the "to-do", and manage the response/ action cycle. I don't think I'd be making any ground breaking comments to say that most organisations (at best) approach each of the 4 Forrester tenants of Engagement as point solutions, but for complete pictures, all 4 will have to be undertaken in an interwoven strategy.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

No Service Is Best Service?

Guy Kawasaki has a good interview up Bill Price, Amazon's former VP of Customer Service. I think I can boil this down a bit further: - Make your product unbelievably easy to use. If you make your customer look up FAQ's, or ring you up for "dumb questions", your product is inadequately designed; - How can you predict a company that's going to have bad service? Ans: They don't print their phone number anywhere you can find it! - Be proactive: give the customer the best price/value point you can "pro-actively" (ie. best value delivery schedule, best value product bundle, etc.) - Eliminate contact friction where it exists and is necessary, but with a view that you should be able to gather the information and fix the reason they are calling at root cause. Here are some follow on questions in relation to that point: 1. Eliminate dumb or avoidable contacts to free up capacity and slash costs. 2. Build self-service that works to free up even more capacity and cut costs even more. 3. Find ways to be proactive rather than reactive because it is often cheaper than waiting. 4. Engage the real "owners" of customer problems to work with the customer service team to fix the problems 5. Make it really easy to contact your business. 6. Use the contacts you get to listen closely to the customer, and act upon WOCAS (What Our Customers Are Saying) 7. Fix reporting metrics, processes, and the staffing side to deliver great experiences for customer contacts. And here is an interesting take on measuring customer satisfaction "The rate of customer-initiated contacts that require personal support is the best measure of satisfaction. This is expressed as "CPX," or "contacts per X," where "C" equals calls + email messages + chat sessions, and "X" equals transactions or installations or invoices sent. Measured and shared weekly, companies achieving Best Service see 20-40% per year reductions in CPX and as a result much happier customers and lower costs too. Our second killer metric is the rate of repeat contacts, or "snowballs." Just like the snowball rolling down the hill, getting bigger and menacing skiers, repeat contacts are clear "customer dissatifiers" that need to be stopped--or melted--before they ruin the company's reputation. CheckFree is a great example here: over the past five years their transactions have quintupled while customer support headcount is down 20%, at the same time that customer satisfaction rose by 20%". I haven't read Mr. Price's book yet, so I look forward to it.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Passive and Active Participation For Customer Experience

Some good points today from Beagle Research today on the difference between Active and Passive customer experiences, and how to think about customer experience itself. Nic over at The Equtiy Kicker is zeroing in on why social networks will be important, even if they aren't making that much money now. Its been fun following Nic and his journey down the rabbit hole of social networking. Nic also has a post today on why SaaS (software as service) offerings like VoiceSage, may see an uptake during a recession. What have these posts got in common? Its the bridge between them. Social Networks can be passive or active, and the experience of being on a social network can be passive or active. Their benefits from and for both of these. Sometimes you just want to know when someone else "is going to attend that concert", because it tells you something about what they are interested in (which may be a false picture none the less); other times you value knowing this information because you too would like to go if this person is going, and you want to take action. Thus, Active. We have been using some of these principles internally for a while in explaining to people that SMS is Passive, and Voice is Active. When combined, you can achieve a cycle of interaction that has active and passive elements. You can also throw synchronous and asychronous communications and need for active and passive into the mix. Either way, their are many new ways into which companies can communicate online and offline, and the key will be having a joined up strategy for them all, but keeping "customer experience" dead centre.

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