Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mortgage For Quote: National Irish Bank, Impermeable, Bank of Ireland a Case Study In Customer Care Excellence.

There is absolutely nothing like personal experience to bring home just how important customer care is to actual business profit. Before I start / rant, let me tell you that good mortgage enquiry leads can be worth up to €50. I have had mortgages with two banks previously. NIB and BOI. I phoned my former account manager at Bank Of Ireland (Anne McNamara) and said I am interested in getting a quote. "No problem" she replies, "but I work in Business Banking now, so let me see if I can find the right person for you to speak with". I gave her an incorrect name for the person I had been dealing with last time in Mortgages, but again no bother: she found the person we were dealing with, and called us back in 5 minutes with two other contact names that would take our call in the next 30 minutes. Thanks Anne, that's great, and you know, I like speaking with you, and I feel better about working with your Bank.

Cue Bad Guy Music: NIB have a general low call number on their site (yes, not free, lowcall). I phone, it puts me through a useless IVR, and never offers to connect me to a named service (duh, Mortgage Enquiries?). I get fed up, and hang up. FAIL. Feel guilty, maybe I was wrong. Search the intertube for any reference to a local NIB Branch number in Limerick, you know, so I could call the branch and book a meeting to talk about a MORTGAGE ! (Holy cow). Can't - find - a - way - through - must- try - harder... ah to hell with it.

Then an email comes back (I'd fired one off earlier to our account contact in the local branch) and its "I'll call you tomorrow". Great, I'll talk to you after a meet the nice people from BOI, have drunk their tea, and generally got friendly with. Hey, maybe they will come up with some great insights, and be able to get the ball rolling so I can close down my bid really fast. Wouldn't that be great.

The Take Away:

- Make it easy for your customers to reach the people they do business with, within your company;

- Use Click-To-Call intelligently, a "mortgage search query" should pop up a local number to call;

- Understand Context: I have signaled to both institutions in various ways that I was actively looking to make a house purchase, why is this not ticked?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dirty Small Bad Things:)

I follow quite a few of the "new media guys" and they often come up with great insights that I can keep in my deep back pocket when looking at the enterprise2.0. Darren Herman is one of these guys, but I was a little surprised to see that one of his "habits" is to leave the phone on silent and only check it a few times a day. The interruptions are just too disruptive. If people really want to find him, and get in contact, they have to be "creative". I think Darren may be a maven in this respect (i.e. early social media adopter), but it does point to a central question: "if it's important, the request will find me".

It's a variation of Tim Ferriss's "let small bad things happen", because you don't need to manage every little thing. What is really happening here though is that Darren is screening his calls, and (from the outside) this has some embedded rules:

- if your caller ID announces you, I can choose to take call or not

- I have voice mail, so you can choose to leave a message or not

- I can choose to call in, and action as I wish.

- If important, there are other "hard to find" / "insider routes" to finding me.

eh hum. Small point. It's the little things that really drive customers mad. If you don't find a way, and have a system for ensuring that the small things don't get picked up on quickly, you are going to lose some of our customer good will.



Speaking of small things, Rob Patterson over on the FastForward blog points our attention to the corporate use of Twitter over at Zappos. They have a directory of all the employee Twitter-streams, that way employees can connect with each other, and connect with customers. It's leading edge for certain. But then GetSatisfaction use Summize to bring the twitter and social media back to the place where people are seeking to make contact with others around this complaint or praise. Zappos wants you to call them, you will develop some relationship with them, and ultimately buy more (their growth is stellar). At VoiceSage we think that how you handle the "exceptions" is a real opportunity to create customer satisfaction value.

And then I put out a Twitter saying what a great idea this corporate twitter directory was. And the CEO of Zappos "added a follow" , i.e. "we're listening".

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Recently Insolvent Companies

This just in from the Irish Institute of Credit Management (IICM) Newsletter:

(Quoting) IDS Collections survey from Credit Today, where they surveyed credit management in the final 6 months of 100 recently insolvent companies –

97 had not taken any action against debtors –        
92 had received no payment since oldest invoice –        
50 continued to supply customers with debts of over 90 days        
40 of the 50 doubled the customers indebtedness

I particularly like the reason the recently insolvent companies gave for allowing this stage of affairs to continue:

"we wanted to maintain good relations with customers"

Datability: Is it time for you to build on your own data?

"If the economy continues on a path that looks like a recession, consumers are going to tighten their belts even further. More and more of a consumer’s household income is now going to simply servicing current debt. The credit crisis will guarantee that this will go on for awhile longer given the bad debts on many lenders books".



So, with all this spiraling debt, how come our inflation figures aren't even higher? According to this interesting site, the US Government is looking at inflation as something more long term, something that doesn't want to too heavily weigh Food, Energy and Health Care costs. Not only that, but there is an interesting discussion on how the Government calculations of "rent equivalent" valuation of housing stock, significantly underestimated how much the average person way paying out at the end of each month., i.e. they are underestimating the actual disposable income. 

 So what's my point?

(1) Information should be based upon data that you understand, that you have an informed understanding of, such as the nature of the "inflation figure" you are using;

(2) Using "big block" figures removes nuance, and nuance is the day to day stuff that gets you operational efficiency (of course nuanced data requires flexible reporting capability);

(3) By digging into your data and acquiring better data, or even better still by encouraging customers to exposure their data to you, or co-create data, you can come to a real estimation of risk (in this example mortgage payment risk).

(4) Nuance gives you the opportunity to re-segment and gain insight.

(5) New insight create the opportunity for new Interaction patterns.

At VoiceSage we have reason to work with quite a few companies on issues such as late payments on personal loans, on mortgages etc, and mostly these customers have very professional systems and organisations for addressing these issues. I just wonder how much nuance is being lost by taking "data" at face value, and how much more "nuance" might be able to add value.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Yesterday, I just went off on one about customer interaction patterns, and how online and offline behavior's weren't so traceable, and weren't so simple. Today, Patty Seybold has a timely reminder that there are three different customer lifecycle scenario's: I really like them because each one gives you some good framing to work within, and then match to your online / offline activities:

  • Customer Lifecycle Customer Scenarios. These are closely connected to customers’ discovery, acquisition, and use of your products to fulfill a need they have. How do customers ideally want to interact with your brand and your ecosystem through their product lifecycle?
  • Event-Triggered Customer Scenarios. These relate to life events or business events that customers need to deal with. For consumers, these might include buying a new home, retiring, welcoming a new baby into the family, sending a child off to college. For business people, these scenarios may include things like launching a new product, opening a new branch, or downsizing the business.
  • Outcome-Based Customer Scenarios. Some scenarios are focused on a specific outcome, such as losing 20 pounds, getting a promotion, or increasing your revenues by 20 percent while retaining or improving your current profit margins.

Just to take the second point there, "event triggered scenarios". If a chronic late payer has received messages from your organisation attempting to engage them in conversation around that commitment, wouldn't it be interesting to know that their house was up for sale? That their car was at auction etc. That scenario could be delivered to you via some interesting mashup's.  Indeed, if 20 other properties within "x" distance, or within that post code had gone up for sale in the last quater, this may influence how you wish to treat the customer debt (i.e. it really is in danger of going delinquent).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Buying Process Isn't Straight Forward

Bruce Temkin of Forrester points out that customers want face to face interaction. 45% prefer to speak to an agent over the phone, than other ways such as FAQ, self service, etc. In our book, the question thus becomes how can you enable the "best way" for your customers to contact you? Publishing a click-to-call button is surely a good "invitation to conversation", but so is just giving the customer a call when you know they are likely to want help. How many calls do you usually get because part A does not in fact slide easily into part B? There are different points in the customer interaction process where they will want to speak with someone, make it easy, and make it a great experience.

A related question is how to link all lead generation activity from "leaflet drops" to "adsense" back to actual purchase activity, and measures of customer loyalty  is a current holy grail of many companies. Right now what we have is the fallacy of the "last click" (i.e. the last place we clicked in from is the reason we are at amazon,, etc.). It's not. A friend might have recommended that we check out a review site, a comment there might have brought us to a blogger, who recommended that we check out his story on, after which we clicked through to that computer etc. YET, (play drum roll here) Pew Internet Study found that over 20% of Americans have never even used email.

Something is broken here.

Lets Look A Bit More At This Pew Report

For those who have bought music in the prior year:

  • 83% say they find out about music from the radio, the television, or in a movie.
  • 64% say they find out about music from friends, family members, or co-workers.
  • 56% say they find out about music through various online tools, such as going to a band’s or artist’s website or streaming samples of songs to their computers.

Among those who have purchased a cell phone in the prior year:

  • 59% asked an expert or salesperson for advice.
  • 46% go to one or more cell phone stores.
  • 39% use the Internet.

The “bottom line” conclusion is the following: “Even though many buyers use the Internet in product research, relatively few say online information had a major impact on the product choice they eventually made. Only 7% of music buyers, 10% of cell phone buyers, and 11% of those who bought or rented a home in the prior year say that online information had a major impact on their decision.”

Pew cellphone source

Pew cellphone impact

So, yes the Internet is a really important research and comparison tool, FOR SOME DEMOGRAPHICS, but not for all. Many will look to the lead user/gatekeeper in their social circle, and there are indeed many interpolating influences at work here. The question I would pose for you and your company, is do you have a real roadmap and activity sheet to build out a clearer understanding of how your customers make decisions?

I'm guessing not, so something is broken here.

I can't leave this subject without also highly, highly recommending that you read this post from Greg Sterling, at Screenwerk. I too have been following NearByNow for quite a while, and the "killer app" behind their service (which I would have strong recommendations to change) is that the current "dark data" of unsearchable inventory in a retail shopping center is exposed, and becomes searchable. This is a mapping and melding of the physical and the digital in a way that enriches both. These kinds of services have the potential to radically change the nature and flow of the buying process.

Now Why Don't Credit Cards Do This?

The ever excellent Nudge blog points out that your credit card limit should not be a "de facto" blunt instrument. Why can't we set our limits for specific purchases, god knows, I need something to double check with me if I really want to buy those books :) Set your own credit limit for each category of purchase. Now that's some neat thinking. Why not have a little routine that you have to go through in order to validate what might be a impulse buy (i.e. if I buy anything over $100 please read out my credit card balance before authorizing my purchase!). What I love about this idea, is that people could customise and mashup what, right now, seems a pretty lame process.

So, Services Can Be Mashed Up For Personalisation? Duh.

If you are wondering about "Google Think", look at all the cool things you can do with gMail. Why am I such a big fan? Because Google Mail "atomizes" and "API's" everything, and that opens up the opportunity for innovation. Its "customer driven mashup" by any other name. Take the NearByNow example above, why could you not ask for "show me every store that sells Levi jeans for men" and have it on a "live map" (i.e. as the special offer jeans sell out, the count goes down in real time etc. etc.).

To follow the theme Dion Hinchcliffe is developing some excellent diagrams to help people understand what this landscape looks like at this point in time.


PersonalInfoCloud blog also has some interesting thoughts on how to visualise this landscape. A link to that diagram is here.

My take away, is that the people familiar with technology, our 2.0 crowd, will see, use and abandon services with great regularity. Some will stick. Those that show real capability of getting scale will be bought by those that can distribute, i.e. the big installed players.

In a final note, I was sad to hear that KnowNow are to cease trading. It was a great idea. I think it just needed a "bigger home".

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Forrester Mash Up To Be Worth $700m

VoiceSage provides Interactive Voice Notification in the Process Layer of the Diagram above. Its not easy, but we hope it's simple. More detail on the excellent, as usual, ReadWriteWeb.

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All Companies Are "Collaboration Nets"?

Some notes coming in from Sapphire 2008, SAP Conference: (HT: Paul Greenberg) Cisco: The future of business is collaboration....(John Chambers, CEO) SAP: The future of business is business nets...(CEO of SAP) RSS: Attention and Use, and what your colleagues are using, should influence what is presented to you on your own desktop.(HT: Jeff Nolan) Thought: To see this on a macro macro level, John Hagel, Edge Perspectives, Creation Nets. Oh, so what's this got to do with "customer interaction". Friend, its all about how you create and manage interactions.

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Late Payments In Europe.

Lots of things to talk about out there. Inside ARM cover a piece on Debt Payment Practices in Europe. Once again it goes to show that "one size fits all" probably doesn't work in Europe. It also brings home the need for good credit checking.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Twitter, the meme of the social computing world, is seen by others as an actual test of many of the theories at work in the whole social computing, social networking world. It generates around 20 times more traffic from API's than from the site itself. Paul Greenberg gives us a little tour of how those in the CRM and Publishing world are currently using Twitter, and you have to think that for Twitter this is half the battle. Expect to see the Twitter embedded in mainstream apps in the near future.

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Get your twitter mosaic here.