Monday, March 09, 2009

Cut Cut Cut - Customer Service. Two Point Oh Dear. Lets all just be thoughtful here.


Now is the Time to Cut Cut Cut?

Companies are facing pressure to reduce costs in the face of falling retail sales and demand in the overall general economy. Yet the pressure is still there to deliver exceptional customer service, the kind that drives differentiation and customer loyalty. So right off bat, let's kill some Cap Ex. And while we are at it let's cut 10% of customer service staff, and lets cut some of the resources over there, and there, and there. The problem with cutting resources is you are going to cut the overall (or more truthfully, underlying) capability of performance in customer service. That is because you have left the old process the way it is and took out the lubrication that allowed it to work before. You lowered the water, and the rocks have now stopped the flow. Well, maybe now is a good time to look at tall this "2.0 Customer Service Stuff , Right". Yes, for sure, but thoughtfully.

If you want to truly effect metrics of any kind you have to get into root cause and effect relationships, and for root you can substitute route. CEBP + Reports + Analysis gives you the ability to see why and where variation is occurring. But here's the rub: most of the time you are not collecting the data that you need to in order to control these variations, and then, you lack the tools and methodologies for rolling out a structured testing and deployment plan. If this sounds a bit like "Lean Production" and "Lean Enterprise", then you are right. If it sounds a bit like "Agile Software" and "Agile Programming", then you are right.

It is a good time to look at SaaS (software as a Service) to extend your capabilities without extending your costs, but you should look at the total costs of adopting any SaaS solution, including integration costs, training, specifics on support response times, and any nasty hidden extra's such as "storage space per seat/user", "number of users in a price band", and your access rights to your own data.

Community & Customer

In looking at some 2.0 CRM2.0, Social Media options, some companies might look to Community Self Help Hubs to take the load off the customer service representative but this is (IMHO) not going to work without a full analysis and understanding of true customer Interaction. This will require insights from a number of different domains including data analysis capabilities, sociology-social media insights; and psychology. How these different approaches are harnessed to generate true customer insight will truly separate the winners from the also ran's (more on this below).

One company I have been following with interest recently is Helpstream having been pointed towards them by a Paul Greenberg article. A blog post where the company made some very cogent points and powerful claims for the cost reduction and improvement in agent performance was significantly called into question by a commentator (in the comments section, and posted anonymously. Boo - Hiss). The company CEO replied in full, and convincingly in my book. (a) They published the original comment, which they didn't have to; (b) they gave a full and detailed explanation of the assumptions underpinning their assertions, and (c) they had their CEO do it, and sign his name. This is really walking the walk.

Did I Happen Upon A Twitter Business Model?

Before I talk about it, lets just take a moment to dwell in the Y2K awesomeness of spending nearly $40m without a business model (sic). Then, the cheek of it; to "crowdsource" ideas for a business model, yeah you guys out there, users, you awesome lead users, how about you guys tell us how you think we might make some money out of this? So let me start by taking Mr.Kelly's taxonomy of Free

(1) Immediacy: would you pay to get your updates in real (real) time? would you pay to get superstar - uberstar -realstar updates before anyone else?. After all, some people can re-blog, re-mix, re-message to get further attention.

(2) Personalised: would you pay to have your stream "tweeted" to your "live context", i.e. where you are, who is near you, what is near you, what semantically is shown to be "important". After all, past a certain number of follows the stream becomes pure serendipity, unless you are willing to group, and group, and regroup (which I think Facebook has shown people don't do, and which Linked in has shown they cant do). Perhaps you would pay to have your stream personalised, managed, maximised?

(3) Interpretation: this is the idea that you reduce the cost and friction involved in gaining access to the "raw material input", or in extracting the reports etc., and then charging for the knowledge you bring as an expert. Well in the case of Twitter it is effectively outsourced Interpretation to third parties such as Mr. Tweet, our virtual concierge for "who should I follow" interpretations, but perhaps Twitter can bring other insights as an "expert", or sell "tool-sets" to experts that enable them to be effective deliverers of that service (Twitter -As -Adobe).

(4) Authenticity: the knowledge that "you are who you say you are", or "this is the real-link/report", etc see here. How can we "authentically consume", or "consume the authentic" OR "participate in the authentic" and "further the authentic". Some deep dark part of my mind tells me that "authenticity" + "real-time" will unlock value.

(5) Accessibility: as Kelly says, "ownership sucks", (money, time, resources). Better to know that you can get it when you want, on-demand. So what can Twitter give Access to?: your network (a la linkedin - done); your attention? (the stream - done). Perhaps Twitter has access to higher level "nodal influencers" for any particular subject/ topic/ event.

(6) Embodiment: turning the resources and characteristics, maybe even the brand of twitter, into a physical object or experience. See Twitter Mosaic for examples of people turning a social object into a real one. Of course the "real value" here is "insidership", in that it is broadcasting your popularity of any social network. "Twit Talks-Where The Influencers Meet" an invite only event would make money, I am sure about it.

(7) Patronage: in Kelly's model this means that fans want to pay artists in the sense that "We Are All Medici". It taps a sense of tribe, of fairness, and fairness is a very powerful social motivator. Would we hat-tip money into a particularly good Twitterer? or is "re-tweeting", and "follower base attention" its own reward here? How about Kiva-giving to a particular project when it demonstrates results (i.e. we vaccinated these 20 children with your last donation?).

(9) Findability: with so much flow, how do you know what's important "in there"? Google-in-Twitter for rifle accuracy Semantic-Search for meaning-memes, abstractions, brand moods? or Stumble-upon traffic generation for serendipity?

I Think There Might Be One More Boxes To This Taxonomy

(10) The Guarantee Privilege: You certainly should not get in the way of network-building effects, or restrict assets that have the affect of restricting attractors. How about "Guaranteed": "Paul is Guaranteed-In" so what he says is "True". or "Paul is Trusted-In" so his tweets are prioritised in the stream. Of course, Privilege is a program to which you must be invited, and pay a small amount to use. Being privileged should in the best of worlds add value both way. In a way LinkedIn tried this in order to get us to want to look at others that have reviewed our profile, because that is a weak signal that they want to speak to us about opportunities. Sending direct mail to people you don't know on LinkedIn is a "privilege" or annoyance, depending on how it is used. But if someone "Guaranteed" makes you an offer, or gives you an invite, it would be red boxed and important.

This week I bought a MacBook Air through Twitter. Someone in Ireland had one, posted up the spec and price, and then the next person in their network, and in mine, re-tweeted it. I have been loitering around the decision to buy a laptop for a while. I reviewed his Tweet stream and he was active, connected, and "social" (note, not social media :) I saw one of his contacts comment on his offer saying "yip, saw two myself and bought them". Now I kind-a knew this person, knew her to be reputable, and a techie to boot. She would not buy crap. SO my next tweet was "I will buy that. Consider it Sold".

The glue and medium that this exchange (hopefully) occurred in, is TRUST. Social Capital.

I know that there are "big data table opportunities" relating to some of the opportunities listed above, but perhaps "Social Trust" is one of those base line assets that Twitter embodies in its network. Social Filtering and Recommendation is one way to make money from this.

Irish company LouderVoice do a nice line in using Facebook for the same kind of thing, using Facebook connect. They've just announced a plug in that will allow you to "recommend and review" items and have them posted to Facebook friends. Same reason I bought on Twitter. But LouderVoice would allow me to post my review (and maybe my satisfaction with the purchase") on the VoiceSage blog, and other places I choose.

Wrap Up

So how does all this tie together?

- SaaS can be used to extend your capability without Cap Ex, but you should be careful about estimating the Total Cost;

- To improve customer service you have to re-design it and examine root cause and effect relationships;

- Community of Customers is not a panacea for all service ills. Without a culture of customer service that understands that everything it does will be transparent in the network;


And What's With The Picture?: what you see isn't always what you get!

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