Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Future Workforce: Imagining and Writing the Revolutionary Agent Job Description

In this exclusive preview of the Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange Chronicles: Customer Contact 2014, West, a panel of experts offer their insights on the workforce of the future, with an emphasis on evolving necessary skill sets, engaging millennials, and managing of remote employees.

Michael DeSalles, Principal Analyst, Customer Contact, Frost & Sullivan

- Denise Pullen, Assistant Director, Learning Innovation, Hyatt
- Kelly Ravsten, Director, Americas Audience Operations, Yahoo
- Ann Szymanowski, Global Director, Customer Service, Dow Chemical


With customers’ increasing ability to solve simple problems online, the questions that come in to agents are becoming more and more complex. Consequently, companies need to recruit for, train, and retain intelligent employees with the competence to solve challenging problems. 

What that means for contact centers: The skill sets of today’s agents need to favor problem-solving abilities and adaptability rather than rote memorization and adherence to scripts.


That doesn’t mean agents need to be technical experts; instead, the panelists said, companies must hire agents who can follow questions logically and figure out how to find solutions. In addition, agents need to be able to listen and have empathy for the customer. 

Look for customer-service-oriented individuals leaning toward sales, and recruit for college-educated employees on campuses. That strategy tends to work best in locations with high unemployment rates. Creating relationships with nearby campuses can allow the company to hire students part-time as they work toward degrees.  


Panelists agreed that education is important for today’s customer service agents. According to Ann Szymanoski, all agents at Dow Chemical have college degrees, as and they need strong critical thinking skills. Agents need understand the logistics of the company in order to serve customers.

All agents at Yahoo have degrees as well, Kelly Ravsten said. Her company looks for agents who can solve problems logically and learn. It’s impossible to use scripts to solve complex problems, she said. 

At Hyatt, college graduates are highly sought after but a degree is not specifically required, said Denise Pullen. The company is receiving much more complex calls now because most of the simple questions can be answered online. 


As the workforce evolves, organizations need to adapt to the generational differences of their employees. Younger agents tend to value different things than those who came before. Retaining millennial employees depends on engagement and motivation.


Companies must understand differences between the millennial workforce and prior generations, the panelists said. Unlike baby boomers, millennials often require a lot of feedback. They tend to be impatient and eager for promotion when they meet agreed-upon benchmarks, so it is important to ensure that these opportunities for advancement exist.

Don’t just rely on stereotypes about different generations. There’s a big gap between how most businesses view millennials and how they view themselves. For instance, according to
  • 35 percent of millennials consider themselves to tech savvy while 86 percent of HR managers say they're tech savvy. 
  • 82 percent of millennials think they are loyal to their employer while just 1 percent of HR managers say so. 
  • 86 percent of Millennials think they are hard-working, while 11 percent of HR managers agree.
Despite the challenges, panelists stressed companies should be excited about hiring millennials. Yes, they constitute a change in the workforce that requires a shift in motivation and retention strategies; however, they are the leaders of the future and, if properly engaged, have a lot to offer.  


The panelists recommended companies adapt their business structure to fit millennials instead of expecting them to adapt to fit the company. Create a work environment that challenges employees with clear parameters detailing acquisition of necessary skills and pay increases based on performance.

It’s important to help these employees with tuition reimbursement or loan assistance. The skilled college graduates companies are looking for will most likely have a higher debt ratio. 

For recruiting and retention, use groups and community outreach to help millennials feel connected to the company. For instance, Pullen said, Hyatt has created health and fitness club and a diversity group. Creating a fun culture that millennial employees fit into, fostering friendships, and allowing them to pursue a higher purpose will make them more likely to stay with the company.


Using work-at-home agents can help for recruiting, cutting costs and increasing agent availability. However, there are some challenges companies must overcome. According to the panelists, remote employment is a viable option as long as the right candidates feel connected to the company.


In today’s marketplace, it may be necessary to allow employees to work from home in order to hire and retain top talent. To avoid problems, companies must create a work-from-home environment that allows highly-trained employees to accomplish their work off-site.  

At Hyatt, about a third of agents work remotely. The training for them is key, Pullen said. The company uses a virtual classroom that’s completely interactive to make sure employees are engaged in the training.


The panelist recommended companies implement systems to ensure that remote employees are actively working despite not being physically present. Ongoing communication can help remote employees feel connected. Keep remote employees engaged with daily check-in meetings and frequent instant messaging interactions.

If you are considering a remote workforce but do not already have those capabilities in place, always test with a small alpha group. Allow highly-skilled employees who were originally trained in-person to migrate their work home.  Develop systems to monitor at-home work, such as remote desktop and webcam-based surveillance.

The creation of an at-home workforce may require realignment of leadership teams to service in-house, remote, and transitional employees.  Be prepared with a dedicated team of people taking care of remote employees to help ease the transition from in-person to remote.  


Just as the workforce is changing, HR departments must also evolve.  Leaders need training on generational diversity and what motivates each generation.  

For more valuable information, order your copy of Frost & Sullivan's Executive MindXchange Chronicles: Customer Contact 2015, West, a unique collection of all the key take-aways and best practices discussed at the event

Building a Customer Experience Strategy with Long-Term, Tangible Results

An interview with
Alistair Firmin
Vice President, Customer Service
Standard Insurance Company

Interviewed by Sam Narisi

As Vice President of Customer Service with The Standard, Alistair Firmin serves as the executive sponsor of the organization’s customer experience effort. For a little over a year, he’s led a company-wide push to ensure the customer stays at the center of everything The Standard does.

Following his presentation at the 10th Anniversary Customer Contact 2014, West: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, we spoke with Alistair about the customer experience effort, what challenges the company has faced, and what lessons have been learned along the way.

How did your current customer experience effort begin? What made you realize it was time to implement this strategy?

We’ve been a company for 107 years, and we were founded on the basic principles of customer experience. Our founder Leo Samuel got together with some friends and started an insurance company in Portland because processing claims on the east coast took too long for the families covered. They paid their very first claim on the same day it was submitted, which is pretty incredible for 1906, let alone today. So we’ve always been about the customer experience, but our concerted effort began after the financial crisis, when everyone really focused on staying financially viable. We wanted to make sure we brought the whole customer experience back into the center of what we do.

We stepped back and took a holistic look and saw we had a mix of products, distribution channels, technology, etc. We knew we had to make sure our customers didn’t get lost in all this and that we were bringing products and services to the marketplace in a way that makes sense for them. It wasn’t that something big or disastrous happened to shift our focus; it was a natural progression for us.

Talk about the steps you’ve taken as part of this strategy.

During the first few months I talked to people and started to formulate the best way to get it going. I tried to get a feel for not just their perspective about customer experience, but also what things may have helped add to or detract from the customer experience in the past. When you’re talking about customer experience or anything else that’s not so tangible, you really need to understand the culture in the company and how you can best ride that to deliver a long-lasting impact.

For the next step, I selected six of my peers to join me on a council. Those were folks who not only demonstrated a passion for customer experience but also had controllership of key areas of the company and were decision-makers. I told them this can’t just be a flash in the pan that we put together and employees snicker about; it has to deliver tangible results. We got together and created a roadmap with the items we knew we needed to tackle first, then prioritized those efforts and put some resources behind them.

One of the elements of that roadmap that’s been extremely important for us was putting together customer champion teams. Those consist of 15 or so individuals from different functions that focus on each of our customer segments. They help map out the touchpoints and how customers feel, how important those touchpoints are, and how easy or difficult it would be to close any gaps.

What was the biggest challenge you faced along the way?

The biggest challenge we ran into and continue to run into is the time this requires people to spend away from their day jobs. The council meets every week for an hour at a minimum, and we have the champions get together several times a month for two-hour sessions. So the biggest challenge is not only getting those folks, because they’re fantastic individuals and everyone wants a piece of them, but then making sure we maximize their time and make sure they feel their time is being well spent.

This is where those efforts can easily wax and wane. If people don’t feel like their time is being respected and well used, they’ll drop off. One thing that’s helped avoid that is that we have an incredible project manager on the job. She brings a lot of energy and passion and keeps things moving forward. Another thing is the people involved. When you have a great group of people, some of them will be naturally inclined to put more effort in. So it’s important to identify those people early and make sure they feel satisfied, because they keep the energy going as well.

We also focus on recognition, thanking people for participating, and making sure we listen to what they have to say and are honest and open with them. They need to know that if they put the effort in, we’re going to listen and take them seriously.

You mentioned how important it is to have a long-term, tangible impact. How do you measure success to make sure it’s working? 

When we started looking at customer experience from a strategic perspective, we knew we needed to link it to something tangible. We’re tying our efforts to retention or what we call persistency – the willingness of customers to renew their coverage. If our customers are having a good experience, they’re more likely to stay with us. We want to keep our customers, make them feel valued and deliver a great experience. The longer any company keeps a customer, generally the more profitable they become.

As an insurance company, you work with both individuals and businesses. Do you have to address each type of customer differently? 

We have three customer segments for employee benefits. First, we have our brokers. They’re not captive to us and they represent all of our competitors as well, but we absolutely view them as critical. They’re the ones who bring us to the table with their clients. Their clients are the employers, which is another customer segment. The employers are working with us on bills and contracts, and they have to do on-boarding and on-going management of their benefit plans. Then of course, there are the covered employees – the folks who are actually using the benefits.

Each one of those segments brings a different expectation and a different view of us as a company. That’s why we have three different champion groups, to make sure we keep each one of those customers in perspective. We’ve also done some market research around customer perspectives and attitudes and what’s important to them, and we’ve dovetailed it with our branding efforts at the corporate level. The brand team has done a great job surveying the marketplace and determining the positioning for us. Understanding the attitudes and perspectives of the different types of customers is critical. Often, efforts like this will tailor to one customer type and lose the other perspectives.

This is an ongoing process. What have you learned along the way?

We learn constantly. We have constant feedback sessions and we’re always looking to the council to see if we need to change direction or shift our focus. There are multiple things we’ve learned. The biggest key here is making sure you’re constantly looking for and soliciting feedback, and that when it comes you listen to it. There isn’t one lesson I can point to, it’s lots of little lessons and constant course correction and adjustment.

Empowering The Customer Experience Culture Shift: From Customer Service To Customer Care

By Rhonda Basler
Director, Customer Engagement
Hallmark Business Connections

Customer experience is such a big beautiful term. Everyone uses it. Many companies are “focused” on it. They create journey maps and define moments of truth, all in the hopes of becoming customer experience champions. But what I find most interesting is the struggle many companies face when putting customer experience plans into action.

Improving the customer experience requires both an internal and external shift in an organization. This calls for change, which can be difficult to embrace, but not impossible. I propose a shift that can power a culture change that drives customer experience improvements. It’s a simple shift and is easy for employees to willingly embrace: Stop simply serving customers and start caring for them.


Customer service is factual, punctual and logical. Customer care is empathetic, tailored, individualized and, most importantly, emotional. When customers make decisions, how they feel about your company always wins over what they think about your company.

I believe one of the most challenging roles in a company belongs to customer service individuals. Being a customer service provider typically involves intense training that is focused on the “logical” portion of customer outreach: how to fix mis-shipments, billing errors, damaged product protocol and more. The list goes on and on. Solving problems and providing solutions are important to improving the customer experience, but what if there’s more? What if the customer experience doesn't need to solely end with a solution, but with a relationship as well?

Customer care is an extension of customer service and leans into the naturally empathetic side of all human beings. Each of us seeks to understand one another without judgment. We feel empowered to end our interactions positively. It’s in our nature. We need to capitalize on our inherent urge to form relationships. We need to encourage our employees to own their empathy and apply it to all customer interactions. The more customers feel understood and cared for, the more likely they are to speak favorably of your company.


No doubt, one of the biggest moments of truth for any company is the atonement process.  Everyone makes mistakes, and businesses are no exception. Each day technology errors happen, misunderstandings occur and, despite best efforts, customers experience distress. But it isn't the nature of the mistake that matters – it's how it's resolved.

Customer service is tactical in its approach to resolving customer complaints. When a customer calls with a problem, the customer service representative solves it. Customer care pushes this boundary further. Instead of simply resolving the problem, a customer care associate uses empathy to offer support and comfort. This employee strives to understand what the customer is feeling and, in doing so, true empathy can be conveyed, healing the emotional wound.

According to the 2013 Customer Rage Study, 56 percent of study participants felt they received nothing from a business after they filed a complaint. Additionally, 76 percent of respondents simply wanted an apology, but only 32 percent received one.

Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and strive to understand how they feel without over-complicating the situation. Sometimes the most effective solution is a simple apology with a side of empathy.


Customer feelings wield a lot of power over the future of your business. According a study by McKinsey & Company, 85 percent of customers increased their spending based on positive emotions throughout their interactions with businesses, while 70 percent reduced their spending when they had a bad experience. When employees are actively engaged in their work and strive to create a better emotional experience, customers will be more satisfied. This increased satisfaction leads to higher retention and loyalty.

Hallmark Business Connections has the pleasure of working with a global fortune 100 company on its customer care strategies. After training and providing customer care tools, employees said they felt inspired by the relationships they were building and had an 18 percent jump in their job satisfaction scores. Moreover, customers felt more valued and reported being three times more likely to maintain the relationship with the company than before. Overall, customers touched by the program had a 10 percent increase in customer retention, a 21 percent increase in purchase activity and a 32 percent increase in revenue. There is no arguing the success of those customer care results.

Customer care is essential to achieving our customer experience goals in today’s business world. Our hyper-social, high-tech world leaves little room for just “service.” Why? Because every business can provide that. When we empower our employees to embrace their natural ability to understand, empathize and care for customers, we also create a competitive differentiator in the marketplace.

To learn more, visit Rhona Basler can be reached on LinkedIn

Why Social Media is Different - and How to Use it for Customer Engagement

By Brendan Read
Industry Analyst – Customer Contact
Frost & Sullivan

Every company understands the necessity of listening and engaging with customers on social media. But have most companies grasped how to effectively market to them on that channel?

As noted in the Frost & Sullivan Market Insight, From Mass Marketing to Social Marketing, companies may be challenged in marketing on that channel.  Here’s why, from this report and from other research:

  • Companies are not used to engaging and interacting with a mass, but also a targeted audience, and a “target of one”. Companies are still conditioned to “message-out”. Shorter, colloquial conversations run a greater risk of misinterpretation.
  • Applying metrics to track performance, results, and to determine ROI is very difficult to accomplish as there is a lack of universal metrics across social platforms. Companies can’t use audience size and length of engagement because there are active and passive audiences, including audience members (like me) who view social sites through other Web sites. This last category is probably bigger than most people or businesses think.
  • Companies cannot generally use social media as a direct sales channel because it is open, hence confidential information cannot be revealed. Also, the social media culture frowns on this practice.  However, a new Facebook “buy” feature may change that attitude if it is unobtrusive and secure.
  • While customers may be buying as a result of social marketing programs, the conversions are often difficult to track. For example, a customer may have purchased an item after reading a Tweet, but the seller may not be able to identify the direct link. 

To market on social media effectively, companies need to step back and look at social media for what it is, which is a gathering place, like an event, meeting, or a reception. The same social practices, conventions, and mores that apply when you attend in-person also apply while on social media:

  • You listen politely to conversations, analyze what is being said (and not said) and, at the right moment, you introduce yourself.
  • When the others allow you to speak, you engage with them in their conversation before talking about yourself, making your points, and introducing your topics.  All the while you are picking up “data points” about the others’ careers, interests, passions, demographics, status, and social influence.
  • Only if the others express a direct interest in you and your points do you deep-dive into them.  And if there are one or two people who are especially interested in what you say you go to one side or follow up with them later “off-line”.  Some Twitter solutions, like those from HipLogiq, perform lead generation with social conversations. They capture and analyze Tweets for desires and wants, such as “I’m hungry for a burger”, and respond with targeted offers.
  • Finally, if you find that the group is not listening to you, then you move on to another group.

There is so much information that is exchanged in a simple conversation that to sort it out and to respond accurately and appropriately in real-time with analytics solutions is extremely challenging.  I like IBM’s social media analytics solutions in part because IBM continually strives to bring machine intelligence closer to human intelligence, such as through its Watson cognitive processing technology.

Once companies see and understand the social dynamics in person they should apply them to social media marketing and social media in general, with the right tools. If they do then they might be pleasantly surprised with the results. 

The Top 5 Take-Aways from Customer Contact 2014, West

By Michael DeSalles
Principal Analyst | Customer Contact
Frost & Sullivan


Sam Narisi
Publications Editor/Lead Writer
Frost & Sullivan

Customer service experts and thought leaders recently gathered in the San Diego for the 10th Anniversary Customer Contact 2014, West: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange. These executives, directors and managers  discussed the day-to-day challenges they face in their own contact centers and their strategies to move toward improving the customer experience.

The theme of this year’s event was “Raising the Bar on Customer Engagement and Experience.” Participants, speakers and session facilitators shared their perspectives around what companies can do to keep the focus on delivering an excellent experience no matter why customers interact with the company and no matter what channel (voice, text, video, email, chat) they are using.

Discussions covered all aspects of contact centers and customer service, including hiring and managing agents, mapping the customer journey, customer satisfaction metrics and finding the best ways to use data and technology to improve the customer experience.

Here are a few of the biggest takeaways that came out of these highly interactive think tanks. If you were at the event, please share your own top takeaways in the comments below.

1. Agents require new skills

More and more customers are gravitating toward self-service tools when they have a question for a company or need an issue resolved. Customers can now visit a website to take care of many of the simple problems that used to require a phone call. They only call the contact center as a last resort, when they’re dealing with something more complicated.

That means businesses need agents will the right skills to be able to handle those complex issues. Employees need to know more about the products and services and the internal workings of the company. As a result, many companies are focused on hiring educated agents with strong critical thinking skills.

For instance, during a panel discussion, Ann Szymanoski, Global Director of Customer Service at Dow Chemical, said her company makes a concerted effort to hire agents with college degrees. Dow also makes sure they understand the company’s logistics so that  they are better equipped to answer customer inquiries..

2. Millennials require new management strategies

Companies must also deal with the generational shifts occurring in the workforce. Many participants noted that acquiring, retaining and engaging Millennial agents requires new strategies and approaches. Despite some negative stereotypes about this group of workers, it’s important for businesses to put in the effort to get to know what drives not only this group of employees, but also consumers that fit this demographic. When properly engaged, Millennial agents have a lot to offer.

One strategy that can help with recruiting and retention is to the company’s corporate responsibility outreach. This kind of community involvement can help employees feel more like an integral part of the company. Hyatt Hotels, for example, has created a health and fitness club as well as a diversity group, said Denise Pullen, the company’s Assistant Director of Learning Innovation. Creating a fun culture that millennial employees fit into, fostering friendships, and allowing them to pursue a higher purpose will make them more likely to stay with the company, Pullen said.

3. Empathy and authenticity are necessary for delivering a great customer experience

Satisfying customers today requires providing seamless, effortless and personalized interactions on whatever channel the customer chooses. That means businesses must measure customer satisfaction levels (NPS, FCR, C-Sat surveys), as well as make sure that agents have the right information at their fingertips in order to handle interactions quickly and effectively.

Agents must also go beyond reading scripts and try to understand each individual customer's situation, said best-selling author Mike Robbins during his keynote presentation. The key is being authentic and genuine, Robbins said. He contends that agents cannot always give the customer what he or she wants. However, authenticity will make a difference in how that customer perceives the company.

4. Customer experience begins with the small things

Too often, business leaders think of efforts to improve customer experience only in terms of big, company-wide initiatives, said Michel Falcon of Falcon Consulting. However, you can't start any big initiatives without first providing consistently great experiences on a daily basis.

You need to start slow and begin by making sure each individual customer interaction is excellent. Employees need to be able to treat their 100th customer the same way they did their first.

5. Businesses need a Big Data strategy 

There's a lot of data companies can collect from customer interactions and use to improve the customer experience and deliver products and services that better meet customers’ needs. However, companies need to have a strategy in place so they know what their goals are and what they need to measure.

Companies must begin by determining the metrics that are important success indicators for the organization, and then collect data accordingly, said Curtis Generous, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at AARP. To get the most out of the data, look at all channels and make sure information is organized properly. In addition, companies need to use data collection methods that align with the preferences of customers. For example, AARP will use different methods than an organization with a younger customer base.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Aligning Technology Choices with Customer Engagement Goals

An interview with:
Michael Taylor
Senior Director, Client Support

Interviewed by Sam Narisi

Technology is moving faster than ever, and there are many new tools available to help companies manage their interactions with customers. However, companies need a strategy in place to make sure their investments are helping create the kind of customer experience they want.

Frost & Sullivan recently spoke with Michael Taylor, CareerBuilder’s Senior Director of Client Support, about the opportunities companies have to improve the customer experience and the lessons he has learned about aligning technology decisions with company strategy. Michael will also be leading a discussion around these and other topics at the 10th Anniversary Customer Contact 2014, West: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, October 19 – 22, in San Diego, CA.

What are some of the biggest opportunities available for companies to use technology to improve the customer experience?

Even before looking at a specific technology, you first must understand your strategy and goals for driving a strong customer experience. For us, we are working to create an effortless experience for our customers. In the past, we’ve made investments in technology, but not necessarily directly aligned to that strategy.

Over the last six months, we have performed discovery around the support best practices from our partners in the business, our customers, and various industries. That’s led to some important findings. One is that the concepts of Support and Success are very different and require very skill sets, incentives, and bottom line goals. Support is any process that involves a customer contacting you with a question or concern. Success is where we proactively work with the customers to drive long-term engagement. You have different incentive structures and goals that align to each.  We tried to do both at the same time with the same people. Part of our discovery process was uncovering how to maximize both through technology, automation, and structure in a way that aligned with our goals.

For support, there are key parameters you must maximize to achieve an effective customer experience: speed, accuracy, and transparency. To achieve this we’ve worked on three areas with technology:

  1. Commitment to a strong and flexible central CRM platform. 
  2. Integrating or consolidating our internal systems and customer platforms so that the full record of the customer, including their journey, history, and opportunities, are fully visible. 
  3. Striving to make it as easy as possible for the customer to be able to contact us and get a full understanding of their inquiry, who is working it, and when it’s expected to be resolved. 

We’re proactive in our communication to the customer, and they have the ability to see their status first-hand at any point. Integration is critical because we have to ensure this communication is visible to the front-end for our customers, as well as pull any data on the back-end into that platform. This gives you the opportunity to have one lens, one view, and one voice of the customer. Over the past few years, the software has become very flexible, so even if it’s not all on one platform, it’s possible to gather the data into one system.

What benefits have you seen as you’ve improved transparency – for example, how has it affected call volume? 

It reduces calls and escalations. You can also leverage any of the customer intelligence gained to provide content in the front-end for more effective self-service. This improves impact and efficiency because whenever escalations occur, many parties become involved to resolve; more managers and leaders of other groups are involved, which doesn’t necessarily help speed up the resolution and draws a lot of static.

However, the other key benefit is longer term. Transparency helps ensure a long-term customer. There are many occurrences where you capture the active voice of the customer, whether they’re contacting you, filling out a survey, or communicating via social media. However, there are numerous sentiment and health signals that emerge when customers are not interacting with you directly. The real opportunity is not only to capture customer sentiment from all channels, but to understand the customers’ overall health based on their usage, allowing you to take effective, proactive action.

What are some examples of how you engage customers proactively?

We use Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a metric for the transactions various teams have with customers. For all of those transactions, our scores as a whole, I’m proud to say, are quite high – at the world-class levels. We thought that was great news, but then our marketing team did a brand loyalty assessment to gauge the overall sentiment of CareerBuilder as a brand. We learned that while the NPS for individual interactions was quite high, the overall sentiment was probably significantly lower. There was a gap, and that was part of our call to action to improve engagement.

We target proactive activities in two areas: one is time-based within the customer’s life, and the second is based on specific events and specific usage patterns with particular products. An example of a time-based trigger would be a quarterly account review that looks at the performance for the customer based on the products they purchased. We analyze the data against their goals and provide recommendations to ensure they’re maximizing their experience of what they purchased from us. Event-based triggers are product specific. One example is with our data products. We look the customer’s usage. So if a customer is leveraging the tools quite frequently, but their usage declines over a period of time, we take action, investigate, and reach back out to the customer.

How can you ensure incentives and the use of technology align with the company’s overall strategy?

At the end of the day, it’s about knowing the most important bottom line goals for the business. There has to be transparency across the leaders and there has to be consistency and understanding of what the mission, strategy, and goals are. Then it’s a partnership between leadership and the success and support teams to ensure group goals and incentives align to the vision. For us, our mission became to create a fun and effortless experience for our customers and partners.

Once you have your group’s vision statement, you can target specific objectives and measurable goals to achieve it. That could mean looking at ways to use technology, outsourcing, consulting, or your own personnel. You have to ask: Does what we’re investing in align with the overall goals of our products, our customers, and our business as a whole? Can you prove it or at least show a logical roadmap to get there? For us, it didn’t just start with signing our CRM contract, but with the willingness of the business to invest time and other resources to ensure the platform was a vehicle to achieve our mission: creating a fun and effortless experience for our customers. We will achieve this by maximizing the speed, accuracy, and transparency of Support, and long-term engagement and partnership of our customers through Success.

Also, there’s an opportunity for any group or company to leverage discovery and rapid prototyping. It costs no money and limited time; and the more of that you’re willing to do, the greater your understanding and likelihood that you’ll make the right investment. This increases your ability to create a case that shows what the return on technology investment will be and how it translates to the bottom line goals of the business. This will set you on a path to success.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Submit Your Nomination for the 2015 CIO Impact Awards

All industries are changing fast, and no business can survive without serious digital innovation. As a result, CIOs and other IT leaders have never been more integral to their organizations’ success than they are now.

At the 2015 CIO Impact Award and Gala, Frost & Sullivan will honor those IT leaders who are true game-changers and have stepped up to help their companies innovate, overcome challenges, and capitalize on new opportunities. To make sure your organization or others are considered, submit your nomination today. Nominations are open to companies and their IT teams from around the world. For each nomination submitted, nominees are required to identify a senior project sponsor at the VP level or above.

Held annually during CoNEXTions: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, The CIO Impact Awards honor enterprise teams and individuals that are enabling breakthrough new business models and strategies through the innovative use of transformative technologies.

The CIO Impact Awards recognize top performers in the following categories:

  • Enterprise Social Networking
  • Advanced Software Development
  • Advanced Analytics and Big Data
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Mobility
  • Cloud Computing
  • Unified Communications and Collaboration
  • Data and Network Resilience

In addition those award categories, the CIO Impact Awards will honor two CIO Innovators of the Year from among all of the project award winners. These winners are CIOs whose teams had the most positive impact on their enterprises’ strategic innovation and who delivered a significant competitive advantage.

Winners of the CIO Impact Awards will be presented with their award at the gala on the final day of the event, February 10, 2015, in San Francisco, and will be recognized in front of their peers as global IT leaders.

Act Now to Reserve Your Company’s Spot at Our Next IT Think Tank

Never before have CIOs and IT team been so critical to the company's growth strategy, and never has it been so important to showcase IT's impact on the business. While there are definitely challenges ahead, this is a time of significant and electrifying change for IT executives. New industries, business models, and products will emerge, organizational roles and relationships will be redefined, and IT will be at the epicenter of it all.

Frost & Sullivan is pleased to announce the 3rdAnnual ConNEXTions 2015: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, featuring a unique format designed specifically to help CIOs and other IT professionals navigate this new environment and plan for the future. In an effort to maximize the value of this think tank and its interactive discussions, Frost & Sullivan has invited a selection of cross-vertical IT leaders. Most of the content will be PowerPoint-free, relying instead on interactive discussions to engage peers in small groups to facilitate candid discussions and cross-industry leaning. The date and location have been confirmed for February 8-10, 2015, in San Francisco.

For this year’s event, Frost & Sullivan has invited representatives from sectors such as:
  • Information and Communication Technology (eBay, Expedia, Yahoo!, Xerox, Honeywell)
  • Financial Services (The Blackstone Group, Charles Schwab, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo)
  • Government Administration (U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Commerce, City of Palo Alto, California Department of Public Health, Office of Management and Budget)
  • Healthcare and Medical Devices (Abbott Laboratories, Cardinal Health, CVS Caremark, United Health Group, Quest Diagnostics)

Building close relationships with peers in other organizations and industries will be critical for IT leaders to develop the innovative ideas and best practices needed to help their companies succeed in the future. Past participants agree the unique format of a Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange offers the best opportunities to network, build relationships, and share best practices with peers.

To make sure your company is represented in this innovative information technology think tank, be sure to take advantage of Frost & Sullivan’s new Colleagues and Clients referral program. If you refer a colleague, you’ll receive a $100 discount on your next Frost & Sullivan event. And If the person you refer registers for ConNEXTions, that discount will increase to $250.

To maximize your savings, let your company’s IT leadership know about the 3rd Annual ConNEXTions 2015: A Frost & SullivanExecutive MindXchange today.

Creating a Customer-Centric Culture

Tammy McLeod
Chief Customer Officer
Arizona Public Service

Some companies are founded by individuals who know that their customers are the life-blood. But what about those that haven’t been as attentive? How can you turn a ship so that it’s sailing along with the customer point of view? In a session during this year’s Customer Contact 2014, East: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, Tammy McLeod, Chief Customer Service Officer for Arizona Public Service, discussed the importance of effective customer experience management.

To see more of the insight and best practices presented at the event, be sure to download a copy of Frost & Sullivan’s Executive MindXchange Chronicles, a valuable collection of all the key take-aways from Customer Contact 2014, East.

A Consistently Positive Experience

Customer experience management is the discipline of understanding, planning, implementing, and optimizing all customer interactions to deliver a consistently positive experience, McLeod said. Companies need to build a deliberate strategy for managing the customer experience and incorporate this strategy into the day-to-day aspects of the company. If they do not, their customer experience will suffer.

The customer experience is incredibly important for every business, McLeod said. Customer satisfaction is an indicator of operational health and has a direct impact on the bottom line. Customer expectations are shaped by the customer’s experience with the company and its products or services. It is important that you shape the customer’s perceptions of your company so that they see you as meeting all of their needs.

Start With Your Employees

For engaged customers, companies should start by engaging employees, McLeod said. One way to create more engagement in both groups: Give employees the ability to interact with the customers through social networks.

Social media can shape the perception of your company and allow for better access to detailed customer feedback. McLeod suggested monitoring all of the feedback on social networks, identifying trends and themes among the data, and determining opportunities for improvement based on those themes.

Companies must engage employees in the process of obtaining and interpreting customer feedback, McLeod said, and developing strategy based on it. Engaged employees create engaged customers.

When monitoring social media interactions, it’s critical that agents quickly resolve any issues that are discovered. A single negative incident can have a widespread impact due to social media.

Study Your Customers

The customer experience strategy should align with the organization’s corporate goals. If a deliberate customer experience strategy is in place and it aligns with the corporate goals of a company, then the customers become central to the company’s structure and business.

Before developing your customer service strategy, study the interactions that your customers have with your company. Gather, analyze, and incorporate customer feedback for all customer touch points to determine what it is that customers want from your company. Use these metrics to motivate your leadership and your employees. When you do begin to strategize, develop guidelines for the customer experience process. Those guidelines will enable employees to put the strategy into practice and also ensure that your company is easy to do business with, as employees will consistently know what to do in every situation.

McLeod recommended companies create an advisory board with senior-level representatives across all disciplines within the business. These representatives are the ones who will create the guidelines and manage employee performance.

Establishing processes for governance for customer-facing functions is also key to customer experience management. The advisory board should design a governance structure, including performance management, process improvement, customer engagement strategies, voice-of-the-customer programs, and experience architecture.

Bring the Whole Organization On Board

It’s important to get everyone in the business on board with the customer experience strategy, McLeod said. The strategy will likely fail if the organization does not have:

  • The support of senior management
  • A cross-functional group to monitor customer experience
  • Simple and focused metrics
  • Engaged employees

It’s critical to build the focus on customer experience into the organization’s culture.

Customer service leaders can get their teams on board by making customers real to employees. McLeod recommended sharing the financial impact of customer satisfaction and making it clear that everyone in the business is responsible for creating and maintaining this satisfaction. Gaining support from executives and senior-level management and making that public can help drive home the value of customer satisfaction. Also, communicate the customer experience strategy regularly and share both good and bad experiences with all employees.

Some other ways companies can get everyone on board and focused on the customer experience strategy:

  • Start meetings with a story about a positive customer moment
  • Share books on customer engagement
  • Train agents to turn every complaint into an opportunity for improvement
  • Celebrate a special “customer experience day”
  • Designate a single room, or area within a room, to contain all things related to customers 

Final Thought

The customer experience is perhaps the most important aspect of managing a business. If your customers aren’t satisfied, the business will suffer. Companies must create a strategy for managing the customer experience and incorporate this strategy into every aspect of the organization. This will ensure that the customer experience becomes a regular part of the organization’s day-to-day functions and create a culture of customer service among all employees.

How a Lack of Communication Can Ruin Your Customer's Day

By Derek Williams
Founder and Chief Executive 
The WOW! Awards

In May 2014 I was invited to the wedding of a family friend. Maggie and I have known Toni for 32 years – since she was a toddler. And we felt very privileged to be asked to join her and Richard for their wedding and holiday in the sun. But it didn’t quite work out as planned.

Toni and Richard booked the wedding in April 2013, a full year in advance. All the prices that they were given for hairdressing, bows for seats, etc., were from the 2012 price list but they understood that.  They knew that prices might change for 2014.  But there was an express clause in the company’s terms and conditions that, “They would be kept informed of any changes.”

There were special benefits to having a group of 20 people in the party:

  • The company offered a special box for Toni to carry her dress in for the flight.  
  • There were tickets for Toni and Richard to use the VIP lounge at Stansted.  
  • There was to be a bridal suite for the night of their wedding.

So where did it go wrong?

  • Now just imagine Toni’s dream dress. Full length. Lots of folds. A long train. Everything that she wanted to make her wedding to Richard so special. She knew that Richard would cry when he saw it. But Toni was the first to cry when she saw the size of the “special box”.  For a mini skirt it would have been fine.  But for a traditional bridal gown it was ridiculously small.  So the beautiful dress had to go into a conventional suitcase.
  • On arrival at Stansted they headed straight for the VIP lounge and a glass of champagne. But where was it? One advisor told them that it was closed. Another told them that it was so far away from their departure gate that it wouldn’t be worth the walk.

Hey ho. Toni and Richard were in love. They weren’t going to be put off by a ridiculously small box and the vanishing VIP lounge.

On arrival at the hotel they were immediately informed that they would not be guaranteed all of their party to be sat together in the restaurant after the wedding service.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  What on earth made the company think that Toni and Richard might possibly want to sit with their family and friends for their wedding feast???

The only option available to them if they all wanted to be seated together was to book a private room for an extra £180.  But to be certain of the private room they would need to pay immediately as there was another wedding on the same day as Toni and Richard’s; the bride for that wedding would be arriving shortly and it was the first one to pay who got the only private dining room available.

Toni and Richard had struggled to pay for this wedding.  The last thing that they wanted was to be pressured into coughing up another £180 without any warning.

Then there were a few other things that the holiday company had forgotten to mention.

  • The free bows for the seats in a variety of colours?  No longer available.
  • The free hairdressing rehearsal the day prior to the wedding was now going to be £35.
  • The £35 hair do on the wedding day was now going to be £85.
  • The new terrace especially for the reception was no longer available.
  • And the bridal suite had disappeared.  Must be somewhere out in the ether with the VIP lounge.

If this was your wedding, all your hopes and dreams coming together a year after being booked.  How would you feel?

What happened next was really interesting.  You see, Toni and Richard had arrived 10 days before the day of their wedding. The plan was to have a lovely period of relaxation before the big day. Those 10 days however now turned into 10 days of worry, of frenzied meetings with the hotel and the holiday organizers.

And the guests came in a steady stream; people arriving every couple of days. As each new arrival joined the party, the story of all the disappointments was being repeated. It was like plunging in the knife over and over and over again. Everyone was shocked and angry.

Ten days spent arguing with the organizer. Meetings with the rep. Complaints back to the company’s UK head office and their Customer Service Director. Toni and Richard were in tears – they were just so stressed out and upset.

What did the company do to resolve all this? Honest opinion? Not very much.

They did get the bows for the seats. They were allowed to sit as a group in the restaurant without having to pay for a private room. But that was about it. There really wasn’t any genuine feeling that the company was sorry about having spoiled such an important occasion.

The day after Toni and Richard got married another couple got married at the same resort and all organized by the same holiday company.  This second bride, however, was delighted with her day.  She’d been kept informed of all the changes from the very start and nothing was a disappointment for her.

And that’s all it took. Simple communication in accordance with the company’s own terms and conditions. Simple stuff that the company could have been done at any time in the previous year but didn’t.

Now for the good news. Two days after the wedding we visited the local village and arranged for a boat to take our group on a tour of the local islands and bays. Just our group. The company heard about Toni and Richard being married and immediately organized champagne and cake for us – all at no extra charge. We all bought bandanas and dressed as pirates. It was the most amazing day out and one we will all remember. Thank you to the Captain of the Boat, you made it all worthwhile.

Moral of the story: in our quest to do more business with less employees, customer communication can often fall by the wayside. But if you cannot build loyalty with the customers you already have then you may be wasting a huge amount of money trying to attract new customers. When was the last time that you really listened to your customers?

About the Author:

Derek Williams is Chief Executive and founder of The WOW! Awards.  This process is now being used by organisations around the world that are passionate about creating a great place to work and a great place to be a customer.    +00 44 (0) 1438 310191
Twitter @TheWowAwards