Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Putting Ourselves in Customers' Shoes

By Ingrid Lindberg
Chief Customer Experience Officer
Prime Therapeutics

It’s one thing to talk about customer experience. It’s another to experience it. At Prime Therapuetics, we’ve taken a unique approach to helping our employees see through our customer’s eyes: The Customer Experience Room.
When employees walk into the Customer Experience Room, they choose a persona for the journey. They are encouraged to think like "Jay" or "Stacy." As employees walk through the “current experience" part of the room, they listen to real calls. They see real feedback from customers and read actual letters Prime has sent. This exposure puts things into a different perspective. 
Stations in the “current experience" are designed to show how everyone at Prime plays a part: from customer service agents on the phone to the people who write member letters, from website engineers to clinical experts, and from product developers to the pharmacists in each of our pharmacies. Sure, not all of these employees are on the front line with members. But because people are the focus of everything we do, each of us must learn to put ourselves in our members’ shoes. 
The experience of seeing things through members' eyes reveals the connection between the work our employees do and the people we serve. Once this connection becomes clear, it's easy to see that each and every employee plays a part in making our customers’ experiences better.
The “future experience" side of the Customer Experience Room asks employees to think outside the box about how they can do their part. Is it sounding friendlier on the phone? Is it avoiding jargon in letters? Maybe it’s a website that’s easier to navigate? Or a single point of contact for Prime? This second part of the Customer Experience Room highlights the things we’ve already started doing, and builds excitement about the things we’re striving to do in the future.
Once Prime employees have explored the future of customer experience, they’re asked to sign a promise wall. By signing the wall, employees promise to “obsess about our members’ needs and do what is right for them.”
At Prime, our purpose is to help people get the medicine they need to feel better and live well. We could stop at just helping our customers get their medicine. We could choose not to think about the process or how they’re treated. But we don’t. Instead, we put ourselves in our members' shoes and strive to make their experience the best it can be.
This article originally appeared on Prime Therapeutics’ Industry Insights blog.
About the Author
As chief customer experience officer at Prime Therapeutics, Ingrid C. Lindberg is responsible for developing and overseeing the implementation of the enterprise customer experience strategy, which addresses all matters related to how Prime engages and serves its customers. Her role within Prime is the first of its kind within the pharmacy benefit management industry and has been created to ensure Prime’s customers have the best pharmacy experience possible and that the voice of the customer is a driver within the decision making processes at Prime. Lindberg was presented with a Direct Marketing News 40 Under 40 Award in 2013 and was named a 40 Under Forty honoree by the Hartford Business Journal in 2011. Ingrid speaks at national conferences and is heavily quoted by top publication including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Atlanta Constitution Journal, and Kiplingers. Follow her on Twitter at @iclindberg

The Call Center is Dying. Long Live Omnichannel Customer Service

By Brendan Read
Industry Analyst – Customer Contact
Frost & Sullivan

The North American contact center industry has reached “maturity,” which is the code word for a gradual demise.  As noted in the analysis “Opportunities in a Mature Market,” Frost & Sullivan forecasts the total number of contact center seats will shrink from 4.1 million in 2012 to 4 million by 2017. 
If anything, the seat loss is a conservative estimate, as there are several factors causing the call center sector to become even smaller:
·         Millennials and Gen Yers are entering the consumer mainstream. They will only contact companies’ staff if they cannot find a satisfactory solution on the Web, in mobile apps, on text-based automated channels (chat, SMS/text, and virtual agent), or on social media. And, as indicated in Frost & Sullivan’s research, “From Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to Automated Customer Interaction,” these new consumers also appear to prefer automated text over IVR, including speech-based solutions. 
Here’s the rub: Millennials and GenYers may perceive voice-driven call centers as irrelevant, an attitude they may take with them in their careers. They may also see customer service as a dead-end career. If so, chances are these employees will instead go into marketing, which is usually responsible for the “relevant” mobile, social, and Web channels, and which has a direct route to the C-suite. Consequently, when these individuals become corporate decision makers, they will be less inclined to spend money on call centers.
·         Most companies now understand that the best way to reduce service costs, and to satisfy and retain customers, is by making their products and services easier to use and more reliable. Moreover, the products themselves can now diagnose problems and alert customers, and, with customers’ permission, automatically fix issues and install upgrades. 
·         The depth of online advice and information to help customers solve their own problems is increasing. But that means the questions and problems that customers may have after being in self-service may be too difficult for live agents to answer. 
·         The rise of more productive channels such as chat, SMS/text, and social media permits agents to engage in several simultaneous conversations, whereas live agent voice (and video) is one-to-one. Automated proactive customer contact (PCC) solutions reduce inbound contact volumes while improving the customer experience by alerting customers of important issues.
Underlying these trends is the slow economic rebound and a disappearing middle class that is creating a consumer market made up of a small affluent upper class and a large, less affluent lower class. As a result, companies are focusing on catering to the elite (with live agents), while devoting only enough resources to profitably retain the other buyers (with automated service). But the net effect will be even fewer live agents and seats, because of the small size of the elite market, coupled with elite customers’ extensive use of Web, mobile self-service, and social media support.
Yet there has never been a greater need for companies to provide high-touch omnichannel customer service.  Limited growth, combined with customers’ abilities to research companies before buying and influence others’ buying decisions on social media, force companies to adopt this strategy. With products and services also becoming commodities, and with increasing similarity in prices, providing an excellent omnichannel customer experience is the only way companies can differentiate themselves. That includes: improved IVR experiences as customers will make fewer, but more critical, calls to companiesfewer delays and drop-outs when customers switch between channels,and a the shift from automated systems to live personnel.
But what will the future “contact center” look like in this new milieu? Our research finds the new landscape will feature:
·         The old fashioned telephone switchboard, reinvented. Multichannel “concierges” will answer simple questions, screen and triage contacts, and connect customers to subject matter experts (SMEs) with unified communications (UC) applications. Interactions will be shorter: 60 to 90 seconds at the most, as compared to the traditional three-minute inbound calls.
·         “Consumerized” account representatives, each of whom will be responsible for set groups of customers and build relationships with them. Long proven in B2B, the account representative approach provides highly personalized service. Account representatives can be “virtual only,” in the field, or in brick-and-mortar facilities – all connected by employee-owned wireless devices though bring your own device (BYOD) programs.
·         Merged customer service with marketing, and incorporated into the marketing “DNA” – the notion that, in the omnichannel business environment, an excellent customer experience is key to marketing and sales. To illustrate, instead of forcing agents to sell, which has often proven futile, agents should be trained to provide that excellent customer experience, which is measured on customer retention and brand advocacy.
·         Brick-and-mortar staff connected to customers over each others’ mobile devices.
·         No more outbound voice calling for collections and marketing. Technology has made it so easy for scammers to get around existing laws, and to misrepresent legitimate businesses that consumers now treat all calls from numbers they do not recognize as suspect. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before lawmakers, pressured by consumer advocacy groups and by their constituents, will say “enough!” and outlaw the practice. Instead companies will have to use easier to ignore email, SMS/text, and “white mail.” 
With these changes, there will be fewer contact agents, workstations, and facilities, and less demand for “traditional” automatic call distribution (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR), outbound dialing, call recording, and workforce optimization solutions. But there will be greater demand for mobile, social, chat, SMS/text, virtual agents, UC, text-based proactive customer contact (PCC), analytics, remote support, enterprise quality assurance (QA), and workforce management applications.
At the same time, companies will have to step up their human resource (HR) processes to attract and retain top performing staff (we will publish a new Market Insight this spring on HR trends and issues across verticals, not just in contact centers – stay tuned).
Companies should also abandon brick-and-mortar facilities and go to a home agent model to cut costs, add flexibility, and obtain the best talent regardless of agents’ locations, or agents’ ability to commute, and also provide business continuity/disaster recovery. There is no longer a valid reason why contact center employees (or knowledge workers for that matter) must commute to employers’ places of business. The communications, computing, HR, performance management/QA, and security methods and technology have reached a point where it no longer matters where an employee like a contact center agent or supervisor is in order for them to work productively.
Finally, companies must improve their contact center technologies (such as consumer-disliked IVR systems), which, when combined with high quality customer-serving staff, are the keys to providing an excellent (and profitable) omnichannel customer experience.
About the Author
Brendan Read is a Frost & Sullivan Analyst, with extensive experience covering contact center applications, operations and technology, CRM and social CRM, and site selection, outsourcing, teleworking, staffing/training and business continuity. He has held editorial positions with Call Center Magazine and DM News and has written for other publications including 1to1, Call Center Management Review, Customer Interaction Solutions, Direct Marketing News and TMCnet. He is author of Designing the Best Call Center for Your Business, Home Workplace and, with Joseph Fleischer, The Complete Guide to Customer Support. He also contributed to Computer Telephony Encyclopedia. His first article on the industry, “TeleSell”, appeared in Electrical Wholesaling in 1992.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Catching People Doing Things Right

By Derek Williams
Founder and Chief Executive
The WOW! Awards

It seems almost criminal that the most important lessons in human psychology are learned at the earliest stages of our growth and education but are then almost forgotten for the rest of our lives.

As children at home and in school we learn the power of recognition. Money would be of no use to a four-year-old. But a gold star on a chart, a merit badge pinned to a shirt, a little certificate from a teacher means everything. These tokens recognizing achievement become a major part of our lives.  Parents and grand-parents applaud these badges of honour. And many a child will store these little mementoes in a safe place as a lasting reminder that they are brilliant.

But what we learn in our youth somehow seems to get relegated as a memory of youth, not as something that can be used in today’s world of the busy professional. In our eagerness to impress and progress, we forget about the power of recognition and start instead to focus on the power of reward. As leaders and managers we become conditioned to believe that most people will only work hard for money, and if we want them to work harder then we have to pay them more. So much so that it becomes a fear – the fear that people will only respond to money or reward.

This fear gets complemented by other fears. The fear that customers only want to complain. The fear that we have to micro-manage in order to get the best possible outcome. The fear that softness is weakness. And so we create organisations that, to the outside world, appear hostile; not quite what customers might have been looking for!

In 56 years I only ever had one good idea. The idea that customers should catch people doing things right. Everything else that The WOW! Awards has become can be attributed to other great thinkers. But what we have begun to understand from The WOW! Awards is both fascinating and contradictory…

The fear that customers only ever want to complain? The truth is that customers love to say “Thank you,” when they receive great service. It just has to be simple to do and able to be done in a way that gives frontline people recognition from the most senior management. Unfortunately, most organisations only ever ask for complaints, and so all they ever receive are complaints.

The notion that we have to micro-manage people to achieve the best results? Every time I ask people if they would like to be micro-managed or if they would they prefer to be given the responsibility, resources, and support to do a good job, guess what their reply is?

The misconception that people only respond to the incentive of money or rewards? A survey of UK salespeople conducted by Austin Benn found that “being respected is the single biggest motivator in all respondents, far more than money!” The key point here is not so much that respect is the biggest motivator” but that all respondents answered this way.

The idea that softness is weakness? What we have discovered is that the most powerful tool at our disposal is the ability to say, “Thank you,” provided that it is done in a sincere way. When that “thank you” comes from a customer and is delivered by senior management, the power is awesome.  

One lady at a London Council told us that, “Receiving The WOW! Award after 33 years working for the council has made it all worthwhile.” 

Napoleon said it best, “I can get people to die for a ribbon but can’t get them to die for money.”

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.