Monday, February 6, 2017

Is Your Omnichannel Strategy Customer-Centric or Self-Centric?

By Raj Sivasubramanian
Director of Customer Experience Services
Verint Systems


Omnichannel is an area where many organizations have been investing time and money over the last few years. By enabling seamless communication across online and offline channels, omnichannel strategies should equally benefit both companies and their customers. However, a common mistake many organizations make is taking a self-centric approach to the omnichannel versus a customer-centric one. They build their strategy around internal interests like targeted marketing or reducing contact center costs, and fail to consider the customer perspective.

Consider a recent self-centric omnichannel example from this past holiday season. One of the most sought after holiday items was Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition – a miniature version of Nintendo’s original video game console. Supply was limited as Nintendo underestimated demand for this retro device. I really wanted one for my daughter (and my own nostalgia) and prepared for the morning of its release. I checked online stock at several retailers and noticed one particular retailer had a store with more stock than others. This store was an hour away and while other options were closer, the quantity of stock was significant enough to warrant the longer drive as availability dwindled at closer stores. 

On the drive down, I used the retailer’s app to continue to check stock and all looked good. However, once I got to the store, I was disappointed to learn the device sold out several hours earlier. I showed a store manager the app indicating stock was available and was told “those things are never accurate and don’t get updated in real-time.” As I was leaving—disgruntled about wasting over an hour of my time—I  received a notification through that same retailer’s app about the latest deals on other electronics items in that store. 

What I learned was the retailer wanted me to use its app to get me into the store. Once I was there, its omnichannel approach sent me a targeted ad. The problem with this is that it only served the retailer’s interests and not mine—and, it didn’t care enough to inquire about my in-store experience. Needless to say… I haven’t been back.

Another common, self-centric example of omnichannel is found in customer support, where organizations now provide service through a variety of channels: phone, email, chat, SMS, social media, mobile app, etc. In theory, this should create a better service experience by allowing customers to use the channel they prefer. However, it backfires for self-centric organizations that focus purely on cost-saving aspects. These organizations “offer” every channel, but make their more internally-preferred channels easier to find.

There is nothing more frustrating to me than being unable to locate a customer support phone number when I need it. A close second is attempting to resolve an issue through an online channel, failing to do so, struggling to reach a live agent, and then having to start over once I am able to finally connect with someone. A recent study points out that most customers still prefer human customer service interactions over digital alternatives, and aren’t fans of the companies that avoid posting contact numbers for service and support on their websites.

It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game between a company’s internal interests and the customer experience. The most customer-centric organizations are able to use omnichannel to drive revenue and lower costs, while also delivering a better customer experience. How do they do it? It’s actually pretty simple. They view every decision they make through their customers’ eyes and listen to their customers.

What leading organizations have in common is their commitment to engaging with customers. They capture feedback from customers across all of their channels which allows them to better tailor their omnichannel approach to the individual needs of their customers. They know what channels their customers prefer to use, are driving great experiences and which need improvement. As a result, they are able to realize all of the great benefits of omnichannel, while still delighting their customers.

If the retailer in the example above had asked for my feedback about my experience, not only would I have been more likely to return, but it also would have discovered an easily fixable issue with its omnichannel experience that was likely frustrating other customers as well.

Is your omnichannel strategy customer-centric or self-centric? If you’re not capturing feedback from customers across all of your channels, your approach may be more self-centric than you realize. Take that first step toward creating customer-centric experiences by listening to your customers. It may be the start of something amazing.

Raj Sivasubramanian is a Director of Customer Experience Consulting Services for Verint Systems.  Prior to his current role, Raj was at eBay where he focused on enhancing Voice of Customer programs by driving a shift from just trending metrics to delivering actionable insights used to improve the customer experience. 

Raj has worked across multiple industries in a variety of sales, marketing, consulting, and customer experience roles and the one constant throughout his career has been his passion for delivering great customer experiences. Raj is a frequent conference speaker and advisor on the topic of customer-centricity, metrics, and customer feedback. Raj holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Why a recognition program for customer service excellence?

Digital transformation of customer experiences is a major strategic initiative for B2C and B2B organizations across industries.

The Frost & Sullivan Research and Growth Consulting practices have identified five key areas in which best-in-class brands continue to raise the bar for highly personalized and effortless customer experiences. They are:

1. Omni-Channel Customer Experience
2. Artificial Intelligence
3. Web Customer Experience
4. Social Media Customer Engagement
5. Customer Engagement Analytics

Who is Eligible for Nomination?

Any company that is engaged in the goal of delivering a superior customer experience is encouraged to nominate itself for accomplishments in any or multiple categories. Particular attention will be given to companies whose achievements have enabled them to set themselves apart from their competitors and that have delivered compelling value to their customers and the enterprise as a whole.

By recognizing companies who are breaking new ground in customer service excellence, we aim to create a forum for celebrating and sharing best practices in the world of customer service. Winners will also be honored at the annual Frost & Sullivan Customer Contact West, Executive MindXchange in October 2017.

For more information, please contact Matthew McSweegan at
516-255-3812, or email him at
Or visit


Your Employees: Your Key to Success!


By Trudy Croxton
Manager of Client Success, Post-Acute Care
Relias Learning


As most companies understand, the cost of retaining customers is quite a bit less than the cost of acquiring them.  Some estimates put the cost of acquiring a customer at five times more than the costs associated with retaining a customer.  With this in mind, companies are always looking for new and better ways to improve customer engagement in an effort to retain customers permanently.  In my opinion, the solution is right in front of you: your employees. Finding  the employees who are the best fit for your organization’s culture, and then investing in them, is the key.  Employees are the most important tool any organization has to improve customer engagement and retention.

First, you must determine what the ideal “employee fit” is for your organization.  A good place to start in determining the right fit is by evaluating your company’s mission statement and then choosing those desired characteristics and traits from this established framework to create a hiring profile. Basing a hiring profile on your company’s mission statement will further help you to select potential employees who should naturally exhibit the desired behavior, which in turn will improve customer loyalty. A good Best Practice is to show existing employees what your company’s characteristics and traits look like in action.  For example, if “passion” is one of your core values, give them specific examples of how a Sales Representative, Implementation Consultant or Client Success Manager might demonstrate that on the job.  

A customer’s loyalty is directly tied to the trust they place in your company and this is built through each interaction they have with your employees.  To effectively build trust, an employee needs to demonstrate to the customer that they have their best interest at heart and will deliver on promises. Furthermore, an employee’s honesty and authenticity needs to be visible in all interactions.  A few ways for employees to show they are putting their customers first is to take a proactive approach. This can be accomplished by  giving the customer a “heads up” if the company’s website will be down due to maintenance, announcing mistakes before the customer discovers them, asking customers for feedback and offering multi-channel customer service outlets in the form of online chat, email and telephone.

Employees also build trust by delivering on promises in a timely manner. For example, with respect to sales they must deliver on their promises and see that all customer expectations are met or exceeded throughout the sales cycle.  Your company can make it a customer service standard to have employees return all email and phone calls within 24 hours.  If an issue needs to be escalated, the customer should be given status updates on a regular basis so that they are not initiating the communication. If a customer has to reach out to you first with a problem, that can become a major issue.

All customer service staff should be trained to use the same language, thereby creating a unified front. The customer will then learn how to better communicate their own needs by using the same vocabulary as your employees. Implement customer service training to include how to handle challenging customers, critical conversations and emotional hijacking. Consider implementing a recovery process to address a service failure.  Another Best Practice is to create a recovery process which will empower employees to resolve a customer’s issue quickly. If you don’t have a recovery process in place, ask a few of your top performers to compose one.   

Employees who effectively exhibit traits of honesty and authenticity will help the company to more effectively earn their customer’s trust.  Customers expect honest communication so be sure employees don’t "gloss over" the truth or give them vague answers.  If the answer to a customer’s request is “no,” instruct employees to give them other alternatives wherever possible. Educate your staff on how to promote these types of conversations by creating a script and regularly conducting role playing exercises.  Also, teach them how to take ownership of a problem without laying blame on the customer or another company representative. Additionally, employees should never over-promise with respect to what your product can do, or pitch a customer an unnecessary add-on. 

Authenticity means not giving your customers canned messages.  Nothing will make an upset customer even angrier than the perception that they have received an insincere apology from a member of your company. When a customer is upset, for whatever reason, they want to be heard and they want to know that an employee sincerely cares about their problem and will help them find a solution. Empathy is a large part of being authentic. Some ways to promote empathy include inviting customers to share their experiences by participating in staff meetings or conferences. Another way to do this is to, have staff members use a product they are selling themselves, thereby becoming even more familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.

Another great way to establish a more personal relationship with customers is to send them a birthday card or work anniversary card, a funny cartoon or a pertinent LinkedIn article. Employees might also send their Enterprise Level customers a questionnaire to complete, featuring such personal questions as what their favorite sports teams are, their hobbies, their favorite place to vacation or what they like best about their job?  These questionnaires should give your employees enough details about a given customer to enable them to initiate and better control the conversation.

Lastly, you should train your employees to be able to catch potential problems before they become “pain points” for your customer.  Brainstorm about ways that your support team can become more proactive with your customer base.  Another approach to consider is connecting with customers via social media, a monthly newsletter or regular conference calls.  The newsletter can contain both employee and customer spotlights.

If you want to retain your customers indefinitely, it is important for them to realize how much your company values your relationship with them. Hiring the right employee and teaching them how to build trust and loyalty with customers is of the utmost importance in today's business world. Investing in your employees and offering them top notch training opportunities ultimately shows your customer that you care and that you are providing them with world class service. Properly applied, this formula is sure to bring your company continued success.

Trudy Croxton is Manager of Client Success at Relias Learning, an e-learning company offering training to the healthcare industry.  Previously, she was Executive Director, Sunrise of Cary and Heritage Woods Senior Living Community. Her passion is growing and developing people and she believes that this is the cornerstone for any successful business.

Five Key Customer Engagement Strategies


By Cippy Seidler
Director, Consumer Care Center
Banner Health


Today’s customers have more ways than ever to purchase services or shop for products. There are also many ways to gain new customers, but the more challenging piece of the puzzle is to engage customers and make them feel like they are a part of your community. To help you meet these goals, I’d like to share my top five customer engagement and community-building strategies:

1. Leverage your Contact Center

In many cases, the contact center is the front door of your organization. This initial experience can determine if the customer makes a purchase or moves forward with your company. It is your first opportunity to engage with your customer. Sharing insights from your contact center with others in the company allows for the customer’s thoughts, concerns and feelings to be heard.

One way to share your customer insights is to create a panel where agents provide information on hot customer topics or customer concerns.  Few people in your organization are on the pulse more than the contact center agents, yet how much do you ask for or use that information?  My organization does surveys to see if the customer enjoyed the agents and had a pleasant and fulfilling experience, which is a critical performance metric, but this needs to be accompanied by the agent experience information. The agents have mountains of information about your customers, your products and the experience.  That can be culled through call recordings and data management.  A veteran agent however, can tell you a great deal more than you can ever get from the data. The key is to ask for or provide a forum where the agents can share. 

One of my favorite contact center experiences involved a company that had quarterly meetings in a casual setting between senior executives and a representative agent panel just to talk about what the agents were hearing.  This was a powerful opportunity for leadership to learn first-hand about the types of feedback the agents were receiving.  

2. Be willing to listen to complaints

Yep, this one hasn’t changed in the last 30 years!  Not listening to your customers or interrupting your customers is a way to actively disengage your customers. They have many choices and that can quickly drive them away.  It is surprising just how many times a customer challenge can be resolved simply by listening.  Sometimes it is a case of allowing the customer to vent, no matter how long that takes.  Listening takes effort and concentration.  It also takes some time, so allow your agents or customer service reps the time without “over metric managing” to complete the interaction.  That little extra time pays for itself in the end with first call resolution, minimizing additional follow up needs, less angry social media rants etc.…   These types of interactions are not limited to the phone or in-person.  More and more are exclusively happening on social channels so you must be prepared to listen wherever the customer is “speaking.”

3. Invite your customers to your social community

Social Media is an amazing gift that companies have been given. The key is taking advantage of it.  Most companies today know the importance of responding to customer posts but there are still many who are missing the vast opportunities that Social Media groups provide. Why not start on-line groups about products or services that are relevant to many of your customers? 

Allow your customers to participate in groups on Facebook or Google, for example. It seems frightening at first to invite this kind of open discourse but as the groups mature and more customers join, the feedback will be more actionable and helpful for your company and your customers.

No matter what industry you are in, customers will provide you with information that you can take action on immediately as well:  Customers sharing information about a defective product or a company store with understaffed return lanes, the clinic with the most responsive and timely call backs, the customer service rep who was consistently rude, or the agent that provided empathy and caring when handling a delicate situation.  This is a way that customers can provide feedback directly to you. There are not many engagement tools more powerful than that. You can help control where that feedback comes from by creating forums for them to share.  Customers want to feel good about their purchase or service and the easiest way to engage them in this arena is to ask them for their feedback and allow them to be a part of your community.

4. Find out about your customers

No one does this better than Amazon since they seem to know what you want before you actually know you want it, but many smaller companies can use basic analytics programs to understand how and when customers are shopping or using their services.  Be sure to tie information together whenever possible. 

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to engage your customers is by asking them.  I was recently at a new dentist’s office.  After the basic information was gathered, they asked me about what times of day and day of the week that I preferred to come in. Since I didn’t have another appointment to schedule, I asked if that was important and they said that they input that information to ensure that they are servicing customers when they need it and when it’s most convenient for them.  (I’m in!)  They also followed up with a brief survey about my experience, which allowed me to provide feedback.  I felt that they were truly interested in me as a customer and in my opinion. I am much more engaged with the office than I would have been had they not asked for my thoughts and I am also more likely to return.

5. Make your content worthwhile

Customers become engaged when they have an opportunity to learn about the product they purchased. For instance, when I bought a new brand of phone, I went to the company website to learn about tips to enhance my user experience.  Accordingly, make sure that your web content is robust and connects your customer to your organization more fully.  For example, if your customer purchases new tires from you, your website could share tips for lengthening tire life or the hours of local free air pressure checks.  If you’re in healthcare, and someone does a search for an obstetrician referral, why not present them with content related to the topic such as OB tours available in their area or a local educational session you are doing on childbirth?

There is an old service saying that to keep a customer demands as much skill as to win one. Engaging the customer in your business, making them part of your community and listening to their feedback are a few ways to add value to your customer experience and keep them coming back.

Cippy Seidler is an enthusiastic and engaged leader focused on providing a high-level customer experience through employee engagement and a commitment to excellence.  In the span of 29 years, Cippy has served in leadership positions with retail organizations such as Liz Claiborne, Allen-Edmonds, and Zayre with a specialized focus on front-end customer engagement and retention, employee training and sales development.

Currently a Director of the Consumer Care Center with Banner Health, one of the largest, nonprofit health care systems in the country, she is responsible for driving performance across multiple service lines.  As a certified Change Agent, Cippy is an advocate for change and is involved in leading and implementing change.  Cippy's business philosophy is to embrace every challenge as an opportunity, approach it with enthusiasm, an open mind and a desire to make a positive difference.