Planning for Customer Experiences Management – Where to Start?

March 1, 2011

CEM is now an idea that is being heavily sold and eagerly bought.  How to make sure you’re happy with your purchase?  Have a plan.

As in all other things, there’s always a great pressure to get started once leadership has bought into an idea. In my experience taking a little time to put together a “good enough” plan for prioritization and direction is an investment that provides valuable returns and can be done without losing momentum – and that actually helps produce the measurable successes and changes in experience that can help keep focus and funding alive.

A couple of internet decades ago – way back in 2009 – Esteban Kolsky published his methodology for crafting awesome experiences on his blog.  If you haven’t seen it, you should, and if you have, it’s worth the time to go back and revisit.  You can find the methodology Esteban laid out across seven posts at these links:


When I looked at these posts recently it struck me that there were some implicit assumptions that I wanted to make explicit.  I didn’t see a method for prioritizing experiences to improve – in other words, I didn’t see a part of the methodology spelled out that produced an overall vision and plan, so I’ve listed the things I would add below.  If I’m on the wrong track, I’m sure you will let me know…

 1 – Before establishing a strategic measurement framework, or as input to this, it seems to me  I need a vision for what I want my customers to experience.  I would establish an overall goal based on brand, and then identify core processes and take an initial pass at articulating what the customer sees as a successful customer outcome for the process.  Then I could establish my strategy for achieving my vision and a first pass at the overall strategic measurement framework (SMF) necessary to assess progress.

2 – From my list of core processes I would use employee feedback, existing customer feedback, and business knowledge for a first pass assessment on gaps between successful customer outcomes and reality.  The goal is to assign priorities to the processes for their overall impact on customer experience and the width/significance of the gap between vision and reality. 

3 – Then I would assess the status of my current knowledge, toolsets, and capabilities.   For each process  I would develop an  “inventory” of existing process documentation, moments of truth, associated channels, organizational, people, and  technology capabilities.   I would look at my existing measurements and measurement capabilities.  I will find common Moments of Truth across my processes.  These will be useful to know about when I go into weighting in the next step.

4 – Now I can prioritize – I can determine what gaps I have to close, estimate the cost and complexity require to close them, develop a risk/return weighting for actions and investments, and also adjust for dependencies.

5 – This leads to a prioritized plan that gives me some direction on what experiences to tackle first.

Now I can take specific processes and start tackling specific Moments of Truth and mapping specific experiences, taking these through the design/validate/implement/measure stages.  I will not be able to take on all of my experiences all at once – nor should I, as I will learn things as I go.

Increasing Customer and Employee Satisfaction with Knowledge Base Management Systems

September 9, 2009

It’s a moment of truth.  Your customer has made contact with your business – they’ve called you, started a chat session, found your web site, sent you a fax, or walked in to your storefront.  Your customer’s experience of your company and brand is made up of many of these moments of truth – and the sum total of these experiences will add up to satisfaction and loyalty. 

What’s the single most important key to customer satisfaction?  Employee satisfaction!  Making it clear, straightforward, consistent and easy for your employees or outsourced agents to deliver positive moments of truth to your customers, and to understand what their jobs are and how to do them, are keys to employee satisfaction. 

In my experience, Knowledge Base Management Systems (KBMS) are a key component in driving positive experiences for customers and for employees.  An organization that makes the commitment to implement and maintain a KBMS (commitments of people, process, and technology) will see measurable benefits in satisfaction, effectiveness, and efficiency.

Knowledge and Customer Moments of Truth:  Many moments of truth require that the customer be able to access information – knowledge – about your products, promotions, policies, procedures:

  • Buying decisions:  Determining whether to buy your product, which product to buy, and how much all require access to knowledge.  What are the features and functions?  What are the benefits of this product?  How does your product compare to other products you offer, and to competing products?  What promotions are available?
  • Service and Support:  Buying your product is just the beginning of the “sale”.  Now your customers need more information about the product or service they have bought – to reinforce their decision, to understand use, to resolve a problem, and to upgrade, replace, or repair.
  • Retention and Risk Management:  Policies, promotions, and procedures for “saving” customers you want to keep, and for reducing losses from customers you can’t keep, often need to be accessible to agents and in some cases to customers too. 

Defining KBMS

Knowledge exists throughout any organization.  Most transactional and some relationship knowledge is highly structured and stored in systems used for sales, account maintenance, and service.  While this knowledge is critical, moments of truth often depend as much or more on unstructured information.  In fact, most knowledge in most organizations is unstructured.  This knowledge includes marketing materials, campaign descriptions, product specifications, training materials, policies, procedures, announcements, system updates – and all too often this knowledge is not available at the moment of truth.  

Not only is most of the knowledge within most organizations unstructured, often it is in the form of institutional memory and tribal lore passed on from one employee to another – but not to the latest class out of training.  More is on paper – either memos, notes from training or other co-workers, and even more may be in email folders and other sources not at the agent’s fingertips.  Almost all of these repositories are inaccessible to your customer for self service. 

For this discussion, KBMS solutions are primarily geared at capturing, organizing, and delivering this unstructured knowledge to agents and/or to customers through self-service channels.   The KBMS may also be a repository for other tools, workflows, forms, and utilities that agents or customers us to solve problems and answer questions – but at its heart it is the place for agents and customers to find answers by searching for information the way that they think about it – consistently and accurately- when they need it – in one place – quickly and easily – regardless of the channel that the customer has used to access you.

Making The Business Case for KBMS

Curious how to determine if you have a need?  Ask your employees, and watch them work.  Tour the contact center – look for paper tacked all over the cubicle walls and more paper in 3-ring binders and metal racks on every agent’s desk.  Ask how marketing and pricing information is communicated.  How are critical updates to policies or crucial dates and events communicated?  Ask five agents how to troubleshoot the same technical problem.  Ask how an employee who has been out for a week or two on vacation or due to an illness catches up on key communications.  Listen to calls and the questions customers ask.  Ask yourself if you were your customer if you would want to be able to answer your own questions on your own time and on your own terms.

So – now that you know you need a KBMS, how do you justify the expense?  Where’s the business case? KBMS need not be the most expensive system that your company implements, but there will be a cost.  Where’s the return?  What’s the value of providing a solution that delivers answers consistently and accurately- when needed – in one place – quickly and easily – regardless of the channel that the customer has used to access you?  There are hard and soft measures.  Hard measures include:

  • Reducing handle time as agents find the information they need more quickly;
  • Reducing errors due to delivering incorrect or incomplete information;
  • Reducing repeat calls/increasing first call resolution due to reduced errors;
  • Reducing training time, shortening the learning curve from new trainee to experienced agent, making cross-training and multi-skilled agents more possible more quickly;
  • Supporting self-service sales and service; and
  • Closing more sales/resolving more issues – increasing revenue and reducing churn.

Soft measures, while harder to measure, are even more important.  Delivering information more effectively and efficiently leads to more satisfied and more loyal customers who buy more and stay longer.  Creating an environment where employees and contractors can feel more confident and effective in their ability to help a customer leads to more satisfied employees who stay longer. 

What do you need for success?

  • Commitment – leadership must believe in and support the investments of time, money, and technology to implement a KBMS, and more important, to lead the change and commitment necessary to maintain the KBMS.
  • People – unstructured knowledge comes from people.  People are already creating the content for the KBMS, but their roles need to be recognized and formalized.  People will have to be committed to project roles to analyze sources of content for the KBMS, to develop the KBMS, to train, and to use the KBMS.
  • Process – organizations constantly create knowledge.  It’s virtually impossible to stop.  What’s difficult to start and continue is following a structured process for capturing, organizing, and accessing unstructured information.  There must be a knowledge management lifecycle process, and people must be assigned to the roles that perform the activities in the process.
  • Requirements – there’s still no substitute for knowing what kinds of data (knowledge) you need to access, for what reasons, in what use cases, with what performance, security, and availability characteristics.
  • Knowledge about your knowledge – establishing a taxonomy is one of the keys to organizing and retrieving unstructured knowledge.  Metadata, or data about data (in this case, unstructured knowledge) suggests organization, search, index, and management strategies.  The most important piece of metadata related to knowledge?  An expiration, or review date.  All content in the KBMS must have a periodic point of review where a determination is made to keep the content and extend its expiration date, revise the content, or remove it from the KBMS.
  • Project, process, and change management skills – see below, there are no silver bullets.  A few key points here – KBMS initiatives lend themselves to phases.  The first phase is simply discovering where knowledge is stored in your organization.  In a mid-size business you may well find a half-dozen or a dozen KBMS systems and hundreds of informal individual, team, or departmental collections of information stored in folders and directories.  Requirements, design, development, and implementation are typical phases in software development and apply here as well.  Adoption and implementation and conversion of existing knowledge into the KBMS will benefit greatly from identifying iterative phases where the roll-out of the KBMS can be supported and encouraged.
  • Time – as the bullet above implies, moving an enterprise to a KBMS process basis and cleaning up and converting the existing myriad sources of knowledge that have been created by various groups takes time.  Breaking the journey into phases can keep momentum up and deliver a steady stream of small “base hit” and “double” successes that greatly reduce risk but that make steady progress towards the goal – but if your organization has been in operation for several years and has several thouand employees expect to see the phases stretch over more than a year and likely longer – especially if there is a lot of existing information to assess and convert.
  • Technology – Finally!  We’re talking about something you can buy.  I tell you where the silver bullets are and you can ignore the rest of this and just go straight to writing a check and waiting for things to change…right?  No, there are still no silver bullets out there.  There are some great KBMS platforms available to be licensed.  There are also very valuable vertical and horizontal solutions targeted to deliver more than just unstructured knowledge for your industry, and targeted to deliver it across multiple channels.  Whether one of these is the right solution for your organization depends on your needs.  Whether your organization gets the return you expect from your investment will depend on the extent to which the other elements of success are present.  In fact, I will argue that an adequate technology solution will do fine if the other elements are present, while no technology solution will succeed without the other elements being present.  The decision of what platform you will need is dependent on your business and your requirements and your money – but, you can and should get some help…and that’s the last component to success, described in the next bullet. 
  •  Leverage focused industry, CRM, and KBMS expertise from external consultants to accelerate development of your taxonomy, your requirements and design process, and to support scarce internal resources in developing training and acceptance testing approaches and teams – reducing the threat of delayed implementation due to lack of available resources and reducing the risk of poor adoption and project delays due to learning on the job.  Designing and implementing KBMS for unstructured data is a skill that is learned through experience and practice – unless your organization has these skills and the experience, contract for it!


Knowledge is not just power

 Knowledge is the key to success for your organization.  Unlocking access to this knowledge for your contact center and for your customers means customer and employee satisfaction – and will deliver measurable results.

With apologies to Mark Twain: CRM, the news of your death has been greatly exaggerated

June 12, 2009

There is no shortage of evidence that CRM is a challenging concept, and that implementing CRM software is a risky venture.  More CRM implementations fail than succeed (of course, this is true of ALL IT projects, but that’s another topic for another time).  Lately, with the emergence of new software to sell and a social-media and recession-driven awareness of the importance of the customer experience, it’s not hard to find sources who will claim that CRM is dead.  I say, not so fast.

A presentation I watched recently, while containing many great points and ideas, made the claim that CRM, or at least CRM software, is dead because you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you can’t measure relationships, therefore, CRM is dead.  

In terms of measurement, CRM software can be a point of capture for some sources of CEM, satisfaction, and loyalty.  Certainly being able to track interaction history, and the reasons for the interaction, provide insight into the customer experience and satisfaction.  Likewise, being able to understand “relationships” with the customer across products and lines of business helps assess some measures and drivers of loyalty and satisfaction.

In my opinion, though, there are two larger problems with claiming CRM is dead by pointing to implementation failures and things the software doesn’t do: 

1) CRM is not just software, so claiming CRM is dead because many software implementations fail misses a key point – in fact, one of the key reasons why so many CRM software implementations fail is because the implementing organization lacks a CRM-oriented culture, strategy, and vision.

2) CRM software was not primarily intended to measure loyalty, satisfaction, or customer experience.  It was and is intended to facilitate various features of an organization’s process for “managing” (I know – this is an emotionally laden term these days, so we could say “completing”) the organization’s processes as designed for relating to their customers (ah-ha!  another reason for failure – many organizations that implement CRM software don’t design customer facing processes, and especially don’t design them to optimize CEM, customer sat, or loyalty – oops!). 

It was also intended to provide a view of the “relationships” (read product/service ownership) that a customer has with an enterprise across multiple product lines.  The various systems that support each product line weren’t, and still aren’t optimized to do this – they are optimized to process transactions (orders, returns, purchases, payments).  The classic example is banking (which has been wrestling with this problem since before systems – when I started programming in a bank in the ’80s they called the solutions “CIF – customer information files”). 

Say a customer walks into the local branch of their bank to ask them to waive an overdraft fee on his or her personal account.  It’s Friday, the customer is more than a little casual in their dress.  The teller looks at her, or his, system screen for the customer’s DDA account, and sees that the customer has a low balance and little history of deposits or withdrawals.  Visual confirmation of the customer’s appearance  provides further evidence to the teller that this account isn’t very profitable.  So – the teller takes a hard line on waiving the overdraft fee.  The customer leaves…and walks across the street to the bank’s competitor to open new accounts where the customer will transfer their highly profitable commercial business, auto loan, credit cards, and mortgage.  Woe to the teller who couldn’t see these other  “relationships” and the total value of the customer to the bank!

You can find many businesses today that support various product lines on different transactional systems (many banks would house the retail DDA account on one system, commercial account on another, the auto loan on a third, the mortage on a fourth, and the credit cards on a fifth).  CRM software provides a way of summarizing the relationships and interactions with the customer, and of recording the interactions and suggesting next actions, and supports the functions (transactions if you will) of interacting with the customer – separate from the product transactions.

CRM software performs these functions well, and can be effective and efficient toolset to design and sometimes automate marketing, campaign management, sales, service, and support processes.  CRM software can also be a means of reflecting customer value based on loyalty to the user and of suggesting appropriate actions to further drive customer satisfaction and enhance the customer experience.

CEM, social media, loyalty, customer satisfaction – all are critical topics and I’m excited to see the growing awareness of their importance.  Let’s not confuse them with CRM, though, or we will be setting ourselves up to mourn the demise of these other initiatives as well!

In response to “Is CRM dead? Should it be?”

June 11, 2009

A recent post on Customer Management IQ asks “Is CRM dead? Should it be?”

The answer to these questions is, simply, no and no.  

If we look at CRM as culture, strategy, and process first, to be enabled with technology, then no – CRM isn’t and shouldn’t be dead. Most people wouldn’t think of the metrics and issues you mention as CRM issues.

The post points out that many CRM implementations just compound the problem.  The problem is that the call center WAS about the calls. Most of them evolved out of a reaction – “gee, the phone keeps ringing, and the more we grow the more calls we get, and the customers were mad when they called, and when we don’t answer their calls they just get madder – we should probably do something about that…”

In cases where the call center is a significant sales channel there are other drivers, but even there the historical tendency has been to apply metrics of cost control rather than revenue generation and relationship development.

The good news is this is starting to change. The bad news is the change will be slow and hard, as most call center metrics have been developed to measure improvements in reaction time – not in proactive measures that avoid the need to react. The call or contact center can be a source of valuable information to identify opportunities to be proactive – but human nature tends to make it hard for many people to act in what seems to be counter to their own self-interest. So, we’re likely to have a lot of call centers that continue to focus on being better reactors. This is the point of my post from a while back –


Like the old saying goes – when you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember your original goal was draining the swamp. Call time and call volume metrics in the call center and investments in moving fresponses to failures in the customer experience to self-service channels reflect attempts to become better gator wrestlers – not better swamp drainers. 

The presentation that accompanies the Customer Mgmt IQ post, by Clinton Rubin LLC, provides some great examples of this, and offers some great suggestions and ideas.  I will,  however,  respectfully disagree with one of the fundamental arguments: that we can’t manage relationships because we can’t measure them.  There is a lot of work and evidence that we can measure satisfaction, loyalty, and customer experience.  In recognizing that many CRM, and other contact center processes and technology deployments, are pointed at the wrong metric, we should avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water.  Properly deployed, CRM software can provide valuable information about the state of the relationship and insight into ways to reduce the contacts, who has what relationships with us, and how we can improve the relationship.

Contact center and CRM technologies – even silver bullets don’t work if you close your eyes and throw them

June 9, 2009

I’ve worked with and around technology in business now for a long time – long enough to lose track of the number of times I’ve seen businesses be surprised (again) when the latest miracle technology fails (again) to solve a business problem.  What happens after that?  We watch promising concepts and products take the blame (again) for failing to deliver on the promised ROI.  I’ve heard it said and said it myself many times: there are no silver bullets.  Meaning – there is no technology you can buy that will solve your business problem without the need for some good old fashioned effort, change management, strategy, leadership, positive culture, employee motivation, and business process design – key success criteria for any business change initiative. 

While bad technology can fail despite the presence of these success criteria, these elements of success are so important that they can overcome bad technology – but the absence of these success criteria will prevent even the best technology from succeeding.  Working with clients to evaluate a wide range of contact center and CRM products from many different vendors, I’m actually fairly impressed with the features, functions, and performance of many of the products that are available today.  Still no silver bullets – but some amazing solutions.  The continuing convergence of communications and computing, the amazing advances in computing power, affordability of memory and storage, service-oriented architectures, and advancements that are now coming at exponential rates make this both a daunting and an incredibly rewarding time to be a professional who works with technology.

Yet, with all of these advances, success rates for IT projects continue to be abysmal (see podcast/blog from Michael Krigsam and Forrester’s Dr. Natalie Petouhoff.   Much as it is popular to do so, the blame for these failures is at most to be shared with IT, and much more often needs to be laid at the feet of business leadership.  Even if we reach the point where we do find some mythical  “silver bullets” I think we will still find many more technology failures.  Why?  Because to hit the target with any bullet, you have to 1) know where the target is; 2) be willing to practice the disciplines of marksmanship;  3) keep your eyes open and be willing to aim carefully and not flinch from the noise and smoke that goes along with pulling the trigger.  That’s right  – closing your eyes and throwing silver bullets will not have the desired effect, no matter how many you are willing to throw at the problem!

What do I mean by “throwing silver bullets at the target”?  I often see technology projects that were sought out by, or at least endorsed by, business leadership, but once funded, leadership delegates ownership of and participation in the projects and is too busy to stay close enough to lead.  If there was a vision for change at the outset, the lack of ongoing, frequent engagement at multiple levels of management coupled with the inability to commit adequate operational resources to understand the change needed and to make the change happen cause the vision to become disconnected from the project.  Finally, a lack of  ownership and accountability on the part of the business for the results of technology investment allow the technology not to be adopted – we get “too busy” to train agents or change processes and enforce the change, so the technology becomes one more example of a project that didn’t deliver on the promise of ROI – and one more brick in the paved road towards an attitude of skepticism that the contact center can be an effective partner with IT in technology and process change.  The business wants to change and likes the ideas but lacks the will and ability to make the commitments necessary to change.

The good news is that this is a problem that can be solved, and the secrets to success are hardly secret!  Leadership, change management, a supportive culture that embraces risk-taking, leveraging the experience of others (ok, I admit it – a shameless plug for consultants!) who have done what you are trying to do before – these are all key components.  Another key component – taking the time to lay out a technology vision, strategy, and application architecture that compliment and reflect your business strategy and process architecture.

I believe that it’s possible in many enterprises to develop this strategy, vision, and architecture in a short period – usually measured in a few months for a line of business or sometimes for a whole enterprise – with returns that are delivered for years.  I’ve also found that this can be done without attempting to force everything else to come to a halt in a paralysis of analysis.  The benefits are delivered in lower cost, more rapid delivery, reduced risks and rework, and less complexity – projects and programs that hit their targets of performance and return and scheduled delivery.

It starts with a vision and plan that is shared by leadership, operations, and technology.  I’ll lay out a methodology for producing this vision and plan in my next post, and in a later post will talk about some of  what I see as the most promising areas in CRM and contact center technology offerings – and why having a plan and vision is key to capturing the benefits of these tools.  I hope you’re interested in these ideas and will share your own.  For that aren’t – maybe if we use just a little more silver…

Are you hiring CSRs or Alligator wranglers?

May 29, 2009

It’s an old saying,  nowhere  more applicable than the contact center: “when you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you’re trying to drain the swamp”.

Anyone who has spent any time in a contact center can relate to the idea.  Contacts arrive at the time, with the content, and over the channel of the customer’s choice, and it seems that all we can do is react.  And, for any given day, tactically that is all we can do.  The experiences and business processes driving today’s calls were designed yesterday or usually much farther in the past.  Contact center managers, constantly in crisis mode, begin to identify and associate crisis management with success and leadership.  Supervisors are promoted based on their skill at wrestling alligators and pass on those skills to the new wranglers…er, CSRs.

This is not a choice that most contact center leaders make consciously, or willingly – the choice is made by the enterprise in culture, strategy, and allocation of resources.  By failing to design business processes to optimize customer experience, and by fostering culture and operations that do not put customer and employee satisfaction first, businesses choose every day to go into the alligator  ranching and wrestling version of customer engagement.  

The implications of this often unconscious choice are profound.  Businesses accept avoidable contacts and develop metrics and invest in technologies to manage and monitor and measure these avoidable contacts – with goals for first contact resolution.  We report with great pride when FCR goes up and AHT goes down.   If we instead reported statistics like avoidable contacts as a % of all contacts, would we treat FCR with such respect?  Of course not – we would focus on avoiding contacts that detract from the customer experience.  And for desirable contacts, we would focus on metrics that reflect the value of the contact.  For example, many contact centers represent a sales channel – sometimes the primary sales channel for the organization.  Metrics such as close rate, customer satisfaction, and average revenue per contact or per available hour are perhaps much more relevant metrics for desirable contacts than metrics that measure number of calls per hour or number of minutes per call.

The amount of effort and creativity that goes into managing and optimizing avoidable contacts is phenomenal.  It is especially ironic to think of the time and effort spent finding ways to make customers handle these avoidable contacts using self-service channels…sort of like teaching the alligators to wrestle themselves and taking the alligator wrangler out of the picture….

I often hear client executives note that technology investments in the contact center rarely produce the ROI that was promised in the business case.  Is it any wonder? Immersed in reactive, crisis mode management, with every interaction measured to the second, and pressure put on centers with hundreds of agents to find ways to reduce or freeze headcount below levels necessary to meet performance metrics, it’s no surprise that agents can’t be freed up to be trained to use the new technology, and no surprise that most centers lack resources for business analysis and process redesign.

Why does this go on?  Once it’s started, it’s really hard to stop.  The alligators who were once little get bigger every day, and if resources are diverted from wrestling the alligators they get bigger and even nastier.  That means that once you start alligator wrestling, if you want to clear the swamp there has to be a willingness to commit additional resources to the swamp draining while the current alligator wranglers, or CSRs as we more commonly refer to them, deal with the issues of today. 

It’s better to stay out of swamps to begin with, and some companies seem blessed with cultures and value systems that keep them more sure-footed and on dry land because of their emphasis on the value of customer and employee satisfaction.  That said, there are success stories where other companies have successfully drained the swamps and gotten out of the business of alligator ranching.  To the best of my knowledge, these stories all share several common themes – leadership from the C-level, coupled with innovative and determined customer service leadership and a determination to value customers and employees above cost management.  Another common theme in these success stories is conscious attention to the customer experience – see Esteban Kolsky’s work in progress describing his methodology for customer experience management  (part two is here ).

Is there a future in alligator wrestling?  Yes, there will be for a long time yet to come.   The jury is still out – in fact, deliberations are still in the very early stages …but if you found this blog post from a tweet on Twitter, or from a group discussion on LinkedIn, you’re aware of growing sentiment that control in customer relationships is shifting, rapidly and strongly, from companies to customers.  

In the long run, my money is on the ‘gators.  That said, things change slowly and there will  be strong demand for top notch alligator wranglers for a long time yet.  Need to brush up on your skills?  Here’s a handy training guide … .  My favorite advice from this guide?  See step 5 – “start small”.

We can’t monitor quality in – it starts with leadership and vision

May 20, 2009

We know we can’t inspect quality into a product – it has to be established as a requirement, addressed in the design and development, and then finally delivered to the customer.  Inspection (quality monitoring) serves to ensure that the process is performing as designed, varying only within tolerances, and complying with requirements. 

My questions to you, if you are part of the leadership for a contact center: 

  • Have your customer interactions been designed with your customers (external and internal) requirements  in mind?  
  • When you think of your quality monitoring process, do you think of it as a critical tool in ensuring delivery of your services is according to plan?
  • How often does your quality monitoring process provide insights and recommendations for continuous improvement – in training, in sales, in product design, in service, in technology deployment?  Has it ever done this?
  • Who designed your quality monitoring process? Your quality scorecards and reporting?  Who gets the information from the process?  What is the information used for? 

There is value in monitoring agent contacts with customers and in providing feedback and coaching to agents on their performance – especially if the feedback is prompt, focused, actionable, and reinforced.  My experience is that often this is the only value delivered by quality programs.  As a result, organizations are missing out on a valuable tool for strategic insight and continuous improvement.

Capturing this value will require management that believes the value is there.  Often quality monitoring (QM) is viewed as something that needs to be done, with the goal to figure out how to minimize and automate as much of the process as possible, and to keep costs down.  When this happens  QM becomes a task for line supervisors (who often have minimal and limited supervisory training) added on top of their many other tasks.  The process is assigned only disciplinary value (negative consequences to the supervisor for not monitoring, negative consequences to the agent for missing points in a QM session), and the resources needed to capture the value are not deployed. 

When QM is viewed as part of the process of listening to and responding to the Voice of the Customer, the value assigned to the process can be changed and an appropriate level and type of resource – human and capital – may be allocated to capture strategic management information.  In many cases, capturing this value will require substantial investment and development of the QM process, the people involved in the process, and the technologies deployed to support the process.  If your organization does not take this approach today, it will take leadership and initiative on the part of contact center management to sell this vision up and across the organization. 

The good news?  Any time I have spoken with contact center leadership who has management from other functions coming to the center regularly to monitor interactions or even handle them, the potential value speaks for itself!  More good news:  we know how to design quality processes to capture information for continuous improvement, and the technologies available for QM offer amazing capabilities.  In short – we can do it and know how to do it, we just have to decide that it needs to be done.  Who’s job is that?  How do we get that job done?

If you are leading a contact center today, do you share my perspective?  Have you been successful in selling this value proposition to the organization so that you can allocate the right amount and type of resources to the QM process?  Can you share a success story?

If your QM process doesn’t work like this today (and most do not) do you think it should?  Do you think it could?  If so, what challenges do you see in demonstrating the value to your peers to capture the resources you need?  What help or experiences from peers, analysts, and vendors do you need to succeed?

Is your “Quality” Monitoring process really driving quality?

May 15, 2009

Quality monitoring has become a widely accepted process in contact centers today, and the supporting technologies seem on the road to becoming commodities – just about every trade show will have 20 to 30 vendors offering call recording , monitoring, and analytics tools.  Almost every center I visit these days – big or small, B2B or B2C – has a monitoring process in place and many have made substantial investments in supporting audio and video capture technologies.  Rapidly expanding use of speech and text analytics are making the analytical potential of these tools even more powerful. 

The quality process and supporting tools can be a tremendous source of value to the contact center and to the broader enterpise  – but in the vast majority of centers that I visit the value is not being captured.  All too often the quality monitoring process seems to have become a box to check – “yes, I monitored 5 calls per agent per month and coached the agent for one hour per month, and we are averaging a 92% score on all of our monitoring!”  Feedback is limited to the agent and supervisor and little seems to be done to tap the vast potential wealth of information that is available from the process – instead the focus is on making sure the script is followed and the agent says the customer’s name 3 times.  From a leadership perspective the focus is on making sure the monitoring get done and rarely on what is being learned from the monitoring, and what is being done based on what is being learned.  As a result, I see very few organizations that are capturing the return that they could receive from the human and capital resources they have invested in their quality monitoring process.

Our quality monitoring processes seem to have lost sight of the principles of quality. Deming, Juran, and Crosby all recognized what we seem to be re-discovering again: quality is in the eye of the customer. Deming in particular emphasized the need for continous improvement and the idea that in most cases 85% of the opportunity for improvement in quality lies in the system or process that the employee follows – NOT in the behavior of the employee!

There is a role in quality monitoring programs for evaluating and promoting consistency and adherence to policies and procedures, ensuring compliance and risk avoidance, and measuring system knowledge.  There is also a  tremendous opportunity for assessing customer satisfaction and for evaluating the customer experience.  In my experience, these opportunities are often missed completely and rarely exploited fully.

To capture these opportunities we need to step back and ask ourselves whether our quality monitoring processes are truly being driven by measures of quality that matter to our external and internal customers.  We need to capture the opportunities for improvement in the process and system as well as in the behavior of the agent.  We need to monitor trends to assess tyhe extent to which we are in fact continuously improving. Finally, we need to integrate our quality monitoring process and technologies with other processes and tools to capture the most complete view and understanding possible of the customer experience.

To understand why current quality monitoring processes often don’t achieve these goals we’ll need to look at culture and strategy, people, processes, and technologies.  The emeragence of social media as another source of  customer insight and also as another, much less controlled, interaction channel to monitor should also be addressed.  I plan to take up each of these in a series of discussions here, and hope that we will share experiences and ways to capture real returns and insights from our investments in quality monitoring!

Marrying “anti-social” contact centers and social media – a case of irreconcilable differences?

May 7, 2009

With all of the buzz about social media and the feeding frenzies in the press around those businesses who  “get it” (and those who don’t!) , you might want to believe that most companies are scrambling to jump onto the social media bandwagon and that “push to twitter”  buttons will soon replace “push to chat” or “push to talk”  buttons on all those websites.  What a great idea to just have those call center agents start tweeting up a storm, and to start putting ads on Facebook and Twitter!  It’s free, and how hard can it be?  For most businesses, it turns out, it will be pretty tough.  In fact, a closer look at the relationships between many businesses and their customers might lead us to wonder if the realtionship can be saved. 

The technology part will be tough enough, and it’s the easiest part of the process (although I will acknowledge that actually integrating technologies is never as easy to do as it is to think about and describe – except in Powerpoint).  Recent survey statistics presented by Frost & Sullivan at Customer Contact 2009 East noted that most contact centers have not integrated the channels they already serve.  This, despite the fact that we know how to integrate these technologies, and how to avoid integration by suporting channels with integrated suites. We also know that there are efficiency and effectiveness gains to be made from being able to see who contacts you, on what channel, on what topic, with what result!  So why don’t these contact centers integrate their channels?  And why does the same Frost survey show that even more businesses have no plans to integrate or support social media?

The problem is not ususally technology – that’s a symptom.  The problem is a failure to see the contact center as a strategic element of customer relationship development.  It is the exception, and exceptional, company who sees the contact center as a forum for strategic customer relationship development led by empowered criticallyvaluable employees who hear the voice of the customer and who are the voice of the company.  Instead, strategy, culture, and process have all combined to see the contact center as a point of highly controlled, measured, and monitored customer and employee relationship management.  As Michael Maoz of Gartner points out in his recent post we’ve spent years working out the best ways not to talk to our customers – and when we do talk to them we focus very heavily on how to manage and control the conversation.

In short,  the contact center in many businesses has become “anti-social”.  So how do we marry that function up with social media?  Are the differences truly “irreconcileable?  Yes – unless we change the culture and strategy for the contact center, and quite likely, for the business within which the contact center functions.  The good news is that there are signs of an ability for business to change.

Go to any collection of contact center managers three years ago and ask them about their key metrics – average handle time (AHT), after call wrap (ACW) and service levels would have been way up there if not on top.  Today many centers have moved away from these as metrics by which they manage employees and  instead have moved to measures of first-call resolution, customer satisfaction, and quality.  There’s still a long way to go, but it’s a start.  We can see companies putting their social media toes in the water and trying out Twitter and Facebook – on company time.  Discussions I’ve had with early leaders in these efforts show that these comapnies have realized that managing the employees who carry on these conversations is different – and that the employees and managers need to be work differently too.

In my opinion, the contact center will ultimately be the place where the relaltionship starts to work again.  Contact centers have the tools, processes, and the people best suited to develop and grow relationships with customers, to access information needed to serve the customer and to store the results of that service for future use. Separating the social media contacts of a company into an isolated group will create islands of process and information that won;t scale to meet bursty situations that can acccompany “viral” events.  The contact center is the function with the skills and the people who deal with these challenges every day.  What’s more, those companies that have started to experiment in this area have found that their employees understand the customers and are thrilled to be given the chance to  truly provide customer service – when they are given the chance.

It’s about change, and change takes time and hard work.  I’m an optimist and a change agent, so I’ll say these are exciting times for those of us who have the opportunity to work on this particular frontier and help businesses and customers on the path to reconciliation.  I think it’s a relationship that can be saved – but it will be a long-term committment to work hard that will take open communication, trust, and mutual respect.