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The Directors Club of the U.K. recently held its inaugural National Customer Show in London. The event was well attended and attracted sponsorship from some of the biggest vendors in the contact center industry; among them were platinum sponsors Interactive Intelligence and salesforce.com, and session sponsors Nexidia and SwordCiboodle. I noticed three common themes, covering very different aspects of managing the customer, and I’ll hit the highlights of each.

Social Media

These days you can’t escape discussions about social media and the impact it is having on how companies interact with customers and prospects. As I recently wrote, social media is here, and millions of people are using it to communicate with friends, colleagues, businesses and even government. But all the hype, statistics and YouTube videos are masking the realities of business use. My research shows that as yet social media has had little impact on the contact center, and at the show I found confirmation of this point. I also heard more people than usual, even from salesforce.com, uttering cautionary words about social media. The reality is that business use outside of marketing and training videos is still low and consumer use is largely confined to complaining. Several people picked up the latter point; whereas in the past one complaint was heard by a few tens of people, now a single complaint may be heard by thousands (and potentially by millions) of people. Companies need to be aware of this; they need to monitor comments and take positive action about them and do whatever is possible to not let the things that generated the complaints happen again. So the message was monitor social media, have a process and people in place to take appropriate action and have a process to address the root cause of customer issues.

 Contact Center Analytics

Throughout the show, and at one session I chaired, I heard conversations about the need for companies to review their existing metrics and add new metrics that reflect their business goals, rather than settle for efficiency metrics that just show how well things are or are not working. The general consensus seemed to be that no one metric is going to fit the bill for all companies. Yes, net promoter scores add insight to potential new business, and having good customer effort scores makes sense from an efficiency and customer perspective because making it easy for customers to interact with your company is likely to generate more business at lower costs. But companies need a balanced set of metrics from contact center analytics that I recently researched that reflect their business and priorities. I was pleased to find considerable support for my view that having “metrics for metrics’ sake” is pointless and that companies need to have in place processes that ensure action is taken based on their key performance metrics.

 The Customer Experience

As a concept, customer experience management is going the same way as CRM, in that it means many things to different people. For me it is about proactively managing the experience customers receive at any touch point. So when it comes to the most popular channel – calls to the contact center – CEM is about how agents handle each and every customer call.

This theme was echoed during one session I attended that connected customer experience with agent empowerment. My benchmark research into CEM has shown that the major influence on the customer experience is the agent’s attitude. The discussion took up the theme that if agents are not empowered to handle calls effectively then customers are likely to go away unhappy. Empowerment seemed to come down to doing some basic things well: process (not doing dumb things), training and coaching, motivation, and setting rewards and performance metrics that positively encourage agents to do a good job and deliver to the company’s business requirements.

Personally I like the theme “take the dumb out of handling customer interactions.” Too many times companies do dumb things: asking customers to repeat information they have given before, having metrics that drive agents to do the wrong things (keep calls short rather than solve the problem), using IVR menus that don’t match what customers want to do, providing inconsistent information on different channels – the list goes on. If companies would stand back and examine objectively the dumb things they are doing and put them right, we would all get a better experience.

In this day of social media fixing broken processes is even more important. Dumb things will end up exposed in public. This begs the question of who should be responsible for social media, because one dumb response can cause more trouble than the original issues. As a result companies need to pay more attention to interaction-handling than ever before.

Are you ready to cope with this new environment? Can you be certain that interactions are being handled consistently and effectively across all channels? How is social media impacting customer experience and do you use analytics to gain better visibility to what you do not know. If so, I’d love to know how you do it.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

Recently Verint Witness Actionable Solutions announced the latest release of its Impact 360 Workforce Optimization software, which it calls the first  “fifth-generation” product in this space.

Verint has a comprehensive suite of applications that help companies get the best out of their agent workforce; it includes call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, learning and coaching, customer feedback and analytics. I recently covered one of Verint advancements in multichannel interactions. Recently it enhanced the suite by adding several new analytics applications. It is marketing some of the applications to support activities not just in the contact center but in some back-office business units as well.

Some of the suite has been developed in-house, some added by way of acquisitions and some gained through partnerships. This somewhat mottled history held the suite back in our evaluation in the recent Agent Performance Management Value Index 2010, where it lost out to suites that have been developed from inception as fully integrated, and architected to a common standard. Verint’s new release addresses this fundamental issue. The company describes it as a “strategic architectural” release that strengthens integration between the applications, making them easier to use, and making it easier to navigate between applications. The suite now provides a single point of administration and as well as numerous functional enhancements to meet the needs of a modern-day contact center.

As part of the release Verint also announced the availability of Voice of the Customer Analytics. This platform brings together a variety of data sources and types of analytics to provide a comprehensive view of customers and customer-facing activities – something my research into customer analytics shows has become vitally important to companies. The suite includes analytics for structured data, speech, text, the Web, social media and other interaction sources. It also includes predictive and sentiment analysis capabilities so that companies can begin to predict future customer behaviors based on historic analysis. Voice of the Customer Analytics is linked into the rest of the suite, delivering to executives, managers and agents information they can use to improve customer-facing activities and back-office processes.

In my experience not all companies like to buy a suite of applications from a single vendor, preferring niche products to address specific needs. The key advantages to buying a suite come through tight integration, a common user interface and ease of administration – but of course the components must deliver the required functionality.

I never really trust marketing slogans like “first fifth-generation,” but from what I see this release contains the best aspects of buying a suite and delivers enhanced capabilities. I therefore expect in my next APM Value Index that this new release from Verint will climb the list of recommended products.

Are you working to improve the performance of your agents? If so, which path are you going down – suite or niche? I’d love to know, so please come and let me know.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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