I’ve always been fascinated by the American focus on Sales, sometimes at the cost of Customer Service (as this terrible example demonstrates). Salespeople make the most money, salespeople wear upmarket suits, they drive fancy cars and they’re pretty much the only people that’re qualified to be called “rainmakers” in any organization. In other economies, though – notably India today, for example – consumer-focused companies don’t seem to worry as much about Sales as about Support. Sales, to most of them, is an operational process: the market exists, so getting paying customers is mostly a matter of throwing more money (equity!) at it. Customer Support, on the other hand, is critical: after all, there are a number of well-funded companies chasing the same consumers for the same services. Reading this article by Ashley Smith in the customer-service context, the problem is MUCH bigger for companies that have a fast-growing marketplace. Data from sales, returns, past support calls, past emails, even past chat requests – all of that goes to making sure the consumer remains your customer no matter what competitors throw at him or her. Consider just three examples.
- Our customers insist that, when a call comes in, the agent must know the name of the caller before s/he picks up the phone. Referring to the caller by his/her name in the initial greeting causes a very strong emotional connection and that’s terrific. The challenge, though, is that some of the consumer records in Impel may have come from an inbound email-to-ticket. Or from an online order that has a different phone number or only the email ID. In these cases, we don’t know the consumer’s phone number: how do we pop up a window that shows his/her name?
- Once an agent “connects” with the consumer, either because s/he called in or requested a chat or even just sent an email to the company, the agent needs to be aware of a set of key metrics about the consumer in order to be effective. Maybe the date of the last order placed, maybe the total value of orders in the past year, possibly even an inferred “loyalty level” based on recent purchases. these help the agent frame the conversation in a personalized manner. But they’re all summaries of information from external systems – order management, loyalty management, etc. How can the agent see all this, in summarized and simple form, in the few initial seconds of the call?
- Consumers call or connect with a company because they have very specific challenges to deal with. The groceries they ordered yesterday were squashed, the food delivered was cold, whatever. The agent now needs to get to that specific transaction and read off details that give the consumer the confidence that the data is available, so help is at hand. But those details are typically locked away in secure, siloed transactional systems that are designed to take on new orders, not to cough up details of existing ones. How can the agent find the details quickly enough to keep consumer-hold-time at a minimum? This is an issue not just in calls and chats but in responding to emails, too: the more hoops the agent has to jump through, the less s/he is inclined to do so – agents are human, too!
To make all this work well, the silver bullet pitched most is this thing called “integration” – something Ashley talks about, too, in her article. IMHO, integration will itself not cut it: being able to “integrate” systems only means that they can trade data with each other. What’s most important here is that all the integrated data be available at the point of most needed: to the agent. And it be available in a simple, accessible model that does not involve multiple tabs / screens / logins. The good thing is, if you can make that data available to your agent, then you can build reporting that makes details and summaries available to his/her manager, to business analysts, even rolled up to everyone including your CEO. So while integration among systems is important, an integrated system usually works better.
[Time to toot our horn] Consider the image below – an actual screen-shot that an agent sees, for one of our customers. On this one screen is quite a bit of info. And it all gets there because of integration (from the customer’s transactions), configuration (of Impel screens and back-end) and some last-mile design thinking. With all this data available, everyone from the agent to the CEO an see what s/he wants, detailed/summarized as needed. That leads to everything from better customer interactions to better top line and better bottom line. That’s what breaking down silos does!
Agree? Disagree? Tell us!