The great thing about spending time with clients, inside of their customer support operations, is that it puts me in my place. Over four days I met with companies in the United States from the East Coast to the Mississippi River. They ranged from large mid-sized (US$2 billion) to really, really big: $22 billion). And here are the three things they shared in common: 1) Social CRM is in its infancy, their websites are far from ‘customer-centric,’ and 3) there is still a lot of work to be done just to get their customer service personnel the tools that they need to be successful.
Looking at the three attributes in reverse, one of the companies told me that most of their sales are booked in a customer portal on the website, but fully 40% of business is impacted by the contact center staff. That is a large volume of business. Phone conversations can still be the life and death of a relationship. An alert, engaged, knowledgeable service agent outperforms software every day of the week. Yes, humans are more finicky, less reliable, harder to program, and not as scalable, as their silicon alternative: customer self service, but they are also more flexible, inventive, creative and personable. That is, unless you recruit for the least expensive rep, give them minimal training, no authority, fail to motivate them, and put inadaquate systems at their disposal. My bottom line: customer service agents are your best investment in driving customer experiences that seal loyalty, and they should be more highly valued in the enterprise.
The second point is on creating a customer-centric web strategy. I was situated at a table in a client meeting between the fulfillment team and the customer support team and the marketing team. This was the corporate versoin of being an embeded journalist in Fallujah in 2004. I wondered if the three had ever met, if they’d ever considered what it would be like to work on the same team. Instead, one was talking about self service as a sales order. Another was talking about customer service as the chat, email, and knowledge tools. The marketing person was all about the banners and the notifications and colors. They each had their real estate and directive to optimize ‘their’ piece of the web. My question was: “How do your customers rate the different process capabilities of your website?” Do clients look forward to interacting on the site? Is it engaging? Is it personalized? Do they know how to escalate from self service to assisted support? Do they look forward to their next interaction.
There was a moment of silence on that one.
OK, so, since we have managed to leave gaping holes in our customer interactions, let us jump ahead and build customer engagement, social networks – we’ll get that right! It is like taking a mediocre analyst and making them a manager. Those who can’t, manage! (Where is Borat when you need him?) My thought here is that though I am a big proponent of Social everything (maybe not Social Security [sic]), it needs to be placed in the broader context of the customer experience with the organization as a whole. Much of what you are going to hear when you give customers the tools to engage one another are the exact things that you are not organized to hear today. What will make you any more ready to do something about the insights? Bottom line: if you are not ready to change your approach to supporting the customer, put on your lifejacket before you get too far into a Social CRM project, because chances are you’ll be swept overboard.