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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
May 2007 - Volume 25 / Number 12
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Achieving Differentiation Through Customer Centricity

By Vance Christensen, Witness Systems  (News - Alert)


Today’s customer service network and value chain are widespread, not to mention often siloed and complex. While most customers still opt to do business by phone with a live agent, others prefer the flexibility of e-mail and the always-accessible Web. That said, organizations cannot underestimate the value of the customer impact from their in-person sales and service opportunities. Competition is fierce and customer demands are high. Now, more than ever, optimizing workforce performance — through the selection of the workforce model that best suits your customers - is critical. Increasingly, these dynamics are causing organizations across vertical markets to not only reevaluate their approaches to quality and service levels, but also workforce productivity — leading the most forward-thinking down the path of “customer centricity.”

According to the Harvard Business Review, a “customer centric” company is not about “organizing your company to serve customers. It’s letting customers determine how you organize.”

In one sense, this is an obvious observation. The very phrase “customer centricity” implies that the customer resides at the center of your organization, theoretically acting as the touchstone around which all decisions revolve and from which all initiatives emanate. In another very real sense, however, customer centricity is quite difficult to achieve. True customer centricity requires the flexibility to adapt to changing customer needs and dynamics. It requires companies to objectivity listen to customer concerns. It requires the commitment to invest in how best to truly capture the “voice of the customer” and convert it into actionable intelligence that can be used not only in brick-and-mortar settings and contact center environments, but throughout the enterprise.

The value of achieving true customer centricity is expressed in a number of ways, the key benefit being to act as a differentiator between you and the competition in a marketplace of increasing product parity and growing customer demands. Today, organizations have the opportunity to increase their customer loyalty, thereby improving the all-important bottom line, simply by evaluating workforce models and determining how to best capture and put the voice of the customer into action.

Let’s start by examining how evaluating workforce models with the customer in mind can positively impact customer service levels.

Workforce Models — Changing With The Times
Many organizations are using or considering a hybrid workforce model, one in which they employ both brick-and-mortar and virtual employees to meet the needs of customers. IP telephony has helped pave the way for this transition by allowing the infrastructure flexibility to route calls seamlessly from centralized to remote agents — all of which remains completely transparent to the consumer. With this infrastructure, supporting processes and the right technologies — along with an enterprise mindset — blended workforce models can be extremely cost-efficient, enabling companies to better meet customer needs.

This approach, which allows companies to broaden their employee base and manage staff more efficiently and effectively, is being leveraged in both back-office and branch locations around the world. For example, a contact center in a financial institution can easily identify resources/personnel in other areas of the organization with forecasted “down time” during expected spikes in call volume — such as those in the branch office. This can help fill gaps and align the right staff, including highly specialized personnel, to meet specific customer requirements.

The virtual contact center presents another opportunity. With a remote workforce, organizations have the opportunity to attract workers that previously might not have considered them as a potential employer. Examples include stay-at-home mothers and the disabled: groups that may be educated, skilled workers, but require a level of flexibility that many jobs simply cannot accommodate. Such a model can open new doors, making you an attractive employer for a category of previously untapped, skilled workers with specialized scheduling needs. You can fulfill your full-time staffing requirements and strategically augment part-time schedules to meet specific objectives and periods of heavier customer traffic.

We’ve focused on how organizations can meet the expectations of their customers by adopting full- and flex-time models that are centralized and distributed. But how can these companies extrapolate their customers’ preferences in the first place? How can they capture customer feedback? How can that information be put into action in support of a customer-centric strategy?

Customer Feedback Reinforces Reality
Organizations have long paid lip service to the importance of the voice of the customer. Although many have recorded customer interactions for the past 30 years, they have focused primarily on the actions and enablement of their staff, rather than on those of their customers.

Global consultancy Bain & Company asked 362 companies whether they believed they had delivered a “superior experience” to their customers. Eighty percent of the companies said that they had indeed done so. Bain then asked the customers of these companies if they felt they’d received superior service. Only eight percent agreed that they had! This gap between perception and reality demonstrates the pressing need for organizations to adopt practices that will take advantage of the wealth of customer knowledge that is already being captured within their contact centers and other service delivery channels.

Making direct customer feedback actionable is the key to putting your customer base at the forefront of your organization. Your customers have the perspective to provide you with insights that, as the Bain & Company survey shows, individuals within your organization do not have the objectivity to express. When properly applied, these insights will lead to improved business processes, ultimately resulting in a better customer experience.

It is not enough, however, to simply apply customer feedback to your business strategy. All businesses must take customer response into account at some point. The differentiating factor is timing and context. Proactive, customer-centric organizations are always seeking customer input, while reactionary organizations respond to their customers only after it is too late, usually after their brands and reputations are on the line. This difference in strategy can be categorized as a “service recovery model” as opposed to a “complaint resolution model.” The two are worlds apart.

The strategy of service recovery focuses on quickly identifying and resolving problems to the customer’s satisfaction. It means going above and beyond expectations and doing so as soon as possible after the customer has interacted with an agent. This strategy differs vastly from one of complaint resolution, in which organizations build the infrastructure of the contact center, staff it with agents and wait for people to call in with complaints and problems. In this model, agents deal with the same complaints and problems day in and day out without the organization ever taking action to resolve the underlying issues.

So how can your organization achieve service recovery? The traditional approach is usually achieved through the use of an IVR, Web or e-mail survey. However, the key is to gain valuable customer feedback that is specific to their experience or interaction — in context and in real time. By engaging customers immediately after their conversation with an agent through short, dynamic and intelligent surveys, response rates are much higher because the feedback is specific to their circumstances. With surveys that are intelligent, context-based and timely, companies gain greater value as opposed to traditional, static and toxic “one-size-fits-all” surveying methods. Rather than ask customers on the front-end of a call to take a company-created survey, agents and intelligent systems wait until the call is wrapping up. Only then is the survey offered. This allows companies to gain valuable insight into interactions, the context of the call and the voice of the customer based on the reason customers contacted them in the first place.

Once captured, customer feedback can be made easily accessible throughout the organization. The voice of the customer provides far more strategic insight than some traditional measures and can be leveraged along with other contact center technology metrics such as those from quality monitoring, speech analytics, key performance indicators (KPIs) and e-learning to provide a closed-loop system for performance and workforce optimization. In today’s environment, people talk, and even put their experiences in writing using the Internet and blog sites as their vehicles. Why not find out what your customers think first-hand? That can put you in the driver’s seat to make positive changes that have far-reaching impact and competitive differentiation in a crowded market.

Vance Christensen is managing director of survey solutions for Witness Systems (witness.com), a global provider of workforce optimization software and services.

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