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Cross-Pollinating Customer Service Across All Channels

By Tom Tobin, Knova


Do you find it frustrating when the automated voice response system to which you just spoke your account number fails to transfer that information directly to the agent who finally picks up the phone, requiring you to repeat yourself incessantly? How about when you get transferred to a specialist who, of course, wants to know your account number "before we get started?"

When you ask an agent to confirm if the information you read on the Web site is correct, nothing is more frustrating than when that agent responds with 'Sorry, that's not right,' or worse yet, 'Gee'I don't know.' So, instead of solving your problem and perhaps even upgrading you to a product or service that meets your needs, you end up feeling under-served ' which you are.

It used to be that customers had a preferred channel of communication with a company, and they stuck with it. This is no longer the case. Customers now use many different channels to pose support questions, to ask about upgrade issues or to request new products and services. They expect to receive consistent and accurate information from the company with which they are doing business, regardless of the channel they choose. Anything less is, at best, a waste of time, and at worst, a reason for your customer to hold a grudge while ferreting out your competitors.

The use of multiple channels for customer service and support, and the importance of consistently accurate and prompt answers, will continue to grow in the coming years. There is already a growing gap between companies that strive to meet these goals and those that don't. What do these advantaged companies know? They know that ultimately their customers are seeking knowledge ' knowledge that is stored somewhere in the company ' and that these customers want it regardless of the channel they choose, whether it be phone, Web self-service, e-mail or chat.

So how does a company provide customers with direct access to the knowledge they're looking for when those data may reside in a variety of places? Product specifications, technical support, billing questions, pricing and policy information all can be found in any number of places: CRM databases; legacy knowledge systems; FAQ lists; intranets; content management systems; billing systems; and our old friend, the automated response system.

Is the math really that difficult? Why is access to 'good' knowledge such a difficult thing for some companies to achieve? After all ' in most cases, the knowledge is there already, just waiting to be tapped. How can we avoid repeatedly asking our customers for their account numbers? How can we access knowledge, regardless of where it resides and what format it's in, and make it all work together to provide quality customer service across multiple channels?

The goal is to analyze the customer's problem, retrieve the information needed to solve that problem, and do so in whichever contact channel the customer chooses. If we can do this well, we'll not only minimize the frustration factor and lower the cost of the support transaction, we'll delight the customer. So let's look at how this can be accomplished.

It's helpful to first step back and review your company's history with customer support software. It probably goes something like this:

During the course of the last 15 years, we've seen significant investments made in automating call routing and case management, as well as big spending to create disconnected service and support Web sites. You probably spent a long time selecting the best vendors, a lot of time implementing the systems, and quite a bit of time since then wondering if you made the right decision. Then you learned that you still had some work to do, because there remained a missing link. You may have spent a fortune on all these support tools to help you reach customer support nirvana ' and you aren't even close.

You might be closer than you thought. Your CTI system does a great job at automating call routing, and your CRM system does a great job of handling customer and product information. There's a lot of information stored on those hundreds or thousands of Web pages ' but it's not complete. Somewhere in your company, you have all of the answers to every customer question, even though the 'great search engine' that IT bought last year can't return them effectively. Unfortunately, what many companies do have is a lot of disparate knowledge and data in a variety of disconnected systems, most of them channel-specific, which often still adds up to a poor customer experience. So what is the missing link?

Service Resolution Management
A service resolution management (SRM) system creates a knowledge backbone for your company. It creates one interface that pulls vital information and knowledge from wherever it is stored, whether it's your CRM system, legacy support systems, search engine, Web site, document libraries, etc. It allows you, as a business leader, to evaluate what processes are taking place in your support environment and to then determine how you would like those processes to be handled. After, you can guide users step-by-step through the process of answering their questions, applying the right process to each inquiry to drive the outcome you want. Service resolution enables you to harness all those tools you've already acquired and all that knowledge you already have to solve customers' issues, regardless of what channel they use to tell you about their issue. In other words, a service resolution management system might be the missing ingredient you've been looking for.

Let's take a look at two scenarios: the current model and the SRM model.

Scenario 1. A call comes into the support center, and the customer asks if there is any way to make the widget he bought from you work in the new version of Windows. Your support agent, one of your trusted tenured techs, gets the call and begins looking for the answer. He enters the case into the CRM package, and he does a search in the structured knowledge base. Nothing comes up, so the agent asks a tier-two agent, who doesn't think that the product is supported in the current version of Windows. The tech apologizes but offers no resolution. The customer decides to take a look at your competitor's product to see if it works with the current operating system.
Scenario 2. The same call comes in and the same agent fields it. He does the same search, and a technical bulletin ' written by a product manager and stored on a network drive ' comes up in the query results because the knowledge base searches both structured and unstructured knowledge. This issue has been documented and a resolution has been built to ensure that an answer can be provided. A wizard pops up and prompts the tech support agent to walk the customer through a setup process, and the new product can then be used successfully. The customer is happy.

This is what the customer wants and what support systems are really trying to provide ' seamless service resolution. Seamless resolution is provided by effectively utilizing and managing corporate knowledge: knowledge of products and services; of diagnostic troubleshooting; of information stored in all of those documents on the network drives, intranets and e-mail systems; and, most important, the knowledge of your customers and support agents.

No customer wants to be put on hold or escalated, or to attempt four different solutions over the next hour, or be called back tomorrow. He or she wants the issue resolved as quickly as possible, either through self-service or by a confident-sounding agent. Some customers also want to be able to solve their own problems through self-support on the Web. Who has time to call?

Many companies are convinced that a search tool is 'good enough' to handle these tasks. Let's consider two scenarios again to test this belief.

Scenario 1. Another customer goes online to figure out how to close her account, but can't find the right information to do so. The customer searches the Web site for a toll-free number and makes a call into your wireless phone support center. The customer is a little frustrated: 'I want to close my account.' The answer here is not to have your agent do a search for a document that tells the customer how to close her account ' is it?
Scenario 2. A customer goes online to figure out how to close her wireless account and, based on an established business process, she is directed to call the support center to take care of this. The support center has pre-determined what processes should occur when a customer calls in with this request, as well as what resources are needed to properly work through the call. So when the call comes in, the agent follows a well-structured path to a more desirable outcome. It could be that your customer has a glitch in her network service, and your agent can quickly resolve it. It may also be that your customer has an old plan and an old phone, and she has 'product and service envy.' It's possible that what your customer really wants is a new PDA phone and an upgraded service package.

You, your agent and your customer all prefer the SRM approach in both of the second scenarios because it integrates business processes and because everyone gets what they want. Everyone leaves the transaction happy.

Does it make economic sense, then, to pursue an SRM strategy? Of course it does ' the payback is tremendous. Consider again the above scenarios. In the scenarios using disparate KM, CRM and search applications, despite all of the resources at hand, the customer is never provided with any resolution, except to take a look at your competitor. The scenarios in which an SRM approach is taken enables the agent to satisfy the customer's needs and increase the economic value of that customer to your organization. How many times a day does this call happen? How many times does the outcome turn out the way you wish?

Customer churn is very expensive. Not only do you lose on the transaction, you also will very likely lose on the lifetime value of that customer. As we all know, most people who have a bad experience with a company are remarkably good at remembering that bad experience, and they will be very hesitant to come back to the company that let them down.

Pursuing an SRM strategy is one of the most fundamentally profitable things in which your organization can invest. By using advanced KM technologies, you can create a cross-channel approach to help automate service resolution in your enterprise so all of that valuable information in all of those systems is tied together in one common knowledge platform, then made available to your agents, customers and enterprise.

Why should it matter if a customer query comes into your call center or help desk, via e-mail or your Web site? The answer should be consistent across all channels, it should be accurate and it should reflect the outcome that your company desires. CIS

Tom Tobin joined Knova as a financial consultant in February 2000, and he has helped dozens of clients evaluate the benefits of Knova's products. Prior to Knova, Tobin was a call center manager at Canon's Customer Service Center. Following that, he led the Business Applications Group for Canon, where he managed a variety of technical application systems, including knowledge management, IVR and intranet/ Internet strategy consulting. He is a regular guest lecturer on knowledge management at William & Mary's School of Business, and he frequently publishes articles and white papers focusing on the business and financial benefits of knowledge management and e-service.

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