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July 09, 2012

Cicero's Garner Offers a Wealth of Knowledge about the Customer

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC

TMC (News - Alert) this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going. We’re also rebranding and retooling our customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Mike Garner, chief customer officer with Cicero Inc., which aims to make it easier for companies to serve up relevant information to employees and guide them through their work.

Prior to joining Cicero, Garner founded and was the president of SOAdesk, a customer service technology company that was acquired by Cicero in January 2010. He also led more than 7,000 service reps to record-setting revenue, client satisfaction and profit marks over his operations career at both Verizon (News - Alert) and Afni.

We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What has been the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?

Garner: The advent of customer choice in how they get service is the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions. More specifically, it is in how customers connect to find answers or the right solution set, not only across multiple channels with the company but how much of their knowledge and insight comes from community. People they don't even know and some that they do, help them form opinions and find answers to questions without any company involvement. Companies are well served by helping those communities grow.

In the past decade?

Garner: Text-based conversations (not real-time but convenient and always on from a sender's perspective) are blowing up alongside the traditional voice/phone calls to companies service centers.

In the recent past?

Garner: I would say that real-time intelligent service delivery (SOA delivered) is a recent development. That's squarely where we play by the way. One-click access to information, safe delivery of everything a remote worker needs on any device or automating the filling out of forms in the insurance space (huge time saver for the employee and customer, etc.) are a few examples.


When and why did the trend toward call center offshoring take off?

Garner: In the 1990s it exploded. I was at Smith Barney, then Verizon. I remember IT outsourcing to places like India was huge, and the call center work followed totally based on price per interaction and backed up by a marketing umbrella of TQM/Six Sigma/CMM, etc. saying that APAC was better at following processes than say, North American workers. The difference in cost per call wasn't small either. It was sometimes as much as three to five times difference: 1 to 2 pennies per second of handle time in the U.S. versus .2 to .5 cents per second in India or the Philippines.

Is the tide turning on call center offshoring? If so, why?

Garner: Yes, to a significant degree. I think there are three factors. The costs are rising (wages) in the APAC region, so savings are starting to get slimmer. But it's still cheaper to offshore (even to DR for instance). The total cost of sourcing (more educated now); cost per call may go down but overall cost to support (multiple calls to reach someone /find an answer) could be higher with overseas help, especially in voice-related interactions. Customer backlash – FCR as reported by customers can be as much as 30 points higher when they feel the person on the other end of the e-mail/chat/phone understands them or is 'like them'; they trust them more (very human and very real emotion that matters big time relative to loyalty and propensity to spend). Operations – our models for starting/running call centers on shore are better (cloud-based /SaaS (News - Alert) pricing models/ work at home etc. We are better at slimming and spreading out the total cost of running call centers closer to where the customer is.

How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center? Customer interactions at large?

Garner: It is providing cheaper communications such as having one line versus two. I recently spent some time with the CIO of a call center company with 600 agents, and he literally has everyone using Google voice for their phone system, an unreal cost and ease advantage and the reporting is coming along to enterprise grade. [That’s a] pretty strong inflection point, perhaps where the barriers to exit from some locked in/proprietary networks and carriers and suppliers starts to get pretty low. It puts customer back in charge.

How is CRM changing?

Garner: One has to understand that CRM is not about having a million points of light/data about me or each customer. It's about being able to get at/use/deliver better experiences and value based on that information. It's more about analytics and real-time delivery of only the relevant data to the employee and customer.

How is WFM changing?

Garner: WFM is not just for call centers anymore. There is a tremendous opportunity to see the same types of productivity lifts, and intelligent scheduling of resources (sometimes and more frequently now as extensions of a broader customer help team via collaboration) is now possible.

Our technology is used to understand where a worker is in [his or her] particular work stream and can signal a WFM partner like Pipkins to queue up the next work item. Think of it as intelligent routing/scheduling/force management without a telephone switch or ACD. Desktop events and alerts play the role the switch does in a traditional call center. Estimates are that there are as many as three times as many employees that could be helped by more intelligent WFM in the middle or back office than in the call center alone.


How is marketing changing?

Garner: I think it's more about helping customers find answers, understand options and allowing them to understand why you're in business versus just what you happen to offer. It's not changing fast enough. Don Peppers, who sits on our board of directors, just came out with his new book called Extreme Trust, in which he discusses how building trust should be the cornerstone of any valuable marketing program. Look at Coca-Cola's linked and liquid marketing YouTube videos. They actually explain how and why they market like they do. Total transparency. Very cool. In Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, he writes that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. At Cicero we've begun starting every new conversation with why we exist so people can clearly understand (given that context), why we act the way we do, and why we happen to make the two key products we make today: Cicero XM Discovery and Cicero XM Enterprise – to make work and service delivery easier. Period.

How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?

Garner: It has a profound impact. It's so easy to get an app for just about any point problem/need you have on your smartphone or tablet today. It's not that easy on a PC or Mac. Not yet. I want to know the weather. There's an app for that. I want to trade stocks with a tap of the glass. There's an app for that. I want to know what do to, where to go, when to turn and how much is too much when shopping – and tapping glass to call a service to get a response in near real time is helping customers find better answers faster. And customers' expectations about how fast the web works to find information impacts their expectations about how easy/fast it should be when they reach out to a company directly to find an answer. Inside the bowels of a large organization where there is a labyrinth of 30-year-old systems sitting alongside the new web apps and having employees be the human bridge between those silos, trying to meet those higher expectations of service and knowledge, is a recipe for disappointment. You therefore need smarter/more integrated/and real-time interaction capabilities to have any chance of delivering an experience that has someone buying from you – even when there is a better price for the product or service elsewhere because they like doing business with you.


How is the widespread use of social networking technology impacting how businesses target, engage , and deliver to the customer?

Garner: Customers get informed and inform without direct help/investment on the part of the company more and more. You need to get Q and A out there, so it finds its way into the communities where the customers are. Facebook or Twitter (News - Alert) updates are good. People will find the updates on a Bing or Google search easy enough. Put it out; they will find it.

I think social/collaboration tools are having a more direct impact on how a company delivers service by allowing more of the organization to become aware of/involved in and responsible for customer inquiries and issues. Presence, collaboration, instant messaging, etc., are all key. You can now go directly to finance with a credit question, straight to the production floor with an inventory question, or straight to the clinician for triage input. That's huge. You can bring specialists into the interaction in real time (or close to it) and collapse the amount of time it used to take to get good advice to a customer/patient/member.


How is the increased use and comfort level with video impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Garner: Again, I think this is somewhat vertical specific when it comes to customer/company interaction being impacted by video. A very direct and fairly ubiquitous use of video is how to videos (short clips that are quite specific to frequent product uses/questions) that walk people through how the product works or how to get the most out of the product or service. Those are huge in terms of always on/always accessible to the client and can act to prevent calls to tech support or product support, which takes the customers time and costs the company money. I see the use of video walk-throughs growing pretty fast.

What new tools and practices are businesses using to better leverage their own and/or outside data to target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Garner: Integration is the key. You can't wait for the re-write to web/mobile. It shouldn’t matter where data resides, just that you can get to it, shape it, and repurpose it fast for use in context to what the customer and/or the businesses/employee is trying to accomplish.

This is the very reason we exist – disparate systems. There is good logic built into many of these applications/systems already, but there is no data sharing, or its limited. These walls create painful disconnects that prevent 100 percent first time yield, shorter times to resolution or accurate decision support – both in self-service and employee-assisted channels.

Decision support tools such as IBM’s Watson or Convergys' (News - Alert) Dynamic Decision use the CRM data and the real-time inputs from an interaction or online interaction to provide the best options for customers and employees. This is why Amazon service delivery rocks – personalized recommendations in a blink. Zappos advertisements are personalized to your last visit with them online in ads on other sites you visit elsewhere.

One of the prerequisites is that you need to get at all the data and deliver data integration. You need to infuse that data with logic/intelligence and then you need to present that best next action, question to ask, action to take to the employee or customer in real time and in a easy to use format. 

Our find and fix smart desktop and device software plays a big role in all three of those real time/ decision support [efforts] and has a very unique value in the integration and presentation areas. 

How is the mobile boom impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Garner: The very richest of interactions all happen face to face. When you have the opportunity to interact with prospects or partners or customers where they are, then the ability to have access to relevant information that can be useful to them on the spot on any device they happen to have with them is a real game changer. 

Remote workers have been handicapped by slow or no access to enterprise information due to a number of factors: security concerns, bulk/weight of laptops or toughbooks, lack of speedy and affordable wireless access, etc., and one of the biggest obstacles is that no one wants to tunnel into a maze of screens and apps behind the firewall on a smaller screen. Real mobile B2C capability doesn't happen until you get smart views and access to relevant data that is shaped for the device you bring to the situation. If it's not easy to use it won't get used. Period.

That's all changing now. See our UBS solution as a case in point or take an insurance company or tax preparation company with franchisees or contractors that bring their own devices to the job but need ready, complete, and then optimized views and access to your corporate systems and data. 

What other key trends are you seeing as they relate to how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?

Garner: There is a renewed emphasis on trust and transparency. We are more focused on the engagement (outcome focuses) versus processes. People will buy from you if they believe why you do what you do as a company, not what you do. Start with why. Start with the customer and employee experience and work backwards, and be agile about it. Stop the waterfall approach of tinker, improve, tinker some more, and always be shipping better. Use real life stories of before and after (or current and what's possible), which is more powerful and remembered. 

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman
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