If I were a user (#1)

…I’d refuse to repeat myself across different channels!!!


This is by far one of the most annoying things about any service: you struggle with an ivr, or browse through an authenticated portal, only to find out that the information were inconsistent and wrong and when you finally, angry and frustrated after hours of bad self-service experience, reach a live agent you get the much dreaded question “Can you please tell me your name and address?”.

This sucks!


Improving an already exceptional customer experience? Why, Yes!

I was recently in a round table at a marketing event, with an engaging title: “Selling and caring in the age of omni-channel”. My giveaways are two direct questions I got from customers:

  1. Is social presence really a must and is it worth the effort?
  2. How can we improve our customer experience to get the best out of the consumers’ value?lightbulb

The first answer was very easy: in my opinion you have to be out there. Yes, it’s a jungle, it’s hard, and kind of things will go bad at some point because people are always complaining and unsatisfied, and yes you will have to dedicate people answering social posts, but in the end….if you are not out there, your competitors are. And consumers will define your ability and innovation strive based on your presence_or worst, based on your absence.

The second question I still find tricky to answer: even if you are out there and even if you are giving a great customer experience and your product is gold and your customers love you…you still have a need for optimization and improvement that will drive you to the next step of your customer journey map.

And the only way of moving forward is innovation: try new things, ask your customers what would make them even happier, build a community to get them more connected (and let’s be honest, to build your own knowledge base around theirs), offer collateral services that might help them in their daily struggle, think out of the box. They will remember that, and love your company even more for taking the time to understand them. and in the end, they will keep buying from you. Because this is no longer the era of “business as usual”.

oh..and about those “digital” channels…


Whenever I hear the word “digital” in my head I am smiling because…the geek in me thinks using it means we’re opposing our topic to…”analog”? 🙂

Guys, let me tell you: there is nothing analog today in telephony and call centers. I mean, not even our old home “analog” phone is really connected to an analog line. We used analog phones for PBX and internal telephony many years ago, some companies might be still using them because it would be expensive to replace many devices at once, but in the end they will surely be attached to a VoIP system!

So, about those digital channels: we talk about interactions that are not voice (although as mentioned there is no longer a non digital voice interaction, just think about webRTC): it means giving the users a choice in the conversation media, usually between chat, email, social, text, messaging systems, and so on. The growth of such channels is so astonishing that they will eventually replace voice, but as a friend was commenting in one of my last posts, this is valid as long as the new channels can provide correct and consistent information.

  • Correct, means that the internal systems have to pull content from a knowledge base that is possibly the main source of information across the company, and if we’re providing automated responses, the flows should be tested and verified and solid.
  • Consistent, is apparently the most difficult to achieve but think about it: how many times have you found an information on the website and considered it true, until an agent on the phone told you “oh yeah, the website is not updated yet”. The answers we provide to users must be consistent for our own credibility as a company.

So as a user if I am getting the correct info and it is the same across all the channels, this makes me think it is the right answer and I don’t really care that it was provided from a machine or a human, correct?

Yes correct, but…what if I have two questions in the same conversation? What if the answer to my question is not in the knowledge base? What if my question is complex and requires some level of escalation? What if I am simply mad and need to vent out my frustration (would be nice to have it in the choices, though: “click here to rant“)? Plus, knowing how all the digital channels are somehow permanent compared to a phone call, maybe that’s my only option, even though it might be recorded at least it’s not public. Rant is private, y’all!

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Automation is always good and cheap and efficient, if done right, but I am still for the 1% super-agent questions that require synapses and emotional intelligence to be used that are not yet part of an expert system. 🙂

Diaries of the voice portal

I have been working on one of the first “I.V.R.” (Interactive voice response, for those not familiar with the acronyms) back in 1997. It was a huge thing back then, especially as ASR and TTS (the natural language way of speaking with a machine) were really early technology and to say the least, a bit immature. I remember that we randomly called people from all over the country and recorded the calls for the ASR engine to get all the slang and accents.The embryo of today’s voice portal was in my hands and it looked awesome and cool and as an engineer, the potential seemed so high that we imagined these things would replace humans in just a few months!

So after a while we enthusiastically rolled out our first scripts: developed, tested, re-tested, documented and highly appreciated by the techies, only to find out that

…they were a complete disaster once in the hands of the end users.

They lacked some instructions, albeit the intuitive menus, some quick fallback to a nice sweet helping voice, the speech recognition was funny and bizarre and text to speech failed to be comprehensive, but most of all, we assumed that common users did prefer a machine to a human. I am still convinced that some of the errors we made back in the old days are still haunting us because guess what? People remember.

Now things have changed a lot, but again not so much from those years:

  • We still develop scripts for the user to play with – sometimes we also provide some sort of independence for the users to develop their own dynamic script during the interaction. This still has lots of potential but is inexorably linked to the target users.
  • Adoption rates largely vary according to the service, the target demographic and the goodness of the script. And I am not mentioning here those ivr trees that are specifically developed to confuse and deflect people from calling.
  • ASR and TTS are still not widely accepted for many reasons that have nothing to do with the technology, which is even more awesome and amazing than ever (have you tried it?) : namely the end user willingness to accept the use of natural language in their game with an automated response thingy.
  • Self-service is still somehow big: people love to find their own answers and browse safely on the web or on any other device that will guarantee some degree of anonymity: similar to the unparalleled satisfaction of mounting our own Ikea piece of furniture (for those of us who don’t end up with a weird library and a bunch of unused screws), we love proving to our self that we can be self-sufficient across different channels and fix our own problemsMounting Ikea furniture
  • A human representative is still the choice of election for those problems that are not in the Q&A, not in the FAQ, not in the knowledge base and not in any automated script and therefore require the human brain to solve it.

How are we doing with this? 18 years and still dealing with ivr scripts? There must be something new in our technological horizon, something that will lift us to the point where users will find 99% of their answers and the 1% will be answered by a super-human agent who is someone like Mr Wolf, only “solves problems”.

The Wolf

For now, I guess we’re far from that target and I really need to call my isp support to fix this upload issue… 😦

“Know me” or “Stalk me”?

There is a great hype today about being recognized and cherished as a customer by any company.stalker-main_1405037a

We, in the works, sell it as the next best thing: you contact a company and suddenly you and your history with the company and any private, related information is out there, and the company is very proud of having invested good money in the technology and processes that work together to give you this great customer experience….

…kind of like when you shop around and suddenly google is displaying the very things you were sneaking at, right in your face…

I am not sure this is all good. In fact, I am sure there is a boundary between “knowing me” and “stalking me” and it largely depends on the company, the product, the situation and definitely the individual involved. For me as a consumer, this boundary is very close to the name and maybe the address: any information after that I perceive as invading, not appropriate, not even wanted.

customer experience

Where’s the boundary?

So I am asking you users out there: where is your boundary? What of your personal information would you give away in exchange for a good customer service?