Wait…what? Voice messages are back?

Yes, I realise I do not often fit in the demographic description of my generation and gender: I have always preferred everything digital, I am an introvert and a girl, some say a geek too, and, where possible, in the past 25 years, I have always tried to avoid voice calls in favour of any other digital channel.

So, last week I was in a meeting, at work, and got a Whatsapp notification from my nephew. She’s 21, a fashion blogger and university student, and incidentally also my kids’ baby sitter, so whenever I get a message from her during kids’time, it means it’s important and might also be an emergency. Finally I resolve, at the cost of looking very rude towards the person who is presenting in the meeting, to pick up the smartphone and check the message.

Imagine my reaction when _said_ message revealed itself to be a jaw-dropping, head-spinning, plain old voice message.

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Obviously I couldn’t open it during the meeting, whereas any text message would have just taken half a glance to see its content and react. Also, I clearly felt like I just didn’t understand why. Why a voice message? I thought these died back in 2004 when I disabled my mobile voice mail and stopped using it altogether. I thought I got rid of voice because this generation is the native digital and is online 24-7, and so …why voice?

I cleared my throat, slipped the phone in my pocket and excused myself out of the meeting, then went to the restroom to play the bloody message: “Hi Paola, nothing urgent, I thought I better left you a voice message since I have too many things to tell you about the upcoming week’s appointments……”.

This is why – the answer is: laziness. Or, if you want, convenience and speed of a voice message against a typed one. Still.

I frantically typed back to never ever ever again send me a voice message when at work, because it scared me to death and took five of the longest minutes of my life to get its content, while a typed message would have been much quicker and easier, especially for NBD stuff.

She didn’t understand, she said. It’s a message so implicitly it means it’s not urgent. Otherwise she would have called. Plus, she’s not quick at typing (despite the fact she’s probably faster than me) so she prefers voice messages and all of her friends do it, too.

WTF. This is one of those moments when you know you don’t like the lesson you are being taught, but you still need to learn it. So I started paying attention around me and found them: young people that seem talking otp but are really listening to offline messages. Kids recording funny messages and sending them through social media sites. It is out there and I didn’t even realise it until it hit me in the face.

The Voice Message is back – who would have thought?

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A day in the life of a digital working mom

It’s a Wednesday evening and I am checking my clockwork household organisation. It all revolves around digital and every bit is essential to my sanity and free time with the family, come the weekend.

Tomorrow a organic fruit and veggie box will be delivered to my door. If I am not home the doorman will keep it in his office, together with any other online shopping package, until I return in the evening. Every Sunday evening I check online its content and add more groceries to the box to save time.

The baby sitter just left so I pay her parking lot with an app while she leaves the house and gets into her car.

I just received an email from the kids’ school with the next year’s calendar so I dutifully copy it to my private calendar then sync it with the office calendar so I don’t mess up at recitals like I did last year (when I booked an exam in London the day my son had the school recital and had to assist to the rehearsal with all the grandparents).

While I am on a phone call, I scan the pantry and fridge and list on my mobile app any missing items, then order them with one-click-next-hour-delivery.

I still have some time for shopping: the kids need new clothes for the season (not for fashion reasons but more because they simply outgrow the clothes and look like tiny franken-smurfs). So I order the new clothes – very easy since I always use the same brand, I just need to size up -sometimes adding something new for the hubby who (strangely enough) hates all forms of clothes shopping.

I also just received a promo discount from a fashion online shop so I immediately log in and move my wishlist items into the cart – I was waiting for the promo to get those items. I am now incidentally also happy as a clam.

My kids, born 2009 and 2012 have never seen in our house any of the following: CD, DVD, vinyls, cassettes, VHS, TV ads or local TV. When they want to watch cartoons, it’s either from an IP-TV or out of our NAS (so it’s checked and safe content, no ads or weird stuff). Also, we have a rule to only watch TV in English, which is not their native language. They initially hated it but now are sort of OK and fast learning English…in a few years they’ll secretly thank me while their therapist will have to address their troubled existences. While the kids watch TV I prepare dinner and at the same time browse Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and my RSS feed for news. The groups on Whatsapp are also typically active at this time of day, which makes me super-busy with _ basically_ pure online fun and some other daily organisation, as the _much dreaded_ school moms’ group is organising some activity with the kids.

Since tomorrow I have a business trip, I use the taxi app to book one that will fetch me in front of my door tomorrow morning at 6 am.

My daughter shows me a slip from her music teacher: new books need to be ordered, so I find those with next day delivery and add them to my cart. The alternative would have been to wait until I am back from my trip, and lose the big birthday party of her best friend on Saturday.

My wearable meanwhile is sending me notifications that I have reached my goal of daily steps and stairs. This does not happen really often, as on average I spend most of the workdays sitting at my desk, so I guess this is why the wearable is soooo excited about it…

The vet sends in the blood test results, via email, of our 14 years old cat who suffers from toothache: she will be fixed next Friday morning so I respond to the email and put the appointment in my calendar.

The children are screaming they want ice-cream after dinner, so to make them stop and get some silence I open the delivery app and order their favourite flavors, that will be on my doorstep in less than 30 mins. cool. literally. 🙂

With an app I switch off the music and turn on the TV. They’ll be able to manage using the remote browser. Then I open the door to my groceries delivery and set all products in the pantry/fridge. I always envision my kids as grown-ups and living on their own, on their first week alone suddenly calling me _in panic_ asking me why no groceries have arrived at their door yet. I’ll have to teach them the back-office part of this miracle one of these days. For now they are helping me put everything away and chatting with the delivery guy.

Our lives are so full of meetings, work, activities and stuff, that technology has become essential to having some free time at the end of the day and in weekends. Honestly I could not care less of spending an afternoon clothes shopping, unless it’s a special treat, in which case I try and add more errands to it (it’s the multi-task bug that infects new mothers and probably never goes away).

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Online shopping is convenient, safe, private and quick. I would not have it any other way, especially when the kids open the packages in a frenzy of excitement and fun, kind of like when we were kids at Christmas. Only, it’s just another ordinary digital day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rise of the digital bookworm

I have always been an avid reader since the time my mom, for my 11th birthday, gave me a library card for a present. It was one of the best presents of my life.

In my youth I used to plan my holidays according to how many books I needed in my bags, and there was often a whole heavy piece of luggage dedicated to those papery things.

Fast forward to this summer, where I have totally embraced my e-reader and its entire philosophy.

Yes there is no “paper feeling”, and the old fashioned cover judgement is not really a viable option, but I was able to read almost incessantly for my entire holiday, thanks to the kids being a bit more manageable on the beach, and the fact that I could hop onto any public WiFi and buy the next book in no time.

How is that for a digital transformation? 🙂

Also, because I read books in English (it’s not my first language and it helps keeping up), in the past finding good paperback best sellers in English was something complicated in faraway seaside desolate lands, so it had to be solely planned in advance. If I finished my stack earlier I had to revert to Italian books from the local store, sometimes not even my genre.

In my rich three weeks’ vacation (the most I had in 10 years) I was able to devour a total of 12 books, which is more than I was ever able to accomplish even in my own mother tongue, even in the university days.

What is the point I’m trying to make? That this is exactly the core of a digital transformation: when the experience gets so immensely better than the non-digital (analogue? I still have that thing) that it reaches a point of no return, and you are transformed not only as an actor but also as the end-user of what this transformation is all about.

Embrace your e-readers because they don’t mean paper books are dead. I still have a full library in my house, and although I am buying most e-books nowadays, sometimes I add to this library some piece that I want to leave for my kids to read, or books that brought an important message or meaning to me, or just super-silly books that I find entertaining or with a precious cover that I want to touch and admire.

But the convenience of reading 12 books in my holiday is something worth every inch of this digital transformation.

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Out of curiosity, these are the 12 books:

  • Into thin air – Jon Krakauer
  • The Promise – Freda Lightfoot
  • Where’d you go, Bernadette – Maria Semple
  • About Grace – Anthony Doerr
  • The Uncoupling – Meg Wolitzer
  • The heart goes last – Margaret Atwood
  • All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
  • The Vegetarian – Han Kang
  • The Other Child – Lucy Atkins
  • Sparrow – L.J.Shen
  • The danish girl -David Ebershoff
  • Transition – Iain M. banks

A broken link on the IVR tree? seriously?

ahhhh…holiday time and people frantically and happily using travel services! This until an exception occurs, and then, as a user, you are prompted with some of the worst examples of customer experience ever configured in the past 20 years:

  • on websites, when you need help, before you are actually prompted with contact options you need to disentangle yourself from a literal maze of Q&As , FAQs, instructions, banners, etc…so that when you finally get to a contact option you are already half pissed off. This is somehow called “deflection” and I have already treated this topic in previous posts.
  • let’s talk about contact options, as there is really only one option: phone numbers, not even toll free. No digital channels although it would make totally sense, since you are navigating and operating in digitised mode, why not offer a chat or email together with the old phone? Are your clients not also millennials who we now know prefer chat over voice?
  • I even stumbled in a badly broken IVR tree where they would give me the option to change support language and access to a larger pool of agents, but when pressing the instructed key nothing happens and you keep getting prompted the option again. Seriously? Did you not test your whole tree before putting it into productions, as per 1997 best practices guidance???

thank God this is only happening once a year, then, as CX recipients, we’ll be back with the usual stuff.

I’m back…and so is NPS!

If you were wondering why I haven’t posted for a while now, it’s because on top of thCCXP Logoe usual work-family load, I have embarked in the CCXP certification, which I was able to get at the end of June (yayy!).

While I was studying the CX transformations that companies went through in the past 3-4 years, which somehow revolves around “the ultimate question” to users and consumers, I sometimes raised my head and noticed that there is a big wave of Net Promoter Programs that is hitting Europe at this time. As a customer and consumer, I have been now asked the question at least 7 times from different companies in the past 2 months only, all varying from bank institutions, to airlines, mobile operators, hotels and healthcare insurances. The cutest one, was in the form of a Whatsapp mobile chat with the brand (on a web page), asking the nps question and the open ended comment. They are all asking the same thing, with different levels of variation, but having studied thoroughly what a Net Promoter program is within a company, I now realise where this is getting us.

The greatest achievement of NPS, so far, has been something no other metric within the CX world ever dared to: it was able to link emotions to revenue. Emotions come from the complex evaluation mechanism that make you, as a user, decide to recommend a brand to your friends and family. Reasons for this evaluation are so complex that relevant statistics analysis can be applied to some extend to split the subset of emotions leading to the final score. But linking it to revenue? This is the beauty of it: you can finally understand why brands that become trendy and fashionable also increase their revenues substantially and on the other side, why brands that are providing mediocre experiences are set to, basically, disappear in the mid-long term.

So the CCXP exam, or to better phrase it, the books I read to pass the exam  (suggestions in the bottom), were really eye-openers to me, as in the past I simplistically considered NPS as a quick metric, while in a serious program it’s clear that it is so much more.

And its wave is coming so strong that my recommendation to all those companies that are still sceptical or unaware of such program, is to start quickly working on it, or prepare to be out of market in a few years.

Finally this also brought some consciousness as a consumer: I now know what to expect from a serious company doing NPS. With a low or very low score, the closed loop-back process implies that I should be contacted and given voice to report my issues. It means that I am valued as a customer and that the company is keen on fixing any issue to keep doing business with me.

But wait…. what if I don’t get any feedback? 🙂

 

good NPS reading: these books were suggested to me by a nice colleague who is a true CX expert, and I have to admit they all were eye opening.

AI and CX?

From Mobile World Congress 2016 to the recent F8 ten year roadmap speech, AI is definitely one of the hottest technology trends. And specifically, AI in the customer experience, which  is the front-line of any expectation towards a company has been buzzing for a while as an innovation topic.

News from the several AI experiments are not much reassuring: Tay’s Meltdown proved once again what my university professor would say of computer science, “garbage in- garbage out”.

So on one side we would love to have computers help us with our CX, but on the other it looks really risky as any AI exposed to the public can be manipulated to reflect bad, racist or inappropriate responses to apparently innocent questions, sometimes just for the sake of it, others because of a specific sabotage schemed to bring it down.

Within Customer Experience, the relationship with automation has always been controversial. Would a customer like to be served by a robot and to what extent? Why would a company want to invest significant amounts of time and money to expose its front-line and most visible asset to malpractice and gruesome attacks from trolls and hackers?

The problem of any AI is, obviously, the learning. So probably the mistake from Microsoft was to trust the public network to be truthful and honest when teaching conversational skills to its bot.

Having worked in the customer experience realm for many years, I would never trust a bot to learn from public behaviour over social media: imagine your new hire agent sent to learn conversational skills and empathy…in the street?

but….on the other hand, I know that these guys (the CX teams) are literally sitting on a pile of interaction recordings that are rarely used, unless for some sparse quality management or compliance regulation. So why not use this big data to teach an AI, in a controlled, business-like though still real-life environment, how a conversation about your own brand or product should evolve? This idea might not be new but I haven’t seen anyone even testing it yet. Probably the biggest refrain is that AI projects are still in an experimental phase, are very expensive and bring little certainty of results.

But think about this: if you could have your new hire listen to thousands of hours of work conversations to learn how to address issues, how to talk to customers, how to properly escalate, how to behave in the interaction realm, and all in the business language of your own brand and company! This would be impossible for any human being, but for a bot…well, no big deal.

And the result: a perfectly trained agent ready to respond to your most difficult inquiries like your best skilled agent. Also, because every contact centre is different from the other, their recordings will result in different and more accurate learning and behaviour of the same AI. Isn’t AI in such case a dream come true?

As consumers, we probably would not care that the responses come from a bot, especially with digital channels where there is no voice and tracking a bot might be really tricky, and in the end, what matters most is the CX perception, not the reality. 🙂

 

 

 

 

social customer care: you’re doing it wrong!

In preparation for a customer meeting around social customer care, I am browsing through Twitter and Facebook looking for customer care requests: I can see a lot of variations of #badcx, so I thought it’d be interesting to put together a list of what NOT to do when your customers are complaining or asking help publicly via social media:

  1. If the rant is specific to a common issue that many other are experiencing, you don’t want to just respond but to show everyone how to fix the problem so that the same experience can be shared among peer customers.
  2. When a user is ranting about something that went bad with your company or product, this means that they probably already tried to contact you via phone or email and typically this is their last resort. So the ideal answer cannot be “please contact us at 800…”. The response should be immediate and in-channel. If personal information are involved, publicly switch to DM or Messenger and then try and contact the customer directly.
  3. If there is a help request that can be solved by providing technical or product information, by all means provide those info publicly! Not only the requester will be happy as cake, but the love will spread to other users that are maybe searching for the same info on your very website!
  4. When you are a large global company, sometimes issues can only be resolved at field level. This does not mean you can’t include them in the public social conversation! At minimum, you should show the customer that you have passed on the information, and they will be contacted by the local branch. Responding to go to the local store…well…reads just #badcx.
  5. Again, even if you are a large corporation with lots of department and employees, if a customer resorted to public shaming you, responding that you are “just the social media team” does not help improving the perception of your company. Consumers don’t care about your internal organization: if the social media team has your official brand, then it is the company front page as your contact centre is the front door voice.
  6. If a user is so frustrated that they posted the same comment on your timeline over and over again, it’s not enough just to respond to one: every single message is potentially dangerous and searchable, and must be addressed with care. Wouldn’t it be the same if they took the time to make 10 complain calls at your contact centre? Or would you drop the line at the second call because you already answered?
  7. And last but not least…the language. If you are a global corporation in 20 countries it might be assumed you also support the local language of your operations. Responding to a public tweet or post in a different language is not considered polite, unless you offer an explanation and at least a tentative translation with any of the commonly offered free on-line tools. Also, there are lots of translators out there, in case of lack of skilled resources.

My overall impression is that you can immediately spot when social marketing teams are responding to customer care inquiries: the language is perfect and polished, the responses look pre-approved and are always politically correct, but the results?

Companies need to start providing decent social customer care, and they can make this decision easily by just browsing their own pages and accounts today.

 

 

 

Perspective (and the guy with flip flops)

Yesterday evening I was having a fine dinner with some colleagues. A very international and diverse bunch, all with several years of experience in the CX and contact centre and telephony realms.

This guy beside me was telling a story: when he was once visiting my country with his family, the company he worked for at the time begged him to go to a customer, to fix a huge problem. He gladly accepted to help, though remarking he did not have any business wear, and so he would go there with flip flops. And shorts. He was kind of ashamed telling this, as he would not consider it very nice to go to a customer in flip flops, but had no alternative as the issue was rapidly escalating, so off he went.

While he was telling the story I suddenly realized I had been involved in that same story. Although I did not know his name at the time, he was a legend among the technical staff as “the guru in flip flops and shorts”. Everyone was in awe of how the guy presented himself, so sure of his technical skills to not need any business clothes (in a country that is mostly obsessed with clothes and appearance, sometimes even the washing machine technician is wearing a tie).

The customer back then was _delighted_ not so much from the casual wear, but from the fact that the problem was fixed in seconds and all was back to normal again. Thanks to the guy in flip flops, who then became this legendary, quirky technical guru.

Fast forward a few (many) years and now the guy in flip flops may represent your best CX experience.

When we are offered any customer experience, are we ready to skip formality in order to receive a better service? do we perceive CX quality or also its form? Do we care more about form, appearance or substance, actuality?

I personally think the times would be ready now for the guy in flip flops. 🙂

Instant CX gratification?

As users, in engaging with companies, are we more focused on the result, or on the instant gratification?

If I have to reply, I would definitely say that I’d rather have my problem fixed than a very quick, yet inconclusive, answer that will force me to prolong my CX journey.

But, on the other hand, when I contact a company and have immediate feedback – of any sort – my internal personal rating of that company raises immediately, even if the problem that prompted me to engage them is not _really_ fixed. I can hear my inner conscience mutter a lazy “yeah but..”, but cannot deny the thrill of having some sort of instant gratification, albeit for different purposes.

As companies try and find new ways of assessing their CX quality and strategy, it should be imperative that consumer expectations match the company’s offering, while often this is not the case. Consumer expectations are freight and volatile, mixed with brand awareness and the constant time constraints, so that sometimes we give a high score to a specific interaction only because of its speed and type of channel, not with the final quality of the experience. But as complexity arises, we’re no longer measuring a “first call resolution” but an entire journey that could span several channels and that is directly linked to a company KPI. The speed of answer is as important as the answer itself, mostly because we are now used to fast-everything and do not accept any sort of delay.

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What are your thoughts on this? Would you rather have instant gratification or effective resolution  from your providers? And how should CX quality be measured then?

 

The “Mobile First” dilemma

I often have customer meetings where we talk about the web part of a customer experience, and how to present information to the user. One of my first questions, once we have talked about the strategy and how the experience would flow through the CX journey is: “how is this experienced through a smartphone?”, or “what if the journey starts from a smartphone rather than a land line or a computer?”

Random Statistics:  1.2 Billion mobile web users are estimated worldwide, with some 25% of the overall web traffic being mobile.

In my experience as a user, I realize there are applications that I have never opened in my laptop browser: Uber, Instagram, Waze, Facebook messenger. The whole social media folder is now 99% of times accessed only via smartphone. I have tried the Whatsapp web extension but then thought “what the heck? I don’t really need another distraction on my screen, I already have the mobile beeping and blinking”.

There are, though, applications that I rarely or never use on a smartphone: writing this blog only happens with a proper keyboard a large screen and a huge cup of coffee, the same goes when choosing a holiday location, as I want to see large and detailed pictures of the houses I am renting, and even a Google maps tab to calculate the distance from airports and stations.

The on-line shopping is trickier: obviously, being a woman, I like buying clothes and accessories and doing it on a large screen helps with details of fabric and textures….but if I need quick shopping, as in Amazon-prime-misc-stuff-that-I-happen-to-remember-only-when-bathing-kids-or-cooking-dinner shopping, then the smartphone is my friend as it only takes a couple of clicks to get through an order and I can then forget about it until the package arrives. Blissful!

Developers who make smartphone apps spend their work day staring at a large screen and fighting with the constraints of a smaller mobile screen, so I totally understand that there might be frustration around this. There is some online discussion around mobile first design and the impression I got is that yes, you need to adapt to this new way of using the web, but large screens are still there and offer so much more features and context that sometimes it’s really tough to start with mobile all the way up. On the other hand, designing with a mobile first approach has the advantage of forcing you to disrupt, to see things differently and to (sometimes over-)simplify the experience.

A company’s customer experience does not always start from a smartphone, but typically will somehow pass through one at some point. If defining a CX journey is also helping the company to drive their customers to their preferred method, then it should be mandatory to step back and see the big picture, trying to understand if a mobile first approach will help or stop the user in their journey.

So my suggestion during the discussion is to try and picture a mobile everywhere in the journey, and see how it fits, then pick the moments where it was most useful because of its strengths (mobility, proximity, quick and easy access) compared to having a user open their laptop or computer or use different channels. Then try and make the customer’s life easier by reflecting those strengths to the wider picture and the mid-long term strategy of the business. The result is obviously never the same, but hey, have I mentioned the need to experiment? 🙂