Digital Transformation as an Experiment

There is much talk over the concept of digital transformation lately.

I have now met several companies, from large enterprises to mid and small businesses across EMEA, who are working towards it in many different ways. And this is the common thread: that every company is different and their path to digital must, therefore, be unique and tailored according to their business processes. The first question I get is usually: what are the others doing? And obviously the examples help, but are not the solution to the imagination issue.

There is no such thing as a common procedure to go digital: so far the most successful (and intriguing) customers I met have set up a “digital experimentation team“, which consists of a bunch of technology savvy enthusiasts, who like to try new stuff (incidentally this would be the dream job of any geek, including myself): they are connected and socially active, they like to attend virtual and real events and meetings, even if just for the sake of mixing up ideas and new technologies; they are passionate about innovation of any sort.

This approach of the “dream team”, in my opinion and experience, works well in many ways:

  • If the company has no idea of how to get digital, this would be the team that will experiment and drive all the new stuff. They will be the salmons, swimming upstream while the rest of the company would typically try and resist change, until something beautiful happens, and then they become the praised heroes of the above mentioned transformation. This might take a while, though, and requires tough people who are willing to resist all the retortion of  the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. It might be wise to rotate people so that they are not burnt by the job, and in the end it might also take a while to get some result. But what are the other options when there is no clear path? The only way is really to experiment off the beaten track of the company and enter the realm of digital sleepwalking.
  • If the company is already ahead of the game and wants to keep the pace, then this would really be the dream-team, as there is budget, willingness to change and an open mentality to drive changes. So the only danger here is to over-think the transformation and do too much of it. These people would be bringing new ideas to the table almost daily, and some of them might get to project approval, and some of them might succeed, thus keeping the company again one step beyond its digital track. It takes courage to do and view things with a new perspective.
  • If a company is in the middle, meaning that there are some ideas and some digital presence has already started, but they’re not ahead of the game yet, there’s a lot of grey shades here to fill: an experimentation team would still do good, as they would be at least responsible for identifying and trying the new stuff (and the inevitable scapegoats when something goes wrong), plus they can liberally and quickly test new strategies that would take months to scale up the standard complex processes. A small dedicated team can give a company the required flexibility to try and fail, without compromising much, while allowing the successful projects to be then scaled to the whole company.

Have you appointed your digital experimentation team yet? 🙂

 

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Should companies develop their own CX solutions?

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Very often I have meetings and discussions with customers who have developed their own flavour of CX software and ask if and why should they change to a vendor’s standard solution. Depending on the size of the company, I see a trend with moving to standardized software rather than keeping the customized developments. Developing a home-grown application has the initial and great advantage of starting with few targeted capabilities that are critical and specific to the company; also, it bears a smaller commercial footprint, and last but not least the ability to add features as the business users ask, step by step and independently from any product market trend.

So my answer to those customer is: it depends. What is as good as a tailored suit today, may not fit tomorrow.

What happens when the company evolves and increases in complexity, typically leads to many issues with the home-grown application:

  • Maintenance: as the application was originally based on functionality requests coming from the internal users, at some point of the complexity curve it may become very difficult to keep up with the pace of the new requests, so when the deployment cycle has just finished for one set of features, the developers’ team is already late for the new batch.
  • Features: when the new application has a very basic set of capabilities, it’s kind of difficult to realize what would be needed and what can be achieved outside the narrow targeted scope, which makes it difficult to plan upgrades and developments.
  • Timing: in order to reach 100% of feature availability, this could really take months of development, moving the return of investment to a wider time-frame.
  • Trust in the software algorithm: if the developed solution at some point starts to seem weak, this risks mining the entire project and any future evolution: better having less safe features than risk the users trust.
  • Scalability and  performance: tools that were originally intended for a specific number of users sometimes cannot simply scale or provide adequate performances when running on larger users groups.

So there is, in my experience, a sweet spot when a customer is tired of maintaining the home-grown solution and eager for more standardized products, but at the same time with a fully expert team of developers who can really use the new solution at 100%. Swapping to a vendor’s solution at the right time will have the effect of letting the internal team specialize on customizations and small developments, while focusing on the company’s core business. Precious and high skilled resources can then be used to focus on new ways of using the technology, rather than spend lot of time with Q&A and application maintenance.

When digital gives you privacy

The other day I was on public transportation and obviously everyone was tapping on their smartphone, included myself, when I realized someone was loudly talking on their phone. In a place packed with people, a middle aged lady, presumably a psychologist, was discussing a clynic case with lots of detailed information about some poor guy. Then after a few moments, a young lady was making a couple of private appointments, with loads of information we really did not want to hear.

The reaction of the whole audience was:

1. heads up from the smartphone

2. show indifferent/annoyed/amused stare to the loud-talking people

3. a guy actually swapped place fuming as evidently realized he really did not want to hear the conversation.

This made me think that I usually tend to make my phone conversations with sensitive information very private, as in “home-office-when-nobody-else-is-at-home” privacy, and otherwise any other information exchange with other people happens on other media. And I kind of like that so much, that I was in the annoyed/amused reaction while listening to stuff that now I cannot un-hear.

Whenever you need to communicate you often have the choice to define the context, and based on this, to decide what channel best suits the interaction. Digital helps people keep their privacy, sometimes. (yes I know that it defies privacy in other ways, but still) Companies should be able to understand the psychology that is behind every channel choice and this kind of information is highly useful to plan the CX journey, as you are able to get the most out of every media, for what the media is actually and beneficially used for.

Context is key to correctly mapping the journey and the business drivers related to it, and should be considered first when planning a CX optimization process.

You! Yes you! What is your social care strategy?

I now use on a daily basis LinkedIn, Twitter, FB, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine: I know there’s a lot more but there is also some work, family time and personal taste involved here.

Sometimes I read posts and responses from companies and brands that are simply amazing: witty and competent and sarcastic and smart. These are the kind of interactions that will make me love (or at a minimum, deeply respect) a brand or a company or a person in the social space. Not only they responded, but the person behind the keyboard went the extra mile and put some brain in the response, and the result is sometimes really awesome.

This happens maybe once or twice a month, often with big corporations, sometimes with smaller businesses, often with public figures, sometimes with a single individual who is simply being him/herself.

Should it happen more? Hell, Yes!

We have passed the stage where companies needed to be out there and respond promptly to just survive; now they need to be out there and present and smartand amazing. This is how it’s done and once someone breaks a threshold, the new level instantly becomes the norm (or so my kids teach me every day).

So back to the contact centre (or CX centre, or CE pod or any new cool name you might want to call it), if training your agents to handle responses in the fastest and most proficient way was a challenge, and typically the main one, now you need to up the notch and think that the people who are out there, publicly responding to your customers, not only need to be trained for excellence: they need to be amazing no matter what. The so called dedicated team, which typically is a small team of interns who are passionate about social, now needs to become a centre of excellence of your contact centre, in order to provide jaw-dropping awe-inspiring posts and tweets and interactions that can bring your brand to the next level. The “social experiment” team should be one of amazing people (incidentally, that also reflect your company’s view and mission) selected by checking their public profiles, challenging and engaging them with the best results, finally spotting the social excellence and bringing it into your strategy.

Figuring out how to use well all the social channels is the hard part, and largely depends on the type of brand, business and target customers. But it’s not impossible if you have the right people working on it. I remember how many years ago, working as a contact centre engineer, I used to tell my customers that the overall strategy must always start with people, and while technology and channels and rules of engagement drastically changed with time, this bit of wisdom thankfully did not.

3 steps to improve your CX now

Incidentally, these three steps apply to pretty much any process we want to improve 🙂

1. Measure. before you are able to make some good planning, you need to have metrics to be able to base your improvement upon. I am not talking about that stack of reports coming out of your acd or cti…You should have by now learned that it’s not the single data but the correlation between data that really affects performance. So, bring together a team of analysts and try coming out with a bunch of KPIs that assess your business, your performance and your CX in a contextualized and related fashion.

2. Be ready for change. Once you have measured your impact on those KPIs, it’s time to put some thoughts into change. Change is good, and defines your company’s strategy and effectiveness towards CX, because it’s where most of the change is and will be happening. If you are ready to measure, you should not be scared of testing and trying and experimenting until you are satisfied with the results.

3. Put this in a cycle. Now you are able to measure and to foster change, so you should by now also be able to put together an optimization cyclic process for it. This will keep your boat rocking despite the bad weather because you basically have gifted yourself a wonderful automated improvement machine that will work with you and for you in the search of the perfect CX.

For the info-graphics lovers:

3 steps to improve CX

Visual IVR: when voice is complemented by digital

I’ve seen many discussions on forums and groups, all around the concept of visual IVR, that “thing” that will enhance your unfortunate experience with an automated voice script, by adding some visual media to convey more complex messages and data, helping you out of the maze, sometimes even directly into the hands of a journey- savvy live operator on the phone.

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Self-service ivr has been around for a while and will not die soon, for the following reasons:

– it’s relatively cheap

– it’s real-time communication

– its interface is one that everyone is able to use: the telephone or the voice.

On the other hand, a visual IVR will fix some of the issues that the old ivr inherently attached to the interaction: what if the information I am receiving is too long or too complex to be listed on the phone? What if the information I need to provide is also impossible to convey over the phone to an automated attendant?

I was recently involved in a project that aims replacing data-entry by giving users the ability to fill their application forms on-line, directly through a link to a mobile web page sent via text SMS.

How convenient that I can have my form immediately displayed on my smartphone! And change the information in the form without having to listen to endless choices or screaming into a recognition system with the wrong vocabulary or too much background noise to understand what I say!

With time, we already know the voice behind the visual will become redundant; but it helped train a demographic that was resistant to web or mobile web in the beginning. So if anything can help me do all of that, be welcome whatever the naming convention used!

Sometimes we need to plan for the early obsolescence of an emerging technology just because the process itself will bring value and experience to the customers and its real meaning is not in using it but rather in unlearning it.

Email as a (bad) automated service?

Dear Big Credit Card Corporation,

being a customer of yours since the late 90’s (which incidentally and sadly also gives away my age), I think I gave you enough fees to have me granted a decent customer care when my name appears today in a new card request.

Instead, I get an automated, impersonal message where it is clear that none of your (sophisticated?) systems put together that, with the same name, personal information and postal address, I am indeed the same person currently using another card.paperino

Plus, when I take the time to respond, very politely, that you should _not_ ask such stupid questions as you should just make the effort of a quick search in your own database, then the ultimate insult surfaces: another automated email, identical to the first!!!! As if your script does not even bother to check what has been previously sent!!!

Apparently there is some more automation as I then get the same email after 5 days, so this means somewhere in your systems you must know what’s going on…or maybe you are really completely in the dark and keep sending the same email over and over.

Is this a joke? Are you telling me that in twenty-fifteen you cannot join two databases and understand that the same person is requesting another card? That you, a finance institution, of all the companies, don’t have enough resources for proper customer care and a decent customer experience via email????

Dear Big Credit Card Corporation, I am so disappointed and sad, that I will just avoid answering your emails and will wait for your systems, if ever, to kick in and contact me properly. Meanwhile, please go and check around some best practices of customer experience via digital channels: this may help with your evident struggle.

Kind regards,

a customer

The random customer journey

When talking to customers and partners about digital channels, I rarely hear composed expressions like “Oh sure we have those, there is a strategy and a plan, and a complete map of the customer journey, and all is perfect, thanks”.

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In fact, the answers I get most of the times are more like “we have no clue on what to do, and our customer journey is completely random”. Which, you guys, is good news! A random customer journey means that your customers are still willing to spend time browsing through your available channels, despite sometimes being stuck somewhere, or getting the wrong answers. They believe in your company, and in the fact that at some point you will see that they are using all of the digital channels (for the engineers, more about naming convention in one of my latest posts), and improve their service following their choices.

Obviously, the target of any company is to drive the journey, and guide customers through it, by completely mastering their jumping from one channel to the other, while measuring impact and effectiveness with smart dashboards and stats. But in real life, there are very few customers at this stage, and also, you need to know that this stage is not final. It is just a step, in a cyclic process of optimization of the CX, that at some point will need to dynamically adapt, according to the many variables that move, in real time, within the company’s and the customers’ fast environments.

If the good news is you have a random journey, or call it a window of opportunity, the bad news is there is a lot of work to do, and usually it has little technology involved (although with the right technology the mapping is a lot easier and faster). Most of the work is, in fact, related to internal and external processes that have an impact on the journey, and to putting together all the departments that are not willing to talk to each other because, historically, they were never related. Today, all your communication-driven processes, internal and external to the company (I would dare to say all of them: is there any part of your business still without communication?) need to be integrated and consistent because this is the image reflected through an omni-channel customer care. So if you have offered multiple channel access to your customers in a random way and still have people browsing through it, it’s time to plan for a thoughtful and thorough assessment and re-design of your CX, before they change their mind and go to the competition’s random journey.

“He had found a Nutri-matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed, it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this, because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.” (Douglas Adams, The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

Setting CX expectations….the smart way.

I recently contacted my ISP to renegotiate my account plan (I’m sure it happens anywhere that new customer offers are way less expensive than your current plan, which, to a loyal customer, always looks kind of a fraud) and the agent over the phone stopped our conversation almost mid-sentence to clearly state that, if contacted by a third party for a CX survey, and if I was happy with the service, then the right score should be 9-10 out of 10 because (as he then pointed out) scoring a mere 8 would not give them their bonus.

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My first reaction to this, while smiling and thinking of how my mother used to tell me at school that only excellence would be rewarded (the 9-10 out of 10 score), was to assure the guy that I would put the highest number available, and that I would tell my kids that the same method would be applied to them, from now on [sadistic evil mother’s face ON].

Then I started thinking of my school background, and how often a very good score did not get me gifts and rewards because it was considered as my duty, while excellence on the other hand was perceived as “going beyond duty” and therefore much more chased, sought and finally appreciated. This set the right expectations for the professional and personal life beyond as an adult.

So did this guy really gave me an exceptional CX? Did he go beyond his duty during our call? He basically called me to offer a discount that would bring my plan to an average compared to the competition, said that this was the only thing he was allowed to do, which besides I gladly accepted, as am not keen on swapping provider every other month.

But an exceptional CX? A 9-10 out of 10 score? What would be my expectation for such a score? What if he had told me that the discount he was offering was beyond his duty and he was probably not even allowed but wanted to help anyway? Even while offering the same discount, I would have probably rated this CX as exceptional, but the way he presented the offer made it seem like normal operation, so nothing really _beyond his duty.

Do you see the problem here? It’s not the rating, it’s the question to the customer.

If we set the score on another perspective, things might change. What if instead of an exceptional CX we start measuring the customer effort score, i.e. how much effort did the customer have to put in solving the problem? I basically scheduled a callback on the website and the discount I wanted came right at my door. So if the question was “in a scale of 1 to 10, how easy it was getting what you wanted?” I would have definitely rated this a 10.

Sometimes we need to make sure our expectations are set right for our CX, otherwise we risk rating with wrong mindset and encourage a culture of highly rated mediocrity while on the other hand we strive to reach perfection when it’s already in front of our eyes.

Oh, and by the way, I gave the guy a 9. 🙂

anticipating customer needs, in the digital era

I know I promised to post only about remarkable CX but somehow it’s not happening and meanwhile other things (namely, life) are going on here.tesla

So this week it’s _the week_ of the much dreaded 10 years anniversary with the hubby, and I was browsing the internet looking for a gift in utter desperation, when suddenly I remembered reading an article months ago about a new app: Magic, aka the promise of a completely different, disruptive, mind-blowing customer experience. Desperation prompted me to sneak around their website and I was suddenly catapulted into a magic world, where a small minimal interaction such as a text, could trigger tons of events leading to a brand new tesla car delivered to your door. (for the hubby: no, I did not buy you a tesla car)

Is this what customers want? Or sometimes even having everything at the tip of your fingers is simply not enough?

Behavioural analysis models are tracking all our activity on the web and are able to predict our needs and wants with scaring accuracy, but sometimes a simple task as one that will just make your wishes come true, suddenly becomes a killer application, probably because it requires very minimal effort from the user.

So in the end I did not write to Magic (also because it’s a US-only service) but this helped me focus on the real meaning of customer care: to be able to serve and anticipate the needs and wants of the other so that they feel cared for and loved. Who wouldn’t want that?