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. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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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? 🙂

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.

visualIVR

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)