Is it just me, or is this really poor sales?? A telecom service (?) example.

I have to ask, because I cannot believe what I am experiencing already weeks & weeks on end. Maybe I am missing something?

Of course this is a personal example, but I doubt it is exceptional (by the way, I learnt through some friends about another – far more strikingly surprising – example of continued poor customer care, but I need to get some of the facts straight before commenting). It looks like some companies forgot about the basics of traditional (‘1.0’) communication even before moving to 2.0 communications… Quite intriguing.

NB: Here I will just comment from the point of view of a customer (though, of course, many of the questions pointed out will be influenced by my professional experience).

The thing is simple: every week (or every other week, at the most) a contact center agent calls home on behalf of a well-known telecom service provider (let’s call them ДЖ.) in order to sell something and/or ask to shift service (i. e., to them). This could not be worse for ДЖ. if a competitor was calling pretending to be them in order to undermine their credibility: although we have repeatedly asked them NOT to call us again, they continue to do it all the time, over and over again.

OFF-TOPIC

By the way, these are some impressions I have developed over many years of interaction with CC representatives of telecom companies. You may not be surprised:

1) The CC Reps (all of them, shift-in, shift-out) do not really care a sh…

2) Neither cares whoever is operating the ‘service’ (ehem!)

3) There is no chance that any of them really understands the issues at hand. I cannot recall a single occasion when I could discuss anything really important for the service with a CC person (only with the engineers on the third level of support or beyond – by the way, there are some really smart folks down there).

4) The company is not, and will not be, taking any steps to fix that. It is probably debatable whether this is because of the pressure to reduce costs (that would not allow them to dedicate knowledgeable folks to service residential customers) or lack of a better approach to service that would allow telecom companies to leverage their scarce and valuable engineers or experts.

5) The company for which the service is operated does not have a clue of what the heck they are doing at the CC!

(I am more than interested & willing to admit all counterexamples here).

My guess is that they do know all this is happening, and this speaks volumes about the real importance attached to customer care by the companies when compared to ‘the real stuff’: of course it is far more important to keep costs low by using unqualified, high-attrition, non value-adding personnel than really having a meaningful interaction with the prospect or customer. Now, the same companies are more than willing to pay pretty decent salaries to community managers, apparently not realizing that the corporate image needs to be consistent across all channels in order to be credible.

But this is not the subject now – again, a digression! (But you are nevertheless welcome to comment, of course!)

I came up with a few thoughts & questions on this particular case:

  • First, it is really a shame that service providers do NOT analyze and get actionable feedback from conversations with customers. So, you are told by the IVR machine that conversations may be recorded, say, ‘to ensure the quality of service’ or something to that effect, but the reality seems to suggest that this is probably more a way to intimidate the CC Reps (so they avoid all malpractices and violations of professional codes) and/or a legal caveat, and that nothing ever gets really done.
  • Are companies dropping attention on traditional (‘1.0’) communications and focusing only on their Facebook pages, forums, Twitter accounts, blogs…? If 1.0 communication is not relevant anymore, what about dropping it altogether? That would (a) Save money (b) Eliminate inconsistencies (c) Increase chances of engaging frustrated prospects
  • Of course (well, should it necessarily be so? Refer to the off-topic above, and the note below), the CC Rep has no option but to stick to the script (*) (s)he is given, but there are some questions:
  1. Does nobody ever review the results of the calls? Certainly there is a track saying that my number has been contacted (literally) dozens of times, you have the data on the agent, dates & times, duration… Why pester, for God’s sake? If they still want to keep trying, should not they test at least a different approach? What about segmenting targets based on attempts made, as well? Is anybody tracking the costs per customer incurred? [1]
  2. Has the outsourcer of the CC service figured out a way to cheat the telecom company while theoretically sticking to the terms of the contract and SLA? [2]
  3. Are there some perverse, ill-crafted incentives in the compensation scheme and/or SLA? [3]
  4. Are they missing the tools to analyze automatically the recorded calls and figure out key words indicating deep dissatisfaction?? (a bit difficult to believe, but… )
  5. Do companies believe that if you are not a customer yet – then your dissatisfaction does not count? (How do they then think you are ever going to become one, for God’s sake?!). The customer status comes and goes, mind you!
  6. Maybe companies need an independent, real-time tool analyzing customer sentiment while on the phone – also based on voice pitch & intonation. It seems that technology has some challenges – see it here, for instance… I think you can at least DETECT issues, count events – and then go do some sampling and investigation. Do companies NOT realize that you can definitely burn a prospect in a matter of SECONDS??
  7. If companies believe that channels are isolated (whih I doubt), they are deeply wrong. Your communication has to be coherent; the guy in charge of customer satisfaction needs to be closely attuned to corporate communication (and the other way round). Otherwise, for instance, real CC experiences of customers will leak and do leak) into the web, Facebook pages, forums, etc. People, by the way, increasingly tend to spend way more time there than on the phone with companies (or, well, with anybody). A company has to have a (ONE) personality… not many (this is weird, isn’t it?).

Certainly, customer contact center technologies, management & operations are a fairly mature industry, and so is business intelligence. As companies, we have now all kinds of possibilities at our disposal (including virtually unlimited disk space and brute force processing capabilities [4]) and yet, as customers, we are anything but impressed by the results. What is happening here?

Some ideas for later consideration:

0.- All information collected by all company-managed channels (web pages, company forums, chat, call center) has to be used and exploited. Currently there is no technical restriction forcing us to choose or sample. Not at certain levels, at least. Not at the CC level, for sure. Do I own and manage all information, or is the outsourcer ‘preprocessing’ it without my full understanding of the procedures?

1.- As a company, I would need to have some tool conducting a preliminary, basic analysis of ALL contacts with customers (and, maybe, independently of the outsourcer), filtering & classifying them based on potential insight. I may have to record all conversations and create transcripts for them, and then use text-processing capabilities (these I can already use in email, chat, web pages, etc.)

2.- Then, I need to have some customer care experts look (at least) into the most meaningful, information-rich ones. I have to make sure that all insight gained is acted on. I need to have metrics on that, consolidated data, the possibility of auditing EVERY SINGLE contact and tracking actions on them.

3.- Maybe our algorithms are working poorly, are not dependable. Should we conduct some audits of data and analyses by human experts in order to check if we reach similar conclusions?

4.- Some specific, targeted actions on concrete individuals may take as a long way towards improving customer satisfaction, not only on the specific customer, but also with other prospects: a real example is far more effective than all quality certificates, public commitments to quality, etc. Maybe we have to pick up a number of customers of different profiles, in different places, and make sure that we fix ALL their outstanding issues with us. There are some potential benefits:

  • We may gain a lot of insight into both client needs and wishes and our internal operations and their shortcomings (especially where different areas would need to figure out new ways to cooperate)
  • We may generate some good reactions in the social media
  • We may come up with a better understanding of the cost of doing business, improvements in the way we conduct relationships, ideas for automating actions known to work, etc.
  • We may realize that we are missing information and that we need to put in place additional measures to capture it.
  • We may also encounter some hard nuts to crack. Maybe there are a number of things where we cannot fix the problem. This may end up being a communication/education issue (or opportunity). BUT IF YOU KNOW, YOU ALREADY MADE PROGRESS.

5.- Customer satisfaction is neither a vertical or horizontal process, but maybe something to be seen as a mesh. Any area of the company may be involved in creating or destroying customer satisfaction. If a new platform deployment for voice over IP or rich multimedia delivery is creating issues, or making customer migration tricky, customer care needs to know. What is more, the customer satisfaction responsible needs to be aware IN ADVANCE of potential risks. Are the organizations processes taking care of that? Probably, not well enough – this is an interfacing issue, after all.

Similarly, if there are issues with charges, discounts, packages, offerings… not being properly applied, if collections is having issues, if we are applying changes of any kind (albeit for regulatory reasons – not my fault!), we have to know… Of course this may mean that the organization requires some changes, in order to have properly allocated accountability, create incentives for cooperation, make sure that the necessary information is timely shared, etc.

6.- What is preventing the organization from making sure that ALL people contacting a customer and/or dealing with his issues share the information and simply behave in a way as if it were JUST ONE person doing the work over shifts & relays? (I do not think it is me: it seems to happen to everybody, regardless of market & operator). Is it somehow related to responsibility allocation and traceability of actions in the contact center?

7.- Social media (and any other media not under the control of the organization) is another huge area of concern. There are all reasons why service companies should devote at least as much attention to them as the best in class worldwide (e. g., this list – but there may be others). Starbucks, Real Madrid, Zappos, Coca-Cola, Gatorade and others provide beautiful insights [5]. Also Movistar is starting to do some good things in terms of customer care in social media. Tools such as Swotti can help us a lot (with, of course, continuing work in preparing the categories, identifying key words… and lots of tracking) in figuring out what does our reputation look like out there…

In summary, we need to put a deliberate, conscious effort in place to KNOW what is being said, what issues are there, what measures we should adopt… and then, of course, take them and track results in a systematic way.

By the way, if our communication is better and customers perceive that we care, no matter if the service is equally bad from a technical point of view (network coverage, QoS – call drops, network congestion, etc.), they will be happier (this is perfectly and soundly human, mind you).

7.- By the way, we need to leverage experiences of our colleagues in other markets. Have others come across similar issues and solved them? What measures have they put in place, and how did they work out?

8.- Definitely, the client organization needs to know what is going in the CC. One of the issues with outsourced services (especially if they seem to be running well) is that, in the long run, it is difficult for the client organization not to ‘relax’ and, as a result, take distance from operations (the result is that you do not understand them as deeply as you used to). How to deal with that is an interesting issue (initially, concerns used to revolve around the possibility that the outsourcer should hid information from the client or not facilitate service transitions).

9.- I believe that all the tools are there. I suspect that service providers are well aware of what is going on. I think there are conscious decisions behind what we experience… but it is not politically correct to explain it :(.

NOTES:

(*) Scripts in call centers direct the activity of agents in order to ensure that they do what they are suppoosed to do, ask the right questions depending on the situation, etc. Of course, the lower the qualification, skills and business acumen of agent, the more important they become. But, mind you, Zappos does not use them!

[1] Well, maybe the company is really clever and has some insight into customer behavior according to which, in a high percentage of cases, people treated that way do not really care, and such a practice does not negatively impact their chances of becoming a customer. Although I personally have difficulties understanding this, hey, there might be some deeply scientific, in-depth analyses justifying such practice: a case where the point of view of a particular customer may have to be obviated.

In any case: let us imagine that the service contract is based on some sort of flat rate. Even in that case the calls made to a specific prospect imply a cost that should be allocated to (the effort made targeting) him: this goes to your SAC. And performance (e. g., number of prospects converted) also reflects that number. So, hey, maybe the prospect base is already squeezed, and the service does not really make sense…

[2] Imagine that the compensation is (at least, partially) based on number of calls made. Making many unproductive calls may be attractive for the operator of the CC (little time spent on the phone = more calls), unless the client company has a decent method for analyzing data and making sure that targets make sense.

[3] This is, by the way, one of my favorite topics: the real core on running organizations, if you think carefully about it. Creating a suitable incentive is not just a really difficult thing to do properly: it is, above all, an extremely tricky thing to monitor, analyze, measure and reformulate. It is, in very many cases, counterproductive – but we know that they are the key for human performance, so we keep trying. Maybe an idea to launch a series of entries based on practical cases – more fun and useful than any theory!

[4] Here ‘brute force’ simple means automated processing, without human supervision or interpretation of results. I do believe that, no matter how many semantic analyses your AI engine conducts, you better have some smart humans sampling conversations and digging into them (if only to improve the engine’s set of rules)

[5] True, some of them are love marks, so, of course, the relationship with their customers is not comparable, and delivering a pure service is a different thing. Still, there are many practices that are applicable.