You Know Me So Well…It Creeps Me Out

Today’s guest blogger is someone you’ve heard from previously here on my blog. Yvonne Ba provides the marketing force behind some of Avaya’s leading Customer Experience Management and Emerging Products & Technology portfolios. In this role Yvonne provides the marketing strategy, awareness, sales enablement and engagement for next generation innovations and contact center capabilities. She has over 15 years experience in strategy, sales and marketing, a BA in International Business from the University of California at Davis, and an MBA from Santa Clara University.

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We talk a lot about creating more intimate relationships with customers, but can the ideal be carried too far? Being more personal is not always better. During a recent panel session, an executive recounted a story about an automated reminder program that backfired. Customers receiving the proactive outbound calls didn’t like it when the IVR app called them by their first names.

That started me thinking about the marriage of predictive analytics and proactive outreach strategies. Many companies are trying to do more right than wrong with personalization. But can predictive analytics predict when the personal touch will leave customers feeling uneasy — or worse? Target’s recent experience is just one case of many where companies potentially create a negative customer experience by trying to create a positive one.

Geek blogger Richard Darell calls it a “creepy sales strategy” and warns consumers to be aware of “customer profiling.” After years of seeing “Titles you may also like” when shopping online, personalization finally has crossed the line for him.

Darell is not alone. Predictive analytics have crossed that line for many consumers, according to an infographic by barcode labeling company Camcode. Their research found, for example, that 76% of consumers are “bothered” that others pay less for the same products.

If targeted couponing bothers us, it should come as no surprise that some forms of intimacy could be downright intimidating or “creepy,” even if your intentions are pure. You may view outbound IVR personalization as a means to create a warmer, more valued relationship, but your customers may see it as a cold machine knowing too much about them. It’s tricky to find the right strategy!

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that consumers appreciate more intimacy when they’ve opted in. Consumers readily divulge personal facts in return for discounts, exclusive sales events, or advance product information. The special treatment that comes with a closer relationship includes demonstrating that you know and understand the customer. There is trust. Leveraging the right outbound strategy can bring businesses huge success!

It’s difficult to strike a healthy balance of personalized and anonymous outbound interaction. Anonymity has a place in this new world of customer experience management. In the case of collections or late payment reminders, for example, an automated reminder may be a lot less embarrassing and emotional if it doesn’t use the customer’s name.

What recent experiences in customer service have creeped you out? Use the comment section below to share your thoughts on how to strike the right balance.

If you’re interested in learning more, please join us next week – Tuesday, February 12th at noon Eastern – for an informational webinar, presented by Avaya subject matter expert, Chuck Neumann: Increasing Contact Center Revenues and Profitability with Outbound Communications. This webinar will be presented by Avaya subject matter expert, Chuck Neumann, who has extensive experience working with customers to design outbound communications strategies to fit the needs of businesses of all different sizes and shapes around the globe.

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How to Make Your Self-Service Experience More Customer-Friendly

This post concludes my recap of a three-part podcast series on self-service design with Judi Halperin, principal consultant in speech engineering at Avaya. In two previous posts, I related Judi’s observations on designing a user-centric and user-friendly self-service experience and on capturing the benefits of self-service while providing a superior experience. In this installment, she talks about the role of language in designing more natural, or rather, more human self-service experiences.

Click here to listen to the full conversation.

What does “more customer-friendly” really mean? First and foremost among guiding design principles is to minimize your customers’ effort. For instance, if we’re talking about the caller experience, customer effort could refer to how much information your callers have to retain and use in order to have a self-service interaction, or how much information they have to provide just to get started.

Today though, let’s focus on a commonly broken rule. When you call a company for customer support and the IVR offers you 10 menu items, by the time you get to the last item, can you remember what the first one was? Remember that callers have to keep all of the options in their heads, a much more difficult task over the phone than on a website, a mobile app or via webchat.

So how can you make it a better experience for your customers? First, do some analysis and prioritize options based on popularity. A similar principle applies in website, mobile app and webchat design–you want to keep your most popular choices above the fold. At the same time, limit the options that your customers have to remember: generally five to seven items per menu as a guide. Also, allow your callers to start talking as soon as they hear the option that interests them.

Stay mindful of the recency rule. Again, most people tend to remember best what they heard last. It may be useful for the self-service system to offer a prompt right before the customer is asked to respond. This can help guide your customers to make the right response needed to serve their needs.

It’s also important to factor in the role of language in self-service design. For instance, consider implementing yes or no questions where it makes sense, as they are much easier interactions for callers. Also, if universal commands such as “agent” are used, be consistent; don’t substitute “operator” or some other alternative in a later menu.

Prompt structure matters too. For example, leading with “Which could I help you with?” implies that a list of options will follow. This type of prompt tends to be more straightforward to customers than the more open-ended “What can I help you with.”

Regarding speech recognition, the software-based recognizer can only listen for items that are in its set of established grammars and is predisposed to assume that the caller is going to say something it expects to hear. Also, a recognizer can get only so much information from a person’s voice, so it is important to provide acoustically different options that the recognizer can clearly distinguish between. Avoid such combinations as the classic (well, classic in the world of self-service design) “repeat” and “delete,” which differ only by a consonant sound.

Self-service systems can be powerful tools for businesses. Designing a system with customer-centric, natural language principles can go a long way toward the success of your self-service experience. Do you have some thoughts to share on self-service design? If so, we’d love to hear them.

Are You Missing Customer Expectations? Probably!

We all know that consumers are more demanding and more powerful than ever before. Consumers are spoiled for choice, with more information and a stronger, wider-reaching voice in the marketplace.

But have you ever stopped to consider how well organizations are coping with these demands? No? Well, here at Avaya we wanted to know the answer, so we commissioned a global research study* and asked consumers and companies from around the globe. The simple answer: Not very well!

We have produced the results of the study on a simple, interactive hub, where you can also learn more about how to solve for customer engagement with the consumer in mind. Let me take a moment to give you a few highlights from that research:

Consumer Expectations are High

The research showed that 70% of consumers expect unique treatment, with offers tailored to their specific requirements, while 92% expect organizations to be proactive in their engagement with them. Perhaps most significant of all, 87% of consumers surveyed said they would rather spend money with organizations that are easy to do business with than those that aren’t.

Organizations are Failing to Deliver

Although customer expectations are high, 83% of organizations surveyed said they could not deliver all the requirements for completely blended customer experience automatically and in real time. And–despite its importance with consumers–only 48% of organizations have initiatives in place to reduce overall customer effort. Perhaps more worrying, only 31% of managers believe customer effort significantly impacts spending, customer satisfaction and retention–a significant gap when compared with customer expectations.

It’s Not Easy!

There is no doubt that organizations are beginning to recognize the importance of the customer experience. However, a staggering 82% of organizations surveyed claimed to have CEM initiatives that failed in the last three years, with 66% of those claiming to have wasted money because of their efforts. Failure to modify processes and lack of employee buy-in were cited as the primary culprits (31%), followed closely by being misaligned to customer preferences (30%).

Persevere–The Benefits Are Worth It

For organizations that persevered, their efforts were rewarded. 80% of organizations claiming significant profit increases said they had a CEM program in place. Furthermore, organizations claimed higher levels of customer satisfaction, loyalty, retention and repeat purchasing than those without a program.

Where Does the Contact Center Fit?

For the skeptics out there questioning the future of the contact center, the contact center was seen as a key contributor to the success of an organization’s Customer Experience Management program. The research highlights that more companies who have enjoyed significant profit increases (54%) say the role of the contact center is extremely important to CEM program success, compared to those whose profits have stayed the same (17%) or decreased (10%).

Want to know more? Don’t miss this opportunity to look at this research in more detail by accessing the new Avaya Interactive Hub.

*Conducted by Dynamic Markets, commissioned by Avaya, 2014

The Role of Proactive Customer Engagement is Changing… Are You?

If you’ve worked in the contact center world over the past few decades, you’ve undoubtedly seen firsthand the evolution of how customers engage with organizations–from voice calls to IVR to email, text, webchat, video and more. You may also have witnessed that contact centers typically saw division of labor into inbound versus outbound. Even contact center technologies were broken down into inbound and outbound solutions.

As customers increasingly expect an omnichannel experience, how can organizations continue to evolve their outbound operations along with their inbound capabilities? What role does outbound or, as we like to call it, proactive customer engagement, play in delivering on business needs and outcomes?

To address these questions, I sat down for 7 rounds with David C. Martin, Managing Principal in Avaya Professional Services and Portfolio Leader for Automated Contact Center solutions, to get his expert thoughts on the role proactive engagement plays in the changing world of customer engagement.

LB: What are the key economic benefits that outbound dialing and proactive communications can provide to an organization?

DCM: As with most automated solutions, economic benefits can be found in cost containment and revenue generation. But, with today’s outbound solutions seamlessly integrating across the contact center to care for the holistic customer relationship, proactive communications drive customer satisfaction and ongoing revenue streams. Organizations need to be leveraging these solutions across long-term strategies made up of multiple integrated touch points versus one-time discrete contacts.

LB: That’s a great point, David. Regarding your comment on how being proactive drives ongoing CSAT and revenue streams, we did a study that showed 92 percent of customers expect advanced notification, and that 88 percent would rather spend money with companies that made it easy to do business with them.

You marry that together, and it’s clear that companies that are proactive in using customer data to offer up relevant new offers and service updates are more likely to capitalize on cross-sell opportunities and retain customers going forward. My next question is, how is the emergence of multimedia channels (SMS, live chat, automated chat, email) helping to drive cost, efficiency, CSAT or revenue up or down?

DCM: The power of multimedia channels is customer empowerment. We all carry devices that allow us as customers to choose how we want to interact and when. Where a customer is at [in] time and what they’re doing can affect whether they want to interact with the organization. Customer engagement drives the tone and success of the proactive communication.

Less-intrusive communication channels, like email and SMS, can be more effective in engaging the customer when their attention is somewhere else and when they want to control their responsiveness to the outbound communication. But, on the same note, a customer’s level of urgency may dictate their need to have instant response from a live agent, possibly using chat, video, or even voice. Customer empowerment is closely aligned with customer satisfaction.

LB: What are some key infrastructure considerations that organizations should be aware of when building their proactive communication strategy?

DCM: The technology’s ability to seamlessly integrate with internal and external endpoints such as point-of-sale, Web and mobile applications, loyalty programs, etc., whether internal or 3rd party, is key. Disparate data sources that become obsolete or blind to other real-time customer interactions shatters any level of customer confidence in that outbound communication. Remember that the customer doesn’t typically delineate between inbound and outbound, as it is all part of their engagement with the organization.

LB: What are some key process considerations that organizations should really be aware of when building their proactive communication strategy?

DCM: Organizations should consider the consistency of data across the contact center and throughout the enterprise. Customers see one organization that they are interacting with, but [oftentimes], the organization itself is disjointed in terms of sharing information across the enterprise. This segmentation undermines consistent management of customer data. While inbound customer interaction is driven by the customer, proactive communication is driven by the data it’s supplied. Poor data sets the foundation for poor outreach.

LB: What are some key organizational considerations to be aware of when building a proactive communication strategy?

DCM: Similar to ensuring processes for consistent data, the organization needs to build a consistent customer management strategy. The theme of enabling a seamless and complete customer journey should always be the primary focus. Even with what seems like a discrete activity such as collections, integrating all communication channels with consistent data will draw customers into recurring engagements.

Before reaching out to customers, organizations should leverage the data to understand such things as what is driving this proactive communication, what touch points has the customer had with the organization in the past, and on which channels that the customer prefers to be served.

LB: What can organizations do to make it easier for their outbound-focused agents to deliver the same quality of service as their inbound agents?

DCM: Training and access to reliable data. When an organization takes the lead in proactively engaging a customer, the organization has the responsibility to serve that customer intelligently. Agents must be trained to anticipate how the customer accepts the proactive engagement and to build a level of confidence with the customer, supported by authentic information, of course. With an integrated solution, the agents have access to this reliable data instead of legacy disparate databases.

LB: David, in your experience, what is a key takeaway organizations should consider when it comes to outbound dialing and proactive communications?

DCM: In today’s world of engagement, it is imperative for organizations to use accurate and timely data in driving proactive communications so as to ensure a level of customer confidence and satisfaction. Customers do not delineate between inbound and outbound communication. It’s all about seamless engagement with the organization when it comes to serving their needs and nurturing the relationship. When one of those interactions is supported by inaccurate or obsolete data, customer confidence and satisfaction is damaged.

Be sure to tune into our Feb 10 Get Smart customer webinar at 9AM PST | 12 noon EST on “The Economics of Proactive Engaging Customers”.