Gone in 90 Days (or Less): How Bad Contact Centers Drive Away Your Customers

With the focus on revenue and improving customer experiences, the very notion of the role of the contact center and what it is designed to do has changed dramatically.


It’s not about delivering customer service or saving the company money. It’s about protecting and growing assets–your customers. The growth of these assets is measured in lifetime value.


(Note: this article by Avaya Vice-President and General Manager for Contact Centers, Mark De La Vega, is an excerpt from the coming 200-page book: Managing the Customer Experience: How to Maximize the Lifetime Value of Your Most Precious Asset. Get your free copy by signing up for the Thursday, Aug 1 webinar, “Five Essential Ways to Boost Your Customer’s Experience.”


The contact center is an important participant throughout the customer journey. It is involved from the time a customer researches, selects, and buys a product or service until the customer receives it, begins using it, and requests support. Throughout the journey, the contact center pursues customer experience objectives such as retention, loyalty, and advocacy–and ultimately, customer lifetime value (CLV). This pursuit elevates its role in the business.

No step in the customer journey is as important as onboarding with regard to growing and protecting assets in both the short and long term. Though the onboarding process varies by company, product, and customer, it typically refers to the first 90 to 120 days of the ownership cycle.

During this time, the customer gets acquainted with the product or service as well as the organization. At the same time, the organization gets acquainted with the customer. As customers begin to become acclimated to the product or service and organization, questions concerning setup, billing, returns, and operation are common. (See Figure 2.3.)

Typically speaking, by the end of the initial 90- to 120-day period, customer profitability and CLV have been set in stone.

This is because the customer has experienced what it is like to be a customer of the company brand, has formed perceptions, and has made the decision either to continue or discontinue the relationship with the organization. The likelihood of defection is also highest: On average, 10 to 20 percent of customers leave during this critical bonding period. It is this onboarding phase that affects both the short- and long-term revenue stream of the business and ultimately CLV. The onboarding phase is so important in the customer journey because it represents an opportunity to solidify the emotional
bond between the customer and the company. When this bond is successfully made, it positively impacts retention, loyalty, advocacy, and CLV.

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Customers are more adept than ever at customer self-service and support. When they do require assistance from a live agent, their needs tend to be more complex. This requires highly trained agents with specialized skills.

The onboarding step of the customer journey is also an opportunity for the contact center to really add value to both the customer and the business. After all, the contact center is the primary custodian of onboarding, as it deals with new customers during the onboarding process every day.

That said, contact centers have traditionally focused more on improving internal efficiencies related to acquiring and supporting the customer than on the customer experience itself. However, customers want service, not business efficiency. They don’t necessarily care about the business–they care about themselves. And the future of the revenue stream they represent is in the hands of the customer service agents dealing with those customers. Their value to the organization, at this point, is one that can be grown or set in the right direction of growth depending upon how the contact center performs.

To this end, contact centers must become smarter. This begins by investing more–and more wisely–in contact center personnel. This may seem counterintuitive in light of the emergence of self-service options. After all, customers are more adept at helping themselves online or through integrated voice response systems. However, when they do require assistance from a live agent, their needs tend to be more complex. This requires highly trained agents with specialized skills.

The company can anticipate many of the typical customer inquiries during the onboarding phase based on experiences with other customers. Because of this predictability, the organization can proactively create satisfying and efficient customer experiences by being ready with both live customer support and self-service options such as videos and FAQs.

For example, the contact center can reach out to customers proactively, ensuring that they have answers to their questions before they even ask them. Proactive messages such as “Welcome. Register your product now” or “How to pay your bill” can be invaluable to customers who are unsure what to do, how to do it, and even who to ask. Even better, these proactive notifications don’t need to tie up valuable agent time. Instead, many of these tasks can be fully automated, enabling customers to obtain valuable information without incurring additional staffing costs.

Another example of how the contact center can assist during the onboarding step is by carefully matching the right resource to each specific customer inquiry the first time. To do this, it is critical to use information–such as customer segment, inquiry type, customer journey phase, and more– to achieve the best possible match between the customer and the resource facilitating them during the onboarding process.

Similarly, mining the information within the contact center to get a clear view of the customer experience during this critical step enables the organization to take rapid, effective action to address shortfalls in the organization’s performance which could impact the customer relationship.

The contact center plays a vital role in both delivering the customer experience and creating real business value through efficiency, revenue, and
growth. Balancing efficiency with customer satisfaction and assisting customers throughout the customer journey can result in an improved customer experience–and an improved CLV.

Mark De La Vega is Vice President and General Manager of Avaya’s Worldwide Contact Center Business and is responsible for Avaya’s contact center technology direction, driving innovation in customer care technology and accelerating Avaya’s endeavors in the contact center as a service (CCaaS) cloud delivery model.


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Brand-loyal to a fault: Brainwashing or persistently positive customer experience?

I was on a call the other day when my husband, a once avid runner looking to get started again, texted me a picture from the shoe store. He had dropped in to browse running shoes from his favorite manufacturer and wanted my opinion on the style and color of one particular pair.

Now, I’m no running shoe snob, but these were the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen. They just screamed “NOTICE ME!!!”—not my husband’s style at all. Trying to be positive, I texted back that they were okay, but that he might want to consider another shoe or even another brand. Interestingly, he declined and said he would wait for his favorite manufacturer to issue another new shoe—he has bought the same brand for years and wouldn’t even consider another one.

That got me thinking about brand loyalty. Was my husband just being stubborn, or did he really feel he had no other option beyond his favorite brand? That, in turn, got me thinking about the customer journey, customer lifetime value (CLV) and where a company can capture a customer’s interest—and loyalty—across that journey (yes, I am a geek for this stuff!). My husband has bought the same brand of shoe for years. When he originally selected this brand, like many others who shop for new running shoes—or any other product—he typically checked out reviews in the running magazines, did online research to see what other runners were saying, and talked to his running buddies (in person, by phone and through social media). Only after all that, did he finally go to the store to actually look at and try on any shoes of interest.

Think about all those opportunities for the manufacturer to make an impression on a potential customer—advertisements and reviews in running magazines, social media presence, information and reviews on its website, other marketing outreach such as e-mails, the contact center (should he have questions or a customer service issue), and in-store promotions and interactions with sales associates. For some of those interactions, like my husband’s discussions with his running buddies and visits to other forum sites, the company can only be an indirect influence at best. But all the others are opportunities to directly interact with a possible customer to create and reinforce a favorable impression—and to build on established brand loyalty.

Brand-loyal to a fault: Brainwashing or persistently positive customer experience?

Given all those opportunities, I began to wonder what communications tools that shoe manufacturer uses to engage its customers and enhance their experience. Does it use something like Avaya Customer Engagement solutions, for example, which enable our clients to deliver a true omnichannel experience by supporting all types of customer interactions more efficiently and having the right resources, with the right tools ready to service consumers? Does the company contact its customers when it’s time for a new pair of shoes based on its knowledge of their running goals to grow CLV? Whether it’s enriching the customer experience at the point of interaction, orchestrating interactions between channels and resources, or optimizing engagement by capturing, analyzing and applying vital intelligence about customers and interactions, the technology is available today to take customer engagement and the customer experience to entirely new levels.

Brainwashing? I don’t think so. Informed and educated customers who are treated well and consistently are given products of sufficient quality for a reasonable price will gravitate toward and stick with a brand. Even a brand that every once in awhile lays a big fat goose egg (like a shoe that shouts “NOTICE ME!!!”) can recover quickly by having established, and by persistently reinforcing, the qualities that lead to brand loyalty. Customer engagement technologies can play a big role in that process.

Are your customers brand-loyal to a fault? Have you walked in your customers’ shoes to know the experiences they get and if that differs from what they want? How does your company build and maintain customer loyalty? I’d love to hear from you.

In the Digital Economy, the Human Touch Still Matters

According to Gartner, by year-end 2018, a customer digital assistant will recognize individuals by face and voice across channels and partners. Gartner predicts that the last mile for multichannel and exceptional customer experiences will mimic human conversations, with both listening and speaking, a sense of history, in-the-moment context, and the ability to respond, add to, and continue with a thought or purpose at multiple occasions and places over time.

The digital era has made it possible for many customer service functions to be automated, alluding to a possible future where customer service representatives could be replaced by robots. However, the human touch still has incredible value to the service experience. Customer service representatives (CSRs) have the deepest insight into customer likes and dislikes and are most likely the closest to the ground when it comes to customer sentiments—a variable that cannot be measured by robots. This is where companies need to move service reps from mere dispensing of services to customer engagement.

Today, communications must be centered on improving human connections, delighting customers, and energizing employees. This context-aware communication and collaboration is known as engagement—the active connection between team members and customers to the information, experts, and decision-makers they need to complete the task at hand. As the pace of business accelerates in the digital economy, employees need to have critical information at their fingertips at all times—making engagement experience more crucial than ever.

The true value of engagement is only realized when meaningful, communications-empowered connections among individuals, teams, contacts, and customers are formed. Supporting participation across time and space on any device, engagement will lead to better business outcomes; more productivity, loyalty, enthusiasm, customer satisfaction, and customer advocacy.

It’s no secret that loyal, returning customers have a higher customer lifetime value (CLV) than new ones. They spend more money and are more likely to recommend businesses to their friends and across social media. According to a SumAll survey, businesses with 40% repeat customers generated nearly 50% more revenue than similar businesses with only 10% percent repeat customers. And every time customers return, they become more valuable to the business.

Engaging Customers in the Digital Era

To drive engagement, businesses need simple, human-centric communication and collaboration built deep into business processes. Tight business application/process integration ensures customer data is always updated and CSRs have the latest knowledge about their customers—allowing businesses to provide more personalized customer service standards.

To truly empower the CSRs of the future, companies can, and need to, integrate all of their customer channels—web site, mobile apps, call centers, brick and mortar locations—to create a seamless experience, regardless of how the customer moves through the system. Whether the customers are on your web site, app, or service line, customers today expect brands to instantly recognize who they are, what they purchased, and where else they have engaged with the brand. An integrated service approach will not only eliminate time wasted gathering data you already have, it will also allow the rep to immediately focus on the customer’s needs, which directly impacts customer experience.

With Gartner predicting that 90% of companies will compete almost entirely on the basis of customer experience in 2016, there is no room for siloed business practices and protocols that get in the way of good customer service.

In a digital economy, human interactions will continue to play a crucial role in customer retention. CSRs need to be aided with the right tools and intelligence to deliver even more superior customer service that doesn’t just solve customer issues but also anticipates company needs to surge ahead of the competition.

Customer Lifetime Value: The End Goal Guiding Your Digital Transformation

What percent of companies consider customer lifetime value (CLV) as a measure of business performance?

A. < 40%
B. 41% – 60%
C. 61% – 80%
D. >81%

Answer: C. A recent Frost and Sullivan report shows that 70 percent of companies surveyed use CLV, which is the present value of all the future cash flow attributed to a customer relationship. Of these companies, 67 percent consider it to be an essential measure of their business strategy. If you want to learn more about how to improve customer lifetime value in your company, read on…

The strategic value of service reps

Customer service representatives know more about your customers than anyone else, so why aren’t you harnessing this treasure trove of data?

It’s no secret that loyal, returning customers have a higher customer lifetime value (CLV) than new ones. They spend more money, are more likely to sing your praises to their friends and across social media, and, if you have enough of them, they can help you weather even the most brutal economic storm.  According to a SumAll survey, businesses with 40 percent repeat customers generated nearly 50 percent more revenue than similar businesses with only 10 percent repeat customers. And every time they return, they become more valuable to the business and, in turn, increase their projected CLV. A customer who has only made a single purchase has a 27 percent chance of returning, while someone who’s made three purchases has a 54 percent chance of coming back.

One of the best ways to increase CLV is by providing customers with a more seamless, communication experience, driven by content optimization capabilities that focus on connecting the customer to the right channel at the right time. “Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to create a brand advocate or a raving-mad critic,” says David Rodnitzky, CEO of 3Q Digital, a Harte Hanks company.

That includes human interactions, says Lauren Edvalson, CEO at Edvalson Marketing in Sacramento, a marketing consulting firm.. While some companies think digital transformation means eliminating the need for customer service reps (CSRs), you have to first consider what your customers want.  “We would never eliminate our CSRs,” she says, noting that many customers prefer to interact with a live person, especially when dealing with complicated issues. “They are incredibly valuable to the service experience, and they know better than anyone what customers like and don’t like about the company.”

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CSRs can no longer operate as isolated entities within the company. Digital transformation means companies can, and need to, integrate all of their customer channels–website, mobile apps, call centers, brick and mortar locations – to create a seamless experience, regardless of how the customer moves through the system. CSR’s play a vital role in this process – both in recognizing customers as they enter the system, and capturing valuable data about their experience to shape future customer engagements. But none of that can happen if the rep doesn’t have access to the right information.

No matter how charming your reps are, if the customer has to rattle off their name, billing address, email, and credit card number before they can even ask a question, you’ve already lost the opportunity to wow them. Customers today expect to be recognized instantly, whether they are on your website, app, or service line. To do that reps need to be able to know who they are, what they purchased, and where else they have engaged with the brand before picking up the phone. This integrated service experience not only eliminates time wasted gathering data you already have, it allows the rep to immediately focus on the customer’s needs, which directly impacts their experience.

Don’t be a fool

Providing great service is the first half of the equation. Companies also need to make sure they understand and leverage the vast amount of data these services reps are gathering. From trending complaints, to surges in product requests, and even customer demographics, the feedback CSRs get should directly inform how you connect with and better meet your customer needs. “When a customer visits your site, your online analytics tool follows their every move,” says Rodnitzky. Combining this data with the feedback collected through the call center, you can reverse-engineer why customers contact you. “All of this information can be mined to create additional FAQs and resources to resolve future customer needs.”

You can also use the data to inform communication and marketing efforts, Edvalson says. She uses center data to make media buying decisions and to determine how best to engage with customers, i.e. to send an email scheduling a system tune-up, or a phone call to address a repair problem.  “Understanding their needs helps us decide the best way to communicate with them.”

Edvalson admits that figuring out how to use all of this data to better engage with customers has been difficult but absolutely worth the effort. “As we grew we realized that we are capturing so much information about our customers through our service centers,” she says. “We’d be fools not do something with it to make our company better.”