Contact Centers are NOT Cost Centers – They're Your Best Money Makers

The name of the customer service game used to be efficiency and costcutting. Not anymore. Today’s companies increasingly recognize that the chances they have to interact with and impress their customers are finite – and hence, must be maximized.
“You may only call us when you have a question or a renewal,” Jim Warren, a manager at Progressive Insurance, said during a webinar on Tuesday. “Or you may file an insurance claim once every 5-10 years. We need to be at the top of our game so that we can answer your question the first time you ask us.”
Other experts during the Avaya-sponsored webinar, ‘Is Your Customer Experience Strategy Wasting Your Money?” (watch it on-demand here) agreed that times had changed. 
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The Internet has transformed the customer journey, allowing consumers the ability to do copious homework.
That creates a “hidden sales cycle,” says Aberdeen Group analyst Omer Minkara. He estimates that 60 percent of a buyer’s research and decisions are made before he or she ever steps foot into a retail store or starts filling their digital shopping cart. That means companies “need to be on top of their game to address customers’ precise needs,” he says.
That need to manage the customer experience doesn’t end once a purchase is made. The first 90 days can make or break a customer relationship.
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And leaving your customers disgruntled can be dangerous. Social media gives customers “their own megaphone,” as moderator and customer care guru Jeanne Bliss put it. 
Bliss, who has been a chief customer officer at Land’s End, Microsoft, and three other large U.S. firms, recalls training call center operators in the mid-1980s, before there was software widely available to measure the average talk time per customer call and other efficiency statistics. “Back then, it was more about leaving customers with the memory that they had been taken care of,” she said.
After the introduction of software for tracking efficiency metrics, companies naturally focused on costcutting for many years. But the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of providing great customer care. Today, companies armed with business intelligence and analytical software can measure how better customer care can translate into more revenue. 
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Sometimes this revenue increase can occur in the short-run through cross-sells or upsells, says Minkara. 
According to Aberdeen’s research, companies judged to be best-in-class in terms of their CEM programs reap $300 million MORE in annual sales than laggard firms.
Sometimes, revenue boosts occur in the medium-term, the result of growth in the number of insurance policies that households have with Progressive or longer customer retention, says Warren.
For many companies, revenue boosts are the longer-term, inevitable result of investment in creating Customer Lifetime Value. Take Avaya, which created a database of all of the questions answered by its agents and connected it to automated chat software that allowed Web visitors to quickly find answers to their questions by themselves. prioritize based on business impact.JPG
This freed up its agents to answer trickier and more involved questions for customers, according to vice-president for customer experience management, Linda Dotts. That has helped Avaya raise its customer satisfaction by 13 percent and its Net Promoter Score (NPS) by 60 percent.

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Your First 90 Days with a Customer Will Make or *Break* Your Relationship

I remember when dating guides started taking a darker tone in the late 90s. First, there was “The Rules” to help desperate women boost their allure to men. Then there were the slew of tomes from self-proclaimed male ‘pick-up artists’ designed to seduce ladies using controversial techniques such as the “neg.” Reading these, you’d get the unfortunate impression that dating is all verbal warfare, disguised feelings – and heartbreak. 

Fortunately, no one’s arguing that building good customer relationships has to require the same sort of trickery. Most experts agree that it’s all about open communication, and treating your customers right – not ‘negging’ them. 

I didn’t say good customer relationships are easy, to build, however. First impressions count. With customers, the first 90 days are crucial to setting the tone. But if the relationship starts off right, that positive vibe can carry over for years or even decades.

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Source: Managing the Customer Experience e-book, July 2013

Building the infrastructure to deliver good customer experience from day 1 can be pricey. Or it can be cost-effective. It’s up to you whether or not it will break the bank. To avoid that fate, you can learn about some of the ROI-producing strategies and tactics by downloading our recently-published 200-page guidebook, Managing the Customer Experience, which I co-edited.

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You can also learn about thrifty-but-effective strategies and tactics by signing up for our coming Sept. 17 webinar: Is Your Customer Experience Strategy Wasting Your Money? 

Hosted by well-known customer service guru, Jeanne Bliss, the experts for this webinar include Omer Minkara, customer experience analyst with the Aberdeen Group; Jim Warren, a manager at Progressive Insurance helping to build Progressive’s next-generation contact center; and Linda Dotts, vice-president for contact center product management at Avaya.

Also, check out a recap of the first webinar in our series, entitled Five Essential Ways to Boost Your Customer Experience