Customer Support, How Can We Help You?

An endless number and combinations of technologies are available for organizations to use, woo and win  customers and then keep them happy. There is even a spate of emerging technologies – like Enterprise 2.0, that is going to be immensely valuable in this.

But, exactly how valuable?

Like I had discussed in one of my earlier posts(Click:The Corrotion of Competitive Advantage), all these technologies are available equally to all players. But, obviously the same technologies or combination of technologies produce different impacts on different organizations.

So the very crucial question we are back to is, given the same products, solutions and vendors, what really gives one company a higher return in value over another ?

To what extent can these technologies really value–add to you — be it in terms of costs, efficiency, TATs, Customer delight etc.?

Off-the-cuff, one could say it is largely influenced by

  • How foolproof your choice of technology is, given the context of your business, industry and organizational ecosystem (culture, technology etc.)
  • How well your organization is able to pick the right vendors
  • How well you are able to exploit vendors, their skills and align their delivery objectives to your own larger objectives.
  • And, of course, how well you are able to collaborate with vendors and internal stakeholders to drive results.

A few days ago, I realized that at the end of the day, the extent of success and efficacy of technology, solutions, projects, need not always be rooted in strategy and such macro level blah. For, you can have the most well thought-out strategically-crafted-to-the-last-detail technology implementation, and it can still all go up in a poof.

I think it boils down finally to one basic ingredient – The density of smart, involved people you have that are managing the details and delivery of each project.

A recent experience of mine re-enforced this very fundamental, yet incredibly crucial aspect that can make or break that elusive value you are looking for.

Let me explain.

Two years ago, I had taken a health insurance policy that is due for renewal end of this month.

As with most insurance players, this company seems to have adopted a plethora of technology to ensure service is dispensed to customers across multiple delivery channels. That would include mailers, emails, call centers, Text Messaging and Agents.

And so, as the date for the renewal of my health policy approached, all channels cranked up into action and I started receiving couriers, snail mails, emails…and phone calls.

The experience I went through seemed to be putting each channel to the test on the very fundamentals for which they were built to exist. Read on…

Call Centres – Ad-hoc Calling and Bad Coordination

While in the middle of a discussion at work on Thursday, a sweet voice on the phone told me about the due date and the renewal.

“Oh yes! Yeah. That’s right. But…OK, but…..err …” and finally when I could get a word in, I said” Can you give me a call this evening after 7? Not 7? Err…oh. No 10 am tomorrow is not good for me. How about Saturday? OK thanks!”

The sweet voice apparently forgot to call me on Saturday, and I had things to do, so the day just went by.

Then the barrage started. A pack of hounds was unleashed on me. I ran. I tried to hide. I even tried to turn off and hide my phone. But they just wouldn’t let up.

It started with 2 calls a day, then 4 and then yesterday I received 9 calls – every one of them timed badly. Not all their fault, but bad timing nonetheless, but the calls went something like this.

Teleagent: Hello sir, I am calling from EagerTechonlogyAdopter insurance company…

Me: Yes hi. Can we speak later please, I am in the middle of something….

I was not getting annoyed with the Insurer. Yet. Because all this time, I was only annoyed at my own inability to spare reasonable time to do what needed to be done.

But as the calls kept coming, I began noticing something else. There were no more sweet voices. The people who were calling me changed each time and the ‘quality’ of the caller began to dramatically fall. By that, I mean speaking style, diction and command over the language, phone etiquette, etc.

When I finally did manage to take the call yesterday evening, the quality of the agent had fallen so bad that he could hardly speak English and was generously peppering his sentences with Hindi. But I didn’t mind that. I had decided by then to go ahead with the renewal. And so we continued talking and the teleagent was taking details from me to make the renewal over the phone.

And then came the moment of hesitation and my interest in doing this renewal crumbled.

“Can I have your credit card number sar?”

Posed with such a question I was coming to terms with a risky proposition. Is it safe to give your credit card number over the phone? How do I know this person is actually calling from the insurance company? How do I know that even if he was employed with them, he wouldn’t misuse my card number?

I thanked the agent abruptly and ended the call. I decided that if I have to give such details I would rather call the number provided by the insurance company on their site or in the letter they had sent by courier.

Text Messages – Technology delivering confusion

Few minutes later I got an SMS alert from the same insurer. Here is the message

A stitch in time saves nine. Your health policy 999999 is due for renewal in 5 days Renew INSTANTLY, call now 18009ABC9999. Toll Free.

Great coincidence! Perfect timing!

But alas, the message that was sent to me came to my GSM phone. And it is common knowledge GSM phones don’t support 1800 numbers. I didn’t have any MTNL or BSNL numbers to rush to. So that was a wasted message.

I let that moment of committing to a business go by because I thought that I wouldn’t be able to call from my GSM phone.

But guess what? I was wrong.

Two days later in a fit of desperation, I just irrationaly called the 1800 number from my GSM phone, and surprise of all surprises, it did go through!

The immediate impulse of action that the message prompted me to could have been exploited with a content worded thus

A stitch in time saves nine. Your health policy 999999 is due for renewal in 5 days Renew INSTANTLY, call  18009ABC9999. Now you can call from your GSM phone too! Toll Free.

The Means or The End?

So here is the story of an insurance company that has had its retail customer retention strategy seemingly well defined, and top of the line technology aligned to support it, but both obviously falling apart at some points where there is human participation.

An immediate fix to prevent these operational flaws could be the following.
But there is a limit to how detailed you can get with micro managing your processes. The more micro you get in defining your process, the more zombies you will create.

Smart People: Not Always An HR Issue

The system or process must not absolve the doers of the opportunity or their responsibility to think. In fact it should facilitate it. When that happens, the zombies transform into smart people. The objectives of the thinkers will then be less of a challenge to align with the objectives of the doers.

If you are not going to produce high number of smart people among the doers, then the mission of the strategists is never aligned to the mission of the doers, no matter how well your process is designed. You can talk endlessly of process and establishing controls and approvals and reviews, but at the end of the day, if the doers are not going single-mindedly towards your mission, then, well, that is a problem.

Take the content of the SMS. There is only an extent to which technology adoption, or managing business processes can do. It cannot tell you what content to put in the Text message. Technology adoption is not going to give you great returns if the content in your SMS message is misleading or false.  If the content is crafted with the fundamental objectives firmly in mind, chances are that it will more often than not, produce desireable results.

So merely having all your delivery channels fired up and hounding your customers from multiple channels and hope technology will get you great business, is not going to cut it.

The corporate level complicated strategic blah needs to be broken into simple english, minimal objectives seep down and flow to each of the doers to work towards. They have to internalize it and direct all effort and energy into achieving that. In our example just a simple two pronged objective can be the driving force for all activities of the doers:

  1. Ensure customer is provided consistent, delightful service
  2. Achieve business closure

And then create a process design that will act as a guideline to achieve those objectives. Not a diktat.

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