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How interaction analytics can improve customer service

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6th Jul 2009
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Are you managing your customer relationships or do you have customers who feel their relationship is strictly one way? Craig Pumfrey explains the importance of separating the two and how interactive analytics can help improve customer service.

Stop for a minute and think not as a customer service professional but as a customer. Are you managing your relationships with the organisations you spend your money with or are you being managed?

The popular CRM philosophy and associated technologies are often used to imply that an organisation can have some degree of control over how it manages relationships with its customers and, indeed, that customers want or are willing to be managed. However, with consumers more aware than ever of the value and power of the pound in their pocket, businesses need to revisit how they can address this shift in the balance of power, with the service they deliver.

The acronym CMR (Customer Managed Relationship) has been used, albeit sparingly, in recent years to recognise the power and influence of the customer. Yet, until relatively recently, it has been a major challenge for organisations to reflect this cultural change internally and externally in the way they execute their customer-facing operations. However, today there are some sophisticated organisations that are responding to the force of the market and are striving to deliver better service by embracing new technologies that enable them to understand the customer and appropriately empower them.

Customer empowerment

Retail banks have come under relentless pressure, yet one area that many of the major high-street banks have succeeded in is customer empowerment. For example, if I have the time, I can go into my local branch during my lunch hour or, if that is not convenient, I am able to manage my account online, over the telephone and even via my smartphone. Regardless of the channel I choose, the overall quality of service, in the main, remains high. Add to this the ease at which I can switch my account/s to another competitor and I truly consider myself to be in control of my day-to-day relationship with the bank.

However, as I write this (pausing only to quickly pay a creditcard bill online) the stark contrast in my attitude as an empowered customer as opposed to being a ‘managed’ customer is all too apparent.

I have been sat on my new sofa all morning awaiting a ‘sofa technician’ to arrive at my home at some point today (they could not specify an arrival time!) to ‘validate’ the claim I made, via the company’s contact centre, that the new sofa I had been waiting well over three months to be delivered is faulty. I have the telephone number for the contact centre but that is only open during standard office hours and has a particularly long queue whenever I call. And the mobile number for my ‘sofa guru’ doesn’t seem to respond each time I try it. As a result I feel that they have the upper hand and I am not valued as a customer (despite the fact that my purchase was not inexpensive).

But how does my bank get it so right and my furniture supplier so wrong? Surely it isn’t simply because the bank is rich with resources, as my furniture supplier is much smaller and, theoretically, more agile to remain in touch with the needs and wants of customers such as myself. I don’t really expect multi-channel service with all the bells and whistles, I just want to know they are taking my sofa problem seriously.  No, the fact is, my bank acknowledged my power and influence as a customer and then put the right groundwork in place that would empower the organisation to empower me and make me feel my custom is valued.

The starting point on the route to a successful customer-oriented service strategy is one of the fundamentals of good customer service: listening to your customers. Ironically, the problem for larger businesses is that as they grow, they can lose that valuable insight into the customer needs, wants, behaviour and intent that got them there in the first place.

How can interaction analytics help?

With so many interactions taking place it can be difficult to understand how to filter out the noise and listen to what is important. To counteract this, many savvy organisations are adopting technologies such as interaction analytics to bridge this gap. 

The Harvard Business School comments on the use of such tools: “More and more companies are using superior insight into customer data to make better, faster and more strategic decisions about everything from marketing to the supply chain to product development.”
 
Interaction analytics provide a route to gaining meaningful insights from unstructured information. Imagine the thousands/millions of interactions that are occurring right now throughout your customer service operations (particularly the contact centre). Now consider the goldmine of clues and hints buried in those interactions that, if harnessed, could give valuable knowledge regarding not only the quality of service being currently delivered, but also how it could be refined, improved or altered.
 
In order to ‘listen’ to all of these calls (and it is important not to listen to a sample if you want to get a true representation) that are being recorded and stored as part of the contact centre’s compliance and quality programmes, analytics tools are realistically the only way of capturing, categorising and analysing these insights. On the basis that none of us really knows what we don’t know, analytics solutions are a way of delivering real insights into the business.

Typically, an interaction analytics solution will incorporate techniques such as customer feedback, emotion detection and phonetic indexing that, in layman’s terms, makes it possible to conduct a Google-style search of all that interactions that are being captured and stored from the contact centre.

The customer service operations and the associated contact centres that are ideally placed to support the business are those that recognise the value in listening to the customer and responding appropriately. Whilst it is perhaps an admirable endeavour to place all of the power in the hands of the customer, it will ultimately lead to a disillusioned customer service team and disappointed, as well as a disappearing customer base if you fail to do things right (efficiency) and then do the right things (effectiveness) in the delivery of service.

Empowering the customer isn’t about relinquishing a position of strength or control, quite the contrary. By altering the perception of the balance of power you will ultimately tip the scales in your favour.

 

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