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At Your Service
Navigating the Complex Customer Interaction Dilemma

But Sid does have hope for social tools in broader business applications. “Outside of the customer service arena, there are a few examples of manufacturers that use social feedback channels to refine their product configurations. I think this holds some solid potential for mass-customization that can improve everyday products for most people,” he says.

Ashutosh agrees: “There ARE real gains in ‘going social.’ Done right, and not as a knee-jerk reaction to panic, it should be of use to the business at various levels. The most important thing for the business to decide is its social persona, a consistent persona that can help it gain trust in social spaces as well as guide its behavior in these spaces. Once that’s done, it can figure out ways in which it would like to use social media.”

Stacy points out that the effective application of social media might have more to do with the nature of the industry than anything else. “There are use cases where social media can have a great impact. Consulting is the best example. When a consultant is out on a highly paid service engagement, he or she knows that a colleague is probably trying to do the same thing on another account,” she says, adding that other businesses don’t share that dynamic. “In consulting there may be thousands of people working on very similar problems; but in an R&D setting, for example, you may have 15 people working on a very specific problem. It’s within the nature of professional services to adopt information sharing and collaboration on this large a scale.”

A Single Version of the Truth
“Then there’s the emerging area of social knowledge harvesting,” adds Ashutosh. “We have clients who are setting up all kinds of processes to identify and benefit from useful user-generated content. I think we’ll see a lot of innovation when the panic and buzz die down a bit. An area that’s been of interest to us lately is the content demands that social media places on businesses. You’ll have to worry about stale content not just on your website, but also the half a dozen social spaces you own. It makes single-sourced publishing more important than ever for enterprises,” he says.

There’s no doubt that an enormous challenge for business is consolidating information sources into “a single version of the truth.” And as Ashutosh points out, social media simply aggravates the problem. But there are efforts underway that mean to address that problem, and strangely enough, one solution might rely on MORE information, not less. “We call it contextual learning,” explains Stacy. “The more information you put into the system, the more you can consolidate it. If you have 160 systems, even if you can consolidate half of them, you’re driving huge value. For example, if I call a contact center and tell them my name, they’re immediately gathering great amounts of contextual data about me. Then if I say, I’m having trouble texting, even more systems start sending information to the agent,” she says, describing a seemingly incongruous pattern of wider information access while at the same time narrowing the possible answers. After only two sentences, the agent is already armed with a humungous amount of helpful information. But the more the conversation continues, the more “honed” the answers can be. “The solution is the ability to find the commonalities among many systems, and avoiding the need for the user to go to several different systems, with their different access methods and interfaces, and putting his or her name in every time.” But Stacy admits that it’s unlikely a magic frame will appear with the perfect answer, like a Magic 8-Ball. “No, the result is not a typical search frame,” she agrees, “but more of a dashboard that shows different, relevant information sources.”

Sid adds: “Especially in a self-service environment, it’s probably better to provide one reliable answer to the customer’s query, but therein lies the problem. How do you know it was the right answer?” he asks rhetorically. “The key to resolving this issue is understanding the ‘intent’ of the customer’s question. How many ways can you ask the question: What is the price of the new HTC Droid ERIS? Moreover, what is the intent of this question? Odds are, if the customer is shopping price for a specific smartphone, they’re ready to buy and you should not confuse the issue with a bunch of different press releases, phone configurations and technical information resources. But you MAY want to augment the response with co-sell offers, and this is where the game gets interesting. Only a comprehensive knowledge platform with built-in analytics can help you refine and tune your offers for maximum uptake. The key is to keep an eye on the analytics and keep tuning the answers.”

This balance between “too much information” versus “the right information” is becoming difficult to manage. On one hand, having a wealth of information, whether it’s directly relevant or not, seems inherently valuable. On the other hand, there is the “noise” factor that complicates the issue. Which should users aim for?

“We agree that customers look for answers and not a collection of irrelevant search hits,” says Ashutosh. “While power-users and experienced contact center agents may be able to quickly process search hits and get to answers, most users struggle with search hits and often give up. Traditional search puts the onus on the user to come up with the right set of keywords to get to the answers they need,” he says. “But modern multi-search knowledge management systems enable users to quickly and easily find that single, relevant answer. They provide multiple access methods such as dynamic FAQs, keyword and intent-based search, browse and guided help, based on user preferences and query type. This is far more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach, and helps improve findability.”

Measuring Success
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that one size does NOT fit all. That’s when you need to assess your goals and determine the best solution. “Measurements vary,” says Stacy. “Sometimes call center agents are measured on call time, but in some industries—financial services for example—the metric of success has more to do with the end-result—cross-selling, upselling and keeping the caller on the phone longer, rather than shorter,” she points out.

“We conduct a survey every year,” adds Ashutosh. “We’ve been noticing that while businesses are offering more interaction channels, they score better in basic phone customer service metrics such as hold times, transfers and the availability of IVR self-service than in Web or multichannel customer service metrics. Businesses don’t always keep up with consumer behavior. They can underestimate major trends, such as the shift to electronic channels, chat, cobrowse, SMS, email and the Web, either mobile or non-mobile. Most businesses are still playing catch-up when it comes to e-service.”

And so, dear reader, it’s time to take stock of YOUR service capability. There are great tips in the following pages, and there are MANY words of wisdom. Just remember: it’s the end result that counts the most... not the means to get there. 

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