Directors' Club (GB & NI)

On Tuesday this week I was able to take part in a really engaging and insightful event organised by The Directors’ Club. The DC is a group of people involved in customer-centric businesses and the Service Innovation Lab focused on how technology is changing the way customers are engaging with organisations.

First off, the format was brilliant. A handful of keynote speakers (one a sponsor to “pay the rent”), and then well-structured round-table sessions that had enough structure provided that kept conversation and mingling happening throughout the day. I’ve attended, and organised, many events over the years and this was one of the best I’ve been too. Hats off to Jon Snow and his team for organising it all.

As for the subject matter, it’s given me a lot of food for thought. Some observations in reflection…

Omni-channel, multi-channel shambles…

This one was reassuring; I’ve struggled with definitions when it comes to the meaning of “omni-channel” and how it differs from “multi-channel” customer engagement. It appears I’m not alone.

Multi-channel is straightforward: providing more than one route by which customers and suppliers can engage with one another. Think phone+”white” (read “snail”) mail+email+in person+web+Twitter+Facebook+LinkedIn+mobile app+web chat+IM+video+whatever else. According to one keynote presenter, the average organisation is now managing 7.5 channels of contact. And, of course (but often forgotten) each one adds cost and complexity to operations.

As for “omni channel”… Well, a few interpretations that helped me were “providing equality of access across different channels”, “providing consistency of information across channels” (subtly not the same thing) through to “enabling concurrent access across multiple channels” (sometimes known as “multi-screening” to pour further confusion onto the fire).

The conclusion by the end of the day? Whatever it is, nobody is doing it yet. Watch out for tech-provider BS about it accordingly…

Public/private splits

There was quite a split in the participants between those from public service organisations (local authorities and police forces) and private sector companies (all sorts). Having worked across both over the years, I’m still surprised by the surprise shown by private sector folk when confronted by the challenges of taxpayer-funded organisations, especially in the current climate of public sector contraction.

What was an eye opener for me, though, was the extent to which technology investment has become about driving revenue rather than merely saving cost these days. That does make the public sector job harder, as, for example, investing in additional engagement channels (which we expect councils and the like to do) is more challenging to do with a positive return when there is no profit driver underlying it. Allowing people to access their local authority via, say, Twitter isn’t going to drive “sales”. I’ve huge respect for the people trying to manage that dilemma in an atmosphere that must be terribly bruised in many ways after such a long period of cutbacks.

The looming showdown…

The impact that social networks are having on customer engagement at the moment is really interesting. For many organisations, Twitter in particular is a way today to bypass the often dehumanised contact centre processes and systems that, too often, have been organised around operational efficiency rather than true customer engagement. “Customers are at the heart of what we do” is a platitude that is bandied around as often as “our staff are or most important asset”. Yeah, really?

Something I heard repeatedly across the course of the day was that there is a common issue of scalability of social network interaction: today the flow of contact is often still manageable through ad hoc or exceptional processes, but if the flow gets too much greater then it will become impossible to manage. How to push those conversations into conventional channel processes seems to be the order of the day.

And yet there are two factors at play here; firstly that customers will find ways to have conversations with people, and the more channels (multi, omni or otherwise) that open open, the more alternative routes they will find; and secondly, like never before, social networks are platforms in which one person can speak to another (with maybe an audience of the whole of the rest of the world listening in). It’s this bit about people talking to people that it strikes me is being missed by the process- and metric-centric world of traditional contact centre management.

And here is where the “customer at the heart” fact is going to come to a head. In conversations since the event, I’ve been exploring differences between the two banking services that I use from RBS and FirstDirect.

To be frank, most banks are much of a muchness, and increasingly these days my banking is done via Web or via smartphone app. But every so often I have to give them a call – usually because I have to do something somewhat out of the ordinary that I can’t self serve. The quality and effectiveness of the two services is fairly similar, but there is one crucial difference.

When I can RBS, a machine answers the call and asks me to identify myself with my bank-defined customer number and PIN. When I call FirstDirect a person picks up the phone and asks me for my postcode and name.

That first contact forms an emotional engagement (in the case of FirstDirect) that just isn’t there with RBS. I’ve put up with so fairly abysmal service from both. I put up with more from FirstDirect – because I’m being treated as a person.

Now I’ve no doubt that both services use heavily templated, process-driven, call-centre managed approaches. But the human answering belies (I would say) a much more customer-centric culture – and it’s something that could so easily be lost on a deterministic spreadsheet analysis of call answering efficiency and cost.

The challenge ahead for multi- and omni-channel customer engagement is how to keep things human with a burgeoning number of ways in which we as humans want to talk to our fellow people who happen to work at the companies with which we do business.

Some links…

Over the course of the day I mentioned the #socialCEO report to a few folk – that can be found here:

I also mentioned the webinar that I ran for The Marketer magazine a year or so ago. That’s available here.

2 thoughts on “Customer engagement

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