The world of customer engagement is a funny, almost bi-polar place. On the one hand it should be totally people-centric, as it’s the place where companies converse with their customers. Except it’s in many cases completely industrial – a world of de-skilled white collar work where the production line, six-sigma approaches of manufacturing have been deployed to human interaction.

One of the themes that I’ve pick up in recent conversations is that there is a challenge identified in the world of customer engagement (itself a somewhat euphemistic synonym for “call centre”) . How do we take the emergent social network and digital channels, and automate and scale them through the systems and processes by which we handle telephony?

If this sounds a familiar challenge, then how can I politely say this? You’re asking the wrong question!

What you should be asking is What’s wrong with the way in which we engage with our customers that means that a significant number will find any way possible to bypass our systems and processes?

Where to start? Well, how about with the hoary old cliche “customers are at the heart of everything we do”? How big a cliche? A 3.6Bn search results on Google type cliche. Unless you have customer engagement as a key plank of strategy as to how you differentiate yourselves from your competition, you’re deluding yourself. If anyone talks about deploying “industry best practice” in your customer engagement centres, you’re kidding yourself. If you outsource your customer engagement, you’re insulting your customers with such cliches.

There’s nothing wrong with having customer engagement as a supporting function. You just need to be honest about it.

And if customer engagement is not a strategic imperative for you, every new digital channel you choose to support will just open up new ones to bypass the processes in the future. Multi- or Omni-channel engagement will be a perpetual tail-chasing game as the next SnapChat or WhatsApp comes to market.

What to do? Well, you could make it strategic and stop then trying to automate human interaction on the basis of efficiency metrics that benefit no-one (time to answer,  I’m looking at you).

Or take an efficiency approach and stop trying to provide everything on every channel under a banner of platitudes (“cost effective customer service saves you money” is far preferable to BS).

Or go to an even greater extreme and move from customer engagement to self-service, a model pioneered in parts of the software industry and now used by sub brands like Giff Gaff. With that brand, Telefonica have managed to turn no customer service (or very little) into a competitive advantage.

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