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Calling for Alignment

Release Date: May 19, 2020

There can be many cogs in the machine that is customer experience, and making certain they all align is important if that “machine” is to function correctly. Host Steve Walker and guest Ted Bernard, a managing principal at Invantage Group, discuss how making certain the many pieces of CX, like customer support, align with your overall customer experience strategy.

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Steve:
There can be many cogs in the machine that is customer experience, and making certain they all align is important if that machine is to function correctly.

Ted:
I think you need to look at it from a holistic view. By working collaboratively with your CX colleagues and cross-functional peers, we always talk about those kind of shared metrics and sharing incentives across the organization.

Steve:
Making certain the many pieces of CX like customer support align with your overall customer experience strategy on this episode of The CX Leader Podcast.

Announcer:
The CX Leader Podcast with Steve Walker is a production of Walker, an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their CX success. Find out more at Walkerinfo.com.

Steve:
Hello, everyone. I'm Steve Walker, host The CX Leader Podcast and thank you for listening. On The CX Leader Podcast, we explore topics and themes to help leaders like you leverage all the benefits of your customer experience and help your customers and prospects want to do more business with you. As customer experience professionals, many of you will know that when I say "customer support," we don't mean customer experience. Instead, we'd like to think of support as part of the overall experience. Like all other aspects of your CX program and ideally the entire organization, your support efforts need to align with the strategy and principles of your overall customer experience. My guest on this episode has had many years experience in the contact center and customer support world. Ted Bernard is a managing principal at Invantage Group, a growth strategy consulting and advisory firm, and he's going to lend his particular expertise on this area of customer experience and how contact centers and customer support play a big part of that. Ted, thanks for joining us on The CX Leader Podcast.

Ted:
Hi, Steve. It's a great pleasure to be with you. Thank you for inviting me.

Steve:
Well, it's my pleasure. And I'm glad that we were able to get you on the program. You know, some of the best episodes we've done are with folks that cut their teeth in the contact center, customer support areas. It's seems to be one of the paths that people take to become a CX pro. And I know that's been your experience, but just for the benefit of our audience, wanted to just give us a quick background on Ted Bernard and what your career journey has been and how you ended up being interested in customer experience.

Ted:
Well, great. Thank you. I'm happy to share a little bit. Some people have very straight paths and some of us have wandered out of a variety of paths. And I have a very broad background. But I think there are two things or two key areas that really shaped my CX path and journey that I've come together to have me think very holistically about the CX world and how it helps for business growth. I actually started out my professional career in economics and I jokingly refer to myself today as a recovering economist. I started out in the Federal Reserve System in research economics and I worked in the Council of Economic Advisers in Washington, D.C. And I did this because I was really fascinated by incentives and decision making. And I think that's a common thread that you'll see come up when we talk about customer support, customer service and customer experience. After I made the transition more into business, going for my MBA and going into first a corporate world, I did a lot of work and in market research, customer segmentation and the key of product innovation. And that brought me to a great understanding about real focus on what customers wants and needs are. I eventually through that work, got recruited by an entrepreneur or an investor in a customer support business. And he recruited me and a few other folks to help grow an early stage customer support outsourcing or what we would call a business process outsourcing or BPO business. And we were successful in growing that business. We were acquired a few years ago, and that's when it gave me the opportunity to found this niche consulting group, Invantage Group, with a couple of like minded partners. Real focus on CX growth, customer engagement, how to apply CX thinking to help customers accelerate, their growth and lifetime value with their clients and their customers. So that's kind of my journey and a couple of threads that have brought together to how I have this passion for understanding the customer experience.

Steve:
Yeah. Let's drill a little deeper into some of your past experiences and how you feel like CX has been influenced by the world of the contact center in sort of historical perspective. Can you just shed a little light on how you saw that evolve?

Ted:
Certainly. That's… I mean, it's a good point. I think historically contact centers were thought as the cost of doing business, and understandably so. I mean, businesses do need to think about the costs and efficiencies. And while I was working for a large financial services company, the leadership team used to get together every Monday and we'd go over our KPIs, our key performance indicators and metrics. And I remember that the operations and customer service group always talked about what they referred to as quality metrics. But they were really all about internal costs and efficiencies. And not that those are unimportant. I mean, they are important, but it got me starting to think about how do we define these metrics from the customer's perspective? When did we ever ask our customer about some of those metrics that we were talking about in terms of speed and if and handle times and all the traditional things that we think about today in customer service and customer support areas. So that got me thinking about the shift in mentality from a cost center mentality to a profit center or business growth opportunity mentality. Can we think about our customer support as an opportunity to go beyond just helping to answer what a customer wants, but engaging with customers, ensuring that they do have the answers they need, but also finding ways to learn more about them to to grow with them, to offer more opportunities for them. As an example, there was a a McKinsey Company study several years ago that documented the negative impacts of bad support actions. And that's one of many that talk about how agents push to end the interactions quickly. How interactive voice response, or IVRs, and now auto bots are designed, frankly, to keep customers within this maze of layers of automated solutions because they're less expensive for companies and not that there aren't a role for that. We'll talk about that, I'm sure. But customers virtually always prefer easy, but not only easy. They want solutions. And so when we get them caught up in this maze, they oftentimes can get frustrated. And we miss a valuable opportunity to engage with our customers, learn more about it and build out people that customer relationship.

Steve:
That's a great perspective. I know that my background is more traditional marketing research. You know, early on we really use the customer sat surveys as sort of a break fix type of function. You know, we were looking for what was wrong and it was only later on that we explored, there's gold in all those interactions and it doesn't just have to be about fixing problems. It can be about discovering new opportunities. So sort of a similar parallel to the cost center profit center model that you shared. You know, sometimes when we when we use internal indicators, there's some unintended consequences with the customer experience. Wondered if you might share a couple of your stories.

Ted:
Sure. We are big believers in, you know, the internal metrics and KPIs. We always have to remind ourselves to think from the outside, you know, think about the customer, the customer's perspective. But I'll also go back a little bit to again, my own bias is, remember, I'm an economist by training and I think about the human biases that we have. So, for example, when we ask customers about an experience, sometimes they may have a bias or may they may have difficulty articulating what they're what the root cause or what the issue was. Or if we ask our agents have a very common tool is to ask the support agent to, you know, check a tick box or something of that nature as to what was the nature of the call and the reason. And there's certain biases inherent in that. So the data's good, but not always as good as it could be. So what we find is companies oftentimes will focus on what I mentioned earlier, the cost and efficiency metrics, or they'll… won't pair up and align all these different opportunities for getting input data. And there are a lot of tools out there today, including artificial intelligence tools, A.I. based tools that help to get at total analysis, word choice analysis, frequency things of those natures. And we work with our customers all the time in how to implement those tools in a smart way. But there are two real fundamental lessons I think we've learned and the customer support world about the use of KPIs. One is that incentives drive behavior, and two is that they frequently have unintended outcomes. So, for example, when we'll have the contact center manager or the supervisors tell their agents and support teams too, "don't worry, focus on the customer. Make sure you answer the questions." But then they'll have things like the average handle time, they're handle time metric will be in the corner of the screen. And I guarantee those agents know how they're ultimately being reviewed. And if that at the end of the proverbial day, day, week, period, whatever, if that's how they are rewarded. If that's how they are assessed, they will do exactly what their incentives tell them to do. When we have interactions, whether they're through automated systems or chat or social media or life voice contacts, we have an opportunity to engage with our customers. So we talk about how to find that balance between helping the customer for what we'll call transactional questions, you know, simple quick questions that just need a simple answer versus the opportunities to engage in a longer, you know, engagement with relationship transaction. So the difference between transactional and relationship and building lifetime value. And so we work with them to use these tools to better differentiate. So you might have longer handle time, but the richer experiences and customers feel like there's ease of access for the quick things they need. And there's access to human input and relationship and empathy to more complex needs.

Steve:
Yeah, let's talk about that a little bit more, because obviously, you know, technology innovation allows us to do things more productively and the whole concept of making it easier to do business, sometimes people would prefer to self-service if they can. So can you talk a little bit about your experience in terms of when do you automate, and when do you keep it with a human interaction?

Ted:
Yes. I go back to, you know, I guess some of the things we were chatting about at a few moments ago where we talked about the feedback loops, whether it's through a voice or the customer, CSAT – there's lots of great tools that help us to analyze those interactions so to get at the root cause. Because I think that's really the key to helping define what channels and opportunities there are to give customers the choice. And ultimately, I think enabling ease of access is really about getting customer choice. But there are times where we as customers know that we need to speak to a human being or we need a greater depth of opportunity. And so getting caught in an auto bot or getting caught in multiple layers on the website can be really frustrating. We need to kind of, I think, empower our customers to make some smart choices, because I think you're right, Steve. There are many times I just need a quick answer. I'm happy to do cell service. And there are times where I know I need something deeper. So through these types of analytics that will work with our clients, with the help, define those to help make the paths clearer and easier without forcing customers through. So we enable that distinction between transactional contacts versus relationship contacts and allow the customer to have a greater say in the channels and the tools and the depth of the relationship they want. And it's proven to be very, very effective for our clients.

Steve:
The guest on the program today is Ted Bernard, a managing principal at Invantage Group, and we're really talking about how the contact center is a big part of the customer experience and real critical part of it. Ted, if somebody was standing up a support organization from the get go, what types of recommendations would you have for how they organize that information or how they organize the the listening and the feedback in the contact center?

Ted:
That's a great question. I think a couple of things I want to break that down into, Steve. First is making sure that we don't just have different insight mechanisms for the sake of analysis. We need to have feedback loops. I've seen it happen and we've worked with a number of clients where they feel as if they need to have a VOC or they need to have a data analytics group because it somehow checks a box of what they're supposed to do. But then they don't really have that feedback or connection into "Well, what does that mean?" And so it seems so simple to you and me and maybe even many of your listeners, but it's something that's easily overlooked. So how do we think about what is the information that we have to take it from being kind of academic to being impactful. Two, I want to make an important point about how we interact and the language that we use to interact with our customers. And there was a great study, I don't know, a number of years ago in psychology that talked about how much impact words have versus tone versus body language. And we could debate over the years – people have debated that research and whether it was how true or how much of a myth. But I think the key point of that research and I thought about that is we understand that words are a part of the equation. So whether it's these spoken words through IVR or auto bot words or written words in response to social media, chat sessions, etc., we have to think about word choice and word selection. So, for example, even within culture, we talk about customer facing and customer supporting roles. We talk about the word choices that we make so that we can help agents to build and train and develop tools that are guided towards the customer is showing empathy, sympathy, connections, listening skills, things that nature. So I think making sure we have feedback loops, making sure that we have the right training, development and thoughts about the words and then thinking about and actually testing those journey points through so we don't get caught up in endless loops in an IVR or difficulty accessing information on the web. So I think those three things are ways that are key to organizing. If you were starting up kind of a customer support business and finding the right balance between automation, self-service and live support.

Steve:
One of things we talked about offline was how customer support and really whole premise of this podcast is the customer support is a key component of the overall customer experience, but customer support is kind of the end of the line. In a way, in fact, sort of all your quality issues end up showing up in the support center at some point. But you have some interesting perspective on how you can use support to benefit other areas in the organization. For example, product development. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ted:
Yes. We've been involved in a number of areas. Certainly in my past professional life I've been involved in product development and innovation and I think that shows up. And the common thread is ultimately about understanding the customer and solving a customer problem. So in recent years, we've actually worked a lot with either companies that are looking for product development or venture capital and private equity groups that are investing in early stage concepts and ideas for commercialization. And so we've been asked a number of times to help with these, if you will, due diligence and how it feeds back into that kind of concept of product development efforts. We don't… when we do the due diligence, certainly we we obviously work with their finance and operations all the time. But fundamentally, it's really we're being asked to look at is understand the customer and how to connect with customers. What we oftentimes see when working with private equity and venture capital is the reference to the old saying of a solution looking for a problem. A great, kind of cute idea, something interesting, something that might save costs but actually doesn't have real value to the customer. So we think about it from the customer's perspective. What does the customer… How does a customer determine quality? How does the customer determine ease of access? How does the customer determine, you know, they identify the problem? And there's a number of tools of ways of understanding that because I mentioned before, customers oftentimes have a difficulty articulating some of those things. So we can talk about what those tools are. But fundamentally, any kind of product development really needs to be focused on solving that customer problem and identifying a target or segmented group of customers that have that problem and are willing to pay you to solve that problem. So, for example, not all customers are of the same or equal value to you. And that's not to say that that not all customers deserve courtesy and kindness. We all do. But what we do understand is that customers have different values and we have to think about how to target those customers. So that's a key part of product development, how to support those customers or sometimes even how to help migrate them to maybe a different product or service that can be of greater value to them.

Steve:
You know when you're listening to customers, Ted, you know, you hear a lot of things. You know, it's all coming from customers. It's all important. But some of it's more important than others. So when you're trying to analyze a call center environment, how do you make sure that you're getting down to the root cause or the really high impact stuff that customers are telling you?

Ted:
It's a great question, Steve. Within the customer support world there's tons of data. There's tons of metrics and tons of pieces of information. And so what we need to do sometimes is kind of separate, you know, they'll old saying the wheat from the chaff – to really figure out what's important, what's not. One of the first things is do is, is how do we connect the various initiatives like Voice of the Customer, CSAT,like customer mentioned reasons for why the contact, integrate things like the agents analysis of why it is, using some A.I. based tools that listen to word choice and total analysis. And so we can combine a variety of those inputs to help us understand how often, how frequent and how impactful some of these metrics are. Because sometimes you might hear something that comes up frequently, but it's not a big issue. And sometimes you hear things that may not come up as frequently but have very large impacts. So we have some analytical tools and we work with clients to help to make those definitions. For example, we work with one client who did care a lot, obviously, about their customer support and their metrics. And they looked at some very traditional customer support metrics and some feedback, and they kept falling behind further and further. They had more and more customer contacts. They had more budget overruns. And so their answer was, how do we… you know, it was putting more overhead on, frankly. Changing team leaders, having more people address the problem without looking at the customer's perspective, without doing that proper root cause analysis, to look at the common efforts, the common interests, the commonalities for the various connection points, whether they were live contacts, emails, chat. Whatever the case was, they weren't looking across the channels. So we work with them to completely redesign their whole approach. And it really had a dramatic impact, not only lowered their costs and improve their efficiency there, but it increased the opportunities and growth and sales with their customers. And it overall had a net benefit of greater than $4 million dollars a year. It was more than just the customer support. We were looking at all of their outsourcing needs and issues. But there was a big, big part of it.

Steve:
Talking about organizations and responding to what customers are saying: I know you're a big proponent of alignment inside of organizations. What, in your experience, has been helpful for getting the various aspects of an organization to align around the customer?

Ted:
Well, I think it's going to go back to much of the things that we've been talking about, Steve, are about alignment. So I appreciate you bringing that back up. We talk a lot about how to connect those various channels and loops. So we'll see where operations teams will not be well aligned and and not because they're not well-intentioned, but it's very common to have silos. And we hear this all the time from companies and podcasts and in articles and discussions where you get the "siloization." And each group doing their own thing and they're doing the best they can and they're doing the things that they think are important. But I go back to kind of incentives. If we take a holistic view of the customer journey, if we take that outside in customer perspective, we can usually align the incentives and metrics and KPIs that we even use internally as business leaders. I think that's been key for us in working with clients on helping them to better align. So, for example, a quick example was one client, a financial services client that had sent out some annual letters – they had to do it in a traditional letter. It's part of an annual mailing to to all of their customers. And that was delayed and held up a little bit due to some other reasons. And because it was such great interest and pressure to get those letters out, they ultimately dumped literally a couple of million letters in a very, very short period of time in order to do what they thought was right, get the information out to the customers. But, of course, that created lots of downstream impacts on their customer support. Lots of calls, lots of emails, lots of web. So it really pushed. We worked with the client to help them kind of align those groups, improve communications, align the incentives so they would have shared incentives and not just push it downstream to be a customer support problem. And we completely redesigned the process for them to avoid that, you know, those challenges in the future. So I think it does come down to that kind of holistic thinking, shared metrics and incentives by business leaders across the different groups and a real focus on not just your… you know, it's your issue or my issue. It's we're all in customer facing or customer supporting roles within that operations role so I think that's key across the business to delivering an outstanding customer experience, one where we can continue to grow the relationship with our customers.

Steve:
Ted Bernard, we've reached that point of the program where I ask all of our guests for their take home value. I think we might have just gotten a preview of that. But Ted, what is your tip for pros today in terms of something that they can take back to their programs and their operations – either more than later today or tomorrow, depending on when they're listening to the podcast and and implement to make their customer experience better?

Ted:
Steve, this is always one of the parts of your podcast that I really loved, and that's kind of how to boil it all down into a couple of real takeaways. And while I like I'm sure many of your other guests wish that we could give you a quick, easy magic formula, it's not always quite that easy. But I think there are a few things that really take away. I think you need to look at it from a holistic view by working collaboratively with your CX colleagues and cross-functional peers. We always talk about those kind of shared metrics and shared incentives across the organization. So it's not organization or department specific, but they're shared. Some are department specific and some are shared. So that's one thing I think that organizations should look at. We also talk, I think some some things to think about, are in their organizational alignment is the training development and the balance between automation and live support. We talked a little bit earlier about the important use of words and terms and tone. I think those are key to creating that kind of cross organizational alignment, both internally and externally with our customers. So if we keep those things in mind and think about how to align our operations so that we can deliver that seamless, effortless experience for our customers, you'll have taken great strides forward.

Steve:
Ted Bernard has been my guest on the podcast this week. Ted is a managing principal at Invantage Group, a growth strategy consulting, and advisory firm. Ted, if anybody like to continue the dialog, can they find you on LinkedIn?

Ted:
You can certainly find me on LinkedIn or on the web. I'm happy to continue the dialog and getting any specifics or share ideas, and I love to hear from people.

Steve:
Great. Ted, thanks again for being a guest on the podcast. Really enjoyed having you on.

Ted:
Thank you, Steve. I've enjoyed being with you.

Steve:
If you want to talk about anything you heard on the podcast or about how Walker can help your business's customer experience, feel free to e-mail me here at steve.walker@walkerinformation.com. Remember to visit our website, cxleaderpodcast.com to subscribe to the show and find all our previous episodes, our series, and contact information so you can let us know how we're doing. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker, where an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their CX success. You can read more about us at walkerinfo.com. Thanks for listening and we'll see again next time.

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