Tired of Web 2.0? Try Service 2.0 for size

Back in the old days of the Internet, when money was free and ideas plentiful, a few friends asked me if there was something new and different that I thought was ready to be discovered, transformed into a product, created into an IPO, and worth millions of dollars. I said I was not sure about the millions, but there had been something bouncing around in my head for a while. I called it, at that time, “point-of-need customer service” (Yes, seven years at Gartner improved – but not perfected – my naming skills). We created a pilot product, deployed it – and amazingly enough people wanted it and it worked. Of course, this was about the time the air was let out of the bubble, so the lack of funding made it impossible to continue the endeavor, which coupled with my wife’s insistence that I get a “real job” took me to Gartner.

The concept behind “point-of-need customer service” was that the browser is a clunky, stateless, session-driven interface that, to keep constantly providing service and support to customers required lengthy and complex programming, integration, and adaptation to many, many operating systems and computers. The concept I had was a unique, non-browser type application that was constantly in contact with service providers, proactively providing customer service and support to clients. The money-making portion was to sell to providers the infrastructure to service those devices, and “viral distribution” for free of the devices or applets would take care of the rest. As I said, it did not go far due to lack of funding.

Fast forward some time, and while at Gartner I proposed the idea of the Customer Interaction Hub (yes, this was the best name we could agree on – I told you it was better but not perfect). This basically became the infrastructure component that each organization could deploy to use browsers as “point-of-need” service applets. I sorta gave up on the idea of replacing the browser, as it had become as ubiquitous as operating systems in computers. I still, for the record, believe that the browser is a lousy interface… but my Don Quixote days are over, so let’s embrace it!

So, on to the concept of where we started: Service 2.0. If you are wondering where the next “thing” (or the new, new thing as Michael Lewis put it) is start to look into how to expand your Web 2.0 investments into Service 2.0. Think about the characteristics of Web 2.0: proactive, effective, low cost, high-volume, point-of-need… doesn’t it sound like that Customer Service strategy you have been working on? Some of these things already exist and are implemented (one of our clients, Symantec, does first-level troubleshooting of problems in the computer itself – without using the browser), others are infrastructure components (like device relationship management components embedded in medical and industrial machines that alert to service needs, troubleshoot, and even scheduled service calls automatically) already in place… but the whole idea revolves around three core concepts of both Web 2.0 – and your service strategy: automation, decentralization, and proactivity.

All the elements of a winning Service 2.0 strategy.

What do you think? Ready to embrace the future? Are you planning your Service 2.0 infrastructure?

The second coming of email for customer service

Back in the old days of the internet revolution (circa 1990s) email was the solution for communicating with customers. It was to replace the phone, and virtually any other channel, for support. It was going to be automated and processed within minutes. It was going to allow anyone close to a messaging device to get world-class customer service.

The magic of SPAM, viruses, and malware, hindered that vision, and the coming of other text-based communication channels with more prompt responses put the, supposedly, final nail in ERMS (email response management systems). Email support became a four-letter word – but several companies saw email as an opportunity and succeeded at it. Their stories provide us with some very valuable lessons learned that we can use to optimize the second coming of email.

When properly done email can significantly improve and optimize your support organization. Of course, “properly done” is not usually the case. There are three things you can do make sure your ERMS implementation is actually well done:

Extend customer experience – for the most part, email support has been neglected, not loved, sent to the corner. Usually when a customer sends an email for support the answers are incomplete, incoherent with other answers and policies, or (in close to 50% of emails) non-existent. Make sure you can complete the transactions your customers want in a timely manner, and that you have access to necessary resources, data, and applications to complete the transactions.

Identify the proper transactions – organizations tried to use email for every single transaction, regardless of the viability of doing a good job with that channel. Not all transactions were meant for email, some of them will be almost impossible to do cheaper or better than through other channels. Make sure your ERMS tackles the transactions that make more sense – not just any transaction.

Speed up resolution – This is the killer application for ERMS, if there ever was one. If you use automation (included free with the best ERMS packages), and tie it to the proper knowledge repositories, you can increase response times to almost negligible. Better yet, route users to either use a web-form for sending emails, or automate the initial interactions to get the information you need (think conversational agents) then you are sure to answer those emails so quickly… it may just work.

Email can be your most powerful weapon for decreasing the costs of customer support and for improving your customers’ perception of your willingness to help them. Don’t cast it aside for a bad experience, turn it into a positive one.

What do you think? Are you ready to turn your customer service email into your friend?