The Evolving Role of Customer Service: Your Questions

While my blog was being “reworked” (read: unhacked), I posted in Linked-In about the webinar I did last week with Microsoft.

That was the first of a three-webinar series on the challenges affecting customer service these days and for the next couple of years.  The first webinar was on the evolving role of customer service and how it is going to look in the next decade.

ox chart

We discussed the shift from efficiency (do more with less) to effectiveness (do better with more) and what the underlying changes in mentality, infrastructure, and technology looks like to support that.  It was very well attended, and in spite of some timing and technology issues (not related to Microsoft, rather the hosting platform – but that’s not important), we ended up with a slew of good questions being asked.

These are the three questions that I think best sum up what was discussed.  Also, read through the end to register (or get more information before you do) on the next episode on this series:

And now, the questions.

Q: In the data-driven approach, what are the models for turning these data into actionable strategic insights?

A: Love this question, this gives me the opportunity to shift from focusing on data to focusing on what to do with the data.  I think that finally, after many years calling out the need to generate actionable insights, we are at the point where we can do something about that.

Actionable Strategic Insights are not an automatic outcome or derivative for any company using data-driven processes.  You’d think it’s a natural result – you use more data to analyze better, and the outcomes of those analysis are then transformed into insights – new ideas of what is possible.  Unfortunately, they are a more advanced concept than that as they require a deeper understanding of data and what it means that most organizations have at this time.

If you understand what the data says about your processes, you can then use the data about outcomes and the results of those outcomes (in effectiveness terms: did the customer get the right answer, on time, and was it useful) to try to improve the processes.  If the answer was late, need to improve the performance – for example – would be a valid actionable insight.

Alas, that is only the first part of the equation – the second part is knowing what it means to improve the performance, how do you do it, how to you measure the efficiency and the effectiveness, and how does that correlate to strategic KPIs, the bottom-line, and strategic goals for customer service and the organization.  As I said, understanding the concept and implementing it are different beasts – and that is before you even realize that this will change from company to company (different strategic goals and KPIs, for starters) and even within departments for the same organization (different access to data, a common problem, slows down this process).

If you can align the purposes, the outcomes, the results, the processes, and the politics – you can then use those actionable insights to continuously improve your efficiency with the goal of becoming way more effective – precisely what we are trying to accomplish.  Of course, this requires, today, a heavy manual aspect to it, but we are moving in the right direction where advanced analytics, machine learning, and AI can help you automate the process for doing this – and we are just a few years away from an always optimized, personalized, data-driven, actionable-insights-powered customer service model.

Start with the basics, you will quickly see the progress and the new tools taking you there.

Q: For a company that is only focused on lowering costs, isn’t’ moving to the cloud a tough conversation? do you have any ROI examples to share? or how to start that conversation?

A: Ah, the cloud: the final commodity.

Moving to the cloud should never be a costs conversation, virtually all ROI studies I’ve seen (even though I don’t endorse ROI for strategic or innovation initiatives – more on that further below) equate moving to the cloud in costs of TCO over the first three years, and ongoing after that.  There is no higher, or lower, cost associated with the conversation about moving to the cloud.

Let’s try to replace those conversations about cost and ROI with conversations about outcomes, opportunities, and TTV (time to value) instead.  The model is as simple as ROI (benefits minus costs, right?) but it focuses on different things: there are actions, opportunities, and possibilities that are not being adopted today because the costs are prohibitive in an ROI calculation: integration between different systems, security, hardware or storage requirements needed to make it happen.  If these were to be realized, they would in turn generate an amount of value that – even by simple measurements exercises – would potentially surpass the costs to implementing them.

Alas, the benefits are not verifiable since there is no known model or commonly adopted calculation standard for new processes and opportunities that can account for everything.  A common recent example of that would be the adoption of social channels for different purposes, and how the organizations that succeeded at that were not just focused on more revenue or lowered costs – instead they focused on the art of the possible.  And the art of the possible means new ways to do things, that we cannot currently calculate an ROI for.

But, and this is the biggest quandary, we can surmise that getting to that value in our current not-in-the-cloud model is not possible technologically or economically speaking – thus requiring a new way to do this.  Renting, paying-as-you-go, or pay for what you use in a cloud model means that the focus is not on the cost, but in the outcomes of that costs – in the opportunities it generates, and then we can measure that time to value as a valuation exercise instead of an ROI riddled with unknowns and assumptions.

In these terms, the conversation about adopting the cloud is a no-brainer.  Of course, you can always opt out of that, but virtually all innovation and new tech requires that you use the cloud (even without looking at the art of the possible by adopting it) – so either way, as a business that is always transforming, you don’t have much of an option – right?

Q: Regarding doing new things with a new model of service, say with more automation, what other strategic goals are achievable, like maybe Marketing create better profiles?

A: This is a short answer: yes, there are many.  The ideal model here is not to build and deploy a closed-model for customer service, rather to understand that as customers expectations and demands shift to more effectiveness (better, not just faster – easier, not just faster) and on their own terms, you need to be prepared for that.

This will be covered in more detail on the second webinar (promise: this question was not a plant for the second webinar, it was actually asked) and you will see what we mean by  it then (link to register is below), but more important is to understand that your organization will need a new infrastructure and architecture to deliver on that goal, and this new architecture will be company-wide… yes, even marketing and their profiles.

eventually, if done well, this questions becomes moot and the idea of using the technologies and models of customer service across the enterprise are baked into the new model.

Simple, but join us to see how.

Those were great questions, and I am sure there will be many more great questions to come.  The next webinar on this series is next week, February 7, and we would love to entertain your questions there as well.  We are covering in more depth the technology aspects of this new model of customer service (heavy focus on automation, hint-hint).

If you could not make it to the first one, here is the link to access the recording.  And one more time, here is the link to register for the second one.

Any other questions? Comments? Let me know in the comments below… and don’t forget to register for the blog — link to your right…

disclaimer: you, of course, figured this out already – but Microsoft is a client and they chose to feed my kids (read: paid me, indirectly feeding my kids) for my services.  alas, the content and the editorial slant are not for sale – nothing i said in the webinars or in this post are compromised in any way — which means, you can only take it out on me, no one else.  these are my opinions and facts, and none of them are “alternative” — so, any qualms, come at me, bro!

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