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Keynoting at CCAS Regional Contact Centre Symposium 2014 Singapore

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Last week I was invited to present the welcome keynote at the 10th CCAS Regional Contact Centre Symposium 2014 Singapore. Singapore is the business hub of Asia and it’s the also the HQ for ShoreTel Asia.

When I went through the Singapore airport, the security check, luggage claim, customs and getting a taxi took less than 20 minutes. I could not help think that the “effortless experience,” a well-known concept in customer care across North America, was actually invented for and by the Singapore airport.

The audience at the Symposium was composed of several business process outsourcing organizations and regional contact-center leaders. As the Symposium’s first speaker, my goal was to ease the audience into the subsequent sessions focused on technology and processes.

I wanted to stress the importance of focusing on the human factor in customer care environments.

Through the years the customer-care experience seems to have spun full circle. Before Contact Centers existed transactions, such as bill payments or finance arrangements, were in-person interactions. Back then, the whole experience was predictable and efficient, giving the customer a feeling of control and with the added nicety of a personal touch.

Predictability vanished as soon as the early Contact Centers were implemented in the 80s. The customer experience was handled through the system; it was processed in mass quantities and the process was controlled and measured. This is was a boon for companies that saw sales increase and costs drop. The thing to note is that the process was measured, not the end customer experience.

The 90s brought back awareness of customers, and new ways of measuring customer satisfaction were introduced. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) for instance is widely adopted by customer care professionals across the board.

The NPS indicator has received criticisms in the recent past, but is still very effective at tracking detractors. Negative impact is far greater today that it was in the past; social media provides disgruntled customers a giant microphone and the results can be devastating.

At the Symposium, I shared the story of the viral video “United Break Guitars” with the audience, which generated some good laughs. Some representatives of Singapore Airlines particularly enjoyed the example. Having made this point, I emphasized the need for an increased focus on mitigating the effect of detraction.

I also spoke about new ways to measure loyalty. Customer Effort Score (CES) is getting adopted by most mature Contact Centers in America, but this did not seem to be implemented in Asia yet. Singaporean colleagues told me that they recognize the nature of the customer care transactions was getting more complex and that relying on processes and written scripts were getting obsolete. I noticed many audience members nod their heads when I mentioned that the majority of the effort was linked to the emotional quality of the transaction (i.e. the agent’s subjective interpretation of how the customer feels).

This interpretation can be influenced by an array of best practices, described at length in the book “The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty” by Matt Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick Delisi of CEB. Using a positive language and even adapting the language to the personality of the caller can positively impact the CES.

I concluded my talk by highlighting the necessity to hire quality agents, with the expected problem resolving skills but also the flexibility to be coached with best practices over time. Hiring the best agents is not only a prerogative in the US, but Asia also seems to be facing the same challenges. Again, I saw heads nodding when I brought up this point.

ShoreTel, being aware of the challenges to hire and retain talented individuals, is focusing on creating the best tools to help retain them. And these tools need to be simple and a pleasure to use - almost like toys.