Systems vs. Customers – The Search for Connection

It’s the dawn of the Internet of Things, where refrigerators, televisions, cars, security systems, printers, sun screens, dish washers and things such as garden sprinklers are connected and remotely accessible. Everything is made ‘smart’, with mobile apps and cross-media interfaces. Largely based on the wish to experience more convenience, technology makes it as easy as the swipe of a finger on a touch-screen. Most of the time this works without any problems and it has become normal to be connected at any place, at any time.

When we need help outside of the virtual and digital world, beyond the touch of a button, when we need to interact with a company or a person, we have an abundance of tools we can use to reach out: customer portals, chatbots, webforms, e-mail, phone, in-app messaging, text messaging or apps and services such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. It is part of our life and it is part of doing business. We no longer wonder about the marvels of technology; we have come to rely on it. We have come to expect nothing less.

A somewhat ironic but highly recognizable example of when this fails, is the moment when your home Internet connection is down and you can’t go online or use your VoIP based phone service. All of a sudden you’re cut off and no matter how smart your devices are, you can’t connect. While checking your router, you notice the flyer with the marketing promise of 24/7 high speed broadband on top of the quick start guide with reference to all online tutorials and Internet based self-help articles. And you remember the call center employee that was eager to sell you the all-in-one Internet service, but who can’t help you with any of your technical questions.


Welcome to the world of customer care communications


In today’s Internet centric world, companies are using online solutions for customer care, customer communication and e-commerce to promote, share, sell and support their offerings. What’s interesting to see, is that many companies are yet to find the best integration of internal systems (CRM, ERP, BI, MIS) and the many interactions with the outside world, where customer expectation is based on immediate convenience and instant satisfaction.

In an effort to optimize and streamline touch points, systems and protocols are put in place to answer the many questions of customers. At business-to-consumer level, there’s often an external contact center involved. And while these mostly offer very good services, they may not have a 360 degree dataset that is up to date or even accessible. At business-to-business level, there’s often a service level agreement in place with paid rates for support accounts with strict ‘rules of engagement’.

Moreover, it seems that companies struggle with which platform is best suited for customer care interaction. In addition, it seems that out-bound marketing lives in a different world than in-bound support requests.


Multichannel Conference


At the excellent Multichannel Conference ( last week in Utrecht, the Netherlands, it became apparent that there is a huge industry around customer service. And we again noticed the push to more systems, more protocols and more technology to capture anything that can help companies connect with customers. Not so much the customer as a person, but the data residing with an account that represents a customer. It is all about the ability to use that data effectively should the need arise to interact with the actual human being behind a reference number. At the conference we spoke with lots of software vendors that explained their newest solutions to do exactly that. Many were promoting their contact center automation tools. We also listened to the plethora of customer journey, user experience and business optimization examples. All in all, the Multichannel Conference has been a great experience.

What struck us most was the ostensible paradox of companies claiming that they put customers first, but at the same time regard them as a source to keep up with the numbers: funnel analysis, conversion rates, net promoter scores, customer effort scores and all other metrics that are used to measure and control KPI’s. In the logical pursuit of a positive customer experience, it all makes sense to use the big data sets that are generated through the many different platforms and interfaces. But by doing so, it seems that the actual person is phased out of view.


Real Life Cases


In one presentation, it became clear that the service provider did not know who the customer is. In a multi-step methodology to go from first time contact to loyal client in an online shopping environment, it gathered enough data half-way through to be able to have some form of personalization. Interestingly, this is without any human interaction during the whole customer contact process. It is a purely automated, digital scenario. The first ‘real’ contact takes place when something fails and the client feels compelled to get in touch.

Another presentation provided a rather interesting perspective. Although “customer comes first” was the motto, the company decided that in their own best interest, e-mail should no longer be a means for customers to reach out. Stronger yet, they already started the deployment of only one very specific platform for future communication: WhatsApp. Besides the question that comes to mind (“will customers regard this as their preferred method of communication?”), the bigger challenge proved to be the authorization by Facebook of allowing their communication platform to become a support vehicle. Up until now, Facebook seems to have actively shut down all attempts of doing so.

Finally, there was a presentation about the cooperation across different departments in a company and data flows between offices and people in their organization. The company uses highly sophisticated software and put a lot of effort in making sure that their contact center agents would easily navigate the many support topics. Efficiency to log issues was drastically improved and the internal collection of data is now less prone to scattering across different databases. However, there is still no integration with a CRM, nor do the agents know who the actual customer is.


The Persona(l) Touch


In our drive to excel at customer satisfaction, we may have come to the point that automation sometimes means a disconnect. Automation is a means, not a goal in itself. “Smart” connection should not be perceived as a digital solution only, since human behavior is still the bases of interaction.

One way to bridge the gap between systems on one end and human behavior on the other, is to make true customer understanding a key priority. A method to do this, is to use Personas. It is a highly effective way to visualize who the customer is. Personas, if designed with care, can be a strong tool to base business activities on.

Big data can become valuable information when personas are connected to business intelligence figures. Decisions about how to connect with customers can be influenced by using accurately crafted personas. In anonymous customer care situations, personas can help with recognizing motivators and triggers of the client on the other end of the line.

True Personas can put the human factor back into our multichannel communications.