Customer Service in 2012 and Beyond Technology..

Today’s post is triggered by Esteban Kolsky’s 2012 prediction for Customer Service markets. His predictions make sense, because Esteban is a good analyst that understands his job and takes it seriously. And since I do not understand a lot about the IT market, and frankly don’t want to, I advice you to trust Esteban’s views on that.

True, yet disappointing
I have to admit though, that I am disappointed with these predictions, because they are true. They show that vendors in the Customer Service arena, are hardly making any progress in understanding and shaping what it is Customer Service managers are trying to get done, now and within the next 2 to 5 years out.

And to me that’s disappointing because to a large extent many of the improvements we have made in the “industry’ were technologically driven. Think contact routing to the best suitable agent, think self-service solutions, think the numerous CRM, knowledge- and workflow-management applications, even think workforce optimization suites. All these tools have helped us to improve the Customer Experience even before we named it such.

Diminishing returns
But for quite some time now we are seeing, at large, diminishing return on those kind of investments. I have not recommended any such systems to my Clients for the past three to four years. And this is not because the market is saturated nor because of a lack of money. I don’t advice such tools because there is MORE substantial benefit in doing something different. Something that has a return on investment of months, not years. Stuff that benefit all stakeholders in AND outside the organization, like Customers, not just the company.

Stop the squeezing
We do not need more technology to help us squeeze the last drop of operational excellence out of our front-line service staff, We do not need large investments in Social tooling (for one, most of it is not that expensive) and Customer Service managers are also not waiting to be served from the cloud which mostly is just another delivery model for the same tools.

Three things to do
So what do Customer Service managers need? In my humble opinion they need to get the next couple of things done:

  1. Understand the Customer (Service) Journey throughout the lifetime of a Customer (and beyond) and thus understanding how value is created with the Customer at the different touch-points.
  2. Develop a clear understanding of which and how many contacts in the Contact Center are of value to the company AND the Customer, and which are not.
  3. Develop a Customer-driven dashboard to help you understand which Customers are where in the journey, how they feel they are being treated and how well their problems are being solved at what ‘costs/effort’ to them.. (not just you!)

Based on an overlay of the information and insights gathered out of the above three ‘things’ you should be able to extract priorities for improvement and start to manage, or maybe even adding, the right contacts, for maximum value co-creation, whilst getting rid of contacts that irritate both you and the Customer. (You should actually try and do this for all touch-points, but you will probably be working on this part for the next 2 to 3 years, so don’t bother just now).

These priority contacts need to be designed as part of an orchestrated end-to-end experience, not a stand-alone transaction or interaction. And I’ll tell you this: Those priority contacts are not very likely improved through a new Social Media tool, more workforce-repression solutions or a cloud based ‘anything’.

Once improved ‘the right way’ though, your Customer Services will no longer be a transactional value extracting unit, and its returns will exceed your Customers’ and bosses’ wildest expectations.

In my humble opinion of course.

What’s yours?

16 thoughts on “Customer Service in 2012 and Beyond Technology..

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  4. I’m liking the customer journey focus; the end to end experience; and the value to the company of that customer. I think there are some real neat points in that John from Vanguard link in the earlier comments and by the strangest of twists I used that very link in my own blog today (the first in months).

    Really looking forward to hearing more about how you see the customer journey tools and philosophy morph into a programme of activities.


  5. Wim,

    1) thanks for using my post as inspiration – much appreciated, as well as the kind words

    2) i mostly agree with what you are saying from the theoretical perspective — but after 25 years or more in customer service i can assure that we are nowhere near there today than when i first started. the main problem, and i have said this many times before, is the “promote-from-within” mentality that is prevalent in contact centers and call centers. people on top where people in the bottom 20+ years ago, and while the “get” they need to do things differently, and they test and try things here and there, they don’t see the developed model they need to embrace – nor can they justify the rip-and-replace approach that is necessary do embrace / adopt it.

    at the very best, we should feel relieved that the concepts are resonating sufficiently for pilots and test projects to be under way– but change won’t come for another 10-15 years if not longer — and it will come as a side effect of adoption of cloud computing concepts in the organization, where the changes to service processes won’t be so taxing to the business.

    3) i think that the whole concept of customer journey is overplayed, since they are still focused on very complex interactions between customers and organizations — where the solution should come from (as i said in the cloud) is from atomized applications that are ubiquitous and driven / built by customers to do what they want to do. the concept of customer journeys — heck, even co-creation — talks to corporate responsibility to deliver, and that is the core control element to take away from them. trust me, once consumers can create their own atomized apps to do service the way they need to while interacting with the organization’s systems, the entire idea of co-creation and what-not will disappear faster than candy in my daughter’s halloween bucket the night of halloween (i swear she eats it all, dad really does not take anything — well, they do need to learn about taxes, what with VAT being 25-30% in most places, know what i mean?).

    I like where you are going, but it is time to start relaxing even more the company’s control on data and processes and empower the user to do what they want to do, how they want to, when they want to, and why they want to — without asking for help from the company.

    vive la automatisation!


    • Hi Esteban,

      You earned that T-shirt long before I did! And I think we largely agree, or better: this is not a discussion of (dis)agreement. I do have a slightly more positive view to the contact center world than you do though, which could be because of our different cultures.

      In The Netherlands (and throughout Europe) I see more relatively small sized contact centers (let’s say 100 to 300 FTE) leading the way into new models. Small steps, yes, but decisive..

      I don’t think the Customer Journey concept is overplayed. I think it’s underused and not well understood. I’m currently ‘doing one’ at a large Dutch insurer where we are also including the concept of value network mapping, which typically takes an outside-in and integrated/systemic view imo. And we’re taking both the lifetime approach as we do the specific ‘solve the problem’-job approach. No theory, practice. And we’re doing this together with a Service Innovation & Design (Thinking) Consultancy, who are not doing this for the first time, either.

      Anyway, I’m rambling, my point: I’m not writing about 10-15 years out. I’m writing about the stuff I’m doing right now. And I’m determined to, when the time comes, help Customers build better atomized apps to get their jobs done, if they need to. (As a side-note: Customers building (and using) their own apps is co-creation to the extreme, really.. think about it)

      And we both agree on the desired end-state..

      And, you should know you are the #1 commenter on my blog, with 35 in total! (excluding myself of course). And I hope you’ll continue to be #1 for a long time. I really appreciate your knowlegde, opinions, time and style. So: THANK YOU. And I’m sure I say this on behalf of the readers here as well.



      • Thanks for your reply,

        I am definitely looking forward to see what you do with your clients, you are one of the few consultants that is doing more than talking about these concepts, so definitely interesting.

        I think that you hit the nail in the head, our “differences” come from diff cultures, we are overplaying customer journeys here — mostly since no one is doing them and the hype grows the less that is done. You are doing, always have been impressed by the innovation coming from these lairs – but underwhelmed by the lack of adoption of those same concepts. The innovation and adoption “over there” is always ahead of what we do here, but it is more than likely a result of different business cultures (and probably, as you mention, enterprise size). I am hoping that as globalization happens at the business level more and more we will stop talking about “here” and “there”. Alas, enterprise size will surely become an issue then…

        not a bad comment for #36 — as long as you continue to write thoughtful and thought-causing posts, glad to come over and comment.

        Keep up the good work, one of the few blogs i read each time it comes out.


  6. Very true, technology cannot solve all problems however I still believe using technology in the right way can help improve contact center operations. Someone once said, if you cannot measure, you cannot improve – tools IMO help in the measurement. Drawing inferences and actionizing them is something that people have to …


    • The other side of the coin is that Customer Service Managers say that they can’t do anything because it is not nicely integrated and measurable..

      If we have to wait for enough money and enough agreement to be gathered to do all that, competition has long finished and pushed the new finishing line miles ahead.

      Tools help, but there is a lot with high impact that can be done without, and you are not only helping your customers by getting things done but also bringing your goals of implementing that must-have technology a lot closer, for it has become a lot cheaper after you’ve taken out all the calls Customers did not want to do anyway..

      Thx for stopping by and taking time to comment.



  7. Hi Wim, great post again. I have a question relating to the earlier post of the letter of the contact center manager; in the market there is more awareness that efficiency is no longer the most important thing in contact with the customer. But still, a lot of projects or improvements in the contactcenter, as you point out here as well, is still about technology, putting the customer through faster. It is not so much about the quality of the contact between customer and agent. What is holding companies back to really make the switch from cost to profit or value center, if you want to call it that?


    • Hi Anne,

      Good question, and one I cannot answer in general. I have seen many different reasons why ‘value based initiatives’ have been killed, or just died out.

      I don’t think many people or even organizations are ‘against’ the proposed direction. It is just difficult to get it done, when the organization is not used to collaborate across silo’s or when there are just different priorities between the silo’s.


      If the Internet department is working very hard to get their web-sites and applications ‘mobilized’, very little time, resources and money remains to invest in a great online service experience that helps Customers getting their stuff done when it suits them.. (and reduce call-volume).


      If the call center has chosen to implement a new workforce management system to improve efficiency, they usually are so busy that implementing new services, like e.g. chat, will not fly in that year..

      The main driver behind all this is that every silo is trying to do their utmost to create as much value for them or the company, from their point of view. Again, with all good intentions, but not as effective as the approach I suggest in this post.. imo ;)

      Makes sense?



    • Hi Sylvain,

      Great to see you here. Thx for the read and pointer. I’m somewhat familiar with the vanguard methodology. To me they can get a bit too fanatic and that’s where my interest then ends. Same goes for other ‘religions’ like ‘lean, six-sigma’ and so-on.

      But, I do think more people should have a systemic view on things, as opposed to the silo’d and internally focused view.



  8. Interesting post.

    I can see the need for a change in focus

    Mindless decision trees that CS reps are given to go through take too long to get to the heart of a service request. The idea is not a bad one but you need a loop back that allows enhancement of these trees via recording the routes that different reps take through the decision trees, ‘smart’ analysis of the findings, then ‘smart’ prioritization of the prompts issued to the reps to more quickly diagnose problems. Some companies are doing this, most are not.

    The other great need, IMO, is to change the model where the CS reps sit like spiders in a web, waiting for customers to call in with problems. Why not call out periodically, ask how things are going and then provide advice and assistance if the rep sees a trend that is likely to lead the customer to problems? The argument is this requires a higher level of CS rep, which is true, and a second argument is with the time to provide advice and assistance. But, technology in the form of chained short focused how-to videos avoid the need for CS reps to do any more than point the customer in the right direction.

    I agree totally with the statement “‘. . technology to help us squeeze the last drop of operational excellence out of our front-line service staff” – the real purpose all along has not been operational excellence (i.e. read cost reduction), rather to increase customer satisfaction so that the number of CS incoming calls are reduced (better product designs, easy to read instructions, QA that reduces fails). We have all of the technology we need to do this but companies have to figure out how to use this technology.


    • Hi Karl,

      Thx for stopping by and writing such an extensive comment. You make a very god point with regard to pro-activity of Customer Services, although I don’t think the regular service call is a scalable solution. Does work well though when applied to your best (high value) Customers.

      Thx again & hope to see you back here.



  9. Pingback: Customer Service in 2012 and Beyond Technology.. « Wim Rampen’s Blog | Serve4Impact

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