Essential Guide

Guide to customer experience management best practices, technologies

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CEM requires more than just customer service skills

It’s not just tools companies need to power customer experience management; it’s employees who can do the job. And the skills those workers need to go far beyond mere customer service.

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As businesses deploy customer experience management initiatives, they need more than technology. They need the right people—and not just employees with customer service skills. Rather, people in marketing, sales and IT will have to serve as diplomats on the many communication channels used by customers. In CEM, they’re all part of customer service.

According to consultants and analysts, organizations and their employees need to master the following key areas:

Collaboration. A customer’s experience crosses almost all departmental boundaries, from e-commerce to marketing to billing. Managers and employees alike will need to work in cross-departmental teams to ensure customer-related processes flow smoothly and that problems are resolved quickly, said Jeanne Bliss, president of CustomerBliss, a Los Angeles-based customer experience consultancy.

“We need to teach people to be inclusive and to build collaboration muscle in the organization,” Bliss said.

Customer problems can originate in a variety of places—billing, shipping and sales, for instance—so a customer service professional has to learn about these areas and collaborate with those departments to figure out a problem, Bliss said.  

Metrics. Organizations must learn new ways to measure success in CEM. Traditional metrics, such as call handling time, will continue to be used but need to be balanced with measures that focus on customer satisfaction, said Art Hall, a director at the Atlanta branch of Alvarez & Marsal, an international management consulting company.

Contact center ROI is one such metric, Hall said. “It weighs contact center costs against the company’s effectiveness in resolving customer problems on first contact,” he said.  

Mobile. As more customers use mobile devices to buy products and seek services, companies need employees with experience in developing and integrating mobile applications.

According to Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst and director at the Yankee Group Research Inc., a Boston-based research company that covers mobile trends, a mobile phone is the preferred channel of interaction over landline telephones. An organization must recognize that shift and have employees who can further the company’s embrace of mobile technologies to enhance customer experiences, she said.

“You want to have someone who understands the user experience on the device. You don’t want someone who can only transpose your website [onto] a mobile site. You want someone who can create a mobile environment with mobile apps and who understands the business processes behind them,” Kingstone said.

Mobile customers need to have access to a variety of information, including product pricing, account information and shipping status. Too often, Kingstone said, customers encounter dead ends on mobile applications. For instance, some businesses’ mobile sites have click-to-call buttons that duplicate the buttons on websites, but those buttons don’t work on a mobile version of a site.

New media communication. Given how fast mobile texting and social media have entered CEM, customers expect companies to know how to use those channels. Being able to interact with customers through those channels, as well as through online forums, instant messaging and e-mail, is becoming an essential addition to traditional customer service skills.

“You need people who can handle multiple channels, people who can speak, and write—people who understand how to use all the social media channels and how to intercept a customer’s tweet to bring it inside” to customer service, according to Donna Fluss, president of the West Orange, N.J., contact center consultancy DMG Consulting LLC.

An employee’s writing skills have become critical as customers communicate more using Facebook, email and texts and less on telephone calls. Employees need to write clearly and politely when responding on these channels, even on informal ones such as Twitter.

“Writing and texting are emerging as critical skills. Organizations need to be astute and bring training in for that,” Fluss said.  

Problem solving and organization. Some traditional skills, like common sense and critical thinking, will also become more important in the future, industry observers say.

“Being able to understand all of the company’s operations so you can figure out how problems can be resolved in the customer’s best interests is critical to creating a good customer experience,” Hall said.

And because employees are expected to manage many communication channels, data sources and applications, they will need strong organizational skills, Bliss said.

“That is one of the biggest challenges [for customer service representatives]. They’re often forced to toggle back and forth between multiple screens and navigate options,” she said.

Fluss agreed: “You need people who can multi-task, because they won’t be handling one thing at a time. They should know how to have multiple conversations going, and looking things up while emailing and conversing. They need to be able to move a customer quickly from one channel to another.”  

Not all of these skills come naturally to some employees, Fluss said.

She suggested having successful employees help create models of the skills and personality traits needed for each CEM role.

“Some things may not be on a resume. It may be in how someone listens or responds to situations,” Fluss said. “By looking at the most successful people you have today, you can create a profile for hiring new employees as well as coaching others to make them more successful.”

About the author:
Sue Hildreth freelance IT writer and a senior analyst for Hypatia Research in Lexington, Mass. She has covered enterprise software technology and IT management issues for many of TechTarget’s sites, including SearchCRM.com, SearchSMB.com, SearchDomino.comand SearchSecurity.com. Email her at sue.hildreth@comcast.net.

This was first published in November 2012

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Essential Guide

Guide to customer experience management best practices, technologies

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