Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Closing the Revolving Door – Part1

Closing the Revolving Door – Part1
By: Colin Taylor

Staff and Agent retention was a ‘hot’ button topic in the call center industry 20 years ago and still is one now. So how is it that the same issue that ‘dogged’ call centers two decades ago is still a ‘front burner’ issue today? I think there are a number of factors that contribute to this:
• The nature of turnover and staff attrition is such that you are never done this process,
• Successive regimes have built up and eroded successful programs that addressed this topic,
• Regular and expected fluctuations in employment levels and labour availability ‘hid’ the problem for periods of time.

Addressing turnover and attrition is a never ending process. With labour costs representing approximately two-thirds of your center operating costs, it is a battle you need to wage and a battle you really want to win.
In this article we will look at what you can do, today, in your center to reduce attrition. There are many ideas, methods, tools and tactics that you can employ to reduce attrition that require time to implement, develop the business case, ROI calculations and secure funding and management approval.
But what can you do today, right now, at little or no cost that will actually improve retention in your center immediately? Specifically we will look at rewards and recognition, ways you can involve, engage and motivate your agents, today.
Proven techniques
A number of proven techniques that can improve staff retention and we will address these under the headings I have named:
• Understanding Rewards and Recognition
• It’s not just the Money
• Recognition is over rated
• Motivating without money
• Building Community
• Challenges equal Opportunities

Before we examine how to improve retention it is critical we have a good understanding of what our current situation is. Do you know what your turnover rate is? Do you know why people are leaving your center?
We have worked with many managers that have answered yes to these questions only to later ask to revise their answers. It is critical that you know or at least believe you know the answers to these questions as we begin drill down through the challenges of retention management.
All centers today employ rewards and recognition within their centers, some with robust unified programs and others moving through a series of one-off tactics. However many of the centers in both of these camps do not have a good grasp of human nature or what truly motivates people.
The recent recession has caused many call centers to scale back, they have thinned the ranks of management, fewer VP’s per square inch, and have reduced or frozen headcount and budgets. So doing more with less; really has become doing more with none.

A changing staff
On top of the budgetary and economic issues we have seen a change in the agents we have working in our centers. Gen X and Gen Y employees are different. They have different expectations, motivations and a different view of what is important. They represent new challenges in engagement and motivation. You need to approach Gen Y employees differently in order to engage with them.

Finally we must remember that tactics are short term. One off campaigns, contests and incentives will be quickly forgotten.
Wherever possible you want to develop Reward and Recognition programs and incentives that are strategic, that is to say support and align with the goals of the center and those of business. Strategic and structural programs endure and become a part of the fabric of the center.
Having said this, don’t discount the value of using money as an incentive...It is still the right size, shape and color, but it should not be the only tool in your rewards and recognition arsenal.
One fact that many centers have reported to me is that their staff has become more transient. Staff is not career focused…some just want a job and not a career. Some may be working in the center until they find a job...what does that say about their perception of the call center and the company?
Turnover is a fact of life and will always be a concern to call center operators. And like it or not our Supervisors are likely not as well selected or trained as we would like them to be. All of these factors were true in call centers 20 years ago, so has anything really changed?

Recognition is not enough
Time and time again you will hear experts and pundits espouse that recognition is all you require to have a happy and engaged workforce. Unfortunately that isn’t correct. Recognition is wonderful and makes those being recognized feel special and valued, but alone it is not enough to solve retention issues.
By themselves recognition programs have a number of shortcomings: Event and time based programs end, ‘First past the post’ generally results in the same cadre of agent winning all of the time- remember our Mastery agents...they should be winning all the time! If you can not win, you will quickly give up trying. In this situation the reward program that was implemented to motivate and incent agents is actually a disincentive.
The key to long term success and ease of management is to implement programs that are aligned with the objectives of the center. They support the attainment of the objectives and goals established for the center.
For example if one of the centers objectives in 2010 is to improve First Call Resolution by 5%, then an incentive or recognition program tied to FCR or reducing repeat callers or increasing the percentage of customers who identify “fully resolved” on the post call survey are all examples of aligned programs. Programs that recognize those who achieved a 10 second reduction in AHT is not aligned with the objective unless its’ scope is expanded to include a while improving FCR. In fact in the AHT example it is quite likely that this program would actually reduce FCR at least in the near term as agents rush callers off the phone and struggle to find faster ways of doing things.
Similarly programs that incent sales can be great, but if that is not a center objective it is not aligned.
Lots of achievements that can be seen as positive improvement in a call center, but not all of them will be aligned with the stated and published business objectives of the center; reduce AHT, reduce costs, increase sales, improve center profitability, reduce calls, reduce cost per contact, increase FCR, increase CSAT, improve ESAT etc. All of these can be identified as call center business goals. But none of these operates in a truly independent manner. We know that a call center is an interconnected web of processes, people, technology and methodologies and many of these elements are connected...some in obvious and others in far more subtle ways.

Cases of non-aligned incentives
The following are a couple of real world example of non-aligned incentives.

One services company set the center objective to reduce costs...this is likely one goal we are all familiar with. So the center management decided to offer and incentive for agents who attained an AHT of under 200 seconds. For each call they handled under 200 seconds they had their name entered into a draw for prizes. At first the results appeared stunning almost every agent reduced their AHT from 220 -230 seconds to sub 200. It was on the third day however that the center manager noticed that the call volume was rising significantly above the generally accurate forecast. They were at a loss to explain why.

On day four it twigged. They found through monitoring that they were getting lots of complaints from customers reporting that when they called in the agent would hang up on them before they were finished. Closer scrutiny found that yes; in fact the agents were hanging up on customers. In fact some even told the customers that they would have to call back because the agent had used up all of their time for the call – Ouch

In a real outbound example, one company had an inside sales team that sold new business to a large prospect database. Now the database had been cobbled together from multiple sources and had a lot of holes in the information, missing addresses, postal codes etc. The manager determined, reasonably, that if they had better information in the database then they would have fewer orders with incorrect and/or inaccurate information which required rework.
So the Manager implemented an incentive program that paid the rep $.50/ updated record. This worked, in fact it worked so well that once the agents realized that they could make as much if not more incentive dollars by simply updating records versus selling the service, they stopped selling. Now I ask you what should be the primary role of an inside sales team?
We know that other companies and organizations struggle with the exact same issues as we do. How do these firms motivate their staff?

Existing Recognition/reward programs
Before we dive any deeper on what programs could be deployed, let’s look at some of the recognition and reward programs that other organizations are employing.
• Rotating Trophies for Top Performers each month.
• Decorating agents’ workstations whenever they meet their daily and/or monthly goals.
• Managers calls: where the center Supervisor and Managers take the reps calls for an hour while the Rep coaches the manager.- The Scooter Store
• Reps pick songs and select management staff who must perform them.- Freedom Communications
• Call swapping- If an agent gets 100% QA score on 3 calls, The manager takes 3 calls for the rep.- Galileo Processing
• Top performers each month have their Manager pick them up every day for a week and drive them to work
• Earn a chocolate for a perfect call or a call resolved in X minutes. Each resolution (or perfect call) gets a round of applause from the whole center.- Wipro BPO
• 80/20 Elite Team, the Pareto principal rewards the top 20% of agents. They get a separate lounge, flex shifts, first choice of time off and are groomed for management roles. This is run and reviewed each quarter. – Wipro BPO
• Placing a rose on the seat of an agent who has gone above and beyond.
• Campaign pins, like military ribbons or scout badges placed on the agents nameplate on their workstation.- Embarq
• Producing ‘Baseball’ cards of your star performers- Embarq,
• We rely on Dr. Bob Nelson book “1001 Ways to Reward Employees”, it has been invaluable.- The McNaughton Group,
• Earning points for every call with FCR over 90, points redeemed out of a catalogue
• Call center radio, top performers get to pick the songs that will play in the lunch and break rooms

There are lots of good ideas here, but most are tactical, one-offs and some you can see that are a part of larger, over arching program. Many of these tactics could however be integrated into a strategic program.
One other thing you will notice is that almost all of these reward on the ‘best’, we know from experience that these types of programs do little to motivate or engage the ‘rest’.

Tactical versus strategic

How can we move beyond the individual recognition event?
The answer is to move beyond the tactical and develop an aligned culture and community that delivers superior service? This requires structure and design, both of the real world examples I cited earlier shared the design flaw that the managers didn’t think through the process. They also didn’t appreciate that agents are smart. If there is a way to ‘game’ or cheat a system, they will find it and exploit it.
The second part of this article will explore the creation of an enduring structure in the call center that will foster employee engagement and motivation and permit the deployment of aligned reward/recognition programs that meet the objectives of the center and the business.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Self Service - Of Cents and Sensibility Part 2

Self Service of Cents and Sensibility Part 2

By: Colin Taylor

In part 1 of this three part series we looked at the history of service service, the challenges organizations and customer face when trying to interact via self service, the most popular and preferred self service channels, costs and effectiveness and declining success rates. In this part we examine Customer perceptions regarding self service, best practices for ebilling and IVR and Self Service and the Call Center.

Customer Perceptions
What if we could peek inside the head of our customers and see what they really think about self service, what would we discover? Research completed by Paul Hudson found that customer perception is that self-service is associated with speed, convenience, simplicity……and technology – but not associated with offering support, being caring, or personalized. However, the words ‘customer service’ is associated with care, support, personalized, but less associated with being fast and convenient.

Two out of three U.S. consumers surveyed want self-service options when shopping. Nearly half of U.S. shoppers surveyed under the age of 45 want stores to offer self-checkout. Almost 46 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed want stores to offer more self-service options, like self-checkout or kiosks, to improve their shopping experience.

In looking at customer perceptions we have to realize that – 1-perceptions are not static, they can change over time –People who refused to pump their own gas or use an ATM when these SS technologies were introduced happily do so today. And 2-That perceptions are shaped by the customers environment and by their self interest and specifically is something is: A) Easier, B) Faster, C) Less Expensive

Self Service and the Call Center

According to ICMI, 79.5 of centres offer Self Service. Reasons for Implementation where headed up by : operating cost reductions (83.4%) and meeting customer demand for service options (74.3%). Over half (64%) of respondents don’t know if or when a customer has tried to self-serve but then opted for a live representative.

Among the tools contact centers use to support Web self-service channels, in particular, leaders emerged: issue tracking (53%), knowledge management (44.6%) and service management tools (42.3%).
A troubling 43.6%, almost half of respondents, don’t measure customer feedback on their centers’ self-service channels.

Regardless of the self service channels employed in the call center, each center still has to determine what to do with:
 The 13% that opt out of the IVR?
 The 40% who are still on your website?
 The 2/3 that have already tried to find the answer?
 Silo distance between call centre and ‘owners’ of the web?

Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ’s are often one of the first self service tools adopted. If questions can be self contained and completely answer the question they are well suited for web service. 80% of questions can generally be answered by FAQ’s . Yet FAQ’s are near the bottom of the self service tools employed by customers
1. Shopping carts (for products/services)
2. Order confirmation
3. Order tracking
4. Appointment setting/rescheduling
5. Bill pay and funds transfer
6. Personal account access, set up and management
7. Site search
8. FAQ’s
9. Opening and checking tickets

So how do we implement and drive self service adoption? The graphic below illustrates the considerations that need to be addressed and aligned.

Consumer must be ready, they must understand their role (89% of employees are confused by new products or services) and what is expected of them, they must be motivated; either by themselves or someone else and they must have the Ability- skills, competency, knowledge or pre-requisite technology (i.e. internet).

The product must have appeal, be compatible with the target audience, provide a tangible advantage over previous methods etc. In addition the product must overcome inertia, technology anxiety etc.

Drilling down to look at eBilling this chart illustrates a logical process to implement eBilling.

The following best practice tips can significantly improve the speed of implementation as well as the success achieved;

1. Sign up all new customers for your ebill program. Do it automatically and with no action required from the customer.
2. Use an e-mail matching service append up to 20 percent of your customer database with customer’s email addresses at very low cost.
3. Initiate an automated welcome e-mail telling the customer what to expect.
4. Then just begin delivering the bill electronically. A small percentage will opt-out, but the vast majority will accept it. Adoption therefore becomes equal to the number of email addresses you have available.
5. Offer simple bill presentment via secure email as the first step. It’s not necessary to try and ‘pull’ the customer to your website to achieve successful ebill presentment.
6. Take it one step at a time. Achieve bill presentment and paper truncation first. Then drive payment as the next step.
7. Replicate your paper bill truly in a digital format – familiarity drives acceptance. You can add additional functionality later.
8. Use opt-out rather than opt-in strategies. Customers expect you to bill them.
9. Automatic paper truncation with the ability to revert to the paper option. When your customers are familiar with the ebill, turn off the paper automatically – you will be surprised how few requests you will get to re-institute their paper bill (on average, less than three percent).

On the topic of best practices lets look at some related to the use of IVR’s
1. Menu options no more than 4
2. No more than 4 layers
3. Zero Out option at any time
4. Allow corrections at each menu level (consider routing to live agent after 1)
5. Allow to back up or re start at each menu level (consider routing to live agent after 1)
6. No Jargon
7. Make sure the customer can actually do things they want to do:
1. Account balance
2. Report a payment
3. Open a Ticket
4. Track a shipment
8. Test Speech Recognition and Virtual agents before you deploy.
9. Use IVR for outbound calls -
1. Outage notifications,
2. Pre-collection,
3. Planned Maintenance/Outages

Share knowledge across multiple channels to make it available when and where needed:
Knowledge base for web, can be employed by live agents for calls, chats, email
FAQ’s- make sure they are the same ones regardless of the channel they are viewed
Blog- If you have one promote it and link it to your website and help pages if it offers service and self service tips.
Video/YouTube channel- This can be a great resource for showing ‘How to’ and,’ where to find’ information.
You must measure all users who employ self service…those that enter and those who leave early. Only by understanding what calls, contacts you are actually deflecting successfully can you determine the ROI. And only by knowing where customers are ‘jumping out’ of self service can you identify where you need to improve.

A Caveat to the trend to self-service has been raised by William J. McEwen, Ph.D., the author of Married to the Brand. Bill cited industries that have trended towards commodity status have of often been strong proponents of Self Service…such as the gasoline retail business. 40 years ago when each retailer tried to show the superiority of their product, but by 2007 only 9% of consumers surveyed by Gallup believed there was any difference between brands.

McEwen feels that a key to maintaining a strong brand is maintaining contact and interaction with customers. Organizations like the JetBlue, Southwest and Ritz Carleton have long since identified that their staff are the key to a success and positive guest experience. Similarly we can all think of positive service experiences where it was the individual that we interacted with that made the experience so great.

So from McEwens’ perspective if we eliminate personal service interactions we are driving our organization towards commoditization. If we take McEwen at face value a move toward cost reduction through self service is less personal, less connected and less likely to create raving fans or similarly happy customers.

But more personal service costs more. Is their no way of improving service quality without increasing the costs?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Quality Listening is Not a Performance Review

Why the Quality Listening program Should Not be a Performance Review
By: Colin Taylor

Let’s look at the numbers. In a customer service call center where the quality assurance program requires the evaluation of 4 calls per month. The average agent will handle approximately 1,600 calls in the month. This means that the 4 calls evaluated represent only a quarter of a single percentage point. Or put another way we are evaluating and assessing only one out of each 400! How representative was the second Tuesday of August? To employ that Tuesday in August of last year as being representative of the past fifteen months likely doesn’t make sense. Neither does basing an opinion of an agent’s performance on every 400th call. No mater how we try to examine these individual call assessments, the sample size is just too small to have meaning. This is the fundamental problem with attempting to employ quality assurance scores as mini-performance reviews.

Attempting to use your quality reviews as a performance assessment tool misses the primary objective of quality management. Quality assurance is about assuring the quality of the service being delivered. To who is this assurance being made? The answer is to senior management. The practice of assessing quality allows center management to gauge the performance of the center and individual agents within the center. The value to the center and senior managers in knowing the relative performance of the center and comparing and contrasting the performance with previous months is significant. But perhaps the ability to identify how individual agents are performing is more valuable. By knowing where agents are at can help us direct our efforts to improve the overall performance and quality of the center.

The objective isn’t just to identify problems and what agents are doing wrong, but also to identify what they are doing well. Both the areas for improvement; through coaching leading to improved individual performance and sharing best practices improves the overall performance of the center.

Performance reviews have a place and time, and that is your regularly scheduled performance review. The agent’s individual performance reviews may play a small role here specifically related to improvement over time as their skills improved. Remember that a failure of an agent to improve or be able to overcome performance deficiencies is as much a censure of the coaching and skills development staff, recruiting and staff selection and processes as it is of the agent in question.

The correct positioning of the Quality program, its strengths and weaknesses, function and goals is key to gaining a well functioning center. This positioning needs to be known by both the senior management but also the agents. So that each can recognize their contributions and how all can help with the centers success.

Participate in the #fiveideas and vote on the call center topic you would like addressed in the next post. You can vote here

Self Service – Of Cents & Sensibility Part 1

Self Service – Of Cents & Sensibility Part 1

By: Colin Taylor
A 1% improvement in customer satisfaction in utilities is worth 4.6% in market value growth so says Claes Fornell of the University of Michigan, producers of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. So if good service pays such high dividends: why is there so much poor service around?

Most customers encounter loyalty-eroding problems and situations when they engage with customer service, according to the Harvard Business Review;
56% report having to re-explain an issue
57% report having to switch from the web to the phone
59% report expending moderate-to-high effort to resolve an issue
59% report being transferred
62% report having to repeatedly contact the company to resolve an issue
After 2-3 self service attempt failures customers will not try it again

Service failures not only drive existing customers to defect—they also can repel prospective customers. Research shows:
25% of customers are likely to say something positive about their customer service experience
65% are likely to speak negatively
23% of customers who had a positive service interaction told 10 or more people about it
48% of customers who had negative experiences told 10 or more others

If this is the experience with live agents who have been hired and specifically trained to assist customers, why would any organization want to offer self service? So why do organizations want to employ self service? Traditional service with live agents or personnel is labour intensive. It costs a lot to deploy staff in a call center, in retail or even in a full service gas station. If we ever remembered the nostalgic service from multiple attendants we could find ourselves in a state of shock (as was the case in Back to the Future) or fear, as was the case in a recent CarMax television ad.
View the ad here. CarMax TV Ad

Costs Savings, Productivity & Technology
Having said that, fear is not a primary driver of self service. Self service is pursued for other reasons. It is cheaper to have customers serve themselves than to pay someone else to do this. The multiple attendants we saw in the CarMax video have been replaced by an intercom button to press if we have a problem pumping our own gas.

If we offer web based FAQ’s and customers can find what they want by themselves, it eliminates a call and or a live retail transaction, along with the associated labor costs. In this situation agents can and should then deal with more important, complex or urgent issues improving overall productivity.

Of course we can all be guilty of wanting the latest, greatest technology, technology envy perhaps. I recently upgraded my BlackBerry. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with my old Blackberry, but the new one did have a faster internet connection and an upgraded keyboard. It was the also quite cool in my estimation. So I upgraded. In truth the main reason I did so was that it was cool. When asked why, I pointed to the internet speed and keyboard. In doing so I proved that old chestnut that people act upon emotion and rationalize with intellect. So if there is technology out there and we have read how it helped a similar organization, then we may want to try it in our shop.

So Self service can be less expensive, more productive and leverage cutting edge technologies. Cheaper, faster and sexier…what can go wrong?

Self Service almost 100 years Old
Before we go any further let’s take a look back --- Self service as a concept is almost 95 years old.
In 1917, the US Patent Office awarded Clarence Saunders a patent for a "self-serving store." Saunders invited his customers to collect the goods they wanted to buy from the store and present them to a cashier, rather than having the store employee consult a list presented by the customer, and collect the goods. Saunders licensed the business method to independent grocery stores, these operated under the memorable name "Piggly Wiggly."

In 1961, Bell System developed a new tone dialling methodology (touch tone or DTMF- Dual Tone Multiple Frequency). In doing so Bell created the technological basis for the IVR or Interactive Voice Response system. It would take until the mid 80’s for the IVR to become commercially viable for call center applications. One of the first commercial uses in Canada was the Moosehead joke line that was created to support the launch of Moosehead beer in Ontario.

Invented by IBM, the first ATM was introduced in December 1972 at Lloyds Bank in the UK. Again it wouldn’t become a daily event for a decade.

1979: Michael Aldrich invented online shopping by allowing people to purchase product from his computer store, via his Usenet site. This was many years before the worldwide web became a reality.

The term "Web 2.0" was coined in January 1999 by Darcy DiNucci- denoting inter-operability. This is user centricity, and information sharing that gave birth to web self service. It took another 6 or 7 seven years to reach the masses.

More Volume and Less Success

So with self service existing for years and years what percentage of self service interactions are successful today? According TSIA only 39% of self service transactions were successful in 2010. But this is only half the story. The level of successful transactions has declined from 48% in 2003!

So we have a dichotomy here… people are more eager to deal with virtual agents according to Harvard Business Review, we are certainly more accustomed to interacting with technology than we were in 2003. Yet the success of self serve technology is declining. So why is this happening?

In part this is caused by attempts to implement more complex self service interaction opportunities and a frequent failure to properly plan and understand what the customer is willing and able to do.

In the past few decades we have seen a huge increase in self service transaction volumes even though fewer being deemed successful than we had in 2003, there are many, many more transactions today.

Airport Kiosk Check in introduced in 1995 and now represents 95% of all passenger check ins at Continental Airlines. It costs the airline less than 5% of the cost of a live ticket agent to process a passenger at a kiosk . Forresters reports the costs at $3.02 per live agent processing and $0.14 to $0.32 per kiosk processed check in.

Mobile airline check in, introduced in 2009 and ticket purchase are the new self service options on the horizon, with most airlines supporting this self service channel. 25% of airlines offer online check in today, rising to 81% within 3 years .

There are a number of Utilities employing self serve kiosks to deliver services to unbanked (those without bank accounts) and under banked (those that do not have access to online banking and therefore cannot employ other self service channels) customers. Some of these utilities include: Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Gas, San Antonio Water Systems, Arizona Power Service and Memphis Light, Gas, and Water.

The first self service gas station in North America was in Winnipeg MB in 1949 . Pay at Pump or prepay required by Law in BC. NJ and Oregon prohibit customers operating gas pumps…thereby making full service mandatory. Today there are 135,000 gas stations in North America, only 9% of these in Canada and more than 80% are self service.

Self service in the grocery industry was introduced almost a century ago. Yet true self service was much slower to evolve. Only 16% of supermarket transactions were completed via self-checkout in 2010 (down from 22% a year ago). Supermarket self-checkout being phased out by a number of US companies such as Albertsons and Big Y.

So why are adoption and utilization rates are declining for grocery self check out? As with most failures in self service, the problem isn’t the self service itself. In the case of grocery self service, the problem isn’t really self check out. It is coupons and bags. The systems are not well configured to support various sizes and shapes of coupons. Plus the location and method for placing the bags causes frequent problems. It is not the technology. It’s the process! We need to focus on the “Why” before the ‘How’

Customers accessing Web based content increased from 2.5 million in 2008 to more than 10 million in 2010. Interaction Volumes are growing annually by 20% or more according to TSIA. More than 60% of your customers who phone have tried to find the information on your website FIRST. More than a third will be on your website when they call!

According to Forrester Research, the cost of the average Web self-service session is just $1 USD, compared to $10 USD for an e-mail response and $33 USD for a telephone call. Many utilities have expanded their Web-based menus to customers and include more services such as bill payment, bill presentment, eBill signup, view payment history, view energy usage and bank drafting signup. These six services are available on Web sites at least 70 percent of utility organizations across North America.
For some utilities (PPL Electric- a Pennsylvania utility with 1.4 million customers) process more Web and IVR Self Service transactions than they do live calls – 630,000 Web self service, 400,000 IVR self service and 975,000 live calls over the same 5 month period of 2010.

Starbucks now has 3 million customers using mobile prepaid to pay for their coffee. Apple and Facebook are able to charge 30% commission vs. the 2-3% credit card players charge. ‘Mobile money’ is the second highest priority for Google.

Why can Apple and Facebook charge these exorbitant commissions and why is Mobile money # 2 on the Google ‘To Do’ List? – The combined market for all types of mobile payments is expected to reach more than $600B globally by 2013.

Mobile operators worldwide have achieved an average customer e-billing adoption rate of 56.8 percent while traditional telcos lag at just 17.2 percent. In August 2011, EFMA (European Mobile Association) published a report after surveying 150 European banks with McKinsey on mobile banking. Their findings are that banks believe mobile will fundamentally change retail banking within five years (70%), and yet the majority have fewer than ten employees working on mobile and have yet to make any change in their operations to exploit this capability.

How do you begin to address Mobile solutions? First look at the web reporting and analytics. You must look beyond the overall mobile vs. non-mobile usage performance for the entire website. If you examine this you will likely see somewhere around 5% of your website visitors are coming from mobile devices. Look at My Account Login information, Pay a Bill and ‘Contact Us’ pages. Mobile Watch reports that mobile devices are accounting for 20-25% of all web visits during major utility outage events. Mobile devices can account for upwards of 50% of "Contact Us" page visits. And guess what? If your website isn't able to serve customers in a mobile-optimized and highly-usable way, 100% of those "Contact Us" visits through a mobile device will generate a phone call to your call center.

The second item to look at is, of course is your actual customers. If you use a customer satisfaction survey, you can add a question or two about customer's mobile/communication preferences and willingness to complete transactions via mobile-optimized interfaces (mobile website, native downloadable 'smartphone' application or via SMS texting).

PG&E mobile bill payment application has seen double-digit growth month-over-month since its release, and the application is now one of the most downloaded free financial applications available through the Apple app store.

Forrester analysis found that 70% of online consumers are willing to replace paper bills and statements.
Mobile operators worldwide have achieved an average customer e-billing adoption rate of 56.8 percent while telcos lag at just 17.2 percent. There are interesting attributes associated with eBilling customers…eBilling Customers are ;
22% more likely to pay on time when using online banking
6% more likely to pay on time if they use company payment website
64% less likely to phone call centre for online bankers
39% less likely to phone call centre for website payers

Numerous studies have identified the savings when compared to traditional paper bills: eBilling can save 40- 50 cents per bill instead of paper billing. eBilling can also ramp up quite quickly. A Whitby utility reached 15% penetration in 6 months. QuestarGas hit 50k paperless customers in just 6 weeks.

Info Trends Research shows that the majority of customers still wish to receive traditional mail invoices,

However other channels are receiving increasing levels of interest- with 45% preferring email and 27% on website and 6% by text message/SMS, voice mail or social media. The totals here exceed 100% due to the ability to select more than one preferred channels. When Gen Y respondents are examined we find that 51% wish to receive their bill electronically versus 44% of the general population.

It’s not just paying their bills on line, Gen Y respondents also want to receive their invoices electronically… by email, SMS, download or browser based.

Interactive Voice Response systems that tried and true tool for call streaming, processing and allocation can become Indifferent Voice Response when no matter what the customer enters (or says) the path and result all seem to keep them cycling over and over through IVR Hell.

Although intended to improve customer satisfaction, a survey taken by Amplicate in 2010 found that 88% of people hate IVR’s . IVR’s have changed over the years from simple call routing: press 1 for this and 2 for that and messaging, to a self service tool- listen to FAQ’s, report an outage based on phone number, from purely touch tone to speech enabled and today to intelligent AI enabled virtual agents – think Emily for Bell or Ted for United Airlines. Speech enabled IVR’s can create more customer alienation than touch tone IVR’s . This is a result of the higher emotional involvement in yelling into a telephone versus pushing buttons harder and faster.

The most commonly reported problems with IVR are:
1.) Menu options are either too short or too long
2.) There is an imbalance between functionality and usability
3.) Customers can’t find a menu option that meets their needs
4.) Menu options are focused on company needs rather than customer needs
5.) The IVR menu options use jargon that is not readily understood by customers
6.) There is no way for customers to start over if they make a mistake
7.) Error messages blame the caller
8.) Multiple language options may not be justified by the customer
demographic profile
9.) More than five seconds of dead air can cause users to hang up and call back

Yet in spite of the challenges experienced with some IVR applications the overall IVR market size now over $2 billion. Customers are now more eager to have interactions with these virtual agents and more satisfied with the outcomes says HBR (Stop trying to delight your customers).