Customer EngagementKathleen's Corner

All About Ease

Kathleen Peterson
Kathleen Peterson

The 1950 movie “All About Eve” starring Bette Davis is a “backstage” story revolving around an aspiring stage actress named Eve Harrington. Tattered and forlorn, Eve shows up in the dressing room of Broadway mega-star Margo Channing and tells a melancholy life story to Margo and her friends. Margo takes Eve “under her wing,” but it turns out that Eve is a “conniver” that wants Margo’s life. I’d like to take this backstage story and liken it to the “connivers” in the Contact Center that get in the way of “EASE” for the customer.

The latest and greatest objective in the Customer Experience world is EASE, the “effortless experience.” British Telecom’s Contact Center Think Tank has a tool they jokingly call the EASY METER. It is used to measure the Contact Center’s transaction and interaction skills! Dixon, Toman, and Delisi, authors of The Effortless Experience have made a case for the use of what they call CES (Customer Effort Score). Customers are asked to react to the statement, “The Company made it easy for me to handle my issue.” The authors argue that this statement provides a more direct link to the effects of a “transactional” experience. It all comes down to shifting focus from “satisfaction” to interaction and transaction as a means of discovering how your customers  feel about doing business with you.

After nearly thirty years in this industry, part of me wonders where the newness of this is coming from. Hasn’t making it easy for customers to do business with us always been an objective? Anyway, I would like to address some of the “connivers” in the enterprise that get in the way of putting forward a star performance and get in the way of EASE.

First of all, EASE is interrupted because Contact Center “connivers” get in the way of the “performance.”  Many that write about this topic focus on the performance or behavior of frontline agents. However, I would like to take this discussion in a different direction for many reasons. Agents do not choose systems; agents do not manage information flow in and out of the Contact Center; agents do not determine access channels or manage the effectiveness of any given channel; agents do not develop or deliver training; agents do not determine the use of metrics; and agents do not determine staffing requirements or budget planning! I concur completely with the requirement that agents are effective communicators, coaches develop specific skills, and managers report on performance effectively. But I am NOT convinced that the first place to mine for improvements of EASE is individual agent performance.

I would like to highlight several areas that I feel are key to beating back the “connivers” that make things more difficult for BOTH the customer and the agents. Resolution of issues at the technology and process level will yield far more and quicker results than starting at the agent level. Ideally these areas are evaluated simultaneously to discover solutions and enhancement to the mission of All About EASE.

To begin, take the technical infrastructure … please! How streamlined are the applications agents must use to deliver on the experience promise? When evaluating the agent desktop, consider the number of applications that must be open in order to perform tasks – from the simple to the complex. I have seen what should be simple – “change my address” – become complex. No, change that!  Let’s call it COMPLICATED due to the sheer number of applications involved in the task and the inability to populate relevant fields across all applications. If the agent must navigate through multiple pages, update the address in multiple locations, and complete the task within 60 seconds … the likelihood of error grows with each additional step or time constraint and the experience deteriorates.

Customers become frustrated when they have what seems to them to be a relatively simple task – change my address – and it just doesn’t happen. So the customer must reconnect, sometimes repeatedly, to see a simple task through to completion. This is extra effort for the customer. Where is the EASE? This issue must be resolved in partnership with IT/IS and hopefully such a relationship exists. When technology infrastructure is the fundamental cause of complicating a transaction for the agent and the customer, no amount of coaching to improve the agent communication skills will fix the problem!

Next, one of the most contemporary issues facing companies today is known as Omni-Channel. Beware! This term has multiple meanings. For our purposes, here is a broad definition: Omni-Channel is the ability to provide a consistent experience across multiple channels and portals. For example, if I am a retailer with stores, a website, and mobile access (portals) utilizing multiple channels (voice, chat, email, etc.) my customer data, history, preferences, and experiences ought to be seamlessly available regardless of the portal or access channel. In this way, the customer feels recognized.

Where are the “connivers” here? Start with the fundamental silo model of most enterprises which often segments the portals and the channels. When the E-Commerce side of the business interacts with its customers, the customer likely believes that the E-Commerce support team is able to “see” their retail purchase history. They also believe that the support team can react to statements such as, “I saw this in your store but can’t find it on your website.” They don’t want to hear, “Aw shucks, we can’t see that inventory,” or “Sorry, but we don’t have access to that”. Regardless of your agents’ ability to soft pedal your inefficiencies the customer is experiencing something other than EASE.

Silos impact customer EASE. When customer contact is siloed by function and again by channel, the ability to keep the customer record streamlined is undermined. And that is only one small area of concern. I met a Contact Center manager at a conference who told me a story that relates to this issue of silos. Many customers of this tech-y company had taken to social media to complain about the service or lack of it they had experienced using the company’s Help Desk. The solution … set up a new Contact Center under the Marketing VP (where social media was managed) to “fix” the situation. Marketing, clever as it is, decided to “poach” the top manager and supervisors from the existing support team. This left the Help Desk more battered than ever. Marketing’s view of the situation was to provide a rapid response unit for issues escalated via social media. Rather than fix the causal factors in the existing model, they left customers to navigate through the Help Desk labyrinth only to be rescued by the new Contact Center – that is if they had the stamina to escalate! This is ridiculous! This plan added cost but no value because the customer’s EASE was unchanged.

The importance of channel access is seen from a couple of perspectives. First, are you offering the channels various customers want to utilize? And once a channel is selected, is it reasonable to expect that the customer must cross over to another channel to resolve their issue?

Today’s Contact Centers handle a multitude of channels: voice, email, chat, fax (yes, there are industries still tied to fax), IVRs, mobile (they better be in your offerings), and video – coming soon like it or not! The mission must be to direct the customer to the best channel to resolve particular issues and then make sure that the channel works for customer EASE and the company’s experience promise. Sadly, there are far too many contacts that must cross over into another channel to be resolved. This translates to customer frustration and increased cost; the company is now providing two channels to resolve one issue. This condition has been around since the earliest self-service tools have been in place.

Before the Internet (yes, there were Contact Centers before the Internet), the IVR or Interactive Voice Response was touted as a means by which to eliminate calls that agents would have to handle. The promise was to save the company money AND improve the Customer Experience. Essentially, this has been the promise of all self-service tools up to this day. Unfortunately, far too often users have to “opt out” in order to complete the transaction due to one complication or another. The same happens when chats or emails result in a voice call because the resolution is just not effective for certain contact types. The same goes for your website. If information is hard to get to/confusing or transactional elements are not working (e.g., my promo code), a customer who clearly has a preference for using self-service has been forced to switch channels and resort to voice contact to resolve the issue. It is similar to the frustration consumers feel when they are transferred multiple times and have to tell their story over and over until they just freak out. All of this falls well below the definition of EASE.

It is these types of process and infrastructure issues that, once resolved, allow customers that prefer a particular channel to complete their transactions within that channel with a reasonable expectation that there won’t be a process backlash. What we DON’T want is a situation in which the customer enters an address change on the website, but not all the necessary databases are updated. Now the customer is late with payments because bills are not coming to the new address. But you can bet that catalogs and advertisements are arriving just fine. UGH!

Finally, information sharing and working cross-functionally is critical to eliminating the twists and turns of the Customer Experience labyrinth. The Contact Center serves many masters; assuring that everyone understands each other allows process improvements to span cross-functionally. When Marketing sets out to launch a campaign the Contact Center needs to know; when IT is going to upgrade or change a system the Contact Center needs to know; when colossal errors occur in billing systems or special notices are sent to customers the Contact Center needs to know.

How will the Contact Center know about these activities? They will know by ASKING and by establishing a collaborative environment in which cross-functional partners also benefit. Information is Contact Center currency; it is in fact your bartering tool. The ability to provide relevant and actionable information cross-functionally benefits both departments and ultimately your customers.

The current Customer Experience trend is “All About EASE.” And rest assured that if the work isn’t easy for your agents it won’t be easy for your customers. Please don’t let the “connivers” divert your attention from solutions that will really make a positive difference. Undertaking an EASE audit may not be easy and you may bump up against some pushback. But stick with it if you want your Contact Center to take “center stage” in contributing to EASE of access.

“Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Margo Channing (Bette Davis)

– Reprinted with permission from PowerHouse Consulting, Inc.,

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