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Customer Experience: You Cannot Compete Solely on Product Quality, Price
December 9, 2016
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customer-experience-in-contacr-centerThe single biggest challenge facing companies has never been how to ATTRACT customers, but how to KEEP them. However, the speed and variety of choices now available to the consumer has compounded the challenge by orders of magnitude.

Businesses are responding to the demands of a highly-informed and discerning customer who, when faced with an overwhelming choice of similar providers, is making decisions based not only on economic value , but on the experience a company can offer.

Customer Service is now the single biggest differentiator in the market.

Customer Experience

This means that companies are not just selling a product but selling a product experience.

Companies who fail to respond to the urgent need to deliver and evaluate product experience will continue to be dictated to by changing consumer habits and expectations.

The companies who are restoring the balance of power and emerging as brand leaders are those who are proactive in implementing the organizational structures necessary to deliver and evaluate great customer service.

As Customer Service is now fundamental to all departments of an organization, the call center can no longer be seen as just a support service. It must be prepared and equipped to meet the challenge of not only responding to, but leading consumer expectation, in its vital function as Contact Center, the critical frontline of customer interaction. In line with the ever-expanding qualities and knowledge required to fulfill their duties, and the responsibility inherent in performing these on public forums, the Contact Agent must now be valued and nurtured as a career professional.


With competition increasing rapidly, and the range of tools available to the consumer to quickly evaluate and compare similar products, customer service is quickly becoming the single most important factor in separating brand leaders from the rest of the pack.

Most companies are concentrating on building brand awareness and getting their sales message across, so that the consumer is overwhelmed with marketing messages and similar options. This puts the informed buyer firmly in the driving seat, and able to make his decisions based on any perceived value a provider can add.

Companies can no longer afford to compete solely on product quality and price.

In order to regain their role as innovators and restore the balance of power in the marketplace, they must also take into consideration the power of brand loyalty and peer advocacy, and be prepared to lead their customers through an attractive and pleasurable product experience, which runs seamlessly from the buying decision through the point of sale and beyond.

The brand leaders who are succeeding today -think Apple, Disney – are taking back control by offering enhanced customer experience, changing their focus from simply delivering a product to designing and delivering the entire product experience.


Research published by McKinsey & Company in the Harvard BusinessReview [1] demonstrated how the traditional approach to evaluating customer service does not adequately reflect where companies are failing to meet the needs of customer expectations.

The current practice of evaluating customer satisfaction at isolated points along the way, does not accurately represent the customer’s overall impression of the company, and may fail to pick up on customer dissatisfaction as a whole, thus distorting the true picture and masking the pressing need to overhaul the approach to measuring and optimizing customer service.

The classic example is where Sales promise delivery within a week, but the product doesn’t arrive within the agreed timeframe. The customer’s resultant calls to the Customer Service and Delivery Departments may have been handled in an exemplary manner, and, of course, the customer was probably very satisfied with the Sales promise. However, the fact remains that the promise was not delivered on time. It was everybody’s and yet nobody’s responsibility!

Accountability for that failure must lie at the door of every department involved in delivering the product experience. Thus, the key to realizing great product experience is an integrative approach to company organization, with greater interconnectedness between functions and a united approach to delivering the aims and philosophy of the brand. There must be more up, down and sideways distribution of information throughout the organization, and swift response to customer feedback.

The ability to deliver on product experience must be measurable and requires implementation at every point of contact between a business and the consumer. No department can operate in isolation without seeing the whole picture of how the company delivers great customer experience.

Sink or Swim: this re-organization is not an optional extra, but an urgent wake up call for many businesses to adapt or disappear without a trace. The survivors will be the companies who follow the example of the brand leaders and take action to implement an integrative, customer-centric approach.

Creation of a consistent and recognizable brand identity requires re-evaluation of the traditional tiered and isolated company structures – which allow departments, such as Design, Marketing, Delivery and Customer Service, to operate independently of each other- to become more integrated and flexible, with a greater need for information flow and systems which allow rapid reaction to customer feedback.

The concept of customer service must be central to the company as a whole and permeate all decision-making and optimization.


“The consumer’s experiences with brands and categories are set to become even more intense and defining. That matters profoundly because such experiences drive two-thirds of the decisions customers make.“ McKinsey & Company. [2]

In the “The Coming Era of On-Demand Marketing” [4] the authors list the 4 key drivers of customer expectations to be:

  1. Faster response times
  2. State-of-the- art enquiries
  3. Personalization
  4. Ease of use

Each of these factors is expanding the role of the call center and elevating its importance as it strives to meet the increasing demands of customer expectation, while delivering and evaluating the product experience.



With the rise of mobile devices and uninterrupted 24-hour online connection, more consumers are choosing to access contact centers on the move. They expect to be able to interact, receiving prompt response and fast resolution to their enquiries from any place throughout the day or night.


Customers accustomed to the evolution of product experience and emerging software capabilities are requesting information at the cutting edge of what is possible. Answers to queries beginning with: “Can I do…?” , from customers expecting an immediate reply (rather than be re-directed to another department or website) requires contact center personnel to be both highly-trained and well-briefed on the latest company developments


Calls are less private and no longer addressed anonymously or in isolation. Callers can now be identified by computer IP address or unique Facebook ID.

Consumers now expect to be identified as valued customers, and assume that the data collected concerning them will be used to offer them a tailor-made service.

A detailed record of the caller’s profile and history of their previous interactions with the company is vital to providing that informed and personalized response.

With the acquisition of customer data and feedback now central to the delivery of prompt and effective product experience, it is no longer sufficient to log response times and successful resolution of complaints in isolation. It is vital to be able to process and analyze response performance, as a means to evaluating and improving upon the quality of service provided.

This requires highly-skilled and well-trained personnel, equipped with the software, operating procedures and shared information to ensure that all contact center agents have access to the tools they need to deliver a bespoke service to the customer, while consistently delivering the voice of the brand.


As if the consumer’s expectations of faster response times, personalized service and informed response weren’t enough, his desire to have easy access to customer care on an ever-growing range of social media platforms is presenting perhaps the greatest challenge facing contact centers today.



-The Power of Social Proof

Companies have been quick to respond to the emergence of social media platforms as a means to build brand awareness, but less prepared for the need to up their game with regard to customer interaction in an age where the overall product experience is emerging as the most discernable factor in a highly-competitive market.

Overwhelmed by competing brand messaging, the consumer is losing faith in marketing hype, preferring to trust the opinions and recommendation of his peers. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter encourage him to share his opinions and justify his choice.

Social proof has become a driving factor in consumer decisions, and the role of social media in promoting or dismantling brand loyalty and brand advocacy cannot be ignored.

-Greater visibility: In the past, when customer service was delivered over the telephone or email, calls could be dealt with in relative anonymity and isolation. Each support ticket could be signed off and a line drawn underneath. Success could be measured in terms of the satisfactory completion of each interaction.

As more customers are choosing to interact with customer service through social media, the success or failure is no longer an isolated, anonymous event, but has the potential to make or break the success of a product or service.

-Higher stakes: playing out customer interactions on a public forum. On one hand, great service can be rewarded with kudos for the brand and even the potential to go viral. On the other, a less than adequate performance can be magnified in equal measure, resulting in disastrous damage to the reputation of the brand. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the customer is more likely to broadcast his disappointment at a bad experience than to record his positive experiences!

With its rapidly-expanding role at the frontline of customer-company engagement, the Call Center can no longer be regarded as simply a secondary function providing support to a business. There is an urgent need for its role to be ramped up and recognized as the Contact Center – the vital hub, central to the delivery of the brand message.

In this role, it cannot afford to operate in isolation or to implement solutions or policy on the run. Just like every other department, it must be wholly integrated into company decision making and kept up-to-date in order to make informed and accurate responses to enquiries.

It must be equipped with the systems –training, software, standardized operating procedures – necessary to anticipate, and be prepared to respond to, customer enquiries before they happen, and to proactively introduce great customer product experience.

In line with delivering product experience as a commodity, must be the ability to quickly evaluate and improve performance quality, by responding rapidly to customer feedback in one direction and developing and refining company message in the other.

The role of the contact center agent can no longer be taken for granted, and there is a pressing need for Contact Centers to retain and/or recruit the best staff.

The increased complexity of the skills sets required to respond to an ever-widening selection of media, together with enhanced exposure to public forums, mean that the contact center agent can no longer be regarded as an easily replaceable functionary, but must have greater accountability and a stake in the successful overall delivery of the product experience.

With their critical ability to enhance or damage brand reputation, the Contact Center Agent must be regarded as a highly-skilled professional, with the vital role of brand ambassador. In recognition of their vital role in the delivery of the product experience, the right incentives, remuneration and career progression opportunities must be implemented to ensure optimum performance and brand loyalty.


Customer experience will determine whether businesses thrive or simply survive in a consumer-led environment. The role of customer service in general is more vital than ever, with the urgent requirement for Contact Centers to adapt to meet the challenges of being the brand ambassador in all contacts.

Articles Featured
Embrace the customer experience as a strategic competitive advantage.
November 29, 2016
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Ibrahim Malick - Customer Experience

Ibrahim Malick – Customer Experience

Your customers’ expectation of what’s possible changes every day. Can you keep up?  To remain relevant, it’s critically important that you invest in the customer-centric vision, unify siloed channels and embark on digital transformation.

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The Evolution of Social Engagement
November 25, 2016
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Social Engagement
In less than a decade, social media platforms have come a long way. Business leaders understand that leveraging social media platforms are likely to increase collaboration, efficiency, and creativity of their employees.

By 2009, social networks like Facebook and Twitter had gone mainstream. In merely seven years people in general spent triple the amount of time on social media than they did back in 2009.

Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube have joined the ranks of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Some of these platforms are used for blogging, as well as video logging. Initially, there was much enthusiasm for blogging however it seems to have cooled down. Same can be said for the Wikis.

An extremely telling McKinsey research tracked “how companies’ choice of social tools, the boundaries of their usage, and the benefits of applying them have evolved over the period.”

Climbing the learning curve

For businesses, these social media platforms create an organic platform for inter and intra-firm collaboration, reduce the cost of doing business and potentially expedite go-to-market opportunities.

Social media platforms have gone through several trial and error stages. Early on firms utilized Facebook and YouTube to build a brand.

By 2010, Yammer, Chatter and Connections emerged as inter-company collaboration tools, a la social media. For example, Yammer gained fame within the enterprise for sharing short messages similar to Twitter. One could see messages from groups and tags they followed. But unlike Twitter, Yammer is available to a company’s employees’ only (requires valid company email).


Before the advent of Web 2.0 there were primarily two options for sharing information digitally. A Cisco Collaboration case study: Enterprise Social Sharing and Collaboration states:

“Create an email distribution list or post content on an internal webpage or file share. But these methods were limited because you had to know who should be included in the email list and their email addresses. They were also cumbersome, because any change in the information meant sending a new message to everyone, or trying to get an update coded into the webpage. For documents with many reviewers or frequent updates, these methods led to message overload and confusion about which version was the most up-to-date. Email distribution also generated extra network traffic and storage needs because every attachment was duplicated for each recipient on the list.”

Crowd-sourcing, another key outcome of social media platforms enables companies to scour within and out of the organization for ideas, solutions, etc. Several studies have shown that a majority of professionals use social media for competitive intelligence, and to devise market plans. Meanwhile some others use it as a medium to share their organization’s visions and prospects.

According to the Harvard Business Review, social media platforms are one of the most significant developments for businesses (Kouchaki, Gino, & Casciaro, 2016). With the creation of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter – especially Facebook, visibility of business online has taken place, and only the most tech-savvy have been able to survive;

“A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.”

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Big Data and Social Analytics
June 12, 2016

I went to yoga last night in Flatiron, New York. Had a kati roll at DesiGali on Ave B, East Village. Jogged around East River this morning. Had a coffee at Dunkin Donuts on Houston Street. All of this (and more) data is available and it could be harnessed for good use or bad.

Ninety percent of all currently available data, globally, has been generated over the last two years.

By simply moving through the daily motions of our lives, we produce digital traces about our interactions with both technology and each other – making it possible for large-scale, high-impact social research to be conducted by those equipped with the skills and expertise needed to dissect that data.

Personal privacy can be preserved in a fashion that nonetheless allows data to be harnessed for better commutes to work, better management of health, better access to financial resources, and other positivbig-data-cloude societal improvements.
Businesses worldwide have realized that harnessing, processing, and analyzing the digital information produced by individuals, organizations and institutions should be a fundamental starting point for intelligent decision-making.
Considering that only 0.5% of all currently available data is analyzed and used, there’s a massive opportunity waiting to be taken.

“This past year was an important one for Big Data. We saw more businesses accepting that data, in all forms and sizes, is critical for the best possible decision-making. In support of this, we’ll continue to see the systems that support non-relational or unstructured forms of data, as well as massive data volumes, evolve and mature to operate well inside of Enterprise IT systems. This will enable business users, along with data scientists, to fully realize and unlock the value in big data.”

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Mobile Growth is Key Focus at 2015 ICMI Contact Center Expo and Conference
May 31, 2015
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Cisco's Technical Marketing Engineer Brian Cole demonstrating Remote Expert Mobile

Cisco’s Technical Marketing Engineer Brian Cole demonstrating Remote Expert Mobile

The explosive growth of mobile offers the greatest opportunity for contact centers. If the consensus among those at ICMI’s Contact Center Expo and Conference is any sign, mobile is the place to focus.

But while there’s consensus about mobile, there isn’t consensus on a standard definition of mobile customer care. Many consider mobile to be just another device to support or another channel into the contact center. However, participants and speakers at ICMI did not have a standard definition of mobile customer care. Many consider mobile to be just another device to support or another channel into the contact center.

I talked to Nemertes Research Analyst Lisa Durant to get her perspective. She agrees there is a dramatic evolution in the industry as mobile interaction continues its explosive growth as a contact method. Durant takes a broader view of mobile customer care to include “any interaction using a mobile device.” Whether a customer makes a voice call to a contact center, completes a transaction online, or engages via social media, she points out that the user is most likely on a mobile device.

As a silver sponsor at ICMI, the Cisco team experienced that strong interest in mobile. Attendees kept the booth staff busy demonstrating Remote Expert Mobile. Armed with iPads and Cisco DX80 endpoints, Cisco engineers Brian Cole and Doug King demonstrated products in the Cisco Customer Collaboration portfolio, including Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise, Cisco Unified Contact Center Express, Remote Expert Mobile, and Context Service.

The Evolving Mobile Customer Experience

Despite continued growth in mobile, attendees pointed out that most mobile apps offer only rudimentary contact-center services, such as connecting via a phone call. But they agreed that rapid consumer adoption will soon disrupt the contact center as we know it. This new contact center will shift control of the service experience. Those businesses that can act more quickly will have an advantage over those that lag behind.

While mobile is undoubtedly the contact preference, users want outcomes. They want results. Simple transitions between channels is a crucial competitive differentiator in the age of the consumer. “Channel surfing” defines the omnichannel experience.

Cisco Context Service  addresses that problem. Cole’s demo provided a great example of how technology can deliver meaningful customer outcomes. A customer can initiate engagement on the web, then transition to mobile and other channels without having to repeat information to agents.

Improving the Agent’s Perspective

The conference brought together more than 1500 people who work on the front lines of customer engagement. These are the brand ambassadors of their companies. These are people who use contact center technology every day. It was great to get their perspective, which differs significantly from what we hear from IT and telecom groups.

“It is unacceptable that most contact center agents do not have adequate technology,” says Justin Robbins, senior analyst for ICMI. “They perform in a complex work environment, navigate through multiple systems and applications, and they’re over-stressed.”

Service Failure

I also spoke with Jeff Toister, author of Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It. Toister believes that multitasking leads to poor customer service and adds to employee attrition. “When you are on a call, looking up multiple applications, chatting with an expert or supervisor, it’s difficult to pay attention to the customer,” he explains.

Cisco designed Cisco Finesse Finesse Desktop to address the problem both described. Finesse features a user-centric desktop designed to improve agent and supervisor satisfaction. The single, customizable “cockpit,” or interface, simplifies access to multiple assets and information sources without forcing agents to toggle through applications. Visitors to the booth were impressed.

It was my first ICMI experience. I was there to get a better understanding of the people who own the business of contact centers.

I look forward to keeping in touch with many of the professionals I had the opportunity to meet. Kudos to ICMI for organizing a great event. I’ll be back.

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Experts Say Mobile is the Next Big Thing for Contact Centers
May 8, 2015
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There seems to be a consensus at the International Customer Management Institute, ICMI expo and conference in Orlando this week that out of all the changes in the market, explosive growth of mobile offers the greatest opportunity.

Nemertes Research Analyst, Lisa Durant agrees there is a dramatic evolution in the industry, as mobile interaction continues its explosive growth as contact method. Durant points out that whether one makes a voice call to contact center, transacts online or engages via social media, user is most likely on the mobile device.

In an interview in Orlando this week Durant pointed out: “Even if the website is not optimized for mobile device, it impacts the user experience. When it comes to mobile app, whether or not you have your contact center involved impacts your user experience. Mobile apps are developed and managed by groups outside centers but it impacts customer experience and center center metrics”

Participants and speakers at ICMI do not seem to have a standard definition of mobile customer care. Many consider mobile to be just another device to support or another channel into the contact center. Durant takes a broader view of mobile customer care, which includes any interaction provided to customer with using a mobile device.

“A voice call, SMS, visual IVR, mobile web, mobile app, video and any other functionality are all initiated from the mobile device,” Durant points out.

Dennis Crumb, President of omptimalCX calls it a “mobile moment.” Claiming more than fifty percent of a company’s interaction with their customer involves mobile devices.

Crumb believes “channel surfing” is the key trend to watch. A user “may start an interaction on a website, make a phone call to discuss and may complete the transaction in-app,” and expect company to provide seem less transition through different channels.

Despite the explosive growth in mobile, businesses that include contact center functionality in their mobile apps offer only rudimentary services, like connecting from the mobile device to the front-end of the call center via a toll-free call.

Participants at ICMI believe that rapid adoption by consumers will soon disrupt the contact center, as we know it. This new contact center will shift control of the service experience, and those businesses that can act more quickly will have an advantage over those that lag behind.

Cisco's Technical Marketing Engineer Brian Cole demonstrating Remote Expert Mobile

Cisco’s Technical Marketing Engineer Brian Cole demonstrating Remote Expert Mobile

While mobile is undoubtedly the preference, users want outcomes. A continuous and effortless transition between channels is a crucial competitive differentiator in the age of the consumer. “Channel surfing” defines the omnichannel experience.

“Companies should determine,” Crumb says, “the impact that each new interaction path may have on the business.” He believes contact centers should focus on developing personalized and integrated customer journeys.

Crumb points out that goes through different steps, or “journey,” as they interact with a business. “These steps will vary by company, what customers are trying to accomplish, and when in the customer lifecycle the engagement occurs.”