TMC celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction this year, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going. We’re also rebranding and retooling our customer effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Lisa Stockberger, vice president of Vanguard Communications Corp. The company is an independent consulting firm founded by Don Van Doren in 1980. Its focus is on improving how businesses and customers communicate and interact.
We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What has been the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?
Stockberger: Without a doubt, the Internet has been the most important development related to customer interactions. It changed every aspect of customer interaction.
In the past decade?
Stockberger: Social media has played a significant role in how customers interact with businesses and businesses with customers. Social media provides customers the ability to instantly communicate both with a corporation and other customers. Social media provides customers with the ability to give instant feedback, both good and bad on services. Social media has been used by utilities in weather emergencies to let customers know about outages and times to restore service.
In the recent past?
Stockberger: Mobile applications are making big changes in how customers and companies interact. The rapid increase in the use of smartphones is transforming how business is done, from getting well baby tips from your health insurance company to making payments to finding a Thai restaurant within minutes of your current location. According to the Pew Center, smartphones usage among those 18 to 29 has reached 66 percent, with 58 percent of households making less than $30,000 being smartphone owners. Particularly for those low income owners, their smartphone is likely to be their only method for accessing the Web.
When and why did the trend toward call center offshoring take off?
Stockberger: Call center off-shoring took off in the mid-1990s brought about by increasing globalization and a desire by many companies to lower costs and focus on core business functions. It became clear to many business leaders in the U.S. or U.K. that the cost for well educated, technology savvy staff was significantly lower in India than at home.
Is the tide turning on call center offshoring?
Stockberger: There is greater interest in bringing jobs back, and some organizations are doing so (e.g., Delta, US Airways, Dell, Carbonite). There are several reasons. In countries with large English-speaking populations (e.g., India, Philippines), the total cost of doing business is no longer as attractive as it once was. In addition, state and national legislative moves are afoot to penalize companies who offshore call center jobs. And thirdly, and probably most persuasive is the consumer backlash against companies who offshore. CFI Group’s 2011 “Call Center Satisfaction Index” reports a significant negative correlation between being service in an offshore location compared to an onshore location.
How is CRM changing?
Stockberger: A major push today is to incorporate the social aspects of our lives into CRM solutions. Today, social CRM is still largely separate from CRM solutions used in contact centers. That needs to change, integration needs to happen. From the customer’s perspective, an organization or brand includes not just their experience online, in the store and with the contact center, but also in forums, Facebook and Twitter. Contact center employees need to have a 360-degree view of the customer in order to provide wow customer experience and thus build loyalty.
How is marketing changing?
Stockberger: The diversity of channels available to marketers has exploded in the last few years (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, mobile) going way beyond the old standbys – Web and e-mail. The two greatest challenges facing marketers are developing integrated strategies and dealing with the avalanche of siloed data that is available. The highest payoff will come to those who can integrate and translate data into actionable insights.
How is the widespread use of social networking technology affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Stockberger: Despite the fact that social networking has been around for nearly 10 years, companies are still struggling to find how to best use it to target, engage and deliver services to customers. Many organizations are trying to use a generic approach (i.e., one size fits all). Based on research conducted by Galloup in late 2010, the key to successful social media engagement, and thus increased market share, is to focus on current customers who are the most emotionally engaged and align marketing initiatives to fit those customers’ goals. They will carry your message to like-minded prospects.
How is the mobile boom affecting how businesses target, engage with and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Stockberger: Mobile is helping smart marketers deepen their relationships with customers through the use of location-based information and apps that provide benefits to busy customers on the go (e.g., gas prices, local store coupons for ingredients found in a recipe).