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January 29, 2010

Expecting Satisfaction

I learned something pretty useful as the result of a recent air travel issue with my daughter flying home at break from The U. She was unhappy with me at the length of time her connection was going to take in Atlanta. Then a flight change notice can to my inbox making the connection even worse, so I called to see what might be possible to improve things. Well, it turns out that airline policy allows for a certain degree of changes to occur (even to unchangeable tickets) if they cause issues due to a flight change. In this case, I was able to switch the segments to a much more favorable connection through Baltimore at no charge even though this was a more expensive option at the time of the booking.

It would have been awfully useful to know this sooner. I have encountered hundreds of itinerary changes over the years that I have never taken advantage of previously. Since that episode with my daughter’s flight I have been able to make a few ugly flight connections quite more tolerable (including the arrangement of a few non-stops here and there). How come nobody told me this before? I would feel much less animosity toward the airline industry if I had been able to pull these strings starting long before.

So, let’s use this situation to dig into the customer service function a bit. Much of the focus within the customer service center has traditionally been on the tasks performed by the CSR managing cases as they come in – how to effectively capture, assign, track and close them with resolution as fast as possible. More recently a greater focus has been given to the capabilities around managing entitlement. Many organizations had been casual or even lax in their enforcement of the provision of the correct level of service with the correct customer. Process improvements along with more sophisticated CRM software have enabled CSR’s to reduce the amount of free service given away. This may seem unpleasant as a customer, but it is much better for the bottom line.

If these two customer service capabilities are being managed well, the next area of focus should probably be given to Expectation Management, especially when the objectives include improving the customer experience.

Expectation Management is all about pretty much exactly what the name implies – setting and guiding the expectations of the customer throughout the customer lifecycle. This is also one of the more complex practices within customer service as it tends to involve, in some capacity, not only all capabilities within customer service, but also touches sales and marketing as well.

Expectation Management finds its origins within the commercial business strategy and the customer segmentation model that drives the service tier structure. Depending on their segment a customer should expect a certain level of service commensurate with their tier. You get better service in first class than in the cattle cabin and your expectations should be aligned with that. This location in the hierarchy impacts the degree to which the CSR can fulfill a service request. A quick check at your status and the gate agent knows how to work within the rules set for your class. But, Expectation Management goes beyond just the delivery of entitled service, it helps the customer be prepared and aligned with that level – the customer can be conditioned what to expect.

First Flight

The best customer Expectation Management begins at the point of product or service awareness, either through branding and or campaign messaging. Expectations about service literally begin before the purchase, but they can be further influenced at the time of signing on the dotted line. I remember buying a sofa sectional specifically because of the store providing a lifetime stain removal. When I actually pulled out the credit card to consummate the deal, I was given a bunch of additional information and advice regarding how to and how not to get the stain removed. This proved useful later when the inevitable red wine decorated the furniture following a party. I am glad I knew what to really expect.

When it comes time for the actual service event, it is pretty late in the cycle for addressing an incorrectly reached expectation. This is a situation that will typically erode satisfaction and commensurate loyalty. If someone purchases software with the assumption that a live human being will help them on the other end of a phone line should the application fail to perform, they are likely to be dissatisfied should they be driven only to FAQ’s on the website for assistance. This is the reason why so much software packaging now includes explicit messaging regarding support right on the front of the box.

Incorrectly set expectations can also hurt customer satisfaction whey they are set too low. Just as the airline example at the beginning of this post, if an individual has a service need that they don’t understand can be addressed by a CSR, they may harbor ill feelings toward the product vendor or even though it could have been corrected.

Yes, the CSR does have some room to make incidents reached through incorrect expectations better. They can offer a one-time exception or they can offer some modest compensatory token to help recover some good will. More and more, CSR’s are given the ability to up-sell the customer to a higher tier of service, thereby immediately raising entitlement and satisfaction. This works especially well if the individual does not recognize they have purchased their way into the cellar. It works especially poorly when it appears like a bait and switch. Freeware falls into this latter category quite frequently. Training around proper messaging and timing is key for this to work successfully.

One final element of proper Expectation Management, which extends beyond the service incident, is the use of feedback mechanisms that monitor the customer experience through follow up assessment. Typically this is conducted with a brief request to the customer to rate their experience via an unobtrusive e-mail or a drop-in-the-mail-card. This can serve two key objectives. First, if the incident was positive it helps reinforce the expectation of future positive experience, which then drives up satisfaction and loyalty. Second, if the expectation was not met due to an incorrectly set expectation, it can provide a channel for remediation that may be otherwise lost, perpetuating dissatisfaction and eroding loyalty.

Without question, Expectation Management has a lot of moving parts and is interwoven into all aspects of the customer service function as well as throughout the customer lifecycle. It is hard to get it right, but there are means for optimizing satisfaction through correct processes and attention to the intelligence provided through well managed customer data. My only wish is that the airlines would get better at this aspect of customer service.

January 22, 2010

No Pharma

A fairly sizable portion of my clients are medical device companies. They make aortas, blood diagnostic machines, replacement parts for just about every corner of the skeleton, and even those nasty implements of torture utilized by your favorite hygienist. They may produce a nearly infinite amount of items and consumables, but there is one thing they all seem to have in common. They do not want to become or be mistaken for a pharmaceutical company. Most of this sentiment seems to be focused within the sales function and there is one primary driver behind this. Many sales reps in the medical device industry are there having escaped positions previously as pharma reps.

This is a common dynamic within a number of biotechnology firms I have worked with as well, but it is so strong within the med device companies that this sentiment and culture even prevails within medical device divisions of pharmaceutical parent companies. This element of company culture and the beliefs and attitude it harbors is strong, and will influence far and wide.

One of the detrimental aspects of this anti-pharma culture has to do with the over-avoidance of things considered pharmaceutical in nature, but that are actually best practices. Of all these that I find is the most dysfunctional, what causes the most potential harm, is the belief that capturing key activities following a sales call is unnecessary or undeisrable. The fear is that this smacks of call reporting, the big pharma practice of keeping track of sales reps to ensure they are getting through to enough docs. This is such a prevalent practice that some SFA packages designed for the pharmaceutical industry do just about nothing but build call reports.

Keeping track of key activities that take place during a sales visit or phone chat is an essential element of sales force effectiveness. There are nearly an unlimited number of reasons for capturing information about what happens or is discussed when a rep meets with a healthcare professional. And there is a similar number of types of things that can be captured to satisfy all those good reasons.

Perhaps the biggest reason to keep track of things is to measure what is working. What product messages drive the most interest? What actions are best at progressing to the next sales stage? What assurances are best at overcoming objections? If the actual activities are captured and then compared against results, a sales team can use the feedback to improve its performance.

This is not big brother. It does not have to be an issue of control. Although monitoring call activity can help to understand why a sales professional is having troubles at certain sales stages, giving the sales manager an upper hand with coaching. But this should not be viewed as negative or counter-cultural. We are talking about best practices for driving effectiveness. Why would you avoid this just to avoid the perception that you are acting like big pharma?

I totally respect and empathize with those who have chosen a specific type of sales environment, and don’t want to work in the type of environment they have specifically avoided. But we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Preserve your culture but allow for a bit of discipline that can lead to success. No, we don’t want sales people becoming burdened with administrative chores. Capturing key activities does not have to be a burden – the technology can actually make it easy.

Sales activity and the ability to measure it is at the core of sales force effectiveness best practices. Do what it takes to be successful and you will find a way to preserve your culture.
After all this typing I seem to be experiencing some pain in my wrists. Can anybody leave me a sample of some pain medicine?

Teutonic Painkiller

January 15, 2010

Resisting Innovation

On my way to a customer last week while nicely making way through mid-day traffic, I noticed out of my side window another wind turbine had popped up. We don’t have that many in New England so they still make a strong impression when first appearing in a new location. Seeing the large white blades cycling through the blue sky got me thinking about all those folks who are against this form of green energy.

What was so glaring about this situation on that ride into Boston was the looming ugly smoke stacks towering over the power plant just less than a mile from the wind turbine. While I understand that the good people of London have a fond feeling toward their iconic Battersea smoke stacks (partially due to them gracing the front of a Pink Floyd album cover) I don’t think anybody around our parts are particularly fond of sour moke stacks. They serve to represent destruction. However, it does not seem that much energy goes into complaining about their presence. On the other hand, a wind turbine, which represents symbiosis, somehow creates all sorts of consternation.

What is up with that? This means of powering homes and businesses does not destroy our planet. It is nearly free. And I personally find the towers far more aesthetically pleasing than old brick spires that belch toxins into our air. Do these people really think we are going to hurt birds or fish? Come on, man! (sorry ESPN).

With that rant out of the way, I have to make the same observation about many of the client organizations I work with. I am mortified at the number of folks who want to hold onto their old clunky technology because they have a misguided belief that it will be better than the new, updated technology planned to support their business. Perhaps the old software fits like an old shoe, and the new software will need some breaking in. Never mind that the old shoe is causing a bunion.

Most of the new CRM software platforms today are much friendlier to the business, just like wind turbines and our Mother Earth. Typically the new technology costs less to operate, provides better individual benefits, and has the potential for much greater business benefits. It is possible there will be a trade off or two. Yes, the old clunky system probably has some customization that will be lost. But, there is a good chance that the process that has been automated by that customization is old and clunky too. It very well may be that the inherent processes built within the software are better. If it will only be given it a chance.

Yes, there is a trade off with wind turbines. They are large, and they will change the landscape they are erected within. I am fine with seeing them out my window overlooking the North Atlantic. I will accept that trade off against what the alternative is. I wish more people would take this attitude both with this new form of renewable energy and with their new CRM software.

Turbo Transforma