Archive for December 2012

Southwest’s “Unsource” definition only tells part of the story

December 17, 2012

Blog ideas can come from anywhere, but this is the first entry I’ve written inspired by an inflight magazine.  When TSIA’s VP of Marketing, Trisha Bright, headed down to our San Diego office last week, she ran across something interesting in Southwest’s Spirit magazine and forwarded it to me. Here is “entry 627 in the Spirit lexicon:”

unsource \ ‘ən-sôrs \ verb [trans]

1. To shift customer support responsibility back onto the consumer in an effort to cut costs. USAGE: No longer satisfied with the budget benefits of outsourcing their customer service to overseas call centers, corporations are savings up to 50 percent on such costs by embracing the cut-rate option of hosting enhanced discussion boards on their websites, where frustrated consumers turn to each other for answers to common questions.

After reading this, I went thru a wide range of emotions, from violent agreement to anger and frustration. Here’s my attempt at capturing those reactions.

Obviously, I get it from a consumer standpoint. I’ve blogged before about how difficult it is to find the solution to consumer technical FAQs. But for a company who is constantly introducing new fees to make higher profits from customers, one wonders if Southwest should be finger pointing on customer service. But let’s look at the two issues in this faux definition and see how they can be a blessing….or a curse.

First up is outsourcing. Let’s be clear: sending support interactions to a service provider, onshore or off, does not automatically mean poorer service to customers. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my 25 years in customer service, it is that not every company has it in their DNA to do customer service well.  Are there terrible examples of bad outsourcing deals? Yes, and I’ve experienced them. And I’ve written about how frustrating it is to deal with a support technician with few English skills. But I’ve seen many examples of companies that improve customer satisfaction scores by going offshore. Especially in the B2B world, outsourcing is common, and CSAT and loyalty scores are high and growing higher.

I just said to a member last week that outsourcing is like implementing CRM:  You have to get it wrong once to know how to do it right. We all remember the rush to offshore in the financial crisis following 9/11, and companies learned a key fact about outsourcing:  You get what you pay for. When a company asks me to recommend an outsourcer with the lowest cost-per-call, I know they are headed for disaster. Yes, you can save costs by outsourcing, but high quality providers (such as Convergys and Sykes), balance cost and quality. If they can’t do a good job for the price you want to pay, they won’t bid on the business. They have no interest in providing mediocre support–it isn’t good for your brand or theirs.

But while I can at least understand Southwest’s sentiment regarding outsourcing, I completely disagree that providing customer discussion forums is bad for customers. In my snarky opinion, whoever wrote that is clearly over 50, and in the demographic that still thinks that phone calls are the only channel customers really want. As I am constantly saying, channel choice is largely demographic, and the younger the customer, the more likely they prefer forums over phone. In fact, the 18-34 demographic which most product companies target rate phone as one of their least likely support channels, preferring self-service and peer-service (forums) over assisted service. Even “Google search” rates higher as a support channel than phone calls with younger customers.

Would companies prefer that customers use lower cost unassisted and peer-assisted options to cut costs? Absolutely. But what consumers may not realize is that phone call, email and chat volumes are NOT going down. Support volume increases year-over-year dramatically, and companies are trying to find ways to resolve more issues without live agents because they can’t possibly hire enough agents to address 100% of support volume. While assisted support volumes may go up 10-20% a year, TOTAL support volume, meaning all customer questions including those answered via self-service and online communities, goes up 50% or more a year. The more complex the technology, the more questions customers have. Providing options other than phone to get these questions answered is not “unsourcing” support, it is providing the channels that customers demand.

Now, about that $50 fee you charged me for being 3 pounds over the baggage weight limit even though I purchased an expensive ‘business select’ fare? That’s more frustrating to customers than offering a community discussion forum. I look forward to seeing that pop up in the Spirit Lexicon. How about “gouging” as next month’s term?

Finally: Field Service Gains Sex Appeal

December 13, 2012

If ever there was an area within service in need of a makeover, it would be field service. My very first technical support job, back in the 80s at JCPenney in Atlanta, involved working closely with NCR and IBM to dispatch field techs when store point of sale equipment needed onsite repair. Frankly, not much has changed in field service since then, and in all the years I’ve been tracking field service technology and adoption, there has never been an industry-wide push to update and modernize as we’ve seen in other service areas (multi-channel, knowledge management and social support being three good examples).

Until now. There are several drivers making field service automation a hot area. Planned spending is up, the industry is ripe with innovation, and even Wall Street seems to be taking notice. Consider these drivers:

  • The cloud. Legacy field service automation suites were 12-18 month implementations, with price tags for large enterprises in the $10M or more range, often due to the complexities of logistics and parts management. With new technology providers offering end-to-end field service in the cloud, acquisition and maintenance costs are much lower, with business user targeted controls not requiring an IT system administrator to own the implementation.
  • Mobility. I see mobility as the primary driver for many companies to finally take the plunge and overhaul their field service infrastructure. The productivity improvements possible by arming the field staff with smartphones or tablets shows enormous potential. Streamlined scheduling and dispatch, access to enterprise content from onsite, easy collaboration with peers across the globe, etc.
  • Revenue. TSIA data has shown that upsell/cross-sell is nearly 100% successful for field service engineers, due to the intimacy of face-to-face contacts, as well as the trust customers tend to have with a friendly and knowledgeable field tech. With so many companies under renewed budget pressure for 2013, looking beyond cost cutting toward incremental revenue to fill the gap becomes a compelling strategy.

The final clue I needed to prove field service is a hot area came yesterday, when an equity firm reached out to me for information on the industry, because they see it as a hot investment area. I hear from equity firms all the time, but the topic is almost always related to social media, or maybe multichannel. If the guys with the big bucks see field service as a major growth area, who am I to argue? Clearly interest in this area is growing, not only with customers demanding features like self-service appointment scheduling, field service teams looking to mobility to streamline processes and energize the workforce, and now investors looking for the “next big thing” to invest in.

It was about this time last year that the video of the delivery person tossing a computer over the fence went viral. I honestly believe that served as a driver as well. Let’s hope the next viral video is about exceptional service, not broken packages or field techs napping on the customer’s couch. We need some good stories to share.

Happy holidays to everyone, and thanks as always for reading Ragsdale’s Eye on Service!