4 Customer Management Resolutions You Can't Break in 2013

Brian Cantor

The New Year drives people to become their most ambitious and optimistic only for them to quickly transition into their least committal.

As individuals begrudgingly nurse their Christmas and New Year’s Eve food comas and hangovers, they marry themselves to change. Even their most flattering mirrors became artificially damning, and resolution to do better is the only option.

Unfortunately, guilt subsides at a far more aggressive pace than harder work becomes habit, and as a result, commitment to these "resolutions" quickly waver. Plans to cut carbs, limit swear words from vocabularies and do more family-bonding become annoying chores rather than pathways to betterment, and they thus become harder and harder to maintain without compromise.

However rooted in human nature, this struggle to make change permanent is a universal source of mockery. It is a well-documented reason to pan the New Year’s Resolution concept and therefore its very own roadblock to progress.

Prominent in individual lives, this challenge simply cannot impact the business realm. Businesses must cherish the burden to do better for their customers, because however hypocritical the mindset, these human customers do consistently command improvement from brands.

Greater commitments to customer-centricity should produce an endless, limitless story; they should not be limited to January 1. But insofar as companies will make "resolutions" to do better in the New Year, they absolutely must turn those resolutions into habit. Indifference and inefficacy cannot be factors.

Here are some key resolutions all brands must make as they strive for a successful new year of customer management:

Benchmark the Contact Center as a Customer-Centric Business Unit

My reaction to a presentation at a recent contact center meeting (thankfully not one organized by Call Center IQ) could not have been more bipolar. My happiness that the speaker was downplaying "old world, traditional" contact center metrics quickly turned to disappointment when it turned out that his gripe was simply over methodology. It was not that these "efficiency metrics" were wrong or shallow; it was simply that they were subject to statistical bias.

Performance measurement is a means of achieving strategic objectives. And for the contact center, no strategic objective is more imperative than delivering customer satisfaction. As a result, the days of contact center leaders "not knowing" or "not measuring" customer satisfaction (and loyalty, effort, etc) must come to an end. If a metric is serving as a guiding light for performance, it must be guiding agents to improve the experience for customers.

Metrics like average handle time and average speed of answer are not necessarily obsolete—and are, in fact, necessary in many call centers—but their reason for being must be customer-based. If any performance strategy in your center cannot be directly tied to the customer, correct that failure immediately.

Make "Social" a Way of Life, Not a Resume-Padder

When coaching high school students, we remind them that participating in extracurricular activities is not enough to impress the most elite colleges. For their participation to matter, it must reflect a legitimate commitment to the group. It must also contain a document of proven success.

No matter how much it is convinced otherwise, a brand is not "social" because it has a Facebook page or a Twitter account. It is social when it aligns the service it provides on such networks with the expectations and demands of the customer base.

If all that means is Tweeting out discount codes and funny pictures, fine. But the decision must ultimately be made by the customers. And if they are looking for fast and comprehensive customer support, then abysmal response times—let alone abysmal response rates—are unacceptable.

Go Beyond the Pizza Party

Social hubris is the best-documented misconception in customer management, but it is not the only source of contact center misdirection. Many brands also do not understand "employee engagement."

While it is always laudable to see organizations commit to creating better atmospheres, especially in a workforce sector notorious for poor employee satisfaction, it is troubling that so many focus on the superficial. They reduce elements of the "Zappos experience" to niceties for employees, forgetting that the true motivator should stem from the customer.

A business’ "people" asset is at its best when employees are driven to create the ideal customer experience. Pizza parties and summer Fridays might improve employee morale, which is an infectious variable capable of boosting customer interactions, but the transformation they initiate is likely insufficient to create legitimate alignment with the customers.

Agent engagement is not simply about boosting the number of smiles in the office; it is about fostering a culture that turns agents into the representatives with whom your customers crave to interact. It is about exposing agents to the combination of mindsets and workplace practices that yields agents to unequivocally do right by customers.

Employees are only truly "engaged" when they not only understand exactly how to satisfy customers but feel empowered to actually deliver that satisfaction. If pizza parties are merely a compensation for the fact that the brand throws its agents to the wolves in customer interactions, they are not creating the "engagement" brands need in 2013.

Manage Data…Intelligently

Color me unimpressed by the countless articles referencing "Big Data" as a hot customer management trend.

It is not that they are wrong—the data brands collect across all channels will be instrumental in creating the best possible customer experience—but they are certainly limited in scope.

By talking about strategies for using the myriad of behavioral data brands collect, these "Big Data" resolutions are consistently overlooking that true data management begins before the data is ever being collected. In 2013, it cannot simply be about leveraging the data a business already has—it must be about structuring the brand to acquire and act on the data most pivotal to the customer experience.

With so many touch points representing so many opportunities to interact with customers, it is a crime for businesses not to intelligently strategize each interaction. What questions do we want answered by our data? What kind of data is needed to deliver the personalized experience our customers want?

By rooting a data management strategy in those questions, the brand will no longer be trying to make the best of the "scraps" it already has in its arsenal. It will see every moment as an opportunity to create an even better moment for customers down the road.