Inside the Walls of Cisco: The End-To-End Customer Experience with Suzanne Kilner

Suzanne Kilner

With a technology focus, Cisco has attempted a seamless customer service offering and end-to-end process. Suzanne Kilner, Director of Unified Communications for Cisco Canada, is passionate about the end to end customer service offering at Cisco. Kilner claims Cisco no longer operates in a command and control state; and now Cisco offers a more collaborate decision-making approach. In this interview Kilner gives us a transparent view of what customer service looks like within the walls of Cisco.

How is the call center a different environment to work in today as opposed to what it was five or 10 years ago?

The call center has have evolved tremendously over the last five to 10 years.

When customers reach out for vendor support today, they are often more knowledgeable about the products they buy. Their expectation of performance and service from vendors is also much higher. If the customer has called the call center before, he/she will want the call center to know who they are when they call again and even want us to anticipate why they’ve called. Customers are time crunched and want immediate help and rapid problem resolution.

Phone calls still represent the bulk of call center interactions today. But e-mail and click-to-call are also rapidly increasing in use. Call back in queue is likewise gaining higher adoption.

Organizationally, the call center has evolved from "Site specific and nodal" to "Enterprise" in nature. Organizations that have multiple lines of business are focused on the positive image of the overall brand and look to achieve consistent view of the customer across the entire business.

Technology that supports a call center must provide an enterprise view of customer care and support the multiple channels a customer might use to contact you.

At Cisco, our technology enables disparate systems to work holistically by utilizing a common infrastructure. The ability to centralize and virtualize the data center drives ease of implementations.

What inspired you to work in customer service?

As a former IT director with passion for solutions, I was extremely fortunate to work in partnership with call center management, architecting technology solutions for the enterprise call center and helping to visualize end-state.

Deploying a new call center and watching it come to life is one of the most exciting things an IT professional can do. It’s a perfect combination of people, processes and technologies all coming together.

And the call center ties directly to the business. Connecting customers with the business, creating a positive experience, and addressing a customer inquiry is what the call center is all about.

At the IQPC Customer Experience Summit this year in Chicago, Kirby Drysen of Cisco talked about the importance of collaboration. How does Cisco’s call center make sure it’s in step with the other departments, such as IT, marketing and sales?

At Cisco, our ability to collaborate by embracing and utilizing Web 2.0 technologies is critical to our on-going success. It’s a part of our day-to-day culture across the entire Cisco organization.

Cisco has moved from a command and control structure to an organization where decisions are made collaboratively by councils and boards. Collaboration within and across Cisco is becoming second nature, and it has significantly improved our decision making and customer response.

Customer satisfaction, and input from our customers—whether it comes from our Technical Assistance Center, customer surveys or Customer Advisory boards—feeds into all parts of our organization. This knowledge helps us serve our customers better than ever.

At the heart of it is our collaboration technologies, including Cisco Unified Contact Centre, Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Telepresence, Webex and our use of Web 2.0 technologies including Wiki’s, forums, blogs and video blogs. Cisco itself is perhaps one of the best illustrations of the success of our technologies.

How is Cisco driving "customer intimacy"?

The customer is at the center of everything we do.

We get closer to our customers by listening to them and by understanding their business opportunities, and objectives. We’ve focused on increasing the frequency of our interactions with them across their organizations—at all levels, and across all mediums. As an example, we connect our customers to our executives and experts via TelePresence and WebEx—our video collaboration technologies.

In fact we give customers some of our collaboration tools. Our sales teams and system engineers have been providing customers with Web cams and WebEx accounts so that collaboration and virtual white-boarding can happen quickly, efficiently and routinely.

We host training Webinars, such as the Cisco Knowledge Network, to educate our customers about implementing our technology and encourage interactive communication between our experts and our customers.

We’ve also included our customers into our innovation process. Last year we launched the Cisco I-Prize innovation contest—a global competition to identify a new business opportunity for Cisco. The winning team was based out of Germany and Russia and used Cisco collaboration technology to build its winning proposal.

Cisco is "saving to invest" to beat the recession. What is the significance of this?

Saving to invest is about shifting valuable human and capital resources onto what matters most to a business. It’s about intelligently reducing costs in operational areas in order to fund key and necessary strategic investments that help a business grow and improve.

We’re doing this at Cisco, for example, by conducting in person meetings without traveling. Across Cisco we have more than 530 Telepresence units and have conducted approximately 350K Telepresence meetings. That move has achieved savings of more than $271 million and a productivity cost savings of $101 million. That’s in addition 146 metric tons of emissions we’ve also saved.

We’ve reduced our global real estate and energy expenses by enabling remote workers and creating a "connected workspace" that gives our employees full access to Cisco resources and lets them work whenever and wherever they happen to be. In fact, the majority of Cisco’s workforce works two to three days each week from home. That results in a 29 percent higher productivity and higher job satisfaction scores.

What is the most surprising thing a customer has said to you?

I always find it surprising that some customers still express concern that VoIP technology isn’t ready and reliable for use in the call center. With more than 1.7 million call center representatives, and approximately 23 million IP endpoints deployed today, the call center is exactly the application for IP technology!

What is the call center’s number one business challenge today?

Getting from where the call center is today to the end state of where the call center wants and needs to be. You need to have an end-state vision of what customer care success is, what it needs to achieve and what that looks like. It’s a critical vision that every company needs to understand. A company must build a roadmap of how the call center can get there over time. We help our customers through these transitions every day.

Interview by Blake Landau