What does it take to be considered a customer experience expert? Try living on three continents (14 cities), supporting dozens of companies (public and private), and leading teams covering some of the largest contact centers in the world. That's what Donald Crosslin has done.
From starting as an entry-level engineer to leading global teams, Mr. Crosslin built a career that made him a desirable asset at all levels.
"We built the contact center for Home Loan Center from the ground up. They were the largest VOIP call center that Cisco had ever done at the time. We were even the first group to use their unified messaging for CX teams."
In today's customer experience environment, one of the best experiences delivered comes from some of the largest airlines. In 2018, American Airlines rolled out an app that allows flight attendants to offer passengers a "gesture of goodwill" such as air miles when there are issues on the flight, like the entertainment system not working. Their goal is to improve experiences and make sure everything is a bit less painful for the customer.
Moreover, behind the scenes, if you call American Airlines, they know who you are, your flight details, behaviors and more, based on your phone number. They even know if you were browsing on their site and can predict your reason for calling. It feels very fluid. The graphic below shows just a tiny fraction of the sources airlines use to enhance customer experiences.
"When it comes to technology, I prefer to focus on solutions that the customer doesn't see. Those things on the back end that improves the customer experience without them even knowing it's there."
Airlines have optimized their backend system, leveraging the available data to know you and your needs.
Evaluating the Current State
When evaluating a company, it is vital to remove all bias from the discussion. In my early career, I went through a consulting training called Kepner-Tregoe. There are tons of these resources in the marketplace, but this one had you do root cause analysis with the following process:
- Describe the problem
- Identify possible causes
- Evaluate possible causes
- Confirm the true cause
The purpose of this process is to find the root cause, so you're not fixing symptoms. Doing this in a call center requires you to avoid opinions and focus on what is happening. First, sit next to an agent for the first few hours of the day for a week. Second, look at the available data to see what is going on from the customer's perspective. Finally, go to the CXO level and ask, "what do you think the problem is?" and work your way down through leadership.
"You would be surprised how much of a disconnect there is between customer perception of their experience and the company's perception of the experience they are providing."
In a Stackla survey, 92% of marketers said they believe most digital content they create resonates as authentic with consumers. However, only 51% of consumers believe that brands create content that resonates as authentic. A similar disconnect in perceived experience is prevalent in both online and offline environments.
The next step is to collect and aggregate data based on the CEO's goals. This phase requires a data scientist to create a series of questionnaires to get you sufficient information to understand what the customer truly thinks. These shouldn't just be multiple choice. They should require you to fill in your own words or free text to give your true feelings verbatim. Send this out to a random subset of your customers. Machine learning techniques such as sentiment analysis can then help determine how customers perceive the brand experience by processing the words and phrases.
Once you see potential issues, take the entire customer team (agent, supervisor, manager) and follow the problem engagement all of the way through. Not just their experience when they called but also their web activity. For example, how long did they spend on your help section before they Googled, "how do I get in touch with a live person at Company XYZ?"
Companies like Amazon will take one challenging customer experience and get every VP in a room once a month to evaluate the breakdown, what needs to be fixed, and design a solution. Resolving these issues is particularly important with emotional experiences like a mom buying diapers or baby food. There is a great story about how Jeff Bezos taught Amazon workers the "5 whys root cause analysis."
After an Amazon worker was injured, Bezos went to the whiteboard and started writing questions to drill down to the root cause of the problem. The likely root cause was that the associate needed a table that wasn't available at the workstation, and providing a table would eliminate the injury ever happening again. The takeaway here is that there may always be a straightforward solution to even the most challenging customer problems if you follow the experience from start to finish.
Matching Agents to Customers for Success
Mr. Crosslin recounted a fascinating experience while working in the wireless space. The company's NPS scores were dropping significantly compared to the competition. They looked at their reputation and CSAT issues. They did a deep dive into the data and saw that they were mismatching personality types. The result was low scores even though the agent was doing everything correctly during the call.
There is no secret when it comes to regional stereotypes in the United States.
- Northerners are rude and aggressive
- Southerners are rednecks or hillbillies
- Midwesterners are conservative
- Westerners are experimental and uninhibited
It doesn't mean you should match northeastern customers with a northeaster agent. You start by evaluating what works with different personalities. They developed a backend routing system that took customer demographics and their last five survey results and compared that to the agents that took those calls. This data enabled them to match the best agent with the customer.
This strategy can work across state and country lines and minimizes bias in who you think might be the best rep for the customer. With the world outsourcing so many call centers, it also makes optimizing nearshore and offshore agents easier.
Other benefits of a personality or predictive call routing strategy include:
- Achieving the best possible first call resolution (FCR)
- Stops agents becoming overburdened by adapting their existing call queue
- Learns constantly from data to improve the routing strategy
- Gives a balance between efficiency and engagement
- The personalization of interactions can match customers with agents with the right level of empathy
Influencing Change at the C-Suite
Now you know your problem and have a solution to propose that needs executive signoff. The big challenge with many of these leaders is they have been told what they want to hear for years. It is tough to convince leaders who are not challenged to change. They're focused on looking at the company from the fifty-thousand-foot level. Budgets, P&L, balance sheet, capex vs. opex, and the bottom line are their typical priority. Their job is to make sure the company is profitable. Your job is to help them see what they're missing.
Framing suggestions to match the goals of your boss is probably 80% of the job. Work out what the leaders are most interested in and how your idea will help them get there. For example, imagine if you wanted to ask your boss if you could start working from home. They might not care that it makes your commute less stressful, but if it means you can start working an hour earlier or you will get work done faster, it suddenly feeds into their business goals.
The same applies to customer experience. The leadership team probably don't care which agent a customer talks to. However, if they know that speaking to the right agent means calls are dealt with faster and customers are more likely to buy products from you, suddenly they become more interested.
"It's rare that I ever go into an organization where someone hasn't already had the same idea. I'm not reinventing the customer experience. The challenge is, getting the support for change."
Usually, a senior leader informs the CEO that a significant change is necessary, or the business will suffer. Just telling them this will never work. It would be best if you connected the impact to their business and compensation.
"I'm in a unique position because I often come in as a consultant. They are paying me for my insight. I can speak matter of fact. You need someone like me on your team that's not afraid to challenge the status quo."
Nobody wants to be that guy who constantly challenges leadership. One way to get around this is to assign people in meetings to take different sides of an argument. This strategy allows the "devil's advocate" to be another person in each situation. Switching up roles forces your team to look at each problem differently, creating empathy for the leader's decision.
Leading Global Teams
When you've been in the industry as long as Mr. Crosslin, you will end up managing multi-national teams. Leading these teams can be challenging. Imagine working through nearshore issues in Panama and trying to replicate success in Columbia, or leading onshore teams in the United States and comparing success to your team in the Philippines. If you're not careful, you will spend your life on an airplane and never get it right.
One way to build a talented global team is to bring the team together a few times a year to discuss what they're seeing. To avoid creating an echo chamber, consider having your travel team look like this:
- Site Director – Select a manager to represent the team
- Global Leader – Select a supervisor and agent without input from the local team
These meetings are intended to see what is and isn't working. Achieving your goal requires REAL information from an actual cross-section of employees.
"If you let everyone bring their favorite employees, you end up with an echo chamber. Everything is great… but then why is our customer experience last in the world?"
What I have seen over the years is when there are two people in the same room with the same opinion, there is no need for two people. Great leaders look for active discussion on current issues. There are several benefits to a diverse workplace and team.
- Avoid bias in your analysis by just listening and learning to start
- When brining leadership together, include a true cross section of the organization
- Demonstrate customer friction by including executive leaders in listening to phone calls
- The best solutions may run in the background (I.e., customer-facing tech is not always the answer)
- Use data and analytics to validate the problem with surveys that include customer verbatims
- Focus on the customer journey vs. a singular experience to ensure you get the change right
- Analyze multiple customer journeys to map the entire story
- Map the friction back to financial implications such as budget and compensation