Customer Focus in the Contact Center: If You Don't Mean It, It Won't Work


Last month I wrote about the financial services industry's use of leading-edge technologies in its contact centers, resulting in better-than-average customer satisfaction levels. Without the right people and processes to back it up, however, technology isn't a cure-all in the contact center.


As Ventana Research analyst Richard Snow wrote in September, an overemphasis on managing costs and a tendency to focus on internal issues rather than customers are two of the biggest reasons that contact centers consistently fail to meet customer expectations. Exacerbating these problems, writes Snow, are information systems architectures that spread customer data across multiple systems, which makes it nearly impossible to create the "360 degree view" of customers that so many companies claim to want.


Knowing this, two items recently caught my eye. On Harvard Business Online, blogger Bill Taylor describes how online shoe retailer Zappos fosters an "emotional connection" with its customers by, for instance, routinely beating its promised four-day (and free) delivery time. Its customer service number appears on every page of its Web site -- in contrast to companies like Wal-Mart, that intentionally bury service numbers in hopes that customers won't find them.


Agents in Zappos' contact centers work with no scripts or time limits on calls. After the first of four weeks of intense training, Zappos makes what it calls "The Offer," offering to pay those who want to quit for the time they've already put in and throw in a $1,000 bonus. Huh? Taylor writes:

... if you're willing to take the company up on the offer, you obviously don't have the sense of commitment they are looking for. It's hard to describe the level of energy in the Zappos culture--which means, by definition, it's not for everybody. Zappos wants to learn if there's a bad fit between what makes the organization tick and what makes individual employees tick--and it's willing to pay to learn sooner rather than later.

Only about 10 percent of new agents take Zappos up on its Offer. Taylor notes The Offer used to be $100 and then $500. It "may well go higher than $1,000 as the company gets bigger (and it becomes even more difficult to maintain the all-important culture and obsession with customers)," he writes.



In a somewhat similar vein, Chrysler is asking its top 300 executives to make customer service calls to folks who have purchased its vehicles in the last 60 days, reports DMNews.com. The "Customer First Call Campaign" is part of a broader initiative that includes gathering feedback through an online Customer Advisory Board. According to the article, the execs will work under the supervision of contact center agents and will be tasked with solving any problems reported by customers. Says the company's, global service and communication manager:

It's just another example of an initiative that fits in with the plan for us to have a continued commitment to bring the customer closer to the company and the company closer to the customer.

Unlike Zappos' offer, which appears to be an extension of the company's customer-loving culture on display throughout its Web site, Chrysler's moves strike cynical me as little more than an effort to drum up publicity. After all, the automaker took out a full-page ad in the Feb. 20 edition of The Wall Street Journal, part of which is noted by Peter Levitan on his Recession Freakout blog:

"We started by refocusing on the most important person of all: the customer. The we went to work, rebuilding our entire company to be more responsive than ever."

Like me, Levitan has issues with the word "refocusing," which seems to imply that Chrysler wasn't focused on its customers before. He writes:

Wow! Did Chrysler mean to say that they did not practice hugging before? Didn't do on-going customer and market research? Didn't design to meet market need? Didn't employ CRM? Chrysler sold last year (another sale after the purchase by Daimler a couple of years earlier.) I guess when management is focused, like really focused, on mergers and selling the company then you really can take your eye off the real ball -- sales. Yikes. Want to buy some Chrysler stock? Good news, you can't. They are private now. Cerberus Capital Management, L.P bought them for$7.4 billion. Good luck boys.