Insights | By Howard Tiersky

Mining for Digital Gold

Using customer service representatives to gain insight into improving the digital experience

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Here at FROM, we are engaged in a wide variety of projects that involve driving web or mobile transactions across a range of industries including online shopping, financial services, subscriptions to digital or traditional media, and many more. As we have worked with clients, we have noticed that there seems to be a natural tension between the call center and the digital team within organizations. In many of these cases, digital channels are correctly viewed as a lower-cost way to interact with customers and a priority is placed on shifting as many customer interactions online as possible.

At the same time however, call center interactions generally have higher conversion and cross-sell. A skilled and motivated customer service agent can be a more effective and more intelligent sales tool than a web site. There are plenty of nuances to this. For example, web sites excel at displaying visual information -- which clearly is not possible over the phone. The reality is that both channels have their role, and optimally should play off one another to maximize the overall customer experience and customer value for the enterprise.

There are many facets for discussion regarding the interplay between the call center and the digital world. In this article we will examine the call center as a gold mine of rich information to aid in the ongoing improvement of the digital experience.

When we look to improve the business outcome of any digital experience, we usually begin with a model that looks like this:

  1. Ultimate business benefits are almost always correlated with trying to drive some kind of customer behavior, such as:

    • Increased conversion
    • Transaction size
    • Repeat business

    If we can successfully encourage the customer to engage in the desired behavior, we achieve our business goals. One way to look at our job in the digital world is to drive desired customer behaviors. The most successful way, we have found, is to start by first trying to understand who are the people whose behavior you are trying to drive - what are their key characteristics, their goals, their concerns and fears, even their hopes and dreams?

  2. The second thing you will want to know is what are some of the motivations that trigger that behavior and what are the concerns that hold it back?

    For example, if we are selling large flat screen TVs, we may find that for a certain segment, the immersive thrill of watching a football game on a giant set in their own living room is a major motivating factor. Or perhaps the motivation is to impress their friends with the size of their display. At the same time however, uncertainty over how to install a large, heavy television into their wall might be a point of concern, or a “buying objection," as salespeople refer to it. Other buying objections can include cost, reliability, trustworthiness, or fit into their lifestyle. Understanding how to increase a customer’s motivation toward your desired behavior and how to help overcome their objection is a key formula for conversion.

  3. Third, you will want to know what characteristics of that current digital experience are successfully pushing those motivational buttons and avoiding or overcoming the key points of resistance. And where is that balance not working well for users?

    To optimize a digital experience we want to understand first, who our customers are and what behaviors we specifically want from them. Second, what drives them toward the behavior we want to target and what holds them back? And third, where our current digital experience succeeds and fails to drive behavior. Getting a clear perspective on this information is hugely helpful in directing our efforts toward designing the most effective digital experience and prioritizing investment.

Four Techniques

The call center and the people who work there can be a tremendous resource in helping understand each of these three key areas of information. We have identified four specific techniques that will help you to mine your call center for the kind of digital gold that will help you improve your online properties.

  

Consider your customer services representatives “user experts”

After all, they typically are trying to do the same thing that we are trying to do in the digital realm—to influence the customer’s behavior. In fact, call centers are full of people who spend all day, every day, talking to your existing and potential customers. If you spent all day every day doing anything, after a while you’d be pretty darn good at it, so your call center reps generally know and understand your customers very well. Talk to them!

Most CSRs have months or years of trial-and-error experience around what types of approaches work well with customers to get the desired behavioral outcome. In sales-oriented call centers many CSRs work on commission. The CSRs who don’t figure out how to understand the customer and drive customer behavior generally do not become very successful at their job and might not stay very long. The CSRs who figure out how to make it work are the ones you want working for you. In fact, ask the call center management to connect you with the most successful representatives. Call centers always have very detailed stats on each employee’s performance. Talk to the CSRs who have the very best track record at driving behavior and ask them about their tactics. Some or even many of their tactics may be adaptable for use in the digital world.

Also consider finding a few digitally astute CSRs and occasionally bringing them into your design process. Let them look at your prototypes for new features and listen to what they have to say. It's not ideal to do this with the executives that run the call center, at least not for this purpose. You want the people who spend their days on the phone with customers. They may not have the digital perspective that your online teams do, but that’s fine. You can filter their input accordingly, but gathering their raw input as a proxy for the customer can prove to be invaluable.

   

Get trained as a customer service representative

Or, at the very least, read the call center training materials. Buried in your call center, most likely never scrutinized or even glanced at by the digital team, there are probably binders full of training material on how to talk to customers, how to elicit their needs, and different tactics to close the sale. While the quality of this material varies by company, we often find that it’s full of many insights about customers and driving their behaviors.

   

Jack In

Have you spent time jacking in? Great! Then you know that it means spending time sitting side by side with a call center rep with a second set of headphones listening to their conversation with the customer.

At Moving Interactive, we always try to have members of our web or mobile design team spend a day or two (yes, all day) sitting in the call center with the reps, listening in on calls. Different reps sometimes have different styles, and different types of customers elicit different techniques from them. Sometimes it’s tough for a CSR to tell you their tricks off-hand, but if you watch them in action for a while, you start to see the patterns. It’s helpful to be right there physically with the rep as well so that between calls you can ask them about the techniques they used in the prior call, or why they did what they did. And they can often give you better insights when it is fresh in their minds.

It can also be effective to listen to the recordings of past calls. While it has some drawbacks compared to listening live, it also has some major advantages. Call centers with sophisticated call recording systems can often allow you to search for recorded calls by various tags. For example, if you are trying to address a particular issue such as tools for billing disputes on a credit card site, you can search for and find a set of calls that only focus on that topic. If you were sitting in the call center, you would get a somewhat random assortment of many different types of calls. Listen to as many calls as you can – whether that means heading down to the call center and ‘jacking in’ or loading up recordings of past calls onto an mp3 player and listening to them on long car drives. Sure, it might not be as entertaining as a book on tape (although, you might be surprised), but it will yield invaluable information for the growth and development of your sales.

The CRM system used by your call center should contain a wealth of useful information

What percentage of your customers are calling, and for what reason? What are the reasons your customers cancel or return your products, and which are the most common? Running these types of simple reports from your CRM system can yield valuable insights.

   

Four things to look for:

As you dive into these four steps and begin to utilize the resources you have at your disposal, you might realize that you do not entirely know specifically what you are looking for. This is not uncommon.

As a guide, here are four types of things that you should always look for and that will act as a starting point on your dig for digital gold.

Types of Customers

Often you will find that you can learn some useful distinctions between customers along some particular dimension. For example, if you are selling vacations CSRs may try to find out quickly whether kids are traveling or if it is an "adults only" vacation. That information makes a huge difference. If you are selling exercise products, understanding a customer’s past experience with weight loss can inform how you sell to them. Notice these types of distinctions CSRs might look for.

In the digital realm it is important to keep in mind the various different types of customers we need to appeal to. And it is also sometimes possible to segment the customer and provide a different experience to different users. This type of research will give you insight into when this makes sense to do and what you should focus on.


Sales Tactics

You can learn the different key objections that different customer segments tend to have and how different sales tactics are applied in different situations. What product attributes are emphasized in different circumstances? What language is used? What tone or style is used?

Another thing to listen for-- how does the CSR handle the upsell? It is not unusual for conversion to be higher in a call center than online, but upsell is typically much higher in a call center than online. Are there tactics that you observe in a call center that you can take and adapt for use online?


Web Site or Mobile Problems

A certain percentage of people calling the call center have already been on the web site and are calling because they were unable to complete their task. Perhaps because the content or feature they were needing was not available, or perhaps just because they couldn’t find it or got frustrated. It is important to understand these situations in detail. Listen for these issues;ask the CSRs if they can remember what the most common types of issues they hear about are. You can also search the CRM system for these issues. And if that proves difficult to do, or the information is not there, see if you can get fields added to your CRM system to specifically capture anything a customer says about problems with the digital channels.


Unmet Needs

Some people may contact the call center because they want to buy something they cannot find on the web site. And the reason they cannot find it might be that you just do not even sell it! Patterns of callers looking for something you don’t offer might suggest a new opportunity. The same is true for tools or features of the web site that customers are seeking.

   

Call centers and digital channels are different. Of course not everything that works in a one-on-one voice conversation can work online, but some things can be used exactly as-is in both places while other things might require the imagination of your digital team to figure out how to utilize a call center tactic for digital – and vice versa. We have focused this article on call centers, but in reality many of these tactics can be used with other customer-facing roles as well.

In closing, as useful as the call center can be to the web site, there are many ways that the digital team can be very helpful to the call center’s effectiveness as well. For example it’s common for call center reps under certain circumstances to encourage a customer, while on the phone, to browse to the site (perhaps to see a product photo or access some other type of visual information). Is your web site making this as easy as possible? Are there some URL shortcuts to commonly used web pages in phone discussions that would save the CSRs from reading off long URLs on the phone? There are many ways to maximize enterprise value through close cooperation between channels, both digital and traditional. Remember that value can be found wherever you take the time and the energy to look.

If we can be of assistance to you in any of your digital innovation efforts, please contact us a info@from.digital.

To hear more about this discussion, read Mining Your Call Center for Digital Gold.