Louis Columbus has over 20 years in the IT industry, specializing in product management, sales and marketing. Immediately before joining Cincom, Mr. Columbus was a Senior Analyst at AMR Research. He earned his MBA from Pepperdine University and completed the Strategic Marketing Management Program at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He has published 16 books on operating systems, peripherals and integration technologies.

Predicting 2012: The Year Quality of Customer Experience Becomes King

The next twelve months will see a greater focus than ever before on the quality of customer experience permeating strategies, systems, applications and initiatives.

An efficiency and transaction mindset is driving many industries including airlines into a churn-based business model that is tough to escape from.

In 2012 many businesses will need to step up their efforts to make better use of internal systems that are not integrated to CRM, analytics and customer service systems so they can deliver higher quality customer experiences immediately.  Integrating these systems together and making the quality of data and intelligence a priority will increase the quality of customer experience delivered.

 With these thoughts in mind, here are several customer experience predictions for 2012:


  •  By combining quality monitoring, analytics and social media, many companies get a true assessment of the customer experience they are delivering for the first time.  2012 is going to be about measuring and improving the quality of customer experience first, increasing the speed and efficiency of interactions second.  Quality monitoring is going to get beyond just measuring activity-based and high-end customer satisfaction metrics.  Behavioral analytics, real-time feedback from social networks , integrated to sentiment analysis will give customer experience and customer service managers instant visibility into how effective their strategies and programs are.  For many, it will be the first true reading of customer satisfaction and quality of customer experience.
  •  Consistency of customer response across all channels gets measured, monetized, and rewarded internally and externally.  One of the quickest ways to increase the quality of customer experience is to make responses identical, synchronized and complete across all channels.  Surprisingly, according to Forrester in a recent study, 90% of companies can’t do this.  Customers however expect this to be like a dial-tone in their interactions with you and your company.  In 2012, there is going to be a much stronger focus on this area, with more measurement, monetization (through upsell and cross-sell) and greater spending on this than ever before.  The bottom line is that delivering a consistent response across all channels is no longer optional, it’s required.  2012 will show how companies who did the hard work of making this happen end the year with higher gross margins, retention rates and customer satisfaction scores.
  • Knowledge management and the use of configuration and constraint engines to streamline its use in Web self-service and agent-based applications goes mobile, accelerating across all channels.  Having real-time access to the knowledgebase of their companies further increases the quality of customer interaction and experience for service reps, driving up quality monitoring scores in the process.  Smartphone and tablet integration via Android and Apple iOS will begin to provide richer data sets and greater analytics application performance, giving customer service much greater ability to respond in real-time regardless of location or time.
  • Using social media and online communities, customers will make it known which channels they are most and least likely to use for service and support – the migration between channels will be more fluid than ever before.  Using analytics, data mining and real-time quality monitoring is going to be essential for customer experience and customer service teams to stay on top of.
  • Customer experience becomes more dependent on ongoing content development, management and personalization than ever before.   No longer will customers be satisfied with only a quarterly or bi-yearly update on what’s going on in the user communities they are members of.  It’s an always-on, real-time world right now and the companies who deliver a consistently high quality stream of content will emerge from 2012 with more profitable customers than they began with due to their focus on this area.
  • Big Data, Hadoop and MapReduce will deliver on the promises of greater customer insight and intelligence through advanced data mining and business intelligence.  The insights gained from these initiatives will be a strong catalyst of change in many companies  stalled in their CEM strategies today due to lack of legacy data integration and analytics.   This is one area where quality will become king in 2012, as companies quit being satisfied with simple data integration and start pushing for higher quality of data analysis and predictive modeling.  Integrating Big Data with sentiment analysis and customer satisfaction data will yield insights many customer service, marketing and executive management teams are lacking today.




What Customer-Driven Manufacturing Looks Like Up Close

Louis Columbus
Cincom Systems
Walking through the doors of the Siemens Energy and Automation Plant in Norwood, Ohio you immediately get a sense of the legacy this manufacturing plant has and the intense, even obsessive focus on customers driving it into the future.  This plant has been in continuous operation for over 100 years at this location and is the leading producer of electric motors in North America.  There are plaques just outside the front door older than anyone reading this, and inside there is this obsessive focus on excelling at each engine manufacturing task to delight customers.

What amazed me about my visits there was how obsessed the culture of this manufacturing plant is with their customers. In literally every conversation, from manufacturing supervisors to product specialists and production engineering, everyone sees their jobs from how it contributes to meeting customers’ expectations.  This plant reverberates with a customer-centric focus.

Defining Their Own Destiny with a Passion for Customer-Driven Manufacturing

My second visit was during a low point of the recession.  You’d expect morale to be low and a pessimistic mindset to pervade the plant.  But I didn’t find that at all; what I did find were manufacturing teams that had an incredible intensity about quality.  They were obsessed about quality and customer satisfaction. This plant continually strives to improve its quoting, product configuration, pricing and production processes, they never stop. You literally cannot have a conversation in this plant with anyone where the word customer does not come up within five minutes. It’s no wonder they won 2009 Plant of the Year from Plant Engineering Magazine.  Be sure to watch this video and meet the folks who saved a plant by being obsessed with quality and customer-driven manufacturing.

Bottom line: Customer-centric manufacturing is more than a manta; it’s a process-driven strategy that is transformational and can keep manufacturing plants over 100 years old still fighting and winning customer deals daily.

Disclosure: Siemens Energy and Automation Plant is a Cincom customer and we congratulate them on winning 2009 Plant of the Year. 
Flickr attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44431572@N00/4042504006/sizes/l/

Rapid Response is Vital Part of Customer Experience

Customer experience begins with the first connection. When a prospective customer reaches out to you (the perfect scenario), you must respond appropriately and as fast as possible.

Autobytel, the online car buying experience, created a value-added service for car dealers using its services — a Web 2.0 application that enables dealers to respond rapidly to customers who are actively in the search for a new car.

For the car buyer, this produced a positive car buying experience — one in which they were rapidly put into a conversation with dealers who had what they were looking for.

For Autobytel’s dealer clients, the solution produced a dramatic increase in closing ratios and contact rates.

In September, Autobytel announced that 1,300 dealers were utilizing its  automated phone response solution called Rapid Response. Today, just six months later, that number has grown to 2,200. Even more impressive than the program’s growth are the notable results it’s generating for dealers, with the majority of surveyed dealers reporting significant improvements in contact rates, closing ratios and sales.

"Whether it’s walk-ins or Internet customers, sales are all about interaction, listening and developing relationships," said Steven Davids, a salesperson at Frankel Acura in Cockeysville, MD, who, in a new dealership case study on Rapid Response, says his closing ratios on showroom appointments have climbed from 75 percent to 85 percent since starting the program. "Bottom line, with Rapid Response I’m talking to live customers and my competitors are talking to voice mails."

Frankel Acura is not alone in its success with Rapid Response. According to a recent survey of dealers who utilize the program, 65 percent say that Rapid Response has improved their contact rates. In addition, the majority of dealers surveyed said that Rapid Response not only provided an average of four additional sales per month, but increased their closing ratios an average of 21 percent.(1)

Autobytel Senior Vice President of Dealer Operations and Strategy Mark Garms: "The success of Rapid Response is another example of why dealers continue to choose Autobytel. We understand the importance of delivering more than just qualified leads: our innovative products and services make it easier for dealers to sell more cars efficiently."

With more than 90 percent of today’s automotive consumers using the Internet during their shopping process, it is more critical than ever that dealers utilize products and services that capitalize on these in-market car buyers. Studies show that the faster dealers respond to an online lead, the more likely the customer is to buy. Rapid Response is designed to streamline follow up by phoning the dealership when a local lead comes in through any Autobytel marketing site. The dealer is then provided with the customer’s contact and vehicle information and an option to click a button to attempt to contact the customer, ideally while he or she is still sitting at the computer.

Cincom Systems is using technology to accomplish the same task — only for enterprise software. The software innovator, now in its 40th year in business, can see whenever anyone from a prospective company is actively viewing content on its website. This enables Cincom to respond rapidly to anyone looking for such solutions as document management software, contact center software and sales and product configuration software. It is all part of a long history of proactively serving customer needs to enhance the overall customer experience.

What you can learn from both of these examples is that speed is part of the customer experience. No matter what kind of product or service you are selling, you must be first on the chase. But first alone is not going to get you to the finish line. Once you are in a conversation ahead of your competition, the experience must be about what the customer wants rather than what you want. When you approach each customer interaction with this mindset, you will build trust with the customer. More now than ever before, customers are buying from providers they trust.

Kayser Hits the Bullseye

My colleague Steve Kayser, editor of Expert Access, set the record straight for newbies in the PR world in a cover story for Media Bullseye. His conclusion, writing simple news is really complex. Do it wrong and the experience wilts fast.

Steve says a big part of the reason for the complexity of PR these days: "It’s more from the frenetic pace of change in the PR industry. Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts, Social Media, SEO, SEO PR, Tags, and on and on and on. The technology changes alone can be daunting or intimidating."

I say AMEN to that. All of us in marketing communications are feeling this pace of change. We have to master the intricacies of our own company’s products and these change every day to stay ahead of the competition. We have to master the skill of communicating … heck, that’s always been a challenge because writing is simply hard work. We have to master all the customer touchpoints and these are exploding, literally exploding in our faces. And we have to master new marketing automation tools that make it easier to do our work and distribute our communications through all these new touchpoints. And we have to master analytics so we can measure whether what we are doing works and merits the money spent on it. It is enough to keep your head spinning.

But one of the toughest of all these masteries is the one Steve discussed on Media Bullseye: Simplifying what we write. I encourage you to spin over there and read what Steve has to share. He has four simple rules (well, actually he stole them from Hemingway). To that, I would add one simple thought … I would have written a shorter blog post, but I didn’t have time. Well, to be honest, I kind of ripped that one off from Samuel Clemens (the real guy behind Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer) … or Samuel Johnson or T. S. Eliot … at one time or another they have all been given credit for the memorable line: I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one. Writing short and simple — as Hemingway, Twain, Johnson and Eliot would all agree is like sweating blood.

Steve Kayser is currently the director of PR for Cincom Systems, a global software and services company. In addition to his PR duties Steve publishes Cincom’s award-winning Expert Access E-zine which has grown to 135,000 subscribers globally. Steve is also an award-winning business writer. Steve can be reached at skayser@cincom.com.

Customer Experience Goes South in the Contact Center. Who to Blame?

By Dale Wolf

A variety of different surveys indicate that at best only one in ten consumers have an outstanding experience when calling corporate contact centers. The other nine are average, mediocre or poor. The fact that I work for a company selling contact center technology brings an interesting observation. As much as we want to sell our solution, the reality is that providing a great customer experience on the phone is mostly about how you use the technology. Sure, you need certain features to enable agents to fluidly provide fast and accurate responses, but the customer happiness is about how company policies and whether the agent actually cares about providing the customer with a wonderful experience.

The features touted by Cincom as essential elements within the technology are three-fold:

  1. A unified agent desktop (that lets the agent see all the information that is relevant to a particular customer call without digging through a lot of back-office applications).
  2. Intelligent scripting (to guide the agent into the most productive and relevant conversation path).
  3. Automated, personalized fulfillment (that enables an agent to send back to the customer confirming information about the issues they discussed on the phone).

Given these three capabilities, a well-trained agent can extend to the customer a perfect customer experience.

The fact that some 90% of contact center interactions annoy the customer is uncalled for and unnecessary. It is mostly indicative of corporate cultures that have not made the shift to customer experience marketing. The agents reflect the culture and the compensation policies of the company they work for.

Senior executives with poor customer service in the contact center need first to look at themselves and the culture they are fostering. Change that and the customer experience will improve. Change that and you will grow faster and more profitably than your competition.

Corporate Gobbledygook Kills the Customer Experience Before it Even Begins

David Meerman Scott, a friend of mine and a top-notch communications consultant and author of three books, has really put marketers and marketing writers on the spot. He did it in an article he wrote for Cincom’s Expert Access newsletter. Let me give you a taste of Scott’s challenge, which by the way, is backed by considerable research he did in preparing the article.

David writes:

Oh jeez, not another flexible, scalable, groundbreaking, industry-standard, cutting-edge product from a market-leading, well-positioned company! Ugh. I think I’m gonna puke! Just like with a teenager’s use of annoying catch phrases, I notice the same words cropping up again and again in websites and news releases so much so that the gobbledygook grates against my nerves and many other people’s, too. Well, duh. Like, companies just totally don’t communicate very well, you know?

Then he cites his research into corporate gobbledygook. The words that came out of his research might surprise you. Hopefully you have not been using any of them. Once you read David’s article, you will place a lot more value on plain English that is centered around solving customer problems rather than your "next generation" product … Oh, I did not mean to let that word slip into my text. Shame on you, Dale!

Now, here’s the thing for me. When we write in robust, mission-critical, world-class, flexible gibberish we immediately shut down the customer experience. Customers have a "bull-shit" detector built into them. Don’t you have this detector working when you are in a buying cycle? I sure do.

Words are important. They should be used carefully. They tell customers whether you are trying to fake them out. They send out the signal that it’s time to get off this website cause they are so busy trying to impress me with themselves that they have clearly indicated they have no knowledge on how to help me solve my problem.

Corporate gobbledygook is not just bad writing. It is a bad experience.

Now if you really want to do yourself a favor, go read David’s article and then subscribe to Expert Access so you can get this kind of thoughtful advice every two weeks from Cincom’s talented PR dude, Steve Kayser.

Keep Up with What They’re Saying About You or Suffer the Consequences

Jamesrobertson_web Jim Robertson cites two really awful customer complaints (Kryptonite car locks and Sony’s use of malicious software) that could have been handled smarter if the companies involved were watching and responding fast to the blogosphere. It’s a good read on The Manufacturer. Jim is product manager for Cincom Smalltalk and blogs passionately about this application development solution, as well as things of import in the world of software and technology.

Here’s his main point:

You need to track what is being said about your product, services, and company on an ongoing basis. (Online searches for Kryptonite locks still pop up the pen story.) That’s easier than it used to be, due to the plethora of syndication tools now available.

Follow Jim’s advice and you can turn a bad situation into a positive customer experience.

Webinar: Getting Customers Hooked On Your Organization

The Whetstone Edge announces that Managing Partner, John I. Todor, Ph.D. and Randy Saunders of Cincom System will be presenting two webcasts entitled Hooked: The Psychology of the Customer Experience. Both webcasts will take place on March 21, 2007. The first is scheduled for the convenience of European participants, the second for those in North America.

The webcasts are sponsored by Cincom Systems and the registration link is Hooked.

How do you get customers hooked on your company? The answer begins with the psychological principles that underlie compelling customer experiences. Join renowned author and speaker, John Todor, Ph.D., as he combines research, practical methodologies, and real-world examples of successful companies to explore these topics:

  • The psychological principles that underlie compelling customer experience
  • The two distinct buying personalities that customers employ
  • How to avoid the triggers that turn on the less desirable personality
  • Strategies to engage the personality that leads to loyalty and commitment
  • How to turn indifferent customers into committed (addicted) customers

Randy Saunders, Cincom’s Marketing Director for Customer Experience Management Solutions, will discuss the new struggles that contact center managers have in balancing efficiency and customer experiences. According to Saunders, "Both are needed if we are going to move customers from anxiety, stress and confusion to a point where they want to buy more stuff because they appreciate the experience being offered."

Cincom Systems invites interested parties to register at www.cincom.com/hooked.