Are you letting the process get in the way of progress when it comes to your customer experience? Ask yourself if this sounds familiar:
The last time I purchased software, I compared vendors that claimed to provide a platform or tool that could meet my needs. When I met with them, I came prepared with a list of features I felt were missing from my existing solution. I learned about their features to find the one that would improve my team’s current process by addressing the pain points we were experiencing.
If you’re buying software like this, you’re doing it wrong. This approach was one I took early in my career and, as a vendor, I see others doing this on a regular basis. It is “wrong” because this way of reviewing vendors removes your power to improve current practices. Should you purchase software to fit the needs of your existing process, the chances are that you are impeding your opportunity for progress. You are more likely to be dissatisfied in a year or two. Let’s discuss why this is the case and cover some best practices for being a smarter shopper.
Getting back to the basics
If you are purchasing software for your business, keep your goals and objectives in mind. Make sure each vendor meeting has a focus on what will be accomplished using the software. At Sparkcentral, we ask prospective customers about their digital messaging goals today, tomorrow, and ten years from now. If you don’t have a clear view of where you’re going and what you’re trying to accomplish, it will be a challenge to get anywhere. (We can help set those goals if you don’t know where to start!) Once a company can verbalize their customer engagement and support visions, they have taken the first step to becoming an informed purchase. While this practice may seem intuitive, many first-time buyers will skip this step to get to a list of features.
“I found this list somewhere”
Every software platform consists elements that work together to create a workflow and process that accomplish a task. In recent years, the software available to contact centers has rapidly advanced. Businesses that were reliant on phone, email, and chat a decade ago have begun to integrate digital messaging channels for service. In fact, one of the greatest shifts I have been witnessing is in mindset: stakeholders have recognized that the customer experience is paramount and the servicing channel is secondary. As such, teams that were purchasing “social media customer support solutions” three years ago are now investing in digital messaging platforms to address a servicing need, instead of lumping all customer engagements on social channels under marketing. (This is great news for all of us as consumers!)
With such quick changes in contact center software, we sometimes hear a long list of feature requests that someone assumed exists, heard of from another product, or that they dreamt up themselves. These feature lists are not implicitly bad or wrong, but they should not be the focus in early conversations with potential vendors.
Cloud-based solutions have changed the game
As networks and the internet advanced, many businesses began shifting their focus from on-premise hosting to cloud-based software as a service (SaaS). On-premise hosting makes sense for particular solutions, especially as brands leverage proprietary technology, but they are expensive to implement, difficult to maintain, and can force a company to adjust tactics and strategies at a slow pace. Meanwhile, cloud-based solutions enable brands to be nimble, allow teams to manage their systems efficiently, and provide user access virtually anywhere. For this article, we will focus on cloud-based solution buying.
Shifting from social media to digital messaging
For additional context to readers who may not be familiar with the contact center space: there’s a change occurring. Our customers (prospective and existing) can feel the impact of these changes in tangible ways. Traditionally, marketing teams owned social media channels and handled all interactions on those channels. Customers loved being able to reach customers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere. Soon, the demands increased, as did customer expectations.
The most successful social brands are ones that have transitioned their teams from marketing to the contact center. Social media marketers still hold the reins to the social channels and are responsible for setting brand voice and marketing campaigns. However, due to their overall increased success, these marketers needed a way to not just broadcast 1:many messages, but to communicate with all customers. Furthermore, they need to successfully resolve customer issues 1:1 and they must not deflect to traditional servicing channels (or they will pay the price!).
Contact center software has improved by leaps and bounds upon the advent of digital messaging platforms including social media channels. Because of this, contact center software buyers must take into consideration a number of things: how can we improve our operations today, how can we enhance our customer or agent experience, and how will our software selection aid in these efforts while reducing the total cost of service?
Prioritize progress over process when planning and purchasing
A great place to start is by asking yourself, “self, what are we going to accomplish with new software?” It is wildly important to understand your overall goals before writing down a list of features. I love when prospective customers ask to learn more about how Sparkcentral can accelerate their brand’s service objectives. This question allows us to have a conversation about their business goals that can result in an action plan. (And we tailor a response to that question, it is based on customer-directed objectives.) When planning, set realistic expectations and a plan to reach them. Dream big and have fun: don’t forget to keep the future in mind. It is going to be a wild ride.
If you want to introduce SMS as a channel within a year or would like to securely authenticate user information or would like to track your customer’s experience across platforms and channels, you must make a plan. The technology is not always available immediately, but a reliable software vendor partner can work with you to create a multi-year plan based on their vision and your objectives.
For more information on implementing a progress-based program, check out my next blog post, where I explore how to prioritize future progress over any existing process when setting up short-term and long-term plans, maintaining a focus on growth and innovation, and creating an actionable plan with software vendors.