How Customer-facing Departments Rise, in a Down Economy?


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This paper is not written for CEOs. I intend to write to the heads and leaders of customer-facing departments, such as service, sales, CRM, CEM, contact center, retail operations, etc, to explore a pragmatic approach for them to thrive in a flat economy.

When I was delivering a CEM Master Class a couple of months ago in Amsterdam, I heard from one attendee that the whole customer experience department of a leading multinational mobile network provider in the Netherlands was axed. It is only one of the cost-cutting stories happens nowadays all over the world. Being perceived as an ‘expendable’ business unit, or a cost center, might be the logical explanation.

For the luckier executives who still keep their jobs, living in an environment with fewer resources, reducing budget, and manpower cut is almost inevitable. But they still have to maintain the service standards, beat competitions, and deliver results. Squeezing more efficient use of the limited resource is the ongoing challenge of their daily working lives.

So, how to justify your existence, maintain market share with fewer resources and still satisfy your customers?

Think like your CEOs. To them, there are two golden lines: top-line and bottom-line. In a down economy, reducing bottom-line is a quick fix to the quarterly financial reports. Unless you could prove to help the top-line, you are easily fall on the victim list. Combing our experience to help enterprises to build the TCE (Total Customer Experience) models, and the survey insights of the Global Credit Card Customer Experience Research*, I am now showing you how to quantify the impact of your work and establish bondage to your corporate objectives.

Figure 1: Emotion Curves – Credit Card Issuing Banks, Contact Center Department

Figure 1 illustrates the Emotion Curves** of the five leading credit card issuing banks in Mainland China, while China Merchants Bank is performing the best in all importance scores and indicators. The emotion curves cover all relevant touch-points of the entire life cycle of credit card users, from T1 to T39. Since this paper is written for department heads, let’s focus on one department, in this case, the Contact Center. It comprises the channels of IVR, calls, emails, SMS. As each touch-point experience could be delivered by various channels, e.g. … So now you have a pretty good picture on how your customers interact / experience your department amongst the entire life stage.

Assuming the corporate objectives of China Merchants Bank is driving retention, i.e. the continual usage of her cards, and customer satisfaction. Orange stars denoted the touch-point experience that are important to both driving retention and satisfaction, blue dots denoted touch-point experience that are important to drive retention, green dots denoted touch-point experience that are important to drive satisfaction, while grey dotes are unimportant at all. In a glimpse, you could identify which touch-point experiences are really critical, e.g.…. in assisting to achieve corporate goals. Would your CEO think twice to cut the initiatives on Service touch-points after the importance of it was being quantified in driving target corporate results?

As a department head, how you spilt the budget among multiple touch-points and channels? I don’t recall how many times when I am receiving the nicely-printed DM from my prestigious bank, I would automatically relate how many layoffs could be avoided by just saving a portion of these kind of abused promotions. Now, the scenario is crystal clear as all relevant touch-points and channels are being listed along with their importance levels in driving designated targets. Such as you would now reduce the investment in Application touch-points, and relocate to Service touch-points. Driven by results and proof with numbers. You’re now managing your departmental resource pool with a system.

To drive results, you have to perform better than your competition. How Merchants Bank did it? She did, and is still doing, with no more resources than competitors. Just to place the bet on those critical few, and allow pain points. ‘Average good’ takes you no where, especially in tough times. The contact center of Merchants Bank excels at Card Usage, Gift Redemptions, Repayment, and Service, while at Image and Promotions, she is performing worse than competitors. Result? She tops the satisfaction, differentiation, loyalty, and NPS scores among all competition. She wins by taking a paradigm shift from efficiency-driven to effectiveness-driven.

Pick your battles. Of course, it takes actions to deliver results. To do this, you’ve to drill down from TCE level to STP (Single Touch-Point) level. For example, you may find out that In-coming call for General enquiry is so important to drive retention. Customer feel good or bad and to what extent at the STP, not TCE level. In order to deliver an effective experience, you have to optimize the experience by allocate resources effectively on those sub-processes that are important to drive your goals. Take a tip from Merchants Bank… make customers more satisfied and reduce complaints by identifying MOTs (Moments of Truth) to be excellent in a critical few but not to be good in most trivial.

To sum up, there are 5 steps that every customer-facing department head should follow:

Step 1: BUILD a static TCE model by department (i.e. map all relevant touch-points to form the Time Dimension – Touch-line, and all relevant channels within your department to form the Cross Dimension – Channel-line)

Step 2: TRANSFORM your departmental TCE model from static to dynamic (i.e. derive the perceived performance and weighted performance of each touch-point and channel)

Step 3: DESIGN your target departmental TCE by objectives (i.e. prioritize resources allocation amongst touch-points and channels by aligning to the target outcomes)

Step 4: SYNERGIZE multiple touch-point experience (i.e. reengineer and innovate touch-points and channels, migrating customers)

Step 5: OPTIMIZE single touch-point (i.e. deliver branded experience with significant peaks)

By taking the above five steps, customer-facing departments could quantify its contributions, systematically manage touch-point and channels and cut wastes, beat competition with the most effective use of resource, and satisfy customers.

Would it be more ideal to start TCE in a company-wide scope? Of course, it would. But if reality does not have this luxury, go for a departmental TCE will generate immediate benefits to functions. It paths the way to a genuine TCE by demonstrating the quick wins to other departments and top management.

*The Global Mobile Communications Customer Experience Research was co-organized by Global CEM and CustomerThink. The survey began on March 4, 2009 and ended on May 6, 2009. A total of 2,361 valid responses from 25 countries were collected. The guiding principles and the tools for design, execution and analysis of this research are based on the U.S. patent-pending Branded Customer Experience Management Method invented by Global CEM.

**Emotion Curve is invented and first put into applications by Mr. Sampson Lee, president of Global CEM, in 2006. It is one of the experience assessment and management tools of the U.S. patent-pending Branded Customer Experience Management Method registered by Global CEM. Emotion Curve maps the customer emotions generated at each touch-point or sub-process, and links them to form a curve in reflecting the perceived experience across the entire customer lifecycle (covers all touch-points at stages of pre-purchase, at-purchase, and post-purchase), or at a specific touch-point (e.g. retail, call center, website, etc.). Unlike the conventional approaches focus on enhancing efficiency and are process-centric; emotion curve represents the genuine customer feeling by addressing emotions and five senses, in a natural time sequence from an experience perspective. It is a truly [customer-centric] experience assessment and management method. The statistic data of emotion curve is derived through substantial X-VOC surveys, from the experience ratings on each touch-point or sub-process, evaluated by different target customer segments. The definition and selection criteria of touch-points and sub-processes are based on vigorous and scientific research, method, and sequential steps. An Emotion Curve shows how customers perceive experience. It is an innovative and powerful tool for creating a branded customer experience strategy. Furthermore, through a simple curve, from CEO to receptionist, no matter in boardroom or post room, all people in a company could easily understand and communicate the customer experience levels, by using a common graphical language.


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