Know What Your Customers Really, Really Want

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Understanding customer experiences and customer desires are among the practical insights crucial to driving call center self-service, said John McDonald in his keynote address today at Nuance’s Conversations 2008 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort here.

McDonald, director of contact center strategy and technology at Genworth Financial, discussed his recent efforts to transform Genworth’s customer care operations and provided the audience in the Sebastian Ballroom with the lessons he has learned along the way.

Lesson 1: Know what you are starting with.

"When I came in I really had to sit down and spend a lot of time understanding what was in place," McDonald says. "One of the big points is you can’t assume that what you know and what exists and what you hear is the right way to do it....Define your environment or it will define you."

According to McDonald, part of that defining process means understanding people’s different notions about the interactive voice response (IVR) system.   

"It meant a lot different things to different people," he recalls. "Some think the IVR is touch tones, others think it’s actually self-service and talking back to you. And we had implemented speech, but we implemented speech for everybody, and that wasn’t necessarily the right roll out.

Says McDonald: "The situation I inherited is with a new team of folks, we didn’t have a lot of documentation that we needed to understand what was there, how was it designed, did somebody sign off on these requirements. So we really had to go back through and build a whole process to regather all of our requirements….And obviously the biggest thing for us is creating a baseline to measure performance improvement."

Lesson 2: Know your customer base.

McDonald stressed defining customers, warned against making assumptions, and explained the value of creating "actors" for different customer types based on their desires.

"So what do they want to do? What do different customers want to do by age, by social demographics?" he says, noting that breaking down customers into "actor types" will result in "everybody [having] a very individualized experience at the same 800 number."   

Lesson 3: Know what your customer wants.

"Don’t confuse a stakeholder need for a customer want," McDonald says. "There are a lot of things that the stakeholders of projects think are the right solution but really have no basis in reality or really some of them have never been asked for by customers."

Lesson 4: Don’t promise the world.

McDonald warned against promising too much too soon and touted the importance of tests and pilot programs.

"Looking at what your customer base is doing and experimenting is the only way you’re ever going to really, really figure out what they want to do," he says. "I can’t stress enough that pilots…tests…is a really big important character in finding that right mix, because you may end up with a lot of things that you don’t really know."

"Let the customer experience drive the technology," he says. "Not the other way around. I can’t stress that enough. We all know we can do a lot of things in the environment. But understanding the customer experience and what’s most important about that experience so you can prioritize how you’re going to actually roll it out. Understanding that experience is going to get you a long way to understanding what your customers really, really want."

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