November 13, 2014
I have had feedback over the years about the baloney generated by mid tier consultants, struggling enterprise search vendors, and failed webmasters about their expertise in customer service.
Customer service means cost cutting or worse to me. I ignore the silliness of Comcast apologists too.
I wish to offer a tiny bit of possibly true information from the annals of real customer service; that is, attention to customers the it is, not as it is supposed to be.
Navigate to http://bit.ly/112cWdc. Allegedly this is a “real” letter from a former Amazonian to big cheese bits at the digital WalMart with drones, Amazon.
As I read this allegedly accurate epistle, a person asserts that the digital WalMart wanted an Amazon professional (now apparently seeking a future elsewhere) to prevaricate. Here’s the passage I highlighted:
I tried to get Amazon to address what I believe to be misleading and deceptive, and possibly criminal ?nancial fraud issues related treatment of an Amazon advertising customer while I was an employee at the company. I was subsequently terminated for raising the internal ethics complaint even though Amazon’s own policies require that employees report events of this nature. To be terminated for that is wrong and is the subject of current litigation which I have asked the Washington Attorney General’s office to assist in resolving, since it deals with important issues related to misleading,deceptive, and what I believe to be ?nancially fraudulent trade practices that relate to Amazon customers and employees.
Is this perhaps the first instance of alleged misconduct in the handling of “customer service” issues? If so, mark it down. If not, my views of customer service have been affirmed.
Stephen E Arnold, November 13, 2014
October 27, 2014
One of my two or three readers sent me a link to “The 10 Stuff Ups We All Make When Interpreting Research.” The article walks through some common weaknesses individuals make when “interpreting research.” I don’t agree with the “all” in the title.
This article arrived as I was reading a recent study about search. As an exercise on a surprisingly balmy Sunday afternoon in Kentucky, I jotted down the 10 “stuff ups” presented in the Interpreting Research article. Here they are in my words, paraphrased to sidestep plagiarism, copyright, and Google duplication finder issues:
- One study, not a series of studies. In short, an anomaly report.
- One person’s notion of what is significant may be irrelevant.
- Mixing up risk and the Statistics 101 notion of “number needed to treat” gets the cart before the horse.
- Trends may not be linear.
- Humans find what they want to find; that is, pre existing bias or cooking the study.
- Ignore the basics and layer cake the jargon.
- Numbers often require context. Context in the form of quotes in one on one interviews require numbers.
- Models and frameworks do not match reality; that is, a construct is not what is.
- Specific situations do matter.
- Inputs from colleagues may not identify certain study flaws.
To test the article’s premises, I I turned to a study sent to me by a persona named Alisa Lipzen. Its title is “The State of Knowledge Management: 2014. Growing role & Value of Unified Search in Customer Service.” (If the link does not work for you, you will have to contact either of the sponsors, the Technology Services Industry Association or Coveo, an enterprise search vendor based in Canada.) You may have to pay for the report. My copy was free. Let’s do a quick pass through the document to see if it avoids the “stuff ups.”
First, the scope of the report is broad:
1. Knowledge management. Although I write a regular column for KMWorld, I must admit that I am not able to define exactly what this concept means. Like many information access buzzwords, the shotgun marriage of “knowledge” and “management” glues together two abstractions. In most usages, knowledge management refers to figuring out what a person “knows” and making that information available to others in an organization. After all, when a person quits, having access to that person’s “knowledge” has a value. But “knowledge” is as difficult to nail down as “management.” I suppose one knows it when one encounters it.
2. Unified search. The second subject is “unified search.” This is the idea that a person can use a single system to locate information germane to a query from a single search box. Unified suggests that widely disparate types of information are presented in a useful manner. For me, the fact that Google, arguably the best resourced information access company, has been unable to deliver unified search. Note that Google calls its goal “universal search.” In the 1980s, Fulcrum Technologies (Ottawa, Canada) search offered a version of federated search. In 2014, Google requires that a user run a query across different silos of information; for example, if I require informatio0n about NGFW I have to run the query across Google’s Web index, Google scholarly articles, Google videos, Google books, Google blogs, and Google news. This is not very universal. Most “unified” search solutions are marketing razzle dazzle for financial, legal, technical, and other reasons. Therefore, organizations have to have different search systems.
3. Customer service. This is a popular bit of jargon. The meaning of customer service, for me, boils down to cost savings. Few companies have the appetite to pay for expensive humans to deal with the problems paying customers experience. Last week, I spent one hour on hold with an outfit called Wellcare. The insurance company’s automated system reassured me that my call was important. The call was never answered. What did I learn. Neither my call nor my status as a customer was important. Most information access systems applied to “customer service” are designed to drive the cost of support and service as low as possible.
“Get rid of these expensive humans,” says the MBA. “I want my annual bonus.”
I was not familiar with the TSIA. What is its mission? According the the group’s Web site:
TSIA is organized around six major service disciplines that address the major service businesses found in a typical technology company.
Each service discipline has its own membership community led by a seasoned research executive. Additionally, each service discipline has the following:
- Focused research agenda
- Dedicated research team
- Benchmark study
- Dedicated track at Technology Services World conferences
- Member Advisory Board
In addition, we have a research practice on Service Technology that spans across all service discipline focus areas.
My take is that TSIA is a marketing-oriented organization for its paying members.
Now let’s look at some of the the report’s key findings:
The people, process, and technology components of technology service knowledge management (KM) programs. This year’s survey examined core metrics and practices related to knowledge capture, sharing, and maintenance, as well as forward-looking elements such as video, crowd sourcing, and expertise management. KM is no longer just of interest to technical support and call centers. The survey was open to all TSIA disciplines, and 50% of the 400-plus responses were from groups other than support services, including 24% of responses from professional services organizations.
October 8, 2014
I read “12 Open Source CRM Options.” I think of CRM as a synonym for customer experience or CRM as an easy way to suck down a top salesperson’s contact list when he or she heads to greener pastures. I know. I am shortsighted.
The write up surprised me because I did not know there were a dozen open source CRM solutions, components, or widgets. I assumed there were the big buck systems from Oracle and Salesforce.com. I was uninformed.
I had heard of SugarCRM because one of the proprietary search vendors supports the system. I had not heard of:
Vtiger (a variant of SugarCRM), SuiteCRM, Fat Free CRM, Odoo, Zurmo, EspoCRM, SplendidCRM, OpenCRX, X2Engfine, Concourse Suite, or CentraView.
Well, there you.
My reaction to this basket of “suites” is that search is going to be part of the offering. When the baked in solution falls short, then the licensees will look for more robust solutions. For me, that means taking a look at the open source search solutions. ElasticSearch and Sphinx Search come to mind, but there are others.
I would not be too keen to license one of the proprietary search systems for three reasons:
- Try open source and if it works, the money can be used for other things. Raises or hiring a tastier consultant
- There are satisfactory information retrieval solutions that run from the cloud, on premises, or in a hybrid mode
- The hassles of integrating an open source and a proprietary system can be sidestepped. Integration is never a walk in the park, but it seems that open source begets open source.
Stephen E Arnold, October 8, 2014
September 22, 2014
I noted that Clarabridge has modified its marketing for the push to year end revenues. The company continues to use “customer experience” as a code work for customer support. The phrase “customer support” has become a go to reference for some stand up comedians. Customer service is now a “frontier,” not a method for reducing costs. The company is using the bound phrase “your voice” as a way to signal listening to individuals. The notion was parroted in “Clarabridge’s New Customer Service Frontier: Your Voice.” The article asserts:
Clarabridge, a Reston-based company that gathers and analyzes customer sentiment for a range of industries, is adding a noisy new feedback channel: speech.
Clarabridge ingested $80 million in venture funding. Some of the original investors have benefited from this infusion of money. Clarabridge at one time had staff with some expertise in MicroStrategy technology. Clarabridge will use some of the funding to amplify its content marketing activities in order to drive more sales leads.
How quickly will the enterprise search vendors “pivoting” to the customer support market adopt this terminology? Pretty quickly I anticipate.
My principal concern is that
Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2014
September 12, 2014
I don’t expect anything from an outfit providing customer support. I don’t expect anything from search vendors with customer support systems. The name of the game is no costs. To eliminate costs, customer support operations have some options.
- Ignore the inquiries. I recall that a member of my family used this method for a large search system. He figured that the time required to handle inquiries would bankrupt the company. Ergo: Hit delete.
- Buy an automated system and let it run. This usually requires paying a vendor to set up the system and “maintain” it. This works a bit like winning on a digital slot machine.
- Try to perform customer support. Move the operation to some lower cost location and deal with the revolving door that leads to 20 to 50 percent turnover.
Many companies use these options in combination.
According to Computerworld (yep, it seems to still be in business unlike other units of IDG’s empire), Google has to shift from option one.
“German Court Requires Google to Stop Ignoring Customer Emails” reports:
Google users who email the address “email@example.com” receive an automatic reply notifying the emailer that Google will neither read nor reply due to the large number of requests sent to the address. After that sentence, the automatic reply directs Google users to various online self-help guides and contact forms. This form of communication is incompatible with the German Telemedia Act, which says that companies must provide a way to ensure fast electronic communications with them, the VZBV had argued. The organization described Google’s support address as a black box in which messages disappear into a void. The court agreed with the VZBV and ruled that an automatically generated email does not meet the requirements of the law.
There you go. Google may shift to another option. Perhaps a search engine vendor will land the contract. Will the German court like that approach? I will wait with German pointer like fixation.
Stephen E Arnold, September 12, 2014
Note that IDC is the outfit that sold my content on Amazon without my permission. The “expert” who is surfing on my name is Dave Schubmehl. The German court does not seem to pay much attention to this, however.
August 7, 2013
Isn’t Xerox a copier company? Well, lately it has also been doing litigation and eDiscovery work. Now, Yahoo Finance tells us in “Xerox Acquires Customer Value Group,” the company is adding cloud-based customer service to its repertoire with its latest acquisition. (No word here on how much Xerox shelled out in this deal.)
Customer service? Our top goose remarks that he once called Xerox for help with a DocuTech scanner. He was reminded to ask his assistant whether he is still on hold.
The write-up tells us:
“Leading software company Customer Value Group’s key Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud application enhances cash collections of diverse firms by simplifying management of customer credit, collections, and disputes. It has an in-depth expertise in cloud-based accounts receivable software and manages the order-to-cash process that is related to approximately $15 billion of revenues in eight countries and multiple currencies.
“With this acquisition, Xerox aims to strengthen itself as a as a stand-alone software application provider for managing internal finances of various companies. As part of its finance and accounting process outsourcing services, Xerox will offer Customer Value Group’s Value+ product to its clients.”
The article emphasizes that Xerox will continue to comb the globe for choice enterprises to snap up in the years ahead. The company, based in Norwalk, Connecticut, now houses three operating segments, Technology, Services, and “Others”. That last one— well, that’s one way to avoid boxing yourself in.
With a focus on innovation and leading-edge software, The Customer Value Group boasts of a typical ROI 5 to 10 times the cost of engagement. The London-based company brings several prominent credit, collections, and customer-service clients to the table.
Cynthia Murrell, August 07, 2013
July 21, 2013
The article on Contact Centre Live titled Clarabridge Partners with Brandwatch to Extend its Clarabridge Social Solutions addresses the partnership between the Customer Experience Management provider Clarabridge and the global analytics provider Brandwatch. The two companies believe their integration will deliver the resources to gain a holistic understanding of any given business’s customer base. CEO of Clarabridge Sid Banerjee commented,
“Clarabridge has been and continues to be the pioneer in multi-source customer experience management for the Global 1000. Our partnership with Brandwatch provides our customers with an integrated end-to-end solution for social media, further expanding our Clarabridge Social offering. The level of rich social media data provided by Brandwatch, coupled with the intelligent analytics and operational capabilities of Clarabridge, adds up to the most sophisticated CEM hub available on the market and that is incredibly beneficial to our customers.”
The two companies bring different technological advances to the table. Brandwatch is able to capture data from millions of sites in over 25 languages and is able to filter out the irrelevant data, refining searches. Clarabridge, which seems to have moved beyond its original market, offers a method of skipping past social posts without merit and discover the insightful posts buried beneath the spam.
Chelsea Kerwin, July 21, 2013
July 12, 2013
The article on Hootsource titled Why Having a “Big Data Strategy is a Bad Idea by Catherine H Van Zuylen, a VP at Attensity, addresses Hootsuite’s launching a new integration with Attensity. The article claims that the combination of the two will create the ultimate customer service machine. Companies can basically eavesdrop on their customers on social media and learn where the conversation is going before it gets there. The article explains,
“For example, you may hear about someone complaining that your new device got so hot in someone’s hand that they claim to have been burned. This information should immediately be routed to legal (for determination of veracity and risk), to engineering (to alert them to start testing for and diagnosing the issue) and to customer service… It might also be time for marketing to pull that “The hottest phone this summer” marketing campaign.”
Another article, Hootsuite Launches Attensity Integration to Automate Enterprise Customer Service on Market Wired, explains the potential windfall of marketing intelligence now possible. Ryan Homes, a CEO of Hootsuite, stated that the partnership will enable “the world’s largest brands to cut through the noice on social media to engage with their customers.” The integration is certainly an interesting way to boost Attensity’s impact as competition increases.
Chelsea Kerwin, July 12, 2013
July 3, 2013
Now here is an interesting factoid. If this finding is accurate, the customer experience management field is undergoing quite the boom. SBWire points to a recent study from market research firm Research Moz in, “Global Customer Experience Management Market 2012-2016: Latest Industry Research Report.” The report asserts:
“Global Customer Experience Management (CEM) market to grow at a CAGR of 20.79 percent over the period 2012-2016. One of the key factors contributing to this market growth is the increased number of customer touch points. The Global CEM market has also been witnessing a growing demand for mobile analytics. However, integration of multiple communication channels could pose a challenge to the growth of this market.”
The report, Global CEM Market 2012-2016, is the result of a global market-analysis effort in consultation with industry insiders. The press release emphasizes that it also forecasts the CEM landscape over the near future, as well as covering prominent vendors in the field; see the write-up for specifics. The full report can be purchased here.
Cynthia Murrell, July 03, 2013
April 29, 2013
I met David Bean years ago. He was explaining “deep extraction” to me at a now defunct search engine conference. I recall that he had a number of US government clients. I noted in my analysis of the company which appeared in my analysis of the company that the firm wanted to break into non government markets.
I made sure that one of my team captured news releases about Attensity. When I checked the my files to update my Attensity profile, I noted that the company had done a merger with a couple of German outfits, was pushing into sentiment analysis, and beating the text analytics drum.
In one sense, Attensity was following the same path of Stratify, which as you probably know was Purple Yogi. Hewlett Packard now owns Stratify and I don’t hear too much about how its journey from government work to the wide world of non government work has worked out. Purple Yogi, now Hewlett Packard Autonomy, Stratify is doing legal stuff … I think. If I understand the write up by a high intellect consultant expert, Attensity is speedboating into customer support.
Can market niches like customer support, eDiscovery, and business intelligence keep some vendors afloat?
Two different markets but one common goal: Diversify in order to generate big revenues.
I read “Attensity Uses Social Media Technology for Smarter Customer Engagement.” On the surface, the story is a good one and it is earnestly told:
Its product Respond uses natural language-based analysis to derive insights from any form of text-based data and among other results can produce analyses of customer sentiment, hot issues, trends and key metrics. The product supports what Attensity calls LARA – listen, analyze, relate, act – which is a form of closed-loop performance management. It begins by extracting data from multiple sources of text-based data, (listening), analyzing the content of the data (analyze), linking this data with other sources of customer data, and producing alerts, workflows and reports to encourage action to be taken based on the insights (act).
Familiar stuff. Text processing, outputs, and payoffs for the licensees.
Attensity, founded in 2000, that’s 13 years ago, is no spring chicken. I learned from the write up:
Attensity has also made some technical improvements to the product. The architecture now supports multitenancy and automatic load balancing, which are especially useful in handling very large volumes of tweets. Reporting has been enhanced to include more visualization options, trend analysis, emerging hot issues, and process and performance analysis.
My thought is that many firms which flourished with the once generous assistance of the US government now have to find a way to generate top line revenue, sustainable growth, and profits.
In the present financial environment, text processing companies are flocking to specific problem areas in organizations. Customer support (a bit of an oxymoron in my opinion), eDiscovery, and business intelligence (not as amusing as military intelligence in my opinion) now are well served sectors.
The companies looking for software and systems to make sense of data, cut costs, gain a competitive advantage, or some other benefit much favored by MBAs have not found a magic carpet ride.
The noise from vendors is increasing. The time required to find and close a deal is increasing. Some customers are looking high and low for a solution which is “good enough”. Management turnover, frequent repositionings, and familiar marketing lingo by themselves may not be enough to keep the many firms competing in these “hot niches” afloat.
Stephen E Arnold, April 29, 2013