Dolly, President of CSPN took the time to speak with Mike Lamb, the Director of Contact Center Solutions at NACR, on his thoughts about the future of Customer Service.
Dolly: What service/product are you most proud of to offer your clients?
Mike: This is a bit like asking, “Which of your children are you most proud of?” Each has their different personalities and interests, so as a parent you are proud of each of your kids for their unique qualities and how they use them. Similarly, NACR represents 7 of the 8 vendor solutions that fall in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications and Contact Center. Each of these offers we bring to our clients is powerful and offers a somewhat unique approach. Our job is to find out which of these is the best fit for our customer’s needs. For all of these offers, the thing I am most proud of is the expertise our company brings in terms of design, implementation and post sale support including a variety of Managed Services Offers including Private Cloud.
Dolly: “It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it” – could you give us a few examples of what this means in your business.
Mike: First of all, NACR is very relationship focused with our customers. We’re not here to sell something and move on. We believe that the best sales are those that result in a long term relationship with our customers. We strive to become an extension of our customers’ Sales, Service, Marketing and IT organizations. To that end NACR has invested more than any company I know in putting together first class Account Teams to serve our customers’ daily needs. These account teams feature seasoned National Account Managers, who are, in turn, supported by highly skilled System Engineers and Subject Matter Experts in the fields of Network Convergence, Contact Center, UC, Training and Managed Services. We also offer strong back office support to assist our customers in ordering, billing, training and maintenance. We have many customers who have been working with their NACR account teams for 15-20 years. I think that’s a very strong testimony.
Another area is our Maintenance and support organization. NACR has a single Managed Service Support Center including two 2 Network Operations Centers. We manage over 2 Million ports and IT infrastructures ranging from communications and messaging systems, Voice and Data networks and Contact Centers. We offer our customers best of breed solutions across a variety of vendors. But we stand behind the design and systems integration with single number support, which our customers love.
Finally, in the complex world of communications, you can’t just drop a solution in and hope that it works with the rest of a customer’s infrastructure. Because NACR has such depth and expertise in Unified Communications, Contact Center, Virtualization and Network Convergence, we can take a lot of the heavy lifting off of overworked IT departments to help ensure that all solution components will fit into existing environments as seamlessly as possible. In a similar fashion, our Ovation Managed Services portfolio does the same for an overtaxed customer when it comes to ongoing maintenance and management of customers’ systems.
Dolly: Your organization has a reputation for service. How have you been able to maintain your competitive position?
Mike: First of all, NACR has made a huge investment in our own infrastructure and tools including servicing staff and our Managed Service Support Center. For example, in support of our Avaya product line, we have hired Tier III level engineers from Avaya. A result of having skilled, certified engineers is our less than 2% of escalations to manufacturers. We also bench all of our systems before we ship them out to the customer to ensure the communications system is fully tested and the latest software updates provided before we ship it out to our customer.
In support of our Cisco practice, our parent company, Converge-One acquired SpanLink, one of the industry’s leading Cisco resellers. It was SpanLink’s expertise in contact center that helped put Cisco on the map in this space a number of years ago, so we are very proud to have their expertise to draw on in the Cisco world. At the end of May, ConvergeOne acquired Mountain States Network, a Cisco Gold partner. They too will extend our abilities to sell and serve the Cisco community.
From a Services perspective, NACR has 2 Network Operation Centers (NOCs) as I mentioned and even though one was in the eye of Hurricane Sandy recently, we did not miss one single customer support call.
Converge-One also acquired companies with deep expertise in Microsoft and Contact Center systems integration (including a deep portfolio in system connectors such as SFDC and Oracle.)
But the bottom line to all this is what our customers think: Recently, NACR’s Net Promoter Score put us up there with the likes of consumer favorites such as SW Airlines, Apple, Amazon and Disney. What is really compelling about our NPS score is that we were able to achieve such a high rating despite the complexity of our systems integration business.
Dolly: It was once said that “You get one chance to be very good when a customer contacts you.” How do you select employees that are a good match for your culture?
Mike: This may sound corny, but NACR has a very family like vibe to it, even as we’ve continued to grow. For me, a primary indicator of corporate culture is the employee turnover rate; people seldom leave NACR of their own volition. I am always amazed when awards are given out to employees and they have been with the company 10, 15 and even 20 years! I’ve worked for a number of companies in this industry and NACR by far is the most professional, upbeat and well managed company I’ve ever worked for. So NACR employees tend to be very protective in the atmosphere that we’ve all worked hard to cultivate. We tend to be very picky about who we recruit: They can’t just be seasoned industry professionals. We also want people with great integrity and a team player attitude.
The fact that most of us have been in this industry a long time and that we work with so many other solution partners, we cast a very broad net across the industry when we go looking for A players. And frankly, our philosophy is that it’s usually better to wait until we can find an A player than to go out right away and settle for less.
Dolly: What makes you different from your competitors?
Mike: NACR’s greatest sustainable competitive asset is our people. Our competitors can try and copy our business model (and many have tried). But no one else has the scope and depth of great people that Converge-One/NACR offers. When I joined NACR in 2001, Avaya had just offered a very attractive retirement package to anyone with 15 years experience and at least 45 years old. Many of Avaya’s best sales, technical and service people took the offer. NACR’s placed a big bet that if he hired the best talent coming out on the “Avaya free agent market,” the business would follow, and it has.
Our customers love our portfolio of innovative solutions. They love the fact that we aren’t shoe-horning them in to a one size fits all product. We spend a lot of time with our customers to understand the business issues driving a particular need as well as their current technology surround to ensure we are tailoring the best possible solution to fit their emerging business objectives.
Leading Industry analysts I have spoken with tell me that it is NACR’s ability to offer so many leading edge solutions, deliver them with such a depth of expertise and support it after the sale with a variety of maintenance and managed services, that make us truly unique in our industry.
A big reason that NACR is now a trusted advisor to more than 5,500 customers ranging from small businesses to FORTUNE® 100 and global enterprises is that they trust our expertise. We don’t just offer a lot of great products. We leverage our Systems Integration practice to ensure that the solution we propose will be compatible with the customer’s current technology framework. Many of our clients have hybrid IT environments that include Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft and VMWare, for example. So NACR can leverage our expertise across all of these platforms to help ensure optimal results. Our folks are “cross-trained” across multiple manufacturers. Not all of our competitors can say that as they focus on single vendors.
Dolly: How do you ensure consistent high quality service through all points of contact and/or locations?
Mike: First, as mentioned before, we have an unusual depth of great talent in our sales, technical and service organizations. Second, our National Account Managers, backed by their respective support teams, can support their customers’ needs anywhere in the country or even beyond if the need dictates it. Third, we strive to have the same project team do each implementation for our customers with multiple locations. Our implementation team becomes an extension of our customers’ own project teams and customers love this. They will wait a little extra time in many cases to ensure that their NACR installers are there for their next cutover and we are happy to accommodate them.
Dolly: Do you measure Employee Engagement? How and how often?
Mike: First, NACR operates as a very flat organization. Each regional Sales VP has their own P&L ledger so they rely on frequent engagement and ideas of each employee in the region to assist in our customer support model.
There is also a new Chairman’s Award that periodically rewards exceptional customer service that has been identified by peer groups.
In the Sales organization, each sales director conducts bi-Weekly team meetings to allow open forum discussions around how NACR can improve the way that we support our customers.
This past month, Converge-One hired an outside consulting firm to survey all employees to get their feedback on a number of issues. This new survey is planned to be conducted on an annual basis.
In addition, Converge-One conducts quarterly town hall meetings to provide a two-way discussion forum on the state of our business and what we are doing to improve ourselves in the way we deliver service and support for our customers.
Dolly: In today’s environment, technology plays a large role in the service equation; how does your technology enhance the customer experience?
Mike: We cover the customer journey from beginning to end with technology that can optimize the Customer Engagement experience.
Dolly: What advice do you have for organizations seeking technology solutions?
Mike: First, don’t seek a “technology solution,” seek a solution to a business problem and/or an emerging Business Initiative and evaluate partners very carefully.
In the past, our Account Managers have asked me to speak to their customers who wanted to know about “What’s New in Contact Center.” This discussion is much too broad due to the depth of NACR’s portfolio. So as a response, I have developed a simple questionnaire that I give our customers that helps them self evaluate their Customer Support systems and processes.
Next, leverage your current assets if and when possible just like we do with our current finances.
It may go without saying, but before choosing a technology and vendor, look for equivalent references to your project scope.
Beware of technologies that lock you in. For example, if you are looking at a hosted IVR system, who owns the source code? Will that vendor let you get access to the applications and modify them or take ownership over them at a later point should you decide to bring the application in house? If a vendor is offering a full contact center suite, will that suffice, or do you want the freedom to connect other best of breed solutions like IVR, Workforce Management or Chat/Co-Browse technologies?
How extensible is the new technology for third party vendors or your own in-house developers to integrate or build connections to other in-house systems such as the CRM system or the website?
Dolly: How do you see technology changing the future of customer service?
Mike: Speech and Text Analytics Insights – Enterprises today need more insight into Root Cause Analysis. For example, why are your customers calling your support center after they have attempted self help on the web? Why did they have to zero out of the IVR system? Why and when are “Good Will” discounts and credits given to customers? Are agents offering upsell/cross sell suggestions with an order? Can they successfully close an opportunity after encountering resistance? Answers to these questions can fundamentally impact the profitability of the Customer Support Center. Speech and Web Analytics technology is now becoming much more precise and the costs have substantially lowered in the past few years, making this technology a more mainstream approach alternative to a more limited approach in Quality Monitoring.
Digital Engagement – Digital Engagement spans four major Customer Engagement Objectives:
Omni-Channel – by now, most enterprises are allowing multiple Customer Engagement channels such as voice, chat, social, mobile and email. But the great majority of these enterprises still lack a cohesive strategy across these channels. An Omni-Channel technology allows for better customer outcomes, improved analytics and lower support costs:
Big Data – CMO’s today want to measure and manage “The Customer Experience.” But the challenge today is that this experience is now spread out over as many as 15 different channels. Big Data Analytics can help customers move beyond Excel-based “SpreadMart” to more cohesive decision support systems that help unify Customer Engagement reporting across all channels with unified views of quality, efficiency and effectiveness.
Profile Routing – Whether we like it or not, we are all being profiled each and every day as we respond to a variety of market offers or simply socialize our interests on the web. It has been shown that matching customer profiles with compatible agent profiles can –produce better outcomes in the Customer Engagement center. This technology can start with traditional data directed routing and expand to more sophisticated routing algorithms over time.
Mobile Servicing – Due to the ubiquity of smart devices, enterprises are working hard to deliver Mobile apps to their customers either from an app store or from their own web. Since these devices are “Always On,” they offer significant opportunities to generate customer loyalty. The disconnect, however, is that the Mobile App developers do not think of the overall customer experience: If an IVR should allow a customer to opt out for more customer service, why is it acceptable to constrain a customer in Mobile App Jail, especially when consumers provide socialized ratings for Mobile Apps? If you are showing me a product video on YouTube and I see your competitors’ videos lining up on a side panel, don’t you want to engage me immediately with one of your reps at the peak of my interest rather than to risk losing me to a competitor? NACR and other vendors are now offering embedded integrations between the Web/Mobile experience and the Contact Center. These integrations include Click2Call, Click2Chat and Click to SMS.
Dolly: What do you feel are the factors that contribute to great customer experience?
Mike: There was a study a few years ago that showed that the Customer Effort Score was a far greater predictor of customer loyalty than customer satisfaction scores or even the Net Promoter Scores. When I look at my own choices for who I do business with, whether it be a bank or a consumer products company, I definitely favor those who reduce my effort since time is a fixed commodity and we only have a given amount to use in our lifetimes. I saw a statistic last week that the average consumer spends 22 weeks in their lifetime on hold. This translates to high-effort and low customer loyalty.
I think Amazon is a great example of Customer Experience excellence. In the olden days, if I were looking for a product like a flat screen or a personal computer, I would go to the library and try to look up consumer reports from an outdated issue. Then I would drive around to a number of stores to look at various floor models and patiently wait for a sales person for help. I might ask a few friends. To get the best price, I would try to wait for a sale. Today, I go to Amazon, I can see hundreds of products and, more importantly, hundreds of customer reviews, many of which go into elaborate best practices on how to install and use the product. The price is usually very competitive, especially with my Amazon Prime membership, I get free shipping and no taxes. On some products, I also have Mayday live assistance. When I make my selection, I can click once and get the product shipped to my doorstep in 3-4 days. Returns are also quick and painless. In short, I love Amazon because they have cut my personal Customer Effort score down to a fraction of what it one was while delivering a wide choice of competitively priced products.
So the bottom line is that great Customer Experience should be based on lowering the Customer Effort Score while delivering an excellent product, before and after the sale.
At NACR, we strive to help improve our customers improve their Customers’ Effort throughout the Engagement process so that they will be loyal customers.
At the same time, I believe that one of the reasons NACR has grown so quickly in our market space is that our experience and expertise removes a lot of the risk, pain and effort our customers normally experience in deploying world class, complex technologies in their contact centers.