Customer Experience Focus Can Drive Culture Change

Technology has changed the way we do business. Customers can instantly find any information they want about a product or service via their smartphones. They can share their experience with it across social networks with hundreds, or even hundreds of thousands, of people. And they expect more personalized, convenient, and unique interactions with brands as companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google set the standards of their shopping, buying, and ownership experience. The world has changed and it’s given customers the power to make the rules. But can focusing on the importance of building a great customer experience push cultural change in an organization?

At GM we asked ourselves that question. From how we design our cars and trucks to how we market and advertise. From how we interact with each other, our suppliers and our dealer network to how we assess quality, safety, and reliability. We’ve used the customer experience as our rallying point for culture change, and here are some of the ways we’re enabling it.

First, we’ve become customer obsessed. Our decisions about products or policies or customer support start with customers in mind. A redesigned company vision was a starting point, but the real power came in how we shifted our resources. Customer care, data collection and analytics became high priority. We aligned our social listening and interaction tools to provide integrated customer support and conversation management. And we worked with our Dealer network to upgrade their facilities, training, and customer relationship management tools.

Second, we’ve increased our focus on making the customer experience a key measure of our success. To help manage how we execute those choices, a Customer Experience organization was established to coordinate across the company. Its mission is to strengthen customer service, improve customer listening posts, and maximize our investment in our dealer network. This team is closely integrated with product quality and brand marketing, and is now becoming integrated with our Connected Customer organization.

Third, we needed to make it known that customer-centric behavior was the right thing to for our team members to do. That’s meant leading by example and sharing stories of customer-centric decisions. It’s meant moving closer to the customer and having team members at all levels listen to customer calls. It’s meant making customer-centric stories central to meetings, events, trainings, and internal communications. And it’s also meant creating spaces and opportunities for collaboration and learning in the name of the customer. To do that we’ve created internal social media channels and forums dedicated to cross-functional teamwork in the name of improving our customer experience.

No one ever said that culture change was easy, but rallying around the customer experience has certainly energized us on our path to building the kind of culture we need to be successful. We’ve accomplished a lot in a short time, but we know work remains. We’ve become relentless in how we review every moment of a customer’s journey with us. We have no fear of doing what’s right for them. And we don’t shy away from talking about how important it is that we made the tough choice for the right reason. It’s excited us for the work we do today, tomorrow, and far into our future and made our purpose clear: everything we do starts and ends with earning customers for life.



Jim Moloney, is the Global Director for Customer Contact Centers for General Motors. In this position, Mr. Moloney is responsible for optimizing the site footprint and labor provider support models, and developing standardized processes, tools and scorecards for GM contact centers worldwide. Prior to this appointment, Mr. Moloney was the General Director of GM’s U.S. Contact Center team, where he led a transformational change to the customer experience business model. Under his leadership, GM has embraced the concept that purchase loyalty, service retention and the organization’s ability to conquest are all directly tied to the ownership experience, and are thus key drivers of the company’s long-term success plan.

Moloney is a member of the SOCAP Board of Directors and serves as Board Advisor to SOCAP’s Automotive Industry Community.

SOCAP is proud to recognize the 2014 chapter award winners through the CARE Award, Membership Achievement Award and STAR Award.

The CARE Award is the Chapter Award in Recognition of Excellence and evaluates chapters in the areas of chapter programs and events, membership, communications and operations. Congratulations to the 2014 CARE Award recipients:

  • Chicago Chapter – Lisa Diehl, Orbitz Worldwide
  • Georgia Chapter – Robert Murphy, Georgia 811
  • Great Lakes Chapter – Kimberly Sokol, Kelly Services, Inc
  • Northwest Chapter – Heidi Verse, The Clorox Company

The Membership Achievement award recognizes chapters that achieve net growth of membership for the year, meet new member and retention goals for the year. 2014 Membership Achievement Award recipients are below:

  • Chicago Chapter – Lisa Diehl, President and Frank Keith, Vice President of Membership
  • Great Lakes Chapter – Kimberly Sokol, President and Terri Haffey, Vice President of Membership

The STAR Award recognizes hardworking, dependable and dedicated individuals who support their local chapter. Winners are nominated by the chapter board. The 2014 STAR Award winners are:

  • Canada Community – Pierre Marc Jasmin, Triad Services
  • Chicago Chapter – Allison Stauter, Travelzoo
  • Georgia Chapter – Dan Valentine, Sales Growth Strategies
  • Great Lakes Chapter – Tim Aulph, Percepta
  • Great Lakes Chapter  – Chip Rohde, Wilke Global
  • Heartland Chapter – Derrell Chastain, Hyatt Hotels
  • Heartland Chapter – Dee Kohler

SOCAP Chapters do a great job of providing networking opportunities, valuable events and programming and these efforts take a strong team of dedicated and talented individuals. Congratulations to all of the 2014 award winners!



By: Matthew D’Uva, FASAE, CAE
President and CEO, SOCAP International

Thank you…thank you for being an essential member of SOCAP International! This community association is here because of you and to serve you, ensuring your success as well as the success of your company and your consumers.

I am very engaged in the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)—essentially, the Association of Associations… seriously there is a professional association for all of us! In my work with ASAE, I often spend time working on programming, preparing sessions and leading committees and work groups while juggling my full-time job here at SOCAP.

Whenever I reflect on the time invested with ASAE, the one theme that keeps coming back is that the time I invest with my professional association returns two-fold (sometimes more) in my career development and SOCAP. Frankly, I am better at my job, better able to connect to the right business partners to support our staff team and bring better ideas to the Board of Directors for implementation.  Essentially, engaging with my professional association pays dividends to my organization and members every day.

In the same way, SOCAP pays dividends to you, your career, your company and your consumers. You and our membership network represent the “best of the best,” and opportunities to network, learn and connect with industry leaders are tremendously valuable and produce an exponential return on your investment.

For those of you who agree – send me your comments. For those who are still considering, please review my following “Top Five” List of tools, resources and opportunities to engage and get the most value and benefit with SOCAP—your professional community—throughout the year and beyond.    


5. Take Advantage of the SOCAP Learning Portal.  There are a ton of resources available to members via our learning portal including past conference sessions, webinars and our online contact management course.  If you have not had a chance to pursue these resources, take a look and share them with your colleagues at your company!

4. Read Customer Relationship Management Magazine and offer to write an article. SOCAP’s flagship publication is full of important trends, news and best practices critical to your consumer affairs strategy today and well into the future. Whether you read it on your tablet, smartphone or in print (old school style!), SOCAP has the great content you need. Also, if you have not visited our archived articles – you are missing out on additional resources!

3. Register for a Webinar Today! Our monthly webinar series is free to corporate members and are full of great information. See why we have seen double-digit growth in attendance on our webinars and members continue to rate them so high. Don’t let your competitors grab all of the best practices – Stay ahead of the curve!

2. Get engaged with SOCAP socially. Have you visited SOCAP’s online private community, mySOCAP? If you have not, you are missing out! Visit today to see what your fellow members are talking about. Also stay current with SOCAP and your profession by following us on Twitter (@SOCAP) or join us on Facebook. It is so easy to stay connected!

1. Be involved – SOCAP is your professional association – SOCAP is managed and built by members like you! Join a committee; engage with a Task Force; volunteer to serve your local chapter (say “yes” to all three!). There are so many ways to support SOCAP and as our leaders will tell you – “You get so much more than you give.”

SOCAP Membership is the first step to your professional edge, but you have to stay active to get the full benefit of your membership. Here’s your homework.

First, commit to doing one item from my list this month, and I guarantee you will be amazed at the return. 

Second, spread the word!  Make sure that your colleagues and staff know the great opportunities of involvement with SOCAP.  Corporate Membership allows membership access to an unlimited number of your colleagues. So, make sure everyone is taking advantage of all the benefits of SOCAP membership.

Finally, reach out to me and let me know what else we can do to serve you, your company and your colleagues better. We want your feedback and engagement.  Give us a chance to serve you!


Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan know a thing or two about success.  As the founders of Barefoot Cellars, they took their brand from a standing start in 1985 to a popular favorite by 2005.  When they sold the company to E&J Gallo Winery that year, the entrepreneurial company had made its mark in the wine selling world, shipping 600,000 cases annually.  Not bad for a pair who began this unlikely quest in their laundry room turned home office, at the time lacking both working capital and practical insights into the vintner’s arts.

So when Harvey and Houlihan say sales and customer care are priorities one and two in the successful business playbook—the functions that everyone else in the enterprise needs to get in line and support–it’s worth a listen.

The entrepreneurs may have started small but they were thinking big.  And part of what they were thinking was how to build a virtual enterprise, complete with outsourced grape growing, wine production, and bottling.  Barefoot Cellars would be a company without vineyards or organizational silos, but its founders did have a commitment to treat everyone touching their product as part of the customer solution.

“We found out that you could outsource everything except sales, customer service and quality control,” Houlihan says, adding, “We treated our vendors the way we treated our customers.  We didn’t take anybody for granted.”

Instead, Houlihan says Barefoot took the long view of customer service, including wholesalers, retailers, the general public, and specific groups and organizations within the general public in its expanded definition.

Then the company builders got up close and personal with their customer set.  “We went out to meet our customers in the community,” says Harvey, engaging at various events to better understand consumer interests and issues.  Harvey also says Barefoot came up with other innovative methods of reaching out to the public, including becoming, in 1989, the first alcoholic beverage company to put an 800 number on its product.

“We got lots of useful information from our customers,” Harvey recalls.  “A lot of it was complaints such as they had opened a bottle of red wine and spilled it on their white dress…we knew that whenever someone called us, there were between 100 and 1000 other people who were concerned about the same thing and didn’t call us.  So our 800 number was a real benefit to us.”

Not so much for fielding complaints about red wine stains but for gaining valuable, actionable insights from actual end users into improving their offerings.

Says Houlihan, “Did they like the way it tastes?  What did they pay for it?  Was it in stock where they usually shop?  Were the signs readable?  What did they think of the packaging?  Did the cork come out easily?  If we got someone on the phone, we would ask them a lot of questions and we would make sure that our marketing department and our production department—this is what made Barefoot very different—would be listening to consumer relations input and would be incorporating that into the actual design and production of the product and marketing materials.”

Product improvements traceable back to customer feedback included changes to the synthetic cork used in Barefoot wine bottles.  “A lot of people were calling and saying the ah-so [a twin-pronged cork puller] wouldn’t work.  It was too tight.  It would drive the cork into the bottle.  We realized that we had to work on that problem,” Harvey says.

Another “problem solved” was not getting the cork out of the bottle but how much wine was going in the bottle:

According to Houlihan, “Customers would call and say, ‘I buy Barefoot wine but I can’t seem to get a full measure.  It seems like the fill lines are all different.  Some bottles are high and some are low.  Can’t you get a uniform fill line?’”

Apparently not.  The production people explained that atmospheric pressure, temperature, oxidization all make a difference in wine levels.  Filling up to the top on a hot day could literally cause the wine bottle to blow its cork.  Customers, the producers said, just don’t understand the chemistry involved.

The Barefoot founders did not let a little science get in the way of customer service.  “We thought about it and said, ‘well, the customer is always right.  So we went back to the customer and said, ‘thank you for bringing this to our attention.  We are going to solve this problem immediately.’  We had no idea how we were going to solve the problem but we knew it was a perception,” Houlihan said.

“A week or two later, we were at a party.  Bonnie was admiring this skirt a woman was wearing.  I said, ‘what do you like about it?  The fabric…the print?’  She says, ‘oh no, I like the idea that it covers the knees but shows off the calf.’  I looked at her and said, ‘that’s it!’”

Barefoot added a longer foil cap to its bottles, adding uniformity to how wine level appeared.

“Here we had a very psychological, very subtle competitive advantage on the shelf.  And where did we get it from?  Customer relations,” Houlihan says.  Call it a clever bit of organizational ju-jitsu.  “The production people said, ‘The customer just doesn’t understand.’  That’s just the point.  Customers do not understand.  It’s up to us to solve their concerns,” Harvey notes.

On the service end of things, avid attention to customer input helped Barefoot flag holes in its distribution network.

“When you start a brand, the biggest issue you face is out of stock,” Houlihan says.  “It’s not that your product sells, it’s that your product sells out and doesn’t get replaced.  Once it sells out and doesn’t get replaced the consumers who like it are disappointed and, unfortunately, they will not complain.  They will just buy the competitor’s product that is there.  So if somebody does call and has the decency to complain that they couldn’t find the product, you have to multiply that by 100 or 1000 people who do not call.  We would actually ask their permission to use their recorded message and play it for our distributors so that there was no question in our distributor’s mind that there were customers for Barefoot who wanted to buy it and it was out of stock.”

Putting the interests of the customer first is just part of the American entrepreneurial spirit, Houlihan says.  After selling Barefoot Cellars, Houlihan and Harvey wrote a book, The Barefoot Spirit:  How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand.  The title might have included a fifth “H”:  Hearing.   “The American entrepreneurial spirit really has a component—if it’s successful—where there is a deep respect for what the customer wants and perceives.  Otherwise, they go out of business—and fast.  When you are a small company or a mid-sized company or even a large company with a progressive attitude, you cannot ignore customer service.  As far as we’re concerned, it’s where the rubber meets the road,” Houlihan says.

Houlihan and Harvey could impress their views about customer service on others because they owned the company, clearly an important advantage.  They do, however, have advice for customer care professionals whose companies just can’t seem to find the right road to customer commitment–or don’t have the ability to stay on it.

“The biggest problem SOCAP [members] face is that big corporations are so siloed and set up in pyramids…you’ve got the CEO on top, the senior vice presidents, the junior vice presidents, the divisions, the departments, the teams and the groups.  One of those departments is called sales.  If that department fails, you don’t need any of the other departments.  You are just out of business,” Houlihan says.

One of the things that customer care executives need to do is team up with sales and say, ‘look, we are the people who actually talk to the consumer.  We have valuable information here that can help improve our products, service, and distribution.  We feel obligated to pass this information along.”  He suggests getting that message to the company stakeholders and asking them to create a committee of all the department heads to work out the procedures for implementing this critical customer feedback from Sales and Customer Care.

He says Barefoot gave the boot to the traditional pyramid structure of corporations, putting sales and customer service at the top of the organization.  “Customer was number one.  Sales and customer service was number two.  Under that was what we called ‘Sales Support’.  That included everybody who was not in Sales or Customer Care, like production, marketing, reception, legal, accounting and even the wine maker.”

Making everybody part of sales support gives everybody the opportunity to derive professional satisfaction serving the general public, but “they need to get that feedback to know if what they are doing is right,” Houlihan says, noting that such customer care generated feedback loops must at a minimum include production and marketing.  “Sales and customer care are the only groups talking directly to the general public! So you really have to be kind of foolish not listening to these folks.”

Even so, being made up of human beings, corporations can be rigid and change resistant.  And wrong-headed.  “Part of the problem is that production and marketing may actually think that they are above sales and customer relations.  They get that idea because of the structure of the company. They often see Sales as somehow separate from “the office” and “to blame” when sales are suffering. They often see Customer Relations as “the complaint resolution department.” But they are not above them.  If fact, they should be below them because they are not going to have a paycheck if they can’t stay viable and relevant,” Houlihan says.

Company size can also get in the way of staying close to customers.  According to Houlihan, as the amount of work grows, the division of labor expands.  As the division of labor expands, silos appear.  As silos appear, workers seek to make their jobs easier by making things uniform.    “In the process, they start to remove things like quality cues or authenticity cues from the packaging.  They say, ‘why can’t all of our packaging look the same?’ Or they say, ‘I’d still buy it.’  Or they say things like, ‘We’re so big we don’t have to bend over backwards anymore.  And it makes my job a whole lot easier.’  Well it’s not about your job, it’s about whether the customer is still married to your product or service.”

Other change agent ideas?  If the corporate pyramid, silos, barriers and impediments still remain firmly in place–short of uncorking a bottle of Barefoot wine–try promoting the entrepreneurial spirit.  Individual initiative, risk taking and innovation are all qualities that can pique the interests of even the most conservative companies.  Becoming more entrepreneurial means being better attuned to customer issues and perceptions.

“An entrepreneur does not have the luxury of not listening to his customer,” Houlihan says.  He suggests annual or semi-annual meetings featuring presentations from top sales and customer relations executives to share customer insights with others in the organization.  “Marketing people will put millions of dollars into focus groups to get the information that the customer relationship people already know,” he notes.

Regular reports with suggestion and complaint information gleaned from customers can also inform the enterprise and improve its competitive position.  Making customers happy is part of the customer care role, Houlihan says, but making the company smarter is just as important.  Such insights can cost less than market research and be more current.

“It’s about opening up the lines of communication between the various departments,” Harvey adds.  It’s about sharing information.  And it’s about getting organizational priorities straight.   And as Michael Houlihan points out, it’s about understanding the importance of customer relations–the last conversation a company has with the end user.

by: Mitchell N. Roth, Esq.

When the Telephone Consumer Protection Act was enacted in 1991, Congress prohibited the initiation of calls and text messages  to cell phones using an automatic telephone dialing system without the recipients’ prior express consent.  The TCPA also prohibited the transmission of prerecorded messages  without the recipients’ prior express consent.  Notwithstanding the FCC rulemaking last year which changed the consent standard for sales calls and messages to cell phones, the prior express consent standard for non-sales calls, messages and recordings  to cell phones remained unchanged.

In 2012, the Cargo Airline Association filed a petition with the FCC seeking clarification as to whether these restrictions apply to autodialed or prerecorded package delivery notification calls made to the cell phones of intended package recipients.  These notification calls typically advise the recipients of the expected date and time of delivery, the tracking number, the delivery company’s customer service telephone number and whether a signature is required for delivery.  CAA requested that the FCC do one of two things:  i) Allow the package delivery service to rely upon the consent of the package sender to transmit non-sales calls, messages and recordings pertaining to the delivery of the package to its recipient, or ii) declare package delivery notifications  exempt from the TCPA’s restrictions on autodialed and prerecorded calls and messages to cell phones.

In a ruling released on March 27, 2014, the FCC granted CAA’s request to exempt autodialed and prerecorded package delivery notification calls and messages to cell phones from the TCPA’s restrictions (the FCC specifically chose not to rule on whether the delivery companies may rely upon the consent of the package sender). In support of its decision, the FCC ruled that these notifications are the types of normal, expected communications the TCPA was not designed to hinder, and that consumers generally desire, expect, and benefit from them.  Nevertheless, the FCC made this exemption subject to several conditions:

  • The notification must be sent only to the telephone number of the package recipient.
  • The call or message recipient must not be charged for receiving the call or message, including not being counted against the consumer’s plan limits on minutes or text.
  • The notification must identify the name and contact information of the delivery company.
  • The notification must not include any telemarketing, solicitation or advertising content.
  • Only one notification may be sent to a consumer for each package, except that one additional notification may be sent for each of the following two attempts to obtain the recipient’s signature when the signatory was not available to sign for the package on the previous attempt.
  • Each notification must include information enabling a consumer to opt out of future delivery notifications.  Calls answered by a consumer must provide an opportunity to opt out by voice or by pressing a key, while texts must include the ability for a consumer to opt out by sending “STOP” in a reply text.  Finally, each voice notification must include a toll-free number that the consumer can call to opt out of future package delivery notifications.
  • Opt out requests must be honored within a reasonable time from the date it was made, but may not exceed thirty days from the date of the request.
  • Voice call and text message notifications must be concise, generally one minute or less in length for voice calls and one message of 160 characters or less in length for text messages.

This exemption applies only to calls and messages initiated by package delivery companies and not to calls and messages initiated by the companies on whose behalf the packages are being  delivered (i.e., shippers).  However, this exemption allows delivery companies to correspond directly with the package recipients on matters pertaining to deliveries.  Clearly, this will maximize efficiency, customer satisfaction and, perhaps most importantly, the overall customer experience.

The FCC’s order may be accessed at



Mitchell N. Roth is a founding member of Roth Doner Jackson, PLC in McLean, Virginia.  His practice focuses on counseling clients on compliance with state and federal marketing, advertising and privacy laws.  He can be contacted at


Ready to have your business worldview rocked and your customer care paradigms shifted?  Spend a few minutes with Aaron Dignan, CEO of strategy consultancy Undercurrent and a Trend Session speaker at SOCAP’s upcoming Symposium, April 27-30 in Charlotte, NC.

That’s exactly what SOCAP did to gain insight into where Dignan’s Symposium appearance—focused on what he calls the “responsive organization”—will take attendees.  Expecting good, we found great.  We wanted to share some of our conversation with Aaron here to give you a sample of what’s in store for you at the 2014 Symposium.

SOCAP:  How would you define the responsive organization for a customer care audience?

Dignan:  We study different organizations in different categories.  We look for patterns.  Are they able to learn and adapt?  To operate in quick cycles?  Do they process information and act on it?  There’s also the attitude around information in organizations.  How are they at discovering, sorting and taking advantage of information, from both inside and outside the organization?  Are they using the information to build a network of stakeholders, including customers, with the ability to help each other?

I’ll give you an example.  I use a bank and make the same phone call each week to do a wire transfer between accounts.  It’s always the same call and always the same verification of my identification.  Finally, I asked, “Can’t this be automated?”  The bank said “We hadn’t thought about it…maybe.”  By the third call, this bank should have been asking me if I would participate in a pilot for automating this function, not me asking them on the tenth call if they had ever thought about it.  They are not using the information available in their network.

SOCAP:  What do you see as the most important value shifts for organizations as they work to be more responsive?


Dignan:  We see companies adopting a more visionary than strictly a commercial purpose.  They make money too.  But they also build a vision.  They build networks to reach people and on which people can help themselves.  Apple delivers help to Apple users, but consumers on the Apple network help themselves too.  They love the brand.  The IRS has a brand too, but it doesn’t have volunteers helping others solve problems in an IRS branded forum.  Brand gathering is a force and customer care is part of that customer experience.

There’s also a shift away from a closed to an open organizational mind set.  In the past, companies operated as silos with secrets that they protected.  If you had an edge, you did not want the world to know what it was.  Fifty years ago, that worked great.  Now the world is a much more transparent place and the value of holding secrets is diminishing.  There’s greater value in fostering a participatory innovation culture…whether we are talking about an office floor plan, financial information, an application program interface…whatever.  It’s a wholesale shift.  Organizations are saying if it can be made more transparent, let’s do it.

SOCAP:  How do you see companies unlocking the benefit of the data they gather to engage customers?

Dignan:  Everything is data.  The question is: how are you going to gather it?  You can do it in passive ways, through sensors or webclicks…the digital exhaust of what you are doing…or you can be aggressive and ask for data, like in applications or surveys.  Organizations need to be doing both.   How you are collecting information and what you are doing with it needs to be well defined.  The problem is that organizations have more data than they know what to do with.  They didn’t think about it 10 or 20 years ago.  Data was not structured or tagged.  So there’s a lot of hygiene that’s still needed.

SOCAP:  How does technology aid responsiveness?

Dignan:  One company’s product becomes another company’s service.  For instance, companies are leveraging the Amazon backend and cloud platform.  If I’m in a garage somewhere building a business, I can use Amazon’s data, infrastructure, skills and pipeline. Organizations need to identify what part of the value chain they want to be better at.  Companies think they need to build everything from scratch and miss the final advantage to customers.  I often say the best time to start a company is tomorrow because you gain the innovations that have taken place in the last 24 hours.

Here are some key steps for identifying the right fit for a contact center partnership.

There comes a point when most customer care professional will be faced with the request for proposal process. Here are some helpful tips on the RFP process, as recommended by a major manufacturer that was looking for a new contact center service provider.

Developing the RFP

  • Understand why the change is being considered. Be sure that areas for improvement are sufficiently addressed in the RFP.
  • Engage the enterprise in the RFP creation process. Assemble a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team with representatives from all relevant divisions and departments. This company’s RFP team included customer care, quality assurance, operations, purchasing, reporting/analytics and legal. Allow each functional group to reflect its interests in the RFP.
  • Seek meaningful insights into contact center provider mission, vision, culture and operations. Topic areas for exploration include:
    • Company history and perceived strengths
    • Organizational structure
    • Technology strengths, capabilities and suitability for addressing client needs
    • Reporting and analytics capabilities, including sample reports and example insights gleaned from data analytics
    • Approach to quality and current certifications (such as ISO)
    • Approaches to hiring and staffing, and to managing turnover, both for agents and managers
    • Ratio of agents to managers
    • Process for handling problem escalation
    • Provider locations
    • References, industry reputation and track-record of consistent performance
  • Learning curves can be steep, business process issues can be complicated and technology hurdles can be high. Request a detailed timeline for program start-up that reflects a substantive understanding of the challenges ahead.
  • Contact center personnel serve as the client’s representatives to the public. Assure that provider’s internal policies and procedures on human resources management, workforce diversity and equal opportunity hiring comply with applicable federal and state law and regulations and that they are also in keeping with your company’s own standards of practice and business ethics.
  • Decide whether to include penalties if key performance indicators are not met.

Soliciting Bids

  • Understand the provider landscape. Do the research necessary to identify leading and emerging contact center companies and include these in the bid solicitation process.
  • Leverage technology. Vertical industry and special purpose websites and related information services may facilitate getting the RFP to companies not otherwise identified in research.
  • Determine the importance of proximity. Companies requiring substantial “face time” with contact center personnel for training, new product launches and the like may do better with local or regional providers.
  • Leverage SOCAP and its network of business partners for distributing RFPs and identifying top contact center providers.

Assessing Bidder Responses

  • While excessively long responses are counterproductive, proposals offering few details on how work will be conducted could indicate the bidder’s lack of interest, commitment or capability.
  • Key performance indicators provide a “first blush” view of a provider’s capabilities. But not every client workload is the same in terms of degree of difficulty or amount of support needed. For instance, does the provider have a good feel for call volumes? Look for unrealistic staffing or pricing estimates or other indicators that the bidder has misunderstood work requirements.
  • Buildings flood or burn, power outages occur and other disruptive events happen. Determine whether the bidder has a realistic disaster recovery and business continuity plan.
  • Contact centers can attract identity thieves or other fraud-minded actors. Assess the bidder’s approach to system security and how well personally identifiable information is protected.
  • Customer care is evolving rapidly with consumers looking for more robust interactions rather than simple, impersonal transactions. Explore the bidder’s view of how this marketplace change is taking place and how it is impacting the contact center of the future.
  • Consider whether the bidder is making sophisticated use of social media and integrating it into customer contact channels. Some providers will have social-media expertise in-house while others will have to work through third parties to offer it.
  • Once noncompetitive bidders have been eliminated, consider asking finalists to prepare a detailed presentation responding to a real-world business scenario you provide. A scenario based on data meaningful to your enterprise can help eliminate ambiguity and allow more apples-to-apples comparisons among competing offers. Trusted relationships are key. Bidder presentations can also help provide additional insight into the enthusiasm, expertise and character of the providers involved.
  • Narrow the list of bidders based on presentations and a better understanding of their ability to meet contact center program requirements. Conduct a site visit to meet all key personnel, review technology infrastructure and take a final reading on corporate culture and the likelihood of building a true partnership.
  • Analyze the finalists’ offers using SWOT techniques or other approaches to determine relative strengths and weaknesses of competing offers.
  • Be sure to consider future needs when making your final decision.

Transitioning Operations

  • Anticipate bumps in the road. Allow a generous cut-over period for the new provider to take responsibility for handling 100 percent of operations.
  • Develop a plan that keeps the out-going contact center provider engaged until the newcomer is up to speed. Financial incentives can keep departing personnel motivated to continue performing at a high level.
  • Expect overly optimistic performance assurances from the newcomer. Key performance indicators may decline in the early going as provider personnel come up to speed. Be flexible but, as necessary, request a performance improvement plan.

Other Lessons Learned

Plan to rebid the contact center contract every three to five years. This keeps the incumbent competitive and fosters continual process improvement for contact center operations. Retain old RFPs and use as templates for re-competitions.

Do you have useful tips, practices or lessons learned that you can share about the RFP process? We’d love to hear from you. Send your ideas to CRM Magazine at

by: Jason Levesque, Argo Marketing Group

As we move into the 21st century, quality practices should be revisited and revised to meet the nature of the dynamic digital beast. 

At Argo Marketing Group, business has evolved from a call center to a multi-channel customer engagement center. Multi-channel engagement should be the norm as customers take to the Internet with questions, demands, and needs. For example, roughly 30% of Argo’s customers prefer to communicate via web chat, email, or social media outlets, like Facebook and Twitter. With an established quality program centered solely on monitoring phone calls, Argo has identified a need to re-invent quality in order to properly engage customers on the digital front.

Social media for example, has enormous potential for companies to get closer to customers, which may lead to increased revenue, cost reduction, and efficiencies. Using these digital touch-points as a channel for customer engagement will fail if the traditional customer relationship management approaches are not reinvented to grow with, and stay a step ahead of the digital age.


Redefining Quality in the Digital Age

Monitoring social media conversations, web chats, and email correspondence is but a tip of the quality iceberg  Digital engagement tactics allow a brand or company to  effectively monitor customer reviews, and affords companies the ability to offer real time customer interaction management. The goal? Deliver consistent and personalized customer exchanges at every touch point to maximize engagement and grow a following of brand ambassadors. Levesque_image1

By implementing cutting edge technology to track virtually every tweet, email correspondence, Facebook post, and web chat, companies and brands can gain insight to better their brand offerings, reputation, and engagement. Social media growth like an increase in followers, type and quantity of posts, positive/negative feedback trends, and mentions can help brands edit their engagement on a real-time and personal basis.  From a business perspective, companies can gain invaluable insights into the profile of their customer: demographics, gender, buying patterns, and needs. Companies can now identify real-time spikes in engagement and plan internally to appropriately handle the volume.  This allows a Quality Engagement team to take the same rigorous process of monitoring calls and apply it to other touch points. Think of it as a brand refresh in terms of customer engagement; it is simply a matter of taking what is currently working and applying those tactics to the digital front.    

This reapplication process has proven to cultivate stronger customer retention by creating customer loyalty. Companies can now effectively ensure a consistent customer experience that will promote brand loyalty and increased sales for clients by connecting with them on a real-time basis. This is essential in today’s market, as customer loyalty is at an all-time low.  An Ernst & Young survey of nearly 25,000 people across 34 different markets around the world summarized their findings, “On the whole across all 34 markets brand loyalty checked in just under 40% as a determining factor in making a buying decision, but, that number dropped to just 25% in the United States, a highly significant decrease in the number of American consumers who say brand loyalty is something that impacts their buying behavior.”

To keep brand loyalty thriving, companies should effectively communicate with their clients and deliver on a promise of creating a strong Customer Experience. Customer experience is no longer just updating consumers about a brand, or talking at consumers, it’s about personifying a brand and connecting with brand ambassadors.


Call Center Customer Engagement

The call center industry has changed significantly over the last five years. Multi-channel customer engagement centers must continue to embrace new channels as technology moves forward. Success is reliant on the ability to ensure that Quality Engagement such as real-time engagement, and quick response times are constantly adapting with digital advances. By properly leveraging each touch point, companies can earn customer loyalty, enhance their Customer Experience and help increase a clients Return On Investment. This customer-centric Quality Engagement allows companies the opportunity to win business, and more importantly, maintain it.  




CEO Jason Levesque founded Argo Marketing in 2003, and has become a widely respected Maine business owner.  As of 2014 Argo Marketing employees 450 professionals at three boutique locations, making Argo Marketing one of the largest privately held third party contact center operations in North America.

Jason was elected to be the Republican nominee for Maine’s second Congressional District in 2010, although he came up a few points shy of a victory in the November election, he still remains active in local and national politics and spends considerable time working on topics related to customer service on Capitol Hill.

President’s Blog Post

by: Matthew D’Uva, FASAE, CAE

In a global marketplace, great product ideas can be duplicated, replicated and imitated in the blink of a virtual eye.  But delivering great care is not so easy.  I believe that quality customer care will be the 21st century’s most important market differentiator.

SOCAP is gratified to help advance the field of customer care by developing well-trained and knowledgeable experts.  In fact, this is the focus of numerous major initiatives on our 2014 agenda.

  • SOCAP will expand its online training offerings in 2014.  Our first online course, Core Contact Center Management for Customer Care Professionals, which includes five self-paced modules for Team Leaders and Supervisors, has just been completed and we’re marketing the course to the membership.   I am pleased to report that our members have embraced this training in a big way, many using it to supplement their own in-house training efforts.
  • SOCAP’s events, including the Symposium, the Annual and our Executive Summit will continue to serve as premiere in-person opportunities for thought leadership, professional education and networking.  Our 2014 Symposium (April 27-30) will be in Charlotte NC with an innovative focus on our Industry Communities.  This year’s Annual Conference (October 26-29) will be at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and will address the customer experience journey.  We’re also pleased to bring back our Executive Summit, March 6-7, in Washington, DC, which will explore how globalization is changing the everyday realities of customer care and feature global economics expert, Euvin Naidoo.
  • SOCAP will continue to leverage the web, social and mobile media as critical modes of communication and key content delivery.  I hope you are a frequent user of mySOCAP, our platform for online member collaboration and exchange.  I am pleased to report that over 1,000 SOCAP members have used this capability, participating in 114 groups.  Our groups have posted nearly 500 pieces of content and have been viewed almost 11,000 times and downloaded this content over 2,000 times.  We are committed to diversifying the content we deliver through traditional modes like CRM Magazine and on the web, on Facebook, on YouTube and other new media channels.
  • SOCAP is working with TARP to develop a Consumer Care Engagement Optimization (CCEO) Framework, a strategic tool to help you and your organization to more accurately determine how your care organization compares to others.  This framework will serve as a roadmap that can help you advance your organization by quantifying the benefits of customer care, including all phases and elements within each phase.  It will also serve as a well-spring for ideas on continuous process improvement.  We expect this Framework to be well underway by this spring (look for session at 2014 Symposium) with the final framework to be presented at the Annual Conference in October.

We believe 2014 will be a year of bright promise and real opportunity for SOCAP and the customer care profession.  In a world of commoditized products, customer care sets organizations apart and establishes the basis for consumer loyalty.  The better we work, the better our companies work.   As a result, I see a future with only upside for SOCAP and its members.  I encourage you to engage with us to make our profession even stronger and to increase your knowledge as a customer care professional.


by Rory Florence

Although progress has been made by South African companies to recognise that the voice of the customer (VoC) and employee (VoE) is critical to its success and sustainability, it is still challenged by feedback silos, technologically impaired processes and a lack of holistic VoC programmes. Customers are left feeling frustrated, either because they have not been asked for any feedback, or when asked feedback was given, with no follow up response.

All businesses are challenged – in one way or another – with the demands of increasingly knowledgeable customers; customer expectations changing continuously and attracting and retaining talent in a global competitive business environment where multichannel stakeholder communication resonates. With traditional feedback channels evolving, companies are forced to either adapt or stay behind.

In South Africa, customer feedback efforts suffer from a fundamental flaw. Although businesses have taken measures to listen to their customers, they fall short on acting on that feedback. Collecting customer feedback and not acting upon it is a wasteful activity – a high satisfaction score might make businesses feel good, but at the same time an opportunity is lost to drive constructive business and or product change.

Multichannel, multi-disciplined – the modern contact centre is a platform of staggering complexity. Characterised by cross-department integration, multi-channel communication support, and underpinned with 21st century IT, several operational, cultural en technical obstacles are evident and needs to be addressed with key focus on cost, resource and time constraints.

It is therefore not surprising that from a strategic perspective the incorporation of an end-to-end VoC programme with the contact centre is becoming a business necessity.


Step 1: Laying the foundation – Changing the core focus from product-centered to customer-centered

Companies use Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs to collect and analyse customer feedback, make customer experience improvements, and track the results of those improvements. The VoC programme team is seldomly responsible for implementing the changes required – they are not the people who own the website, customer care contact centre or product design, for instance. There is a limit to what they can do – which is trying to convince others that the feedback data collected is important and should be listened and acted on.

To address this, your VoC programme strategy should start with proactive management and leadership. Top management need to focus on the outcomes of feedback and the activities that should take place to address it – actionable insights. It is futile to collate VoC data if no-one believes in it with no cross-silo control and dissemination.

A product-centered approach is, by default, the conventional choice. Many companies find it challenging to restructure their businesses around the customer, having been organised traditionally around products, price or geographies. In a customer-centered approach, the business’ objective is fundamentally about providing value to the customer. Customers perceive value when they get what they want, conveniently, at an acceptable price.

However, the total value of a customer cannot be determined from a single transaction. The real measure of customer value is discernible over time. Therefore, it is imperative to listen to the customer throughout their buying journey to determine their lifetime value.

If top management doesn’t comprehend that listening to the customers’ needs and wants is the key to lasting success, and if the company is doing “OK” nonetheless, it may be difficult to move forward.

This is still the biggest fundamental obstacle for successful VoC programmes realisation.


Step 2: Setting goals and metrics

A proper VoC programme will require investment whether it is financial, resources or time. In order to capture and maintain the attention of top management, your goals must be tied to corporate financials. Top management does not really care about an “excellent customer satisfaction” rating. Therefor goals must be quantifiable and comply with the SMART principle (Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) for example using metrics such as Net Promotor Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSI) scores.

In addition, businesses should seek financial targets. VoC programmes can generate new revenue, increase the success rate of new product to market, reduce cost of sales, decrease costs of poor processes and increase customer retention, so it’s important to find a way to set goals around these areas.

The VoC strategy must be aligned to supporting the business goals. It must reflect the requirements of the respective stakeholders so that they can clearly see how the program will directly contribute to their unit and equally how they will play their own part in the programme.


Step 3A: Map the customer journey

How does your customer really experience your business? What decisions do they make during their purchasing journey? Companies must take some time to really understand how customers experience their business, and put the processes and channels in place to monitor, measure and report on those experiences at the key touch points.

Not every fragmented touch point is critical to customers – some does not take priority at all – customers are still content without those interactions being great. Every organisation has limited resources; therefore proposed improvements to your customer experience must be prioritised so that the actions you take have impactful results.


Step 3B: Building the VoC strategy – going back to basics

All too often, much effort are placed on the technical aspects of implementing a VoC programme across different channels and touch points, but fails to embrace a coherent change plan for front-line staff which enables and empowers them to respond directly to customer feedback. Front-line staff need to be engaged and supported through cohesive training and coaching in order to take ownership of the customer enquiries.

Technology alone will not fix anything. The old adage ‘garbage in = garbage out’ still applies – consumers react well to honesty and genuine customer care.

A VoC programme is not a once a year market insight survey. It needs to capture customer feedback in real-time. Its insights should be challenging and viscous. It must demand that the company changes to incorporate its findings into the management heartbeat of the business.

While customer feedback can appear to be a scary, unsettling and disruptive influence in your business, it is essential you have a robust strategy to guide your VoC journey. Without one, your programme will stall.


Step 4: Act, review and enhance

Acting is the analyses of the data you gathered throughout the listening process and using it in your decision-making process – at this stage, the return on investment should be realised.

Lost customers can be won back, customers can be kept longer, more referrals can be generated, product improvements can be prioritised correctly and investments can be directed in the right business areas.

Change in business is hampered with a tendency to over-analyse results and a prolonged discussion of proposed actions. Rather than a green field-approach, implement a priority mechanism to focus on critical areas that have a positive impact on customers – closing the loop with individual customers as well as building a foundation for longer-term profitable opportunities.

It is imperative that you review your goals and revise them regularly. Examine all aspects of the programme with a cross-functional team of experts, to seek continuous improvements, to re-focus on new issues as they arise and to adjust your priorities along the way.

Sharing the results widely across your company will increase visibility to what customers are saying.

Here are a few ideas in order to ensure that your integrated customer feedback initiative delivers what is intended to – i.e. meaningful business change:

  • Act quickly: Responding quickly to a customer‘s concern as it has a significant impact on the probability that the customer will return and buy again.
  • Focus on the overall experience: Do not only seek feedback limited to a product, service or department. Ask the right questions to gauge the overall experience including communication, user interface, and pricing.
  • Acknowledge customer feedback. Do not forget to thank customers for the feedback given.
  • Loyalty: A loyalty programme is a good way to reward customers for sharing their feedback.
  • Action taken on feedback: Always give feedback to your customers on how, when and what you are doing about feedback received.
  • VoC Program is a project: Creating action logs as part of a project helps maintain momentum and focus on improvement actions.
  • Realisation: Share with your customers how their feedback helped the business realise positive results in processes and service offerings.
  • Post-action follow-up feedback: Initiate a follow-up feedback to ensure that they acknowledge your focused efforts and share their comments.

Customer feedback is a two-way street – involving your customers in the process improvement journey.


A Success Story – Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd and Touchwork partnership

A. Business Requirement

Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd Consumer, South Africa stepped up to the challenge to improve their Voice of the customer strategy. Enabled with top management support, the business set its goals to measure the customer service provided by their consumer care team. Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd SA wanted to ensure that any negative feedback was followed up immediately and that this was used as an opportunity to train team members.

B. Solution Integration

Using the Touchwork Voice of the customer solution, Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd was able to send customers that have recently interacted with the consumer contact centre a Text message (SMS), requesting them to give feedback on their experience with their interaction.  Mobile numbers and opt-in permissions were obtained during the call centre interaction. The main reasons Text messaging (SMS) was chosen were:

  • High open rate of Text messaging (SMS) (98% – Frost and Sullivan)
  • High penetration of cell phones in the South African market (>100% – Cellular News)
  • Immediate real time response from customers
  • Easy for the customer to respond

Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd also addressed customer grievances regarding high call costs when phoning the call centre from a mobile phone by providing the call centre number as well as a Text message (SMS) number on their product packaging.

C. Results – Benefits realised

Since the start of the VoC relationship, Touchwork have worked as an integral part of Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd Consumer Care centre team – achieving operational excellence across and beyond the customer touch points and striking the appropriate balance between efficiency and effectiveness.

With the Touchwork VoC Solution integrated, the Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd Consumer Care Centre can provide an efficient way to deliver excellent service at reasonable costs – without sacrificing the human touch – and drive future revenue, thus turning customer experience into profits. By responding to customer complaints timeously, consistently and keeping customers involved throughout the process, Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd were able to manage and close the feedback process effectively and consequently increase their competitive advantage.

With a positive response consistently over 91% and an average response rate over 60%, the method of asking for feedback from customers via text messages (SMS) highlighted that customers wanted to engage even when they had a positive experience.

“TxtandTell has brought us into the “real time” space with focus and efficiency.   Not sure how we managed before!” – Laura Nel (Head: Corporate Affairs – Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd, South Africa)


Tough economies, global markets, and on-the-fence loyalties have made it harder than ever to get and keep people committed to your business. But building a comprehensive VoC program isn’t easy. It involves complex challenges, such as collecting customer and employee feedback in real time across multiple channels and tailoring reports for diverse internal audiences. Nothing can erase these challenges completely, but the right strategy can help overcome them.



Florence_Rory_headshotRory Florence as COO of Touchwork has been involved in customer service solutions across multiple channels and markets for the last ten years.  Rory started his career as a design engineer and project manager at Plessey in 1990 and has extensive experience in developing innovative solutions for a range of industries. He was instrumental in taking advantage of the opportunities being created by the take up in mobile communications as a co-founder of Touchwork in 2003. He has a passion for trying to ensure a great customer experience.


About Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd

Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Limited has been in South Africa since 1930, manufacturing and distributing a full range of consumer and over-the-counter products from their factories in East London and Cape Town. Their Head Office is based in Cape Town.

The fundamental objective of Johnson & Johnson (Pty) Ltd is to provide scientifically sound, high quality products and services to help heal, cure disease and improve the quality of life. This is a goal that began with the Company’s founding in 1886.

About Touchwork

Touchwork is a global leader in Mobile Actionable Intelligence solutions and value-added services that help organisations worldwide capture, analyse, and act on information in real-time – anytime, anywhere. Touchwork’s enterprise solution puts the right information in the right hands at the right time. In doing so, organisations can achieve first class physical asset performance, enhance products, customer experience, processes, and workforce performance; reduce costs and liability; and generate revenue and gain a competitive advantage.