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.

Hand shakeSoliciting 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.Light bulb outlined hand drawn tool
  • 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

Telephone operatorPlan 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

Click here for more information on vendor relations and contact center management.



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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.

by Denise R. Venneri

Sitting at the “Kid’s Table” was always fun growing up, but I often looked out beyond the kitchen at the adults sitting in the dining room knowing that eventually I would earn a seat at that table.

Throughout my experience leading the Consumer Affairs’ Insights Team for a CPG company, I’ve often felt similarly — knowing our team was valued, but always looking to consistently earn a “seat at the table”. Eventually, that “seat at the table” was earned, but it required careful strategic planning, creative process re-engineering and most importantly — the sheer tenacity and persistence of the team.

Looking ahead, the Insights function of the Contact Center of the Future will have a permanent “seat at the proverbial table” sitting right next to other consumer research type functions such as Market Research, Digital Analysis and Sensory & Product Guidance. Ideas to bring this vision into fruition in the future might include the following:

  • Metrics Matter:  The Quality/Supply Chain and Marketing organizations from top to bottom will have relevant annual Consumer Affairs’ metrics to be achieved so all are vested in the same end goal (i.e. reduction of consumer negative sentiment by x%; improvement of CSAT or Net Promoter Scores by x %).  These will be presented in easy to understand dashboard type reporting to easily continuously track and course correct as needed.
  • Holistic Integration:  Consumer Affairs Insights Team will lead the conversation to integrate data points across a variety of sources — from traditional call center and social media space, to in-market metrics such as sales/consumption, trial and repeat metrics and pre-launch research insights.  No longer will Consumer Affairs’ data be viewed in a silo, but rather as piece of the entire puzzle to understand consumer reaction across the organization.
  • Higher Analytical Tools: Higher analytical tools will be employed by the Consumer Affairs’ Insights Team to increase the speed, breadth and depth of consumer insights provided. These could run the gamut from macro development and advanced Excel add-on statistical tools to higher end, complex systems that integrate all channels into a single dashboard at the touch of a button.
  • Qualitative Methodology Toolkit: Various qualitative methods will be piloted and included as part of the Consumer Affairs’ Insights Team “tool box”.  These include developing brief “Consumer Surveys” across all channels (i.e. phone, email, social media and chat) both in-bound and outbound including both closed end and open ended probing. Seasoned customer service reps will be tapped to channel the voice of the consumer via “Rep Focus Groups” to provide early reads on prototypes and concepts in the early development phase. Targeted local consumers who contacted the company across multi-channels will be invited to participate in “Consumer Focus Groups” either in person, virtually or via on-line methods to provide consumer reaction on specific topics/issues.
  • Career Pathing & Cross Training:  Consumer Affairs Insights Team will be considered a “rotational opportunity” for high performance employees looking to gain more direct brand/consumer experience such as those in plant/manufacturing roles or scientific/laboratory type roles.  Additionally, Consumer Affairs’ Insights Team career pathing would include opportunities in other consumer research functions within the organization to develop breadth and depth of consumer behavior knowledge.

The future is bright for the Consumer Affairs’ Insights role, so grab a “seat at the table” and enjoy making a difference to your company AND your consumers.



Denise Venneri has 15 years of customer relationship experience with a focus on creating the analytics strategic plan to provide actionable consumer insights to drive business results. Most recently she was Manager, Analysis & Services at Campbell Soup Company leading a team of analysts. Her team recently won recognition from both Marketing partners as well as Consumer Affairs’ leadership for the creation and rollout of several initiatives.  Always forward looking, Denise is poised to contribute her vision to that next opportunity.  Denise has been active in SOCAP at both the national & local levels and currently participates on SOCAP’s CPG Planning Community.  She lives in Philadelphia and can be reached at

by Lauren Ziskie

The customer care industry has a huge opportunity to capitalize on Big Data by applying analytics to customer interaction data in order to gather customer insights. These insights will allow service professionals to deliver a personalized experience at the time of engagement and ultimately build loyalty and grow brand evangelists.

Decoding the Voice of the Customer

The biggest mistake an organization will make is choosing to collect and store enormous amounts of data from customer interactions, and fail to do nothing with it. That data is a company’s competitive advantage if leveraged correctly. New ideas, product enhancements, quality or warranty issues, operational efficiencies, sales and marketing insights, and legal risks are all outcomes that can be uncovered and used to develop strategic business plans. The reasons companies don’t tap into their goldmine is that the massive amounts of data tends to be overwhelming to filter; usually stored in multiple places; rarely integrated; hard to get at for security purposes; and require a lot of IT time and resources to access it which all tend to be very costly. Despite all of these challenges, it remains critical that consumer affairs professionals do their best to use this data to personalize the conversations.

Let’s take a look at examples of how service professionals can apply and use these tools for each channel they service.

  • Anticipatory Customer Service

Micah Solomon, the author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service describes the concept of anticipatory customer service where “companies predict customer needs and proactively address them”. The customer care industry has officially entered an era where customer service can no longer be viewed as reactionary, meaning if the customer has a problem they call us. Instead, service professionals have to start being more proactive with their engagements by identifying a customer’s need before they even realize they have one. Anticipating a customer’s needs gives customer service an opportunity to provide a WOW experience by fixing the problem before it happens. This is where predictive analytics technology plays a big role. By analyzing historical customer interaction data, predictive models can be used to help uncover specific customer trends and proactively queue up the next engagement. For example, let’s say there is a specific loyal customer who calls in every Thursday at 2:30pm to place his same order of five widgets. Wouldn’t it be a WOW moment for that customer if instead customer service called him on Thursday at 2:20pm and ask if he wanted to place his usual order of five widgets? This type of proactive service would deepen relationships because customers would feel like brands really know and care about their business. No longer does customer service need to be reactionary. Reactionary service is not going to hold today’s less loyal, ready to jump consumer.

  •  Personality-based Routing

Most consumer affairs professionals have implemented skills-based routing, where service teams will route calls according to agent skill level such as language, license, training experience, etc. Our industry has now evolved to go beyond skills. There’s a new way to route callers based on customer-agent personality matching. The philosophy behind the new technology is in life there are some people that you will instantly connect with when introduced for the first time, and then there are others that you want to run the other way. The goal of an engagement center is to match the right agent to the right customer, so the chances of having a WOW experience significantly increase. The definition of “right” is determined by communication styles, personality mapping, and behavioral characteristics.

Leading companies are building predictive models to analyze their historical conversions to identify customer personalities. Then, with the help of routing technology, service centers are able to route each caller to the best suited advocate every time they call in. The end result is an increase in customer loyalty, rapport, evangelism, and most importantly lower customer attrition.

  •  Silence & Emotion Detection

When it comes to monitoring the quality of phone calls, service professionals can leverage speech analytics technology to detect silence, emotion and even fraud. When there is a long period of silence on a phone call, many times that is a red flag for a system or process failure. For example, maybe the representative’s computer is taking a long time to load or maybe the representative wasn’t trained well enough on the correct process. Either way, by leveraging speech analytics technology you can detect these periods of silence and discover whether they are happening on every call or just a few. Next, you can leverage speech analytics to detect high emotion in a customer’s voice. Most of the time, a customer will start off a conversation with customer care in a low, monotone voice. If bad service or policies are being communicated, then the level of voice will become amplified and the speech analytics technology will detect the loud tone and alert a supervisor. Lastly, many institutions are forced to verify the consumer before providing service. Speech analytics technology will tell you if that consumer is who they say they are, by matching their voice to the record on file.

Consumers are starting to expect a level of personalization at every step of their customer experience journey. As Generation Y and the Millennials continue to grow up with options available at their fingertips, loyalty is going to become a lot a harder to maintain. This proves to customer care professionals, that customer service should no longer be viewed as cost, but instead as an asset. Customers are the lifeline of business, and organization need to invest in that asset. Provide customers with an amazing, off-the-charts, WOW customer experience and you will earn their loyalty and more important, their brand evangelism.


Ziskie_Lauren_headshotWritten by Lauren Ziskie, Customer Engagement Officer at Dialogue Marketing. Founded in 1977, Dialogue is focused on customer engagement services that create remarkable experiences between brands and consumers. By combining proprietary technology with a passionate, innovative culture, Dialogue enhances each stage of the customer life-cycle. The company has been recognized by Inc. Magazine, Crain’s Detroit and Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine as one of America’s fastest growing private companies.  To learn more or ask a question, feel free to follow her on Twitter (@LaurenZiskie), call 800.523.5867, or visit


by James Cammareri

In addition to development in the practical elements of the role that will be specific to the organization, the following soft skills have been the most prevalent in the organization for which I’ve worked when looking to develop the competencies of their team leaders:

Leadership skills – the ability to delegate, affirm and adjust performance, providing direction, leading courageously, influencing others, fostering teamwork, motivating others, working with human resource professionals to manage any agent sickness absence and persistent poor performance.  Be able to motivate and inspire agents through an effective and consistent leadership style and make communications with the team effective for cascading information and generating ideas.

Organizational Knowledge – time and self-management, planning and organization, managing conflict, personal effectiveness, setting and meeting goals, targets and timescales, know the business, use financial data, and use technical and functional expertise.

Communication Skills  – speaking effectively, foster open communication, listen to others, deliver presentations, prepare written communications running effective meetings, networking, working across teams and departments, connection with the wider organizations and the vision, mission and purpose and the role of the contact center in the achievement of deliverables.

In all cases, any leadership development needs to be delivered in an interactive way, utilizing principles of accelerated learning. In order for any learning to be effectively transferred to the job it should be followed-up with effective coaching, support and opportunities to practice.  In the case of the team leader, this is usually best done by the contact center manager/director, training professionals and with good peer group support.



James Cammareri is Vice President of Business Development at Knoah Solutions, responsible for new client acquisition, supporting client program implementations and client relationship management in the BPO Industry.

James has 24 years of experience within the call center industry holding positions at SPI Global as VP of Business Development, and at Alorica (formerly PRC) as a Client Services Director.  His career has noted emphasis in wireless, IT and telecommunications industries. 

James and his team have built strong client relationships with a philosophy of mutual business success through focus on Employee Retention, Client Satisfaction, and Economic Success.

More than 80 members from the New York Metro and Philadelphia SOCAP chapters enjoyed lunch, conversation, and lively discussion about Social Media at the inaugural co-sponsored event held in Princeton NJ on September 13, 2013. Frank Eliason, Director of Social Strategies at Citi gave an inspiring presentation about his experience building social networking strategies to enhance the customer experience – and what has worked (and not) for him during his tenure with Comcast and Citi. Following the presentation, social strategy leaders Augie Ray, a popular speaker and author, Valeria Maltoni and Marc Monseau, co-founder of the Mint Collective, led a panel discussion. Each panelist, brought a unique point of view to the table and engaged the audience with real-world stories, applications of social media, and questions for one another.

Key Takeways from this event include:

  • Talking at your customer about yourself won’t work.
  • Listen to the “chatter” about your company to do a better job of keeping clients happy and positive.

A lively back and forth between the panel and the audience ran the gamut from members challenging some of the points made and creating a healthy dialogue for the group about real-world applications of social media strategy to solve business communication problems.  Overall, the co-sponsorship of the two chapters led to many new business connections, a healthy attendance, interesting program and very successful afternoon. It’s very likely that we can look forward to more the New York Metro and Philadelphia SOCAP chapters combined!

We have received lots of positive feedback about the 2013 SOCAP Annual Conference in Scottsdale Arizona.  I am proud to say that from all accounts, we can confidently call the meeting a success.  As CEO, I have a unique perspective on many different facets of the meeting and especially the community that comes together that makes an event like this a success.

First and foremost, the SOCAP culture is special.  The sense of community and the deep relationships formed by our members are both authentic and unique.  I am always amazed to see how our how veteran members go to great lengths to welcome and get to know “first timer” attendees.

Additionally, there are so many communities that have contributed to our success highlighted our annual conference.  First, our Board of Directors, led by our Chair Linnea Johnson, has been steadfast and strategic in guiding our association forward and keeping our volunteers and staff focused on a bright future.  Also, our Education Committee produced a world-class program that managed to keep attendees networking in meeting rooms within an amazing property overflowing with amenities such as pools, golf courses and spas.  Our Automotive Steering Committee produced another focused and intense Automotive Summit that engaged automotive manufacturers in active, productive consumer-focused sharing.  Finally, our 40th Anniversary Working Group provided our community with numerous opportunities for SOCAP members to both reflect on our past accomplishments but also to look ahead to the bright future for customer care.

Finally, our professional staff team does an excellent job of working together to produce a high- quality event that is both educational and fun for our attendees.  Although we have a small staff at our National Office in Alexandria VA, our team’s common commitment to professionalism and SOCAP motivates them to produce outstanding events annually that are both memorable and valuable to our members.  I am proud to work with them and appreciate their effort and talents.

So, for those of you who joined us in Scottsdale, thanks and see you again in 2014!  We hope that you felt that “stickiness” of our community and that you will be back again and again.  If you didn’t, please call me and let me know why not or how we could have improved your experience.

For everyone, we are working to bring key elements of the content to you and your staff teams.  Through online learning portal, available through our website, we have loaded some of our conference sessions that are available to members at no charge.  Additionally, we will be packaging and delivering key learnings from the event in our e-newsletter, CRM Magazine, via the website and through our Webinar Series.

Community is the glue that holds our association together and is the key driver that helps us build the profession and your career.  Your investment in this community is critical to your continued membership in our association.  So, as you received your membership renewal invoice, I hope that you will renew immediately and you will also reach out to discuss options to also upgrade your corporate membership to ensure that we continue to engage with more of your colleagues at your organization and grow our community!