The “Last Mile” constraint has been primarily identified and discussed for many years in the network communications context. There it refers to the dilemma that even with enormous investments made in creating very powerful communications networks with high volume and high speed capabilities—perhaps with multiple T1/E1 lines or even fiber optic lines installed—a gap may remain. If it is still necessary to make the final (or “Last Mile”) connection to the end user through twisted pair wiring, the limitations of that slow-speed, low-volume connection, severely limits the ability of the end user to take advantage of all the potential for power that has been created through the huge investments in the network.
Similarly, in the context of customer interactions, we can see an analogous type of “Last Mile” problem. Most organizations have made huge investments in data and application integration, SOA architectures, data warehouses, CRM systems, customer insight and analytics systems, 360-degree or universal view of the customer, unification of the desktop, and a variety of other infrastructure investments, to bring the potential for power and quality into the interactions they have with their customers. However, the remaining reality for nearly all these organizations is that the final (or “Last Mile”) interaction connection to the customer is through their employees or self-service interfaces.
A further reality is that, especially in large organizations with large numbers of employees interacting with customers, the majority of these people typically have limited knowledge/education/training/experience. They are among the lower paid of the organization’s staff, and they churn fairly often. Yet as the “Last Mile”, the organization relies on these same employees to carry the brand torch and deliver exceptional customer experiences. They are expected to correctly and consistently understand and apply policies and procedures, to know when and how to make proper exceptions to those procedures, to know the products, to know the business domain, to understand and use the information resources being delivered to them in the 360-degree view of the customer, as well as have the skills to dynamically access and transform all of this into an empathetic and effective interaction. And, more often than not, they are expected to do so on the first call. To add to the complexity, all this information and these processes change fairly often.
So, even with all the technology being added to agent desktops nowadays, and the huge infrastructure investments of the organization behind it, a gap remains. There are still far too many ways in which successful interactions and quality of the customer experience rely on the skills and behavior of the people in the organization who make up the “Last Mile” of the customer interaction. Many organizations try to solve this “Last Mile” interaction constraint by management tactics of hiring, training, supervision, and after-the-fact quality assessment and resolution.
Satisfaction is not enough
It therefore is no surprise that all these investments have not really made much positive impact on improvement of the actual customer experience from the customer’s perspective. Although a high percentage of customers may respond to surveys that they are “satisfied”, as much as 80% of customers who switch suppliers report having been “satisfied” with their previous supplier. Rather than being re-assured that a large percentage of their customers are “satisfied”, the organization’s executives should be concerned that such a high percentage of their customers are so vulnerable to loss to their competitors.
Satisfied customers are not the same as loyal customers and certainly not the same as the “advocates.” Forward-thinking executives know that the most effective, most profitable and fastest way to grow the business is through increased cross/up-selling, increased customer lifetime value and profitability, and increased customer retention/loyalty. But to rapidly and affordably grow the customer base, an organization needs to nurture customer advocates and eliminate detractors. So despite all the infrastructure investments made (as outlined above), even if they have been operationally successful, most organizations have seen very little positive impact on those key success metrics: cross/up-selling, lifetime value/profitability, retention/loyalty, and advocacy.
The Scope of Customer Experience Excellence
For many world-class organizations today, especially those with a strategic commitment to customer experience excellence as a major differentiator, quality goes beyond working products and lack of failures/errors. In contrast, quality is the collective whole of a customer’s interactions with an organization. Therefore, customer experience excellence takes on a very broad scope. It includes:
- saying the right things, the right way, every time and personalized to every customer;
- delivering on the customer’s objective for every interaction in an empathetic and efficient process on the first call;
- enabling consistent customer experiences faithful to the brand promises of the organization through every touch-point every time;
- being able to promise and then deliver on unparalleled service SLAs and to do so in a highly personalized way;
- providing every staff member, in every touch-point, with access to a comprehensive, multi-channel interaction history to maximize sales of the right product or package for the right customer;
- adopting a seamless process flow which follows the customer’s choices across all the various interaction channels;
- ensuring all your customer-facing staff are up-to-date with the latest information on products, known fixes to errors, new regulations, historical customer interactions, current organization policies and practices, etc..
Cincom’s Approach to Closing the Last Mile
The focus of Cincom’s Synchrony offering is squarely targeted on addressing the “Last Mile” interaction constraint. Synchrony uniquely offers the power to transform the processes and execution of interactions with customers. It employs intelligent guidance to lead your employees and customers who use self-service interfaces to better experiences and better outcomes. Even in the most complex scenarios, Synchrony is effective in driving first-call resolutions and in achieving the emotional bonding that have the level of direct cause-and-effect linkage to those success metrics the organization’s executives are so desperately seeking : cross/up-selling, lifetime value/profitability, retention/loyalty and advocacy.
Cincom Synchrony transforms the interaction processes into ones that customer’s truly enjoy and value. In reality, most organization’s executives do not really know what it is like for their customers to interact with them – they may know what they want the customers’ experience to be but they seldom know what it actually is. Using real-time, intelligent guidance for every interaction, Synchrony ensures the transformation of the organization’s people and self-service interfaces making up the interaction “Last Mile” are delivered correctly and consistently.
Intelligent Guidance – Beyond Scripting
The core of the Cincom Synchrony solution is delivered through the intelligent guidance component, which leads and orchestrates the process the employee is to follow in the “Last Mile” of the customer experience. In the contact center, this is usually an interface executing in the web browser in front of each contact center agent. In a face-to-face environment such as a retail store or bank branch, this may be on a hand-held device or a department or office desktop. In self-service channels, this is usually an interface the customer follows in their web browser which the organization’s web site has directed them to for executing the given interaction type.
Synchrony’s capabilities to assist and guide agents during customer interactions go far beyond just the typical scripting in common use today. Synchrony’s intelligent guidance is a fully interactive process automation and guidance solution of which scripting is then only a basic sub-feature. Thus, it is more accurate to refer to interaction guides, not merely scripts. The number of simultaneous guides is unlimited. Each campaign can run as many guides as required. (The number of campaigns is also unlimited.) Guides can be unique to a campaign or can be shared amongst campaigns in any required combination. Guides can be dynamically personalized to an agent, interaction and/or customer as follows:
- Different guides for different agents in the same campaign (e.g., experienced agent vs. new hire)
- Different guides for the same agent in different campaigns (e.g., experienced in one, novice in the other)
- Different guides for the same agent for different customers (e.g., gold vs. platinum) in the same campaign
- Guides can be suspended and later resumed – including resumed by a different staff member in a different interaction channel
- Guides can be assembled from other guides for maximum modularity and re-usability.
- Guides can be built and maintained by process owners/managers with minimal IT involvement. The process authoring system is built specifically to enable those who own and know the processes to define and maintain the process automation and guidance themselves.
- A system for change control, versioning and re-publishing of guides is included.
Synchrony’s intelligent guidance enables significant cost savings as well as dramatic efficiency, effectiveness and quality gains. It eliminates the mundane tasks that do not add value to the organization or the customer experience, so the “Last Mile” of the interaction becomes more streamlined and effective. Perhaps even more importantly, once these non-value-added tasks have been eliminated via automation, time becomes available to add new, high-value process components into the interaction to increase its value to both the organization and the customer. This enables previously unattainable gains in key objectives of cross/up-selling, first call resolution, lifetime value/profitability. It also helps achieve unparalleled excellence in customer experience and emotional bonding which have been proven to dramatically increase retention/loyalty and advocacy.
Stripping Out the Mundane – Adding in Value
The chart below illustrates the reality in most interactions today. It highlights the three types of activities that compose an interaction:
- The large amounts of wasted time (in red)
- The things which the customer may not value but are mandated to be done (in yellow)
- The limited amount of valuable time (in green)
With Synchrony’s intelligent guidance, we eliminate and/or automate most if not all of the red activity which is wasting time. Using Synchrony, it is typical to free up from 50% to 80% of the existing interaction time. Into that freed-up time, value-building activities can be added to boost the value delivered to the customer and/or the value realized by the organization. These are often things most employees would simply not consider, remember, or even know how to present on their own. But through real-time, intelligent guidance, every member of the interaction’s “Last Mile” can and will do them correctly every time. And when the process changes—possibly due to strategic, competitive and or regulatory requirements— every member of the interaction “Last Mile” will be led to execute the new process as soon as the changed interaction guide is published into action.
Beyond Guidance to Decisioning
During many interactions, a point arises where specialized knowledge or higher-level decision making is required. It is impractical to teach this higher degree of specialization to all the people interacting with customers. An example would be the expert knowledge needed to recommend a rate plan for an energy customer – especially in the new world of smart metering and home energy management systems. In this case, Synchrony’s knowledge modeler can receive input from various sources, including the user, databases, external sources, calculations, and information passed on by the guidance, etc. The intelligence in the underlying knowledge and decisioning component allows the process to be started and followed in any sequence, from any point in the model, so you can always run the model to get to the answers needed, no matter what part of the model or data you start with. This knowledge modeler and decisioning component is also a great place to model highly complex and interrelated decisioning rules and/or policies that perhaps only a few staff members can understand and apply correctly. Such examples may arise in diagnosing the reason for a problem that caused the customer to initiate the interaction. Often, success in the interaction is even more dependent on specialized knowledge of what action to take to resolve it. For example, an organization’s resolution policy might be one thing for most customers, but for certain VIP customers there might be special exceptions or even a different policy altogether. Cincom Synchrony’s knowledge modeling and decisioning component enables these requirements to be met correctly and consistently in real-time by those in the “Last Mile” of the interaction.
Most Follow-up Correspondence Falls Short
The typical boundary of an interaction ends when the communication connection to the customer is terminated. But the reality from the customer’s perspective is that the interaction also includes the follow-up that takes place after that point. This follow-up almost always includes some amount of documentation and written communication to the customer and possibly also some response from the customer on which some further actions are dependent. Unfortunately in most organizations, the best that can be achieved is basic personalization of some pre-built templates. The basic document content is normally pre-built, and then before sending it out, some personal data is filled into parameters to make the document somewhat personalized. The organization will typically decide in advance on a full set of possible follow-up documents and then assemble this inventory of pre-built possibilities into a kind of inventory or library list. Typically there is a system to insert some personalization in those pre-built documents and that system then relies on the interaction agent to pass some customer and interaction data.
With Synchrony’s intelligent guidance driving the entire interaction process from start to finish and automating many of the actions behind the scene, the Cincom solution has all the interaction information required to dynamically generate an exact interaction summary and follow-up document that exactly matches the content of the specific interaction, starting from a blank piece of paper. This can include data used and presented to the customer in the interaction, graphs or charts displayed, specific recommendations made including the exact data on which they were based, specific instructions given to the customer, and bar-coded documents to be completed and returned. When the customer completes and returns the document, the bar code can be scanned and linked directly back to that process. That process can then be triggered to continue, perhaps along with an automatic call-back to re-engage the customer and/or possibly then generating and sending further documents to the other parts of the organization needed to complete additional interaction follow up steps. This document generator is able to produce top quality professional content including dynamically adding logos and watermarks , and producing full letterhead, headers, footers, etc., to achieve a completeness and quality level that can confidently be sent directly out to any customer or organization. It can all be dynamically generated to be totally personalized and exactly reproducing the specifics of the interaction. The generated documentation can be delivered through any channel and/or medium.
Matchmaking for Optimal Results
The success of any interaction is enhanced if the organization can match the customer to the organization’s optimal “Last Mile” resource. In most organizations, traditional skills based routing is utilized. The idea is that the system makes the assumption that persons with the right skills SHOULD be the best ones to conduct a successful interaction. The person knows the product, knows the system, knows the technology, etc., that are associated with this caller’s issue, and therefore the assumption is that that employee should give the best experience. But facts show differently. Going well beyond skills-based routing, Cincom Synchrony provides a matching and routing solution based on statistical data from successful interactions. For each call, based on who the customer is and why they are calling, an interaction success history database is used to find the list of staff members who have actually dealt with that specific combination before and have done so successfully. Everyone who could be a candidate for handling this interaction is scored for how they have handled similar interactions before, and those with the highest proven success score are placed in ranked order for handling this new call. The system also looks at whether they are currently busy and if so when they will likely become available. It will wait a definable time trying to get the interaction to who statistically is the best match, and if that person remains busy, it will then try the second and maybe the third most optimal match. However, if the time waiting eventually nears the limit defined for the organization’s SLA for delivering/answering the call, the system will then default to the normal routing algorithms to be sure the call is still addressed in time. But this system is proven in use to significantly increase the ability to get the right person on the right interactions with the right customers and achieve an ever-improving record of successful interaction handling.
Empowering Your People for The Last Mile
Customer-facing employees are asked to do much with little. At a high level, they are expected to deliver your brand promise, drive revenue, build loyalty, and nurture advocacy. Diving deeper, they are expected to engage with customers at a personal level and exhibit excellent people skills. At a product level, they must understand your offerings and your promotions. They must be skilled at accessing the information needed in the many supporting applications that drive the business and diligent at recording and documenting the conversation. They must know how to follow processes and be compliant throughout. They are the consummate problem solvers; they are the prolific upsellers. They are your face to the customer. And what happens in conversation with them, is what the customer will remember and tell others about.
Organizations that recognize the vulnerability of this “Last Mile” and take steps to strengthen and reinforce the journey, are best positioned to win in today’s competitive landscape. Much can be done to streamline and design the customer interactions to ensure better outcomes for the customer, the employee, and the organization. Intelligent guidance, process automation, decision modeling, personalized follow-up, and sophisticated employee-to-customer matching, will empower your employees to consistently, efficiently, and confidently engage with customers in that “Last Mile” of the interaction.