Category: Industries

Category: Industries
West Corporation

Posted on May 29, 2013 by West Corporation 

It’s Time to Transform Your Customer Service Experience

It’s a busy, busy world out there, and your customers are very busy people. What are you doing to transform your customer service experience?

Consumers want to reach out to companies in a variety of ways: over the phone, through a mobile application, via texting, through social media and over the Web. And they want the experience to be quick and easy.

The younger demographic is driving the demand for a wider variety of communication channels. I remember as a teenager being on the phone all the time. As I watch the two teenagers in my house, they never use the phone. They are constantly on a variety of applications on their mobile devices. These applications allow them to see their friends using video or pictures. As this demographic continues to age, they will come to expect more and more to be able to get their customer service needs taken care of on their mobile devices.

As an organization, the first thing you need to do to transform your customer experience is to create a plan. Think about the short term, the next one to three years, and longer term, like five years and beyond.

Next, some things to consider as you devise your plan: How are your customers reaching you now? How many are calling on a mobile device? What is the age or demographic of your customers? What channels seem to be a good fit for your customer base? Outline how and when you will add these communication channels in your plan.

As you consider adding channels, another thing you need to take into account is the need for a platform that enables transaction knowledge to be shared among different channels. As busy as your customers are, the last thing they want to do is to give you their full information every time they interact with one of your channels. For example, if you send a customer an SMS text message that states they have a payment due, when your customer calls in to your IVR in response to the text, your IVR should be personalized welcoming them by name and “smart” enough to ask if they are calling to make a payment.

Another portion of your transformation plan should look at calls that are still being handled by agents. As comfortable as today’s consumers are with automation, ask yourself whether there are further opportunities for automation with inbound customer service calls. Perhaps there are some frequently asked questions that can be automated. Or, can you add more information to the identification/authentication process to allow for more accurate transfers? These types of transformation steps are ones that you can accomplish this year in your plan.

It’s time to get busy and transform your customer service experience. Start now and get working on your plan.

West Corporation

Posted on April 30, 2013 by West Corporation 

Sustaining BPO Mojo: Challenges With Business Process Optimization in Your Care Organization

Do you have responsibility for business process optimization (BPO) in your organization? Are you partnered closely with your internal and external technology providers and focused on the same BPO objectives? Does your enterprise have BPO mojo?

Total quality management (TQM) zealots were frustrated in the mid-1990s as the new Six Sigma process rose in popularity. In some people’s opinion it wasn’t all that new, it was just different. The return on investment (ROI) shared by the manufacturing segments that incorporated Six Sigma principles into their daily practices had enterprises, in all verticals, rushing to certify their employees as Six Sigma Black Belts and challenging them to incorporate process measurement into delivery and support organizations.

Various adaptations of these early methodologies faded and morphed through the last decade into what is now broadly categorized as “enterprise process performance improvement,” the simple concept of optimizing processes to ensure value and quality delivery of services to customers. It isn’t really new; it is just different. In addition, while enterprise leaders all fundamentally believe in business process improvement, few organizations are able to sustain the resource commitment to bring enough energy and focus into the efforts to find those big pockets of cost reduction or innovation that move the needle on company profitability. So, many enterprises have lost their BPO mojo.

To be able to identify meaningful or measureable improvement, processes need to be defined, documented and have a clear start and finish. The more simple and straight-lined the process is, the better. But many processes are messy, especially in service-oriented enterprises. Some are routine, others are on-demand. Some are contained within a single business unit while others may span across multiple organizations with varying service level objectives. Core processes generally get priority, but non-core processes rarely get the attention they need. When enterprises also have objectives to be nimble and to customize services to fit the needs of their customer’s businesses, the quality manager of the care organization can go crazy trying to keep processes “within control limits.” He/she may have a hard time finding their BPO mojo, month over month.

There are plenty of service-based organizations, consultants and software development companies that will help enterprises with business process improvement. They’ll gladly interview clients to identify their most important satisfaction factors. They’ll try to draw innovative process ideas out of employees through facilitated brainstorming sessions. They’ll look internally at existing processes and try to measure the costs of the activities to help prioritize areas for automation. Identifying and executing on business process initiatives is definitely a combination of art and a science. It’s difficult to say whose approach is better, they are just different. Sometimes you need multiple perspectives and find the common theme between sources.

As a technology and service provider in the customer care space, one of the things I hear most when talking with clients about their quality and satisfaction goals is how high (or low) their confidence is that they are getting every possible bit of value out of the technology and tools they have invested in. We must constantly show proof of the ROI of our services against the client’s objective, and sometimes subjective, measures. Since BPO helps organizations gain higher customer satisfaction, product quality, delivery speed and time to market speed, we find our best success is when our programs closely align with the BPO initiatives of our customers.

The closer we are able to collaborate with the resources who are accountable for improving processes and are empowered to align all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients, the more effective our programs are. We have also found that the more an enterprise has to respond to changing consumer, competitive, market and regulatory demands, the more we can help our clients create competitive advantage. Synchronization between process and technology is where enterprises find their BPO mojo.

Does your enterprise have BPO mojo?

West Corporation

Posted on April 26, 2013 by West Corporation 

To Insource or to Outsource? That Is the Question


When companies are considering whether to manage a project internally (or insource, as is often said these days) or outsource they must first ask themselves where, what, when and why.

Those of you who are frequent readers of my blogs will note that I often draw upon my personal life experiences when weighing in on key business decisions. So, when one of my customers asked me why they should outsource, I immediately reflected back to my childhood. You see, growing up in a large family, being the second oldest of six and the only girl, I learned pretty early on that most things could be created or done without going outside the home. Being raised in an environment where we did most things in-house to save money had its benefits and drawbacks.

To better understand how the only girl in a large family could appreciate the benefits of insourcing and outsourcing, let’s first define what these two terms mean. According to, insourcing means delegating a job to someone within a company as opposed to someone outside the company. Outsourcing means the contracting or subcontracting of noncore activities to free up cash, personnel, time and facilities for activities in which a company holds competitive advantage.

Insourcing can look like a straightforward option, especially when you need a task executed on a temporary basis or if the task requires little operational overhead. I would offer the argument, however, that insourcing can help companies build a team of skilled people who are focused on company-specific objectives and initiatives while more effectively promoting the company’s core values.

When I was 9 years old, my parents were both in college getting their master’s degrees in psychotherapy and working full-time jobs. We didn’t have the money to hire a nanny to come in and help us prepare meals, do laundry and help with other things, such as checking homework. Instead, my parents chose to “insource” these tasks to me. The benefit for me was that I learned key fundamental life skills that also promoted our household’s specific objectives and initiatives (i.e., cooking, cleaning, homework — the fundamental yet important life skills needed for all individuals) early and in turn was able to teach my five brothers the same life skills without ever having to spend a single dollar.

Now, I suppose if you had asked me back then if I realized and appreciated all these lessons, I would have unequivocally told you, “No.” At the age of 9, these tasks were of no interest to me, but now as a mother of four young children, I appreciate the in-house investment I was brought into as a child. It has allowed me to streamline my own processes and procedures in a more efficient way while passing these lessons on to my four beautiful children who will most definitely appreciate the investment (when they are older), too.

While the in-sourcing element did a great job in getting and keeping me focused on the skills and core competencies required to run an efficient, cost-effective and well-organized household, outsourcing for me is the obvious winner for many reasons. But, again, I go back to my childhood.

As I mentioned, I was raised in a larger family. One of the tasks I wished my parents would have outsourced was haircuts. You’ve all had a bad haircut at some point, right? To save money, my mom would cut our hair with tools that were not specialized for the job. On a Sunday, all six children would sit lined up and ready for our haircut with the shavers that were used on our dogs the weekend before. My brothers knew the pain it was going to inflict as the clippers pulled their hair and inevitably got clogged up. Not a good customer experience!

In my case, it was the scissors that I dreaded. They were regularly used for a plethora of other tasks such as cutting paper, plastic, shrubbery, and, oh yes, my hair! Needless to say the whole experience was not always comfortable, and, frankly, our hair was not always even (sorry, Mom!). Again, not a good customer experience!

Bottom-line: Sometimes you need to know when and how to recognize that certain tasks are better left to the experts and when a call to the local Cuts-R-Us is in order.

So, bringing it full circle, outsourcing allows businesses to cut operational costs while leveraging the expertise and best practices that outsourcing offers. In addition, outsourcing gives you access to specialized skill sets, resourcing, and processes and procedures that insourcing cannot match — helping to maximize your customer’s experience.

Finally, outsourcing allows you to focus your company (or household) core competencies and more effectively and efficiently achieve your key strategic goals and objectives. Now that outsourcing is used by businesses of all sizes, it has opened a world where we can leverage best practices, evaluate opportunities and, in the end, make it easier for our customers to do business with us, which, in turn, drives revenue.

So should you insource or outsource? There’s no easy answer, but remember, although you may be the most skilled person out there armed with all of your life lessons, if you don’t properly leverage talent both inside and outside of your company you may inflict unnecessary pain on yourself or your customers, ultimately resulting in being “hair” today and gone tomorrow.

West Corporation

Posted on April 25, 2013 by West Corporation 

Can Mobile Apps Enhance Customer Care? Let Me Count the Ways

I am a good Mom, most of the time. My daughter is away at college and needed me to pick up a certified/registered letter at the post office for her. The post office needed a signature for the letter and, of course, no one was ever home when they came to deliver it between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. — duh! Since my daughter couldn’t make it back home during post office hours herself (and being the good Mom), I told her that I would go to the post office and retrieve the letter for her.

So, bright and early in the morning I stood in line at the post office. Only five people ahead of me, great. I’ll still have time to grab a coffee before work. The trouble is that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), as we all know, is revenue-challenged and is operating in the red, so there was only one representative working the line. Customers were doing simple things, but only one guy working slowed things down considerably.

So, 30 minutes later, I finally got to the front of the line. The process to get a certified/registered letter was pretty straightforward. I had to show my driver’s license, as they required that it be the same address that was on the letter. I had to physically sign my name on the signature machine. That was it!

It was then that my wheels really started to turn. This process could be simplified and automated. And, even better, it could be more convenient and maybe even make me loyal to the post office as my shipper of choice and thus spend more money there: Just think if the post office had a mobile app that, among other things, could simplify this process.

If I received a registered letter that I needed to sign for, the app could notify me. I could use my devices camera to scan my driver’s license bar code to prove I was at the same address. I could then digitally sign the “form” within the app. The post office could deliver the registered letter to my home in their next mail delivery. I am happy, and the post office could save money by not needing someone at the physical location to process this type of transaction. Nor would they have to repeatedly try to get my signature at home, when I am never going to be there during the day. Simple, straightforward and effective to me (the customer) and the USPS.

That’s how organizations should be thinking about mobile care applications. They should bring value to the customer and the company — or organizations shouldn’t waste their time. The USPS could save money and apply a mobile app to processing transactions that absolutely need a human to complete the transaction — things like passport processing. The impact to customers is a better customer experience and one that they are more in control of and which is more convenient for them.

Another example is of an experience that I just had as a customer. I am taking my girls to Florida for spring break. My husband is a huge baseball fan (Cardinals, baby!) and we will hit the beach and some spring training games. Well, the girls are 10 and 11 and growing like weeds. So, I went online to order some swimsuits and shorts for the trip. In the Midwest we don’t have a lot of beach apparel in stores this time of year. I went online to my favorite U.K.-based retail site and ordered their stuff. Clothing sizes in the United Kingdom sizes are different than U.S. sizes, and I was not thinking straight, so I ended up ordering the wrong size on a couple items. The next day, I woke up panicked thinking I needed to call and change the sizes before the order shipped. When I called the company, by the time they heard my story, searched for my order, verified 62 pieces of information (exaggeration!) the call took about 12 minutes. And then, in the end, they weren’t able to change my order anyway. So annoying!

What could have and should have happened is that when I called, their system would have the ability to recognize that I had placed an order in the last 24 hours and the agent could greet me accordingly. “Hi Jil Fisher, are you calling about your recent order?” I would have been so much happier if they at least would have acknowledged me and the business I gave the company. And it certainly would have sped up the call if they knew something about me.

If the company could spend the time and focus on making sure all of their channels are connected and aware of recent activity everyone would win. It would save the company money in agent costs with shorter calls due to more intelligence when they are presented with the call. The customers would be more loyal due to the differentiated experience they receive in all the channels that they are using

I don’t want to suggest that customer data management easy. It seems straightforward when you are the customer, but there are lots of things that need to be contemplated from a company perspective — and you don’t want to try to boil the ocean.

  • Companies need to think about their overall processes and how customers transact with them in general. Think like a customer — be a customer. The mobile channel creates a great opportunity to streamline, personalize and engage customers. Just don’t create another communication silo.
  • Companies should think about how all of the channels can tie together. How they can streamline and connect channels.

It’s hard to know where to start, and that’s where a company like West can help. We can help create the vision for an overall customer experience and the road map to get there so you aren’t biting off more than you can chew. We are helping companies with this every day. And we are there every step of the way.

Learn more about this subject in Jil Fisher’s podcast, “Use a Mobile App to Improve Your Customer Care.”

West Corporation

Posted on April 22, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Brave New World of Customer Care

Traditionally, the mobile channel has been the domain of marketing departments that leverage the channel to promote brand, sell and add e-commerce opportunities. Or technical departments looking to mobilize existing websites or internal work processes. Until recently, the idea of leveraging mobile for something as mundane as customer care was not even in the realm of thinking. Mobile is sexy and flashy. Why spend the time to mobilize customer care? There are four main reasons we are seeing with our clients today:

Consumer-Driven Care
Consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to communicating with our clients. More and more, they choose how to communicate and what device they want to use. Mobile is a channel that consumers want to use, and they are using it in their daily lives. Clients that we support know they must play in mobile to ensure that they are relevant to the consumers of their products and services.

Avoiding the Application Wasteland
Take a look at your mobile device. How many apps have you downloaded and how many do you really use? If you are like most of us, there are a handful of apps that you use other than games and sports apps. We use applications that bring value to our daily lives. Increasingly, we are seeing that customer care in the mobile channel is something that consumers will actually use. Customer care functions add value as stand-alone applications or tied to other existing applications, thus creating an enriched application that will actually be used. Mobile customer care also has a tangible return on investment that can be measured against other customer care strategies. This helps companies make the investment in their mobile care channel.

Customer Experience is King
Our clients are breaking down the silos that have traditionally divided internal teams who support their customers and are looking at the experience holistically. Organizations understand that they work hard to attain their customers and that one poor customer experience can ruin the relationship.

Mobile is helping bring companies together because it transcends these silos and offers a channel where consumers have the option to talk to an agent, call an IVR, search a website, launch an application and comment on all of the experiences in social media. Companies are investing in new “C” level positions (e.g., chief customer experience officer) and changing their philosophies around the barriers between internal groups. This has allowed departments like customer care, marketing and technology to come together and start to leverage the mobile communication channel to its full potential.

Connecting Channels to Improve the Customer Experience Is Key
With strategies and organizational structures that align with consumer-driven care, we are helping our clients connect channels to create personalized and intelligent care experiences. We can have the mobile channel aware of what is going on with other channels and adjust accordingly to ensure that the customer experience is effective and valuable. Each customer care touch point is so valuable in today’s tough economy and competitive environment.

We are all moving into the brave new world of mobile. Customer care is no different, despite its reputation for being back-office and behind the times. In the mobile channel, we have another opportunity to automate and perform customer care that will enhance the overall customer experience. It is all about choices for our customers and how they want to communicate with us. We are slowly adapting to customers who want to click their app rather than dial the toll-free number. The companies that embrace this have the best chance to service and grow their customer bases.

West Corporation

Posted on April 18, 2013 by West Corporation 

Sometimes Humans Are Still Better Than Technology

Do you know what this popular game is and when it was invented?

The Speak & Spell was first introduced in 1978 at the summer Consumer Electronics Show. This early speech technology was only the tip of the iceberg to where we are now with advanced speech and voice recognition.

Fast-forward 35 years: Apple launched a new iPhone with Siri speech-recognition software making the decades-old technology good enough for the average consumer. Rather than recognizing a simple word, Siri can interpret a stream of words and provide intelligent feedback.

Even with all of the speech and voice recognition software in place today, can we really afford to do away with the traditional transcription services? Sure, recognition software costs less than transcription; however, what is truly the “cost” to consumers?

Technology is important, but not more important than the quality that affects organizations and their consumers. Transcribers can intuitively correct simple errors of confusion, whereas the most advanced speech technology cannot. Speaking clearly and distinctly is essential for voice recognition software to work effectively. If a caller is in a noisy place or has an accent, then it may throw off the accuracy of the software. Conference settings and free-form feedback are other sources of inaccurate recording for the software. Transcription agents can filter out extraneous speech like, “umm” and “aah.”

An undisputed advantage of voice recognition is its speed. However, transcription can also be done in real time and doesn’t need to sit on backup tapes or servers overnight causing the common delays.

Transcription has been seen by some as a “routine” task. With so many technological advances of voice automation, it was thought that transcription would become obsolete. However, there are many aspects of transcription jobs that are not always routine. These instances require human judgment, error correction, formatting and clarification of the unclear. The judgment, experience and plain common sense can be an invaluable and priceless contribution.

Just because a computer can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it should.

West Corporation

Posted on April 16, 2013 by West Corporation 

Generation Thumb, Part 2

A previous post  by a past colleague pointed out the significance of mobile to baby boomers. The ability to work, check email, tweet, check finances, etc., via a mobile device is becoming the standard for most and stresses the importance of mobility. However, as younger generations like millennials come into the picture, it is important to realize the importance of enhancing different channels beyond mobile to address the needs of these savvier tech gurus.

Mobile may be transforming into the new standard of communication, but we are seeing new technologies and strategies emerge that are both separate and entwined with mobile capabilities. For instance, having a social media strategy is starting to become the norm within marketing departments. Leaders are more concerned about brand protection, but they are kept awake at night because social media is becoming more than a marketing vehicle. Blogs, forums, Facebook and Twitter are avenues that also need to be connected into the care organization. Customers are using these avenues to discuss, complain and seek resolution to problems.

The obvious solution to some may be to make a public post apologizing for the problem and offer some kind of compensation for the loss. But, by taking a step back for a moment, customer care organizations are starting to recognize the importance of having both their mobile and social strategies tied together. A public statement may satisfy the masses, but companies can also use one-way and two-way communications through text or SMS to send a more personal message. Not only does this give the “warm fuzzy” that the customer is seeking, but it also shows the importance of how having a unified multichannel customer relationship strategy is the future.

Finally, as companies continue to address  needs around mobile and social, it is important to note that there is a third and equally vital part of this strategy involving the Web. Having some sort of Web presence is the norm for any company. Customers expect to be able to go to a Web address and get a preview of products, self-serve, shop and so on. However, the Web is turning into a greater part of an overall digital strategy that can be designed to engage customers and provide more value to them. Making the environment more virtual and engaging with multimedia, content, forums, chat, etc., not only enhances the experience, but also gives an organization the opportunity to capture vital information needed to be proactive with customers. Knowing who your customers are and some information about them will improve their experience increase your revenue. And both are vital to the success of your business.

The next generation of consumers is putting more emphasis on new technologies, forcing companies to be nimble and preemptive with their communication strategies. The ability to allow your customers to connect with you how and when they want is paramount to any successful strategy. The younger generations are our fastest growing customer base, stressing the importance of having a unified multichannel customer contact strategy. After all, keeping your consumers happy and addressing their needs is a lot cheaper than acquiring new customers.

West Corporation

Posted on April 12, 2013 by West Corporation 

But You Called Me: How Companies and Customers Can Win in the Customer Service Game

Have you ever received a voice message from a company you do business with requesting you call them in regard to your account or a purchase? This type of message likely piques your curiosity and ultimately entices you to give them a call.

Now, how many times have you called back and were barraged with a choice of options on the automated system? Even if you are the savviest of users of automated systems — who understands that if you take the time to choose the right option, then your call is delivered to a customer service representative who can actually help you — you would not be sure where to start.

After bouncing from representative to representative to finally reach one who can help you, you are asked for the third time, “How can I help you?”

You respond with, “Ugh! You guys called me!”

By keeping track and leveraging context of customer interactions through various engagement channels, companies can personalize these interactions and increase customer intimacy.

For the above scenario, the automated system could have acknowledged me upfront and intelligently sent me to a representative who could have greeted me with, “Thank you for calling us back, Mr. Robeson. We have a question for you about a recent purchase.” It would have been a much better experience.

Organizations can save themselves time and cost, as well as increase customer satisfaction, by making sure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. It is a win-win situation.

Organizational Wins

  • Consistent brand experience across all customer engagement channels, including Web, mobile, automated system and representative
    • Because customer satisfaction equals customer loyalty
  • Reduce transaction times and cost by streamlining the automated system transaction and sending the customer to the correct representative the first time

Customer Wins

  • Reduce customer effort by tracking experiences and context of interactions or the idea that, “It is easy to do business with Company Y”
  • Increase the level of predictability or the idea that, “I don’t mind contacting Company Y because it is likely they already know what has happened and it won’t take long to get an answer”

Remember that the company called you first, so to acknowledge the fact they called you is the least they can do when you call them back.

West Corporation

Posted on April 11, 2013 by West Corporation 

Better Than Coffee: A Top 10 List of Automated Application Best Practices

I am not aware of any formal scientific evidence of this, but I believe most people have a morning routine they follow after getting out of bed in the morning. A routine allows us to get from one point to another point with ease (in this case, from bed to work). Some folks may have one routine for workdays and a different routine for non-work days.  My routine, regardless of the day of the week, is coffee first — and lots of it. Coffee is what kick-starts my brain and body. Until I’ve had that first cup, nothing interesting happens or gets accomplished in my world. I look forward to mornings because that is the only time of the day I allow myself the luxury of coffee.  I love my morning routine.

So, this leads to the question, what does having a morning routine have in common with an automated customer service application? The answer is that your automated application should have a routine your customers can count on to follow and accomplish a task or multiple tasks with ease. Or, said another way, use industry best practices to ensure ease of use for customers.

Here is a top 10 list of routines (or best practices) that automated customer service applications should follow:

  • Begin the call with a welcome message and a brief description of what to expect.
  • Offer a maximum of five options at each prompt — If more than five options are available, then offer additional options under a “more options” selection.
  • Offer the most popular menu selection first, the second most popular second, and so on.
  • Offer a “repeat menu” option at each module.
  • Do not confirm unnecessarily. Frequent confirmation makes the call inefficient and aggravates the caller.
  • Re-prompt when a customer does not make a selection or makes an invalid selection.
  • Allow an agent transfer option after two errors (caller makes invalid or no selection) to minimize caller frustration.
  • In scenarios of specialized agent line groups, use the practice of the determining what the customer needs prior to transferring to an agent, “To make sure I route your call to the agent best suited to handle your call, please tell me what topic your call is related to.” This will prevent double transfers.
  • Use a silent agent option as deemed appropriate throughout the application.
  • Less is more — use the minimum number of words in the prompts.

And, finally, consider a “coffee” element in your automated application — something that keeps the customer alert, awake and paying attention. This can be as simple as using good voice talent that uses voice inflections to keep the caller engaged.

West Corporation

Posted on March 27, 2013 by West Corporation 

Does the Left Hand (of Your Customer Service Operation) Know What the Right Hand Is Doing?

Technology is changing at lightning speed these days — particularly technologies related to customer relationship management. This is exciting and brings with it new challenges and opportunities.

The opportunities are boundless: like integrating mobile and social solutions to help customers get service anytime/anywhere, or integrating comprehensive analytics to ensure that when customers call your support number, you know who they are and what they’re most likely to be calling about.

Of course, with opportunities also come challenges. One of the key challenges companies face today is how to seamlessly integrate their technology and human-based customer service elements to provide for a streamlined, efficient customer experience. For example, many companies have yet to address the age-old problem where their contact center agents have to ask customers the same questions as the IVR did, because they lack adequate systems integration.

In addition to situations like this, many companies face the added challenge of how to integrate outsourced customer support vendors and processes with their own, to provide for a seamless customer experience “from A to Z.” Leveraging third-party outsourcing partners is a good idea, but not if the partner’s systems and resources aren’t integrated effectively with the rest of the company’s on-premise infrastructure, agents and operations.

I recently had some first-hand experience with companies that have utterly failed in their customer service mission, mainly because they haven’t effectively integrated their outsourced service provider into their business and customer service operations.

My wife and I subscribe to a travel magazine that we both enjoy reading and look forward to, month after month. Although we use the magazine’s website a lot, we always await with anticipation the printed copy edition of the magazine. Recently, two of the print editions of the magazine went missing in the mail, so when we noticed that the magazine has a digital edition, we decided to stop receiving the print edition in favor of the iPad version.

Little did we know what a customer service mess we were stepping into. When I called the magazine company to tell them we’d like to start receiving the digital edition, the contact center agent said, “That’s fantastic, I’ll give you the phone number to call so you can start receiving the iPad edition.” I was a bit baffled with this and said, “Isn’t there any way you can sign me up to the iPad edition, given that you already have our account information?” The agent said, “Nope, we don’t actually support the digital edition. We rely on another company to do that. I can send them your information via email, but it’s not likely you’ll hear from them soon, because they are so busy with requests. Here’s the company’s name and telephone number for you to call so you can receive digital edition.”

I thought the whole conversation was bit odd, and by this time my wife was starting to get frustrated. On more than one occasion she suggested we just cancel the subscription because the company not only seemed to struggle in getting us the mailed version of the magazine but also seemed to have some kind of odd relationship with a rather invisible digital publisher that wasn’t really connected to the main publisher.

I decided to contact the company supporting the magazine’s digital version. When I reached a customer service representative, the agent said, “We don’t seem to show a customer record for you, so if you have a few minutes, I need to create one here for you so that you can receive the digital version of the magazine.”

“Uh, pardon?” I said. “You don’t have any record of us as a magazine subscriber?” The agent said, “Well, the publisher who sends you the paper-based version of the magazine has these details, but we’re the digital version and we don’t have them.” I ended up giving the agent all of the information she needed so that we could finally receive the digital version. The agent said that within 24 hours, we’d receive an email link outlining what to do to get the digital version. Almost a week had gone by and we still hadn’t received the email link that the agent promised to send.

The issue finally got resolved after several weeks and many phone calls. Rather ironically, any day now, we expect to start receiving the standard litany of renewal notices in the mail, threatening that if we don’t renew now, the prices will be going up and we’ll have to pay more to renew later and horrendous, frightening thunder and lightning storms will hit, as well.

Will we renew our subscription? I doubt it. We’ve lost confidence in the magazine publisher’s ability to manage customer files and customer service. If they can’t manage and integrate basic customer information, then what does that say about their ability handle credit card information, for example?

I’m a strong advocate of the notion of outsourcing to partners, particularly when it comes to fast-changing technologies like digital publishing and many others. Having said that, the key mistake (among a number of them) that this magazine publisher made was to not integrate its outsourcing partner effectively into the company’s technology, business and customer support operations — the result being poorly executed customer service.

The bottom line message is that outsourcing business activities and processes, including customer service, oftencan make sense in today’s fast-changing technology-centric environment. When done right, it can help companies save money, stay current with new technologies and improve customer service.

But when executed in a disjointed, haphazard manner like the magazine publisher did in this example, it can result in poor customer service, increased customer churn and eventually, erosion of revenue and profit streams. Case in point: As mentioned earlier, I seriously doubt we will renew our subscription to this particular magazine.

So, if you’re going to partner with a third-party provider for customer service and other types of transactions, be sure to take an integrated view from the outset of technology, operations and people integration, and contact center agent training. The only thing worse than the fact that the company’s technology systems weren’t integrated was that the agents from both companies seemed rather oblivious and/or indifferent to, the fact that they were actually supposed to be working together to support print and digital customers in an integrated manner. (I would tend to blame the agents’ managers, not the agents themselves.)

It seems obvious but is well worth repeating that from the customer’s perspective, the customer experience needs to be seamless and effortless, regardless of whether interaction is with one of your own customer service agents or an agent from your outsourcing partner. When you get a minute, try calling your own company’s customer service line(s), to get a feel for the experience that your customers go through every day. It’s well worth the time, and you might learn a few new things along the way that can help you to improve in the future.