By Peter Wulfraat, Vice President of Sales
Starting a new project can be exciting, challenging, and scary all at the same time. Whether it’s texting customer service or adding natural language to your IVR, you know a new technology solution has the potential to improve the customer experience, but how will your customers respond?
So how do you answer that question without paying for and implementing a full-scale solution? You start small and take it for a test drive with a pilot project.
When to Choose a Pilot Project
A pilot project can be done for any new solution — like web portals, outbound calls, proactive text notifications and self-service payment options — and on any channel — including phone calls, texts, online and mobile apps.
But just because you can start with a pilot doesn’t mean you always should. Generally, it’s best to look for one of four criteria before choosing to pilot:
- Wide-ranging scope affecting a large part of your customer base
- New products or service with potentially unknown consequences
- High costs to implement or manage
- Difficulty to reverse
In our experience, pilots are commonplace for many businesses before making a large strategic decision that would impact customer experience or introduce a new channel. Regardless of the proposed solution, a pilot project usually provides 13 important benefits:
1. Manage risk
With a pilot project, you get the chance to see how the technology works before choosing to invest in a full-scale solution. It lets you “try before you buy,” if you will. With minimal investment, a pilot project lets you mitigate the risk of upsetting customers or wasting resources.
2. Quicker implementation
Even with a pilot project, you want a secure, effective solution in place to properly test your new idea. That means it will take time to implement, but it can be done more quickly than implementing the complete solution. With a smaller scope, there’s less time between saying “go” and seeing the solution take effect.
3. Test with an engaged audience
By implementing a full solution, your idea is out in the world for anyone who may come upon it. With a pilot project, you have the chance to choose your users, which ensures engaged customers will use your product as expected and provide valuable data.
4. Get real feedback
Theories and game plans are great, but there’s no replacement for direct feedback. With a pilot project, there’s no need to guess how your customers will respond. They try it out themselves and tell you what they think, so you know exactly what works and what doesn’t.
5. Discover variables
No matter how much time you spend in your strategic war room, there will always be unexpected results in any project. For example, customers may prefer texting at noon but calling in the evening. Or they might expect the new solution to help them with other services that aren’t supported. It’s better to find the unknown early on and with a smaller audience.
6. Fail fast
Your first pass at a new solution may not always hit the mark. With simpler implementation and direct feedback, you can quickly stamp your project with a “pass” or “fail.” But even if the pilot doesn’t go well, it doesn’t mean you have to give up entirely.
7. Refine the solution
Take your idea back to the drawing board, make adjustments and send it out for another round of testing. You’ve got an engaged audience who will probably give your pilot project another shot, which ensures the solution is ready for your customer base at large.
8. Spur new ideas
Sometimes testing not only refines current ideas, it helps form new ones. For example, a major U.S. airline piloted our SMS Assistant program with its customers, and after much success, they decided to integrate a toll-free texting service into the solution, too, which lets customers use the same 1-800 number to call or text a company. Download this case study to learn more about the project.
9. Try new things
Maybe you’ve got a successful web chat feature but want to try your hand in SMS. Or you’re interested in increasing your self-service options with a chatbot or visual IVR. A major benefit of a pilot project is getting the chance to step out of your comfort zone and try something entirely new that could surprise your customers and create impactful changes to your customer experience.
10. Find monetary savings
Implement what you need. Cut what you don’t. Make sure you partner with a communications provider who’s willing to adjust their solution to your specific business requirements, rather than restricting you to an out-of-the box offering.
11. Validate metrics
Metrics are an important piece of customer experience strategy and long-term maintenance of any technology solution. Don’t just test the solution. Use your pilot project to test your metrics, too, so after a full-scale rollout you can start measuring the right data from day one.
There’s nothing worse than feeling uncertainty about a major business decision. Conversely, there’s little better than knowing the exact value of what you paid for. Pilots aren’t just good for business. They’re good for your emotional wellbeing, too.
13. Prepare for rollout
We’ve all heard of website crashes, downed servers and general mayhem when organizations release new products and services. A successful small-scale rollout makes it easy to scale up to the larger release, making the final rollout less stressful and more likely to succeed.
Words of Caution
But before getting started, make sure you plan ahead to avoid two potential downsides of a pilot project:
Results may vary
With a pilot, you’ve selected your most engaged audience as testers. Understand that as much as they may love the solution, results from your wider customer base may not be quite as gleaming.
To avoid this, make sure your pilot group is statistically similar to your entire customer base. Don’t just pick gold card members. Instead, include people across demographics and with diverse buying patterns to replicate how the solution would operate in the real world.
Prepare for high demand
The airline that tested our SMS Assistant solution got 3,000 people to take part in its pilot project. They book about 28 million passengers every year, so the project touched only a small sample of their customer base.
That means a lot more pressure is placed on the solution after it’s officially rolled out. Understand how your project will scale, and partner with a communications provider who has experience in both pilot projects and large deployments.
So if you’re interested in trying out a new solution or would like to learn more about pilot projects, call or text West Interactive Services at 800.841.9000. And check out our blog post, 5 Types of SMS for Business, to learn more about using texting to improve customer experience.
Peter has 20 years’ experience in developing and deploying customer service solutions. He holds a degree in Applied Mathematics from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and lives with his wife and two children in Broomfield, Colorado. Peter now works with leading organizations to assist them in transforming and modernizing their customer engagement strategies. Peter specializes in transforming contact centers to evolve interactions, follow business roadmaps and meet the demands of continually evolving customer communication preferences and channels.