Make Your Customers Happy AND Cut Costs with Self-Service 2.0

Most of the time, increasing customer satisfaction also means increasing costs: adding product features, providing off-hours support, extending warranty periods, etc.. So, it’s surprising that when an opportunity comes along to both delight customers and save money, many enterprises fail to jump on it.

Yet that’s exactly the case with self-service 2.0 (which is distinguished from self-service 1.0 by being action-focused rather than knowledge-focused). In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Why Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You, Matt Dixon and Lara Ponomareff report several provocative findings from research on customer service preferences, among them:

  • “Companies tend to think their customers value live service more than twice as much as they value self service. But our data show that customers today…value self-service just as much as using the phone.”
  • Furthermore, “this indifference holds regardless of (customers’) age, demographic, issue type, or urgency.”
  • Two-thirds of the customers…told us that three to five years ago, they primarily used the phone for service interactions. Today, less than a third do, and the number is shrinking fast.”
  • While time is a factor, the efficiency of using an ATM or airport kiosk vs. interacting with a live employee alone doesn’t explain “why we go out of our way to take care of our service needs ourselves.”

In attempting to interpret these findings, the authors hypothesize that “maybe customers are shifting toward self service because they don’t want a relationship with companies…(and) self service now allows customers the ‘out’ they’ve been looking for all along,” which, if accurate, leads to the startling conclusion that “Running your company as if customers want to talk to you isn’t just expensive, it’s potentially undermining your efforts to build longer-term loyalty.”

Avoid customer frustration: use self-service 2.0
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What may be most surprising about the post is that it was written in 2010. Yet if you’ve tried to resolve a customer service issue recently on any number of corporate sites, you’ll realize how little has changed.

The issue in 2014 isn’t that companies (by and large) don’t offer online self-service, but that many still don’t do it well. In a final finding, the HBR authors note that “a staggering 57% of inbound calls (to customer service centers) come from customers who first attempted to resolve their issue on the company’s website. And over 30% of callers are on the company’s website at the same time that they are talking to a rep on the phone. That’s a lot of frustrated customers.”

Business-to-consumer (B2C) sites are (generally) mature in ecommerce, and making strides in other aspects of online customer service. Their business-to-business (B2B) counterparts are now catching up: according to MarketingCharts,  “B2B commerce is shifting offline to online and self-service, say 57% of B2B vendors from the US and Europe,” with 44% of respondents “also agreeing that B2B commerce is adopting B2C best practices in order to optimize the purchasing experience.”

However, “The most commonly-cited challenge in B2B commerce is providing intuitive and user-friendly interfaces for multiple touch points, cited by half of the respondents.” The challenge in optimizing the user experience and ease of use for customers explains why the HBR findings regarding the high percentage of customers frustrated with online self-service offerings remain relevant.

Fixing these problems is vital. As Forrester Research states in their January 2014 report, Transform Customer Processes And Systems To Improve Experiences, in what they term the age of the customer: ” Competitive differentiation achieved through brand, manufacturing, distribution, and IT is now only table stakes. A major source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption —an obsession with understanding, delighting, connecting with, and serving customers.”

And obviously, firms that can reduce costs while also achieving these objectives will be at an even greater competitive advantage.

Consequently, Forrester lists among its top customer management trends for 2013 (with our comments in parentheses):

  • “Brands are turning their attention to CX (customer experience) design: More firms will realize that the right customer interactions across all touchpoints don’t just happen; they must be actively designed.”
  • “Untamed processes are getting more attention: More firms will move away from isolated BPM and/or front-office CRM projects and toward cross-functional transformation initiatives to support the invisible, untamed customer management processes critical to exceptional CX.” (This is why an enterprise request management (ERM) approach is valuable; it entails  automating and optimizing cross-functional processes, designing process steps to address the “white spaces” between functional groups where these “invisible, untamed” processes dwell.)
  • “Agile implementation approaches are scaling to the enterprise level: More firms will adopt agile project management” (as well as agile request management) “and software development methodologies based on iterative development principles…”
  • “Mobile applications are empowering employees and consumers.” (Agile service management is again also key to supporting a mobile workforce and mobile consumers.)

Tracking service-related metrics with Kinetic InfoForrester further recommends identifying and tracking specific service-related metrics (such as “the number of customer support cases closed per day, the number of calls handled per agent, the service-level agreement (SLA) compliance rate”); setting process designs  before applying technology; and overcoming adoption issues  by letting business users influence functionality.

Which leaves only the final question of how to improve the online experience for customers; how can organizations best simplify UIs to eliminate the need for customer calls, thus simultaneously increasing customer satisfaction and reducing customer service costs?

One approach is “rip and replace,” discarding existing customer service systems in favor of newer installed or cloud-based offerings. While this approach may seem to offer long-term advantages in terms of a more modern IT infrastructure, it’s expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive; and unless it can completely replace existing systems, it can actually make an organization’s technology environment more complex, and increase the risk of redundant and potentially mismatched data elements.

A better strategy is what Forrester covers in its July 2013 report, Prepare Your Infrastructure And Operations For 2020 With Tools And Technologies, of adding modern systems of engagement atop legacy systems of record (established, in-place management and control systems). This is the approach taken in ERM; leverage existing enterprise and department applications in which you’ve already invested money, time, and training—then add new technology only as needed (e.g., request management portal software, workflow automation, EAI, etc/).

The good news for organizations embracing the challenge of redesigning processes and customer service UIs to simplify the user experience is that doing so not only reduces service costs, but also increases customer satisfaction and loyalty. The even better news is that taking an ERM approach can reduce the time, effort, and expense of conquering that challenge.

For more information:

How to Cut Service Costs and Delight Users with Enterprise Request Management (Infographic)

Enterprise Request Management (ERM) is a business-efficiency strategy that’s a holistic approach to centralizing and automating business processes and service requests. ERM helps to ensure first-time fulfillment, which means lower costs and happier internal and/or external customers.

ERM accelerates service delivery and reduces costs by extending self-service across the enterprise, for any type of request. It enables organizations to implement what Forrester Research calls business service catalogs—automated, web-enabled systems for requesting virtually any type of business service from any department: IT,  HR, facilities, finance, even services which cross multiple departmental boundaries.

But it also delights “customers” by giving them a single, simple web-based interface for requesting services. No more redundant manual data entry into different systems, chasing down approvals, and physically managing request processes. No more (expensive and time-consuming) meetings, calls and emails to check on the status of requests; users can place and monitor the status of their requests online.

This infographic explains how ERM works, why it’s important, and how to calculate the cost savings. Feel free to re-use or share!

Enterprise Request Management Infographic

Cut Service Costs and Delight Users with Enterprise Request Management – the Enterprise Request Management ERM Infographic.

Systems of Engagement: How to Get Revolutionary Business Results from an Evolutionary IT Approach

The increasing demand from business users for mobile and web-based access to core enterprise applications has created consequential new challenges for corporate IT groups. Many of those core business and department applications—particularly ERP, finance and control systems—may still run on early proprietary flavors of Unix, or even on mainframes. They weren’t designed to support lightweight, mobile, wireless access.

Certainly, a “rip and replace” approach is one option: tear out legacy applications and replace them with newer Linux- or Windows-based, or even cloud delivered suites. But both business users and their IT counterparts cringe at the thought of the time, expense, and business disruption of this approach, not to mention the loss of substantial intellectual and financial capital invested in existing core enterprise systems.

Systems of Engagement - 2020 Tools Report from Forrester ResearchA better approach, according to Forrester Research, is to retain those core business applications (systems of record), while providing the simplified, flexible, web-based access required by business users through interface-layer systems of engagement (built on new and open technologies).

In the report, Prepare Your Infrastructure And Operations For 2020 With Tools And Technologies, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst Jean-Pierre Garbani notes that the “vast majority” of core business management and control applications are still on legacy hardware and software platforms. The challenge, he contends, is to integrate these legacy “systems of record” with newer, cloud / mobile / web-based “systems of engagement.”

The report’s author calls resistance to cloud computing and the consumerization of IT a “losing battle.” This evolution is, he says, inevitable. Providing mobile and web access to core enterprise applications and data improves business competitiveness, helps retain the best and brightest employees, and, implemented properly, reduce support costs. However, it is up to IT to shape and guide these changes, and the Forrester report offers invaluable guidance in this regard. It looks at the integration of systems of record with systems of engagement and the best way to improve customer and employee experience while reducing help desk costs.

Embracing the new cloud-based, mobile-enabled, consumerized BYOD environment need not cause risky business or IT disruption, and certainly doesn’t require the massive time and cost of a rip-and-replace project. The key is to separate what you have from what you need, without throwing away what you have. IT and business leaders need not forsake their organizations’ pasts in order to seize the opportunities presented by the untethering of devices from networks (and workers from their desks).

The Forrester report notes that the IT function has been continually evolving since the 1960s. In most large enterprises, applications were created, modified and expanded over time, “piling up layers upon layers of code running on the technology du jour.” Management and control systems were connected and combined, creating dependencies between applications built on different generations of technology. Therefore, “the transformation from a centralized IT to a decentralized and empowered BT (business technology model) has to be carefully planned: IT has to offer a continuity of services while transforming its legacy into an abstracted environment suitable for decentralization.”

In Forrester’s model, illustrated below, “systems of record are a mix of in-house enterprise-specific management solutions…often complemented by another layer of acquired legacy solutions such as core enterprise resource planning (ERP) and finance and control systems…These systems of record focus on corporate processes and departmental transactions…Systems of engagement, on the other hand, focus on interactions with customers, partners, or employees, first through websites, portals, and eCommerce, and increasingly through mobile device apps.”

Systems on Engagement on Systems of Record: Forrester Research

While integrating systems of engagement with systems of record is far less costly and disruptive than replacing core enterprise software, the costs may still be higher than business users perceive. Forrester notes that cloud-based services and apps which appear to provide business management and control capabilities in a cheaper and easier way than corporate IT are neither as cheap or easy as they seem. Hidden costs, in the form of integration with legacy systems and disparate enterprise data sources. lurk behind these seemingly simple apps.  Systems of engagement need to be “coordinated with existing enterprise systems.”

Fortunately, model orchestration engines or workflow automation software tools can reduce the effort and complexity of building the required “restrictive and sequential transaction” links between systems of engagement and systems of record, as well as among and between core enterprise applications themselves. Such tools should be able to adapt to whatever is “under the hood” in terms of enterprise applications and federated data sources, making the integrations and connections transparent to the business user.

Beyond avoiding the nightmare of implementing an entirely new core enterprise platform, the system of engagement approach provides a number of additional benefits, including:

  • Avoiding the cost and complexity of modifying core code in legacy applications.
  • Providing users with simplified interfaces. With an app or web front end, there’s no need to duplicate the original UI of legacy systems; users can get a simple interface showing only the information and fields needed for a specific business purpose.
  • Requiring no training. A simple UI presenting only the necessary fields (with user-friendly field labels and context-sensitive help) eliminates the need to train users.
  • Empowering business users to create their own processes workflows. Because there is no need to modify core legacy code, business managers can create their own interfaces and underlying, automated workflows, then test, modify and optimize them—all with minimal IT assistance.
  • Enabling active self service, which, as the report notes, is what users prefer and have come to expect. This is self service 2.0: employees can not simply find information, but actually get things done (e.g., a broken printer repaired) using a simple interface tied to an orchestration engine which automates as much of the process (approvals, scheduling, chargebacks, etc.) as possible.

The concept is simple:  Systems designed to “engage customers” are supposed to be flexible, scalable and all about user experience.  By design they should leverage data in other systems so it is re-useable.  Systems of record (ERP, HRMS, ITSM, CRM tools etc..), on the other hand, are designed to store data and transactions, not to provide the capabilities enabled by systems of engagement.

This approach is also at the core of enterprise request management (ERM), a service fulfillment strategy that combines an intuitive web portal interface with an advanced task workflow engine which communicates with and between in-place legacy business applications to automate service request and delivery processes.

ERM expands the concept of IT service catalogs across the enterprise, allowing users to order any type of service (e.g., from HR, facilities, finance, or other groups—as well as IT) from a single web portal. Business function managers can create their own service items and process workflows, increasing their sense of ownership in the system. This is vital, because as the Forrester report states when discussing budgets for BT empowerment, business units will have to share the expenses with IT, which they “will be reluctant to do unless they can improve their productivity by receiving better business services.”

In support of this approach, the Forrester paper says that the final objective is a business service catalog integrating systems of record with systems of engagement to minimize administration and maintenance costs, along with tools to monitor service quality and manage billing and department chargebacks. These “tools of the new” IT function are also foundational elements of an ERM strategy.

Utilizing systems of engagement atop systems of record enables enterprises to embrace the new technology needs and expectation of a mobile workforce without discarding years of experience and investment in core legacy business applications—and opens up a broad new array of possibilities.

To learn more:

Four Ways to Fix IT’s Bad Reputation

Does your IT group suffer from a bad reputation? Many corporate and public sector IT departments do (and high-profile miscues like the recent rollout don’t help).

Speaking at the Interop New York tech conference in October, William Murphy, CTO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, described the perception of IT departments as “at best adequate — a cost center and a back-office necessity at many companies. Worst case…people who say ‘No’ first and ask questions later,” reported InformationWeek. Murphy went on to say that IT is “too often considered defensive, late, overpriced, uninformed and unhelpful.”

Fixing the Bad Reputation IT Sometimes Has
Image credit: Tweak Your Biz


Yet, Murphy continued, as bad as IT’s reputation (sometimes) is, “colleagues know that it’s also central to creating business change, new products, efficiency of their current workloads, really the future of the company.” He then outlined four “operational pillars” core to fixing the brand image of IT so it’s “seen by other business departments as a problem solver.”

Taking an enterprise request management (ERM) approach–in which users can enter and track requests for virtually any type of service from a single intuitive web-based portal which connects to a software orchestration engine that automates scheduling, approval, fulfillment, costing and reporting tasks–addresses all four of the operational pillars identified by Murphy.

1. An Open Design process, driven by technology.

IT and business leaders need to work together to solve the “top priority problems” first, whether those be the most common, the most painful, or based on some other criteria. Users are often articulate and vocal about what these problems are, and what end result they would like to see. Business and IT leaders then need to design processes and apply technology to solve those problems. Users generally don’t care what happens “behind the curtain” and shouldn’t need to know.

Task automation software (such as Kinetic Task) enables business function managers, with minimal IT assistance, to map out task workflow processes in order to meet a need or solve a problem. The software then communicates between enterprise applications (ERP, HRMS, ITSM, etc.) to manage approvals, scheduling and fulfillment tasks.

2. An iterative release model.

A key tenet of ERM is agile service development. Though the ultimate objective in ERM is to enable employees to order any type of service or product through a single intuitive interface, ERM projects are best started by mapping and automating a few particularly common or painful processes, then building out from there.

Because service items are defined in a request management portal, without any need to modify core code in underlying enterprise or departmental systems of record, it’s easy to create, test, tweak and deploy new processes, then clone and modify these processes to iteratively define and add new service items.

3. A transparent cost and decision process.

As noted in a previous post here on the consumerization of IT, “The ERM approach provides three key capabilities with regard to costing. First, it enables accurate costing by measuring actual time required for completing all tasks. Second, it automatically charges costs back to the requesting department. And third, it makes it easy to present costs to users, to enable them to make better, more informed ‘purchase’ decisions for requested services from IT or other departments.”

To improve their reputations, Murphy advises IT groups to ” Be efficient and clear on how you communicate project plans and costs.” By automating back-end processes, capturing accurate cost information, and presenting it to users as an element in the  request management interface, ERM enables just such efficiency and clarity.

4. A simple, honest feedback process.

ERM is designed to include both automated measurement (e.g., elapsed time to complete specific tasks, SLA performance) and human feedback. By automatically sending each service requester a context-specific survey after fulfillment, with these results included in ERM reporting and analytics.

Incorporating both automated and human feedback assures that ERM implementations meet their primary objectives, which are to reduce service delivery costs and delight customers. Both types of feedback also support continual process improvement, and even more fundamentally, fixing any elements of a process that may be broken.

As IT departments work to improve their reputations, implementing ERM can play a highly visible and productive role, as well as making the organization more competitive.

To learn more, download the Enterprise Request Management Overview white paper, and join the conversation in the Enterprise Request Management Group on LinkedIn.

Using Agile Service Management to Support a Mobile Workforce

If your organization is struggling to balance the need to support mobile devices with security and compliance concerns, you’re not alone. According to recent research from TechTarget, ” Growing demand for mobile computing will continue generating major new challenges for companies in many industries for at least the next year.”

How agile service management supports mobile workers
Image Credit: DTC

Author Anne Stuart reports that two-thirds of survey respondents (3,300 business and IT professionals worldwide) “ranked mobile-device management as a ‘medium’ or ‘high’ priority for this year,” and 85% placed the same importance on security–yet “only 29% reported having a mobile device management (MDM) tools or policies in place.”

Among the report’s other findings, corporate IT support for mobile access varies considerably by device type, with 54% of respondents willing to allow employees to self-provision smartphones, but just 29% will permit them to connect their own laptop or desktop to the company network.

Three key challenges organizations face in this shift to mobile support are:

  • redesigning business processes for mobile workers;
  • ensuring connection, data and device security; and
  • prioritizing the business processes to “mobilize” first.

Mobile Process Redesign

According to TechTarget, “Forrester (Research) studies indicate that companies will spend nearly $8 billion on reinventing processes for mobility this year.” While mobile process design presents some unique challenges, the fundamental approach should be the same as for any process redesign: start with the goal of a delighted customer.

Work backward from the user goal and experience to the required tasks on the business side, keeping the overall process as simple as possible (though not simpler, as Albert Einstein instructed), and always looking for automation opportunities.

Ensuring Mobile Security

While this topic could fill a book (and has–several books actually), one helpful approach where feasible is to use portal software (such as Kinetic Request) as a mobile, Web-based front-end (a system of engagement) between the mobile device and the back-end enterprise application (system of record).

The portal application utilizes existing security protocols and passwords while enabling specific device-level security that protects corporate systems and information without undue complexity for the user.

Prioritizing Mobile Processes

Not every process needs be mobilized, and not every process that does has equal importance. The TechTarget article advises looking “at the employee path of activity, what they’re trying to get done on mobile, and make sure that’s enabled. Let’s also make sure we are delivering what customers want…Don’t mobile for mobile’s sake. Instead, find proof that mobility will improve productivity or help the company better serve customers or reach some other business goal.”

This is where an agile approach to service management is valuable. It enables tackling the “low-hanging fruit” (i.e., processes that are very common, or very painful, or both, for mobile users) first–testing, tweaking and optimizing them. Often, these processes can then be cloned and modified to create new processes. This enables a gradual approach to process mobility, enabling IT to meet mobile users’ most pressing needs while minimizing business disruption.

The “seismic shift” as TechTarget describes it, from desktop to mobile computing, presents significant challenges for IT infrastructure, app dev, and support services. But taking an agile approach to mobility helps to balance user demands with cost and resource constraints.

To learn more:

Agile Service Request Management

Merriam-Webster defines agile as “marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace; having a quick, resourceful and adaptable character.” In software terms, agile has come to mean methodologies with those same characteristics and adherence to the famous Agile Manifesto first articulated in 2001. Most agile methodologies exhibit some combination of the following characteristics:

  • They’re flexible and designed to accommodate change.
  • Work is done is short iterations with the goal of producing usable results fast.
  • They standardize on a common communication protocol and data model.
  • They can easily be modified and are scalable by design.

What’s not to like? Survey after survey shows that agile has really gone mainstream. Seventy to eighty percent of respondents in a couple of recent surveys used agile methodologies. And nearly all reported improved productivity, quality, time-to-market, business value, and project success rates.

An Agile approach to Request Management

Now may be the time to examine the agility of your service request management system. After all, conventional methods for designing and deploying complex service requests can take weeks or month, as administrators labor to map new workflows to existing processes without negatively impacting the overall business logic of the underlying IT service management platform. This slows both adoption rates and time to value, and as request management needs change across the enterprise, limits speed and flexibility.

There’s an agile way to do it. It looks like this:

  • Instead of coding, service requests and forms are created by cloning and modifying existing processes or configuring re-usable templates. This means they can be rapidly created, scaled and expanded across the enterprise.
  • Instead of relying on IT, non-IT administrators have control over the request management workflows and processes. This makes it easier to keep pace with continually changing user needs.
  • Instead of being tied to one IT service management (ITSM) platform, request management processes can be integrated with any corporate ERP, HRM, CRM or ITSM system and are usable by anyone who has basic familiarity with those systems. This means you can scale across the enterprise.

By that definition, Kinetic Request bundled with Kinetic Task is the ideal agile approach to service request management. With Kinetic Request, creating, testing and deploying service items is a simple, iterative process that avoids the expense and delays of traditional software development processes and delivers functional applications to business users quickly, anywhere in the enterprise. That’s the very soul of agile.