Sniffing out a perfect match
It is not often that I can claim to have something in common with the President of the United States, but right now there is one thing - we are both the proud owners of new dogs.
President Obama just welcomed Sunny, a Portuguese water dog into the family fold at the White House, providing a canine companion for Bo, the Obama’s first dog which is also a rather shaggy Portuguese water dog. The breed was specially chosen by the Obamas because it is classed as a hyper-allergenic breed so it is suitable for the President’s daughter Malia who suffers from allergies.
Behaviour-wise the breed is a good fit for the First Family too: Portuguese water dogs are an intelligent breed, they can be trained to perform complex tasks and love to be at their master’s side - excellent credentials for the pet of a world leader.
If you are going to be a dog owner you have to select your breed carefully and consider how their behaviour and temperament fits with your family’s lifestyle. My new puppy Ted is an adorable Border Collie, a breed renowned for being alert, energetic, tenacious, responsive, intelligent and a natural problem-solver. Frankly, he could not be more perfect for someone involved in the challenging customer contact world!
The process of choosing our dog got me thinking more widely about the issue of compatibility and how it applies in the customer service environment. I visited a major utility this week and was fascinated to learn how its use of social media has resulted in individual agents being recognised for their winning personalities as well as their ability to resolve customer queries.
Perhaps because Twitter is by nature more personal than corporate, it allows personalities to shine through. Utility customers now recognise a particularly cheery and helpful customer service agent by his Tweets and get in touch asking for ‘Jerry.’ It seems to take us one step closer to our ‘Martini Agent’ Future Scenario of star-rated agents.
In general, organisations keen to improve the customer experience should look more closely at matching customers to agents who can best meet their needs rather than the first person available. Approaches to matching vary - it can be via product knowledge for example by matching owners of a particular type of mobile with agent experts in that product.
There have also been interesting examples of matching customers and agents by age, geography or even accent. Age matching can be useful when selling to a certain demographic in fashion retail or financial services for example. Matching by accent may sound trivial but organisations who have tried this say it helps to establish trust when people hear a familiar accent.
Local knowledge can also be invaluable - leisure group Rank used home-worker agents living in the same area as customers to invite them to revisit their local bingo club, drawing on shared local knowledge to establish a warm rapport.
There are also more sophisticated ways of matching agents to customers using technology which assigns calls on a skills-routing basis, using a database which classifies agents according to skills proficiency. Matching can also be done on the basis of agent success in particular activities such as upselling, cross-selling or contract renewals - cross-matching data with customer transaction history to derive a more profitable relationship.
It is not a new departure - in 2000, academics from Cornell University published a paper ‘Strategic Segmentation in Frontline Service: Matching Customers, Employees and Human resource systems’ which argued that it is entirely possible for companies to profit by effectively matching the complexity and potential revenue stream of a customer to the skills of their employees.
The issue of compatibility matching raises wider questions over personalisation and automation in service provision and the potential benefits of greater customer segmentation - all issues with resource implications. In the midst of the debate we must remember that matching policies would be a waste of energy if the service subsequently delivered was sub-standard.
The topic is inextricably linked to training issues and on that note, I cannot resist rounding off with a few doggie behavioural tips which apply equally well to two-footed creatures as to four-footed furry ones. It is simply this - you can achieve a lot with praise and encouragement, clear commands and reinforcement of positive behaviour....and judicious use of treats can’t hurt either.