Mons. Malaussène or Contact Centre 2020?

Back in the late 1980s-early 1990s, marketing gurus reminded us about CLV, Customer Lifecycle Value. They were times of buoyant (especially after 1993) but slightly saturated markets, retention took precedence over acquisition.

So Customer Service (CS) became one of the next big things.

French literature back then: Mons. Malaussène is all but stupid, he is a good family man and his woman is a sultry and smart red-haired journalists. He is just non-competitive and settles in a ptt (petit travail tranquille) to get by. The sultry redhead is the breadwinner. A very modern family model by the way.

Point is that he is employed by the CS of a famous department store in Paris. He is the first “touchpoint” (as we would say today) between the brand and the consumer.

In fact he is a scapegoat.

The righteous citoyen consommateur (delightful self-satire of the French society) crucifies the poor sod for their faulty goods, until de Chef de Salle intervenes in deus ex machina style to sacrifice the sod above on the altar of the citoyen consommateur.

Mons. Malaussène is solemnly fired until the citoyen consommateur recognises him as his semblable and spares him from this monstrosity. Throughout the antics, the citoyen consommateur has forgotten about his exploded bread toaster, charges are dropped and life goes on as normal.

Comédie des erreurs French style…

I would bet the Crown Jewels that the readers have found themselves with more than one faulty appliance/telephone subscription etc. Given the chance, more than one of you, mon semblable, mon frère would have been delighted to give the thumbs down to the CS agent (for especially the non-Catholic do not have possess a high sense of forgiveness….).

Point is that CS have rapidly earned themselves the nickname of buffer departments, rightly so to a very good extent.

Overall though, the formula has evolved to adapt and prosper, so it is alive and well.

In the bigger scheme of things many of us people in marketing/sales/business professions and customers alike would not just write them off, rather try and make it work as best as possible.

I eat and breathe CS and Contact Centres (CC) every day, both as a user and a professional.

So, as I read Hugo Pickford-Wardle’s article on LinkedIn Pulse, Customers Service in 2020, I was intrigued by two very interesting sentences:

1) The role of a customer service advisor is to help other humans and a large part of the frustration we all experience in our interactions with customer service departments is down to a lack of appropriate tooling.

2) Interactions with their customers shouldn’t be a cost, but should result in a positive contribution to their bottom line.

Let’s analyse these statements one by one:

1-Helping Customers and Removing frustration. Let’s work inside out, for it takes two to tango. Let’s begin with tooling the CC. I have two considerations here:

1.1-On a very simple first level: Agents need to know what to do and how to prioritise.

All human civilisations these day use visual information such as symbols colours, numbers etc. to influence behaviour and make decisions. This way society works more or less better in various contexts. I will leave this to a few pictures:

In society we use things like this:

traffic lights

Simple and effective

The same can be done in a CC:

Action message

It is a very simple case of RTPM, Real Time Performance Management:

Again pictures say more than a thousand words

In terms of latency in decision making, once you have the data and set the relevant conditions, you can visualise “action” messages to drive the appropriate decision and behaviour. So you can go:

From this:


To this:


The Customer Experience (CX) can be dramatically improved when the agent’s performance is improved because they see at any moment where the ball is and what they need to do.

1.2-SLAs and the CX today demand that the CC is “omni-channel” and integrated.

Businesses have opened up and made available to their customers a number of channels to be in “touch”: telephone, email, chat, etc. So the CX is omni-channel: we use different media to shop, buy and sort our queries.

However omni-channel means nothing in silos.

If there is no integration internally within in the CC and inside out for the whole CX and (the process-savvy say front end and back end) things can easily take a vicious spiral and go horribly wrong in terms of brand and CC costs.

Personal anthology of CC silos horrors:

Vodafone: need to get access to my account online:

  • 1 hour on chat and the problem is patched, i.e. temporary access created by the chat operator.
  • On chat it turns out there was an old account attached to my old number and they had lost track of my current number and account.
  • Send a very vocal Tweet, they reply the next morning asking to use the Chat channel/touchpoint.
  • Contact Centre opening times: 8 to 23 (or something like that) .I call after 21, after an hour waiting still no answer.

Orange: Need to terminate my Internet contract in Spain while in the UK:

  • I had previously managed to terminate my telephone contract from within Spain.
  • Only a mobile number is available from abroad, no landline available!!!. Call them and they request a registered letter to terminate the contract.
  • Send that letter but, my mistake, I lose the Post Office receipt, luckily I had kept a screen shot acknowledging receipt.
  • Sales Contact Centre denies receipt of that letter and say if I cannot demonstrate I have sent the letter they will keep charging me, which they do.
  • I block the payment two months in a row and send very vocal Tweet, they reply privately asking as a condition to talk that I follow them and have a private exchange of messages.
  • However, after a short exchange of messages they say they have found my letter and they even stop collecting payments from an earlier date (???). So I get some money back…

British Gas: I submit my meter reading and get a £250+credit message, happy days!

  • Call Contact Centre after e few days and they have different information, I owe them more than £350. Who is right when I had received an email confirming that credit in my favour?
  • Agent has no access to web and email system!!! I re-input data and this time the web agrees with Agent…Where is the Candid Camera???

Amazon Prime Now, from my mobile, I can book a 2-hours delivery to my postcode.

  • As I put my first order, I choose though not to have my hoover delivered in two hours as I am at a very nice dinner party on the opposite side of London.
  • Either my big fat finger hits the wrong button or there is something “rigid” in the system.
  • I get confirmation message that my purchase is being delivered by the next two hours…
  • Call the CC right away to try and postpone to the next morning as I thought I had selected: the Agent at the number I am calling cannot retrieve my case only by using my name, I have to flick from one screen to the other on my mobile, as I pass the order number they put me through another Agent without passing the order number, so again I flick back and dig out number…clock ticking…God knows how much I am going to pay for that call and race against time to block that delivery.
  • This time though they cannot access the delivery information, they are only there to pick up queries or order cancellations.
  • Now if I am not there by an hour my parcel will be either left on the door step (yeah right) or the order be cancelled…is this a stage based horror video game or what???
  • So I have to leave Stratford then and there and head towards Fulham. While on the surface I get a call for the delivery boy who graciously agrees to wait for me half an hour!!!
  • So apparently some Amazon staff run around like headless chickens, others can linger in leafy Fulham in the balmy summer breeze and watch the pretty girls go by…

 InHealth: I call to ask whether my MRI has been received and passed to my GP.

  • No news yet, they put a reminder through another department and ask me to call again, they are open until 20.30.
  • When I do I am told the reminder department is now closed and they cannot access the info about my case…I already have an appointment with the GP and I run the risk of going for nothing…

In fairness it must be considered that different CS/CX channels work with different behaviours, processes and sets of values as they are the results of a historical stratification, i.e. they are added layer by layer, often by different people at different times, and that is bound to create inconsistencies, beyond any bad intentions.

No surprise HSBC bought First Direct to branch into e-banking and RSA bought 123 in Ireland to have a “native” digital contact centre in that market.

But that is only reinforcing the point: there are basic, simple, albeit not so obvious challenges in terms of CC channel integration today. They affect people, processes and technology. And it is serious business for your business.

Overall I shall be excused for blowing my own trumpet when I say, and I am tempted to add “objectively”, that my company tackles at the same time the Holy “People-Process-Technology” Trinity, thus offering a very simple and effective solution to a very big problem.

Telephony data, ODBC-data, SAP, CRM, email, chat, social feeds etc., as long as a business has the notion of using those data sources in synergy we are there to bring that information into a single view to those who needs it when and where they need it, inside out from the internal performance to the CX.

So far we have covered the first statement. I promise I will cover the second one in the next post as this is becoming an essay and we all have other things to do today.


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