Monthly Archives: May 2016

Hub-of-All-Things: Breaking Data Silos for a Better Service

The advent of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) in today’s world of connected things and connected people has made it possible for firms to harvest lots of real-time customer data – information from people and objects, and indeed everything.

This is compounded by individuals spending much of their time generating data for others about our lives, placing more and more data about ourselves “on the internet” with firms who are providing services to us. Not surprising then, that each of us has a huge digital footprint.

Even as we are becoming increasingly concerned about the privacy, security, and confidentiality of our own data, we also find that we get almost no value from it. Similarly, although firms are able to collect more and more personal data from us, they get relatively little value from it. This data is often of questionable quality and a lot of processing is needed to convert this “big data” into useful insights on customer trends.

So how can we connect our personal data and look at it all together, to give real insight into the way we live our lives, so that we can make better informed decisions as well as enable firms to come up with more relevant and personalised offerings for our lives? And how do we do so in a safe and privacy-preserving manner?

These are some of the key questions addressed by the Hub-of-all-Things (HAT) multi-disciplinary research project, whose researchers, funded by the UK government, have spent the past 2.5 years building a multi-sided platform for personal data. The HAT personal data platform enables individuals to collect our own data through IoT-enabled objects, and to organise, visualise, control, and exchange this data in the context of our lives – managing our digital selves and putting ourselves at ‘the hub of all things’.

By giving individuals the computational ability to organise our digital assets through a secure platform that enables us to retain control of how we share our data with whomever we choose, the HAT allows us to get the best value from our personal data. It helps us to understand our wants and actions in the context of our lives to make better decisions, and by permitting the exchange of this data with firms, to access offerings more suited to how we live our lives.

This data exchange through the HAT allows firms to better understand the context of their customers’ consumption, enabling them to gain greater insights into customer wants. They are then able to offer customers great products or services that support exactly what they want, when they want it; this provides a big market discriminator and opens up new market opportunities. Better still though, by empowering their customers in returning control of their personal data to them, firms are able to build a better relationship of trust with their customers, thus creating goodwill and loyalty.

With the completion of the research project in Nov 2015, the HAT has now been handed over to the HAT Foundation, a social enterprise that will take forward the next phase of the HAT’s technology for its eventual commercialisation and global rollout in 2017. The Foundation’s operational arm, HATDEX, is on track to launch the beta HAT in July 2016, along with the Rumpel hyperdata browser used to view personal data on the HAT, currently being developed through the HARRIET research project.  This has been made possible by HATDEX’s successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which hit its £50,000 funding target ahead of its end-April deadline. The campaign now goes into In-Demand and will continue to grow the community of HAT users, whose volume is necessary for the development of the HAT Marketplace for the trading of personal data on the HAT.  Meanwhile, ongoing research on the HAT will also continue through the UK government-funded HAT Living Labs (HALL) project, which will focus on Business Model Innovation within the HAT ecosystem.

The HAT enables the forging of an entirely new social and business contract between individuals and firms in the context of the IoT, one that potentially spurs even more innovation because individuals could be private and secure and firms can offer more innovative services around a mix of all sorts of data. The timing can’t be better as industries are beginning to wake up to the Internet ‘jumping out of the box’ into the physical realm through the Internet-of-Everything. Through the HAT, we can see new ways to create new markets and in doing so, help spur greater growth in the digital economy.


Irene Ng is a Professor of Marketing and Service Systems at WMG, University of Warwick, where she is also director of the International Institute for Product and Service Innovation.  She led the Research Councils UK-funded Hub-of-All-Things (HAT) research project as its Principal Investigator, and continues in this role with the HARRIET and HALL research projects.

Irene Ng will be speaking on “Mastering Service for the Future of Things” at Compete Through Service Symposium, October 26-28, 2016, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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How to Recover Customer Trust After Unsatisfactory Service

When done badly, service recovery can further damage the consumer trust. What can you do to restore the trust after failing a customer twice? As research shows, an apology and assurance that the problem won’t occur in the future are more effective than a monetary compensation. To learn more about the study, read SAGE blog post How to Recover Customer Trust After Unsatisfactory Service featuring a Journal of Service Research paper Trust Recovery Following a Double Deviation.

Complain Like a Pro: 5 Tips for Effective Communication With Customer Service

By Mary Murcott

The results of 2015 Customer Rage Study show that consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with customer service in spite of the investments companies are making to improve customer satisfaction. Over 60% of the consumers interviewed for the study felt that they got “nothing” in response to their complaints about a problem with a product or service. Over 65% of customers experienced rage when interacting with customer service. In my previous post I talked about practices that companies can incorporate into their customer care to prevent and diffuse customer rage. Today I’d like to shift the focus to the customers and what they can do to reduce frustration and rage when dealing with bad customer service. These five communication tips will help you save time and will significantly improve your chances for a favorable customer service resolution.

  1. Ask for the representative’s name – make sure that you do it nicely, so the company representative doesn’t think you are out to get them. A way to do this is to say: After briefly (in one short sentence) describing the issue (eg, a billing problem, technical issue, etc), ask: “Are you the right person to help me with this issue?” No use going into detail if they are not, and then getting frustrated when they transfer you to another department, and you have to start all over again. Next, and then, and only then, ask for their name. Use their name through out your conversation – you want them on your side – and pay them compliments on how clearly they are explaining the process, etc., and thank them along the way for helping you. Often these employees are paid relatively little for taking a lot of customer frustration and abuse.
  2. Keep calm – the representative can make it easy or hard for you. Loud voices and abuse simply do not work……it is interesting how a call can accidentally get disconnected under these situations.
  3. Help them help you – Before you pick up the phone, write out a brief outline for the conversation. Stay away from the minute detailed story line. The clearer, shorter, more pertinent and more accurate you can make the scenario, the easier it will be for the representative to diagnose the problem and offer a solution. Often older customers will go into excruciating detail, which often is not related to the problem at hand. This is because they are speaking extemporaneously, and have not thought through their communication or practiced in their head how they are going to approach the company’s front line employee. I often have my 80 year-old mother, write out an outline of her conversation before she calls with question or complaint, and the conversation usually has a much better result.
  4. Be clear about what you want to happen – Conversations go much better if you are clear in your own mind as to what would make you happy and what you want as a result of your complaint. Sometimes you just want the company to know they have an issue and want a commitment that senior management will be made aware of the problem; other times, in addition to wanting something resolved, you might want monetary compensation or something else. Ask for what you want – you may get it or something that might help ameliorate the feelings you have for the company. Know that while you might want an hourly rate monetary compensation for the time you spent resolving the issue; that rarely happens. Attorneys have been known to say they bill out at $500/hour and want 3 hours of their time back. You may want to let the company know how many days or hours it took to resolve, and ask what can they do to compensate you for your time? You may get something, although not your hourly rate, if you have been courteous throughout the process.
  5. Ask what else you should know – Often there are downstream issues that could be avoided if you only were told about them. So ask. Ask what other problems might I know about that are downstream from this one? What else can you tell me that might avoid this problem in the future? A recent personal medical example comes to mind. I went to the doctor who recommended a test with another doctor involving an outpatient procedure. The office administrator advised me to watch how the doctor involved in the outpatient procedure coded the results. She said if he put down a certain code I paid $100, but if he put a similar but different code, my out of pocket fee might be closer to $1000. She was right. I was able to get the doctor to change the final code (it meant virtually the same thing), and avoided fighting a $900 fee difference. Luckily, the administrator was proactive. But it taught me to ask, as a customer, about avoiding any downstream surprises when I worked through future administrative issues. I learned how to be a more effective consumer of healthcare services!

Communication. It is important. It is how things get done – and yet it is not a mandatory, or often not even an elective course in high school or college. Both companies and customers need to do a better job in communicating in order to avoid rage. Some people have mastered the art of communication, and are more at peace with resolving issues. We all have the choice to be one of them.

Seven Effective Practices For Preventing Customer Rage

By Mary Murcott

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”. That is a reference to the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, and my assessment after rereading the findings of our Consumer Study on Customer Rage associated with complaints and the complaint handling process.

The communication problem exists on many levels – between customers and company front line representatives for sure – but also between marketing and their customers, front line and back line operations, and due to inadequate communications and policy training within call center operations. Furthermore, consumers of all ages, especially older story-telling adults, have a hard time with clearly stating their problem and their expectation for a satisfactory resolution.

As a customer experience expert, I have had the opportunity to listen to many thousands of consumer complaint calls over the years and can offer some advice for both companies and customers on how to better communicate and stop the rage.

Companies have spent billions of dollars over the years adding staff, installing additional complaint handling channels and instituting extensive training, all in the effort to improve brand loyalty through improved complaint handling. But the recent Rage Study conducted by Dialog Direct, consulting firm Customer Care Measurement & Consulting and the Center for Services Leadership at W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU indicates these efforts are failing miserably. Only 14% of complaints are truly dealt with on the first call and most complaints require 4.2 contacts to resolve the issue. Further analysis may show that certain type of complaints, e.g. credit card disputes for example may have an even higher number of contacts to resolve. Dismal results, given that the contact center industry touts an average of 70% “First Contact Resolution” on all calls. Many companies are delusional – believing they are on track with customer satisfaction. But, as any experienced consultant can tell you – averages can lie. Companies need to analyze First Contact Resolution (FCR) at a call type level (e.g. complaints vs. order requests vs. info calls), in order to truly identify what issues need to be prioritized from a procedural and training perspective.

Many company executives with whom I speak, acknowledge that their complaint handling process falls into one of two categories:

  • either, the company formally tells its employees to “do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer”, often with some approval guidelines but without formal policies, procedures or communications training;
  • or the company has prescriptive detailed complaint handling guidelines, often with suggested verbal scripts. In the former case, companies leave the customer complaint journey completely in the hands of newly trained employees or those who have not been schooled in customer experience theory and practice.

Results depend on who the customer gets – which is never optimal. In the latter case, the complaint handling procedures or guidelines are often based on what the company believes the customer wants, and is with the approval of their legal department. These procedures are often based on little if any first person research as to what the customer really wants and that would significantly improve brand loyalty. That is the revelation of the Rage Study. It provides a data-driven prescriptive framework for a Complaint Handling and Service Recovery Program that actually improves individual brand loyalty and improves word of mouth advertising!

What can companies do to prevent customer rage? 

Our advice for companies wishing to improve their complaint handling process and Stop The Rage, is to consider these seven tactics:

  1. Get real and stop measuring averages– step one, understand your true FCR at the complaint level by measuring the number of contacts for complaint resolution. Step two, is to measure product type complaint resolution. You may find root cause to the problems is at the marketing or operational level, and may have an opportunity to stop the complaint altogether – which is infinitely more critical and beneficial than improving the resolution process.
  2. Sincerely and personally apologize – 50% of executives confide to me that they do not allow their employees to apologize, as they are often prohibited to do so by their legal department. However, our Rage Study indicates that 75% of customers want an apology, but only 28% of customers say they receive an apology. Why is legal being so difficult? Because they believe by apologizing, the company is accepting liability. This is shortsighted thinking. In fact, studies show the opposite. Fewer legal actions are taken when an apology is offered, than when it is not. Additionally, it is entirely possible to deliver a “blameless apology”. Many companies have figured out how to do this. The key is a truly empathetic, not sympathetic employee who personally apologizes. But this must be carefully trained and practiced – it cannot be an “apology guideline” issued to the front line staff.
  3. Acquire and develop a common “answer database” – extracts of which are accessible by customers, front line and back line employees. Often we find that the front line employee properly handles the problem, however the backline employee either does not know the turnaround time quoted the customer, or does not understand current process or is not held accountable for the customer commitment. This database is separate policy and procedure database and distinct from a case management system. It is not an “either or” scenario – you need both. Be careful in choosing your database – All databases are not created equal – we have found an amazing one which has its roots in university systems. With the database we instituted, we have found a FCR improvement of up to 10 points.
  4. Develop internal language guides – they are crucial, especially if you are in an industry with a lot of jargon, like healthcare or technical services. These guides help you eliminate industry jargon from the front line employees and the marketing departments, by giving them alternative language more easily understood by the customer (and the trainee for that matter).
  5. Listen – Really Listen – The number one item the customers say they want when complaining (93%) – is to be treated with dignity. However, only 37% of customers say they experienced this treatment. What do customers really want when they ask for dignity? For the most part, they want to be heard and treated as important to the company. Often, when listening to complaint calls, we hear the company representative “jump in”, interrupting the customer, because they have heard the complaint many times in the last week, and think they know what the complaint is, what caused it, and how to fix it. The representatives’ intentions are always good. They are trying to quickly solve the problem, saving the customer time in having to explain it, and the company money in terms of their productivity. But this good intention usually backfires. Big time. Companies need to reset expectations with their front line representatives, teaching them about what customers really want and translating that into actions that the representatives can take. In this case, letting the customer tell their full story in their own way and in their own time, without interrupting. Then the representative can paraphrase what they heard the customer declared was the problem, and most importantly, tell the customer in a firm and confident voice: “I can help you with that!” In all the calls we listen to, this latter phrase is the reset button with the customer, that makes them feel important and gives them confidence that their problem can and will be resolved.
  6. Use the Rage Study data – regarding what customers really want, to formally design a complaint handling and service recovery program. Remember to include both monetary and non-monetary items from the list of 12 attributes that customers want in the complaint process. Adding both non-monetary and monetary remediation improves the brand loyalty from 23-37% (either monetary or non-monetary) to 73%, when both methods are employed.
  7. Make it easy to complain – Eliminate tree prompts and create a team that can triage and handle complaints. Publish a separate 800 number. Don’t hide it deep down in the bowels of your website. Advertise that you want to hear the complaints. And then act on them. The current high level of rage among customers with complaint handling processes, may ultimately reduce the real number of complaints. If most customers feel they get “nothing as a result of complaining” (63% of complainants), they will stop complaining. That is the most dangerous scenario of all. Customers will just move to your competition instead, and speak negatively about your company to anyone willing to listen. Your company won’t know why the customer left and won’t have the opportunity to remediate the problem.

In the next post, I’ll discuss what we, as customers, can do to reduce frustration and rage when dealing with disappointing customer service.