Don't Fear Governance

Late last year, I had a client inquiry with a large retailer that was looking for advice on chat tools. The retailer's e-commerce team had already deployed a chat tool to help drive increased sales conversion from the website. The customer service team was actively exploring adding chat to its arsenal of customer interaction channels. Someone high up in the organization suggested that the contact center folks explore whether the same tool that the e-commerce team was already using would also fit the bill as a customer service tool.

Using the same tool for both use cases would allow the company to have one vendor relationship to manage, and the nature of that relationship would shift as they would be adding more than 1,000 seats to their deployment. Additionally, it would have just one administrative environment to manage and one maintenance and upgrade cycle to follow. So, the customer service team, the IT folks, and the e-commerce team all got on a call with me to hash out whether this all made sense.

That call stands out to me more than four months later because it was a rare occurrence. Companies often implement customer service solutions in functional and technological silos. The silos often don't share their solutions' use and insights across the enterprise, and solutions don't integrate with one another or with customer databases or case management systems. This means that customers receive inconsistent service due to siloed customer, purchase, and interaction history data.

To put it in perspective, in a recent Forrester survey, only 40 percent of executives at online businesses believe that their companies provide extremely effective hand-off between channels, reflecting the data silos that plague customer service experiences.

This is where governance—poor, maligned governance, should enter the picture. Governance programs should unify technology purchases and enable integrations across enterprises so that customer service personnel have a consistent view of the customer. This often starts with a thorough audit of all similar technologies that the enterprise owns before purchasing any specific technology for a customer service initiative. In many cases, such as the retailer mentioned above, there are viable technologies that the organization uses elsewhere.

But good governance programs don't just happen. Governance committees should do the following:

  • Evaluate similar technologies that the enterprise might already be using. They need to conduct due diligence of the capabilities of similar technologies and determine whether they can scale and operate at a level of performance and reliability to support customer service operations.
  • Decide whether they can leverage technologies across the enterprise. If technology is sound and meets the needs of the customer service organization, governance committees should evaluate whether customer service should have a separate deployment instance of the technology or can share the same deployment instance. Sharing can result in lower software, hardware, and support costs.
  • Integrate technologies to extend the value of current customer service operations. Governance committees should make sure that they don't deploy customer service technologies in silos; integrating them with other customer service technologies will empower agents to provide efficient and effective customer service.

Governance should also be applied to the sea of customer service data inside of companies today. Customer service pros know that they must enable their organizations to deliver consistent service experiences across communication channels and touchpoints. To do so, they must address these two key data isses:

  1. Consistency. In each interaction, the channel must provide the customer with the same consistent, relevant data and personalized information that answers questions in a timely and accurate way and builds on information from prior interactions. Consistently high-quality data, when used effectively, can provide that elusive single view of a customer—a fundamental element to enable customer service reps to offer personalized, value-added service.
  2. Quality. Very few customer service initiatives focus on addressing data quality issues to move the needle on customer satisfaction. Successful and sustainable data governance programs establish clear responsibilities for data quality from business and technology management owners. They define how the data will be used and establish controls around the data, such as the fields that customer service agents can't update. They also define monitoring and measuring activities to track the business outcome of data initiatives.

Ian Jacobs is a senior analyst at Forrester Research. He covers application development and delivery.