• February 27, 2017
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Dueling Trends

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As long as I’ve had any idea of what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve wanted to be an analyst of some kind. It didn’t have to be that job title specifically; product reviewing, industry journalism, and blogging have all scratched the itch to some extent. All I knew is that I wanted access to as much information as possible, and I wanted to get paid to make sense of it and tell people what I saw. I’ve been fortunate to be able to follow that plan, which is good because my previous career goal was X-Wing pilot.

What I’ve learned in all these years is that few things are ever simple, and having all of the data does not necessarily mean having all of the facts. No matter how well informed we are, there are no guarantees that something unexpected won’t happen. And it’s rare that all signs point in one direction; life is full of cases where factors pull us in multiple directions at once. The more you know, the less you know, you know?

Most people don’t want to hear this kind of song and dance when they have questions about something. They want the facts, a brief summary of what you mean, and direct, simple advice on what to do. When you take your car in for repairs, you neither desire nor expect the mechanic to go into the history of the internal combustion engine, describe the difference between carburetion and fuel injection, or discuss the design trends of cars that are nothing like yours. You want to be told what’s wrong, what it will cost to fix it, and whether there’s anything you can do to prevent future problems.

Sometimes it’s not possible to give a simple answer. Most of the time, it’s simply that the waters are too muddy, and making a definitive statement about a subject is too likely to be misleading, or even outright wrong. This is death to knowledge workers like analysts. It’s very bad form to say something will definitely occur, because we look like dopes when it doesn’t. Looking like a dope is not conducive to maintaining people’s trust in your abilities, and then your career is over. So we hedge our bets with words like probably, likely, might, and could. Better to prepare you for many possibilities than to let you bank on the wrong one.

Other times, though, the numbers and trends line up in two very clear—and totally opposite—directions. This is the case with some research I did recently on contact center trends. That research, inspired by installments of Pint of View (and possibly by installments of a few pints), showed on the one hand that the shift toward social media peer support, self-service, and hands-off automated maintenance was accelerating, and on the other that contact centers were investing in high-touch service options that involved considerable agent intervention.

Clearly, both couldn’t be true—or could they? It turns out that, as I said before, few things are ever simple. Contact centers were investing in customer knowledge bases and FAQs, as well as allowing (and even supporting) peer-to-peer assistance, just as we’d seen in previous years. There was interest in IoT diagnostics and maintenance for zero-call resolution. But those factors had freed customer service reps to the extent that they could be reserved for more complex service calls, ones where step-by-step guidance and handholding were needed. Advances in contact center technology also made it possible to loop in subject matter experts—people who held degrees and licenses in the issue at hand—from within the company, or even as outside consultants. We weren’t talking out of both sides of our mouths; we were tracking two separate trends extending from a common source.

Conventional wisdom had maintained that contact centers were where companies tried to squeeze out every last penny by cutting costs. The part of the story that got left out was how they allocated what remained. It’s a good feeling to provide wisdom that isn’t conventional. 

Marshall Lager is a senior analyst with Ovum, covering customer engagement and related topics, and never, ever telling you only what you want to hear. Probably. Check in on him at marshall.lager@ovum.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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