Pipeline Publishing, Volume 4, Issue 2
This Month's Issue:
Keeping Customers
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Tit for Tat: Meeting Customer Expectations

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outcome in mind. Then the players need only adhere to an almost grim trigger strategy, under which any deviation from the strategy which will bring about the intended outcome is punished to a degree such that any gains made by the deviator on account of the deviation are exactly cancelled out. Thus, there is no advantage to any player for deviating from the course which will bring out the intended and arbitrary outcome, and the game will proceed in exactly the manner to bring about that outcome.” {Wikipedia}

Perfect process implementation requires absolute force from management. Not a good strategy. Instead, it is possible to flag bad processes by the number of complaints received from customers or internal employees who are following the processes. These complaints will occur even if everyone follows the process correctly and the desired result is reached. As in, ‘the highway successfully leads from home to work, but in the commute some of the drivers experience road rage.’

Our point is processes exist, whether they are designed or just allowed to organically arise. But rather than building systems where people must interact as automatons in processes, use these process steps as goals or milestones in a collaborative game. Leave the workflow of repeatable, standard processes to the actual automatons of data transactions. Have people involved in the exceptional circumstances that require non-standard process steps. This is why Collaborative Applications software is better as a control mechanism than ESB driven by workflow. Collaborative Applications can capture games, evoke strategies, react to moves, and recognize milestones or traps. While a rudimentary solution is also afforded by event-driven, or rather reactive-only architectures when applied in web services or advanced ESB products - all collaborative architectures are at their core, event-driven. The best are agent-enabled.


We promised a few example solution patterns for the negotiation of customer and customer service agent. As this is similar to the prisoner’s dilemma, the established winning strategy to use is called Tit-for-Tat. In tit-for-tat, the opening move is always one of cooperation/conciliation/good-will: offer a [small] concession to start. The next move is to follow the opposing players move, the tit-for-tat. If the opposite player is cooperative, then cooperate. If the player is confrontational, respond in kind. In most cases this will bring the desired outcome to the CSR following tit-for-tat. But when a confrontation follows a confrontation, follows a confrontation – a death spiral has been

entered. These must be avoided. The recommended response is to follow two repeated confrontations from an opponent with a double conciliation, no mater the intermediate reaction of the opponent. Of course, some readers will be quite offended by referring to the customer who is calling the contact center as the opponent of the CSR. Everyone wants the company brand to be one liked by the customer. We agree. Opponent is just a role in the “game”. Every interaction starts with the CSR being polite and welcoming to the caller.

Long term studies show that these strategies of interaction generate two extraordinary results: respect and good will. In fact, the successes of the tit-for-tat strategy in every international ‘game competition’ lead to a remarkable and significant insight by Robert Axelrod: this strategy leads to an evolution of cooperation and may be responsible for why people band together in cooperative social groups [Please note this is a simplified treatment and there are many recommended variations by the professional game strategists.] Similar strategies can be found with non-mathematical explanations in current books on ‘constructive confrontation’ and ‘successful negotiation’ and even in ‘reciprocal altruism’ in population biology.

We specifically mean for these techniques and methods to apply not just to the customer-CSR interaction, but to all the interactions of people following processes and trying to clear work in the company. Collaboration applications should be used to govern and “control” the outcome of all group/role to group/role interactions in a multi-departmental organization. Instead of forwarding a trouble ticket, place all the employees interacting in the resolution process in one common collaboration space and let them solve the problem as a team. At the very least, the delays, confusions, and costs of multiple handoffs are eliminated. At best, a rapid, optimal, and transparent solution is achieved. And transparency is important in providing cohesion, adaptive learning, and company loyalty.

If you are really daring, open the collaborative space to the customer and make the entire “process” transparent. Bring in the sales team to interact directly with an enterprise customer. But best of all, let the customers participate in the resolution of their problem. Not just through a web page in a service portal. Instead imagine customers seeing a well-meshed team deliver a fair and timely solution - now that would build Brand!

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