Balakarthik Venkataramanan - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
A decade after the dot com bubble burst and just a little while after the announcement of Lehman Brother’s collapse, the employee behavior research groups started getting traction and recognition from corporate America on the impact the dis-engaged workforce had on the overall organization and the industry as a whole. The mood was to move away from the conventional “How do we keep the employees satisfied?” to “How do we keep the employees engaged?”. And of course, it’s common sense that an engaged workforce is the pillar for any organization’s success.
For starters, if you are wondering..what is the difference between ‘Satisfaction’ & ‘Engagement’:
A few years back, I had an opportunity to be a part of the core team that was involved in implementing a large scale employee engagement initiative. We partnered with Gallup who have set an excellent standard for employee engagement improvement through the Q12 framework
(Gallup’s Q12 Employee engagement framework details http://www.gallup.com/services/169328/q12-employee-engagement.aspx?utm_source=geec_nav_button&utm_medium=button&utm_campaign=geec)
It was an extensive framework with a structured survey methodology, I was thrilled with the amount of insight the framework provided and specific areas of opportunities that it pointed out as gaps of engagement in the organization for leadership to address.
But at the end of the day, it’s your individual people manager’s ability to drive her/his direct team’s engagement on a day to day basis which has the highest impact on any employee’s engagement level. My struggle for a long time has been to articulate where should a manager/leader start their engagement journey with their team. I could coach the managers/leaders on the overall engagement strategy, the impact and the need but helping them get a quick and effective starting point was a challenge. The “AHA” moment that helped me overcome that struggle was a couple of years back when I came across a snippet on “What are the four most important words for a leader?” at www.tompeters.com
The four most important words as quoted by Dave Wheeler at Tompeters.com are:
“What do you think?”
When you sit back and think about it, WOW!! It is such a powerful question. Just four words but the meaning and the interpretation for an employee coming from a leader can be very deep. What is the underlying message that is being sent behind these four words? What does this question mean to an employee, coming from a leader? How does an employee interpret these 4 words? What message is a leader trying to send by asking this question to their employees?
It’s amazing that 4 simple words can send such a powerful message. Below is just a high level list of the different engaging interpretations of these 4 words and the list is not complete.
- “I value your opinion”
- “It’s not about me but it’s about us”
- “I don’t have all the answers, we have to figure it out together”
- “We are peers in problem solving”
- “You are a part of the problem solving and not just an executor of my ideas”
- “I want to hear your ideas”
- “You are an integral part of my team”
- “You have a voice in decisions that impact your work”
- “You are empowered”
- “Your ideas count”
Personally, this has transformed the way I engage my peers, stakeholders and above all my employees. Forcing a habit to use these 4 words in every single interaction (literally) with your team, peers & stakeholders will enable you to establish empowerment and engagement at the core of your leadership style.
In the journey of employee engagement in organizations nothing is more powerful than these 4 words and the difference it can bring to you, your team and your organization. Try it out!
So, “What do you think?”
Publish Date: October 24, 2016 4:04 AM
I am a frequent visitor to Singapore but for this time around, it was just a 45 minutes transit at the Singapore Changi airport and I was NOT looking forward to it. Especially after missing my flight from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur (my final destination) because of the flight delays at Detroit (my origin) and then staying at the Seoul transit hotel for 9 hours. The only way, Delta could route me from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur was through Singapore, with a 45 minute transit at the Changi airport. After all the delays, those 45 minutes transit at Singapore sounded like a bad idea, until I met Sundaresan. He was the janitor responsible for the toilet near the gate I was going to board my flight to Kuala Lumpur.
With only 45 mins to board my flight to Kuala Lumpur, I didn’t want to go to the lounge or shop at the airport. Found a seat closer to my boarding gate, went to the nearest rest room to freshen up. Nothing surprising, a well maintained Singapore style airport restroom. One that I would expect at a minimum in any international airport. While heading out, I saw a gamified screen asking for my experience. (like the one in the pic below)
I hit the ‘EXCELLENT‘ rating, didn’t realize that the janitor was standing right behind me. When I noticed him, “Thank you for keeping the toilet so clean”, I said. “It’s my job, sir”, he replied. A quick 5 minute conversation followed in Tamil (Tamil, is a south Indian language). When I walked out of the restroom, I was amazed at the passion Sundaresan as well as Changi Airport management exhibited in making my restroom experience easy and comfortable. Below are some key points I captured from my conversation with Sudaresan.
- Every 3 toilets have an owner like Sundaresan. That person is like the chief customer officer for those 3 toilets and are accountable for the overall cleanliness of the toilet as well as user experience
- If any users rate ‘POOR’ or below rating in the survey then users will be asked to select from one of the following 7 reasons for their ‘POOR’ rating (No toilet paper, foul smell, Litter bin full, Wet floor, Dirty floor, Dirty basin, faulty equipment). Once the user selects the reason, turn around time to fix the issue is 5 minutes. The back end also gathers their POOR rating reasons and draws a Pareto on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. This is also tied to the performance of the Janitor and the respective team lead.
- For those janitors who receive 100% rating for the entire week are rewarded for their performance (He didn’t tell me what the reward was)
I found the video below after a couple of days which supported everything that Sundaresan shared with me.
I was amazed at the 360 degree user focus of the toilet management of Changi airport. Every single aspect of customer service management was carefully planned and executed. Below are the 5 key pillars on how Changi airport has built an end to end user experience roadmap. I assume that this is beyond toilets and is factored in to every single touch point of a passenger that arrives at Singapore airport.
During my previous visits to Singapore, I have seen the customer feedback survey screens across multiple other areas in the airport including information desk, immigration etc. But my conversation with Sundaresan gave me insights in to the customer centricity and the actions that happen behind it and above all the passion to enhance every touchpoint of the customer’s journey is what we need to learn from.
The world of customer service/experience talks about some 4-5 leading multi national organizations as benchmark for Customer centricity. After my experience and research on how Changi airport manages user experience, I would expect them to be a new benchmark for user experience management.
The next time you are at the Singapore airport, don’t miss to pay more attention to how every single aspect of a user journey is mapped and designed. Especially the restroom experience. There are tons of practices you can leverage back in to your customer service organziation.
Publish Date: September 30, 2016 3:49 PM
I knew that the evening was going to be slow with my wife visiting her cousin for a couple of days with our toddler. Felt super lazy, definitely not in the mood to cook nor was I in a mood for fine dine. Fast food sounded like a great idea and my taste buds begged for some flavorful Mexican food. Hey, there is a food truck that I have noticed just outside the mall nearby that always looks super busy on the weekends. Food must be pretty good, may be I should try that.
I was by the food truck in the next 10 mins. Hmmm...not too crowded but still looked busy with 7-8 customers ahead of me in the line. After waiting in the line for a couple of mins, I heard a bell ring 'DING, DING, DING'. I was too busy checking Facebook on my phone so didn't pay too much attention. 'DING, DING, DING', the bell went again and this time I heard "Thank you, please come again" from inside the truck.
After a couple of mins, there it was.....my turn to order. The conversation started with an unusual greeting, "First time here?" asked Sam. (He was wearing a name tag). "Yup", I responded. "you are going to love the food, what can I get you?", this was Sam.
"Hmmmm...I need something spicy & vegetarian". Sam responded right away "I know what exactly you need, my friend. Let me surprise you. You will love it". I was already impressed with the unusual sound of the bell ringing every couple of mins, so I chose to try the offer (I will tell you about the bell in a little). Sam did surprise me with an awesome spicy vegetarian burrito and also charged me a dollar less because I didn't add meat and gave me extra spicy salsa to try. And remember this was an item that wasn't even on the menu (vegetarian burrito).
I chose to sit there and finish my burrito. The bell kept ringing over and over and over again. Almost every customer (more than 80%, I would say) rang the bell before they left and it was so evident that they were not just satisfied but delighted, with the entire experience (with Sam, with the food, everything). And the bell was placed right next the ordering window with a note that read "Ring the bell if we delighted you and you will come back again".
It was amazing to see how this food truck off a street had mastered customer service and above all was re-enforcing their service mastery through this bell. Every time their customers were hearing the bell ring, they were building customer loyalty and their brand.
So what behavior engineering was the bell accomplishing??
That's simply superb. Such a simple tool/method but the impact it had on customer as well as employee behavior was significant. I have seen the "service bell" concept before at Arby's (in the US) and Pizza Hut (in India) like the one below but did not see the level of impact the bell had on this food truck and its customers.
Oh, I didn't realize that it's been 45 minutes since I came to this place, lost track of time in observing the way Sam & team were passionately delivering an excellent service, engineering customer behavior, building loyalty and setting a very high bar for customer service. It started to drizzle, let me get going. Oh wait....am I forgetting something??? Yes, indeed! How can I leave without ringing the bell for Sam and team.
DING, DING, DING...
Publish Date: September 14, 2016 3:13 PM
Two interesting contact center experiences in the last few weeks made me choose this topic, How Omni-channelized is your customer service strategy?
Before I share the two experiences, the video below is one of my personal favorite Omni channel contact center commercials, what I love about the storyline is the customer’s ability to engage with the customer service in the channel she prefers and maintain continuity and ease of access to support resources.
Now off to the experiences I was referring to, the first experience was with my mother’s Internet service provider in India, she wanted to upgrade her Internet package and called the customer service. The service representative wanted a photo ID to be faxed, my mom told the representative that she does not have fax but she has a scanned copy of her ID that she could email. The response she got was “Sorry ma’am, I don’t have access to email and we are not authorized to receive information from the customer in email, I am in the phone support department.”
The second experience was with my bank. I contacted their chat support a couple of weeks back and had a conversation about my previous statement cycle and the representative answered all my questions, I was very pleased with the support. A couple of days later, I had a follow-up question and called their phone support and gave all my account information and was expecting the representative to pull up information about my prior chat interaction so she can understand my situation before I asked my follow-up question. To my surprise, the representative did not have access to my previous interaction in the week and had to walk her through the questions all over again.
Both the organizations mentioned above provided an extensive multi channel support portfolio including self help, phone, chat, email, social media (and even video support in case of the bank) but unfortunately their multi-channel was not Omni-channel.
Multi channel support offering is great and it helps the customer to choose the channel they prefer but is a thing of the past. Do you provide the ability for your customers to choose the channel they prefer, at the time they prefer and engage with your customer seamlessly? That is the key to providing a holistic customer experience to a very savvy 2015 customer.
I see a lot of folks using the two terms interchangeably. Offering multi channel support does not mean you have an Omni channel customer service. Multi channel is your ability to provide service to your customer base in the channel they prefer and Omni channel is when the multi channels come together seamlessly and provide a continuous customer engagement.
Companies heavily invest in Omni channel sales and retail experience but do not factor in customer service as a part of that Omni channel eco system. Your Omni channel strategy is incomplete if customer service is not a part of that paradigm.
Good news is there are key 3rd party CRM players in the market who can offer a customized Omni channel customer service infrastructure and also integrate it to your sales and retail strategy. All that required is for you to recognize the potential positive impact of Omni-channeling your customer service and integrating customer service in to your overall Omni channel ecosystem.
Publish Date: September 10, 2016 6:34 PM
Offshoring is an integral part of volume mix strategy in any high volume customer service organization. However, does your organization have a long-term offshore-onshore strategy defined in line with your organizational and customer ecosystem balancing a healthy offshore-onshore mix? Do you have a logical segmentation that defines your volume mix? Are you able to articulate your strategy? If not, its time…it’s high time!!
It has happened way too many times with way too many organizations in the industry for it to just be a mere coincidence where;
- Organizations that did not believe in offshoring strategy realized a little too late in the game and missed out building their offshore centers and missed tapping in to the abundant talent pool in Philippines and India.
- On the other hand organizations that off-shored too much too fast ("Move it all" type) realized in 4-5 years the impact of no presence or very minimal presence on-shore on their brand, quality & market reputation which has a direct correlation with lost revenue and churn rate.
If you want to protect your organization from being one of the above then the answer is to have a balanced & strategic volume mix that supports your long-term strategy and accommodates your customer ecosystem and your ability to articulate it to your larger employee base, leadership and shareholders. Like all other strategies, if you cannot articulate it then you don’t have a strategy.
In my experience managing large customer service sites in US, Philippines & India and having defined volume mix strategies for large scale teams, I don’t think there is one right answer in terms of what is the right mix between offshore and onshore volumes. There are multiple models you can consider in defining your volume mix segmentation and to strike a strategic balance long-term inline with your organizational priorities, competition and your customer eco-system
Obviously, if cost is your ONLY priority then these options don’t apply to you.
Revenue based offshoring strategy: This model focuses on a volume mix strategy based on your customer revenue segments. The logic is to have higher revenue generating customer onshore and lower revenue offshore with the principle of higher the revenue-higher the investment, better the experience. This model enables you to segment your customers based on revenue and there by differentiate the investment for service. This model also helps you drive a healthy cost balance as your onshore investment is on xx% of the customers who generate xx% of your revenue.This could also further be segmented in to B2C Vs B2B Strategy. B2C Offshore and B2B On-shore. If you are looking for revenue based differentiated customer experience and making it a competitive advantage then this could be your potential answer.
Channel based offshoring strategy: This is a straightforward approach of retaining phone support on shore and off shoring email, chat and other non-voice support channels. This enables you to take advantage of the in-market native speaking resources to interact with your customers live while utilizing offshore base for offline customer interactions and provides a clear segmentation between your onshore Vs offshore workforce. This according to me gets the bang for your buck, as this is a strength-based model utilizing all your on-shore resources for live support
Tiered offshoring strategy: This is based on the research around when and how accents impact customer perception. Details of on research can be found here: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news77105.html. This model segments having off-shore base support frontline queries while utilizing on-shore for Level 2 support or escalations. This model enables you to have escalated situations and irate customers deal with your experienced on-shore resources to ease customer experience in out of control situations
Issue based offshoring strategy: This is a tactical segmentation than strategic and a very operational solution. Principle is to have high volume low variation segments offshore and low volume high variation segments onshore. This will enable you to balance your cost options with higher offshore headcount supporting basic troubleshooting and a smaller on-shore base supporting complex high variation segments.
My personal recommendation is a hybrid model combining Revenue and Channel strategy that according to me perfectly utilizes the strengths of your on-shore resources and balances your cost by utilizing your offshore resources in a meaningful way
An Example of Revenue & Channel Hybrid offshoring strategy in action
At the end of the day, it all comes down to how you want your customer service strategy to support your larger organizational vision and how you want to position your customer service offerings. In my personal opinion, moving it all offshore based on internal dynamics will be a decision organizations will significantly regret long term and at the same time retaining it all on-shore may not be meaningful strategy for large scale organizations with no quantifiable revenue impact.
Having a strategic offshore on-shore volume mix is the key and your ability to define it in a meaningful way for your organization based on a long-term view will play a key role in positioning your customer service as a competitive advantage in the market.
Publish Date: September 5, 2016 2:29 AM