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Peggy Carlaw - Blog

Five Tips for Successful Contact Center Coaching

Managing staff—in any form--is hard work and requires a well-stocked repertoire of people skills, business acumen, and the ability to juggle multiple projects and deal with pressure.

For those of you who manage call centers and support centers, you are tasked with watching operational costs in addition to dealing with a team of agents. Your managerial skills can mean the difference between an effective call center or one that’s failing. Good management requires a heavy-dose of both intuition and technique, and each circumstance requires a personalized blend of skills. When practicing call center coaching, there are a mix of methods that we’ve seen work particularly well. Below we outline 5 top call center coaching tips to add to your toolbox. We’ll tackle another 5 in the next post.

  1. Set specific and measurable goals. The ability to set targets for you and your team to meet will give you focus and motivation. Choose goals that are realistic. A quick test to see if yours pass muster? Ask:

What will be improved?

By how much or how many?

By when?

If you can’t specify how you’ll measure your goals, go back to the drawing board.

  1. Create action plans. Setting goals is one thing; implementing them is another. Allow us to introduce you to the Action Plan.

For example, say you set a goal in Step 1 of completing a coaching course so you can become certified in the Support Staff Excellence program. That’s your goal—completion of the course. Your action plan will define how you reach your goal. Here's how you might write that action plan:

“Set aside two hours every week on Monday and Wednesday to go through the support center coaching curriculum. Next will be to pick three new skills from the course every week and apply it at work. Based on the study schedule, I’ll be ready to take the test by October 15th.”

  1. Be positive. Your language and tone matter.

Positive thinking has been credited with everything from stress reduction to better health. In a work environment, staying positive is just as powerful. So how do you apply the “power of the positive” to your call center coaching? To start, examine your language. Take these two examples:

“Unless you make those callbacks to the customers right away, there’s no way we’ll be able to give them the information about the promotion.”

“We can still make this happen. If you can make those callbacks to the customers within the next few hours, we’ll be able to get them the promotional information before it’s too late.”

If you were a call center agent, which phrase would you be more apt to respond to: the sentence with the negative slant, or the sentence with the positive? Which would you find more motivating? Think about your language and all of the conversations you have daily with your agents and fellow managers. How often are you communicating using positive language versus negative? Try this: Next time, before you ask an agent to do something, or give feedback, re-phrase your words so they’re positive and see what type of reaction you receive.

  1. Listen. Really listen.  Listening—effective listening—is a powerful skill that’s rarely used. Especially in a high-stress environment, it’s easy to get caught-up in rapid-fire mode and neglect the very fundamental coaching skill of hearing and understanding. However, listening is an art form worth spending some time perfecting. It will help your managerial abilities and productivity, and will help you strengthen relationships with your colleagues (it’s also useful to try at home with your family!).

In call center coaching, try the following tips to improve your listening:

    • Focus: When someone’s speaking to you, don’t check e-mail or your phone. Look the person in the eyes and give them your full attention. This communicates respect and you’ll more fully absorb what they’re telling you.
    • Don’t interrupt: Do you enjoy being interrupted? Chances are, you find it annoying. The person whom you’re talking to finds it annoying as well.
    • Pause before you respond: Oftentimes, when you take a moment to formulate your thoughts before you respond, you wind up saying something different—usually something a bit more appropriate. The few extra seconds it takes to collect your thoughts before you respond will not dramatically impede everything else you need to cram in for the day.
    • Paraphrase—show you understand: Finally, to make sure you understand what the other person meant to say, repeat back the key points and ask the person to confirm that’s what he or she really meant.
  1. Lighten up a bit. You may find it surprising that one of the key tools in effective call center coaching is humor. Why is it so important that it belongs in the “canon” of effective coaching skills? Because humor is closely tied to attitude and your ability to read a situation. Be careful, of course, about when it’s appropriate to crack a joke or lighten the mood, and make sure you don’t offend or insult someone at the expense of a few laughs.

Knowing how and when to use humor will make you more approachable, more likeable, and more human to the people you work with.

Publish Date: June 13, 2012 7:43 PM

Proactive Customer Service and Support

You’ve heard of First Con­tact Res­o­lu­tion, right? Hope­fully, you’re tak­ing con­crete steps to resolve as many issues on the first con­tact as pos­si­ble. Fol­low­ing right on the tail of first con­tact res­o­lu­tion is proac­tive ser­vice. Also called proac­tive sup­port or next issue avoid­ance, it’s a trend worth focus­ing on.

What is proac­tive service?

When cus­tomer ser­vice and sup­port reps offer proac­tive ser­vice, they antic­i­pate and pre­empt addi­tional con­tact. Here’s an example:

Mrs. Pedowitz calls her insur­ance com­pany to get a copy of the con­tract that explains her health insur­ance ben­e­fits. Know­ing that mem­bers often call back for help under­stand­ing the com­plex con­tract, the CSR, Jesse, offers to answer ques­tions about ser­vices Mrs. Pedowitz fre­quently uses. At the end of the call, Jesse offers to e-mail her a link to a sum­mary book­let that is writ­ten in easy-to-understand language.

Should you fol­low the proac­tive ser­vice trend?

Accord­ing to Enkata, a leader in cloud-based cus­tomer expe­ri­ence ana­lyt­ics, proac­tive cus­tomer ser­vice has been shown to reduce call vol­umes by 20–30% in 12 months, cut oper­at­ing costs by up to 25%, and improve cus­tomer reten­tion by 3–5%.

Sound good? Of course! So what’s involved?

 How to get started with proac­tive service:

  1. Cre­ate a map of issues show­ing their relationship—for exam­ple, order­ing a con­tract and answer­ing ques­tions on the phone or send­ing a follow-up link.
  2. Deter­mine how often cus­tomers call back. If they only call back 1–2% of the time, it’s prob­a­bly not worth address­ing. If cus­tomers call back 20–25% of the time, there will be cost-savings that are def­i­nitely worth pursuing.
  3. Train your staff. Pro­vide issues maps as job aids to help your staff deter­mine what to do when a cus­tomer has a par­tic­u­lar issue. Be sure to include role plays so employ­ees get lots of prac­tice intro­duc­ing the proac­tive ser­vice mea­sure into the call.

Is it really that easy?

It would be except for the fact that con­tact cen­ters are often focused on short-term prof­itabil­ity met­rics like aver­age han­dle time (AHT). And first con­tact res­o­lu­tion or next issue avoid­ance are dia­met­ri­cally opposed to lower AHT. While cus­tomers want calls to be short, imag­ine how much time they would save (and you too) if they didn’t have to call back for some­thing that could have been proac­tively han­dled on the first call.

Just think! If you could pre­vent 20% of the calls cur­rently com­ing into your cen­ter, your reps would have more time to spend with cus­tomers in order to guar­an­tee their sat­is­fac­tion with the level of ser­vice and sup­port pro­vided by your com­pany. Sound like a win­ning strat­egy? We think so.

Post #3 in the Top Ten Cus­tomer Ser­vice and Sup­port Trends for 2012 series. 

Publish Date: February 15, 2012 7:46 PM

Tailoring Customer Service and Support to Different Personalities

Fess up, now! There some cus­tomers you just love to talk to and oth­ers that you can’t wait to get off the line, right? Of course there are some cus­tomers who are just down­right cranky and rude, but bar­ring those grouches, there’s a rea­son why you relate bet­ter to some peo­ple than to oth­ers. To sum it up, it’s easy for us to do busi­ness with peo­ple who are like us. For exam­ple, if I want to get to get a quick answer and a cus­tomer ser­vice rep has one for me, I’m happy. How­ever, if I get a CSR who want to chit-chat about unre­lated top­ics, I quickly become quite annoyed.

Carl Jung, one of the fathers of mod­ern psy­chol­ogy, devel­oped a the­ory of psy­cho­log­i­cal types. The idea is that if we can iden­tify oth­ers’ pref­er­ences and then mod­ify our behav­ior, we’ll all get along bet­ter, pre­vent mis­un­der­stand­ings, and accom­plish more. In the exam­ple above, if the sales or sup­port agent can iden­tify my per­son­al­ity type, then the agent can tem­per his or her need to build a rela­tion­ship and get down to busi­ness. I’ll then leave the call as a sat­is­fied customer.

Of course, this is overly sim­pli­fied, but the the­ory works so well that a num­ber of com­pa­nies have cre­ated pro­pri­etary instru­ments and train­ing pro­grams around it. NASA even got into the game, using The Process Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Model, to help pre­dict how astro­nauts would jell in a cap­sule together.

Sales­peo­ple have long known about the power of adjust­ing their per­son­al­ity to that of their var­i­ous cus­tomers. These con­cepts are now mov­ing into the cus­tomer ser­vice and sup­port realm and rapidly becom­ing a trend.

For exam­ple, on the high-tech front, ELoy­alty uses speech recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to com­pile per­son­al­ity pro­files of callers and match them with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive who works best with that per­son­al­ity type. Each time a cus­tomer calls back, the sys­tem uses the exist­ing pro­file to deepen and enrich the pro­file. Accord­ing to eLoy­alty, one bank­ing client saw the attri­tion rate among cus­tomers strug­gling with the most seri­ous issues drop from 7% to 1%. Another saw their J.D. Power rat­ing improve.

Other sys­tems you may be famil­iar with are Meyers-BriggsDiSC, or Insights. One we par­tic­u­larly like is Work­Traits. It assesses not only per­son­al­ity traits, but core con­vic­tions and has some great back-end tools for use on the job. When paired with train­ing, role plays, and job aids to help agents iden­tify caller types and know what to do when sell­ing or pro­vid­ing ser­vice, great results can be achieved.

Are your agents treat­ing your cus­tomers the way they want to be treated? Look into one of these sys­tems today. And don’t be sur­prised if you see Work­Traits wrapped into a course here at Impact soon.

Post #4 in the Top Ten Cus­tomer Ser­vice and Sup­port Trends for 2012 series. 

Publish Date: February 15, 2012 7:45 PM

Upselling and Cross-selling by Customer Service and Support Teams

As the econ­omy recov­ers, many com­pa­nies are look­ing for oppor­tu­ni­ties to claw their way back to pre-recession sales lev­els. And com­pa­nies that fared well want to be sure to keep their cus­tomers as com­pe­ti­tion in the play­ing field grows.

Who’s upselling and cross-selling now?

While sales teams have long had goals for upselling and cross-selling, more com­pa­nies than ever are ask­ing their cus­tomer ser­vice reps to do the same. And they’re ask­ing their sup­port engi­neers to  rec­om­mend prod­uct upgrades and con­tact cus­tomers to renew war­ranty agree­ments. This grow­ing trend is par­tic­u­larly true in the finan­cial ser­vices, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, high tech­nol­ogy, and ser­vices industries.

Why is upselling and cross-selling an impor­tant trend for ser­vice and sup­port departments?

Most indus­tries are deal­ing with the prob­lem of sell­ing a com­mod­ity, since com­peti­tors are able to quickly copy what was, orig­i­nally, an inno­v­a­tive prod­uct dif­fer­en­tia­tor. In fact, the Cor­po­rate Exec­u­tive Board in their ECSB Insiderreport 67 per­cent of busi­ness own­ers feel that more sup­pli­ers are now offer­ing com­pet­ing prod­ucts than five years ago. This makes new sales more dif­fi­cult and buy­ers less loyal since they have mul­ti­ple places where they can pur­chase sim­i­lar prod­ucts or ser­vices. While it's impor­tant to increase mar­ket share, it's also eas­ier to focus on your exist­ing buy­ers who already trust your orga­ni­za­tion and find value in your offer­ing. Plus, the more prod­ucts and ser­vices peo­ple buy from an orga­ni­za­tion, the more likely they are to remain engaged rather than take their busi­ness elsewhere.

There’s a ben­e­fit for cus­tomers, too. Pur­chas­ing more at once saves them time and ship­ping costs, and maybe even money if there’s a quan­tity dis­count. Upgrad­ing to a new prod­uct ver­sion saves on repair costs. Pur­chas­ing a main­te­nance con­tract reduces risk, helps with bud­get­ing, and smooths cash flow.

What’s required for success?

Accord­ing to Mar­ket­Soft Cor­po­ra­tion, a provider of cross-selling tech­nol­ogy, nearly three quar­ters of all busi­nesses say they have cross-selling pro­grams, but as many as 70 per­cent of such efforts fail to increase rev­enue in any sig­nif­i­cant way. Why?

Despite advance­ments in tech­nol­ogy to iden­tify sales oppor­tu­ni­ties through seg­men­ta­tion and behav­ior analy­sis, if the agents speak­ing with cus­tomers don’t want to sell or don’t intro­duce the sale in a way that ben­e­fits the buyer, there will be no sale.

When pre­sented with an upsell and cross-sell ini­tia­tive, many cus­tomer ser­vice and sup­port rep­re­sen­ta­tives are not happy! They per­ceive them­selves as ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als, not sales­peo­ple. In fact, some com­pa­nies have lost as much as 25% of their depart­ment when embark­ing on a cross-selling pro­gram. Giv­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives a script to read at the end of a call won’t work. I’m sure you’ve been on the other end of those types of calls! What’s needed is a train­ing pro­gram to help agents under­stand how selling—appropriately—is offer­ing ser­vice. It truly is! When a cus­tomer ser­vice or sup­port rep thinks ahead about what prod­ucts and ser­vices might serve cus­tomers, then presents the offer in a way that shows it meets a need the cus­tomer has, cross-selling is offer­ing the cus­tomer “total” ser­vice.

Amadeus-Forrester, in their recent report titled “Cross-Sell Your Way to Prof­its” pre­dicts cross-selling to grow 30 per­cent by 2015, ten times faster than gen­eral sales. Are you ready to be part of this trend?

Post #6 in the Top Ten Cus­tomer Ser­vice and Sup­port Trends for 2012 series. 

Publish Date: February 15, 2012 7:44 PM

Tracking Customer-Focused Metrics

For years, con­tact cen­ter man­agers have been mea­sur­ing oper­a­tional met­rics like aver­age han­dle time, aver­age hold time, turnover, sales per rep­re­sen­ta­tive, aver­age time to respond, and so on. But are these the most impor­tant met­rics to measure?

What’s impor­tant to mea­sure depends on who you are

Cus­tomer ser­vice and sup­port man­agers want to mea­sure the oper­a­tional met­rics listed above along with oth­ers like trans­fer rates and queue length to help them run an effi­cient organization.

Exec­u­tives, on the other hand, want to mea­sure cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, cus­tomer loy­alty, mar­ket share, and prof­itabil­ity by prod­uct or ser­vice line so they can see howeffec­tive the com­pany is at max­i­miz­ing the shareholder’s return on invest­ment. The two do not always jive.

The dis­con­nect between effi­cient and effective

A com­pany could go out of busi­ness if their only con­cern is hav­ing happy cus­tomers at all costs. So while it’s impor­tant to be cost-effective, this doesn’t always mean seek­ing the low­est cost. Take for exam­ple, the usual focus on aver­age han­dle time. Of course, cus­tomers want to keep a call as short as pos­si­ble, too. But they care more about get­ting their ques­tions answered accu­rately and get­ting their prob­lems resolved.

And guess what? Most cus­tomers don’t mind tak­ing a lit­tle extra time to hear about some­thing that will save them from hav­ing to call back in the future. So there’s a dis­con­nect between keep­ing a call short (effi­cient) and tak­ing enough time to resolve the caller’s issue and give infor­ma­tion to min­i­mize a call back (effective).

To meet the goals of the exec­u­tive team, there’s a trend among cus­tomer ser­vice and sup­port man­agers to re-examine their met­rics in light of the larger objec­tives of the business.

What is the customer’s point of view?

Start exam­in­ing your met­rics from the customer’s point of view. Con­sider esca­la­tions, for exam­ple. Man­agers seek to drive esca­la­tions down. Of course! Who wants their super­vi­sors or Tier 2 engi­neers tied up on sim­ple prob­lems. But what will sat­isfy the cus­tomer? A speedy esca­la­tion if that’s what it takes to get the prob­lem resolved.

A customer-focused met­ric then, would be to track "appro­pri­ate" vs. “inap­pro­pri­ate” esca­la­tions. Inap­pro­pri­ate esca­la­tions are those where the agent should be able to han­dle the prob­lem, but can’t, and there­fore esca­lates the cus­tomer to the next level. Too many inap­pro­pri­ate esca­la­tions point out a train­ing issue. Once you iden­tify inap­pro­pri­ate esca­la­tions as a prob­lem, you can then pro­vide addi­tional train­ing and give your staff the tools they need to han­dle their level of calls. The result will be fewer inap­pro­pri­ate esca­la­tions, hap­pier cus­tomers, and lower costs.

How about call qual­ity scores? Many cen­ters we've worked with tracked behav­iors that did not affect cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion (such as using the customer’s name three times dur­ing the call) and left out things that did, (such as pro­vid­ing an accu­rate answer). Why not con­duct a focus group with cus­tomers this year to find out what you should add to your form and what you can stop tracking.

What else should you track?

There’s a real busi­ness case for first-contact res­o­lu­tion because it’s one of the prime dri­vers of cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tionand it keeps costs down.

As Richard Snow from Ven­tana Research puts it:

First con­tact res­o­lu­tion can be even more use­ful when linked with other met­rics and actions. Applied to agents, for exam­ple, it lets com­pa­nies iden­tify best prac­tices and adjust process and train­ing so more agents can resolve more issues the first time. Linked to cus­tomers, it can tell who are the dif­fi­cult cus­tomers and how they can be han­dled in the future. It can help iden­tify why issues occur and what can be done to gen­er­ate fewer calls. It can influ­ence behav­ior, because agents will strive harder to resolve more calls at the first attempt. It can influ­ence call-routing rules, so that more calls are routed to agents who resolve more issues the first time.”

If you have first con­tact res­o­lu­tion within bench­mark lev­els, then go for next issue avoid­ance, also called proac­tive ser­vice. This is another one of the top 10 trends for the upcom­ing year.

Con­fer­ences, webi­nars, and cus­tomer ser­vice forums are all a-buzz about cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, reten­tion, and net pro­moter scores—the same issues exec­u­tives pay atten­tion to. This year, be sure your cen­ter met­rics are well-aligned to deliver solid busi­ness results.

Post #8 in the Top Ten Cus­tomer Ser­vice and Sup­port Trends for 2012 series. 

Publish Date: February 15, 2012 7:44 PM

When to Use Customer Service Games in Training

Cus­tomer ser­vice games can add spice to a train­ing pro­gram. I ought to know, I wrote the book! Unfor­tu­nately, I've seen too many games used just because–well, I'm not sure why. The game was fun, but didn't increase learn­ing or help par­tic­i­pants per­form bet­ter on the job.

Cus­tomer ser­vice games are fun, moti­va­tional activ­i­ties. The key is to use them in con­junc­tion with skill learn­ing and skill use. When rel­e­vant to par­tic­i­pants and their jobs, the games build con­fi­dence, lift morale, spark enthu­si­asm, stim­u­late cre­ativ­ity, and ulti­mately achieve results.

Games can be quick, fun ener­giz­ers that raise par­tic­i­pants' aware­ness of cus­tomer ser­vice issues. Games can also be full-scale activ­i­ties that teach a skill and offer par­tic­i­pants the oppor­tu­nity to prac­tice the skill in an infor­mal, onthreat­en­ing environment.

There are a num­ber of ways you can use cus­tomer ser­vice games: as stand-alone train­ing activ­i­ties, as warm-ups to a more inten­sive train­ing ses­sion, or in com­bi­na­tion with one another to con­sti­tute a seg­ments of a com­pre­hen­sive cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing event.

Fol­low­ing are some resources for cus­tomer ser­vice game:

And if you need to plan a more com­pre­hen­sive train­ing event, check out one of these:

Publish Date: February 15, 2012 7:42 PM

What Are Your Contact Center Metrics Really Telling You?

One of the great things about the contact center as a workplace is the ready availability and near-instant access to metrics — measures of quality and productivity. Unfortunately, however, this easy access often results in a short-sighted assessment of what the numbers really mean.

Five Key Metrics to Assess Contact Center Agents

Following is an examination of what might be lurking behind five of the key metrics used to assess contact center agents. 1. Average Handle Time (AHT): Sometimes known as "Average Call Duration (ACD)" is one of the most commonly used metrics and a favorite with contact center management. And that makes perfect sense: If calls can be handled quickly and efficiently, everyone wins, right? The problem is that quick does not always mean efficient. When agents are told (and in some cases incentivized) to keep AHT low, they tend to focus primarily on call length and will take all reasonable shortcuts to keep it short. There are a number of possible pitfalls:
  • The agent may be missing (or skipping) opportunities to cross-sell, up-sell, or provide the customer with valuable education/information.
  • The agent may do away with small but crucial courtesies — thanking a caller for holding, executing a warm transfer, building rapport-that factor into customer satisfaction.
  • The call flow might omit the step of updating a customer’s account data or otherwise capturing valuable information that can only be obtained during a live contact.
The key to success is to maintain a strategic equilibrium between AHT numbers and other metrics such as customer satisfaction, first-contact resolution, and revenue per call. 2. After Call Work (ACW), also known as “Wrap Time“: It’s easy to understand why this metric is so commonly used in centers-a key factor of workforce management is making sure agents are moving briskly from one call to the next. That being said, I’ve repeatedly seen the hazards of overemphasizing this metric. The problem is this: Getting that extra few moments (not even minutes) between calls can make all the difference to an agent’s ability to handle the next call with a positive, professional attitude. If ACW is a metric that is stressed in your center, make sure you put other measures in place to guard against agent fatigue, low morale, high turnover rate, and a poor relationship between agents and management. One tip that might prove helpful is to hold agents to a stringent ACW standard during periods of high volume but then ease up on it once or twice per shift, as call volume relaxes. 3. Staff shrinkage: This metric refers to the amount of time that employees are on the clock but not available to handle calls. Granted, call handling is an agent’s primary job role, but if the expectation related to shrinkage (and the related measure of “utilization”) is too severe, it’s likely to create issues of low morale and high turnover. When call center agents are given sufficient time for training and career path projects, not only are they more knowledgeable and productive, but they also tend to feel like well-rounded employees. This in turn can lead to higher performance, increased employee engagement and satisfaction, and lower turnover. 4. Call Volume: Every Operations manager knows the euphoria of high call volume (unless, of course, the calls are flooding into a customer-complaint line). Typically, high call volume signals sales success, popularity with customers, and job security. To ensure that your call volume readings aren’t giving you a “false positive,” you need checks and balances in place to confirm that:
  • These calls aren’t callbacks from customers who ideally would have had their needs met the first time.
  • Customers are not calling in with needs that you prefer be handled through a different channel (e-mail, self-serve FAQ, etc.).
5. First-contact Resolution (FCR): It’s difficult to come up with any cautions against using first-contact resolution as a key metric in your call center. This tends to be an essential measure relevant to profitability, efficiency, and customer satisfaction-and it’s one that I consistently espouse for call center performance optimization. So, if you’re not yet measuring this one, start now. That being said, there is one pitfall that I’ve occasionally seen in technical support environments: There’s a danger that agents, striving for FCR, will stay on the phone too long when in fact the customer would be better served by a callback (after the agent has done additional research or consulted with the appropriate peers). Think of metrics as more a scale than a yardstick. The data yield weights and counterweights that help you to achieve that all-important balance between quality, productivity, customer service, and employee satisfaction. Other notable contact center metrics include Escalation RateCall QualityCustomer Service Satisfaction Rate (CSAT) and Time to Resolution (TTR).

Publish Date: November 15, 2010 8:13 PM

Hear and Understand

UnderstandingCSAT, VOC, CRM, now SCRM. Who's listening to the customer? These days, who isn't listening? At Impact, our guiding beacon in driving our customers' experience is the HEART Model™. Many of our customers have also adopted this model because it provides them with five easy-to-remember principles that balance the best interests of the customer with the best interests of the business and its employees. The first principle is Hear and Understand. Employing this principle directly and positively impacts customer satisfaction, employee morale, and operational costs. How you apply this principle depends on where you are in the organization.
  • Executives

The good news is that customers are back in the picture. We want to know what they think and we want to know how to please them in a way that adds to the bottom line. Technology vendors are jumping on the bandwagon to provide more tools with which to listen to the customer—tools like speech recognition technology to listen for key words and social CRM to monitor the voice of the customer through social media channels.

These tools are invaluable in collecting data, but what do you do with that data? Many companies are aggregating it, hiring consultants to interpret it, holding executive meetings to discuss it, and then continuing with business mostly as usual while they pat themselves on the back that they're a customer-centric organization because they've listened to their customers. Not so fast! There's no point in hearing and understanding your customers if you aren't willing to act on what you hear. Being truly customer-centric requires change, not lip service.

Stepping up and making changes based on hearing and understanding your customers' needs pays off big time, however. A Booz Allen study showed that those companies willing to walk their customer-concentric talk outperformed industry peers 2:1 in revenue growth and generated profit margins 5-10% above their competitors.

  • Managers

Customers want to deal with pleasant, efficient employees who show concern for the customer and his or her issues. So if you want to have happy customers, you need happy employees. Happy employees love their job and it comes through in their dealings with customers-in the quality of their work, in their tone of voice, in their interest in hearing and understanding the customer, and in their willingness to solve customer issues. You all know the research: money motivates, but only to a point. After that, it's whether employees are treated fairly, whether they're listened to, whether their opinions are valued, and whether they're recognized that matters.

The members of your team look to you for encouragement and support. In order to provide this to them, you need to do more than listen; you need to understand what they say and feel. You need to appreciate their perspectives. You do this by asking for their input, by listening with your full attention, and by praising their good ideas. This gives them confidence that they're making valuable contributions to the organization—contributions that are not going unnoticed.

  • Customer-facing Employees

Almost every customer-facing employee at one time or another has made an assumption about what a customer wanted (because the call sounded like 476 other calls) that turned out to be wrong. To truly hear and understand what customers are saying, employees need to listen carefully and then check their comprehension of what they've heard. If employees do this, their calls will be easier to handle and shorter, too. Shorter calls mean improved customer satisfaction and reduced cost of operations.

I spoke with a customer yesterday who said that by embracing the principle of Hear and Understand, taught in one of our training programs, her support reps were better able to identify the customers stated concerns. This directly resulted in decreased escalations and improved first-call resolution, both of which improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs.

Changing the culture of an organization from one that espouses customer-centricity to one that puts it into practice-and reaps the rewards-is not easy. But by adopting the HEART Model as one of the building blocks for cultural transformation, you will measurably improve customer satisfaction and employee morale while reducing organizational costs. (originally posted on )

Publish Date: October 29, 2010 6:50 PM

A Call for Civility

civilityThe LA Times called this morning to get my thoughts on how customer service training might have helped Steven Slater, the 38 year-old Jet Blue flight attendant who went berserk yesterday after allegedly being verbally and physically abused by a passenger. According to the reports, a woman passenger had some choice words for Slater several times during the flight. Once the flight landed in New York, she got into an altercation with another passenger over some luggage. When Slater tried to intervene, she bashed the her luggage into Slater's head. Slater, having had enough, grabbed the intercom, cursed out the plane, grabbed a couple of beers, popped the emergency exit, and headed down the slide to go home for the day. Now what was I going to say to the reporter from the LA Times? I'm sure JetBlue trained Slater trained in appropriate customer service techniques for dealing with angry passengers—techniques like staying calm, not raising your voice, focusing on a solution, etc. We teach all those techniques and they can be quite effective in situations where customers are angry or upset. But how was that supposed to help in this case? I in no way condone Slater's behavior, but it's hard to stay calm when you've been bashed in the head. I wonder what was wrong with the woman. Had she just lost her job? Was she ill? Did her medication stop working? Or was she just acting like out like others she's seen in cartoons, sitcoms, video games, and movies and heard on talk radio? Did Slater do something initially to annoy her? Did he aggravate the situation? We don't know. Apparently, Slater has turned into somewhat of a hero of customer service workers, many of whom are sick and tired of dealing with annoying and abusive customers. I travel a lot and I know it can be tiring, frustrating, and annoying. But nothing can be so bad that it permits one person to act like that toward another. So customer service training? That's not enough to tame this growing trend of disrespect and abuse. It's time to bring back civility. A few stress reduction lessons couldn't hurt either! (originally posted on )

Publish Date: October 29, 2010 6:49 PM

To Delight or Not to Delight. That is the Question!

I'm sure by now most of you have seen the article, "Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers" in the July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review (pp. 116-122 if you read it the old-fashioned way). In the article, Dixon, et. al., report on their 3-year survey of more than 75,000 B2C and B2B customers about their recent service interactions with live agents and self-service contact center applications. To provide a quick summary of a very thought-provoking article, their study found little correlation between the customer satisfaction score, which organizations have traditionally used to measure how good a job they're doing, and customer loyalty. They found that exceeding customer expectations by offering a refund, a free product, or a free service makes customers only marginally more loyal than simply meeting their needs. They state, "...loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic, even plain-vanilla promises than on how dazzling the service experience might be." I don't know about you, but my expectations for service are pretty minimal these days. If I can have an interaction with someone who can understand what my issue is and solve my problem, I'm pretty happy—delighted actually! I don't need a free refund, a free product, or free shipping. OK...maybe I do need free shipping, particularly if I'm returning a pair of too-tight shoes to Zappos. Turn now to page 41 in the same issue or read online. The title? "Zappos's CEO on Going to Extremes for Customers." Wait! Should we go to extremes for customers? Should we stop trying to delight them? Is the Harvard Business Review bipolar? There's a lot that Tony Hsieh has to say about achieving exceptional service that I agree with—like making customer service a priority for the whole company, not just a department, and offering free shipping both ways to make transactions risk free and easy. That's what I would expect from a company I wanted to do business with. On the other hand, doing a surprise overnight shipment for loyal repeat customers who chose free ground-shipping would not make me a more loyal customer, nor would finding me five local pizza delivery places in Santa Monica as mentioned was done for a Zappos customer. Nice touch, but those above-and-beyond things will not make me a loyal customer. The strategy does seem to be working for Zappos, though, as they've gone from 1.6 million gross revenue in 2000 to over 1 billion in 2010. Coming back to the first article, the authors found that delighting customers doesn't build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does. As a result, they developed (and trademarked) a new metric: the Customer Effort Score™ measured on a scale of 1-5 by asking, "How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request." The idea is that companies create loyal customers by helping them solve their problems quickly and easily. As someone who has spent the last 15+ years helping businesses improve their customer service, I must say that I love the thought behind this newly-coined Customer Effort Score™. Too many companies try to "delight" customers without first tending to the basics. If you really want to delight customers, you need to start with the basics:
  1. First, define what each of your customer segments expects from you in the way of customer service, then measure the gap between your service offering and their expectations. I'll bet that making it easy for your customer to do business with you (meaning a low Customer Effort Score™) is going to be up there at the top of the list.
  2. If your company isn't meeting expectations, strive to do so. This involves hiring the right people, training them in product knowledge and customer service skills, supporting them with the proper technology, and making sure your processes are customer-friendly.
  3. Once you've met your customers' expectations for service, you can work on exceeding them. This is the step where you need to be cognizant of any tradeoffs between exceeding expectations and the cost of doing so.
  4. Finally, when you're consistently exceeding expectations, then and only then are you in a position to talk about going to extremes to delight customers.
Free shipping and surprise overnight delivery would not be working for Zappos if they had surly reps on the phones, were often out of stock, or frequently shipped the wrong product. They are able to go to extremes—profitably—because they've engineered their whole company around the customer. Have you defined your customers' expectations from their vantage point, not yours? If not, start today. Strive to meet those expectations, make it easy to business with you, then you and your customer can both soar to the extremes of delight. (originally posted on )

Publish Date: October 29, 2010 6:48 PM

What Drives Customer Loyalty?

I was speaking with a colleague at work last week about the Harvard Business Review article on customer effort and its effect on customer loyalty. She had recently written a post about the article and we were discussing what we thought drove loyalty. Lots of research has been done, but the results are inconclusive. Some research shows that there’s a direct correlation between customer service or customer satisfaction and customer loyalty; others don’t. My guess is that the differences are driven by the way questions are asked in the satisfaction survey. My colleague, Monica, was musing that perhaps we’re just less loyal than previous generations. Her father drove a Ford…forever. My folks favored Mercury. I was a Volvo girl until the Prius came along. Since I believe that people buy based on emotion and backfill with logic, it makes sense that loyalty may be driven in part by demographics and psychographics in addition to customer satisfaction, customer effort, etc. I’ve been examining my own loyalty ever since that article came out in the Harvard Business Review. What I can report is that while I love my FitBit to death and am currently extremely loyal, I would bail in a heartbeat if better technology came along (read I see myself as an early adopter of technology). I love my Prius but with my next car purchase could be talked into something even more energy efficient (read save the planet and don’t forget the cool factor). Yes, customer effort plays a part in keeping me loyal, but only until something that fits my values and emotions better come along. Then I’m willing to travel into uncharted waters and risk poor service. So loyal? Yes, for awhile. Think about your own loyalty. What companies do you consider yourself loyal to? What would cause you to move to another company? Just how “loyal” are you? Does it have to do with what type of service you receive from the company? The product? Your values and emotions? I’d be interested in your thoughts. (originally posted at )

Publish Date: October 29, 2010 6:47 PM

3 Tips for Cross-Selling and Upselling Success

bank-tellerIn order to be a cross-selling or up-selling superstar, you need to do the following:
  1. Listen for opportunities in what the customer says. Let's say the customer says, "I need to find a better plan for my cell phone. I get calls from people I I don't want to talk to and my charges are just too high." This might trigger the rep to explain how the customer can save money by using caller ID to accept calls from only certain people.
  2. Look for opportunities in the customer's record. Here's an example: "Thanks for your order, Marcie. We'll get those invoices shipped out right away. Now before you go, I notice that we're running a special on the multi-part checks that you use. Would you like to hear about the savings that are available?"
  3. Create an opportunity. If you don't hear or see anything that opens up an opportunity, the rep can create one, like this: "Umberto, before you go, I want to let you know that we can also help you with lead generation, search optimization, link building, and other types of e-marketing assistance. How are you handling your online marketing now?"
The people we find who are the most successful in cross-selling and up-selling are those who have a sincere desire to help customers. They see offering customers products and services that can make their lives better (read sales) as a high form of customer service. These superstars of sales and service listen between the lines so they can provide their customers with the best solutions. I read in the paper this morning about a front-line person who, in my opinion, wins the upselling hall of fame award.

Mark Smith, 59, was arrested at a bank in Watsonville, California in September after he had allegedly threatened a teller with a bomb and demanded $2,000. The teller, tried to convince him, instead, to borrow the money, and she had him wait while she retrieved an application (during which time she called 911). By the time police arrived, Smith was filling out the loan form.

Talk about upselling!

Publish Date: October 29, 2010 6:46 PM

Triaging Customer Service

smarttag_triagetagTriage is a medical term that can be applied to customer service. Every customer is not created equal and your service delivery should not be equal either. To wow your customers (and your shareholders), segment your customer base and deploy your most valuable resources to your most valuable customers. Big banks do this. So do airlines. Ever wonder why you have to enter your credit card number or your frequent flyer number when you call? The best customers (you with the Platinum credit cards, and you premium flyers) get in the shortest queues and are handled by the best, most experienced agents. The rest of the world waits on hold and when finally connected, speaks with the person who just got out of training an hour ago. These successful companies know they can't afford to service all customers equally so they put their efforts where they'll get the biggest return. It's easy for big companies to triage their handles it all. But if you can't afford the technology or are too small to really need it, there are still steps you can take.
  1. Review your customer base to determine which customers provide the most revenue or profit. Add to this the customers with the potential to be in this group. These are your "A" customers. Based on the Pareto principle, this will probably be the 20% or so of the customers who provide 80% of your revenue.
  2. Determine the customers that provide the lowest revenue or profit. They order small amounts less frequently. These are your "C" customers and typically represent 30-40% of your customer base.
  3. The rest are your "B" customers. They order on a consistent basis but in not the same volume as your "A" customers.
Now assign resources accordingly.
  • Direct calls so that your A customers route to your best, most experienced agents. No ACD? Then assign your A customers their own private customer service representative. How nice would it be as a customer to get a personal call or a real, old fashioned letter letting you know that you're such a valued customer, you're getting your very own customer service rep, one of the company's best. Be sure these customers don't have a long wait time for service, and see if you can smooth your policies and procedures to make it easier for them to do business with you.
  • Direct your B customers to reps who consistently meet call quality standards but who may not have the same depth of experience as those handling your A accounts. If you don't have an ACD, consider creating small teams to handle groups of B customers. That way customers have 2-3 representatives familiar with their accounts.
  • Let the C customer come through the general queue. Even though these may be your lowest value customers, they still deserve top-notch treatment because, well, that's just who you are as a company, right? You value all your customers! So while new hires may work with this group of customers, they need close monitoring to be sure customers receive good service while the new reps learn the ropes. Assign each new trainee a contact from the B group that he or she can call on for help while learning. This will minimize escalations and callbacks—two things that make customer very unhappy.
If you're one of those lucky companies that can afford to provide A quality service to all of your customers, that's fantastic! We wish all our customers could be so lucky. But if you have to watch your call center pennies, there's a better option than offering luck-of-the-draw service to all your customers. Triaging customer service allows you to wrap your very best customers in a blanket of care while still providing great service to the rest of the customer base.

Publish Date: October 29, 2010 6:45 PM

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