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Customer Service Talk - Blog

Can 10 Seconds Make or Break a Customer Service Call?

In a recent conversation with a client, their customer service QA manager piped up with “I can tell how a call is going to score within the first 10 seconds of the call!” At first I thought that to be a bold statement. But after playing over in my mind 100s of calls gone bad I think he is on to something.

So what happens in that first 10 seconds of a customer service call? That is when your customer decides if your rep is going to help them or not. If your customer perceives that your rep doesn’t want or isn’t able to help, then your customer “goes on defense” and no matter how well trained your rep, the call is an ongoing battle to recover. 

FACTOID: Customers who perceive that your rep is willing to help are NINE TIMES more engaged in the conversation! (Gallup Survey)

What’s the opposite of an engaged customer? It is the caller who comes in prepared for a fight.  It is the caller who is defensive from the start.  It is the caller who is really upset and frustrated. Or even worse it is the caller who is screaming mad.

What if every customer believed that your call center reps are there to help from the first moment of the call? Then they would be open to alternate solutions, willing to listen to options and able to articulate their needs in a positive way.

QA scores go up! CSAT scores go up! Employee satisfaction goes up!

It’s amazing how such a little piece of time, how only 10 seconds, can make such a big difference!

Another Embarrassing Confession:
I got caught in the 10 second rule just last week. I had purchased a toilet part at the hardware store on the advice of the clerk. It was the wrong part. When I returned to the store to get the correct part, the first words out of the clerks mouth “You can’t return that item since the package is open.” 
Now I had made a decision prior to entering the store that I would probably just toss out the wrong $4 part as I had destroyed the packaging. It was only $4. 
But when the clerk started the conversation with a negative challenge, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I jumped in to fight with her about why they should take the return back. It was not my finest moment when I stomped out of the store declaring that I would never return. 
Image courtesy of Graphics Mouse at


Publish Date: November 3, 2017 5:00 AM

How Focusing on JOY Can Change The Energy of Your Call Center

Does your call center feel like there is a gray cloud hanging overhead at times? Everyone is grumpy, overwhelmed and tired. And you just want to be anywhere but there.

With so many moving pieces, it would be difficult to never feel a bit crazy in the call center. What makes it worse is when a call center leader's overwhelm trickles down the line and starts effecting the mood of everyone on your team. I call it the "Gray Cloud" effect.

So in times of high stress, how do you turn that "Gray Cloud" into "Blue Skies"?

Last year I moved into a new office and had a discussion with a Feng Shui expert about how to best decorate. Her very insightful question was "What do you want to feel when you are in your office." I was going through a very stressful time working on a couple tough new customer service projects and with people who were struggling to keep a positive focus. My immediate response was "I want to feel joyful in my work. I want to feel joyful when moving through my projects. I want to help the people I'm working with find joy in their call center. I'm tired of feeling like we are pushing a crushing boulder up a never ending mountain trail."

Her advice: Put the word "JOY" on my bookcase. Off to the craft store and this is the picture of the top of my bookcase.

At first it seemed a little silly. But everyday I found myself looking for ways to bring a little bit of joy into the day, into the call center projects and into the lives of the customer service team. Joy came in many forms: a simple compliment, taking a moment to reflect on progress, expressing gratitude for team members, etc. It was the constant reminder that if I WANTED JOY, I needed to LOOK FOR JOY.

The tone of the project didn't change instantly, but after 6 months I can look back and see that this team has come a very long way. They are much more positive and focused on solutions rather than problems. It's like looking at the path from the top of the mountain, it doesn't seem quite so steep.

Why does a reinforcing reminder tool like my JOY sign work? Shawn Achor in "The Happiness Advantage" discusses extensive studies that show a brain in Positive Mode is 31% more productive than a brain in Neutral or Negative mode. He urges practicing gratitude daily to raise your happiness quotient. 

Ask yourself, what do you want to FEEL when at work. Find a way to focus on that one feeling and you will be a better manager, you will grow stronger teams.

The musical theme song for today is "Blue Skies" as sung by Ella Fitzgerald. Instant Joy when you need it most!


Publish Date: January 29, 2017 5:00 AM

Who's your Mama? It's Not Your Boss!

 Do you believe in the power of books to guide, even change lives?
Today I want to share with you 2 books from my bookshelf that represent my core beliefs in leading call center teams.
The first “Your Boss Is Not Your Mother” by Brian Desroches has had a home in every one of my offices for over 20 years. It’s full of great insight on workplace relationships. But let me be clear that it’s not an easy read so I’m not recommending you rush out to buy it unless you are ready for some heavy duty work.
Why then is it important to me?
Because the title reminds me that it is not my job to FIX every mistake a team member makes. I can’t kiss away their booboos. I can’t brush off bad behavior. I can’t take ownership of their decisions. Sometimes that breaks my heart.
What I can do is create a workplace that is fair and consistent. An environment where everyone has an opportunity to OWN their success or their failure.
And the second book? “Love Works” by Joel Manby.
Ah, does that sound like a contradiction to you? “I don’t want to be your Mother” but “I’m going to lead with Love”?
Not at all!
We all know that there are few high pressure, high expectation environments like that of a call center. Practically every move, every breath of a call center rep is measured and analyzed.
“Love Works” reminds me that I am a better leader when I am compassionate.
Call center reps are going to fail, reps are going to succeed. They are going to fight their way through challenges. And sometimes they are going plummet and struggle to get out of a hole. What I’ve learned is it is important how I respond to those results. Yes the goals and the rules are the same for everyone. And the reward or consequences will be the same for everyone. What’s different for each team member is the care and support they receive. For you see, each one is on a separate path, they are each unique. And I can help each one along that path in a very personal, individualized and loving way.
That’s the definition of “leadership”. Leadership is not about the results, it is how you walk the path with your team.
I’m a better leader when I lift people up.


PS - I'd love it if you would share this article with other call center leaders!
Image courtesy of Idea go at


Publish Date: May 8, 2016 5:00 AM

Does Your Call Center Have A Problem Like Maria?

I don’t think I have yet shared this quirky trait: I usually hear music when I consider life challenges. Picture full orchestra with dancers included! Well this week’s call center challenge is Attendance. And the theme song is from the Sound of Music: "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?"

Do you hear the music too? We all have call center reps who we just love, except when they call off work… again. I’m talking about your rep that always seems to have another life challenge that gets in the way of adhering to their schedule.

If you recall the Sisters want to throw Maria out of the Abbey because she can’t obey the rules. Think about their words, don’t they sound a lot like your supervisors as they become exhausted trying to corral everyone into their assigned schedules. 

The wise call center leader will embrace Mother Superior’s approach: When you can’t fit that square peg into your round hole consider other options. 

What’s that mean? Well in this case it means taking a cold, hard look at your definition of good attendance.

Whoa you say… do you mean that I should accept bad attendance as good attendance?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! You should never accept bad behavior of any kind. 

But are your attendance issues really bad behavior or struggles to balance work and life?

You will always have a few outliers who exhibit bad behavior. Deal with them separately. Don’t let those few cause you to set rules that create a culture of fear and punishment for reps who are just trying to keep their life and family afloat.  

The one thing that I know, that has proven to be true in every call center, is when you put all the onus of adhering to a rigid work schedule on call center reps you will continuously battle attendance issues. Worse, it will suck the life out of you and your leadership team as attrition continues to soar.

You will find yourself, just like the Sisters, silently screaming: “Why can’t they just follow the rules?

The most interesting result of an attendance and scheduling policy that is focused on balancing the needs of business with the needs of employees is that attendance actually improves. Yes, it is true. When you become what some might perceive as more lenient, reps actually exhibit the desired behavior at a higher rate.

Why? Because you give them more control over their decisions. When people understand the rules and believe the rules are fair to them they will work harder to meet your expectations. And slowly you will find yourself having fewer and fewer painful conversations about bad attendance. 

Best of all, morale and employee retention improves. People want to work for a company that works with them.

Stay tuned for my next post. I’ll share some ideas for how to develop scheduling and attendance policies that walk that balance beam. I’ll also have a checklist for you to compare your policy against some of the best practices!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


Publish Date: April 14, 2016 5:00 AM

Do You Know Your Passion?

Have you noticed that every Customer Service Manager, every Customer Experience Consultant, in fact every Marketing Executive claims extraordinary passion for Customer Satisfaction. 

Confession Time: This week as I was updating some of the content on my website I realized that I was so cliché! Oh my goodness, I sound just like everyone else. I claim a passion for customer satisfaction and customer experience with almost every written word. 

So it was a soul searching week: What does that really mean? And why do I feel I am entitled to make the claim that I am passionate about customer satisfaction?

Am I just talking the talk? Or do I walk the walk?

And even bigger question is: Why do you make that claim? Go on, I know you do! Why do you feel that you are qualified to make the claim of being passionate about caring for customers?
​Please join me and wander through my brain as I explore possible answers to this question. I hope those thoughts will help you discover what drives your passion.

Perhaps my desire to serve customers is really driven by the business goal to drive profits. We all know that without customers there is no business. No customers, no profit. You will find study after study, quote after quote on LinkedIn supporting the simple concept that customers are the core of our business. I’ll bet you could pop of 3-4 quotes without even thinking about it. In fact you probably have at least a dozen posters in your call center like “Customer First”. Am I right?

I could say the answer is that I’m hard wired to be loyal to my job responsibilities. No matter what personality or strength assessment I take, I always score extremely high in the responsibility/loyalty type categories. So yes, it could easily be argued that I am pre-programmed to embrace anything that is a core belief related to my job.  And for those of us who serve customers what could be a more important job requirement than satisfying a customer's needs?

Or it could be because I love data. I mean I am over the top, obsessive about data. It warms my heart that over the past decade our industry has become very adept at measuring customer satisfaction. We can slice and dice every aspect of our customer's experience and hone in on the crucial pieces that can make or break satisfaction. What could possibly be cooler than that!

And the one thing I love even more than data is seeing incremental improvements in data. So when I can help reps learn to improve their skills in providing customer satisfaction and the numbers start to rise I am ready to crank up Pharrell's "Happy" and bust a move.

Or near and dear to all of us who work with customers every day, a satisfied customer is one who is NOT yelling at us. NOT posting on Social Media. And NOT requiring us to put out ugly fires. A satisfied customer makes our jobs easier! I think that is a great reason to be passionate about customer satisfaction.

But the answer to this question isn't any of those reasons!

The big, overwhelming reason why I am passionate about customer satisfaction is very simple. 

It is the right thing to do! 

It is the way I was raised from the beginning of time. Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Show respect even if you have a different perspective. Be attentive to what others have to say, show attention to detail and sincere interest. I was taught to give my best. And THAT is why customer satisfaction is important to me. And exactly why I’m going to leave it in my bio!

Are you proud to say you are passionate about caring for your customers? I’d love to hear why customer satisfaction is important to you. And I challenge you to open this as a discussion topic in your next team meeting. The answers might be quite insightful! 


Publish Date: March 21, 2016 5:00 AM

Why You Should Stop Nit-Picking Your Call Center Rep’s Work

Well, the best reason to stop is because it doesn’t work. It doesn’t help you achieve your long term goals. It just makes everyone in your call center miserable.

Nit-Picking has long been the standard in Call Center’s quality coaching programs. By that I mean sitting down with your rep and reviewing line by line everything they did wrong in a call. The theory is they will go back to their desk and make ALL the necessary changes.

What really happens is your reps feelings kick in and they are unable to make more than small steps forward. They become frustrated, believing that you are unsatisfied with their work. Who wants to work for a boss who is never satisfied? Or they feel overwhelmed because the mountain of effort is too high to make all the changes you discussed. And the response to overwhelm is usually to do nothing.

So what should you do?
  • Start with positive reinforcement. Tons of it! Encourage your reps to keep doing the things that are working. Celebrate small improvements together. Research shows that when someone is feeling positive their productivity goes up. If you want your rep to improve their quality performance feed that positive feeling.
  • Focus on one big rock. Pick just one or two things that you want your rep to work on. Choose them based on the total impact it will have going forward. Don’t even discuss the rest of that Nit-Picky list you have as that discussion only confuses.
  • Provide Support for that one big change. You will love how much easier that will be for you as the coach! With your crazy schedule, you are more likely to find time to help your rep make one change compared with helping them with a dozen changes. If you are both focused on just that one thing, change will happen. Help your rep improve one change at a time!

​Gallup Research found that when employees are highly engaged, they will outperform those with low engagement. Productivity goes up 21%, Customer Ratings go up 10%, and Turnover drops at least 25%. When your reps feel good about their progress and believe their boss feels good about their performance their engagement level goes up. And then performance goes up. 



Want to do more to keep your reps engaged? It all starts with your training program. Click here to check out this post
How Great Call Center Leader's Make Training Stick

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


Publish Date: March 4, 2016 5:00 AM

6 Steps to Deliver Super Sticky Results from Your Call Center Training Programs!

For Call Center Manager, it is all about the results! The best training program doesn’t matter if it isn’t quickly moving you forward in meeting your goals. Managers often share that they invest many hours and dollars into training programs only to have their reps go right back to doing the same old thing. Ouch!

In this last of a 3-part series I’m sharing the final two steps to creating training programs that really STICK, that deliver results that help you achieve your goals. If you missed the previous steps, use these links to catch up on some great information!

Read Part-1 Here.-- Read Part-2 Here.

Also don’t miss the promised free checklist to make sure you are on track for the stickiest training! You‘ll find that information at the end of this post.

Step 5: Effective Follow-Up Plan
“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”

This step is often where the best delivered training falls apart. There is no follow up plan! An effective follow up plan has two components.

First schedule an interval of performance checks after you rep has returned to the live environment. This means find a way to observe your rep doing exactly what you asked them to do. For example, if you just trained a new process go into your system and check a couple transactions to see if they were completed correctly. Or perhaps you trained a new soft skill, then listen to calls to ensure they are using the new concept. Then report back to your supervisors or coaches to provide additional coaching when required.

Why are performance checks important? Because reps don’t always embrace or understand the new process.

The second component is to provide positive reinforcement. In most cases you are asking reps to learn a new process, which is much like learning a new habit. It is so easy to fall back to the old way. Positive reinforcement encourages your rep to keep working the new system until it becomes easier to do it the new way than the old way.

Step 6: Measurements to Spot Gaps Down the Road

It’s a bit like the child’s game of telephone. One person gets off track from the new way of doing business. Someone overhears them and wonders if they missed something and starts copying the wrong process. Then a new trainee sits with the second person and learns how to do it wrong. And suddenly you are 3 months down the road and your training investment has disappeared.

The time to make sure you have a long term plan to spot knowledge gaps is at the time you are designing the training. Do you need to add something to your QA definitions? Is there an automated audit report that you can use? It doesn’t have to be complicated to work, your goal is to know that the training transfer is slipping before it completely fails. Then you can quickly right the ship with very little additional investment.

Are You Serious About Changing Up Your Training Program?

Then, download this really cool, incredibly comprehensive, training checklist to ensure you haven’t missed any of these steps before you next launch. I’ll walk you through step by step how to audit your training program to achieve Super Sticky Training!


Publish Date: February 12, 2016 5:00 AM

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