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FCR - Blog

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When Friendly Customer Service is Secondary

Shortly after moving to Eugene, Oregon I discovered that the Willamette Valley, which stretches from Portland to Eugene and sits between the coastal and Cascade mountain ranges, is the grass seed capital of the world? Seriously, grass all over the world is grown from seeds produced here.

What that meant for me was that during grass pollen season, which is roughly the entire month of June, I could not go outside without sneezing uncontrollably. It was bad and no amount of drugs was going to make it better. In desperation I went to an allergist who got me on allergy shots. The gist of allergy shots is that they figure out what you’re allergic to and then inject you with a little bit of it on a regular basis so your body can build up an immunity. Fast forward a few years and I can go outside in the month of June without drugs and maybe just a few sneezes. Allergy shots really work.

One thing about these allergy shots is that we’re required to sit in the lobby for thirty minutes after the shot so the nurses can monitor us just in case there’s a bad reaction. In general everyone does their time without incident. The other day I was sitting in the lobby and about ten minutes in I felt a tickle in my throat and a strong need to cough. Perhaps it was a small reaction to the shots but nothing serious.

So I coughed and within a few seconds a nurse came out from the back and asked, “Who coughed?” She then looked at me and asked, “Was it you? Are you feeling OK.” I told her I felt fine and she gave me that look like Robert De Niro gives Ben Stiller in “Meet the Parents.” That looks that says, “OK, but I’m watching you.” I had to cough more but I held it in for the remaining (very uncomfortable) twenty minutes to avoid being questioned further.

Keep in mind also that there were 15-20 other folks in the lobby, so I was slightly embarrassed at being called out in front of a room of people. You may think I like attention, but I don’t — not that kind at least. When the nurse called me out I turned bright red and felt like I was in trouble.

I’ve thought about this experience quite a bit, wondering if there’s any way it could have been handled differently — preferably in a way that didn’t embarrass me. I’ve come to the conclusion that the nurse did exactly what she was supposed to do. Her job is to administer shots and she always mixes in great customer service skills while doing so. But then after the shot, it’s her responsibility to make sure I don’t have an adverse reaction — or worse — die!

When you put it that way, my feelings and whether or not I’m embarrassed at being called out in front of a room of people is secondary. The nurse is trained to listen for sniffling, sneezing, and coughing and is required to respond quickly to make sure everyone is OK. We can see that responding with the appropriate urgency and accurately assessing the situation is the only thing that matters in that moment. The ability to do this with grace and poise is an added bonus, but again, comes in a distant second to making sure I don’t die.

Does your company have these sorts of life or death situations where time is of the essence? This most certainly applies to first responders, medical professionals, 911 dispatchers, and roadside assistance. There’s a fine balance here for sure and it requires the appropriate customer service skills and response in the moment. If you work in such a profession or have worked there in the past, I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories on balancing great customer service with the urgency of the moment.


Publish Date: February 20, 2019 5:00 AM

Customer Service Edge Cases. To Empower or Not to Empower?

Have you noticed the change in professional sports television viewing over the past few years where it’s become standard for a rules official, oftentimes a former referee, to provide expert interpretations of the rules and judgment calls in instant replay situations. If you’re not into sports, just take my word for it. My point is that if you’ve worked as a leader in a contact center, chances are you’ve felt like that rules official a time or two.

It’s been nearly two years since I shared my Recipe for Consistent Customer Service, and while that covers many customer service situations, there are still plenty of scenarios, or edge cases that require a rules interpretation from a manager or supervisor. In this article, I’m going to summarize a couple recent situations that challenged this recipe and then I’ll talk about how to address these and whether or not agents should be empowered to handle them.

Scenario #1: What if taking care of the customer might mean stepping on some toes?

A colleague recently approached me with a question. A support ticket had been handled by someone in another office and the customer was unhappy with the service they received. Remember that I work for an outsourcer and it’s not uncommon for our clients to have internal customer service teams as well as other outsourcing vendors. For one reason or another, the ticket came to our attention and we felt compelled to reach out to the customer to make it right.

Typically in the event that a customer is dissatisfied with the service provided by one of our agents, we review those cases, using them as opportunities to coach agents to provide better service. That didn’t apply in this case because someone at another office or vendor originally handled the ticket. While my colleague wanted to follow our normal process, she didn’t feel it was her place to reassign the case to an agent at another office or provide any coaching to them. After all, she didn’t manage that person and also ran the risk of making another vendor look bad in the eyes of our client.

When she asked for my recommendation I immediately asked, “What’s the top priority here?”

Yes, coaching agents for better quality and consistency and playing nice with our partners makes the list, but we agreed that the most important thing was to take care of the customer. We were then able to find a path to do so without causing a stir with the other vendor.

Scenario #2: Where’s the line when it comes to taking care of the customer?

A former colleague asked for my opinion on a recent customer service situation. She learned that a long time, repeat customer of theirs had passed away. Upon hearing the news she felt compelled to send flowers to the family of the deceased customer only to have the gesture vetoed by her boss. Thanks to Zappos and the effect they’ve had on global customer service, some might feel it’s their obligation to make a grand gesture in these cases — and anything less would be bad customer service. Furthermore, the boss that says no is heartless, right?

As we chatted, however, I encouraged her to look at this from the perspective of an owner of a small, but growing startup. Yes, we absolutely want to take care of the customer, but let’s also consider that having flowers delivered could run as much as $50. Is there something less expensive that can adequately express our sympathies — like a card or a phone call? Maybe the boss isn’t such a bad guy but is concerned about setting a precedent in the event that this happens again in the future. Or perhaps the customer, while a valued customer, only paid a few dollars per month.

To empower or not to empower

In my previous article, I spoke of authorizing or empowering agents to make decisions and take action on behalf of customers. In the two stories I’ve shared, you could make the argument that depending on the company, it would be easy to empower agents to handle these cases. But let’s assume these are indeed edge cases and talk about the best course of action. Here are four things to consider:

  • On support teams the old adage of one to say yes, two to say no isn’t a bad thing. While it certainly means more questions for supervisors and managers and it might reek to some of bureaucracy, it’s important to build checks and balances into your support operation where agents, if they don’t know the answer or aren’t empowered to make a decision, seek a second opinion. But before you shake your head no or wave your magic wand and make it so, you can still prepare your agents for the next level by reasoning through a decision with them. Ask them what they’d do if the decision was all theirs. Rather than shooting them down, take the time to affirm their judgment and steer them in the right direction. What a vote of confidence it is for your agents if they help make the decision and learned something along the way.
  • Keep track of the occurrences. Whether it’s a disposition or tag in a ticketing system or a tally on a whiteboard, keep track of how often such edge cases arise. You may find that some of these only come up once in a blue moon, like a customer passing away, whereas others are more frequent and require you to adjust policy and agent training to be able to guide these situations. That’s one of the benefits of requiring a second opinion because it helps leaders keep their finger on the pulse of what’s going on and how often these issues arise.
  • Point back to your north star. In my first story, there was never a question that the right thing to do was to take care of the customer with the unresolved issue. There were, however, a few other things in the way that required a bit of care and consideration. How often do we get bogged down with policy and procedure and forget that without our customers we don’t have a business? Think about that for a microsecond, the fact that we’re here to take care of the customer, and many of the other details become trivial and begin to fall into line.
  • Also don’t forget about customer lifetime value. I’ve heard a number of folks mention a customer lifeboat so I’m not sure who to attribute it to. To summarize, it’s a set dollar amount up to which agents are authorized to spend to make it right for a customer. At a previous job, we were authorized to credit a free month of service up to $50. At the Ritz-Carlton, employees are authorized for up to $2,000. While we want to take care of customers and share gratitude or sympathies, it’s possible that sending $50 worth of flowers is bad business — especially if the customer only spends a few bucks a month. Think about how much customers spend and give accordingly, but by all means, be sincere about it.

As I reflect back on these stories I’ve shared, my favorite aspect of both of them is that my colleagues were wrestling with this stuff. They genuinely cared about the customer and wanted to do right by them. If you do nothing else, be sure to continue to foster that in your company culture. My hope is that these few tips help us, like a good referee, make the right call.


Publish Date: January 18, 2019 5:00 AM

FCR Solutions Spotlight: 5 Contact Center Tech Upgrades to Consider in 2019

The text of this article originally appeared on the FCR blog on December 5, 2018. Click here to read the original.

Hint: Focus on Agent Performance

If you’ve sat through any customer service technology demos or walked the showroom floor at an industry conference, you’ve undoubtedly heard well-meaning sales folks speak of innovation, disruption, and automation. I’ve heard this spoken of chatbots, in particular, this year. Statements like, “Chatbots will automate X% of your customer interactions” and “Your competition is working on a chatbot as we speak” have been uttered in my presence.

While automation continues to grab headlines in a variety of industries, there’s plenty of innovation happening in this space in other key areas that can improve your customer and agent experience – and in some cases, you’ll see gains in both quality AND efficiency – a rare win-win. There are five such areas where I see significant gains for your contact center by upgrading in 2019 if you haven’t already.

Integrate Slack with support tools

Slack has revolutionized contact center communication. Still, I was stopped dead in my tracks earlier this year when a client asked, “Is there anything out there that’s better than Slack?” Wait, what? I thought Slack had completely disrupted their space. How could there be anything better?

That sent me on a quest to understand how our support teams use Slack (Read Part One and Part Two of my findings here). That exercise led me to a variety of Slack applications, of which there are many. Let me give you a couple of examples of where support teams are gaining some efficiency in Slack.

  1. Tighter integration with ticketing system – A common workflow on support teams when agents have questions is to enter their question and the ticket ID they’re working on in Slack – hopefully to a channel with multiple people who can help versus a direct message to one person. As you can imagine, this is a lot of copying and pasting and navigating between the ticketing system (like Zendesk or Salesforce) and Slack. That’s when we discovered an integration called BubbleIQ where agents, by simply tagging a ticket, can have that ticket posted to the appropriate Slack channel. Whoever reviews that post can add a note to the ticket from Slack without ever opening the ticketing system.
  2. Tighter integration with knowledge base – Another common use case with Slack is where agents ask questions. Many of our support teams have elaborate systems of editing the post with the question to also include the answer so folks can later leverage the searchability of Slack to find answers to questions that have already been asked. In a way, Slack becomes an internal knowledge base. To take it a step further, Guru has a great integration where agents can query the customer-facing knowledge base and even add new content directly from Slack. This article by Yael McCue, Senior Customer Success Manager at Guru talks about how they’ve gone all in on Knowledge Centered Support (KCS), a process for involving your entire support team in the creation of the knowledge base. It’s a perfect complement to this integration.

Those are a couple examples among many possibilities when it comes to integrating Slack with your other support tools. The likes of Zapier and Workato can take this even further.

Supercharge self-help

I already touched on self-help and knowledge base a bit but have more to say on this topic. Gone are the days of the stale FAQ or knowledge base on your website. Sure, if you don’t have a knowledge base, that’s a great place to start – and if you already have a ticketing system, chances are there’s a knowledge base included that you can use.

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), self-help is where the biggest difference is being made. While this begins to dip a toe into the chatbot waters, small to medium organizations likely don’t have the volume needed to fully automate customer interactions. There’s still plenty of opportunity for AI to help understand what customers need and connect them with faster, better solutions. Here are a few ideas to take that stagnant knowledge base off the back shelf and place it in the spotlight:

  1. Make sure knowledge is updated and relevant. As mentioned before, a process like KCS can make a difference on your support team. Without going into detail, KCS ensures that everyone on the support team, during every customer interaction, evaluates whether or not a knowledge article needs to be added or updated, keeping the content up to date.
  2. Track what customers are asking. In any searchable knowledge base, the system you’re using should be tracking what customers most frequently search for. Analyze that data closely and make sure you have answers to the questions they’re asking. Any time the customer can’t find what they’re looking for, they’re either calling customer support or walking away.
  3. Put content where customers are looking for it. Don’t expect your customers to go find your content. Present it to them in places that make sense. For example, Zendesk’s Answer Bot sends an automatic response to customers after they email support suggesting articles and allowing customers to close their ticket if it answered their question. Solvvy analyzes the questions customers enter into a support or chat form and presents answers before the customer proceeds with a support ticket or chat. AnswerDash is a widget that lives on every page of your website making it incredibly convenient to search the knowledge base. All of these tools use Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to understand what the customer asked and they serve up the most relevant information. Furthermore, they track how often the presented solutions accurately address a customer’s issue.

Harness the power of microlearning

I teamed up with my colleague and contact center training expert, Sheri Kendall-duPont earlier this year to share 8 Essential Features for Your Contact Center Learning Management System (LMS). The feature that stands out above the rest for me is, “Provide microlearning opportunities for busy contact center professionals.

We’re busy in contact centers and I’m guessing that the possibility of shutting off the phones for an hour or two for meetings and training is slim to none in your center. How often do we put off training simply because there’s no time?

There’s a better way and it has to do with making the most of those slow times between customer interactions where agents need something to do. With a robust LMS, it’s easy to design lessons that take a few minutes and can be completed in between customer interactions on an individual basis. Lessonly and Hickory are a couple platforms that do a great job at this and have the tracking to ensure that everyone completes the training.

Recognize the speech patterns that lead to success

This article from Harvard Business Review on words and phrases to use and others to avoid during customer interactions was particularly insightful this year. The authors found that using “I” instead of “We” language, speaking in specifics, and taking charge of the situation leads to more successful customer interactions. This isn’t particularly shocking but sometimes difficult to quantify.

This is the power of speech and text analytics. Our customer interactions continue to be a huge learning opportunity where we can understand both the challenges and successes in the customer experience. I’ve been particularly intrigued by a company called RapportBoost that uses AI to analyze chat conversations and understand the speech patterns that lead to more sales and/or higher customer satisfaction. Those insights are then used to train the entire team to better engage customers.

Keep an eye on the customer engagement market

2018 has been a fascinating year for popular customer engagement solutions. Just to name a few, Salesforce announced an end of life for, Zendesk did a number of things like bolster their reporting with Guide and acquire their own CRM platform, Amazon now offers their Amazon Connect phone platform and doesn’t charge user license fees, and systems like Kustomer are rising up with the promise of getting us closer to a true omnichannel customer support experience.

I don’t have a recommendation on this front yet other than to say that this competition stands to benefit the customers using those products. This means that whether you stay put or adopt a new customer engagement platform in 2019, you’re sure to see more and more AI, better integration, deeper insights, and richer features.

To conclude, it’s been a good year of product demos and I expect the same in 2019. There are plenty of opportunities to beef up contact center technology whether it’s in communication, training, self-help, analytics, customer engagement, and more. As you do so, I urge you to focus especially on your agents and ways to empower and equip them to more efficiently serve customers without sacrificing quality.


Publish Date: January 11, 2019 5:00 AM

How Chat Analytics Differs from Voice Analytics

This article originally appeared on the OpusResearch blog on November 16, 2018. Click here to read the original.

Today’s contact centers are overflowing with insights about how to deliver a better customer experience. There’s just one problem: the best insights are housed in the customer conversations (phone call recordings and chat and email transcripts) and it’s traditionally been incredibly time consuming or costly, to garner actionable insights. These are still largely untapped resources and within them are a treasure trove of information that can fuel business success.

Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, specifically natural language processing, and machine learning, the tide is beginning to turn as voice and chat analytics platforms are becoming more accessible, affordable, and insightful. With many new players in the market, it makes sense to spend a few moments discussing how voice and chat analytics are similar and different while also highlighting some of their key benefits.

A chat analytics platform and a voice analytics platform are like a screwdriver and a hammer. While both are tools aimed at solving a similar problem, they often arrive at the solution in very different ways. Just like hand tools engineered for specific applications, voice and chat analytics platforms are engineered to optimize specific customer support channels.

Voice Analytics

First, let’s look at voice analytics platforms. Key players in the market include i2XCogito, and These tools gain insights and generate recommendations both by analyzing the text of call transcripts and the features of the human voice. There are currently three main approaches for voice or speech analytics:

  • Phonetic – Listening to the call for specific keywords and phrases like, “I’m upset” or “I want to cancel my account.”
  • Full transcription – Converting the entire call into text for the ease of reading and also deeper analysis. This is more resource intensive but also more insightful as well, giving access to every word spoken on the call.
  • Extended speech emotion recognition – Understanding and analyzing not only what is said on a call but how it’s said. The emotion behind a statement helps better understand what a customer said and meant.

In addition to these approaches, some voice analytics platforms analyze the human voice for energy, tone, tenseness, volume, and pace — regardless of what language is actually being spoken.

Chat Analytics

Chat analytics platforms, like RapportBoost, analyze the data generated by a company’s live chat conversations to uncover the drivers of a successful conversation. And the great news is that chat conversations are already converted into text — eliminating the need for transcription.

By using machine learning and natural language processing, RapportBoost understands the conversation between the customer and agent and generates company-specific recommendations for agents regarding their communication style. Imagine the ability to tie often subtle patterns like formality or lack thereof, reassurance, optimal message length, cadence, and word choice back to key business and success objectives like customer satisfaction, closed sales, and first contact resolution.

Building a model that drives better outcomes

Building a voice analytics or chat analytics platform requires significant software development and data science resources. And all too often these tools can sit on the shelf if they aren’t built with the right outcomes in mind.
When done right, the system can analyze the thousands of variables that make up a conversation. It can take note of the actions or words used by agents that are most likely to change the outcome of a phone call or chat — the actions that result in a successful sale. The success of any analytics platform lies in identifying those variables that affect conversation outcomes, determine their impact, and fuel efficient coaching of agents to effectively lead their interaction with a customer or prospective customer.

Beyond the text: Comparing the variables that change outcomes

It’s important to note that the variables that affect the outcomes of chat and voice conversations, while important in each, are different because spoken word is different than written. People use a fundamentally different language for different channels. The challenge regardless of channel is to move beyond just the words to understand tone, emotions, and cadence in alignment with customer expectations. Here are three key variables that are important to watch.

Both chat and voice offer unique opportunities for expressing tone. Chat relies on grammar, punctuation, word choice, timing, abbreviations, and the occasional emoji. The human voice on the other hand, conveys tone through volume, rate of speech, and variations in pitch. Voice analytics company Cogito learns by analyzing thousands of phone conversations to understand the tone and patterns that lead to success. They then provide guidance to contact center agents in real-time around critical skills like turn-taking (AKA not talking over the customer), tone, empathy, mimicry, and tenseness.

Also known as turn-taking, cadence comes naturally (for most) during face-to-face or video conversations thanks to non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language. It’s not quite so easy via phone and chat. Voice and chat applications mitigate this problem in different ways. On the voice side, i2x and analyze recorded calls to recommend an optimized talk-to-listen ratio for customer support agents. For chat, RapportBoost analyzes conversations to recommend optimal formality, message length, reassurance, question type, and timing between messages.

Patterns of speech
Patterns of speech can vary significantly between customer support channels like chat and voice. On phone calls agents are often required to communicate significantly more information and detail to customers. In contrast, customers in chat are communicating on an internet-connected device so agents can link the customer to helpful information like product pages and the company knowledge base. Patterns of speech like volume, tone, and speed of delivery while sharing critical information with customers requires extra care over the phone.

Also regarding speech patterns, it’s important to compare the potential for spontaneous interaction. Chat is de facto linear. Only one message can be sent at a time, and a visual cue often indicates when one party is typing — sometimes even allowing agents to see what the customer is typing. Phone calls on the other hand have greater potential for interruption and improvisation. i2x helps agents stay on track by providing a ‘don’t say list’. overcomes this challenge by building a playbook based on top agent’s questions and pricing conversations.

Each customer support channel, whether it’s voice, email, chat, etc holds unique potential for optimization. Voice and chat analytics platforms like those mentioned in this article continue to make huge gains in this area. As you evaluate the tools that are right for your business, it’s important to adopt a platform that aligns with your specific channel mix. It’s also essential to understand the variables in communication for the different support channels to analyze tone, cadence, and speech patterns. Once these are identified and understood, they fuel a coaching and continuous improvement process that will drive your business toward your desired outcomes and beyond.


Publish Date: January 3, 2019 5:00 AM

Sad and Happy Goodbyes

Nobody likes goodbyes, right? Well sometimes we like them. I’ve had a couple recently in my life as a customer — one that I’ve fantasized about for a while and another that hit me by surprise and left me both happy and sad at the same time. Let me explain.

Happy Goodbye - Bye Bye Cable Company

I recently canceled my service with the cable company. Given that I was only using them for basic internet service, I opted for a local wireless provider and so far the quality of service is fantastic. For those of you who have read 100% of my tweets for the last 3 years (I know that’s exactly zero people) and this blog post, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I wasn’t terribly happy with the cable company.

For the most part the service wasn’t bad and the customer service folks were friendly and helpful, but there were a sprinkling of negative issues in my time with them. The moment I found a better deal I was poised to move on.

The first issue occurred when they didn’t tell me about an additional fee during the installation. I was just sort of pleasantly surprised when I got my first bill and not thrilled when they only credited part of that fee back to me because of a policy.

Next came the steady increases in my bill from around $40 per month to somewhere around $70 per month. They conveniently didn’t tell me about that during the sales process. When I inquired about improved pricing, they gladly offered a slight discount if I added cable TV to my plan which I assume would slowly ratchet my bill up closer to $100 once all of the discounts wore off.

The last issue was just the intermittent weekly loss of connectivity. They could see when my connection wasn’t working given that it would stop responding, right? And I’m sure they knew that my modem was old and probably needed to be replaced. What about reaching out proactively to make sure everything was still working properly and even sending me a new modem rather than asking me to drive to a store to get one? I realize that probably no cable company does this but one can always dream.

No this was not a sad goodbye. My hope is that the cable company, when looking at the reason I canceled, doesn’t just chalk it up to my stated reason of “don’t want the service anymore.” This was preventable and if they take the time to connect the dots, there were warning signs along the way.

Sad Goodbye - Bye Bye Melissa

I continue to be a big fan of Great Clips after observing their effective use of CRM to better remember their customer preferences. It’s a great way to fuel robust customer engagement. I ventured into my local salon last Friday evening for a haircut, sat down in Melissa’s chair, and quickly noticed the sign that said “Congratulations” along with flowers and cards. I asked her what it was for and, with a big smile, she said it was her last day.

Rewinding a bit, Melissa has cut either my hair or one of my kids’ hair at least a half a dozen times in the last year. Every time I enter the salon I’m greeted with a smile and a “Welcome to Great Clips.” And while I’m not sure she has my name memorized, she definitely calls me by name once she locates me in their CRM.

Over the last year Melissa has shared with me how she was just finishing up her bachelor’s degree and was so excited because her field of study would allow her to work with and serve elderly people. I was able to congratulate her after she graduated, and then by the perfect stroke of luck, was able to be there to say goodbye. She was leaving Great Clips after landing the job she had spent six years preparing for. How great is that?

Melissa and I aren’t BFFs and may never see each other again, but in the process of delivering and receiving great customer service we made a connection. I’m not even sure she did much more than be friendly, consistently do a great job at cutting my hair, and share just enough about her life for me to know her as a person. Needless to say, I felt compelled to give a little extra tip that evening.

Of course this is a happy goodbye but it was also a bit of a sad goodbye. The good news for Great Clips is that it’s not a goodbye at all. I’m still a customer and probably a more loyal one at that. Any company that hires people like Melissa, supports her in working toward her personal and professional goals, and then send her off in grand fashion is alright by me.

What goodbyes teach us

These two goodbye stories in many ways are polar opposites from one another. Ultimately I canceled with one company and increased in loyalty with the other. There are some lessons we can glean here.

  1. Sometimes customers are happy to leave because they’ve been aggravated at multiple stages in their customer journey. Don’t always take their stated reason for cancelling at face value but take the time understand all of the reasons why. This may require hard work. Otherwise, you run the risk of never realizing that, as in the case of the cable company, your sales process is dooming your customer relationship from the very beginning.
  2. We like to talk a lot about great customer service but there are times that customers aren’t leaving or staying because of your customer service. The customer service team at the cable company was always friendly and helpful but there was much left to be desired about the rest of the experience.
  3. When you have star performers on your team inevitably say goodbye to your organization because they took the next step in their career or followed their passion, it says a lot about your organization if you can send them off in grand fashion. It also says a lot when you support their growth and development all along the way.
  4. But hopefully many of your star performers get promoted internally and continue to benefit your organization. That’s worth celebrating too!
  5. Be sure to learn from those star performers, like Melissa, so you can hire and train other members of your team to engage customers in similar fashion. That way customers can always enjoy connecting with your staff regardless of who’s serving them. There’s probably a reason a hair stylist like Melissa gets more tips than everyone else. That shouldn’t be a mystery.

Speaking of goodbyes, I guess that’s about all I have to say about that topic. Goodbye for now!


Publish Date: December 21, 2018 5:00 AM

Creating A Customer Service Quality Assurance Form Doesn’t Have To Be Scary (Here’s How)

This article was originally published on the MaestroQA blog on December 2, 2018. Click here to read the original post.

Creating a quality form for your customer service team can be a scary task. Questions abound. How many items should it hold? What questions matter most? Which ones don’t? What type of scoring method should we use? The list goes on and on, and these are all great questions. But before we address them, let’s back up a bit and first discuss the “why” of quality assurance and talk about why this shouldn’t be a scary task at all.

Understanding your brand

At FCR, one of my favorite activities is discussing quality and customer experience with new clients that come on board. It would be easy to jump into that meeting and start coming up with questions for a quality form and assigning point values and such, but I prefer to start with a couple questions to get to know them better.

  • What do you call your customers? While some companies just refer to them as customers, others go with members, users, patients, guests, pet parents, etc. There’s no right answer here, but intentionality around these names can make a difference in how customers are perceived. And consistency in the way we address our customers matters.
  • What’s your customer service philosophy or mission? This prompt is intended to get to the heart of what’s most important about each customer interaction. I want to learn about the company culture and how they treat their customers. I often hear things like, “If something goes wrong, we go above and beyond to make it right for the customer” or “We aim for quality over quantity when we interact with our customers, taking the time to get it right the first time.” I’ve heard a full spectrum of responses here and it’s heavily dependent on the product or service and type of work we’re doing.
  • What does a high quality interaction look like for your brand? This is similar to the previous point, but slightly different, and every company will have a different answer. Some will say that they want agents to speak with customers as if they’re already friends – this kind of casual rapport is what it takes for an interaction to be high quality in their eyes. Others still will say that a quality interaction is when an agent digs deeper to find the question behind the question. There will be lots of overlap in what companies care about, but the order in which brands prioritize these things varies widely.

Only when we have answers to these questions can we begin thinking about our quality forms and the essential elements to great customer interaction. For those of you from a traditional contact center background, you’ve likely seen quality forms with twenty to thirty items. After you’ve established what you value most, you’ll find that many of those items are irrelevant. Every item on your quality form should in some way help you achieve your mission. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

A basic framework for a quality assurance form

If you took the time to strip your customer interactions down to the bare essentials, what would be left? When I ask this question, I’m talking about those items that, if we don’t get them right, the result is negative consequences for our customers and our business. When we strip it all away, here’s what’s left:

  1. Accuracy - Customers must receive accurate information. That’s why they contact support. If they don’t, they may call back or they may just cancel their service. Calling back means an unnecessary spike in call volume. Not calling back means we lose customers and revenue. Wrong or incomplete answers render customer service efforts entirely pointless. Accuracy also includes adhering to important policies and procedures. Think of procedures like taking good account notes so a customer doesn’t have to rehash their issue if they call back.
  2. Security - At a minimum, security means properly authenticating customers before disclosing or changing information on their account. Depending on the industry, you’ll often hear acronyms like PII, PCI, and HIPAA, and failure to comply with these regulations, breeches security and trust with customers and results in significant legal problems for the company.
  3. Connection - I’m talking about the essential people skills required to make a connection with the customer that shows them we understand what’s going on, that we’re taking ownership of their issues, and that we have the ability to effectively communicate a message to them.

So are you saying my quality form only needs three items on it?

Maybe. I’ve definitely seen it done that way. My rule of thumb for what else to add to a quality form is:

Add to the quality form anything that you want to track so you can coach, train, and monitor improvement over time.

If you aren’t tracking it, you won’t be able to recognize trends and manage to them. At best, you’ll coach agents on a bunch of one-off issues but never see the greater impact of that coaching.

Should my quality forms vary by support channel?

While I’d argue that the three basic ingredients above apply to ALL customer interactions, the level of complexity will vary for email, chat, phone, social media, text (SMS), etc. For example, greeting a customer might look like “Hi Customer!” over email while over the phone it might encompass the first minute or two of the interaction.

You may find that the criteria for different support channels looks very similar. It’s a good practice to take the time to create a definitions guide that spells out what each item on the form looks like for each support channel. At the end of the day, you might also find that certain things just don’t apply to certain channels or can be consolidated, and that’s OK too.

The right tool matters

As you’re building out a quality program you can definitely use spreadsheets but you risk a couple things. First, you might get what you pay for — which isn’t a whole lot. Second, you quickly realize the need for highly technical staff, well-versed in complex Excel formulas. This can be hard to sustain — and frankly after surveying the quality software scene, you’ll quickly realize there are tools out there at a reasonable price that do all of this for you.

Here are some of the benefits of a great quality tool:

  • Effortlessly create forms and calibrations. A quality tool removes the requirement for technical knowledge and creates a centralized place for regularly monitoring the performance of your team. Once the form is created and in use, it’s important to regularly calibrate as a team to make sure everyone is grading the same way. The tool facilitates that entire process with ease.
  • Track agent progress and target coaching and training. With a great quality tool you can expect reporting that will show performance from the team level down to the agent level. My personal favorite report is a breakdown of how we’re performing on each item of the quality form so we can identify the areas agents struggle with most.
  • Tie quality to other KPIs. What metrics matter most in your organization? We consistently find that customer satisfaction is really important — so much so that we’ve begun asking teams to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and rate whether or not they’d be satisfied with the support that was provided. If you haven’t done it, compare your quality scores to your customer satisfaction scores. If quality is high and customer satisfaction is low, it might be time to reevaluate your quality process.
  • Stay on top of the tickets that need to be graded. A big challenge for support teams, especially as your operation scales, is to remember who needs to be monitored, when, and how many. A quality tool ideally integrates with your existing support tools, randomly selecting tickets to grade to ensure that you consistently monitor a representative sample of your total interactions.

I know this may sound like a lot but my hope is that this makes the process of setting up your quality program a bit less daunting. Start with what’s most important on every customer interaction and then build a set of quality criteria that helps you achieve your mission. Once you’ve established that, get yourself a quality tool, like MaestroQA, that can house the entire process. Not scary at all, is it?


Publish Date: December 14, 2018 5:00 AM

A Miscellaneous Lot of Thoughts on Quality Scoring

Over the past year or so I’ve had many conversations about contact center quality assurance — some of which I’ve shared in past articles. As I was scanning my list of blog post ideas, I realized I had some miscellaneous thoughts that fit under the quality umbrella and it’s about time we discuss them. Without wasting more time on a clever introduction for this article, here are my thoughts.

Does extra credit belong on a quality form?

I’ve spent significant time of late helping support teams moved their quality forms from Google Forms and spreadsheets into a quality application and one of the unforeseen obstacles we’ve had to work through is extra credit or bonus questions. The tool we use doesn’t allow for a quality score to be greater than 100% so that more or less eliminates these questions from the conversation.

There still exists a philosophical issue to discuss. As I did further investigation I learned that on some forms agents could earn extra credit for “Going above and beyond for the customer” or for “WOWing them.” In my opinion we can thank a handful of customer service news stories that somehow conditioned us to think that customer service isn’t great unless it goes viral. When I asked our leaders how often extra credit was earned the answer was almost never.

We must never forget that if we can consistently be friendly, provide thorough and accurate responses, and set appropriate expectations without compromising the trust, safety, and security of our customers, we’re likely providing incredible customer service.

So what’s the point of extra credit? I recommend leaving it off of your quality forms and instead setting a reasonable but high standard and empowering agents to consistently do their job well.

What about auto fails and penalties?

On the other side of extra credit are penalties and automatic failures. Penalties subtract points beyond the weighted value of a question and automatic failures zero out the review score entirely.

I know this sounds severe but I think there’s a time and place for such questions. It does require some careful thought, however. We need to first consider the items on quality forms that have greater impact on a customer interaction than others. These things are the opposite of what I mentioned earlier. They include being downright rude and unprofessional, giving out wrong or incomplete information, and compromising security or compliance practices (Think PCI and HIPAA).

For those things, it’s important that agents understand the severity of a miscue. Why? Here’s a short list:

  • It puts customers and the business at risk for lawsuits, hacks, and severe penalties from regulating bodies.
  • It increases the likelihood of customer churn.
  • It renders that customer interaction pointless because the customer will have to contact the company again to get their issue resolved.

All three of these problems cost companies a lot of money.

What’s my approach? I generally avoid penalties on quality forms because I haven’t worked with a quality tool that allows for the subtraction of points. I’m also not a huge fan of elaborate points systems — but I’ll get to that more in the next point. I recommend either increasing the weight of a given question to have a greater impact on the overall score or, if it’s severe enough, make it an auto fail where the agent earns a zero for the interaction.

What’s the point of quality scores anyway?

One of my favorite conversations is with contact centers leaders who don’t see a point in quality scores at all. The reason is that they’d rather review customer interactions and discuss what the agent did well and where they can improve. They believe that quality assurance is about coaching agents and making continuous improvement over time and that supersedes a score.

Any seasoned coach has seen the look in an agent’s eye when they’re handed a quality review and they go straight to the score. If it’s a passing score, they might completely check out and not think they have anything to learn. If it’s a failing score, the fight or flight response engages in their brain, they immediately go on the defensive, and any coaching opportunity is lost. That’s enough for some to either stop showing scores altogether or at least go over all of the feedback with the agent before showing a score.

Before you throw out quality scores altogether, however, remember that the greatest value of a quality score is the ability to track improvement over time. Should be able to drill down and track how often individuals and teams are properly executing on the various objectives on the form during customer interactions. For example, you might find that Bob properly greets customers 99% of the time on the phone but he only verifies customers’ identities 75% of the time. Clearly verifying customers should be a priority when coaching Bob. If you take a step back and see that the team as a whole is struggling to consistently verify customers, it’s time to invest in some recursive training.

Where does quality calibration come into play?

In a past article I wrote about the importance of a quality calibration process to ensure that everyone is aligned and scoring customer interactions the same way. The more people you have scoring calls, the more essential this process becomes. This ensures that your quality data is accurate.

My prefered method for calibration is where all attendees review and score customer interactions ahead of time. The calibration meeting then becomes a time where everyone comes together, compares results, and discusses how they differed. Out of that discussion comes an agreed upon score and the average difference between each reviewer’s rating and the calibrated score is the variance. The goal of these sessions should be to reduce that variance.

I find that this method gives the most honest rating possible and is a true gauge of where everyone on the team stands.

I’ve been in enough quality assurance discussions both inside and outside of our organization to know that there’s a broad range of opinions on these topics. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment or question below and we’ll discuss further.


Publish Date: December 10, 2018 5:00 AM

7 Essentials for a Customer Service Voice and Style Guide

This article was originally published on CustomerThink on October 12, 2018. Click here to read the original post.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked with dozens of our new clients at FCR to help them design a quality process for the customer service team that drives the sort of customer experience they want to deliver. Of the many different topics we discuss in those conversations, one of my favorites is asking them to talk about the voice and style we should use when communicating with their customers.

Most clients respond with a handful of words and phrases to summarize this voice and style. They typically say some combination of the following:

  • We’re upbeat and friendly.
  • We apologize profusely when things don’t go right or we don’t apologize at all unless it was absolutely our fault.
  • We talk to customers like they’re a friend of a friend. It’s familiar but still professional.
  • If a customer has a problem, we go above and beyond to make it right.

There’s more we could add to this list but that’s how most of these discussions go.

And then there are the handful of clients that have a detailed style guide that was produced by their marketing department. These guides cover pretty much every communication scenario you could possibly think of.

A quick Google search led me to the Mailchimp Content Style Guide which covers voice and tone, punctuation (serial comma, capitalization, etc), key words and phrases to avoid and their alternatives, and a whole lot more. As I read through this and other guides, I’m not sure how someone even arrives at the understanding of what to put in such a guide. They’re so comprehensive.

Recently a client asked if we could help them create a voice and style guide because they didn’t have one. I’ve had this on my list of things to do and thought it might be fitting to share some of my initial thoughts in this article. The goal here is to understand what belongs in a voice and style guide and explore how this applies to customer service. Let’s address a few key questions first.

Who’s responsible for establishing the communication style for an organization?

In most organizations, the marketing department establishes voice and style, not the customer service group. But the smaller and/or newer the company is, the less likely it is to have someone dedicated solely to marketing. It’s more likely that people are wearing multiple hats and the customer service team might be instrumental in initially setting up guidelines for customer-facing communication.

Why is a voice and style guide important?

The most important concept is consistency. It’s about making all communication from your company to customers consistent with your brand regardless of which department is communicating. This includes content on your website, office decor, SWAG, signage, slide decks, and all outbound communications from groups like sales, marketing, IT, and customer service. According to ClearVoice: “Your brand should build awareness and develop trust and loyalty with customers” and this is most effectively accomplished with consistency across the board.

Does this really apply to customer service and how much?

Absolutely! Let’s look at how and where the voice and style guide should be used in customer service.

  • Pre-written macros and templates
    We already know that when done right, macros save time so agents don’t have to freehand every customer response every time. They also ensure that key information is communicated consistently. These are customer facing communications and should be written in the company’s voice and style.
  • Knowledge base content
    This information should also be consistent and on brand. Ideally the customer service team plays a key role in identifying the gaps in knowledge and helping keep the knowledge base current.
  • Speaking the language
    Whether it’s verbal or written communication the customer service team should be fluent in the voice and style of the company however simple or complex it may be. In this case, I’m thinking of those things that should or shouldn’t be said. For example, at a previous job we never said the word “outage” but instead used “service impairment.” This can be reinforced as part of the quality assurance process.

One note here is that I’ve seen many customer support organizations empower some of their best writers or hire writers to produce templates and knowledge base content that’s consistent with the company’s voice and style. This can be a great career path and allow you to amplify the number of customers some of your best agents reach. While it’s important that everyone in customer service actively suggest content, I recommend that a smaller group approve content and put it into production.

What are the essentials for a customer service voice and style guide?

We’ve established that a voice and style guide is important and applies to the customer service team and that customer service might have significant input in the process. As I’m thinking through the essentials, here’s a not-too-long list of what I’d include in the guide.

  • Proper formatting and spelling of the company name
    Is it Company Name, CompanyName, companyname, or Companyname? Pick one and stick with it.
  • What do you call your customers?
    Names matter and speak to how you view and value your customers. Do you call them members, users, etc? There’s nothing wrong with calling them customer but here are a few ideas to get you thinking.
  • Phrases to avoid and their alternatives
    I affectionately refer to these as “stop words” and you might include words like can’t, nope, won’t, unfortunately, and policy — words that put up a barrier between you and the customer. There might be some industry-specific language you want to be careful with as well like my earlier example about outages. Be sure to share words and phrases to use in their place.
  • Describing people
    As I continue to reference MailChimp’s Style Guide, I appreciate their sensitivity around words that are used to describe people’s age, race, gender, sexuality, and disabilities. Some of this seems like common sense but it’s not always common and may be important to spell out.
  • Using the customer’s name
    It’s a great idea to greet customers by name and use names naturally during interactions but this can also backfire if done incorrectly. In his new book, Customer Service Tip of the Week, Jeff Toister recommends, “In most situations, first names are perfectly acceptable and increasingly preferred by customers.” He goes on to say, “When in doubt, use their last name or ask which they prefer.”
  • Voice and tone
    I alluded to this earlier in the post. It’s possible to talk at extreme length about voice and tone but I recommend keeping it simple. For support teams, I find it effective to come up with a handful of words or phrases that describe how you talk with customers. Here’s an example of where I usually begin when working with clients:
    • Professional but personable – Business casual, not uptight, always respectful. Contractions (you’re, we’ll, they’re, etc) are encouraged.
    • Positive, fun, and upbeat – Phrases like “absolutely” and “here’s what I CAN do for you.” We avoid words like “unfortunately,” “can’t,” and “won’t.”
    • Partnering – Our goal is to work with customers to find solutions without talking down to them or sounding detached, scripted, or robotic.
    • Empathetic – We care about the emotional state of the customer and the problem they are encountering. We aim to make a human connection with each customer.
  • Grammar and punctuation
    We can go into extensive detail here. I recommend at minimum addressing the serial comma, double or single spacing before a new sentence, the use of emojis, and exclamation points. While it may be more about grammar than style, it’s wise to also address the use of apostrophes and differentiate between your and you’re, to and too, and they, their, and they’re. While you’re at it, talk about its and it’s. Those are confusing for some people but can reflect poorly on a brand when customers see those words used incorrectly.

I have one final thought on this topic. You might ask how the unique personality of your individual agents is able to shine through when they’re bound to a style guide. The reality is that it’s still people that make the meaningful connection with the customer, it’s people who choose that positive and upbeat attitude, and it’s people who work to find just the right solution to solve the customer’s problem. The style guide above all helps to create a consistent approach to customer service that aligns with your brand and ideally all other customer-facing communication in your organization. But remember that it’s the people who execute and add their own personal touch.

As I said earlier, I’m preparing to work with some of our clients to help them establish a voice and style guide primarily for customer service. As you read this article, let me know if there are any essentials I should consider or include.


Publish Date: November 29, 2018 5:00 AM

The Customer Service Advice We’re Thankful For

If you’re having trouble finding something to be thankful for, try emailing a thousand or so of your friends and colleagues and ask them to share what they’re thankful for. That’s what I did recently here at FCR for the fourth year in a row and I sure enjoyed reading the 187 responses. It was humbling in fact.

In this year’s Thankfulness Survey I asked a couple questions. The first had a customer service slant to it:

“What’s one bit of customer service advice you’ve received over the course of your life/career that you’re incredibly thankful for?

And the second was a bit more generic but a cool window into the lives of my colleagues:

If you had to pick just one thing, what are you most thankful for?

It’s not totally fair to force folks to pick just one thing because we have so much to be thankful for, but I appreciate their effort. Here’s what they came up with.

Customer service advice we’re thankful for

For those of us that have worked in customer service or with people in general for any amount of time, I think it’s safe to say that there are days where it’s difficult to find something to be thankful for. In my own career, I can remember where I was when my frustration after getting yelled at by a customer boiled over. I can also remember when I was introduced and who introduced me to concepts like emotional intelligence and how it dramatically improved the way I serve customers. Am I perfect? No — and I never will be — but I’m getting better.

It’s those pivotal moments in our careers where someone offers us advice that helps us do our job better for years to come. As I read the responses to this question, that’s what struck me the most. The fingerprints of managers, supervisors, trainers, and peers who cared enough to share wisdom and speak into the life of another are so evident.

The top five pieces of customer service advice we’re thankful for are:

1. Don’t take it personally

We all have 86,400 seconds in a day. Don’t let someone’s negative 10 seconds ruin the remaining 86,390 seconds of your day. Don’t sweat the small stuff, life is bigger than that. ~Kathleen in Great Falls

This sounds easy but it’s incredibly difficult when you speak with customers all day every day. The nature of this work is that customers have a problem and their recourse to solve the problem is to contact customer service — and some of them are going to be upset. So it makes sense that 24% of responses shared advice along these lines. If you’re looking for a practical exercise, when you feel yourself getting defensive, offended, or frustrated, 4% recommended pausing and taking a deep breath. That might either be done between or during those heated customer interactions.

2. Smile

Smile! It makes all the difference in not only your mood, but the moods of those around you.  ~Meriah in Independence

Have you ever worked in an environment where people had a mirror at their desk to hold themselves accountable to smile when answering the phone? I know it sounds super cheesy but making a conscious effort to smile when working with customers can make a big difference.. 14% of responses recommended smiling before, during, and after the interaction with a customer. If we’re smiling, we’re more likely to use positive, upbeat, and helpful language when speaking with customers and that impacts tone both in spoken and written communication.

3. Seek to understand

Remember the times you needed customer service in your life and listen as you would want to be listened to, respond as you would want to be responded to. ~Daniel in Independence

Listen, empathize, put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and remember that the customer is a human being are all concepts under this heading of seeking to truly understand the customer. This accounted for 14% of responses. Similar to not taking things personally, it’s important to work to understand where the customer might be coming from and what events in their lives might be triggering their response. Once we understand that, it’s easier to provide a compassionate response and move forward with a solution.

4. Treat the customer as you would treat yourself

Treat each person the way you would like to be treated. Even if you believe the other person is wrong. You never know what kind of day the other person has had, or what they are going through, and you have to be willing to put yourself in their shoes. We are all human and a little compassion can go a long way toward making someone’s day a little better. ~Christine in Roseburg

8% shared some variation of the Golden Rule. I was most entertained by the couple folks who said something to the effect of, “Treat the customer as you’d treat your grandma.” This most certainly involves remembering what it’s like to be a customer ourselves and can help us better understand and anticipate what customers need and how they feel.

5. Put the customer first

This (and every) interaction is a “moment that matters”. Customers don’t call to say things are working perfectly. They need help… your help, and will be grateful to not feel like a number in a transaction or that they should have leveraged the website before calling. ~Dan in Eugene

Sometimes we have to be reminded of the main thing when it comes to customer service. We can become preoccupied with a variety of activities, policies, and distractions and forget that our job is to take care of customers and solve their problems. It’s easy to look up at the call queue and start thinking about our next call but we’re most effective when we’re present with the current customer. 5% of the responses echoed this sentiment.

We are thankful for…

Enough work talk. It’s a holiday and while work is critical on so many levels it’s not always the most important thing. Before I get into how the majority responded to this question, I’m grateful to those folks with one-off responses like chocolate, boots, carpool karaoke, a drumset, and the dinosaurs (Yes, the extinct ones). All very important things for sure.

In past years I’ve shown a pie chart for this question but I’m not sure it’s necessary this year. The reality is that it’s the people in our lives that really matter. I think of my colleague Kathryn in Grants Pass whose sister lost her house in the recent California wildfires. There was fear and uncertainty when she couldn’t reach her sister for some period of time only to find out later that she was alright. We’re so grateful for some good news amid a tragedy that has been in so many of our thoughts and prayers.

While most of us have been fortunate not to face such difficult circumstances, it’s clear that we’re grateful for the precious gift that is great friends, family, colleagues, significant others, children, and grandkids. 64% said they were thankful for one or more of these groups — 67% if you count fur babies (AKA pets) — which I’m totally willing to allow.

Maybe that’s the best way to end this article. This Thanksgiving let’s take the time to remember and be grateful for the people in our lives both past and present. Things can often be replaced but people can’t. Think of those during the course of your customer service career that cared enough to help you grow and develop and then think of those who’ve stuck with you for better or for worse. Happy Thanksgiving!


Publish Date: November 21, 2018 5:00 AM

Customer Experience Insights From the Innovators

Of my heroes for their ability to tell an amazing story, Walter Isaacson, author of biographies on Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, and others easily makes the list. I just finished a listen of his book, The Innovators, and in comparison with his other works, it does not disappoint.

In some ways this book was a contrast from his other biographical works because it highlights the fact that the digital revolution wasn’t brought on by one single person or innovation. It instead was a continuous process of building and improving on the ideas and innovations of others and also required collaborations between individuals with a variety of strengths and abilities.

Another thing you may not realize about the digital revolution is that much of it was initiated and funded by the military. During wartime there was a need to expedite complex mathematical calculations for things like missile trajectories and a drive for better communication networks. It was only later that this technology was made available for personal and commercial use.

I’m not going to spend time recapping the entire book. That would require another listen or two on my part. My one listen was fascinating enough and there were three insights that stood out to me.

Collaboration and competition

Steve Jobs is famous for his desire at Apple to control the end to end user experience, maintaining ownership of the development of both the software and hardware in all Apple products. In contrast, Bill Gates developed software at Microsoft and then licensed it to IBM and its clones. As dependency on Microsoft software grew, computer manufacturers had no choice but to create hardware that could run Microsoft products.

Both Jobs and Gates diverted from a home brew computing culture where hackers and programmers shared everything and weren’t making a whole lot of money in the process. The end result was two massively successful companies that achieved huge success through different paths.

There was a third option in this mix, Linux, which was developed by Linus Torvalds. He made his source code available to anyone to take and build upon it. When you realize that this ultimately spawned Android among many other important technologies it makes sense why Isaacson would mention Torvalds in the same conversation with Gates and Jobs. Of these three men, Jobs is probably my favorite, but it’s difficult to claim that any one of these routes to success and innovation was any better than the other.

Google is customer-centric

As I listen to any book, I’m constantly looking for application to my work in customer experience. Isaacson shares a story about the beginnings of Google, when it was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. At the time, Yahoo and Alta Vista were the popular search engines and the general sentiment around search was that if a customer couldn’t find what they were searching for, they didn’t search properly. They believed the customer was wrong.

Larry and Sergey instead believed that if the customer couldn’t find what they were looking for, they needed to build a better search engine. This led them to develop a page ranking system (which I still only partially understand) that took into account the number of unique links to a page among other factors to determine relevance and deliver better search results.

Google refused to believe that the customer was wrong and instead built better tools to help customers find what they were looking for. The results speak for themselves. Google is the most successful internet company. I’m currently reading Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! and it’s a pretty fascinating contrast.

Technology is a tool

As Isaacson wraps up the book he touches on artificial intelligence and discusses whether or not a computer can be programmed to think and feel exactly like a human being. This is of particular interest with the rise of chatbots and the seeming drive to replace human customer service professionals with machines. Certainly machines have proven to be able to solve any number of issues, but according to Isaacson, they’re still just tools for human use and will never fully replace humans. I think it’s still fair to say that customer service as we know it today will look very different twenty years from now.

The history of the digital revolution is fascinating. If you’ve had a chance to read The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t, it’s well worth a read, or listen.


Publish Date: November 15, 2018 5:00 AM

Customer Service Inspiration from my Bookshelf

This article was originally posted on the ICMI Blog during National Customer Service Week on October 2, 2018. Click here to read the original post.

Can we all acknowledge that customer service is a hard job? Whether we’re working at a great company with a great product and customer experience or we’re getting abused all day, every day supporting a flawed product, customer service is taxing work and requires regular appreciation and inspiration. After all, we’re serving people, and people are messy. With that in mind, I want to pause for a moment and echo the words of Jeff Toister in his brand new book, Customer Service Tip of the Week. He dedicates the book to customer service professionals everywhere saying, “I admire you for your dedication, your concern for others, and your genuine desire to make someone else’s day better.” I couldn’t agree more!

Now, I don’t have an extensive collection of books on my customer service bookshelf, but as I glance over, I feel somewhat of a connection with many of these books. At one point or another, each one has enlightened me and sometimes kicked my butt, as I learn to serve customers better.

Given that it’s National Customer Service Week, and we’re remembering awesome customer service and the people behind it, I thumbed through some of those books in search of inspiration. What follows are some quotes I had previously underlined, and I hope they help us and perhaps challenge us all to serve customers better.

“If you ask me, your attitude is one of the most important determinants of your future…Be the person who steps up when things go wrong. Be the person who changes the topic when someone won’t stop complaining.” ~Adam Toporek, Be Your Customer’s Hero

This one is a hard pill to swallow, and it speaks a lot about the culture in our organizations and contact centers. The easy thing to do so often is to gripe about coworkers and customers in between calls and it absolutely spills over into our interactions with customers. The less popular and more difficult thing to do is to take responsibility for our attitude and stay positive consistently, but that’s precisely what great customer service professionals do. When we’re positive, we’re in our very best mindset to serve customers well and hopefully infect the rest of our colleagues with a little positivity at the same time.

“At any given time, one person will represent the entire organization: the brand, the other employees, the building, everything. Every employee must know and understand the importance of this inescapable reality, which I call the awesome responsibility.” ~Shep Hyken, The Cult of the Customer

Do you realize that a customer may only interact with your company one time — especially if it’s a bad experience? That IS an awesome responsibility. We have one shot to get it right in some cases, and while that responsibility doesn’t rest solely on individual customer service representatives, a whole lot of it does. Customer service professionals have a huge opportunity and play a massive part in the success of the companies they represent. That’s scary and cool at the same time, right?

“Every customer service contact is an opportunity to strengthen that relationship, even when things have gone horribly wrong. In fact, when you or your company make a mistake, how well you handle it can enhance the relationship you already have with your client.” ~Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest, Who’s Your Gladys?

Similar to the last quote, this is one thing I love about customer service. We have an opportunity to make a difference in every customer interaction. We get to solve many problems throughout the course of each day and save who knows how many customers in the process. And when you think about how much money many of those loyal customers are likely to spend over the course of their lifetime with your company, it’s a big deal.

“Innovative service starts with the assumption of the goodness of customers. And such a belief can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Customers treated with goodness assume the behavior and attitude of goodness.” ~Chip Bell, Kaleidoscope

This is a powerful statement about attitude from Chip Bell. It’s so easy to slip into a cynical and almost suspicious mindset where we assume all customers know nothing and they’re out to game the system. Bell is challenging us to change our underlying assumptions and attitudes toward our customers, assuming that they’re good and that they genuinely want to do business with us. This shift in mindset makes it easier to serve customers well.

“When it’s up to me, I choose to win, and not let a bad situation define me and cause me to make bad decisions about my future. Given a choice, and there is always a choice, I choose to have a positive attitude.” ~ Doug Sandler, Nice Guys Finish First

Another quote about attitude? I think we already agree that a positive attitude is essential to great customer service. But can we also agree that it’s a choice? It doesn’t happen by chance, and good or bad, our attitude isn’t something that happens to us. That means that a huge part of our success in serving others well and with a great attitude is within our control.

“Never forget that at the core of customer service is the act of people serving people.” ~Jeremy Watkin, Customer Service Life Blog

OK, I slipped in one quote of my own after just recently being reminded of a post I wrote almost five years ago. It took me a long time to come to this realization that the person on the other end of the phone, email, chat, text, tweet, etc. is a human being JUST LIKE ME! Strip everything else away, and you remember that these people also have families, livelihoods, careers, cares, and concerns. When we do that it (hopefully) taps into something altruistic in each one of us, and we begin to find purpose and meaning in the simple act of helping another human being.

When you put it that way, you begin to realize that being in a profession where you serve others is a great and noble career. For those of you that serve day in and day out with a positive and selfless attitude, Happy Customer Service Week! I appreciate you.


Publish Date: November 9, 2018 5:00 AM

5 Tips to Go From Scary to Scary Good Customer Service

It’s Halloween, the season of scary, and it only makes sense to spend a little time talking about scary customer service experiences. In my past several years of blogging on the topic, I have both my good and bad customer experiences well chronicled.

As I scroll deep into the archives of the “bad customer service” category on my blog I’m reminded that my goal in writing about customer service has always been to observe the bad experiences and use them to fuel learning and improvement. Here are some of my favorite scary customer service encounters and some tips for transforming them into scary good customer service experiences.

Scary Encounter #1: Misinform customers.

My first ever blog post was inspired by a haunting experience at a restaurant in the Salt Lake City airport. I watched a customer ask one employee for coffee. The employee signaled that the customer could walk another 10 feet or so to the cashier to place their order. When the customer made it to the cashier they were informed that the restaurant didn’t even have a coffee maker, let alone coffee. The customer was so upset that they left the other items they were going to purchase on the counter and walked out.

Scary Good Tip #1 - Get it right the first time. Customers contact support because they can’t do something on their own. Giving them inaccurate information renders customer service useless and wastes everyone’s time. Make sure you get it right and always look to answer questions customers might not know to ask based on what you as the expert know they’ll need.

Scary Encounter #2: Be unprofessional and put customers in awkward positions.

I once had a bone chilling shopping experience where the cashier was deep in conversation with a coworker, gossiping about one of their colleagues while ringing up my items. I was largely ignored for most of the experience until at one point they turned to me and tried to loop me into the conversation. It was weird, awkward, and unprofessional.

In another frightening encounter I entered a sandwich shop and one of the employees greeted me with the least friendly, most annoyed tone possible. I still laugh about this one because a greeting is intended to welcome the customer and this was anything but.

Scary Good Tip #2 - Focus on the customer and have a good attitude. Let’s steal a page from Disney on this one where they refer to employees as “Cast Members.” This means that when you are working, your workplace is a stage and you are a performer. This is the time to give your very best. When you’re on stage, give the customer your complete focus, choose a great attitude, and leave any personal issues and baggage backstage.

Scary Encounter #3: Make customers repeat their story many times.

On another horrific shopping occasion I was frustrated after being upsold by an employee for the hundredth time (at least it felt that way). I questioned how they didn’t have a record that I had said “No” the previous ninety-nine times — and yet they continued to ask. It was upsetting to know that the store was clearly not paying attention to my needs and preferences as a customer.

Scary Good Tip #3 - Track customer needs and preferences. No customer wants to continue to repeat themselves over and over again. When they contact customer service with a concern, they want to know they’ve been heard and understood. Always note what was said and promised during a customer interaction so that if they ever have to contact support again about that issue, the next person that works with them can pick up right where you left off.

Scary Encounter #4: Don’t honor your promises.

Upon entering another sandwich shop I was spooked to learn that they were no longer honoring a buy one get one free coupon. Apparently they had made a bad decision to offer that coupon in the first place and lost a bunch of money in the process. Similar to giving customers inaccurate information, promising customers one thing and then not following through is a surefire way to upset them.

Another harrowing example is this encounter where my team told a customer that they owed $400 when they really owed $9. The customer responded by calling us idiots — and they were right — we were idiots.

Scary Good Tip #4 - Meet or exceed customer expectations and follow through on all promises. Customers love to do business with people and companies they can consistently trust. This especially applies to anything having to do with time and money. If you promise to reply to a customer or call them back within a certain timeframe, it’s best to be a little early. If you issue a coupon or quote a certain price, that’s the price the customer should see when they receive their bill. Never promise anything you can’t make good on.

Scary Encounter #5: Make the customer go the extra mile.

I once was terrified after purchasing some items from the garden center at a department store. The cashier accidentally charged me twice for an item. Immediately after receiving my receipt I spotted the error. I was then informed that I had to walk to customer service on the other end of the store to have the error fixed. I was the one who had to put the effort forth to fix the problem. Any time physical effort is involved in resolving a problem, the idea of customer effort takes on entirely new meaning.

This totally reminded me of a hair-raising time when a rental car company moved but didn’t post their new location online or at their old location.They also didn’t apologize for making me walk a mile to their new office.

Scary Good Tip #5 - Take ownership for the customer until their problem is no longer a problem. Great customer service professionals are both empowered and encouraged to do this consistently. This could be an associate at a store walking the customer to the appropriate location to find an item rather than simply telling them where to go. It could be a contact center agent offering to conference in the other company that’s actually responsible for the problem. Whatever the situation, take responsibility from start to finish and don’t pawn the customer off on someone else or leave them hanging altogether.

Wow, that was scary, wasn’t it? And that was just five scary customer service experiences. If you’re a customer service professional reading this post, take a moment to share a scary customer experience of your own and how it helped you be scary good at your job.

Also, note that a thesaurus may have been used in the writing of this post. Some of these experiences probably weren’t actually as scary as I tried to make them sound.


Publish Date: October 31, 2018 5:00 AM

Holistically Approaching a Frazzled Customer Service Professional

How committed are you to getting that deposit back when you purchase and consume a beverage in a recyclable container? I was committed enough to go to my local grocery store — that was before I realized I had to process each can and bottle by hand and the machines wanted to scan every barcode. No thanks.

After a bit of searching I found a local place called BottleDrop and was pleased to learn that they’d give me special bags with labels that I can take home, fill, and drop off full of recyclables. They take care of the processing and deposit the money into my account. It’s a great deal.

On a recent visit, I had a quick customer service question for the woman behind the counter. Before I could ask my question, she blurted out in a rushed tone of voice, “If you’re here to ask for more bags, we’re all out.” I responded with something like, “Thanks for letting me know. I was actually wondering if you can help me get a new BottleDrop card. I seem to have lost mine.” The rest of the interaction was fine. She was able to help me with my question and told me where to go and who to call to get a new card.

It’s the quick and somewhat frazzled response that stuck out to me as I reflected on that customer service experience. One bit of context that’s worth mentioning is that this particular location is typically crowded with a variety of folks — especially those who are either homeless or are near homelessness and recycling is a major source of their income. It’s a volatile crowd and I’ve witnessed altercations on some of my visits. I wouldn’t consider it an easy environment to do customer service.

I couldn’t help but wonder how this environment might take a toll on the woman who assisted me. How many times had a customer yelled at her that day? How many fights did she break up? How many times did she have to deliver the bad news that they were out of bags? How many times did she have to defer to someone else because she wasn’t empowered to take care of the customer?

What do you make of this encounter? It would be easy to solely lay the blame on the customer service professional but that seems a bit unfair to me. As we assess this more holistically, I have three recommendations.

Recommendation #1 - Alleviate product and policy pain points.

Before coming down hard on a frazzled customer service professional, all leaders should first ask what events led them to be that way. And trust me, if you as a manager or business owner take the time to ask your agents, they will tell you in as much detail as you want to hear the problems they’re experiencing. Whether it’s through round table discussions, one on one conversations, or shadowing your agents while they serve customers, take the time find out those issues that frazzle your team and do anything and everything to make improvements and alleviate those pain points.

Recommendation #2 - Emphasize the importance of self care.

One difficult customer is one thing. A day full of them is entirely another. I can remember times as a manager where our queue was out of control and it completely stressed my team out. I’ve also been in their shoes a time or two. I would often tell them, “The queue is mine to worry about, not yours. I don’t need you to be a hero. I just just need you to be the very best you can be on the call you’re currently on.” In busy situations, some agents might attempt to shoulder the load on their own. While the sense of responsibility is appreciated, it’s also a fast track to burnout. My friend Jenny Dempsey says,

“In order to take the best care of others, we must first take the best care of ourselves.”

Make sure this is happening on your team. This means quality breaks, healthy snacks, plenty of rest, and a good work life balance. If you want to hear more, Jenny is speaking on this topic at the upcoming Zendesk Relate Conference.

Recommendation #3 - Coach for better people skills.

I intentionally put this one third in the order of recommendations. It’s so easy when receiving less than stellar customer service to blame the agent. And yes, even though there are challenging issues and incredibly stressful situations, agents can still choose a great attitude. In the scenario above, they need to take the time to carefully listen to the customer before jumping to conclusions. Regularly coaching your agents reinforces the experience your customers should receive.

In my opinion, frazzled customer service service professionals are frazzled for a reason. By working to alleviate the root cause of the stress and developing them both personally and professionally, you’ll have both happier agents and happier customers.


Publish Date: October 20, 2018 5:00 AM

4 CX Actions for the Cash-strapped, Resource-limited Contact Center

This article was originally published on the ICMI Blog on August 28, 2018. Click here to read the original post.

Having worked in customer service for a couple SAAS (Software as a Service) startups throughout my career, I’d like to enlighten you on an important concept. It’s called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). I define MVP as having a product with the basic functionality necessary to meet the needs of most customers.

Early on, MVP looked a whole lot like a programmer/founder working all night and through the weekend to create a feature or product, testing it a few times, and then publishing the code. That didn’t mean that it was entirely bug-free as evidenced by the email that said, “Oh, by the way, we just published this new feature. Please let us know if there are any bugs.”

Completely blindsided, these are some of the most frustrating times to work in frontline customer service, especially when the bug and feature list is growing by the minute. Furthermore, when customers’ businesses are impacted, they’re not shy in communicating their frustration to the helpless agent on the other end of the line. In these moments, most issues feel like a high priority, but the reality is that most startups are resource limited.

I’ve written much in the past about the importance of listening to the voice of the customer and relaying these insights to the rest of the business — and I believe firmly that this is a huge responsibility and opportunity for the contact center. What’s our approach when our feature and bug list far outweighs the resources available to tackle them? Having been asked this question by many contact center leaders, here are four actions you can take now that will provide a glimmer of hope amid the tumult and help you continue to move the customer experience forward.

1. Know Your Drivers

Before you do anything else, you need to understand your critical issues and drivers. They will likely be gathered and meshed together from a variety of sources including direct communication with agents and customers, customer survey feedback, disposition reports, conversations on Slack, and listening on the various support channels, either manually or through speech and text analytics software. Use focus groups and journey mapping exercises to gain an intimate understanding of each issue and the ways they impact actual customers.

Once you have a list of issues, it’s important to attach some numbers to determine both how often they occur and how they impact KPIs like customer satisfaction and customer churn. I’ve been guilty of hearing about issues from frustrated customers and pushing to get them fixed even though they were one-off issues. While this may work sometimes, especially if it’s a large customer, it’s generally best to focus on the issues that impact the most customers first.

2. Prioritize

In the midst of a barrage of customer complaints and an ever-growing bug and feature list, it can be tricky to prioritize what to fix first. And in an environment where resources are limited, fixing one bug at a time on a list of a hundred will take quite a while. This means that we have a responsibility to have our ducks in a row and know at all times what bug or feature to prioritize next.

As support leaders, it can be challenging to keep team morale up when moving at this pace while issues persist. There aren’t always easy answers, but being fully transparent with the priority list and the reasoning for the prioritization can go a long way. Also be sure to celebrate every time one of those issues is fixed because it shows that as a leader you are hearing the team’s frustrations and taking actions to alleviate them.

3. Fix What You Can Control

In a past role, there was a season when our platform experienced downtime almost weekly. In an environment like this, it’s incredibly difficult to keep the team positive — not to mention our own morale. It becomes easy to put all of the blame on product or platform issues and let customer service quality slip. Regardless of how difficult the circumstance, we can always control the quality of service we provide, whether we want to admit it or not.

As a leader, make it your mission to lead by example in this area by modeling excellent customer service internally and externally and consistently practicing positivity.

Also, to quote one of my colleagues, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” That’s a little grotesque but the sentiment here is to maintain our focus on solving the customer’s problem, and sometimes you can overcome product issues and limitations with a little bit of creativity. One thing that makes great customer service professionals great is their ability as subject matter experts to connect customers with the perfect solution.

4. Patiently Persist

The balance between patience and persistence is a fine one. Depending on the severity of an issue, you may need to constantly lobby with the appropriate stakeholders until a resolution is reached. With other issues, it’s often easy to get wrapped up in a “flavor of the month” and then move on to other initiatives. If an issue is truly important, it’s essential to have the discipline to persist with the right amount of patience until it’s resolved. That means keeping your list of drivers current every month.

All businesses-regardless of size-have resource limitations, meaning there will always be a need for prioritization. It also means there will always be a need for the customer service team to be available for customers when there are breakdowns in the customer experience.  The contact center shouldn’t run and hide when this happens. Instead, it’s our job to remain focused on taking care of customers while also understanding gaps in the customer experience so we can push for continuous improvement. We have a huge role to play in the future success of our business!


Publish Date: October 11, 2018 5:00 AM

FCR Solutions Spotlight: 8 Essential Features for your Contact Center LMS

When you picture customer service training, what key elements come to mind? Some of these elements likely include classroom training with an instructor, watching videos and extensive slide decks, time spent in front of a computer reading documentation and knowledge articles, testing the product or service, and shadowing experienced agents. Now consider training for a team that’s distributed over multiple locations or a team of tenured agents needing ongoing training to keep skills and knowledge up to date.

At some point, if you haven’t already, you’ll likely consider a Learning Management System (LMS) to aid in both new hiring training and ongoing training for your existing staff. But with a ton of options on the market, which one should you choose? In this article we’ll share a few platforms that we’ve had success with at FCR. First, let’s look at eight essential features for your LMS.

  1. Instructional design- There’s an entire science around instructional design — and while it would be nice for every contact center to have someone with a masters degree in the topic (like FCR), that may not be practical. Many platforms will have templates and drag and drop designs for you to create robust courses that will engage your learners. Regarding instructional design, here are some design tips to help boost learning.
  2. A deep learning approach- Your training will be significantly more effective if you approach it from a variety of angles. For optimal learning and retention, the platform should allow for video, reading, activities, and simulations to practice the behavior required for the job.
  3. Learn from anywhere and from any device- Today’s workforce is more mobile than ever. While your agents might primarily learn from their workstation, why would you want to limit learning to that? A modern LMS can be accessed on mobile devices and available in the cloud to be accessed from any location with an internet connection.
  4. Test learner knowledge with quizzes and exercises- Create quizzes and exercises that test the knowledge of agents and their ability to apply that knowledge in real situations.
  5. Track assignments, progress, and results- Chances are your agents won’t all be completing the learning at the same time and there’s no way on a large team to track each agent’s progress manually — at least not easily. With an LMS you can assign courses and track both the completion of the course along with the time spent.
  6. Provide microlearning opportunities for busy contact center professionals- It’s likely that with new hire training you have the time and budget to put agents in a classroom with a trainer for a couple weeks, but if that’s the only training you do, you’re going to run into problems down the road. Furthermore, it’s likely that in a world where customer contacts are constantly flowing in, taking large groups of agents out of the center for ongoing training is out of the question. That’s why microlearning is a critical feature in any LMS. You should have the ability to create three to five minute lessons for agents to complete in between customer contacts or when there’s downtime.
  7. Agents should be able to access training more than once- While your initial goal is likely to post lessons and make sure your agents complete those lessons, the system is best if agents can easily access that content whenever they need it. Perhaps there’s a lesson about a policy and an agent wants to go back and reference it before they call a customer back to discuss that policy. Similar to a knowledge base, your agents will appreciate having an LMS that acts as a reference for key information.
  8. Learning paths for the variety of roles- Chances are, your organization will look to use the LMS for a variety of different roles. Sure, you may have training for customer service representatives, but what if you want to train some to be leads, supervisors, or managers? What about training for those working in other departments? Learning paths allow you to enroll learners in the series of courses that are relevant to their role. An added bonus here is that an LMS might not be solely a contact center expense but can be shared with other groups in the organization.

Now that you know some of our favorite features in an LMS, here are three platforms we’ve seen in action at FCR that you might want to take a look at:


A fully featured LMS, Lessonly does a nice job covering the essential features we mentioned above. One feature we’re especially impressed with is their Zendesk integration and the ability to simulate responding to real cases. Not only do agents get practice replying to real life scenarios but they can practice the other important functions like selecting custom fields, tagging, escalating, and applying macros.


As we investigated, we found that Northpass also has a full feature set and holds its own against its competition. In addition to the features we mentioned above we were intrigued by the ability to conduct live learning sessions with their GoToWebinar integration. They also leverage social learning and collaboration with message boards where learners can respond to each others’ questions.


We’re not totally certain if LMS is the right term for Hickory as it’s more of a blend between LMS and internal knowledge base. That being said, Hickory integrates nicely with systems like Zendesk to place quick, bite-sized lessons where your agents are spending most of their time. Any time you can integrate a new system with your existing tools and prevent agents from having to open another window it’s a good thing. Hickory provides a great way to keep your agents up to date on changes occuring throughout the organization.

While it’s possible to cobble together contact center training through a series of presentations, videos, and documents, there are clear advantages to adopting a robust LMS platform. We’ve listed a few of our favorites here but the market for such tools is vast. If you have any questions about these tools or best practices for utilizing them, please let us know.


Publish Date: October 8, 2018 5:00 AM

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