Plum Voice - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog Page 6
When thinking of surveys, it’s important to remember what they actually are: data. Surveys yield data that helps us make informed decisions on just about everything these days. Certainly, politicians don’t make a move without them. And companies use them to guide their customer service.
Customer service PR nightmares are cautionary tales for the rest of us. They remind us that, while human intuition will always play a part in customer service, it may not trump data we get from our surveys.
When Common Sense Isn’t Enough
Common sense dictates that when a customer wants something, even if it’s to leave the company, we have to provide that for them. Business suffers if we try to bully a customer, and a PR nightmare hurts a lot more than one lost customer.
But how do you tell what’s common sense in a given situation? It’s up to the customer service rep at that point, which means the decision comes from a place of subjectivity. And common sense, paradoxically or perhaps ironically, seems to vary between people.
If we poll our customers, we’ll know what’s ‘common sense’ for them, or what most of them think is appropriate in a given situation. The numbers will vary, but we’ll have a range to base policy on.
Hard Data Trumps Subjectivity
Hard data forms the basis of customer service efforts. Without knowing what’s in our customers’ minds, how can we possibly know how to serve them? We need to understand them as people.
“Companies need to treat the customer service interaction as something more personal, and customers need to treat it more as a business transaction,” Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us author Emily Yellin told NPR.
With customer service, our job is to make doing business with us easy and a pleasure, not a chore. Pushback and hard-selling techniques are not the path to great customer service. And if we claim to provide great service, we need to actually provide great service.
“The promise that we make to customers is that we’re going to provide a great experience,” said Zappos call center head Rob Siefker. “If we’re going to market that and say that’s what our brand is, then when somebody calls us, that needs to the be the experience they have.”
PR Nightmares Are (Perhaps Unfortunate) Informal Surveys
In a way, PR nightmares serve as informal surveys for many companies. Not ones they would script themselves, but surveys nonetheless. Things go viral, and the public offers their opinions.
Again, maybe not the surveys companies want. But ones they can use to improve customer service. Which, in the end, is the goal of any customer service survey.
Publish Date: July 25, 2014 5:00 AM
No one likes waiting on hold, especially for mundane tasks like checking an account balance. Here’s a SlideShare deck with five ways to avoid putting customers on hold, ever.
Publish Date: July 16, 2014 5:00 AM
Once we acknowledge that the measurable, objective job might be taken by an app, we have to make service dramatically better than self-service, or else this job is gone.
Humans replaced by machines. This is the future sci-fi movies have been both hoping for and warning us about for decades now. It’s closer than ever.
But where do we draw the line between technology that’s helpful and technology that gets in the way? For the customer experience, where do we find the balance?
Tablets Instead of Servers
Mitch Joel of Twist Image thinks tablets will soon replace servers in fast-food and low- to mid-priced restaurants.
He points to Chili’s, which just replaced menus with tablets at many of its locations. At the moment, the tablets show diners the menu and let them pay by credit card right at the table, but Joel sees much more potential.
“What would make this that much more powerful,” writes Joel. “Is giving more power to the customers: allow them to control everything from what they order to when they order it, and enabling them to have more feedback.”
Want to start with appetizers and hold off on ordering main courses? Done. Want a refill of your drink? Done. Want to order, eat and pay quickly to make the start of the movie? Done.
And personalization of service. Imagine swiping your credit card at the beginning of a meal and having your entire ordering history with the restaurant at your disposal. Can’t remember what you had last time that was so good? It’s right there on the list. Click.
A.I. in the Call Center
According to Marketing Magazine, IBM’s Watson supercomputer is now helping out in the call center. The idea is that artificial intelligence can boost personalization in call center service.
“It will take advantage of IBM Watson’s natural language solution,” writes Marketing Magazine. “Which learns, adapts and understands market and organizational data quickly and easily, and gets progressively smarter with use, outcomes and new pieces of information.”
The intent isn’t to replace live agents with Watson but give them a leg up with the supercomputer as an advisor “that can read and uncover insights from millions of pages of data-driven content within seconds, from product guides to call transcripts.”
“The result,” writes Marketing Magazine, is “cognitive computing that will augment a contact center agent’s knowledge and shift their time from searching for answers to discovering timely insights that solve problems, facilitate new opportunities and improve the customer experience.”
Technology Gone Awry vs. Balance
Not like Hal 9000, Skynet or Robocop. Nothing apocalyptic. More like your average poorly done automated voice system that annoys most of the customers who call in. With which we’ve all had experience.
What if you have a question about the menu at a restaurant and need some advice from an actual server? Yes, we’re still talking about low- to mid-range restaurants, so it wouldn’t be about the cassoulet or vichyssoise, but it could be about the burger or food allergies.
Will the wait staff at that point just be bussers, running the food out from the kitchen and doing little else? Or will the restaurant have a couple of knowledgeable people on staff to handle questions?
How much trial and error will restaurants and call centers have to go through to find a technology-human balance that customers (humans) can be happy with? Call centers, for one, are still searching for the balance.
According to Gartner, companies struggle with the multi-channel nature of today’s customer service.
“Through 2015, contextual advice and support delivered through analytics systems across all channels will be the key differentiator during customer engagement,” writes Gartner’s Michael Maoz. “The explosion of interactive channels used to engage customers is creating a gap between what the customer knows and expects of the enterprise, and how the enterprise can intelligently engage the customer.”
Right now, customers tend to know a lot more about companies than the companies do about them. Gartner’s Olive Huang doesn’t think many companies, as they are now, are capable of overcoming this problem.
“In 2013, only 2% of organizations will have the adequate technologies and processes in place to provide a consistent customer experience across departments and channels,” writes Huang. “Gartner estimates that from 2013 to 2015, this number will grow from 2% to no more than 20%.”
Forrester’s Kate Leggett brings up an important element, as well.
“Customers want consistent service experience across these channels [call center, website, social media],” she writes. “They also expect to be able to start an interaction in one channel and complete it in another.”
From Here to There
At the moment, that’s rarely the case. More often than not, callers end up repeating info at least a couple times during a call with a call center. Despite the fact that automated voice technology is more than capable of addressing the problem, most companies just aren’t there yet.
What worries Seth Godin is what happens to the human element when we replace ourselves with technology.
“Mitch [Joel] writes about the very near future when most fast-serve and mid-priced restaurants will have a tablet on the table, letting you order and pay without ever speaking to a waiter,” he writes. “It sort of takes the magic out of restaurants for me, but I get his point.”
I suppose magic is debatable if we’re talking about fast-food and mid-priced restaurants, but Godin is talking about more than that, anyway. He’s talking about the potential to have technology handle the simpler tasks while letting humans handle the rest. In other words: balance.
“What an opportunity!” he writes. “Instead of seeing a job as a shuttler of information and stuff from place to place, we can acknowledge that, in fact, the shuttling isn’t unique or even particularly valuable. The human being part is what’s worth something.”
Publish Date: July 8, 2014 5:00 AM
Peter Theis, ‘father of the automated switchboard’ and Public Enemy Number 1 for everyone who dislikes automated phone systems, talking with the LA Times:
I’m the guy who did it, yeah. I am ultimately to blame. I’m Dr. Frankenstein…When I invented it, I knew this would be huge. My goal was to improve the efficiency of call centers. I never thought that people would misapply the technology.
That, in a nutshell, is why people don’t like talking to computers: because organizations don’t use automated voice systems correctly. Which is a shame, because evidence suggests that most people are perfectly fine talking with computers, as long as the systems are efficient and helpful.
Reasons to Dislike
From a study in the Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society:
Thousands of applications—from airline reservations to zoo schedules—use phone-based interfaces to provide information to callers and to request input. The dramatic increase in the number of these applications has led to wide variability in the quality of the interface design [i.e., how an organization uses the technology].
Paul Cooper of Customer Plus to Call Centre Helper:
In my opinion, if there is one thing that, above all else, has held back the development of great service attitudes and, in many cases, made them worse, it must be the automatic telephone answering systems that organizations have put in with no thought, and no concern for the customer, or often, the staff.
Peter Theis, again, recognized inventor of interactive voice response:
These companies are flat-out saying they don’t give a damn about callers. That’s just plain wrong…This wasn’t what I intended.
Long Beach, N.Y., librarian Carole Condon to the Chicago Tribune a few years ago:
I hate those things.
There’s even a website dedicated to getting around using automated voice systems: GetHuman.com. The site shows callers how they can bypass the systems of some of the biggest companies.
Time Magazine rated it as one of the top 50 websites on the internet in 2011. Today, the apps for GetHuman on iTunes and Google Play have 4.5 out of 5 ratings.
“Some of the biggest companies in the U.S. are in hiding—or, at least, you might think so when you want to talk to a real person at one of them,” wrote Time. “Phone numbers are often tough to find, and if you do uncover one, it could lead to a voice-menu system that tries to placate you with recorded messages.”
Okay, Now Reasons to Like
“Most of them [automated voice systems] are good,” Condon told the Chicago Tribune, shortly after saying she ‘hates’ the bad ones. “I remember the days when you called a company and either got a busy signal or a rude person who put you on hold for 10 minutes.”
I think most of us can remember that time. And we can all admit that, in those days, it was infinitely harder to get ahold of a company during business hours and, quite simply, impossible after hours.
Besides, there’s no doubt that automated systems have sped up customer service in call centers. That, in itself, is an improvement in the customer experience, especially in today’s self-service world.
Also, we kind of asked for it, given our bent towards self-service.
“We are a speedy, self-service kind of a culture,” customer service quality consultant Paul Kowal told the Tribune. “We invented the salad bar, the ATM and self-pumped gas. Automated voice systems give us ‘now’ service. We asked for this.”
So maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised about variability in service, which happens all the time across all industries. I mean, if you call a customer service center and don’t get what you want, what do you do? Call back and see if another agent can help, right? Often, that’s how it goes.
When the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) studied real-world participation rates for outbound IVR calls (i.e., when companies use automation to call customers), the firm found that most customers were perfectly willing to speak with a computer.
FICO found that companies achieved “over 85% participation in calls made in fraud intervention, and over 70% in credit management interactions, including collections.”
Over 70%…in collections.
In fact, FICO surveyed a European utility company to see what notification method customers preferred when they’d missed a payment. About 55% chose IVR, with less then 30% choosing a call center agent and only about 5% choosing a text message.
Capable of So Much More
IBM speech engineer specialist James Lewis also believes “the problem with many automatic voice systems is that they are poorly designed and scripted.” Talking with the LA Times, he complained that some systems have “clumsy and robotic” voices, and others repeat phrases. “Both are annoying,” he said.
Researchers for the Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society agree, as well, saying that “poorly designed phone-based interfaces has led to widespread dissatisfaction. We believe that the lack of published guidelines for interface design for these systems contributes to the variability in quality and, thus, to user antipathy.”
I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go into it again or I’ll start sounding like a broken record, but automated voice systems done correctly provide better customer service in today’s self-service society.
And the fact is, IVR systems are capable of so much more than what many companies use them for now. Organizations just don’t know how to use them or choose not to use them correctly. Which, again, is a shame.
Publish Date: June 27, 2014 5:00 AM
Have you ever been at a restaurant and had the server ask you this as you’re finishing your meal? If you’ve enjoyed your service today, would you mind filling out this customer feedback form?
If you’ve enjoyed your service…? (Cue the needle sliding off the record.) Empathy for servers wanting good feedback aside, this is a pointless exercise that lures organizations into a false sense of security about their customer service. Instead, companies need to ask for actual feedback, especially when it’s going to be negative.
1—You Need Feedback from Everyone, Not Just Happy Customers
What’s the point of asking for feedback only when you think the service has been good? Again, we can all understand why a server at a restaurant or an agent in a contact center would want it that way, but it does a serious disservice both to the employee and the company at large.
Customer feedback efforts, whether in the form of postcard-sized forms on a table in a restaurant or an email campaign, are surveys. Therefore, all the rules of survey methodology apply, including sampling methods.
In survey terms, it’s faulty sampling to get feedback solely from people you already know will give a positive response. Very faulty. It skews the survey results to the point where it’s a waste of time.
By contrast, pollsters use complicated methodology based on statistical analysis and careful consideration of demographics to avoid sampling errors. It’s a serious business, not one to take lightly.
2—You Can’t Bias the Survey Before They Even Take It
Bias is another one that keeps pollsters on their toes. There are enough things out of our control to sway surveys, we don’t need to influence it anymore by hinting or outright saying we’d like a good review. Again, pointless.
Without going into it too much (I’ve written about surveys a fair amount), there are three basic types of bias: coverage, nonresponse and response.
Coverage bias is not reaching everyone you wanted to reach with the survey, so not everyone is properly represented. Only asking happy customers to respond to surveys would certainly fall under this category, although it usually results from unintentionally faulty sampling, not intentional.
Nonresponse bias is people not responding for whatever reason. Certainly, an unhappy customer might not respond to a server asking them to provide feedback ‘if you’re happy with your service.’ Why would they? Unless it was to provide negative feedback rather than positive, in which case a cagey server probably wouldn’t ask them in the first place.
Response bias is when people temper their responses for whatever reason. A customer only providing positive answers would also fall under this category, if they’re being led that way by their server. Maybe they would only give 3s and 4s out of 5, but instead they end up giving 5s across the board.
3—You Need Negative Feedback to Get Better
Not that any of us could imagine this happening, but what if a server who gave you bad service said something like this to you after your meal? I’m sorry about the service today. If you could let us know how we can improve by filling out a feedback form, we’d really appreciate it.
Again, it’s probably not something any of us could imagine a server or a call center agent saying, especially when the fault in the service came from them. However, it could provide necessary feedback.
For improvement, we need criticism—all of us. Rather than an employee or company viewing criticism as negative, they can view them as a starting point for improvement.
It can be the baseline against which an employee or company can show marked improvement over time. Imagine a new server at a restaurant getting bad reviews in the beginning as they find their way, then fewer bad reviews mixed with some good reviews, then primarily good reviews.
That would be concrete evidence that the server has made a solid effort to improve—something their manager could look at to gauge what kind of an employee they’ve hired. The server might even want bad reviews in the beginning, to have something to build on.
Besides, asking for feedback in the face of impending criticism shows the customer that the employee and/or company cares about getting better, which says something about their character.
It might also go a little way towards appeasing unhappy customers—letting them know we’re aware of our faults and are trying to improve them. So their responses to survey questions are thoughtful and rational rather than snarky and emotional.
Which, in the end, is the whole point of customer feedback surveys.
Publish Date: June 25, 2014 5:00 AM