Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A Tale of Two (Well, Three) Customer Experiences: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Erica Marois

Two years ago, after an 18-month stint as Connecticut residents, my husband and I boxed up our belongings and made the journey back down south, landing in Richmond, VA. Unlike our move to Connecticut, we hit the road with significantly fewer belongings. If you’ve ever lived in New England, you might be able to guess why. The cost of living is high, and the closet space in the beautiful historic buildings tends to be rather sparse.

Fast-forward a year, and we were ready to move into our newly built home in Virginia. There was just one problem; because we downsized in Connecticut, we suddenly found ourselves in need a ton of new furniture to fill up the bigger space. Now, as much as I love to watch HGTV and daydream about decorating, I’ve never particularly enjoyed shopping for furniture. Mainly, for two reasons. One: furniture is expensive! Two: I’ve had so many bad experiences buying furniture over the years--from poor quality to poor service to nightmare deliveries and high-pressure sales staff. To me, furniture shopping is about as enjoyable as car shopping.

Alas, we needed a new sectional and new bedroom set, so we set out on a quest to find the perfect pieces for our new home. Did we get what we needed? Ultimately, yes. But the journey there was complex. We encountered a tale of two, then three, customer experiences. Whether you work in retail or not, the stark contrasts between these stores offer a few lessons worth gleaning.

A Tale of Two (and Then Three) Customer Experiences

Several months ago, motivated by a closet organization spree, my husband and I set out to find a new set of dressers for our bedroom. The set we had was just too small. Remembering a browsing excursion we’d taken a few weeks earlier, I suggested we head to Haverty’s to check out their options. The last time we’d gone there, I thought their selection was impressive, and the store was nice and clean.

When we walked through the door, a kind gentleman named Bert greeted us. He asked us what we were looking for, pointed us in the right direction, and let us loose to browse without interruption. Pretty quickly, we found a set we both loved, and Bert helped us place the order. He explained the payment options in detail, went over warranties, and made friendly conversation while we waited for some of the back office folks to complete their paperwork. It was a pleasant and no-hassle interaction, which I appreciated. To make it even better, Bert let us know that we could have the set delivered to our home just two days later, and we would receive SMS updates on the day of delivery, including a custom link we could use to track the delivery drivers in real-time to find out exactly when they’d be arriving. Furniture stores are notoriously bad about giving you vague delivery windows, so this shocked me. I’ve spent many a day waiting for deliveries that never showed up at the promised time. I was cautiously optimistic that this would be different.

Luckily, it was. The day before our delivery, I received a text letting me know that our furniture would arrive between 4:00 & 6:00 the next day. As promised, I got access to a link I could use to track the delivery team on their route--I could see that they had nine deliveries scheduled ahead of ours, and I could even see the other zip codes in which they’d be making stops.

At 3:00 on delivery day, I got a text letting me know that the drivers encountered a delay at the stop before ours, so it looked like our delivery would be closer to 6:00 than 4:00. I appreciated the proactive update! By 6:30, everything was in its place and drivers were on their way.

All in all, we couldn’t have been more pleased. Not only do we love the new furniture, but we appreciated how easy and transparent the entire process was. And as a pleasant surprise, we received an email from Bert a few months later--he wanted to check in and make sure we were still enjoying our furniture.  Ironically enough, that email came just as we were dealing with a very different experience involving one of Haverty’s local competitors.

Customer-Centricity at the Competition? More Like Customer-Chaos

Four or five months after we bought our bedroom furniture, we realized new living room furniture was the next priority. With family coming to visit for the holidays, we wanted more seating. While I loved the experience at Haverty’s, they didn’t have the size sectional I wanted at I price that I could stomach, so I was open to looking elsewhere for a good bargain on an oversized sectional. After being lured by some convincing TV ads, we stopped by a local chain to see if their holiday deals were as enticing as advertising.

After “winning” 20% off our purchase at their one-day sale event, we decided to go ahead and buy a gloriously soft, cozy, and spacious sectional. While they didn’t currently have the one we wanted in stock, our salesperson assured us that they were expecting one to arrive any day, and said he thought we could have it delivered within the next week.

A week passed. We didn’t receive a phone call. I finally decided to call the store after Christmas to see if I could get an ETA on delivery. The customer service representative let me know that our sectional had arrived over the holidays and she went ahead and set up a delivery time for four days later. I was excited!

Fast forward to the day before delivery. My phone rings, and I see it’s the furniture store. I’m expecting that they’re calling to give me my delivery window, but instead, they called to tell me that they discovered our sectional was damaged, so they needed to reorder and reschedule our delivery. At this point, I was starting to get annoyed, but I also appreciated that they didn’t send us a defective product. Unfortunately, from here, things just spiraled more and more out of control. I never got a call back to give me an update. After another week of no word from our salesperson, I called the store again, and this time a manager told me they wouldn’t have another sectional in for at least six weeks. She did offer to refund the delivery fee, so I decided to wait it out.

Six weeks, then seven weeks later, we never heard from anyone at the store. We called three times, and could never get a straight answer. Each person we talked to tried to pass the buck to someone else. Finally, one of the managers told me they had no idea if or when our furniture would arrive. After a visit to the store, and a few more frustrating phone calls, we finally canceled our purchase and got a refund. To me, the most frustrating part of the ordeal was the lack of proactive communication, or really any communication at all. And ironically, this company is now running an aggressive TV ad campaign touting its focus on customer experience.

Rooms to Go for the Steal

The weekend after we got our refund on the sectional that never arrived, we decided to stop by Rooms to Go, just to browse. I’ll be honest, I had a few mediocre experiences with them in the past, so my expectations were low. Much to my delight, the shopping experience was low-pressure, pleasant, and incredibly easy. As soon as we walked in, a friendly salesperson named L.T. greeted us, explained their current sales, and then left us alone to browse. My husband and I were debating between two sets, and we asked for his opinion. He offered up his thoughts, and we got to chatting for a bit. When we were ready to check out, he used his iPad to tell us exactly when he could get the new sectional to our home. Much to our delight, he said us we’d have it within 48 hours. And guess what? We did! The delivery team was incredibly courteous and professional, and we love our new furniture.

The icing on the cake? Two weeks later, we received this note from L.T. in the mail.

Bringing It All Together

I didn’t write this post to vent or shame (in fact, that’s why I never revealed the name of the second store). Instead, I hope this real-life example serves to illustrate that customer experience really does trump price; and if you’re going to market your products on the basis of customer experience, you better be able to back it up. Like it or not, the experience that other brands deliver impacts the expectations that customers have for your company. What can you do you to make sure you don’t fall short? What could furniture store number two have done to deliver better service?

Here are two quick tips:
  1. Keep your promises! If you can’t, be transparent about why, and offer an alternative. I’m not an unreasonable person. I understand that things go wrong--and sometimes it’s nobody’s fault. However, as service professionals, we have to be creative problem-solvers. Furniture store number two could have found a way to keep their promise: they could have offered to give us the floor model (which they clearly had in stock) at a discount. They could have offered to have us pick another sectional that they knew they could deliver within a reasonable timeframe. Rather than trying to work out another solution, they chose to ignore that there was even a problem in the first place.
  2. Communicate proactively! Don’t make your customers reach out to you for updates. This one seems like a no-brainer, but plenty of brands still struggle to do this effectively. The good news? You don’t necessarily need any fancy or expensive software to keep customers in the loop. Free email marketing services like Mail Chimp are an excellent solution for small businesses or budget-strapped teams. Setup automated emails to let customers know what’s going on with their order, what to expect next, or how to reach out with a question/issue. Or, utilize simple calendar reminders. Have a customer order that’s set to go out next week, but you don’t yet have an ETA? Setup a reminder to take the 5 minutes to check for an update and provide the customer with more information before that week is over.
What advice would you add to the mix? How would you have handled things differently? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! For more insights on meeting customer expectations, check out this useful advice from Brad Cleveland.

Erica is the Content Manager at ICMI, an Informa PLC company that helps business elevate the customer experience through training, events, consulting and information resources. A passionate connector of people, Erica is a customer and employee experience enthusiast who loves helping others find unique solutions to their biggest challenges. Outside of her day job, she's also a community organizer for CX Accelerator.

You can connect with her on
Twitter and join her on Tuesdays at 1:00 ET for #ICMIchat.


Monday, March 18, 2019

I'll Be Back: Repeat Customer Feedback Is Vital for Growth

By Jodi Beuder

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn 

When Arnold Schwarzenegger first uttered, “I’ll be back”, in the 1984 film The Terminator, he wasn’t joking. Five sequels later, Arnold, and audiences have continued to come back again and again. The now infamous line has appeared in dozens of other films, landing this quote a spot, on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could count on our customers returning this often? I think most company executives would leap for joy if their customers repeated, “I’ll be back” and meant it. There are a number of steps a company can take, to wow customers into returning again and again.

First step:  Understand your customers needs! Before you can begin to dazzle your customers, the first step is to truly understand the needs, desires and expectations of your customer.

The surest way to understand more about your customer is through customer feedback. All too often, I’ve seen companies make assumptions about who their customer is, without asking the customer directly.

Sometimes, companies get lucky and their assumptions match their customer demographic. But, in today’s hyper-competitive market place, this is shaky ground to stand on. There’s a saying you may have heard; when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. When it comes customers, don’t assume you know them. Spend the time getting to know them.

Technology has made customer feedback options simple and easy. There are email/contact forms that can pop up at the end of a transaction for customers to fill out, surveys that can be completed at the close of a transaction, social media listening and monitoring, comment boxes, and of course, paying attention to data analytics, to help paint a picture of your customer demographics. There are plenty of other ways to capture customer feedback, so really, there is no excuse!

When companies spend time getting to know their customers they can confidently create products that are in demand and in alignment with what their customers want and need. Generating a product or service that has demand, will allow you and your company to rest easy. Trust me, there is no sweeter sound to an executive’s ear than to hear a customer say, “I’ll be back.”

Jodi Beuder is a marketing strategy expert, with a digital marketing twist, and a passion for the customer experience. She is keen to creating and following through, from canvas to fruition and back. This includes targeted social media campaigns, content and internet marketing, and product and branding campaigns.

Connect with Jodi: LinkedIn | Twitter

Monday, March 4, 2019

4 Reasons to Create Job Descriptions & Performance Standards

Errol Allen


Errol Allen is an operations consultant and customer service expert. Using his 25 + years of corporate experience with companies such as ADT, The Houston Post, TCI Cablevision and GEICO, Errol assists his clients in developing a customer focused environment via documenting processes, creating task manuals, identifying key performance indicators and providing customer service training. He is the author of “Keys to Delivering Amazing Customer Service”.

Connect LinkedIn | Twitter


Monday, February 11, 2019

Attrition Analysis & The Psychology of Disengagement

Ron Rhodes

Without a doubt, my most perplexing and profound observation from years of leading large organizations is a behavioral complex I refer to as the psychology of disengagement. In the back office BPO and contact center business, competition for labor is heavy and aggressive. The work can be repetitive, mundane, offering considerable risk to workforce stability. Workers, increasingly millennials, have a lot of choices to go along with their impatience and innate need for challenge and social expression. With their 1980’s + vintage years, the modern workforce is vocal and self-assured so it is not hard to figure out if or when they are dissatisfied with their employers. And even if you missed the earlier signs, the dark computer screens and empty cubicles can be quite convincing.

Labor attrition, being the effect, is the result of basic employee needs and expectations not being met. The psychology of disengagement acknowledges that people simply leave under these circumstances, but more importantly, that people leave before they leave. In other words, their contribution progressively declines like slowly vanishing silhouettes occupying seats. In fact, the probability exists that a significant portion of your workforce is surfing job site postings and mauling over employment leads received via text and social media –at this very moment. We have to pay attention to more than KPI and financial results if we hope to achieve our planned performance targets. Labor stability, in Six Sigma terms, is “critical to quality.” It is very likely that our financial plan was based on the assumption of a fully engaged workforce. Colleagues and friends, take some advice from an old war horse, this is the job. Focus on hiring and retaining good people. Everything else will fall in line.

Employee attrition can be costly or even devastating to businesses of any size in both, financial and less tangible ways. I like the quote by former Xerox CEO, Anne M. Mulcahy, “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”

It is therefore vital that attrition be subjected to extensive and continual observation, measurement, and analysis. While many companies do this, they may stop at the straightforward and perhaps simplistic measurements of turnover which include the percentage of attrition to total headcount by month, and cumulatively on an annual basis (the months added together). This is certainly a helpful measure of butts in seats, but falls short of providing advanced indicators or an understanding of what employee attrition is costing in financial terms, competitive positioning or customer satisfaction.

Importance of Measurement

The ability to measure turnover can give business leaders the information needed to reduce its negative effects, while shedding light on what can be done to address the underlying causes. Thorough analysis that encompasses the impact of attrition on finances, productivity, efficiency and your brand image over time will allow you to develop strategies to mitigate the concluded risks, while potentially providing clues as to the reasons behind them.

Average Tenure Compared to Turnover Rate

Measure the average length of time that employees remain with your company to spot internal and external risk factors. For example: If a large percentage of your employees stay for years, but your monthly attrition rate is still high, you may want to look at recruiting and on-boarding and how it may have changed over time. Other time-inspired factors may also be in play which could include changes in labor market conditions, local leadership issues, the recent cancellation of the company picnic, etc. The opposite holds true as well; If your average tenure is low and a large number of employees leave the company within months or even weeks, the drivers are likely entrenched in your on-boarding process or management practices and not influenced by time, one way or the other.

To calculate the average, add the total length of time each employee has been with your company. Divide the sum by the number of employees used in the calculation. Consider how long your business has been open when analyzing the result. Newer companies will naturally have shorter average lengths of employment, while more established companies should see longer average lengths.

Base versus Backfill Attrition

Your base headcount might be the number of employees on your roster when the year begins. This would be compared to attrition from this roster throughout the year. You can then add your backfill, as well as attrition from backfill. In other words, at the end of the year, I have 80 of the original 100 on my roster so 20% base attrition. My annual cumulative attrition rate was 80% so by backfill turned over 3 times (4 times including the original backfill). Also, since program launches and/or expansions during the year may not be included in the starting roster you should exclude any added headcount or attrition directly associated with them. 

This view is helpful when trying to validate your investment in employee training, for example. The higher your base retention, the more sensible the investment or, at least, that’s the theory.

Average Tenure or Length of Employment

Measure the average length of time that employees remain with your company. This will help you in financial planning as pertains to recruiting and training expense, salary increases, and facility initiatives. To calculate the average tenure, add the total lengths of time each employee has been with your company. Divide the sum by the number of employees used in the calculation.

Performance and Production Regression

Calculate the ratio of new hires to your total number of employees at a specific point in time to get a clearer picture of how much of your workforce is made up of newcomers. A higher ratio of new employees can be a sign that your turnover is unusually high, unless you have recently started your business or expanded your workforce. It is often a sign of lower quality based on a lack of experience.

To calculate this ratio, divide the number of new hires currently employed by the current total number of employees. The result is the percentage of new hires compared to the total workforce, including the new employees.

Cost of Turnover and Break-Even Analysis

Hiring and training new employees incurs direct and indirect costs. Your cost-per-hire includes the costs of advertising available positions, performing background checks, paying out referral bonuses and other costs incurred simply to inform job seekers of your available positions. Internal costs include management's time spent reviewing resumes, making calls and conducting interviews, as well as the time spent by dedicated recruiting staff and the HR department. Other related costs could include paying temporary workers and the opportunity costs associated with lost productivity, sales, billable hours, etc. Add to this the costs of training new employees once they arrive, and you will get a picture of just how much it costs to lose and replace an employee.

If you would prefer – as we do – to not spend your time dutifully conducting attrition analysis, consider an equal or greater time investment in initiatives that effectively drive workforce stability. Listen to your employees and challenge yourself to have an increasingly high yes ratio when considering their requests. Their disengagement declines as your engagement grows.

Passionate about mentoring and developing the industry’s future leaders, in 2000, Ron authored Fundamentals of Call Center Management, a guide intended to help entry level managers, as they begin to master their craft.

Having spent 20 years with category leaders, American Express, Nestle, Moore Business Forms (now RR Donnelly) and Comcast, Ron's background includes an additional 10 years of key global BPO assignments with TeleTech, Convergys, Stream, STARTEK and now Connext. Ron's international experience includes stints in Jamaica, Canada and currently the Philippines.

Connect: LinkedIn 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

You Make Me Want to Be a Better Agent: Customers Can Inspire!

By Jodi Beuder

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

Jack Nicholson is one of the few actors who can make a despicable character likable. In the movie, As Good As It Gets, he plays Melvin Udall, a misanthropic, obsessive-compulsive sourpuss. For much of the movie it’s hard not to want to throw your popcorn at the screen. Melvin is rude, paranoid, demanding, difficult, and exasperating. There are few people who Melvin trusts in the world, and one of them happens to be Carol, a waitress played by Helen Hunt. Over the course of the movie Melvin drops some of his defenses and comes to realize that he feels better when he’s around Carol and, arguably, one of the best scenes in the film is when Melvin softens just enough to convince Carol to give him a chance at spending more time together. The line from this movie that has probably been uttered in a thousand different marriage proposals is, “You make me want to be a better man.”

While this movie certainly centers around Melvin, it is really Carol who inspires and is the biggest motivating factor behind Melvin’s softening. For anyone working in customer service, it might be easy to think of customers as Melvin. Yes, they can be infuriating at times. However,
if we twist the analogy around, customers can just as easily be thought of as Carol. A lot gets written about dealing with difficult customers, but customers can also inspire!

When we work with great customers, a positive feedback loop starts to form. We feel good about our interaction. We want to do even better for the next customer. We take pride in our company. We notice that with each positive interaction, more positive ones follow. What if our industry focused more on the positives and elevated these interactions?

Customer facing agents, who experience the benefits of positive customer interaction, often feel inspired to want to do better. Training modules that teach agents how to take their customer service skills from good to great benefit the organization, the employee and the customer. When employees are inspired, and working to create even better experiences for customers, they are better able to handle negative interactions when they occur. Inspired employees have enough working knowledge to know not to let negative experiences “stick.” They don’t get dragged down by the challenges, and instead remain committed and devoted to delivering excellent care, because they know they are better for it.

“You make me want to be a better agent!” When our customer services teams are well trained to deliver excellent customer experiences, our customers can bring out our very best!

Jodi Beuder is a marketing strategy expert, with a passion for customer experience. She is keen to creating and following through, from canvas to fruition. Her expertise includes targeted social media campaigns, content and internet marketing, and product and branding campaigns.

Connect with Jodi: LinkedIn | Twitter

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Your Query Failed. Now What?

By Diana Aviles

Sometimes, you just get stuck. You sit there at your desk trying to come up with every way possible a person can say something with the hope that it will help make some progress on getting your category or query to pass validation. But like Pac-Man, you keep getting hit by the ghosts repeatedly dying. I think it’s important to slow things down and be honest with everyone. Even us seasoned veterans have our tricky builds. [Please note: I am going to use the term “build” to refer to query/category building in order to maintain neutrality in this piece.]

Frustrating building is often one of the major contributing factors for why organizations pull out of speech analytics programs. It's like Super Mario Bros 2. The one we have here in the US, where you are running around throwing radishes, is technically not the official version.

Nintendo of Japan, thought the sequel game should continue where the player left off in the last game, by following a traditional path of progressive difficulty. The end result was that Nintendo of America said "no thank you", and created the version of SMB2 that we are more familiar with. Outside of showing how dorky I am, why am I mentioning this? The frustration that Nintendo of America experienced with the game, is often similar to what some speech analysts experience when they get stuck on a tricky build. So while there is no real life Speech Analytics equivalent of a Game Genie, I came up with a list of things that might help you get past the level.

  • You may have too low volume – If the particular subject you are building does not drive a lot of volume, you are entering the needle-in-haystack territory. You cannot make hits appear out of thin air. In these situations, it’s important to communicate that to your requestor, to set those expectations. I have found that it can help to offer them a monitoring period, to observe volume, and see if it improves somewhere down the line. You would largely do this in the form of ad-hoc searches or term lists, if your software offers the option.

  • Cross-talk Interference – This is one that burned me recently. Sometimes, if you are trying to look for something on a specific line, you may encounter situations where noise on one line bleeds into another line, causing the appearance of cross talk. This can result in a missed hit in your build. Speaker separation relies on having high quality, and clear audio to be able to differentiate who is who. This is one of those situations which you should communicate to your requestor, after taking your best shot.

  • Too complicated for your own good – In a previous article, I suggest building is comparable to good a marinara sauce. You have to mix a bit of this and that.  Everything has to be balanced. Some builders get too complicated, and it hurts the performance of the build. Remember, to keep your builds to one topic at a time. I’m also going to call out builders who are looking for the most specific of items to capture in their build. I knew someone who was getting hammered trying to build for a specific issue that was supposed to capture a specific type of change being made on accounts, but without a specific piece of information being verified. I don’t know if it was ever built successfully, but again, it’s really important for as a builder, to keep things simple and educate end users.

Finally, I want you to remember that frustration is normal. Do not get discouraged, or destroy company owned property. A query/category build that is stubborn does not mean that you or the software is substandard. This comes with the territory. If you have speech analytics mentors, talk with them and see what advice they might have for you. If you do not have any mentors, and you are reading this, please contact me. I’ll be Luigi to your Mario, even though I like Princess Peach because she floats.

I promise, I am done with all the retro gaming references.

Diana Aviles has been working in speech analytics for 8 years with a specialty in Nexidia Interaction Analytics.

She is a vocal speech analytics advocate with the primary objective to simultaneously promote and educate the world of Speech Analytics with a human touch; one which further emphasizes the importance of First Call Resolution and overall customer experience.

Follow Diana on LinkedIn.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Employee Engagement via Motivation and Encouragement

By Crystal O'Hara

The importance of employee motivation is vital to any business. If you have motivated staff, you have a highly productive staff. The fact that we are in the call center industry means we market our employees; they are our front line to our clients. Finding ways to motivate employees is always a concern for management. It's something we always have in the forefront. We want our employees to be happy and have a level of energy and commitment to the company. If our front-line employees are happy that means, they will give the customers a positive experience, when they answer the phone.

American Communication Centers, there are many ways that we motivate our staff. Here are a few incentives we have come up with to keep our employee morale up.
  1. We personally thank employees for doing a good job. When I speak with an employee, I thank them for what they do. I like them to know I appreciate the hard work they put in.
  2. Listen to your employees. I’m always asking if they have suggestions, ideas or any feedback. When they share it, I listen. If it’s a suggestion that we cannot do, I will try and find some way to incorporate it somewhere else or, tweak it to where it does fit. However, just listening shows you care and are interested in what they say.
  3. Provide feedback on job performance. Every week I do some evaluations on each of my employees and provide feedback, and not just what needs to be worked on, but what they did well. I believe constructive criticism as well as positive words are just as important.
  4. 5C policy. This has been a policy that I have used for many years. When you answer phones for 8 hours a day, you get those occasional calls where the other person is just not satisfied with anything you can do for them. These calls can drag people down, so we have a policy in place that doesn’t spread that negativity to the rest of the staff. It’s called the 5C policy. This policy is a zero-tolerance policy where we do not allow anyone to talk in a negative or derogatory way about our callers, clients, competition, and  co-workers. It goes with the adage, "if you don’t’ have something nice to say then don’t say it at all". It has worked really well over the years, and it’s actually become a policy that everyone likes. Let’s face it, most people don’t want to sit around listening to others complain.
These are just some of the ways we try to keep our staff motivated and enjoying work. In what ways do you motivate employees? 

Crystal O'Hara is a vision-driven, goal-focused executive with a proven history of innovation and achievement. Throughout my 17-year career, I have established a reputation as a transformational leader who is driven by challenge, undeterred by obstacles, and committed to furthering standards of excellence. My expertise encompasses all aspects of business development and administration, from controlling costs and maximizing revenues to harnessing team strengths to improve company wide performance.

Connect: LinkedIn