Friday, January 31, 2014

Employee Satisfaction Can Affect Customer Retention

By Chris Truitt

The age old saying, ‘happy employees are productive employees’, rings true. In fact, a recent study conducted by University of Missouri has linked employee satisfaction to improved morale, reduction in turnover and customer satisfaction. The connection between employee and customer satisfaction is one that may be often overlooked. According to another study conducted by Sears Roebuck & Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Sears Holdings, between 40 and 80% of customer satisfaction and loyalty was in part attributed to the attitude of employees and other customer related variables. Other variables such as the competency of the customer service rep and technical limitations such as outages or service disruption also played a huge factor in customer satisfaction.

These studies, though insightful, only serve to confirm what our customers already know. The customer service rep is the ambassador of the organization. They are the face and voice that represents our business aptitude to adequately service consumer demand. Since we have confirmed the connection between customer and employee satisfaction, and we can conclude that happy customers are likely to become return customers and bring in referrals for new customers, which leads to increased revenue, it seems to me that it is in our best interest to ensure our staff is adequately supported.

Unfortunately pizza parties and excess of coffee and soft drinks will not suffice. Your support team is smart and they are wise to this act. They know the quiet strategy of keeping them wired on caffeinated drinks is a business method to boost productivity. And sadly, food is only a temporary solution to address issues of employee morale. In fairness, I have partaken in a number of lunches where expenses were covered. These lunches were a good way to say ‘thanks for the hard work’, and I appreciated them, but what I appreciated even more was a leader that was open to hear, and at times act, on feedback provided by the staff, and one that wasn’t afraid to crawl into the trenches with us.

Chris Truitt is a seasoned Email Deliverability Manager.As Manager of Deliverability, Chris has tripled the size of his team, written policies and processes to improve inbox delivery to enhance the customer experience.

As a pragmatist, Chris has a result oriented approach to business. If a process does not render desired results, he will not hesitate to alter course or tweak his procedure. He is a proponent of interdepartmental cooperation and sharing resources. His community philosophy is appreciated by his colleagues, as he looks to assess how the change he implements affects others. Chris knows that strong decisive leadership is the cornerstone of a thriving organization.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Insider Interview #3: Erica Strother

A Conversation with Erica Strother- Community Specialist, ICMI

By: Brooks Webb

I recently had a chance to speak with ICMI’s Community Specialist, Erica Strother.  As the Community Specialist, Erica has special insight into contact center trends and the thought leaders behind them.  We were thrilled to pick her brain for insights of our own. 

As Community Specialist at ICMI, what are your primary responsibilities? 

I wear many hats, but my main responsibility is to engage our community members and provide them with relevant, high quality contact center resources.  I manage our editorial calendar, ensuring that we publish new and engaging content every day. I serve as a project manager for the insights programs we produce-- including webinars, educasts, research, and more.  I also help to monitor and drive the conversations that take place on our social networks. 

One project I’m particularly excited to be working on right now is our new #ICMIchat tweet chat series.  This weekly series will kick off on Tuesday, February 4th at 1pm ET.  The one hour chats will take place every Tuesday and serve as an outlet for members of the contact center community to discuss some of the hottest industry topics.  This chats will also be a great opportunity to network with industry peers. 

I take it you’ve worked with a lot of call center professionals.  What causes the most influential and successful individuals to stand out?  What do they have in common?

I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of brilliant leaders in the call center industry!  Networking with our community members is one of my favorite parts of this job.  Throughout my interactions with contact center leaders, I’ve noticed several factors that lead to success, but many of the most successful individuals that stand out in my mind have one thing in common. They understand the importance of empowering their agents. Time and time again, ICMI research shows that happy agents= happy customers.  The contact center leaders who are committed to engaging their agents and investing in the proper technology are usually the ones who excel.  In fact, that’s something all of our Global Contact Center Awards finalists and winners had in common last year.

In your opinion, what works best when it comes to engaging employees?  Are there any tips or tricks that you can share with us? 

A lot of leaders are under the opinion that pizza parties, contests, and pay raises are the ways to boost morale.   All of those things are nice, but I think it’s actually simpler than that. It sounds cliché, but I’m a big believer in the Golden Rule.  If you want to build loyalty and trust, you have to treat your employees the way they want to be treated.  Respect them, challenge them, and trust them.

Are you a proponent of Social Support?  If so, can you tell us about a time when you’ve used it and what your experience was like?

I am a HUGE proponent of social support!  I personally use it pretty frequently, and have had both positive and negative experiences.  I’ll share an example of each, starting with the positive.

I love to vacation in the Outerbanks, so last summer I planned a trip there for my boyfriend’s birthday.  I needed to find a place big enough to accommodate 15 people, but we began our search a little last minute.  His birthday also happens to fall during 4th of July week, which is probably the busiest beach week in NC.  Needless to say, finding the right place at an affordable price was challenging.  I ended up sending a tweet out soliciting help or suggestions.  Within minutes, Seaside Vacations responded to my tweet and asked for my contact information.  They sent me several listings that were a good fit and we booked a place that night!  We had a great time, and Seaside Vacations even sent me a welcome tweet the day we arrived.  They’ve since kept in touch with me via Twitter, and the next time I plan a vacation they will be top of mind!

What stands out about their social service:  they were actively listening for potential needs, they promptly and proactively reached out to me, and they continued to follow up and engage with me even after they had my business. They now have a loyal customer! 

As for the negative experience, traveling home from Christmas vacation (on a short, direct flight) my airline lost my bag.  No one was available to assist me in the airport, so I went home and called their customer service number.  After two hours, I was still unable to speak to anyone who could help me.  The IVR kept bouncing me to the wrong person, and when I finally got a live person on the line they instructed me to call a different number.  I called that number and got a recording about a free cruise.  After 3 hours of runaround I was frustrated.  Desperate for a response, I turned to Twitter.  Unfortunately, I never got a response.  Eventually, I did get my bag back, but the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth.  The most important rule of social customer service: always, always, always respond to customer inquiries! 

Do you think customers are hesitant to use Social Support?  Why?

I don’t think customers are hesitant to use social support.  I actually think agents are the more hesitant ones when it comes to social support.

Customers want social customer support.  Most people have access to their social accounts on their smartphones, 24/7, and social customer support can be more convenient when the phone’s not an option.  ICMI research shows that 67% of contact centers now believe social is a necessary customer service channel.  The problem is that agents aren’t always empowered to manage the channel properly.  Our research indicates that agents are comfortable using social in their personal lives, but still prefer the phone as their primary method to provide customer support.

Contact centers must properly train agents to support the social channel, and then arm them with the necessary tools for success.   Ashley Verrill and Jonathan Russell address this in the ICMI webinar “5 Steps to Superior Social Customer Service” and they offer the tools and techniques that can make social customer support more effective.  If you’re looking for ways to implement or improve upon social customer support, I’d definitely recommend checking it out!

Erica is the Community Specialist at ICMI. With a background in marketing, public relations, and social media, she brings more than six years of community management experience to ICMI, and is particularly passionate about  the convergence of marketing and customer service. Erica graduated Cum Laude from Campbell University in North Carolina.  In her free time she enjoys traveling, watching sports, attending concerts, and drinking coffee.  She’s also a self-professed Twitter addict. Follow her on Twitter: @ens0204.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Is it 1 or 29?

By: Karen Saum

Mistakes happen. We are all human and this will be a fact forever. Just how we count mistakes needs to be considered as we embrace and charge on with the focus on customer experience based metrics and model.

One little warehouse error, when counted as 1 in the olden days pre-customer experience, could, and should be viewed much differently now.  For instance, a customer orders a quantity of two of one item. Despite a box being clearly marked as QTY 8, in a hurry, during busy season a temp picker picks two boxes full of the item to ship to the customer.  Unfortunately, being busy season, the packer doesn't notice the picking error thus the customer receives 16 of the item, not 2. 

Honesty is the best policy, thus Mr. Customer calls the company to inform them of the error. A pre-paid return shipment is arranged. Since this is a hot selling item, 14 other customers who thought they would receive the item immediately, since it was originally in stock, were forced to back order status. 

Upon receiving the return of the over-pick, inventory was adjusted before back orders were filled. Since this business sells purely on-line, the items sell out to 14 other customers before the original 14 customers who were in line first were assigned the inventory justly due to them. This forces those 14 new customers into back order status until inventory is received by the manufacturer.

So, despite being one human warehouse mistake, 29 customer experiences were negatively impacted. Not to mention the addition costs to the company incurred by paying more in postage to ship the original much bigger package to the first customer, also the return shipping costs to get back the merchandise, the additional cost of personnel in customer care, receiving, returns and warehouse to make things right.

Customer experience requires a totally different mentality all the way around in an organization. So, do you count this as 1 or 29? Just some food for thought to ponder as we proceed on the Customer Experience Initiative.

For over 25 years, Karen has been involved in the Sales or Customer Service fields supporting either Telecommunications or the Retail Industries.  Most recently, she has held various positions for an on-line retailer and played many roles within the rapidly growing company.  This has afforded her the privilege to understand better the different roles within the business world and use this information to enhance the Sales and Customer Care department.

A specialist in Relationship Sales and the Benedictine Rule of Customer Care, Karen is an advocate for her customers and understands the importance of positive Customer Experience in a profitable and successful business. Follow Karen on twitter @chgotochlt

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How Do I Become A Virtual Call Center Agent?

 Editor's Note: This article, by Pamela Gioia, was originally posted on Projecteve

If you’ve been thinking about working from home but thought this type of work arrangement was only for web designers, writers, or computer “geeks”, think again. There are numerous call center companies that have adopted this work-from-home model. And the number of virtual call centers are growing. This means more job opportunities for Americans who are interested in working from home as customer service representatives
There are two types of virtual call centers: in-house and outsourced.
In-house refers to large companies that develop their own virtual call centers. Their human resources team oversees the hiring process, from call center supervisors to call center agents. These companies own their own dialing equipment and systems. They conduct their own agent training. Often, agents that work for these companies are or become company employees, not contractors. For example, American Express is a well known, large company that has their own call center and uses their own Customer Service Representatives. Candidates apply for customer service positions directly through this company.

    • Pros: Company often provides full benefits: Health/dental insurance, vacation pay, 401K, etc. Higher pay than smaller companies. Equipment may be provided, such as computer, special headsets, webcams, and software.
    • Cons: Very strict rules about your home work space. For example, they may want proof of a safe electrical system, fire prevention and evacuation set up, and even the they type of chair you sit in must pass their check point as being ergonomic. May have to travel for initial paid training. 

Outsourced customer service companies take on other companies as clients. These companies hire outsourcing companies to handle their customer care needs so that they do not need to manage a call center, purchase equipment or software, or take on new employees. Very often, customer service agents are independent contractors. For example, Convergys hires home based care agents throughout the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. These agents are independent contractors who are serving the needs of Convergy’s clients, and these clients come from a wide array of business industries. (Hotels, airlines, flower shops, travel agencies, clinics, and more.)
  • Pros: Workers have more flexibility when it comes to choosing their work days and hours. Training is usually online or virtual. Providing you have a quiet workspace, some of the other safety requirements are not necessary.
  • Cons: Pay is generally less for an independent contractor of a smaller company. Little, if any, equipment is provided, other than the company software necessary for you to do your job. There are usually no health benefits. And training may not always be paid.
Regardless of what type of virtual call center you chose to work for, there are some common skills you need before either will hire you.

Experience & Education–The basic requirements to work as an At-Home Express Customer Care Representative for Xerox include:
  • Possess a High School diploma or GED.
  • Type 30 WPM
  • Ability to utilize English verbally and written.
  • Experience with Microsoft Office package desired.
  • Ability to work independently in a fast paced environment.
  • Familiarity with Windows and MS Office applications, as well as basic web navigation skills.
Skills–To be an E-Customer Service Agent for UHaul, you must have, at minimum, the following skills:
  • Must be highly PC literate.
  • Ability to download software is required.
  • Applicants must have good verbal skills.
  • Fluent in the use of Instant Message.
Personality–Being friendly is a great start, but it takes much more than a cheerful voice to make it as a successful customer care agent. According to a recent job ad from Enterprise Holdings, these are a couple of must-have skills for their home-based Customer Service Representative:
  • Ability to remain resilient, project patience and empathy, and provide excellent customer service when dealing with stressful situations.
  • Increased level of problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Office Requirements–Enterprise is very picky about their agents’ home office set up. They are an in-house call center (see above description), so they exert a lot of control.
  • Computer (PC, no Mac) OS Version: Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 Computer.
  • USB Headset with Microphone or PC speakers and microphone.
  • High speed Internet access provided by a cable or DSL provider (Satellite broadband does not meet our requirements).
  • Minimum up load speed of 1000 kbps (1.0 mbps) Minimum down load speed of 3000 kbps (3.0 mbps) Use of wireless and WiFi “air cards” is prohibited.
  • Enterprise reserves the right to verify that your PC meets or exceeds the following requirements.
Office Set Up–When you work from home, it’s very important to have a “real” working environment. 1(800)Flowers tells prospective home-based Customer Service Agents that they must have:
  • A sturdy desk and a comfortable sturdy chair at a comfortable height with adequate back support. (5 legged chair highly recommended.)

  • A workstation in a private, quiet area away from others in your residence and background noise.

Rules of Conduct–Other requirements by Enterprise, regarding general interaction with clients, are:
  • Provide exceptional customer service and collect required information from the customer on every call per established criteria.
  • Use experience to identify customer needs and handle accordingly.
  • Demonstrate sincerity and empathy when appropriate by using the proper voice/tone pitch and word choice.
  • Provide timely and accurate information reflecting a customer-oriented image for the company.
  • Demonstrate and maintain professional oral and written communication with customers, co-workers and other company staff.
  • Communicate information considered unsatisfactory by customers in a tactful manner.
  • Offer alternatives and options to overcome objections.

Background–In all cases, regardless of company, you can expect a thorough background check, drug screening, work history verification, and possibly credit check. APAC tells their potential Work@Home Customer Service Representatives:
  • After successful completion of a comprehensive background and drug screening, the applicant may receive an offer to join Work at Home’s fantastic journey in our virtual classroom as a Customer Service Representative.

Related Knowledge–It’s always best to have some knowledge or understanding about the business a client or company is in before applying to work for them. According to a recent job post for Home Based Representatives by Norwegian Cruise Lines:
  • People who aren’t passionate about CRUISING need not apply!
  • People who aren’t passionate about building DREAM VACATIONS need not apply!
Rules and requirements aside, what makes a good customer service candidate, from an employer’s perspective? According to Sean Hawkins, a Call Center Manager, and co-founder of Call Center Weekly, “When selecting call center agents, soft skills are most important.”
These skills include:
  • Being a good listener
  • Being a good communicator
  • Showing good problem solving skills
  • Possessing empathy
  • Ability to follows instructions

Armed with this information about what is needed to become a virtual call center agent, and the skills necessary to succeed, it’s clear that this profession requires much more than just a telephone and some spare time. There are equipment needs, mandatory office standards, desired personality traits, and background and work experience criteria involved. None of those are difficult to overcome; but it helps to have a good picture of what’s involved before proceeding.
Have you ever considered a career as a Virtual Call Center Representative?

Pamela La Gioia has been researching and writing about telecommuting issues since the early 1990s. She is the founder and CEO of Telework Recruiting, Inc., a website that helps professionals in all fields find telecommuting employment. You can join her on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The New Era of Customer Relationships

 Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on

How significantly—and quickly—things have changed!
Until recently, the most significant developments in customer service have been those envisioned and implemented by organizations: the invention of 800 number (toll-free) service and ACD routing systems in the late 1960s and early 1970s; the introduction of workforce management capabilities and computer telephony integration in the 1980s; Web browsers and Internet-based services in the 1990s; and more recently, the amazing developments in multimedia, cloud-based capabilities, analytics and others.
We are now, however, seeing a major and fundamental shift: For the first time, developments on the customers’ side of the equation — the meteoric rise of smartphones, social media, broadband and mobility — are the most significant factors driving customer expectations and services. Given what is happening, I’m convinced we’ll see more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the past four decades. Organizations can harness and leverage the trends, or get tumbled by them. Either way, our customers are in control—we’re entering a new era of customer relationships.
What does your organization need to do to respond to these changes? I believe there are five key success factors:
  • First, ensure your executive leadership team spends time “in the trenches,” observing how interactions are handled, understanding the work of internal development teams, talking to customers, etc. This provides invaluable insight into direction and development priorities.
  • Second, commit to providing a broad range of access choices to customers, enabling them to reach the information and services they need through the channels they want to use (mobile, social, self-service, phone, et al.)
  • Third, tend to blocking and tackling—e.g., manage workloads effectively so that as customer needs evolve, your organization is accessible and provides consistent high levels of service and quality.
  • Fourth, take every opportunity at each customer touchpoint to build customer relationships and capture insight from them that is used for innovation and product improvement.
  • Finally (and this is both a prerequisite to the above and an ongoing responsibility), build a strong organization (hire right, train well) with a cross-functional commitment to understanding and serving customers.
This is a season of significant change. Organizations that understand the trends and respond appropriately have enormous opportunity to differentiate and thrive.
Interested in learning more about how to operate TODAY's contact center that best supports the new customer experience?
Join me in San Diego for Execs in the Know's  Customer Response Summit.

 Brad Cleveland has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization’s success. He has worked in over 60 countries and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant. He can be reached at

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

3 Factors to Consider When Implementing a Virtual Call Center Program

By: Pamela La Gioia

After a post I made in December, 2013, asserting that Christmas is the perfect time to find home-based customer service work, I spoke with a call center manager, Sean Hawkins, to see if he agreed. He was able to give me some valuable insight from the business end of a call center.

Pamela: I’ve been telling my blog readers and website visitors that Christmas is a great time to look for home-based call center jobs. My reasoning: holiday shopping– especially online shopping–dramatically increases, creating an increased demand for customer service representatives. What’s your take?

Sean: Most often, you will see an increase in work from home customer service agents with businesses that are seasonal. This is true throughout the year whether it’s Christmas, Easter or the summer season.

With the holiday season already here, anyone implementing a work from home schedule is a few weeks behind. Ideally this process should have been mapped out in Q2 or Q3. I have a process I use that gets updated each year just after the holiday season has passed.

Pamela: What are some factors call centers need to think about when developing a work from home program?

Sean: In my opinion, there are three factors to consider when developing a work from home process:

First, you need great forecasting to determine your volume and head count. It goes without saying that you must staff accordingly. The best way to determine this is through your workforce management.

Second, you must factor in technology requirements. This can be done with the assistance of your IT team. It’s important to work with them to determine what is needed to ensure the customer experience is not impacted due to a lack of infrastructure. Will employees log into a VPN? What applications do they need to perform their jobs? Do your employees have the necessary bandwidth at home or, will the company need to provide it? All of these questions should answered.

Lastly, a training plan is needed. Most likely, there will be additional software (usually authentication related) that employees should be trained to use. They should also be trained on best practices when working from home. Related to this, you need to identify which agents you want working from home. What criteria will you use? Personally, I’d select agents who need little supervision, and have shown a high level of competency in their role.

Pamela: Thank you, Sean. Based on your feedback, I learned a couple of things. First, several departments within a company need to be involved when planning and implementing a teleworking program. Secondly, because of the advanced planning call centers do, it would be wise for job seekers to start approaching these companies long before the holidays hit.

Pamela La Gioia is the president of Telework Recruiting, a premier web site that helps professionals find teleworking employment. She has been researching and writing about telecommuting since the early 1990s. You can join her on Facebook or Twitter.

Sean is a Customer Experience, Contact Center and Help desk manager with over 12 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

In 2011, his team was awarded the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. Follow on Twitter @SeanBHawkins