Monday, February 27, 2017

Training Across Generations

By: Elaine Carr

I must admit that any time anyone starts talking about generational characteristics, I cringe. I can see myself in every generation, and I only fit about 60% of the characteristics of my own generation. For Millennials it can be even worse as they are the target of more articles than any other generation—some of them very negative. While I enjoy learning about myself and using assessments to do so, I’m not finding a lot of the generational information helpful when we end up putting people into generational boxes where they don’t entirely fit. 

We still have to deal, however, with the issue of a wide range of people in training. This may
be more pronounced than in previous decades because of a wider range of participant ages as people delay retirement. Instead of focusing on generational differences, which might lead to unhelpful stereotypes, I prefer to focus on what the generations have in common.

Universal Needs
Achieve Global published a report in 2011 that identified some of the generational commonalities. All generations have four universal needs: respect, competence, autonomy, and connection.
  • Respect means that training participants feel valued as unique individuals.
  • Competence means that participants feel that their knowledge, skill, and experience—at whatever level—are valued.
  • Autonomy means that participants can make choices within guidelines to achieve shared goals, such as mastering skills and knowledge in the classroom, as well as how content is applied on-the-job to meet company and customer expectations.
  • Connection means that participants can collaborate with trusted colleagues and co-workers.

Supporting Universal Needs in Training
First, before focusing on participants, instructors need to think about how generational stereotypes might influence their own attitudes. Do you find yourself thinking any of the following?
  • “He’s too old to know how to work a computer well.”
  • “She’s too old to learn new approaches.” 
  • “He’s too young to know what the world is really like.” 
  • “Since she’s a Gen Xer and he’s a Millennial, they won’t get along.” 
  • OR any other stereotypes and misconceptions based on age and/or generation.
These attitudes can creep in and you should watch out for them in yourself and in your participants. Challenge these attitudes every time they arise. People of any age can operate technology well, can be stuck in their ways, can learn new things, can be naïve about the world, can have important insights, and can get along with each other or not. 

Other ways to support the universal needs in class include:
  • Ask respectful questions of people in the class and listen with an open mind. 
  • Ask about people’s interests, abilities, and experiences (rather than make assumptions). 
  • Point out commonalities between people’s responses and reactions—between their interests, abilities, experiences, and challenges.
  • Encourage everyone to be respectful of each other—and define what respect means for the class. (Does it mean that we never disagree with something someone says? That you address me as Mr./Mrs./Ms.? That you never interrupt me while talking? Or does it mean that we don’t demean, make fun of, or insult others? I would say yes only to the last question, but respect is one of those words that means different things to different people, so coming to a common definition is important.)
  • Acknowledge that everyone has skills, experience, and insights to offer and build upon those things. 
  • Allow for a range of productive work styles as much as possible rather than advocating only one approach to the job. 
  • Allow participants to make choices on how they will approach a project, an application of the content, or even a simple exercise whenever that is possible. 
  • Partner people across generations so that each can help the other, building upon each person’s strengths, and breaking down stereotypes.
  • Expect a lot from yourself and from your training participants. When you expect great things, you are more likely to see great things.  
We must get to know each person in training as an individual, and then capitalize on each person’s interests, abilities, and experiences. We must accommodate a variety of work approaches and attitudes, and adjust our presentation and activities to meet the real needs of the people in training.

These are standard best practices in training. Trainers have always had to be versatile, adapting the training approach to the real on-the-job needs of the participants. We have always had to get to know people as individuals and to capitalize on their interests, experiences, and abilities to make the training most effective. We always try to give people as much autonomy as possible in learning. And we work to make the training environment safe for trainees so that they can afford to fail and learn from that failure.

Standing by strong best practices in training is much better than trying to use generational characteristics as a shortcut to get to know training participants. Especially since people just don’t fit neatly into generational categories. Making assumptions about people based on their generation is just as inaccurate (and debilitating) as making assumptions based upon race, creed, gender, haircut, tattoos, dress, weight, height, hair color, or any other generality. 

Get to know training participants as the unique individuals they are and use training best practices to adapt to their uniqueness and needs.

A professional in the training arena for more than 25 years, Elaine has 18 years’ experience in the contact center industry. She has both outsourced (domestically and internationally) contact center services and worked in companies doing the outsourced work. The variety of business that she has experienced in the contact center world includes financial services, incentives, transportation, government, healthcare, insurance, retail, and utility services, giving her a wide-ranging view of the industry. 

She is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP). What inspires Elaine every day is her delight in developing people and helping them do their jobs better. Currently, she is the Training and Development Manager for ICMI. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Customer Service and Social Media: You’re Doing it Wrong

By: Chris Sciulli
Originally posted on Smokehouse SEO

Warning: This article was inspired by true events. Only the names have been changed to protect me so I don’t get sued or something.

Our Story So Far…

So let’s say you’re a guy who went out and paid over $500 on a new, name-brand Soundbar and Subwoofer combination for your living room TV. You get it home and set it up and it’s awesome. You couldn’t be happier with it. It’s everything advertised and it’s exactly how it sounded when you did the demo at the store. From movies to streaming music, video games to sports, you have no complaints. Yes, friends, I was ‘that guy’.


One day, about two months after purchase, right in the middle of running around in the desert with Lawrence of Arabia shooting at enemy Ottoman Empire soldiers, I heard something that can best be described as a ‘noise’ from my subwoofer. Well, maybe ‘noise’ isn’t the right word.

I guess it was more of popping, rumbling, vibrating, rattling cacophony that not only was quite disturbing, but it ended up surprising and distracting me to the point where my character died (not to mention T.E. Lawrence!), causing me to lose the battle and therefore changing the course of the First World War forever.

Congratulations, Ottomans. I guess you’ve finally won.

Anyway, after the obligatory turning it off and turning it back on again, unplugging and replugging it, testing it on the TV, streaming music and everything else and realizing that for some reason that yes, this subwoofer is busted, I get on the phone. I personally hate making phone calls, but I dropped over $500 on this thing only two months ago, it had to be under warranty – and it was – but then came the problems.

The Customer service rep on the phone first explained that it sounded like a problem we couldn’t troubleshoot on the phone: I expected that.

The subwoofer, which is the part of the system I’m having a problem with, only works that particular soundbar: understandable.

So, under the terms of the warranty, since there were no authorized service centers in my area (odd because I live in a major city, but whatever, it happens) I’d have to SHIP THE ENTIRE SOUNDBAR AND SUBWOOFER TO THEIR SERVICE CENTER: Not. Good.

I explained to him that the whole reason I bought this sound bar in the first place is because I literally have no other way to hear the television in the living room (long story but suffice it to say I can’t use the built-in TV speakers) and he said ‘I’m sorry’…and when you hear that, everyone knows that means it’s game over. It’s either their way or no way: even worse.

Ok, fine. It might only be a few days or a week at the most, right? I can always use the second floor TV for a while until I get my soundbar back and….the guy tells me it will take four weeks to fix. Not including the time to ship it to them and then get it shipped back.



Not gonna happen.

From Bad…

So I just said forget it and hung up. So here I am, in my living room with a half-working soundbar that – I paid $500 for only two months ago – with no subwoofer. First of all, anyone who’s listened to a soundbar without a subwoofer will tell you that it’s basically pointless and you may as well just listen to regular TV speakers and second of all, I don’t know how lucrative you think SEO is, but let me tell you, 500 bucks is 500 bucks and I don’t appreciate just having to eat about $350 of it.

So, needless to say, I was mad.

What did I do? I did what any technology literate upset customer would do. I went to Twitter.

That’s right. I went straight to twitter and did an ‘@’ message to their company’s online support about the general problem and how basically the solution the rep offered was, and I quote, ‘not a good look’.

My goal for this was, of course, to hopefully publicly shame this company into actually providing a workable solution to the issue – hey, I paid $500 for this thing! Maybe like ship me a box where I send back this old system and they send me out a new one or something like that, I don’t know. All I know is a month without sound and just tossing $500 down the drain are both unacceptable solutions.

So anyway, I wait a couple hours and lo and behold, I get a reply from the company asking me to DM them. So I do. And after I send them literally all the information about the problem and what I’ve done to try to correct it so far and my contact information, about three hours later, I get a reply asking if I had ‘previously contacted them about this issue’ and what my telephone number – which I already gave them – was. But I gave it to them again, maybe they missed it or something, I don’t know, whatever. But even though I replied to them only minutes after their request, I got nothing back. So I waited.

And waited.

Three hours passed. Then five. Then twelve.

To Worse…

And then a day passed. I did another DM to make sure they got my last one. No answer to even that one – and keep in mind this is all during regular business hours in all time zones in the US.

I did another ‘@’ message to them wondering what is going on. Then three hours after that, I finally got another DM…this time they’re asking for my first and last name, address, serial number of the soundbar and date of purchase. So I gave that to them within three minutes of their request. That was two days ago. I still haven’t heard back from that yet.

So I’m still sitting here, as we speak, with a broken sound bar. I’m still out $500 and now I’m angry and frustrated at the lack of solutions provided on the telephone and angry beyond belief at the customer service response time on Social Media.

And thusly, this article was born.

Social Media Done Completely and Horribly Wrong

As you probably know, there are so many ways to completely fail at Social Media as a brand. From outright gaffes to tone-deaf references, a social media marketer’s life is fraught with peril but when it comes to customer service, you’d think established brands would have it down by now, right? Just take the lessons you learned from the call center and your other channels and apply it to your Social media channels, right? You’d assume wrong.

So what did this company do wrong? Everything, if you ask me – but let me try to be objective for now.

First of all, as you can probably see from my example above, the main problem I had with this experience is that they are (present tense because it’s not resolved yet!) taking way too long. If you are a brand and your idea of Social Media Customer Service is to send one sentence via DM every day, you’ve failed. You’ve failed as a social media brand and you’ve failed as customer service department. You’ve offended your family and you’ve offended a Shaolin temple – sorry, Bruce Lee moment.

You simply can’t string customers along like that, especially in today’s market when customers have more choices than ever. Sure, your responses won’t be as fast as they are on the telephone or chat or even by email and most customers get that, but if it seems to take your Social Media team 3 days to resolve an issue, you’ve failed. You couldn’t send a clearer message about how you don’t value your customers or their time if you flat out told them ‘we don’t care about you or your issue’.

Put yourself in the customer’s place and you’re talking to a company about getting an issue resolved and it’s going on day 4 and you’re getting nowhere, you’ve already tried calling in, got the run around there and now you’re getting the run around on social as well. How likely are you to do business with that company in the future? Would you care that the business only has one guy doing social media support and he’s only in the office from 9 to 5 on weekdays and trying to answer 20 other complaints and questions at once?

No. You’d neither know nor care.

It’s Customer Service 101. You treat every customer like they’re the only customer, including on Social Media.

If you can’t do that, you need to either hire a larger social media customer support staff, outsource your social media and empower that team to handle complaints or don’t do social media support at all.

What’s Taking So Long?

According to polls, Customers expect complaints via social media to take no longer than one hour. That’s right, one hour. Realistically, however, sometimes that’s just not possible, we talked about that a minute ago.

Whether it’s because you have other work going on, you can’t afford to hire a large social media team or outsource to another company or because your ‘social media guy’ is also the ‘email guy’, the ‘blog guy’, the receptionist and about five other jobs, sometimes you just can’t reply within an hour to everyone. Not ideal but that’s alright. Take a breath. Relax.

People, even upset customers, are usually reasonable once they feel they’re being listened to and paid attention to in a timely fashion. That is the key right there. From what we’ve seen with our clients, if you reply to all complaints at least within 24 hours of receiving them, you should be alright. If it’s going to take a little longer, let people know this as soon as you can and let them know when they should expect a response! Sure, they may not like to be told that it’ll take a few hours to get back to them about their issue and they may even hem and haw a little about it, but its far better to do that than to just let customers wonder if anyone is even listening to them or if the support rep just said ‘forget it’ and took off. It’s really not that hard. There are third party programs like Sprout Social, ZenDesk and more that can offer you Social media support solutions to make life easier.

Treat your Employees the Way You Want your Customers Treated

However, all the ‘platform based solutions’ mean nothing if you don’t train your staff on how to give great Customer Service through Social Media Channels. There are online guides to help you do this so don’t just take Jim from DevOps or Beth from Accounting one day and say ‘Ok, you’re the social media guy now’ and do not – Repeat: Do. Not. – hire ‘your buddy’s kid’ that’s always on ‘The Facebooks’ to run your Social Media team. He’ll run it alright. Straight into the ground.

Also, if you really care about your Social Media program, you won’t get some intern to do it, either. Look, just hire people who know what they’re doing. Do not cheap out on this! This is the face of your company and your reputation depends on it! Pay and treat them properly. Why? Well, have you ever gotten a customer service agent that you can just tell can’t stand their job? Yeah, the world doesn’t need more of that.

There’s a saying that goes ‘Pay peanuts and you get monkeys’ and it’s true. Do you have any idea what it’s like to actually be a customer service rep? I do. Before I got into digital marketing, I was one for many years, which is why no matter how bad the service is, I try to never be ‘that guy’ – screaming, yelling, demanding to speak to a manager. No, customer service reps usually have it hard enough without yet another angry idiot trying to get them fired.

Imagine yourself as the rep. Would you really care about a stream of screaming people, blaming and cursing at you about things that aren’t your fault for eight hours per day only to make minimum wage or slightly above meanwhile getting micromanaged by supervisors, little to no benefits, a half hour lunch break, hardly any vacation time (and even if you did, where would you go on minimum wage?) and being basically tethered to a phone to where you have to actually log time to go to the bathroom? Treat your staff well and it will pay dividends. Also, you can’t just call a meeting and go ‘Hey everyone, Zappos is great. Be like Zappos and if you don’t, you’re fired.’ – as I’ve seen first-hand certain companies do. No, if you want your employees to be like Zappos Employees, you need to treat them like Zappos treats their customer service employees.

Social Media Customer service is no different than traditional customer service in the sense of it’s really easy to let things go completely off the rails. Don’t let it. Be the brand that is known for having a great customer service team both on social media and on all of your other channels by simply treating your employees and your customers better. Train and empower your staff to make necessary decisions to help your customers, pay and treat them well and you’ll have a much more engaged staff and you’ll see a huge difference in how they treat your customers.

Sidebar: At the time writing, I’m still waiting on a DM back from the company about my soundbar – it’s been a week now. Not a good look, indeed.

Sidebar to the Sidebar: At the time of posting, it has been about 10 days since the initial contact with the company and I’ve given up. I gave a friend of mine who knows about this sort of thing a few bucks and he was able to figure it out. Needless to say, I’m never buying another product from the unnamed company again.

Chris Sciulli is a Demand Generation Specialist for a Health Care Data Analytics Company and specializes in Content Marketing, Social Media and both Organic and Local SEO. He started his career in local SEO focused on the Real Estate & Apartment Rental industries, and has since gone on to create SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing strategies for a variety of businesses including eCommerce clients, SABs, SMBs and International Corporations in multiple industries. In his spare time he enjoys gaming, traveling and annoying both his wife and his dog.

Smokehouse SEO is the personal SEO blog for Chris Sciulli. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

SMS- A Great Channel For High Volume Recruiting

By: Samantha Milbrodt

Using text messaging (SMS) to engage candidates is an effective way to increase the number of candidates you touch. In high volume recruiting, calling job seekers is a big portion of the job. The use of SMS eases the work load, and ensures a higher rate of successful responses.  

I love the initial interaction with candidates. Talking with them about the company and the opportunities we can offer is an exciting part of the job. However, when I hear the voice message stating, “The person you are trying to reach does not currently have voicemail setup” or, “This person is not accepting messages at this time, please try again later”, I need additional options for making contact. Email comes to mind but, texting is an excellent, quick touch. This is just the beginning; there are several other ways to add texting to your recruiting tool belt. 

A Gallup Poll confirms that text messages are now the dominant form of communication for millennials, with 68% of them texting continuously throughout the day. Have you asked your candidates how they prefer to be contacted? It opens the door to tailoring the candidate experience. By gathering this information, and using it, you speak volumes about your company culture. You show that you are adaptable and focused on creating a positive, easy experience. 

With SMS, not only can you improve the number of touches, you'll also likely increase the candidate response rate. I find texting to be convenient for both parties. My candidate’s love when I offer to send them a quick interview reminder, or an update about the hiring process. 

Text messaging helps me to stay connected, while avoiding phone tag, and long email response time. Once hired, I use texting as a way to drive participation in our referral program during the on-boarding period, and provide company updates. 

The use of SMS has increased the engagement of candidates during the hiring process. Also, it helps me to gauge those who are at risk of falling through the cracks. Before using text messaging, it was easy to lose candidates due to missed calls, or undelivered/unread emails, but not anymore! SMS provides a convenience that most people are familiar and comfortable with. In addition, it takes little effort, which makes the process more pleasant and easy for candidates.

If you are interested in adding this to your recruiting strategy, there are many great options and resources to help you. Free, online services such as Google Voice are a great way to get started. I have also found helpful information online from how to send an effective text message to ideas for toning your use to increase response rates, engage your candidates and track the effectiveness to support continued usage. I would love to hear how you use texting in your business!

Samantha Milbrodt has over 5 years of experience in high volume call center recruiting. She has been sourcing and supporting contact contact centers in several US markets but, is now based in Iowa as a Senior Recruiter. She is experienced in social media recruiting, marketing & compliance.

Samantha enjoys utilizing technology in innovative ways to enhance the recruitment process. In her own words, "I love coming up with new ideas, trying them, and collecting data to see what worked successfully." 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Speech Analytics Is Not Your Fairy Godmother

By: Diana Aviles

As we welcome the New Year we see an increase in people finally jumping on board and investing in Speech Analytics (SA) technology. Among many other things, my job is to be an advocate for SA in how it helps organizations see the big picture both in their call centers and with their customers.  People like me want to encourage organizations to invest in SA but at the same time we also find that it is our duty to be honest and forthcoming about the varying aspects of Speech Analytics.

This point brings me back to the title of this post - “Speech Analytics is not your Fairy Godmother”.  All too often I hear organizations say, “We want to have an SA program here,” as it sounds rather fancy and seems like it might be useful. Yes she is a very powerful ally who can offer you deep insights into the happenings of your business, but she does require proper investment to get the very best from her.  This certainly goes beyond simply dropping a lot of money on the software and expecting “magic” to happen.  For example, you would not just randomly search for things the same way you would Google directions to a particular Mexican restaurant and expect instant results.  The magic you seek comes from the individuals who know how to utilize the tools in the software as SA programs can actually be individually sustaining.

Automation is fantastic!  Personally I enjoy the quick convenience of running to Stop & Shop in my Chicago Bears pajama pants at 8am on a Saturday morning, rolling up to the self-checkout station and not dealing with any human being other than myself.  There are limitations to automation however.  There are times when gaining insight is not as easy as sending an automated email export to yourself.  Are there ways to set up some aspects of automation?  Certainly!  

Generally speaking most SA tools have options for you to set up a tag or a report that is run against queries for almost anything.  But queries can only tell you if they hit for something particular- on their own they cannot provide you with context.  A query run on “Email Issues” that occurred on 10/25 may very well return a high amount of hits.  If someone is not paying attention to trends within data and is only automating a report based on the query alone, she would not be getting the full benefits of Speech Analytics.  For example if a spike in volume for email related contacts is observed, that could be a huge sign to look into a situation to investigate what may have happened to cause that irregularity in the data.  From there, with the knowledge procured, based on let’s say an outage that took place with the email service on that date, I can empower an organization to take action on a situation.  SA tools are designed to do your heavy lifting and a good SA program with appropriate support can get you where you need to be if you allow them to do it.

The unrealistic expectation of automation may dampen organizations experiences with SA and as a result SA could potentially be viewed as fluff software when in reality it is simply misunderstood or undervalued.  Other instances find organizations getting overwhelmed by SA from ingestion/transcription related issues or systems administration.  With that being said, there are a few things you can do to prevent yourself or your organization from falling into the Fairy Godmother complex:

Have a set of goals you want to achieve with Speech Analytics – What do you and your organization want details about? When you’re first starting out it is perfectly normal to start small.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Don’t throw your eggs into one basket – Be open to having people trained in SA. When you have more than one person trained it greatly helps as it allows people to collaborate their experiences to provide better solutions.  In my tool I am always learning new tricks from others while simultaneously discovering new tricks of my own to share with others.

Play around – Tinker around with your SA tool.  Training is great but at the end of the day the only way you can eventually master something is by experimentation.  I have been exposed to Speech Analytics for 5 years now and those years of tinkering have helped immensely.  I can arrange metadata in more ways than one could count and even in my sleep (which is sometimes problematic because a normal human being shouldn’t be dreaming about excel spreadsheets.)

Trust your Speech Analytics software partners – Your Speech Analytics tools oftentimes come with support.  In many instances these people were a part of the software development or they come ripe with the experience of managing other SA clients.  Some organizations are distrustful of them as they may hold perceptions of a “secret salesman” mentality.  Trust them.  You are paying them to help your organization.  Let them consult and help you get you to where you want to be.

Thanks for reading- if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them down below!

Operations Manager, Speech Analytics

With more than 5 years of Quality Assurance experience in a call center environment, Diana's objective is 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.

Friday, February 10, 2017

When It Comes To Onboarding New Agents, Avoid the Sink or Swim Approach

By Sean Hawkins

Sink or swim suggests one succeeds or fails by their own effort. Tell me, is this the approach you’d take when on-boarding new agents? I hope not! Yet, when it comes to on-boarding, a flawed approach results in a sink or swim approach.  If you find yourself hurried to fill seats, by quickly on-boarding new staff, you may doing them a huge disservice. In an ideal world, you’d utilize proper forecasting to determine when additional staff is needed. This alone would help avoid the rush to the floor. I would always tell floor managers “If you need agents now, you’ve acted too late.” Don’t exacerbate your problem by expediting training. I have always used a 6 week on-boarding model. Depending on the team, product or employer, this could be increased but, it would never be less than 6 weeks. There was no scientific data, or exhaustive research that brought me to this. It was the result of trial and error, along with lots of feedback from the agents. Ultimately, it was the performance of new agents that helped me make my decision. I recall the first time I entered the contact center many years ago. I spent 8 hours training and the next day, I was expected to be proficient enough to handle any call that I answered. I was not prepared. I had not been given sufficient time to retain the training material, nor had I been thoroughly introduced to the numerous applications needed to do the job. To say I was frustrated is an understatement! I doubted myself and soon grew frustrated. Before long, I was dreading the next call! I simply wanted to get the customer off the phone. I was not ready. That was not fair to me, or the customer. A lot has changed since then. I am no longer tasked with taking calls. However, there’s not been a week that has gone by that I haven’t interacted with a customer in some fashion. For one, I enjoy the front line. Interacting with customers is a thrill. Also, I remain connected to the agents. I am aware of their challenges more intimately. This helps when it comes to on-boarding. New team members should not feel afraid to come to the floor. With a successful plan in place to equip them with the right resources, people and processes, they can be set up for success. There is more than one way to do this. My approach may not work for everyone. However, after many years in the industry, and spending time speaking to a host of leaders and experts, the one thing in common that all good on-boarding programs have, is time. Giving new hires the time to become acclimated to the wonderful chaos of the contact center is key. The six weeks of on-boarding I've incorporated is divided into two weeks in three key areas: Training  This is the foundation in which you will continue to build on. A well trained agent will have a better understanding of their role. Not to mention, they will recognize the importance their role has on the customer and the organization. They will develop the skills necessary to succeed and exhibit a can-do attitude from the confidence of knowing their responsibilities. Elaine Carr, Manager of Training & Development at ICMI, wrote an outstanding article on agent training, 10 Best Practices for Agent Training. In it, she offers great tips to ensure agent training is a successful. Nesting  Arriving to the floor can be intimidating. New staff not only need to learn their job and get acclimated to processes and procedures in place, they must also get familiar with other staff and fit into a team environment. Seating them with all new staff is not ideal, as they will feel isolated. Instead, I assign newer staff a seat near the more experienced staff who have shown a propensity to assist others. These are likely agents operating at a higher performance. At the same time, am mindful of the new agent’s personality. I want them in an area where they will be best engaged by the team. I want their natural dispositions to shine. Email Support  I’ve always utilized email as the jumping off point for new agents. For one, the response time is higher therefore, there is less pressure on them than in a real time interaction of chat, social or phone. Additionally, the agent can spend time researching the issue and resolution, receiving feedback from peers or manager, and getting their responses vetted.  After completing the on-boarding phase, I allow the new agent to spend 2 hours per shadowing the top performing agents on the floor. This is done for the first month following the on-boarding phase.
I have over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors.

I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How Are Social Media Customer Service Interactions Different From Traditional Interactions?

By: Janet Poklemba

Some days I am called upon to articulate what makes social media customer service different from traditional channels and why these interactions are so important to business.   Because I am engaged in the day-to-day and strategic planning for this disruptive and dynamic channel, it makes perfect sense to me. However, it can be very hard to explain how businesses can use these moments of truth to their advantage.
Social media customer service certainly benefits the customer who has reached out or shared their opinion.  It is true that the squeaky wheel still gets the grease.  In the absence of stellar customer service processes to keep customers inside our companies for issue resolution, customers have been trained to escalate in social channels.  For some, it’s just the easiest way to connect and for others there is some satisfaction in venting to the masses.
Having skilled customer service people available to address these issues provides 3 key benefits to businesses that may not immediately be obvious.

Risk  Social media posts are typically driven by emotion.  As a brand, you need to know ASAP when one of your customers has had an experience so important they feel it’s necessary to take the business outside of the family and share with the whole neighborhood.  Engagement in social media doesn’t move the risk away, but it does message that your brand cares about what customers have to say and wants to be part of the conversation.  Keep in mind, social media is no longer a like button or a comment on a thread.  Customers post videos, audio recordings, gifs, photos of cute dogs with signs begging your company to help.  If brands aren’t on top of conversations and engaging in authentic meaningful ways, a post could go viral before you even have a chance to resolve an issue and possibly have a post removed or amended.  These folks have a voice, and they know how to use it.

Insight  Not just impressions or likes or follows, but real meaty insight that you can mine to understand where the emotion is and what drives the post, both positively and negatively. Sure, you may never be able to tie a tweet from “2tired2clean” or from 'Bill and Sarah' Facebook page to a customer in your database, but you can use the verbatim from your social data, including ratings & reviews, with a freakishly awesome text analytics tools, and see if it matches what you are hearing in your contact centers.  Think about the classic iceberg of complaints and know for a fact that your detractors on social are representing a larger number of customers.  Is social amplifying issues you are aware of?  Fix them! Does it notify you of problems people are having?  Look into it!  It’s one of the best (double edged) early warning systems money can buy.  Use it! 

Trust Building  On phone call, the conversation is 1:1.  If I resolve your issue, we’re good and it’s done.  In social, the conversation is 1:many.  Even if I resolve your issue, your complaint may stay there forever.   Social media brings the power of the conversation to your customer and amplifies their message to a broader audience where it can be shared and immortalized.   Social also allows business to use that power for good.  Where else do you get a chance to publicly show how much you care about the concerns of the people who use your products and services?  Social is about human beings reaching out to human beings.  People are smart enough to know who complains just to complain (1 star) and who loves everything they buy (5 star).  They see engagement and recognize canned responses vs. authentic replies.  They are willing to give brands the chance to make it right.  Brands need to have the right people in place to meet that expectation.

Social media customer service is different.  The stakes are higher, the risk is greater, and the reward can be significant.  Many in my industry speak of customer service as the new marketing.  In many ways that is true.  Customer service professionals are taking the engagement and servant leadership we have honed and are bringing it into a public forum where others can see what we’ve been doing for years.  Listening, acknowledging, and taking care of people.

Janet Poklemba has been in the business of customer service for over 20 years in multiple industries, and in a variety of call center leadership roles working both sides of the BPO model and managing in-sourced teams. She is passionate about the Customer Experience and all things digital to help reduce customer effort and bring the voice of the customer to the decision making table. 

Janet is a Customer Experience leader with a diverse skill set in leadership, project management, data analysis, digital/social media care, sales effectiveness, call center operations, developing customer connections, business requirements documentation and technology requirements/implementation. She is an excellent cross functional collaborator and has significant experience managing customer engagement, support and sales. Janet is experienced in multiple industries including telecommunications, satellite TV, home warranty and consumer products. She prioritizes customer service and collaboration as primary tools for success.

Follow Janet on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Contact Center: People Helping People

By Sean Hawkins & Ana Simões

When we think of the contact center, one of the first things that come to mind is numbers. This is an environment focused on KPIs, metrics, and data of all sorts. Countless hours are spent analyzing data to ascertain effectiveness and impact, all with minimal cost. Staff are focused on QA scores, CSAT averages, handle times and many other data points. 

It can be overwhelming and quite frustrating! Why doesn’t leadership see customer service employees as people to be valued and respected, assets to the company, and a trusted source of information on the customer?

Yes, it is important to collect data as a starting point. Numbers provide us with crucial information, especially that which will improve the service offered to customers.

Contact center data can indicate trends related to your product, helps evaluate agent performance, and can be distributed to other parts of the organization to increase sales, improve your product, or drive traffic to your sites. However, most companies became so focused on numbers, they end up forgetting that customer support, and business relationships as a whole, is a human to human endeavor. We are interacting with people. 

Sadly, some companies view their customer service department as a cost center. Employees are considered entry level, which implies inferiority. Numbers can be used to suggest someone is a liability, resulting in them being replaced.

Certainly, there will be some that are not cut out to work in a call center and even with the appropriate training, they will have difficulties achieving standard level KPIs. They will end up with results well below average. Nonetheless, it is my opinion that employees should be seen as assets, as a professionals that, if treated with care and respect, will keep the customers happy and returning. That adds to the profitability of the company!

Let’s be honest: it’s not the company’s executives alone that create a thriving service department. Excellent, competent leadership is important but, it’s the support staff who build the rapport, and serve as the face of the company. They speak on the behalf of, and stand in the place of leadership and other departments within an organization.

Contact centers rely on their agents to take good care of their customers. However, if we fail them, they will not be engaged. They will lose passion and interest in what they are doing. Treating the employees poorly is reciprocated to customers!

Everyone in the customer service department is working directly with customers, or supporting those who are. Our world is all about human interaction. We expect our staff to display empathy, sympathy, compassion and to have great people skills. All of this is for the people they serve. At what point while they be served?  

It is time to put the focus on people. Not only the customer but, those who diligently serve them. I’ll never forget the lesson I learned from my mentor, Sarah Stealey Reed. She would always remind me, “behind those numbers are people.”


Ana Simões is an experienced customer service trainer and recruiter. Her background as a psychologist provides her with an insight into the mind and behavior of customers and agents. The result is a unique, personal approach to the contact center.

Connect with Ana on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Currently the Manager of Support and Product at Framework Homeownership, I have over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors. 

I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries and environments including sales, BPO, and SaaS to name a few. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

Connect with Sean on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Loyal Customers Must Be Earned

There has been a significant amount of discussion in the area of customer loyalty. Much time and effort is being focused not just on attracting customers but, converting them into ambassadors and promoters of your brand. In retail and SaaS, this is very important as repeat customers represent a significant amount of their business.

I was discussing this issue with colleagues recently. It led me to think about this more deeply. On a personal level, I began to focus on how brands won me over. I consider myself a savvy consumer so converting me is not easy.

Regardless of the product, market share, or industry, three factors were present with each brand. 

Trust Now more than ever, customers are spending their money with brands they trust.
These brands may share your moral or ethical principles. Most often, a brand has built a reputation over time that consumers have come to trust. With social media, brands have embraced transparency and direct contact with customers and consumers. This approach can be seen as personal. The result is a connected and informed customer.

Quality Let’s face it, no one enjoys wasting money on poor, inferior products or services. Quality therefore is a determining factor in purchasing goods. 

Philip Crosby offered a great quote about quality. “Quality is the result of a carefully constructed cultural environment. It has to be the fabric of the organization, not part of the fabric.” This suggest a company is focused on long term success with an eye on meeting consumer needs. Studies have shown that customers are willing to pay more for quality products and remain loyal to a specific brand. Quality therefore encourages loyalty and contributes greatly to increased sales and revenue. It’s a win-win situation for everyone! 

Service It's been said that when all things are equal, great service makes the difference between competing companies. Great service can cover a multitude of problems. Over the years, I have witnessed it many time. 

Of all the factors that lead to loyal, fanatical customers, customer service is the best indicator. Satisfied customers are an indication of potential ambassadors! 

Currently the Manager of Support and Product at Framework Homeownership, I have over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors. 

I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries and environments including sales, BPO, and SaaS to name a few. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

Follow Sean on Twitter and LinkedIn