Monday, August 28, 2017

Coaching Effectively: Curbing the ‘Principal’s Office’ Mentality

By Jennifer Boston

During my last transition over a tenured training team, one of my initial interactions with a member of my new team really struck a chord. I e-mailed a trainer with the subject, ‘Let’s Chat’ and to stop by the office when she could step away from the batch of new hires for 10 minutes. I expected to see her in a few hours or when the class was over for the day. Not even 15 minutes later she came into my office with a concerned look and asked, “What did I do, did I mess up?” I was stunned and had to take a step.

We’ve all been there… You ask to speak with an employee and their first reaction is ‘Am I in trouble?’ The coaching session has yet to even begin and their defenses are already up. How can you effectively coach when an employee is focused on defending themselves and not in the most receptive state? More specifically, how can you curb the immediate reaction of a ‘Principal’s Office’ mentality to reduce the overall coaching time while simultaneously increasing the return on the time invested? There is no simple answer, considering that most of us have been programmed since grade school to feel that coaching is a four-letter word. After all, no one was ever called the Principal’s office to receive a perfect attendance award.

Call it out:
Many of us don’t notice our routine behavior and your employees are no different. Before going into any specifics of why you’re having a discussion, ask them why their reaction is what it is. She could not explain why she assumed there was an issue, but calling it out made her aware that her defenses were already building up.

Change the expectation: Make it a point to frequently have 3-5-minute discussions; provide their statistics, praise privately (and publicly), teach a new process, refresh information, review trends, or have them show you a ‘how to.’ Your employee’s receptiveness to coaching will increase the more they perceive that you are invested in their individual growth rather than only concerned when their performance is not meeting expectations. Within weeks of one scheduled and one random interaction per week, she would come in asking ‘where her performance was at?’ or ‘what are we learning today?’ After a few months, she was enthusiastically swinging by the office almost daily.

Jennifer is a life-long student, who is passionate for learning new concepts who also facilitates leadership development training initiatives, in that order.

Coming from over a decade in the call center industry, the last five specialized in the Training and Leadership Development, she is currently transitioning to freelancing opportunities to sustain a stronger work-life balance for her family.

#CustServ #QOTD

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Learner Centered Approach: Retaining Your Tenured Employees Through Client Transition

By Jennifer Boston

At the start of my contact center training career, I was propelled into an uncomfortable situation whose lessons haven proven invaluable in how I approach training new skills to a tenured staff. A long-term client unexpectedly shifted their customer service operations in-house, in response to the recession. After nearly a decade of being the key factor to a successful partnership, over 100 veteran employees were suddenly unsure of what came next. After transferring ‘Top Performers’ and natural attrition, 50 or so remained until the last call offered was serviced.

I would like to say we were able to easily slide this group of vetted agents to another contract; however, how could such a straightforward resolution lead into to the self-titled purpose of this blog post? After several pilots and seasonal projects, a long-term home was found for these remarkably dependable representatives. Now, before you think this fairy tale ending is the conclusion, ask yourself, how did they feel, and why did they stay? When I was assigned one of the only transition classes, I quickly discovered how vital is was that my approach reflected that I personally understood and respected their answer.

This diverse group all held this in common; after years of reliable dedication, they felt jaded and unappreciated. They weren’t a batch of new hires, eager to prove their worth, no, they already had. They had been realigned repeatedly and expected to learn, apply, and perform at yet another line of business. Their body language and apathy screamed volumes of their spiraling defeatist mentality. Their endurance through the chaos and stress of uncertainty wasn’t some testament of company loyalty, it was the realizations that for varied reasons, that not one had a better option. Though I learned more during those 7 weeks than I ever imagined, the following tips were essential to fostering a successful learning environment.

Setting the expectation from the get-go, that the entirety of the groups focus should be learning or solution discovery, will significantly reduce negative and non-productive commentary. This also will build a mutual respect, as tenured staff often feel placated by the new hire feel that comes with the routine ice-breaker activity of collectively establishing expectations. Empathize, relating your history to their situation and elaborate on the emotional impact significantly. Then call-out what material could have been touched on.

Consistently running interference on tangent instigation is fundamental as it reinforces the above mentioned. Without it, the perception of accountability will undermine all other efforts to ignite a passion for learning. Don’t take the bait and allow comments of past or what-if situations to tangent off. Believe it or not they do want to get as much out of this knowledge transfer that they can, but will test to see if your priority is their success. If you must take the bait, defer to the class to problem-solve. This shows that you are focused on developing their skill set to research, solve, and apply instead of showcasing your problem-solving skills.

Respect what they can bring to the table. Challenge them to teach you by promoting discussion. Recognize every contribution by paraphrasing or clarifying your understanding and it will encourage more constructive dialogue. The more of an impact they make on your knowledge, the more open they are to be learning new concepts. When you are unsure, task them to discover the answer. Back-peddling is detrimental, admitting we only know what we know builds trust in the accuracy of the information we do apart.

Jennifer is a life-long student, passionate for learning new concepts who also facilitates leadership development training initiatives, in that order.

#CustServ #QOTD

Monday, August 14, 2017

Customer Satisfaction is not Always an Indication of Customer Service

By Sean Hawkins

Let's face it, CSAT (customer satisfaction) is a vital measurement of customer service performance, and rightly so. In my opinion, there are 3 metrics that best measure a contact center's performance, and success. Along with the CSAT, the others are ESAT (employee satisfaction) and quality. Now, don't get me wrong, there are many metrics that one could track, and they all have their importance. However, none surpass the satisfaction of your employees and customers, or the quality of service being offered.

Satisfaction, can be tricky to gauge properly. Most often, we only ask the customer if they were satisfied with the service they received. However, satisfaction can be achieved or unmet, at any touch point before, during, or after contact with the support staff. It's easy (and foolish) to take survey results at face value. Even more so, if the customer isn't given the option to comment or provide feedback on the survey. As a result, blind spots are never uncovered, and agents may be penalized erroneously for factors outside of their control.

I can't recall a time in any organization, where high satisfaction scores weren't met with excitement. Sales and marketing would use these to attract more customers, while teams in the contact center were rewarded for their outstanding performance. However, there are many times we in the center have to defend, clarify, or expound on low CSAT. Even worse than that, is explaining to agents why that failing survey, which had nothing to do with them, was still counting towards their overall CSAT score. Having done both so often, I began to drill down on the problems customers were experiencing. This began to shed new light on WHY customers were unhappy.

Over the years, I've noticed the majority of escalated calls are to report dissatisfaction with things that outside the scope of the agent. These customers are simply looking for managerial authority to resolve matters the agent cannot approve. They include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Product defect/failure
  • Policies that penalize the customer
  • Inconsistent brand messaging
  • Unfulfilled promises 

Without a plan in place to address issues of these kind, customer satisfaction will continue to suffer. In addition, agent performance will be impacted. Over time, this will impact revenue, employee morale, and the ability to retain both customers and staff. What is one to do?

Sound the Alarm
I suggest compiling all unsatisfactory surveys into categories. For me, the categories are based on all departments in the organization. Each week, department heads are sent a report which shows the impact their team had on customer satisfaction. I also compare our CSAT percentage with and without those which they had no influence on.

Along with this, take time to explain the satisfaction program. You'd be amazed that those outside of the contact center have little understanding of your work. To assume otherwise is an error. To expect it, is foolish.

Explain how you measure satisfaction. Allow them to see an actual survey so they are aware what you're asking customers. For many, this is their first introduction to learning how the CSAT program affects the customers, and the image it projects as it relates to the company. In the event customer attrition was an end result, include revenue lost as well. That always gets everyone's attention.

This alone however, is not enough. Giving insight to the problem will open the door for  dialogue between all departments. Because the service department intersect with the company and the customer, it is important to communicate the voice of customer throughout all lines of business.

Come to the table

A great way to remove silos, and other impediments to the customer experience, is to have all stakeholders together in one room discussing the issue. This time should not be wasted by placing blame, or make excuses. Rather, it should be used to enlighten everyone about the extended reach of customer satisfaction, and the impact it has on every line of business.

Working together, all hands can agree upon the best approach they must take to ensure improvement. My experience is that each department will become more inquisitive about the customer support department, which leads to further engagement. It can open doors to  further collaboration, and improved engagement between the participating teams.

Make a plan

Through collaboration with other departments, formalize a plan to ensure customer feedback and satisfaction is routed to the appropriate teams. With this information in hand, each participating department should provide details on how resolution to problems will be obtained. This information in turn should be messaged to the customer.

Following up with unsatisfied customer shows you are listening, and actively working to improve the customer experience. Continue tracking satisfaction for those existing issues and include them as part of your regular reporting and performance measurement. A great example of this that I used, was The Top 5 Defects.

This was birthed as a result of customer dissatisfaction. This report consisted of the five most pervasive software defects that were driving support volume and customer frustration. Each week, I would review CSAT surveys and tickets. Any ticket or survey related to a software defect was recorded. The top 5 were compiled and distributed to the various product teams.  As a result they had better insight into what they should be focusing on. This eventually grew into a companywide, weekly meeting, with a representative from every department. Why? It was just as important for marketing, sales, and business development to be aware of these issues. After all, the were responsible for bringing these customers to us. Surely they'd be interested to know the results of their efforts, and how they could improve based on the feedback of existing customers.

What surprised me the most, was other departments willingness to engage support in conversations to better align themselves with the customer's needs. The organization began to change its thinking and  its approach. Customer experience became a prevailing thought in what we did. At the end of the day, THAT is the point of measuring satisfaction! It is also why CSAT is a shared metric.

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.

#CustServ #QOTD