Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Follow the Leader", Featuring Errol Allen

Why is it important for customer service leaders to spend time on the front line?

It is my opinion that leaders should regularly (monthly) schedule time with their front-line employees. Doing so can have a major impact within an organization. Here a several reasons why I feel it’s important to spend time on the front line.

1. Enlightenment In today’s business environment, managing by the numbers seems to be the way to go. Numbers are critical in managing a business, but one must remember there is a story and people behind the numbers. As a leader, you may be surprised to learn the “real” story.  Time spent on the front line actually performing the duties connected to your numbers will assist you in determining if the numbers utilized for performance goals are in fact the correct numbers or if adjustments are required. Compare your operations numbers to your customer satisfaction levels. Is there a negative gap between the two? Your operation may appear to be successful according to the operations numbers, but if the customer satisfaction levels are not following the same pattern, it’s time to get the real story.  In the same manner, compare your operations numbers to your employee satisfaction levels. It’s been my experience that this one can fool you. Your operations numbers and employee satisfaction levels may look good, but how’s your employee turnover level? Often times employee’s true feelings are spoken with their feet in comparison to what they say. Regular visits to the front line will assist you in getting the real story behind the numbers.

2. Respect – The amount of respect you gain from the front-line workers by spending time with them is enormous! During my last corporate stint, I challenged a vendor manager to spend time performing the work of his front-line workers. I had frequent conversations with these workers and understood the imbalance of their workload and performance goals.  The vendor manager responded to my challenge with a resounding “Not happening!” One day later, where was this manager? On the front line performing the same duties as the other workers. What was their response to his being there! The word spread like wildfire! They knew that he could not perform the duties at their rate of speed, but were elated that he took the time to learn firsthand the reality of their work situation. His respect and appreciation for these workers changed after this experience. The front-line workers’ respect level for the manager changed as well. Hopefully, more realistic performance goals were the outcome of this scenario.

3. Improved Morale – Imagine the long-term effects to employee morale in the example given above regarding the vendor manager’s decision to spend time working on the front lines. When front-line workers believe that leaders care enough to “get in the trenches” to gain the front-line workers’ perspective, a positive moral shift is usually close behind. A long-term positive change in morale follows if changes are instituted to assist the front-line worker in being more successful in servicing their customers (both internal and external customers). Front-line workers usually have great ideas for improvement and are just waiting for someone to ask for their opinion. Regular visits to the front-line will provide a regular flow of innovative ideas and suggestions.

4. Improved Customer Experience – An improved customer experience is usually the result of leaders getting hands-on experience at the front line. As leaders typically have some measure of influence within an organization, they can be the driving force behind implementing changes that become evident when spending time on the front line.  Over time, a positive impact flows out to the customer through improved service and front-line employee attitudes.

A front-line experience is good for all leaders. It gives one a different perspective on what happens within an organization. I have a saying – “What you see is not always what is – ask questions and your perspective may change as a result of the answers.” Don’t rely solely upon numbers to run your organization. Spend some time on the front line!

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”.

Follow the leader: LinkedIn | Twitter

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What Are the Elements of Good Strategic Planning?

By Dea Harrington
From the article series, Strategy for the Real World

Ask anyone for the definition of “strategy” and you will most assuredly get a myriad of subjective definitions. To keep us on the same page, here is a brief (and subjective) primer. Strategy (high level) is the plan developed by organization leaders to enhance the health and growth of the entity. Put simply, it states the desired goals (success measured by metrics) and the actions that this group believes the rest of the organization should take to meet these goals. This is then handed to the unit leaders who begin the activity known as Implementation or Execution. In my experience and research, this is the most critical and difficult phase of the strategy process. In fact, based on several respected research articles, organization implementation failure rates average 59 percent. (2015)*

When the high-level Strategy is unveiled to the unit leader, it is the first step in Strategic Planning. Creating and project managing the operational plan to ‘make it so’, is the key to success. Here are a few essentials in managing a successful execution plan.

Elements of Successful Planning
  • Keep it simple. Impressively written strategies or execution plans do not necessarily communicate well to everyone and, therefore, interrupt efforts to accomplish the strategy.
  • Create the implementation project plan by using one of the better strategy planning or project management applications. Make sure that the framework clearly identifies the major contributions the unit identified with the required tasks, the expected results, required resources and investment, and projected timeline.
  • Consult and assist other unit leaders, especially those who are horizontally connected by function. (This is an opportunity to create a valuable Horizontal Unit Team.)
  • Align the most important resource (people) and present the strategy and the project implementation plan, highlighting the importance of their individual contribution to meeting the goals. (Remember: you know more about the unit operation than the executive group and your people probably know more about the operational reality than you do.) Enlist their advice at every step.
  • Institute scheduled update meetings with staff and front-line representatives. Monitor and evaluate each task for schedule adherence, status and confirm original success metrics. weekly status updates to all stakeholders.
  • Be brave and continue to refocus the unit’s efforts. A lack of persistence is the only genuine failure.

* Candido, C.J.F. and S.P. Santos (2015) Strategy implementation: What is the failure rate? Journal of Management and Organization, 21(2),237-262. 

Dea Harrington is the founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Harrington Consulting Group, a leading provider of strategic and tactical guidance for organizations dependent upon first class contact center operations. Her blend of senior corporate management experience and consulting acumen has helped a broad range of Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, and higher education institutions develop a process for planning and implementing strategies that align seamlessly with operations. She had been a leader in the development of internal marketing programs that effectively communicate organizational goals and each employee’s role in meeting them.

Follow Dea on LinkedIn.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Audio Deep Dives: Listening Analysis Made Simple

By Diana Aviles

The core part of Speech Analytics that sometimes gets lost amongst the high powered metadata and reporting functionalities are the audio insights themselves. The whole purpose of SA is to have the ability to analyze specific words and phrases mentioned in customer/agent interactions. To SA newcomers, I have found that once the dust settles from all of the extensive training, there’s this feeling of “What’s next for me?” that begins to settle in.

When we talk about “Deep Dives” or listening analysis, we are generally talking about taking a random sample of calls and listening for specific criteria within the audio. Sample sizes can vary from 25 calls to 10,000 (yes, I have randomized 10,000 calls before). Of course the criteria you can look for is endless and that’s oftentimes where people get overwhelmed. There is the fear of looking for too much or too little in a deep dive. Also, there are complicated grey areas which you will need to account for. Here are some dos and don’ts for making deep dives a bit easier to manage.


  • Create “mile-long wish lists” - It’s tempting to want to look at every little thing in one go but depending on the type of deep dive you’re doing, it Is recommended you look at the data in phases. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither are your insights.
  • Randomize/Size the project incorrectly - Samples require balance to them. If you are trying to look at data from two different markets and for the majority your sample only reflects one of them then it goes without saying that your data is tainted.
  • Improperly account for out of scope data (OOS) - Some listening analyses will have criteria that cannot be counted into the main pool of data. An example of this would be if you’re deep diving into cable box issues and you encounter a caller who is having issues with his phone service. His call does not meet the requirements for the project and must be bucketed to indicate that. Going back to the prior point of proper randomization and sizing, you need to account for OOS data by making sure that your sample is 20-30% above the total amount you’re looking for. Example: For a 100 call listening project send over 120 calls to account for the possibility of OOS data.


  • Keep questions clear and concise – It is important to keep the wording of your questions or standards clear in order to avoid confusing auditors (if you are performing a listening analysis with more than one person). You want to avoid causing people to second guess how they are observing and documenting information.
  • Have job aids available for reference - I work mainly in telecom and we deal with a lot of technical issues so while I am pretty seasoned with troubleshooting most issues I do like to have a reference for items I seldom come across which I may be rusty on. If you outsource your listening analysis this is also critical as the listening team may not be as familiar with the line of business they are auditing as well as you are.
  • Maintain uniform data - There is nothing more annoying than having data that is all over the place. I am a fan of using conditional drop downs in Excel to restrict what is entered in the cell and only permitting certain cells to have open text. I recommend the core and secondary drivers you are looking to capture be placed in a drop down for this reason. I also recommend you avoid heavy use of “other” as a driver to prevent data pollution.
  • Require high level summaries of calls reviewed - I like to ask for two reasons- Reason #1: when it comes to “scrubbing” or cleaning up the data (before I start building charts and reporting against it,) the summaries allow me to see any major trends and observations captured OUTSIDE of the main listening project. Reason #2: to ensure the audio in question was ACTUALLY reviewed. In some studies I ask for a time stamp to determine where the criterion in the call was hit for as a method to maintain data integrity.

There are other related topics relevant to deep dives such as presenting and “data cleansing” which may be subject for discussion in later articles. These are a few general suggestions I have for people who are beginning their Speech Analytics journey and looking to start on high level deep dives. Once you get a few deep dives under your belt they will become second nature to you. The goal is to make sure that all your data insights make sense and can be organized in an efficient and concise manner.

Editors note: This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Diana Aviles has more than 5 years of Quality Assurance experience in a call center environment. Her objective is to simultaneously promote and educate Speech Analytics with a human touch; one which further emphasizes the importance of First Call Resolution and overall customer experience.

Follow Diana on LinkedIn.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

3 Reasons why Innovating and Re-tooling your Contact Center now is an absolute must

By Michele Crocker

I had the opportunity to be a speaker at SOCAP's (Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals) annual conference in San Diego. The theme of the event was the "speed of innovation". One thing really stuck in my mind after leaving this conference - "The value of innovation melts away the longer we wait".

As customer support leaders we must innovate and retool our contact centers in order to provide effortless, seamless employee and customer experiences. Today, we have the biggest pallet of technology so the key question is what innovative idea can you implement to improve your customer experience? Don't wait to invest in in your customer support operation... it's too late when you are losing. Re-tool your people, processes, technology and metrics to improve your customer relationships.

3 Reasons to Innovate and Re-Tool your Customer Contact Center Now....
  1. Our customer are ahead of us- Your customers are using the latest technologies everyday and we need to have conversations with them on the device, channel and time of day of their choice. - Digital personal assistants such as Alexa and Siri using conversational AI. What will your customer care support look like from these devices? How will you give them a seamless and frictionless customer experience across all channels?
  2. Disconnect on how to engage employees- overall employee engagement overall is low in contact centers and attrition is the number one problem facing contact center leaders, According to a recent Gallup survey only 51% of employees are engaged. There is a new workforce today...the Millennial's and by 2025 they will make up 75% of the US workforce. We must take a different leadership approach to the millennial mindset and what matters most to them. Throw away those old fashioned "call center metrics" and start looking at ways to measure engagement, loyalty and a sense of belonging. How do you blend the digital employee with the human employee?
  3. Timing- this is everything.... the problem today is that technology and people are changing at such a rapid speed, I have personally seem more changes impacting contact centers in the last 5 years compared to the total 25 years of working in contact centers. Don't wait to invest in your contact center, when you are losing it's too late.

Good News
....The value of innovating and re-tooling your contact center is tremendous:

  • Cloud Computing provides rapid scaling and seamless customer experiences with wider reach
  • Blending digital employee with the human employee helps to lower costs, improve customer experience and employee morale
  • Changing people processes that enables you to attract, develop and retain top talent will provide a huge "lift off"

So, final question.... what stops you from being innovative and re-tooling your contact center? Please reach out to me, I would love to help!

Editors note: This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Michele Crocker has the proven expertise to improve the customer experience and significantly reduce costs at the same time. She helps organizations to generate an effortless, rewarding customer experience, dramatically lower the cost per call, improve retention, grow sales and attract higher talent. Michele has over twenty years of "hands on" and strategic leadership roles within multiple Fortune 500 companies.

Connect with Michele on LinkedIn.

#CustServ #QOTD

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Follow the Leader", Featuring Erica Marois

How can digital content be used to enhance customer experience?

According to Wikipedia, digital content (also known as digital media), is stored on digital or analog storage in specific formats. Forms of digital content include information that is digitally broadcast, streamed, or contained in computer files.

So, what does digital content have to do with customer service? While marketing teams most often “own” a brand’s digital content, customer service needs to have a stake, too. We already know that customer experience is now the #1 competitive differentiator, but I believe brands that work across departments to deliver useful digital content will have the greatest opportunity to retain existing customers and attract new ones in 2018.

The possibilities are endless, but here are three ways to use digital content to enhance the customer experience:

  1. Social media Whether you offer formal social media customer care or not, you can use social platforms to educate your customers. For example, Dore Juvenile, winner of the ICMI Global Contact Center Award for Best Social Media Customer Care, uses Facebook live videos to teach their customers how to properly install car seats. (And if Facebook’s not your thing, YouTube works!) Think about your products and services. How could you use social media to share quick tips and tricks that would improve the customer experience, and potentially reduce related call volume?
  2. Blogging The contact center communicates with customers all day long—via phone, email, chat, etc. The data from those interactions is invaluable and can easily translate to powerful online content. Analyze the top three or four questions your contact center receives each month, and then work with marketing to answer those questions in a blog post. (Make sure the post is easy to search and find, and make sure it’s in brand voice. Disjointed customer experiences are sooo 2012.)
  3. Email Yes, I said email. No, email’s not dead. The key to effective email messaging: be concise and add value. Here a few ways you could use email to improve the customer experience:

o   Birthday cards with a special gift or discount code

o   Shipping notifications & updates (Be proactive! Don’t make customers wonder or force them to call you for an update)

o   Education: send a quick tip each Tuesday (Help your customers help themselves!)

Again, the key to success here is consistency. If your email voice doesn’t match your website voice, or the voice your agents use when communicating with customers, the experience will confuse your customers.

How do YOU use digital content to enhance the customer experience? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Erica Marois is the Content Manager at UBM plc. With a background in marketing, public relations, and social media, she brings more than eight years of community management experience to ICMI.

As ICMI's Content Manager, she oversees ICMI’s contributor network, designing ICMI’s community outreach programs at our events, managing ICMI’s weekly Twitter chat (#ICMIchat) and other social media strategies. Erica also serves as the product manager for ICMI’s Global Contact Center Awards.

Follow the leader: LinkedIn | Twitter

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Amazing Service Begins with Engaged Leaders

Editors note: This article was originally posted on eTouchPoint.

Providing service to customers is not as hard as some make it seem. It does take diligence and effort to do it exceptionally well. In its simplest form, it is about treating customers with courtesy and respect. Unfortunately, in the business world we often lose sight of that truth.
When doing business leads to unsatisfied customers, it is time to reevaluate how business is done. Companies are competing for the same customer, and if all things are equal, customer service is usually a deciding factor for the consumer.

How can you as a contact center leader help your agents to be successful in providing “amazing” service above and beyond?

Review Processes

Exceptional service allows agents to offer immediate solutions without getting bogged down in processes or policy. This leads to happy, loyal customers. In turn, your contact center will see an improvement with CSAT.
Removing barriers that prevent exceptional customer service will lead to a more engaged service center. I make it practice of regularly reviewing processes, policies and procedures impacting our customers and agents. As business needs change, policies should be reviewed and updated if necessary.

Listen to Agent Feedback

I’ve never met an agent who enjoys denying customer requests. On the contrary, they have a desire to satisfy them. Agents will often offer up ideas—or come up with creative suggestions to make customers happier if you ask them for feedback.
For example, my team members requested that they be allowed to offer a good will credit to customers. This request was due to their willingness go beyond good service to amazing service. They knew that random acts of kindness made customers happy.
What I learned is that listening to their feedback and ideas empowered agents and made them feel a part of the decision-making process. Upon implementation, we were able to see how this directly impacted customer and agent satisfaction.

Secure Manager Buy-in

I’ve always treated my team as customers. In my opinion, showing them what great service looks like is more impactful than telling them. When they see it alive in you, they will emulate it among one another and customers. Leadership must be committed to improving and should regularly attend training, seminars and conferences.
Frontline supervisors, leads, and managers are a great source for ideas. Allowing them freedom to develop CX initiatives will ensure they remain customer-focused and invested in organizational goals.
I also recommend that all leadership review customer feedback and CSAT performance as a team. Some of the benefits in doing so is keeping everyone is aware of department/team performance, so that problems can be identified and new ideas can be presented to the group.
Below are four simple and immediate steps you as a leader can implement on your journey to customer service excellence.
  • Empower agents: accept feedback and include them in decision-making process
  • Be transparent: use honest and effective communication internally & externally
  • Be accessible: provide support in multiple channels, expand support hours
  • Be attentive: your own active listening allows agents to better assist customer and anticipate future needs
As you can see, these suggestions can be easily implemented, are quick wins, and address core areas of customer experience. With consistency, effort, and diligence, I’m convinced these steps will set you on the right path and improve your service department.

Author: Sean B. Hawkins

Currently the Director, Contact Center and Customer Service at Framework Homeownership, Sean B. Hawkins has over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors.
He has led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries and environments including sales, BPO, and SaaS to name a few. Additionally, he has implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Follow the Leader", Featuring Jeannie Walters

How does the SaaS customer experience differ from traditional business models?

Any customer experience has some of the same steps in the journey. At some point, a prospect begins to narrow down selecting a purchase, for example, and at some point they buy. The SaaS customer journey leans heavily on the customer to understand the product before buying, and that's why trial periods are so popular.

Customers "kick the tires" of SaaS products in more customized ways. They want to see if they will really understand HOW the product will solve their specific, personalized challenges. They need to hear that others have gone through a similar journey and had good results. Because of this need to understand, supporting these customers in the sales process AND early on in their relationships is critical to a great experience. If onboarding is neglected, customers may simply feel they aren't understanding the product well and cancel. It's best when a SaaS journey is understood by the organization to the point of proactively initiating support at key moments in the experience. 

That said, all journeys require a thorough understanding of where each customer might require that proactive support.  The only way to do that is to look at your customers and their real lives. Pay attention to feedback before it becomes a huge amount of data. Listen and learn from your customers each and every day!

Jeannie Walters is a customer experience and patient experience speaker, a writer, and a consultant with more than 15 years experience in assisting all types of companies, including Fortune 500. Specialties include in-depth experience evaluations, customer journey mapping, user experience analysis, and leading workshops and trainings. 

Follow the leader: LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Don't Automate Dumbness

By Michele Crocker

First, let me say, automation and new cloud based technology can take your customer support and contact center to the next level. It can do things for your support experience that we "pink squishy humans" can't do. Automation allows you to provide a greater degree of customer responsiveness than a fully human process can do. The benefits of automation in your customer support operation include:
  1. Ensuring the right human is alerted of issues, to proactively prevent service failure.
  2. Improving sales conversion and customer retention, preemptively addressing customer concerns and problems, thus deflecting calls.
  3. Customer can self serve allowing them to get their issues resolved a quickly as possible
  4. Reduce the load on human resources by shifting the mundane, routine, transactional calls to self service allowing time to redirect your people to those valuable relationship and sales calls.
On the other hand, we must ensure we don't just throw technology and automate dumbness, which simply passes ignorance around. Sorry here's the unsexy stuff.....the right automation and new technology can absolutely leverage your customer experience and operational efficiency, get it wrong and the costs are high.

Our focus should always be on providing the best service and customer support experience possible. We should NOT use technology to avoid interacting with our customers but rather enhance our interactions so the modern customer can reach us on the device, channel and time of day of their choice!

However, when new technology is implemented in isolation of alignment with people and processes, the outcome for customers and internal operational efficiencies can be a disaster. I have seen technology thrown at problems without getting the people and operational processes/metrics right, this leads to frustration within your support team and potentially a dramatic decrease in the customer experience.

So please, before automating your customer support, take a step back and invest the time to think about how you can align your people and processes with the new technology to provide effortless and frictionless customer experiences. Today, top notch customer support is one of the strongest competitive edges for any company. TakE customers from loyalty to advocacy!

Editors note: This article was originally posted on LinkedIn

Michele Crocker has the proven expertise to improve the customer experience and significantly reduce costs at the same time. She helps organizations to generate an effortless, rewarding customer experience, dramatically lower the cost per call, improve retention, grow sales and attract higher talent. Michele has over twenty years of "hands on" and strategic leadership roles within multiple Fortune 500 companies.

Connect with Michele on LinkedIn.

#CustServ #QOTD