Thursday, May 31, 2018

Customer Service: Do You Know Who Your Competitors Are?

Some years ago, I read a customer service article that resonated with me so much that I carry the concept with me as one of my core service truths. In fact, it has turned into the first question I ask in the initial meeting I hold with a new team, as it helps begin to establish our customer service strategy. That question is: Do you know who your competitors are? 

Initially, I get some puzzled looks and questions such as “Do you mean our corporate competition, or are we talking about competition for our roles?” We explore the question further, and I explain that I am referring to the companies that we’re competing with as far as how our customers view the service we provide. By customers, we are referring to everyone we serve…co-workers, vendors, and external customers. We’ll brainstorm for a bit, until someone asks “who do YOU think our competition is?” 

The answer according to that article is: Everyone that our customers interact with in their daily lives is our competition for their service, because those interactions set service expectations. The bank that offers them an intuitive interface for online and mobile banking, the free 2 day shipping with Amazon Prime, the instantaneous access to movies via whatever media streaming service they choose…they are all our competitors when it comes to how our customers perceive the service we provide. We’re even competing with the legends of customer service, Amazon and Zappos! They are influencing how customers are measuring us. That measurement may not be overtly acknowledged, but rest assured that it is happening. A bit overwhelming to think about at first, isn’t it? 

This isn’t to say that you have to try to mirror the service strategies of these or any other organizations. A meaningful service platform should evolve organically from a number of factors, including your culture, your leadership team, your customers, and your individual contributors. What you can do, however, is compare your service delivery methods to any organization that “gets it”, and ask yourself what improvements can be made. For example, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself:

  • How easy are we to work with? 
  • Are we providing the communication channels that our customers need?  
  • Do we empower our team members to proactively serve our customers?  
  • Do we “walk the talk” as leaders and as team members? 

Do we proactively seek feedback on a continual basis, and do we take action on that feedback in a visible and collaborative way?
Be careful not to assume that you know the answers. Call your service desk via the customer hotline…how quickly can you reach a live person? Visit your website and test how easy it is to find a real phone number or email address. Do you provide customers with a just-in-time satisfaction survey so they can provide immediate feedback on their experience, and are you actively engaged in open dialog on how to improve? If you have access to customer reviews or feedback from past surveys, what are they saying about their interactions with you? As Jeff Bezos once said “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make important aspects of the customer experience a little bit better.” Are you being a good host?

You may not be competing with Ritz-Carlton and Disney from a business perspective, but viewing them as such from a service perspective, can help drive awareness and alignment to your customers’ needs. Make that one of your core truths, and you’ll be well on your way to legendary customer service.

Customer Service Quote of the Day

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"Follow the Leader", Featuring Michael Sherlock

What are some guiding principles you follow, when developing new leaders?

I believe the most important element to the development of a leader is their ability to practice engaged active listening. It is so easy to think that you have (or have to have) all of the answers. And many people rise to a leadership position because of their abilities in this area. But when you operate as if you are the only one with the answers, you do yourself, and especially your team, and incredible disservice.

In order to lead others, you must be committed to their professional development. And that means ensuring that they have the opportunity to solve problems, and make mistakes, without fear. You can guide them, support them and ease their journey, by three simple steps: 

  1. LISTEN fully, with your ears and your eyes 
  2. Help them to UNPACK the problem or challenge
  3.  Facilitate a SOLUTION that makes sense 
Rather than jump quickly towards an answer, use the "Tell Me More" principle of asking enough questions that your employee releases all key pieces of information. This requires patience on your part, and the mindset of an investigator. It takes more time, but is well worth the effort, especially when your employee works through the overall issue. Sometimes this process alone highlights that there really is no problem.

Once all the key pieces of information are brought to light, look at them objectively. Imagine a suitcase that was stuffed so full you couldn’t zip is shut, even if you sat on it. You have to take everything out to see if it can all fit if repacked. And sometimes that means leaving some things behind, like unnecessary emotions.

Finally, when all the facts are seen clearly, you can help guide your employee to a solution that makes sense. But let them see it, come up with it, and agree to their plan. You can still help guide and direct if their solution seems incorrect, but they opportunity to see a path for themselves will build their confidence and experience.

If you’ve always been the one who has the answer and makes the smart moves, how much will your team benefit from being able to show you what they are made of? And what will THEIR success mean to your own?

Michael Sherlock is a business writer, author, speaker and podcast host. As a Vice President of US Sales for two multi-national medical device companies, Michael has managed net revenue exceeding $50 million and managed as many as 500 employees at a time.

Mrs. Sherlock provides corporations and business leaders with engaging presentations and actionable strategies on leadership, employee development, customer experience, and sales transformation. In addition, Michael hosts the Shock Your Potential podcast where she highlights the best in leadership, sales and customer experiences. The Shock Your Potential Podcast is available via iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and your favorite podcast apps, as well as online.

Connect: Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Monday, May 14, 2018

Customer Service Quote of the Day

The High Cost of Poor Workplace Culture

By Anonymous

Log into your programs, put your headset on and turn on your phone.  That first call of the day means so little to you because you take hundreds of calls a week that are exactly like the one you are about to take.  The work environment of a call center rep can make this moment worthless or worthwhile and can dictate your overall career with that company.

I work in a fairly large call center that has poor morale and very abysmal culture.  I’m not just saying that to be dramatic – we actually received a letter from the president when we started that their job is not to build morale but to provide service for our customers.  Truthfully, I didn’t know much about contact center culture until recently when a close friend of mine, a manager in a different call center, began dissecting my work complaints and dictating how I, a lowly tier one rep, should advise our management on changes.  Truthfully I haven’t taken much of it to heart because I do not see myself with this company for an extended period of time.  And this, as stated by my friend, is where the problem lies… decent and hardworking employees like me leaving companies because they do not empower or appreciate us. 

Obviously, my center has a huge turnover rate.  Since I was hired, we have taken on somewhere over a hundred new service representatives, Granted, to fill new shifts, but nonetheless people are rolling in almost daily.  Our company boasts strong customer service but honestly, we don’t track it.  We don’t have any programs, surveys or data proving our customers find our service strong.  The way we are tracked is by the number of calls we take, and the amount of time in “not ready” status, which includes break time and time doing any work related item that requires us to be off the phone.  This alone sets the precedent for a lot of my coworkers as to how they spend their days.  Most of them don’t care about call totals or not ready, because it has no impact on us.  You don’t get an award for the most calls taken or even a nod from the manager – we are simply “drones” as my peers say. 

If your center is anything like mine, your employees are miserable and constantly looking for another job.  They become frustrated with customers, management, and their coworkers.  They complain and eventually lose hope.  
Creating a positive, employee focused culture, will help shape positive attitudes, and save the company a ton of money in the process. Hiring new people isn’t cheap, nor is training them. Unhappy employees are quite expensive in the long run!
Simple things can create a sense of pride in their work and a better representative of your company on the phones.  You will have stronger service if agents enjoy coming to work and have confidence in their leaders. The customer service agent may not make decisions on strategy and execution, but they are the voice of your company. If they aren’t treated with respect and appreciation, they won’t treat customers that way.  
Every day, call center staff will decide if the next call is worthless or worthwhile.  Sadly, some in leadership are not aware of their influence in the agent's decision.
This article is provided by an anonymous customer service employee.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

When the Public Is Your Customer

By Sarah Elkins

I tell people it was my favorite job ever. When our boys were little, I had the opportunity to work part time at the circulation desk at our local library. The boys grew up in that library and are still recognized when they walk in the door, more than 10 years after I stopped working there.

Every evening after a shift when we would sit down for dinner, my husband would ask: "what happened today? Tell us a story!" I had a story every time. Working in a public library is unlike most retail-type positions. A library card is free. The space is generally inviting, and people from every walk of life spend time there. I served people of all ages; some were obviously well-educated, there were those in designer clothes, people in rags, and ex-convicts living in the pre-release center nearby. Each person who walked through those doors was unique, each had his history, his story, his baggage.

One pre-release resident came to the desk to check out a handful of wilderness survival books. He usually hid his hands from me when he checked out books; that day he accidentally handed me the books with his knuckles showing. When he saw my gaze, and the discomfort in my response to seeing his NAZI tattoos across his fingers, he blushed.

“That was me being stupid a long time ago. I'm not that guy anymore.”

I believed him.

I care about people and sometimes that comes out in strange ways. One woman came in twice each week with her toddler in a stroller. She would dump a dozen video tapes into the book-drop, go into the children's section and fill up the stroller basket with more videos, and then come back to the desk to check them out.

With a big, genuine smile on my face, and being careful to be playful and not condescending:

“You know... we also have books here in the library.”

She looked at me, a bit puzzled at my comment. She knew me to be friendly, and my comment took her a little off-guard.

“Yes, I know. He rips them up. I don't want him ruining library books.”

“Oh yes! I appreciate that very much!”

(I walked quickly to the recently checked-in books and grabbed two small baby board books.)

“Want to try checking these out? I bet he'll like it if his older sister reads them to him.”

She included the board books in her stack of videos, finished her check-out and left. The next time I saw her at the counter, she had half a dozen videos and half a dozen board books to check out.

“Thank you for that suggestion, he loves these books! And he hasn't even tried to tear them or eat them. I think soon I can start checking out the picture books!”

Every customer matters, whether they are directly paying for a service should not influence how they are treated. You can make a difference in a person's life with the briefest interaction. If you are busy judging people by what they wear, the books they read (or don't read), or some other arbitrary observation, you lose an opportunity to share your humanity and to learn something about yourself and the world around you.

What is equally important is for members of the public to recognize the employees serving them. I have worked in the public sector for many years; the reputation doesn't fit with most people with whom I've worked. In my years working in the public sector, only a handful of colleagues resemble the reputation of being lazy, unmotivated, too comfortable, and just getting by for the paycheck. The majority of my colleagues over the years have been motivated and cared deeply for the community in which they work. They are also human, which means some days are harder to get through than others.

Remember, if you want good customer service, it helps to be a good customer.

The next time you are engaging with a public sector employee, whether that is at the public library, at the DMV, paying your utility bill, or dealing with a problem on your street, be kind. Remember that if you treat the person respectfully, you will earn an advocate to help you resolve any issues. Remember that the people with whom you interact generally do not make the rules but must follow policies & procedures. Getting angry with public sector employees for doing their jobs and following procedures (no matter how inane or archaic) is just not fair or reasonable.

Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She's also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.

Connect: LinkedIn

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Customer Service Quote of the Day

"Follow the Leader", Featuring Meghan Speer

What can brands do better on social media, to truly connect and engage consumers?

I think that it starts with brands recognizing that consumers are actual people. Overall, I think the tendency is for brands to still look at social media as another marketing channel where we just get to tell our audience all about our products or how cool we are. While we are starting to see a slight shift away from that mindset, most brands are still treating social media as a digital billboard or a mobile print ad. The first step in engagement is to stop looking at social only as a sales tool.

I have long agreed with the quote from Craig Davis where he said “We have to stop interrupting what people are interested in, and be what people are interested in.” When a consumer follows a Facebook page or a Twitter account and all they see are posts that say “buy this” or “do this” or “look how great our company is” they will tune you out.

Here’s an example… if you are an insurance company, what you sell is insurance for people’s homes or cars or lives. But the name of your company probably tells people what you sell, so you don’t need to have a profile full of posts talking about all the services you have available to purchase. At that point you are just interrupting what people care about and they will not engage with you. On the other hand, what people who need insurance care about is the safety of their home, car and family. They care about how to care for those things well. So a profile full of tips for those things or quick videos from the agents on their gardening tips then becomes the thing their consumers are interested in. It makes the company more relatable and encourages people to engage. The ROI is that your consumers then share your content. Stories are created because they comment on it. Your consumer’s community gets to see your business because you have engaged your audience enough that they become advocates.

A few other quick ways to engage better?

  1. Make answering your consumers a priority. 
  2. Recognize that people connect to people, and not to brand machines. Create content accordingly.
  3.  Remember that social was always meant to be about connecting and not about selling. Use it to build your community of support.

As brands continue to put the human element back in and post things their community and consumers care about, the engagement comes as a natural bi-product. It’s time for us all to do better at that.

As Vice President of Client Services for Marketing Support Network, Meghan helps clients grow their brand. She oversees the Inbound Call Center team, as well as the Digital Marketing Team.

Follow: LinkedIn | Twitter

Monday, May 7, 2018

Customer Service Quote of the Day

Ingestion Indigestion

By Diana Aviles

Ingestion is Speech Analytics (SA) jargon that describes the act of the SA tool downloading a copy of call audio and its associated metadata from the recorder source. In a perfect world ingestion should run smoothly, however sometimes, just like people who get indigestion after binging on buffalo chicken pizza, ingestion has similar hiccups. Ingestion problems can be tricky at times since it takes a bit of research to distinguish the source of where the hiccups came from.

These often lead to stressful situations between the speech analytics software company and the end user group. A lot of end users are often tempted to just pin these problems on the speech analytics software company since the idea is “well it’s broken, so fix it”. The SA software company has only so much visibility on the end user’s side of the wall. That is why it is very important that you research on your end to really confirm what the issue is at hand. So now you may be thinking, “Well how the hell do I do that!?” and that’s where I come in – I specialize in ingestion so I have seen my fair share of ugly and uglier when it comes to “ingestion indigestion”, so I want to offer you guys some tips on how and what you should be doing to keep your tools moving smoothly.

If you are not receiving a “Disposition Report” – start getting one and have it sent daily:

I just heard a few groans from some of my friends who work for SA software vendors. To some this may seem like an extra step but this is the precise place of where we need to start. Essentially a disposition report is a report that basically tells you everything the software vendor has received for ingestion. It’s a giant receipt that shows you what you are paying for. You will want to receive this daily so you can monitor days that show abnormally high or low volume. You also want to have it broken down by various categories within the ingestion process to show you if there are calls that might have gotten stuck during the process. This document is your best friend when you are investigating ingestion problems.

You should always know where your data sources are:

Your speech analytics end user team should all have some familiarity with where you are pulling your calls and metadata from for ingestion. You guys don’t need to be on a first name basis with the jargon and process but you need to know how to spot the more obvious ingestion faults. An example of this is with metadata that is pulled from the billing systems– you want your calls to show metadata for the customer’s account balance. If you are running searches and notice most of these calls are not show any billing system data, that should be a red flag for you to investigate further. The more that people on your team are aware of how to spot these problems the less stressful troubleshooting becomes. This also helps in clarifying where fault may lie on ingestion issues– the SA end user team or the SA software.

Abnormally low/high volume – “Compare before you declare”:

When you see certain sites in your tool that show higher or lower than usual volume, run a comparison of the same day of the week for that site from a prior week. First, see if you can determine if the spike in volume is attributed to a specific external driver such as a service outage. If there is no external issue, run a search to see if there is leakage of audio that has no sound or is below the minimum threshold for ingestion (typically this is set to audio which is below one minute in duration which typically would not be ingested into the tool). Another possible cause– language lines which are not supposed to ingest in your respective language pack; ie: Spanish VDNs coming into English sessions.

For low volume you will do the same comparison of looking at the same day of the week for a prior week of the affected site. You may also want to verify the numbers in the master recorder or switch to see if the volume is low on that end. If your switch indicates volume that looks to be in the right place for that location, you will need to check the disposition report I mentioned above to see if that site has calls that are stuck in a pending status. If you see something that is held up, this is about the time where you can loop-in your speech analytics software vendor for additional support.

Stuck? Pending? Rejected? What does is all mean?

Remember that disposition report I keep mentioning? That report ideally will have your different ingestion statuses broken out by a category. When something is “stuck” we generally mean that it is not in a completed category or ingested into the tool. Stuck volume will show in a pending category and will indicate where in the process it’s stuck. It might mean that it’s held up waiting to be referenced against the personnel management tool or even stuck waiting for the associated media to be assigned to it. A good speech analytics team will have a process in place to sound the alarm when there is too much volume indicated in a pending state for a specified period (this largely depends on how often your tool is ingesting media as you can ingest same day or ingest up to 3 days after media is recorded). You also periodically need to refer to rejected categories to ensure that you are not losing good volume to incorrectly grouped queues.

This is a general tip list for investigating ingestion problems within your tool. Keep in mind that this advice is not intended to replace technical support. As always, it is my goal to get more people involved in speech analytics along with getting existing speech analytics users further engaged with their chosen tools to get the best actionable intelligence from their insights.

Diana Aviles is an Operations Manager 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.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Customer Service Quote of the Day

"Follow the Leader", Featuring Neal Topf

What factors should an organization take into consideration, when choosing a business partner?

Companies have a wide range of criteria to consider when tasked with the difficult objective of choosing a business partner (provider). Here are some of the top things to keep in mind when evaluating a potential new relationship:

Experience: How much experience does the partner have in the specific task? Is the task the partner’s core business or a new initiative? ideally, the partner should be dedicated to that task and have multiple years experience, if the industry has existed as such. A new initiative likely means that the partner is working through a learning curve and making adjustments to effectively operate the service or product.

Management and Operations team: Who are the managers and who are the daily worker bees operating the partnership? Ideally, both are known and offer the same level of experience and knowledge, so that there is no drop off once the contract is signed and delegated to the staff for implementation.

Infrastructure: Ask probing questions about the partner’s infrastructure, specifically seeing/demo'ing software, tools, platforms, processes and procedures so that there are no surprises when it comes time to implement and operate.

Match expectations with compensation: We all want our partners to have the latest and greatest tools and expect them to operate at world-class service levels. Too often, however, we see that buyers that want their partners to have all the latest and greatest tools but don’t truly require any of these, nor are they willing to pay for them, nor does their opportunity offer compensation to be able to support the cost structure to operate these. Think: apples to apples in matching requirements with opportunity; both the buyer and the partner need to benefit and feed their families.

Costs: There are times when to apply pressure on a vendor. Understanding that when a vendor reduces its pricing, typically something else is sacrificed. A good partner is skilled at asking the partner what will be sacrificed and understanding the impact the reduction in pricing has on the partner’s operations.

Since 2005 I have led Callzilla, an outsourced contact center providing customer care and customer acquisition to top brands. Clients tap us to improve the customer experience, add channels such as live chat, gain market share among English and Spanish speakers, and more. Follow: LinkedIn | Twitter