Thursday, July 26, 2018

Quality Assurance Is Your Friend, Not Your Foe

By Katie Westphal

Customer's experience and expectations are constantly evolving. Quality is an amazing way to keep up with the times, and understanding your demographics.  The only consistency in call centers is that things always change.  Quality has an innate reputation for being “those people” that dig for your bad interactions and “ding” you.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Providing top-notch customer service, regardless of the industry, is the key to any successful business.

Have you looked at Social Media lately?  You do NOT want to be the company that is known for having rude, or unhelpful support staff.  There is no way to keep people from complaining about your company entirely, however you can mitigate the populous.

Analyzing customer satisfaction data, reviewing comments, and incorporating trends into your evaluation forms, can help your evaluations be a predictor of your customer satisfaction.  Customers rarely contact a company to tell them how wonderful they feel about a product, website or experience.  Reviewing customer feedback and sharing at all levels may sting, but the amount of insight that can be gained is invaluable.  

To get the most out of quality, there must be relevant and robust data points provided to the business, to catalyze stakeholders’ decision-making, as well as determine what self-imposed internal processes are hindering agents.

I believe in a two-pronged approach to evaluating:
  1. Agent level evaluating- Are the agents remaining in line with laws and regulators?  Are the agents treating your customers properly?  Are the agents following policies required by the business to drive revenue, and drive your company’s reputation?
  2. Business level evaluating- Is the scripting turning the customer away?  What is the customer sentiment?  Is this a repeat call due to lack of resolution? Are the systems challenging for the customers or agents?  Are there additional steps or processes driving handle time and/or additional cost to the company?
The dual processes allow for operations to have information on agents, teams, sites, and business opportunities outside the control of the agents.  Over-reliance on the “score” will hinder a program.  Weird concept, I know, but hear me out.  People will always focus on the score, and not the real and valuable data points being presented to them.  It is human nature to want a high score. We are brought up from an early age to want to see the gold star or A+.  

For a quality program to be successful, you have to see the forest for the trees.  The immense amount of data a quality team can provide, measures improvement and equip a company with the knowledge needed to ensure customer journey standards are met, and ultimately exceeded. 

“Contact Centers are the careers you never expected”, an amazing boss that told me.  At 23, I relocated after changing my life goals of a career in law enforcement. I found a job as call a center agent, and thought I would ride it out until I found something better.  I transitioned to various roles, and ultimately found my home within QA. Today, I am the manager of Quality Assurance.

Customer Service Quote of the Day

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What’s in a Name?

When we hear a word or phrase, the mind begins to create a concrete visual for an abstract concept so that we can make sense of the situation and behave as expected. The concrete visual for the abstract concept is based upon the individual’s understanding of a similar situation, the context for the occurrence and the circumstances surrounding the word’s utterance.  We humans associate specific word utterances with past events, rewards and/or the related punishments related to behavior exhibited. 

You might be asking, we what does this have to do with the name we used to identify the “the departments we call when, as consumers, we need support from a company from whom we purchased goods or services?  Humans use the culture’s values, beliefs and attitudes as our reference and compass to understand behavior in context. When the word we use to describe a persona, place or thing, changes, we humans, like the chameleon, must attempt to make meaning by recalling a similar context in which the word or phrase was used to create meaning. And like the chameleon, when the words or phrases used to describe an employee’s role or work environment, changes, we like the chameleon are expected to adapt. To the best of my knowledge, chameleons readily adjust to environmental changes, but they are not being renamed.

However, human beings have free will and higher thinking capabilities, and therefore when we change the words we use to describe a persona, place or thing, we are changing the context or the lens through which we understand the words meaning.  Therefore, when an employee’s role is renamed, meaning changes. Again, a chameleons has to adjust to the environment, but get to retain its name.

According to Wikipedia, “Customer service is the provision of service to the customer before, during and after a purchase” and “The perception of a successful service interaction is dependent on employees, who can adjust themselves to the personality of the guest’s Customer service concerns”.  
While researching the definition for a Call Center, I found the following on Google. “A Call Center is a centralized department to which phone calls from current and potential customers are directed”. In reviewing Wikipedia, I found their definition of Call Center stated it is “a centralized office used for receiving or transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone”. Notice that in their primary definitions for a Call Center, the word support is absent.

As you are reading Wikipedia’s definition of Customer Service and Google’s definition for Call Center, what are the images invoked in your mind? What are the behaviors you associate with the words Customer Service vs. Call Center? What is the feeling emerging from within?  More importantly, what rewards, punishments and measures are we using to describe a successful Customer Service/Call Center interaction?  As we using words or phrases that resonate with the customer and the customer service professionals called upon to exhibit behaviors that customers would rate as 10 on the “Best In Class Service Experience Scale”. When you interact with the Call Center Agents, ask them the same questions. What are the images being invoked, behaviors called forth and, what; in their minds are the rewards and punishments associated with being a Call Center Agent vs. Customer Service Representative? 

In past when I called Customer Service, I didn’t have to wait on hold, speak to multiple people, be transferred several times, nor repeat my story over and over again. When I called Customer Service, the company’s first and foremost objective was to resolve my issue during the premiere call or “provide first call resolution”-no matter how long it took. Now, anytime I have contact with a Call Center, I experience a plethora of IVR options, listened to numerous product advertisements and after 15 minutes got disconnected from the call.

Yes, we’ve changed the word we use to describe an environment that provides support to customers who have purchased goods or services. We’ve changed the moniker for those providing support to customers, from one embedded with empathy to one denoting production. The Call Center moniker tells us that “there’s no time for empathy and that what matters most is the speed in which calls are answered.  The evidence? We’re using quantitative metrics (AHT, CPH & ABD) to determine if we’re meeting our customer’s qualitative needs and this is where the dissonance occurs. I submit that if we continue to interchange the terms Customer Service and Call Center, to describe the interaction between a company and its customers, we are confusion catalysts and are intensifying the dissonance being felt by our employees and customers.

The impact of changing the name from Customer Service Representative, to Call Center Agent is in: the agent’s inability to objectively analyze data, inability to think critically about their findings and the inability to create viable solutions that are in the best interest of the customer and company.  By changing the title from Customer Service Representative, and now to Call Center Agent, we have shifted the paradigm of customer service excellence, from one of empathy, to one of automation.

Previous notions of Customer Service concepts contained natural and nurtured assumptions that were connected to familial, social and corporate mores absent of technology and social media influences.

Conceptual meaning for the abstract terms ultimately resides within the individual and therefore, what it means to experience Customer Service and call center excellence is heavily influenced, influencing, impacting and impacted by the customer’s perception which as you know varies from person to person.

We must also account for the implications that generational differences in communication styles, new have on our ability to modify behavior associated when changes are made to job titles and department names. When it comes to the words or phrases we use to describe the department we call when, as consumers need support from a company from whom we purchased goods or services we must all be aligned; regardless of who is providing the service, since excellence is defined by the customer during interaction.    What if we asked our customers, those who purchase goods or services from our company, to provide definitions of the Customer Service Representative and Call Center Agent?  Would we see a definition steeped for the Representative in empathy and compassion and the Agent in automation and speed?  I believe that the consumer would use to describe a Customer Service or Call Center would be markedly different.

However, I want to point out that throughout the decades, there is one word that has been agile, flexible and mutable unlike any other. Like the chameleon, the word 'bad' is used in multiple contexts, successfully maneuvering it’s meaning of positivity and negativity through both time and context.

What’s in a name? Ask yourself, based on the definitions used to describe the roles. With whom would you rather speak, a Customer Service Representative, or a Call Center Agent?
 “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi

Eldridge Jean Alexander is a higher education professional with broad experience in all aspects of Call Center Operations, Leadership Development, Team Building and Change Management. She has a proven track record with managing diverse employee work-groups, designing curriculum, and facilitation of training for leadership and front-line employees working in both technical and non-technical professions.

Connect: LinkedIn

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ethics & Integrity in Public Relations

I love my job — both of them. By day, I am a publicist for an airline, and by night, I am an adjunct professor in a university’s mass communications department. I fell in love with public relations my sophomore year in college. I had no idea people made a “career” out of being puppet masters; but it was much more than that, as I would come to learn throughout my undergraduate years.

One of the things I learned during my studies and early career days was the need for honesty and integrity in public relations. That’s a given, I used to think, but I am learning more and more that nothing — especially morally sound professionals — is a given.

Last night, the topic of discussion in my introductory public relations class was ethics. I spend an entire class period (three hours and 10 minutes) on the importance of ethical behavior in business and public relations. Ethics is defined as moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. More importantly, ethics is:

that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

So why is it that so many practitioners are willing to turn a blind eye to doing the right thing just to achieve 15 minutes of fame for their clients? Is the need for publicity that important? Do the ends really justify the means?

One of my past clients asked me to intentionally lie to a reporter, and when I refused, he lied to his business partner and blamed the resulting bad publicity on me. Naturally, the business partner was furious and I took a little flack for it, but I still had my integrity and good name. In the end, I explained everything to the business partner without throwing my client under the bus. The business partner was able to piece things together on his own and quickly realized what transpired, but I felt awful. I was angry that I was put into that position; angry that I had to defend myself and my position; and angry that the business partner ended up being portrayed negatively. I ultimately stopped working for the client because I could not continue working for someone with less than ethical business practices. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time I walked away from a client, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Recently, I found myself in a similar situation, and I had to ask myself, ‘are you being sanctimonious, or is this really a situation where you need to stand on the side of truth?’ Truth be told: I’ve been in this business for 17 years and I plan to be around for at least another 17. As more and more practitioners enter the public relations field and business are started and evolve, there will likely be additional opportunities for your principles to be tested. Personally, I refuse to bend my principles or sacrifice my integrity just to pacify a client or make nice with my boss. My reputation is important to me. While most people can justify their professional decisions by claiming a separation of church and state, my name is my personal brand and my word is my bond.

My mom used to tell me that honesty is the best policy, and that is what I teach my daughter and students. The truth may be less than ideal or sting for a moment, but in the long run, you and those whom you represent will be better for it. My advice to anyone who is ever in this position, “always speak the truth — even if your voice shakes.”

RĂ©al serves as the Group Director, Corporate Communications for Sims Metal Management and is responsible for developing and executing the company’s global internal and external communications strategy. She is a seasoned forward-thinking, results-oriented professional with an extensive background spanning several industries.
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Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday Funny

Multilanguage Support in the Contact Center

In today’s business world, the desire to reach more consumers is a top priority. With global online purchasing easier to accommodate, and businesses expanding into new geographies, one can naturally expect a surge in non-English speaking customers. This is certainly having an impact on contact center strategies as we must determine how to provide support to these new clients. For enterprise level organizations with a global presence, the infrastructure may already be in place to address this. For those without, including the small-to-medium sized company, perhaps this presents a dilemma. How does a contact center without a formal multilingual support system handle non-English calls?

Before you answer, certain considerations must be made. It’s worth determining the percentage of your client base that is non-English speaking. Are these high value clients? Where are they located? These are just a few areas that must be analyzed. However, there are many, many more. In my mind, these questions should not be used to determine if baseline support will be offered to these customers. Every customer deserves your assistance! The end goal is to develop a plan that works best for the company AND the customer while enhancing the overall experience.

One should never lose sight of the customer experience. There are numerous studies that highlight how significant the customer experience is to your bottom line. They clearly link customer experience to customer engagement, and to the customer’s lifetime value. Are you still not convinced? Research also shows a rise in customer defections after only one bad experience! For those of us in the contact center, failing the customer is not an option.

I truly see the need for foreign language support. Not only are non-native English speakers moving to the US, but global markets are in need of services provided by US companies. If your product serves an international customer base, your support center needs to be able to handle it as well. While solely offering English support seems to do the trick for some companies, the lack of additional languages in the support center could ultimately be hurting long-term business.

Make no mistake; supporting additional languages is harder than one may think. For example, if you’re offering technical support, not only are you in need of someone with strong technical skills, but you also must look for someone that can speak the necessary foreign language. Not to mention, they need to meet all other criteria that you’re looking for. By simply adding that highly sought after foreign language as a criteria, your pool of applicants has nearly emptied. So what is one to do?

One contact center I am familiar with realized it was feasible to staff their team with new multilingual agents. They utilized Google translate to assist customers via email. As this is a small service center, this solution worked very well for them. This is not a viable approach for everyone. Perhaps an alternative is to contract with a language interpreter service. Whether on demand or onsite, these providers offer turnkey solution for your interpretation needs, often at a lower cost than hiring new staff.

When it comes to multi-language support, not only is the language itself different, but the culture behind the language is different. Whoever your customer base may be, it’s important to have native speakers, or highly fluent speakers familiar with the culture, and ready to assist. They’ll better understand the customer, and can then easily provide a better customer experience.

I have over 15 years of progressive customer service leadership 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.