What are Your Principles Worth?

It's not always about the cash. Our group has certain guiding principles when it comes to the way we do business. For example, since Mr. Wenger founded the company back the 1980's we have refused to work with directly competing companies. The principle comes from an old teaching:

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

We have never felt that it was right for us to say to one client "We are committed to your success and want you to be the best," then walk down the street to a competitor and say "We are committed to your success and want you to be the best."

So, if there is some question about conflict of interest, we go to our current client and ask them. They are our client. We are committed to their success. If they feel that a potential new client is a competitor, then we respectfully decline the business. If our current client doesn't see it as a conflict and doesn't care, then we will continue to pursue the potential project.

Of course, principles are easy to live by when times are good and it seems like there's plenty of work to go around. But, in the worst economy since the Great Depression, when revenues are fraction of what they were last year and new clients are as rare as a Chicago Cubs winning streak, it can certainly test your mettle. When a company comes looking for a project that could turn into a lucrative, long-term relationship – those pie-in-the-sky principles get put to the test. They have. They will.

In those moments I simply let my mind consider current client relationships that span five, ten, 15, and almost 20 years. I start calculating the time-value proposition of long term loyal clients, and the incalculable worth of the relationships they represent. It helps put a quick buck in perspective, even in the present economy.

Worthwhile principles prove their worth over the long haul.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Thomas Hawk

How Customer Service Should Respond to Social Media

Whenever I hear someone in the blogosphere or Twitter railing against one of my clients, I immediately bring it to their attention. In most cases, I've witnessed my clients responding immediately and appropriately to the situation in an attempt to rectify a problem. After sending a handful of negative posts to one of my clients, however, I received a polite email back saying, "Thanks for sending these to me, but I just don't know what to do with them!"

For all of you companies who are reading this and asking yourselves the same thing, here are a couple of things you should think about:

  • Consider the issue. Is this an isolated case of one customer who had a problem spiral out of control? Or, is it a policy or procedural problem that is much bigger than one blogger on a rant? If it's the former, you should be able to quickly address the issue, satisfy the customer, and hopefully get a few props from the customer on his/her next post. If it's the latter, then you're wasting your time chasing a bunch of individual consequences from the root problem in your control. Fix the problem, then go out and address the social media outlets.
  • Email the person. Put your Customer Service skills to work immediately. Tell the person that you're sorry to hear about their negative experience and you'd like the opportunity to look into it and make it right. You will quickly learn if the person sincerely wants the issue resolved or if they are determined to be an unsatisfied customer on a rant. Communicating directly and discreetly with the author allows you to quickly address the issue without being viewed as trying to aggrandize your response or without getting into a spittting match with the blogger/tweeter.
  • Don't demand a retraction. If you have successfully resolved the issue and the customer is satisfied, it's acceptable to politely ask that they share the experience with their readers. Don't demand, and don't black mail ("I'll do this for you if…"). Just do the right thing for the customer.

Competing on Price is a Sugar High

Competing on price is a sugar high. I recently read a great post by John Goodman over at The Retail Customer Experience in which he lays out Five Myths of Customer Service. It's a good, quick read and I particularly enjoyed his Myth #2: Price is the name of the game to expand share and profitability.

In over 15 years of measuring customer satisfaction and service inside client contact centers, I have learned that the easiest way to compete is with price – but it's not the most profitable way. Slashing prices is a sugar high. You get a quick infusion of business from those customers who scurry from supplier to supplier based on price. But, the same customers who came your way to get your low price will scurry right out your door when the competitor lowers their price. The crash comes just as quickly and may leave you lower than when you started.

What your competitor will have the greatest difficulty matching is a great customer service experience. Investing the creation and sustenance of a service culture within your company builds loyalty in your customer base. Customers keep coming back, even if your prices are a little higher than the other guy.

If you want to build long-term customer loyalty, learn to serve your customers well. Find out their expectations. Then build a service delivery system that will meet and exceed those expectations.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and ktylerconk

Can You Afford the Hidden Cost of Off-Shoring?

The question has been debated for the better part of the last decade. "Does it make sense to send your customer service call center off shore?" It certainly made cents to do so. With lower labor and operating costs, the off-shoring craze saved a ton of money to the bottom line.

But, what is the cost in customer satisfaction? Some companies learned that the cost of customer ire was not worth the savings.

Now, there is more evidence that there is a specific, calculated cost in customer satisfaction when U.S. customers perceive that a call center is off-shore.

Does this mean that off-shoring never makes sense (or cents)? No. One answer does not fit all in this debate. Nevertheless, there is more warning than ever that companies should calculate the cost of lost statisfaction while they are calculating the savings in operation budget.

The Worst Presentation Habits

Blah, blah, blah, blah. Mike Sansone linked a great post through Twitter last night. From SmartLemming: the 10 Worst Presentation Habits.

Here are my favorite three from their list (disclaimer: at one time or another I've been guilty of all of them!):

  • Reading from notes: you might just as well have emailed it to me and let me read it at my desk.
  • Failure to rehearse: bear with my while I get this to work, oops, sorry about that, I'm not sure why it's doing that. Hold on a sec.

  • Reciting bullet points: Dude, that's quite a bald spot on the back of your head. In fact, it's the most interesting thing in this presentation as you turn to read the paragraph off your slide.

Which presentation bad habits drive you crazy? Any others that didn't make the SmartLemming list?

Creative Commons photo from Flickr and photo mojo

Cost Savings for Corporations and Call Centers

Save money. Another potential cost savings for large companies and call centers is found in the jungle of their telephony contracts. Bill Hansen of Teleplus Consulting is a long time friend and colleague who has an interesting business proposition that costs you nothing but can potentially save you a tremendous amount of money.

I find that the most profound things are simple, and Teleplus' business is simple. Bill and his team will pour over all of your voice, data, and wireless contracts. They actually read the fine print. They know the industry inside and out. They know all of the current schemes, scams and competitive rates. They find out if you're in a good position or if you're getting ripped off. They can  point out places where you can save. If you're getting ripped off, they will go to bat for you to help negotiate or re-negotiate your contracts. At the end, all they ask is a capped percentage of your savings. If they can't save you any money, they simply congratulate you and walk away (and you never get a bill).

I know companies have saved millions of dollars. I know, if I was on the leadership team of a large company, I would want to be the hero who emailed Bill and recruited him to play for our team. He's someone you want in your bull pen.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Tracy Olson

Cost Savings in QA: Rethink Your Sample Sizes

Crunch the numbers. In this economy, everyone is looking to save a buck. Companies are slashing budgets and trying to salvage the bottom line.

So where is the savings within the QA program?

The biggest cost in most QA programs are the time, energy and resources it takes to sit down, listen to, and properly analyze a phone call. It requires man hours to do the task.

So start by looking at your sample sizes and crunch the nubers. Depending on the goals of your program, you generally don't need to analyze hundreds of phone calls to get an accurate reflection of a CSRs service. If you have a well designed, behaviorally anchored QA scale, then a small sample of randomly selected calls will do the trick. I have been in call centers who will measure hundreds of phone calls for a given CSR. It's overkill.

Consider the pollsters who can accurately guage the opinions of 175 million Americans by talking to 1,000. It's statistically possible to do so with a small margin of error, if you do it right. QA works in the same way. You can get an accurate reflection of a CSRs service over thousands of calls by listening to just a handful, if you do it right.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickrand Aaron Kyle

Individual Style Only Adds to a Service Framework

Standing_outGaelic Storm is one of my favorite bands. Amidst their catalog of excellent music you’ll run across a song I love, called "Kellie’s Wellies". The comic tune tells the story of a young lad in Ireland who was so poor that, when the winter was over, he chopped off his Wellington rubber boots, painted on some laces and passed them off as tennis shoes. As the boy grew, he continued with his unique and unexpected footwear. The songwriter is eventually surprised at the result:

The next time we found him, well the girls were all around him
He was busting the moves, he was happy as can be
One of the girls came near, and whispered in my ear…
"Only boys who wear their wellies have a chance wit’ me."

In our pursuit of delivering a consistent, quality customer experience, it’s easy to turn a service framework into a stale, robotic script. It may be an excellent service experience, but it doesn’t really stand out as memorable. We can never forget that, while customers appreciate a consistently excellent experience, it is often the unexpected touch of individual style and panache that raises the moment of truth into in indelible memory for the customer.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and worldofoddy.