Category: Call Center Issues

A Front Line Perspective

I really enjoy reading AC’s blog Call Center Purgatory. It’s a different perspective than anything else out there in the blogosphere related to call centers. Rather than talking about strategies from the hallowed halls of management, AC is a refreshing, and much-needed voice from the call center cubicle.

Three much needed reminders I received from reading AC’s recent post:

  1. CSRs need regular doses of positive reinforcement. As a third-party QA coach, I may visit a client contact center once a month or once a quarter. My goal is always to build up the agents I’m coaching. I want them to leave the coaching session energized and empowered to do a better job. Sometimes it’s painfully clear that they constantly feel beaten down.
  2. Praise has tangible value. We sometimes forget the power of a good word. “Nice job,” “I can tell you’ve been working on this, you’re getting better,” “I appreciate the hard work you’ve put in on this.” Proverbs 16:24 says a gracious word is good taste to the soul and quick energy to the body. A capable manager or supervisor can motivate the team with true, well-targeted, well-timed praise.
  3. Reps often find themselves in an uncomfortable position of treating customers like human beings while meeting the corporate demands for talk time, AHT, calls answered, etc. Call center managers have the responsibility of affirming this desire to serve customers well while helping their agents find the balance between efficiency and service quality.

I’d be interested to know if any managers, supervisors and coaches have examples of how they try to build up their agents and help them find the balance.

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Incentives that Work

I was reading a post by Wayne at Business Performance Coaching and I really liked two comments he made:

  1. Incentives are the lightening bolts that fire your team and business building activities into effective action.
  2. For incentives to work, they have to be simple, understandable, and tied to performance.

Everyone likes to be rewarded for a job well done. Giving your agents an incentive for doing well on their Quality Assessment (QA) or other performance management metrics can add some fun to the process. It also adds a little challenge and a motivation to perform well. The question that plagues most managers is what incentive is going to motivate my team?

Working with call centers around the country, I’m always intrigued at the incentives that work…and sometimes the ones that don’t.

Here are some examples:

  • Incentives with little or no cost. Premiere parking spots go over well (especially in the cold of winter), as do “jeans day” for those centers with business casual dress codes. One team got to have lunch in the corporate board room. I’m always surprised how well simple award certificates go over with some agents. A traveling trophy can be a lot of fun because it creates a little fun competition and comes with bragging rights. One group of willing supervisors allowed top performers to throw pies at them during the lunch hour.
  • Incentives with moderate cost. Gift certificates for lunch, movie tickets, CDs, DVDs can be real winners. Some centers will reward top performers with lunch out with the call center manager or another executive. I watched one executive hand out, in cash, shares of the money the company had saved in insurance by making safety and wellness goals (that went over really well!).
  • Big ticket incentives. One company we work with went this route and it created quite a buzz in the ranks. Agents who reached a challenging QA performance goal got their name put in a hat. If they made the goal at the mid-year review their name went in and then they had another chance at the year-end review (so some agents had their name in the hat twice). At the end of the year one name was pulled from the hat and the winner took home an expensive riding lawn tractor.

What about you? What incentives have motivated your team members? What incentives have bombed? Please post a comment and share your own experience.

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Jazz and the Art of Quality Assessment

Phil Gerbyshak listed a great link today in his weblog to a post at Presentation Zen which uses quotes from famous Jazz musicians to discuss keys to successful presentations. One of the quotes was from the legendary Jazz bassist Charles Mingus:

Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”

The thought struck me that this is true of most QA scorecards. I’ve witnessed so many well intentioned managers finding all sorts of convoluted ways to analyze and score a call. Their methodology is so obtuse that it takes a definition document the size of Moby Dick just to figure out how to score a single element. Then you get it scored and go to calibration to find that you’re in for a debate reminiscent of one of those cable news shows where people firmly entrenched on opposite sides scream at each other.

Scoring a call works best when the QA methodology is very simple:

  • What specific behavior are you looking for from the Customer Service Representative (CSR)?
  • Was this specific behavior applicable to the call in question?
  • If it was applicable, did the CSR do it?

What Mingus was talking about is really just applying the K.I.S.S. method, whether it’s Jazz or QA. That’s cool, man. Very hep.

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Filling the Well: Great Links for Your Monday Morning Coffee

Cwg_coffee_cup_lr_1 It’s Monday morning. Get the sleep out of your eyes. Grab that cup o’ joe. It’s time to "fill the well":

  • Do you want positive behaviors in your call center repeated and replicated? Joyce Wycoff discusses the link between rewarding behavior and innovation.
  • Is your service slipping? Courtesy of Customer Service Reader is an article about what United Airlines is doing to try and shore up their customer service challenges.
  • Is accuracy of answer part of your QA scorecard? According to another article posted at the Customer Service Reader the government’s call centers have been remiss in measuring accuracy in their quality assessments (surprised?).
  • Do you know what a "wirernia" is? How about "schoogle"? Thanks to and article posted by Starbucker, you can be the first in your office to know all the latest and greatest technology nomenclature
  • Who are you going to promote this week? Will it be the air-head who you like and is enjoyable to be around or the amazingly talented person who acts like a total jerk? Mike McLaughlin talks about a HBS study on the subject.
  • Are you bragging about how your service is better than the next guy while both of you are going down the tubes? That subject is addressed in an interesting post by Evil Genius Marketing

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Making the QA Form Shorter Doesn’t Always Save You Time

Here’s how it happens: You’re trying to make the QA form shorter and more efficient. You begin pouring over the form and notice that several of the elements have some similarities. Sooooo, with the best of intentions, you take three of these common elements and make them into one.

  • Courteous/Used customer name/friendly

Here’s the problem:  You haven’t saved yourself any time. It would be faster to score each of these three elements separately on the form.

  • The QA analyst is going to spend more time contemplating how to score the element because they have to figure out how to score THREE behavioral elements with ONE answer (e.g. “Well, they did use the name BUT they didn’t use “please” when asking for the account number ALTHOUGH their tone was fairly friendly)
  • You’re going to spend more time arguing in calibration about why you scored it the way you did (e.g. “I know that you gave the CSR credit because they did two of the three, but I think we should ding the CSR because she didn’t do the most important of the three.”)
  • You’re going to spend more time arguing with CSRs (e.g. “How can you score me down for not using the customer’s name when I said ‘please’ twice and was really friendly with my tone?”)

The cleanest, simplest way to approach the QA form is to list and score each accountable behavior separately. You may end up with a longer list, but you’ll save yourself time in scoring, calibration and coaching.

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“Red Carpet” Service

Red_carpetYesterday, I spent the day at ShopNBC‘s Customer Service call center. A few years ago, their company did a branding campaign. Now, usually I leave branding related issues to folks like Mark True, Jennifer Rice and Mary Schmidt – people who really know their stuff. In addition, I’ll admit that I’ve often found branding campaigns to be off-target, over the top, and a bit silly.

The customer contact center at ShopNBC, however, embraced the idea of "red carpet service" that came out of the branding campaign. I think it’s a metaphor that fits perfectly with NBC’s entertainment brand. The Quality team there built their QA program around the metaphor of delivering "red carpet" service and treating their customers like "stars." Most importantly, if you asked a CSR to describe "red carpet service" they could.

I’m a firm believer in metaphor. Wrap your thought in a good metaphor and it sticks with people. Metaphors help people get their heads around concepts they might otherwise have a hard time verbalizing. I think ShopNBC has done a nice job of wrapping their quality program in a metaphor that fits their brand, resonates with CSRs and effectively communicates the way they want to treat their customers.

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Flickr photo courtesy of TinCanOrange

The Power of a Name

CSRs in call centers, sales personnel, and everyone else in business have been trained for years that it’s important to use your customer’s name. It’s part of personalizing service, and using the customer’s name puts the relationship in our service delivery.

After all, why does everyone want to go to Cheers? (everybody sing!)

Dr. Ellen Weber has written a post about research that can give trainers and call coaches added ammunition when trying to explain to CSRs the effect of using the customer’s name. It seems that hearing your name spoken causes a “spike” in parts of the brain that have to do with our sense of self.

A couple of general rules for name use:

  • Use the name conversationally. Hearing your name repeated over and over and over again in a call sounds silly and will tend to aggravate the caller.
  • Use the name as soon as the customer introduces himself/herself. It not only establishes a personal service relationship, but it helps the CSR remember it. CSRs who don’t use the name right away tend to forget it and have to scramble to try to remember later in the call.
  • Listen to the way the customer introduces himself/herself. If the customer says, “This is Mrs. Francis Bacon” you should respond with “Yes, Mrs. Bacon.” If the customer uses a title such as Doctor or Reverend, you should use the title when addressing him/her.
  • Using a more formal address will generally not be insulting and is a good rule to follow. If you call the customer “Mr. Smith” and he isn’t as formal, he’ll typically won’t be offended, but will tell you, “Call me John.” If you start with the informal by addressing the customer as “John” you run the risk of him snapping back with “that’s MISTER Smith!”
  • If the customer’s name is difficult to pronounce or you didn’t catch it, it’s perfectly acceptable to apologize and ask him/her to repeat it. This tells the customer that their name is important to you and you want to get it right. Many customers who have difficult to pronounce names will give you a less difficult option – “Oh, just call me J.R.

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Upselling Basics for Customer Service

Guy Kawasaki recently created a lot of buzz with his Art of Customer Service post. I found a couple of people responding with the same thoughts I did, including Starbucker, who shared my concerns with Guy’s admonition to nev er upsell on customer service calls.

I mentioned in a previous post my concerns with companies who are pushing the upsell too hard. Nevertheless, upselling can be done well and done successfully in a customer service call. You should follow a few basic rules:

  • Find out how willing your customers are to hearing upsells. A focused customer survey can give you quantifiable data regarding your customer’s willingness to hear upsells. This data can help you make tactical decisions about how hard you can push the sale without creating a drop in customer satisfaction. In research we’ve conducted through the years, we’ve found customer’s in certain markets to be surprisingly willing to hear upsells. The important thing is to know your customers and how upsells are going to impact their satisfaction with your company.
  • Never offer an upsell before you’ve resolved the customer’s issue. Too many call centers try to push the upsell before the customer’s question has been answered or the issue resolved. This only aggravates customers who feel that you’re holding them hostage, forcing them to hear your pitch before you’ll help them. Some companies train their CSRs to use typical call downtime (e.g. while pulling up the customer’s account information) to make a pitch. While it may make sense to ask a few probing questions during these common periods of dead air, the actual offer should be reserved until after the customer’s problem has been solved.
  • Make relevant upsell offers. Upsells work best when the upsell you’re offering is a natural fit with the product or service the customer is already purchasing from your company. I remember years ago when an electronics liquidator specializing in computers started upselling memberships to a buying club for gourmet cooks [scratching head].
  • Train your CSRs on the product or service you’re upselling. Your upselling efforts will be much more successful if your CSRs feel comfortable with their knowledge of the product and are trained how to make natural segues from resolving the issue to entering the upsell. In addition, they should be able to mention the benefits of the product or service in their opening statement and answer customer’s FAQs.
  • Make allowances for NOT offering the upsell. Unfortunately, there are companies who push their CSRs to make a pitch on every call with no exceptions. This is a lose-lose-lose business practice. The customer loses because they are getting an upsell forced down their throat, even when it’s inappropriate. The CSR loses because they are put in the position of further aggravating customers who may already be ticked off. The company loses because they customers will walk away dissatisfied and the turnover rate in their call centers will rise. Do the math: you’ll have to upsell ALOT to cover the cost of replacing angry customers and finding/training a revolving CSR staff.

With a knowledgable, balanced approach to upselling you can generate revenue with your Customer Service contact center. Just make sure you do your homework, count the cost and prepare before diving in.

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How Do You Get 0% Turnover?

Happy_phone Jam Mayer’s latest post boasts a rarity in the Call Center world. Very few contact centers open and go three months without losing a single agent for behavoiral or performance reasons. In the post, Jam mentions a few keys to their success that all call center managers, QA coaches and supervisors should write down and compare to their own call center efforts:

  1. Focus on agent performance
  2. Be fair to everyone
  3. Be diligent in one-on-one coaching
  4. Teach agents something in every session
  5. Update agent performance regularly
  6. Listen to agent’s ideas
  7. Discuss goals and opportunities with agents

In my comments to Jam, I said that it’s clear their team is building agents up – not tearing them down and spitting them out like many call centers today. We can all learn from their success!

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Put Some Teeth in Your QA Program

I recently read a post by Jam Mayer in Call Center Scripts addressing the issue of customer service representatives (CSRs) who spend work time surfing the net. The post struck a chord with me because of an experience I had yesterday.

I’m spending the week on-site with a client, shadowing and mentoring their quality assessment (QA) coaches. Yesterday, one of the coaches was evaluating an e-mail. The QA software clearly showed that the agent surfed a soap opera forum for seven minutes before routing the customer’s e-mail back into queue for someone else to handle. Not good.

The first of Jam’s suggestions on this subject was “roll out a consequence management process.” BINGO!

Our group has audited the QA program for this client for the past few years. One of the issues we have continually addressed with them is the fact that their QA process has no carrot and no stick. There is no incentive for the CSR to do well, neither is there a consequence if the agent performs poorly. The result is that the entire QA program is an expensive “FYI” for their agents. The CSR who avoided work while keeping up on her favorite soap may receive a verbal reprimand, but the agents on the floor know that there is no real consequence other than – maybe – a stern lecture. I seriously doubt her behavior will change.

If you’re going to spend the time, energy and money to have a QA program, make sure that it effectively impacts the behavior of your CSRs. Behavior change happens when the process has some teeth. That is, when agents are held accountable and motivated to improve through both positive and negative reinforcement.

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