Category: Customer Service

Three Great Examples from This Week’s Call Coaching

Above view of several business people planning work at round tabWe had a great day call coaching two of our client’s sales teams on Wednesday. We provide integrated services for this client which include a customer survey, on-going call assessment and bi-monthly call coaching.

A few highlights from our coaching sessions:
  • Data from our ongoing Service Quality Assessment revealed that a common courtesy service skill had significantly declined for a team of Regional Account Managers. The objective data pinpointed the real reason for the decline: one agent’s performance has drastically deteriorated since the beginning of the year. We were able to share with this agent, from our survey results, how courtesy is not only a key driver of their customers’ satisfaction but is also a key differentiator between his company and their competitors. We were able to listen to a call together in which the courtesy skill was missed and discussed strategies for implementation. The agent left informed, motivated and equipped. The ongoing call assessment will hold him accountable to make progress.
  • Another agent on the same team was new about 18 months ago. The agent transferred from an operations position and was new to the phones. In the beginning he was the poorest performer, struggling to learn the ropes. In our coaching session yesterday we were able to show that our data now quantifies that he is currently the team’s best performer. From “worst to first” in less than two years. “It’s all because of your coaching and data,” he said. “It’s thanks to you.” He did the hard work, but we’ll gladly take the compliment. It was great to celebrate with him. We love being the bearers of good news!
  • In a different session we coached a member of the Inside Sales team. The Service Quality Assessment revealed the agent’s service performance has declined slightly in recent months. It wasn’t a major problem, but we wanted to address it before it got worse. Digging into the behavioral data, we could identify specifically which service skills had been demonstrated less consistently, listen to examples in actual calls, and discuss strategies for remembering and employing the skills. The agent will receive monthly data via our Service Quality Central web portal to track the progress.
We leave our time with the client feeling good about the measurable value we’ve been able to provide through real data that translates into actionable coaching and training. If you’d like real data to quantify which dimensions of service drive your customer’s satisfaction and real number that reveal how your agents are performing in those daily moments of truth with customer, the give us a call (515.278.1516) or drop us an e-mail. It’s what we love to do!

In Customer Service, Improvisation is Sometimes Necessary

 

from henriqueiwao via Flickr

My colleague was scheduled to present a training session to one of our client’s teams this morning. I was scheduled to attend and observe. While I was aware of the general topic being presented in the training, this was my colleague’s baby. She had written and produced the training and I’d never seen it presented before. She did, however, ask me to arrive early and set up the lap top, projector and slide show for her. Knowing that she was scheduled in a previous meeting, she realized that she would be pressed to arrive on time and needed to be ready to jump right in to her training presentation.

I was happy to help out. I arrived early, set up the laptop, projector and slide show. I greeted our client guests as they arrived and helped them all get settled. My colleague was clearly running behind. I apologized, explained the she would be there momentarily and attempted to initiate some small talk among the 20 or so team members assembled. A few minutes passed by. My colleague had still not arrived.

The Senior Manager in the room grew visibly anxious by the delay. From the oppostie side of the room he said, “Tom, will you please go ahead and get us started? We need to stay on schedule. You can start the training and she can take over when she gets here.”

The subtext of this was not a question as in “Can you start us?” but a gentle demand: “Tom, you will start this session. Our team’s time is valuable and we don’t have time to wait around.”

Ummmm… Okay. So I got up and approached the laptop praying that my colleague’s slide show was thorough and detailed. Slide one contained the objectives. Sweet. I can go through these. The first point of the training was talking about voice tone.  I quickly pulled some information from my years as a trainer and plowed forward.

A few months ago I wrote a post on my personal blog outlining Ten Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success. The post went viral. Well over 120,000 views to-date and hundreds of comments from around the globe. Number one on that list was “Improvisation.” I chuckled to myself as I thought about that and now found myself improvising my way through the opening slides of a training presentation I didn’t produce and of which I had no knowledge. To my great relief, my teammate entered the room a few minutes later and delivered me from having to improvise any more than I did.

I always tell my Customer Service training classes that training is all about understanding rules and exceptions. There are Customer Service rules that apply remarkably well to most service situations. Yet, for every rule there are exceptional situations to which the rules don’t fit. You don’t want to make rules based on the exceptions. You do, however, want to be prepared for the exceptional situation that requires you to think on your feet and improvise in the moment.

Quality is for Internal Customers, Too!

from andrewscott via Flickr

Our group just completed two pilot Service Quality Assessment projects for a client. We’ve been providing QA services for this company for several years, but our work was confined to the front line Customer Service teams. Earlier this year, the client began to notice a discrepancy between the service expectations of their Customer Service team and those of the teams who service internal customers. We thus began a project to objectively measure and benchmarch service for the client’s IT Service Desk and and internal procedural service team.

As with most internal teams we’ve assessed through the years, the results showed huge opportunities to improve service delivered to internal customers. While service delivered to an internal customer may not be as formal, there is no reason why it should not exemplify adequate levels of courteous, friendly service. In fact, it can be argued that these internal teams, who are deemed as experts in their respective disciplines, should be setting the example to their internal customers of how an end-user customer should be treated.

Along with benchmarking serveral behavioral service skills which had plenty of room for improvement, our assessment also unearthed some procedural issues that could mean significant savings and improvement in efficiency. With one team in particular, a huge percentage of the calls received were found to be simple requests to check on the status of a previous request or to see if correspondence had been received. With a small investment in available technology to auto-reply that correspondence had been received and provide status updates, this internal team stands to substantially reduce calls, reduce costs, improve productivity, and more efficiently process the work which will ultimately affect the end-user customer.

Many companies rightly concern themselves with measuring the quality of their customer interactions, but teams who service internal customers are just as critical in the service chain that ultimately impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The Truth of the Tape

A typical home reel to reel tape recorder, thi...

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Since Prohibition, when recorded phone conversations with a bootlegger were first used in a criminal prosecution, the taped phone call has had a colorful history. Movies and television have made familiar the image of FBI agents hunkered over spinning reels of tape in a van or an empty warehouse loft as they listen in on the calls of shady mobsters. Go to the new Mob Museum in Las Vegas and you’ll get to hear some of the actual calls for yourself.

The recorded conversation is a powerful tool. In our training with clients, our team will often go into a studio and recreate a phone call using voice actors to protects the identify of caller and CSR, but accurately recreate the customer service conversation between the two. These calls are always a fun and effective training tool because they are based on an actual interaction with which CSRs identify. “I took a call just like that,” we hear all the time, “I think that mighta been me!” Because the pertinent identifying information is hidden, the focus can be on what we can learn from the call and how the interaction might have been improved.

Another important way to utilize recordings is as evidence of a particular procedural or systems related issue. Call recording software often includes a video capture of what is happening on the agent’s desktop during the phone call. When trying to make a point about how obtuse or cumbersome a particular system is for agents while they are on the phone call, a recorded example complete with visual can be a powerful piece of evidence for upper management and decision makers. As they sit and uncomfortably witness first hand the CSR struggling through a jungle of screens as they try to maintain conversation and call flow with the customer, it makes a much more persuasive argument than a mere description of the issue.

Of course, the recordings can also be very effective tools to highlight both positive and negative performance. It’s hard for CSRs to defend their poor service behaviors when there is a plethora of recorded evidence with which to coach them. People often think of call recording as merely a tool to catch people doing things wrong, but our team regularly reminds CSRs that the truth of the tape can also catch people doing things right and become hard evidence of an agents exemplary service skills. Many years ago a frustrated manager asked our team to do a special assessment of an agents calls. The manager wanted to fire the agent and was looking for evidence to do so. In this case, the tape revealed that the agent performed well when serving customers on the phone. The truth of the tape helped protect the CSR from being unfairly terminated.

Call recordings are tools. As with all tools, the results lie in the wisdom and abilities of the person or persons wielding them. When misused, call recording can do damage to people and businesses. When used with discernment and expertise, those same recordings can effectively help build a successful business.

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You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know is Broken

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I’m working with several new teams for a particular client. It’s always a bit of a sticky wicket when I show up for the first time. The other day I walked into the office of a department manager who’d been ducking me for weeks. Unanswered e-mails, unreturned voicemails and missed appointments. My team has been hired by the executive team to do a pilot assessment of his team’s service, and he wasn’t too happy about it. Many times a team and their managers are a little freaked when Mr. or Ms. Big tells them that someone is coming to listen in on their customer conversations.

  • “Oh, great! Big Brother is here!”
  • “What? Do you think we’re bad?”
  • “Someone’s just looking for the dirt to fire us!”
  • “What did I do wrong?”

I get it. It’s not always comfortable doing something new and a bit threatening when you’ve never done it before. And yet, I have almost twenty years doing this for many different companies and many different teams who started out as skeptics and are now long-term partners in better sales, service and even collections. it seems comfortable and easy rolling along without really knowing what’s happening in those moments of truth when your customers are talking to your company. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” they say. But we are all human beings working for human beings dealing with human beings in a system created and maintained by human beings. I therefore have come to trust more in Bob Dylan’s perspective: “Everything is Broken.”  My experience is that with any cusotmer service, sales, or collections team there are things which are broken in the system which could be easily remedied if they are simply identified. But first you have to identify what they are. If you’re not listening, then you might not know something is broken until it’s too late (and no one wants that to happen at any rung of the corporate ladder).

When our team does a first time pilot assessment with a team, we generally start by assessing the whole team. We listen from the customer’s perspective. We don’t care who is who. We don’t identify individual agents. Like the customer, when you call Acme Anvils you don’t care who answers the phone. You’re talking to Acme Anvils. By starting with a blind assessment of the team, we can quickly identify areas that the team needs to improve. There’s no finger pointing, no calling out, no working agreements, and no private converstions in the corner office. There’s just a common issue that the whole team needs to address.

I’m happy to say that the vast majority of our clients, from the front-line to the board room, eventually learn that our Service Quality Assessment benefits everyone from the customer to everyone in the organization who cares about the customer and wants to do a good job. But, I first have to prove it to them and earn their trust. And so, I begin my day.

The Check-Out Line and Hold Button Have Glaring Similarities

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 24:  Travelers wait in lin...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Wall Street Journal had a great article this morning about the science of finding the best check-out line. Within the article, it talked about what happens when you are in queue for a period of time:

Envirosell, a retail consultancy, has timed shoppers in line with a stopwatch to determine how real wait times compared with how long shoppers felt they had waited. Up to about two to three minutes, the perception of the wait “was very accurate,” says Paco Underhill, Envirosell’s founding president and author of the retail-behavior bible “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.”

But after three minutes, the perceived wait time multiplied with each passing minute. “So if the person was actually waiting four minutes, the person said ‘I’ve been waiting five or six minutes.’ If they got to five minutes, they would say ‘I’ve been waiting 10 minutes,'” Mr. Underhill says.

It confirms exactly what we’ve known about customers placed on hold for many years. Put a caller on hold for a minute or two and they typically don’t mind. There’s something that happens, however, between the two and three minute hold. Customers who hit that third minute on hold begin to get anxious. The perceived length of time on hold becomes inflated. They’ve been on hold for just over three minutes but if you ask them they’ll tell you it was ten.

The hold button can be a useful tool to help CSRs avoid dead air or allow CSRs a moment to get information together and confidently prepare their response before addressing the customer. If you leave the customer for too long, however, it’s going to come back to bite you. When using the hold button, remember:

  1. Ask the caller’s permission to place him/her on hold. Customers like to feel that they have control and a say in the service they receive. Forcing the customer to hold or placing a customer on hold without permission runs the risk of the customer feeling they are getting the runaround.
  2. If possible, give the customer a realistic time frame. Many customers feel lied to when a CSR said “Let me put you on hold for a second” only to be gone for three minutes. By telling the customer her or she will be on hold “for a minute or two” is more honest and better manages expectations.
  3. Check back after two minutes. If it’s been two minutes and you’re still working on the issue then return to the line, apologize for the wait, explain that you’re still working on it, and give the customer the option of remaining on hold or receiving a call back in a set period of time.

Call Center managers or supervisors would do well to find a way to give CSRs a two minute countdown timer that starts when they hit the hold button and reminds them when the two minutes has lapsed.

Armed with the knowledge of what we know to be true about customers, we can better manage the process of asking the customer to hold while we serve them.

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Tom’s Best from Iowa Biz

For Service Quality Central subscribers who may be unaware, Tom Vander Well is also the contributing Customer Service writer for the award winning Iowa Biz blog, published by The Des Moines Business Record. Be sure to peruse IowaBiz.com for all the great content. Here are some links to some of Tom’s best posts:

A Little Consideration Goes a Long Way

Our group is currently working with one of our clients on a major overhaul of their quality program.  With projects of this size, it is natural for things to take longer than planned. In a meeting a few weeks ago the discussion came up about when we would go “live” with the new Quality Assessment (QA) scorecard since the original deadline was fast approaching. The initial response was “we don’t see any reason not to implement as scheduled and start evaluating calls right away.” It did not take long, however, for the team to realize that it would be inappropriate for them to start evaluating Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) before they had even told the CSRs what behaviors the new QA scale evaluated. To their credit, the quality team and management chose to miss their deadline, push back implementation, and give their front-line associates the opportunity to learn what the scorecard contained before they began evaluating the agent’s phone calls with the new scorecard.

In retrospect, it seemed an obvious decision. Why wouldn’t you want to give your own associates the consideration to view the QA criteria and have an opportunity to change any necessary behaviors before you analyze their calls? As I thought about it on my drive home, I realized how often I find a lack of consideration in the corporate contact center.

  • Marketing drops a promotion that will generate a spike in calls without ever consulting the contact centre or telling them what the promotion contains.
  • CSRs are given an ultimatum to cut “talk time’ or “average handle time” without anyone taking the time to assess and find out tactical ways to do so (like identifying new shortcuts to commonly requested information, etc.).
  • Changing a policy or procedure, then holding associates accountable before it’s been clearly communicated.
  • IT procures and installs telephony, IVR, call recording, or other system software without consideration of how it will affect the call center’s ability to serve customers.
  • A supervisor or QA team simply gives a CSR his or her “score” (e.g. “You got an 82 on your QA this month”), without any clear documentation regarding which behaviors they missed or a conversation/coaching about how the CSR can alter behavior and improve.
  • Having QA criteria that is so broad and ill defined that a “QA Nazi” supervisor can use it to beat CSRs into submission with their own personally impossible expectations while a “QA Hippie” supervisor can use the same criteria to boost the team’s self-esteem by giving them all “100”s (turning the zeroes into smiley faces, of course).

As we near year end and are looking towards setting goals for 2011, perhaps one goal for all managers should be to identify areas of our process in which we act without consideration for those our actions will affect.

Video Clip: Do What Your Customer’s Love

In this video clip, Tom Vander Well presents to a small group of front-line Call Center Customer Service Representatives (CSRs). He illustrates why doing simply what customers expect may not result in higher levels of customer satisfaction. If you want to improve customer satisfaction, you have to consistently demonstrate on the phone the behaviors and service skills that customer’s love (and may not expect).

With On-Line Chat, a Few Extra Words Go a Long Way

online chat
Image by marioanima via Flickr

Our group goes beyond call monitoring to provide Service Quality Assessment for a client’s e-mail and/or on-line chat communication. The process is virtually the same. We define the key behaviors or service elements that will consistently meet and exceed the customer’s expectations and drive increased satisfaction. They are important, but often overlooked, communication channels. Your email and chat correspondence can make (or break) customer satisfaction just like a phone call. Take my experience today, for example:

Before we were married, I sponsored a child in a third world country through a charitable organization. It’s a great experience and my support quickly became a joint venture as my wife got involved. Her name, however, had never been added to the account. So, while making an on-line donation I noticed that there was an on-line chat option and figured it was a good time to add her name to the account.

Here is a transcript (names changed):

Mitzi: Thank you for contacting ORGANIZATION. How may I assist you today?
Tom: Hi Mitzi. I’m wondering how I can get my wife’s name added to my account. I started sponsorship before I was married, but now we are both involved in sponsoring our child and I’d like her name included.
Mitzi: I am happy to assist you with that!
(I feel like there was about a 4-5 minute wait here) 
Mitzi: What is your wife’s name?
Tom: Wendy.
(I feel like there was another 3-4 minute wait)
Mitzi: I am working on this, just a moment.
(I timed this wait at about 6 minutes)
Mitzi: I submitted the paper work on this. I appreciate your patience.
Tom: Great. Thanks!
(Waited briefly for a response)
Tom: Do I need to do anything else? How long does it take?
Mitzi: You shoul see the change gradually… in the next 4 to 6 weeks everything should have her name on it.
Tom: Wonderful. Thanks for your help!
Mizti: Thank you for chatting with me. I welcome your feedback. Please click here to complete a 15 second survey.

The on-line rep was pleasant, professional and did a nice job.  My issue, as far as I know, has been resolved. It was a good experience, but it wasn’t a great experience. There are a couple of key things that would have left me far more satisfied:

  • Be sensitive to my time. Our customer satisfaction research shows that time related elements (e.g. quickness reaching a rep, answers without being placed on hold, or timeliness of follow up) are a growing driver of customer satisfaction across many customer segments. There were long gaps of time between responses that left me wondering what was happening on the other end. A quick statement to let me know what was going on, or to give me a time frame would have eased my anxiety and impatience.
  • Don’t just tell me what you did; tell me what I can expect. The on-line rep told me that she submitted the paperwork, but I had to guess what that meant. My initial thought was that I might have to wait on-line while it was processed. Rather than anticipating my questions, I was left having to pull it out of her.
  • Courtesy and friendliness are sometimes more important in text than on the phone. CSRs in a call center have the inflection of their voice to communicate a courteous tone, but written communication can take on an abrupt feeling when it’s void of courtesy. Adding a “please” when making a request or using the customers name (especially when they use yours) can turn a black and white exchange into a pleasant conversation.
  • Make sure you’ve answered all my questions. At the end of the chat I was left wondering if it was over. By asking if I had any other questions, it would have clued me in that the issue was resolved while offering to go the extra mile and help with other needs.

Here’s the transcript again, but I’ve rewritten it the way I would have appreciated experiencing it:

Mitzi: Thank you for contacting ORGANIZATION. How may I assist you today?
Tom: Hi Mitzi. I’m wondering how I can get my wife’s name added to my account. I started sponsorship before I was married, but now we are both involved in sponsoring our child and I’d like her name included.
Mitzi: I am happy to assist you with that! And, congratulations on getting married!Please bear with me. It will take a few minutes to access your account and the appropriate forms.
Mitzi: Thanks for waiting, Tom. May I please have your wife’s name?
Tom: Wendy.
Mitzi: Thank you. It will take me 5 minutes or so to fill out the appropriate forms.
Mitzi: Sorry for the delay. I am still working on this, just a moment.
Mitzi: I appreciate your patience. I submitted the paper work on this. You should see the change gradually… in the next 4 to 6 weeks everything should have her name on it.
Tom: Great. Thanks!
Mitzi: Any other questions I can answer for you, Tom?
Tom: No. Wonderful. Thanks for your help!
Mizti: Thank you for chatting with me, and for you and Wendy sponsoring a child. I welcome your feedback. Please click here to complete a 15 second survey.

A few extra words and sentences, properly placed, can turn a cut-and-paste chat experience into one that is personable, friendly, professional and polite.

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