The analysis of the relations between people on a professional level or the relations between a customer and a company.
Every year around this time I find myself reflecting on the months that have passed and what I wish I would have done, not done, done better or done differently. At the risk of appearing like a new-year’s-resolution-gym-rat that is rarely seen past February, I’ll share my list of 2012 professional resolutions to include dumping reports that aren’t used, carving out creative time, looking for best practices in other industries that I can apply, and focusing on preventing the damage caused by not leveraging customer sentiment.
1. To focus on the things that matter. We all have a “to do” list that we likely dread looking at because of its sheer volume / length. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as scratching an item off the list, even if you know it’s not the most important item, or even a value-add item, right? In 2012, I resolve to minimize the number of tasks on my to do list by only including the items that offer insights into the business, add value to my customers or provide direct benefit my organization. The things which are likely to fall off the list in 2012 as a result? Reports that no one looks at, reports that people look at yet do nothing with, and presentation decks that are so repetitive month to month that even I get bored creating them, etc, etc, etc.
2. To be even more militant about customer sentiment. The business partners that I work with often hear me use the phrase “the quantitative data tells you what is happening, the qualitative (customer comments) tell you why.” Customer sentiment cannot be ignored without foregoing the value that is needed for an organization to differentiate itself from competitors. Everyone has customer conversations but they are not analyzed. Many have customer feedback programs that do not include explanations from the customer about the numeric score given. And still more have customer explanations that are not analyzed. Customer Sentiment Analytics is on my list again for 2012, but with an even higher point of focus. This one should definitely be on your list! Continue reading “2012 resolutions for a better working me (take any that you need for your list!)” »
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I competed in my very first body-building competition. Between stage appearances, eating hourly meals and making sure my Oompa Loompa-like tan was intact, the customer-service lessons were hard to miss.
1. Forget agent to supervisor ratios. You need expediters. If you’ve never been backstage at a body-building competition, imagine a large room filled with free-weights, (tan) spraying tents, and fans leading to numerous dressing rooms—all connected by a fine mist of spray tan, Pam oil, hairspray and spray glue, amidst the chaos of dozens of competitors pumping up in preparation for their time on stage. Part of the chaos was likely due to the fact that this was my first show. Some competitors had the process down to a science. I think I even caught one competitor on a yoga mat catching a few moments of Zen. But the clear breaks in the chaos were the expediters, like bright beacons of knowledge and organization. The sole purpose of the expediters was to keep the competitors on track with the flow of the competition, make sure they were in the staging area when needed, and on stage when scheduled. And while there were only three of them (compared to over 90 competitors, plus coaches, trainers and helpers backstage), they seemed to be everywhere and have the answers to every question. If you can’t describe your call center supervisors the same way, you need to re-examine your supervisor selection and training process.
2. It’s all about relationships. When you think about any competition that involves any degree of primping, you probably think you need to keep your finger on the record button of your flipcam so you don’t miss the impending cat fight. Instead, what you would have found were male competitors spotting each other in the pump-up room, women helping each other with make-up and glue, and competitors joking with the MC while on stage. If, as a manager, you can’t recall the last time you genuinely laughed with an agent or left working thinking, “We accomplished a lot today, but we had fun doing it!” your call center is at severe risk for agent burn-out. Continue reading “Six Lessons body-building can teach you about customer experiences.” »
How did we get to the point where the Federal Government plans a hostile takeover of one-sixth of the American economy? Consumers abused their benefits and the providers pushed back to control costs and now insurance providers have secured their very own circle in Hell alongside stock brokers, bankers, ambulance-chasers and telemarketing lawyers. The clues of what was coming were there and we all should have seen it coming.
According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2006, only 18% of Americans are satisfied with the total cost of healthcare and only 44% of Americans are satisfied with the quality of healthcare in America. Another study conducted by Gallup between 2006 and 2008 found that “the United States maintains the third-highest GDP per capita ($48,000) of all OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. However, the relative wealth of the U.S. economy does not necessarily translate into confidence in national healthcare systems. ”
So consumers are unhappy and providers take up the “us versus them” stance and don’t pay attention to the customer experience and resulting satisfaction. And when I say do not pay attention, I mean that it’s not effectively quantified and if it is, the management TO the feedback is flawed. And now we have the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 to address the NOISE in the marketplace. Do you remember how satisfied the Bell Telephone customers were prior to the government stepping in (and breaking up Ma and Pa)? Lily Tomlin as an telephone operator said, “We don’t care! We don’t have to! We’re the phone company!” Do you remember how much noise was heard from customers about their utility? How’s that de-regulation working out? It doesn’t work to be arrogant and not listen to customers with the hope that the noise will not bring negative attention. Continue reading “Healthcare costs set to skyrocket because of call centers, unless…” »
I recently had a small issue with Verizon that I wasn’t able to resolve on the web site. Not a big deal. But when clicked on ‘Contact Us’ and then ‘By Phone’, instead of giving me the phone number, I was met with a pop-up window that said: “We’re sorry…we are not able to process your request.” Great, if you are going to hide the number you need to cough it up when we follow the clicking path to get it! Is this a new call avoidance tactic that I missed? Now my small problem is bigger. Understandably miffed, I relayed this story to a co-worker who had just called Verizon a week prior and had a completely different experience. She said she got right through to a knowledgeable call center agent and after the billing issues were resolved was transferred to another live agent in service to get the phone line checked. She even said how surprised she was that a company so big had such good customer service, while I on the other hand, couldn’t even locate a number to call. Do you worry about the consistency of the customer service experience? Are you protecting your brand by having a uniform calibration process and parameters for evaluating service?
While collecting scores and customer comments for analysis as part of our External Quality Monitoring (EQM) managed services we uncover significantly more than ratings about contact center agents. See what I mean:
“I tried calling your service number and each time it rang once and disconnected me. Talk about poor customer satisfaction.”
“I usually get right to a contact center agent whenever I have service issues but this time when I called I was on hold for 30 minutes. I got so frustrated I finally hung up. What gives?”
“Every time I order from your company my package is delivered quickly but this time it took almost a month and it was damaged. I don’t know what’s going on with your customer service.”
“Last week I was told by Kevin that I would get a form in the mail to request my refund. I didn’t get the form so I called today and was told by Susanne that I am not eligible for a refund and she’s not sure why Kevin told me that I was.”
The success of any Business Intelligence project is contingent upon people, not technology. Analysts and end users must work in concert to ask a concise question, identify the data available to answer that question and, validate interpretation of analytic outputs in context of the business environment. From there, the subject-matter experts (statisticians, data analysts, data miners, etc.) must be allowed the freedom to draw upon their breadth of knowledge and experience to select the best methodology for the job.
I cannot tell you how many times a business unit manager has come up to me and with all of the confidence of a just-learned-to-stand toddler and declared “I need a model!” “Really?” I respond. What type of model? Logistic? Linear? What kind of data do you have for me to work with?, and a plethora of other rather technical questions. My point is that predictive models have been used quite successfully in marketing for many years. In a business environment where “half of the organizations surveyed do not take advantage of analytics to help them target, service, or interact with customers” according to Accenture’s Customer Analytics survey, predictive models have gained the esteem and notoriety akin to Steve Jobs.
The other day I was talking to one of our long-time clients and she said, “Jodie, we’re running out of people that know stuff here.” I hung up the phone and thought simpler and truer words have never been spoken. The skilled-labor shortage is at an all-time high across many industries, and it means we have unqualified people doing jobs they shouldn’t be, semi-qualified folks that aren’t doing as much as they can and jobs that are just plain left vacant because the right candidate can’t be found. So what suffers? The customer relationship! Customers pay the price in large and small ways, in obvious and subtle ways. When billing software isn’t installed and operating properly, company processes are not customer-friendly, and agents answering calls aren’t astute multitaskers, everyone feels the pain. Here’s what some customers had to say:
“I haven’t received an electric bill in over three months and no one at your company can tell me why. What the heck is going on over there?”
“When I called to get information on my order the agent told me to “hang on” because he “wasn’t a computer person” and couldn’t navigate between the order screens quickly. I can’t believe this is who you have answering the phone.
“I went into your store the other day and I asked one of the associates a simple question and she shrugged her shoulders. I asked if there was a supervisor around I could ask and she told me he probably didn’t know either. I took my business elsewhere – that’s for sure!
One of my most-memorable offshore customer-service experiences involves a Fortune 100 direct-to-consumer computer company. My power cord had stopped delivering power to my laptop, making it a fairly large (and expensive) paperweight. I called the toll free number, ordered a new power cord, validated my shipping address and willingly paid for express delivery.
A few days later, still without a power cord, I called the customer service number and was swiftly routed to an agent in the Philippines. Apparently the power cord had been delivered to my previous mailing address, 1,200 hundred miles away. I explained the urgency of this matter and after a period of absolute and deafening silence, the agent wondered if I could pick it up at my old address. Really? How far do you think 1,200 miles is? Eventually he recovered to cite the company policy for returns and exchanges (not really applicable to the situation at hand) and then swiftly transferred me to a supervisor.
When the concept of ‘Empowerment’ is foreign to a culture, it will be useless to your employees
Such experiences are unfortunately not that unusual from customers who have been served offshore. Some of you might find it surprising that my experience was with an organization who gave their offshore call center agents significant decision-making power in resolving customer problems. So why did I not benefit from the impact of agent empowerment? Because empowerment of entry-level employees is so counter to the culture in the Philippines and other popular offshore locations (namely India) that the initiative fails to address the core customer dissatisfier – that customers are talking to people who more than anything want to please, but are too subjugated to take any definitive action to meet those ends. This is the fundamental reason of why off-shoring of service to these countries has largely failed from a customer experience perspective.
Cultural gaps negatively affect customer experiences
Despite the abundance of both quantitative and anecdotal data about the negative aspects of offshore customer service, with foreign labor costs of 1/5 to 1/10 of U.S. costs, offshoring continues to be a popular initiative. A.T. Kearney’s Global Services Location IndexTM (GSLI)analyzes and ranks the top 50 countries worldwide as the best destinations for providing outsourcing activities, including IT services and support, contact centers and back-office support. The 2009 GSLI report revealed a few key findings:
- India still ranks as the number 1 choice for outsourcing, with the Philippines following in second place.
- Emerging “hot destinations” include the Middle East and Africa (Egypt ranked # 6 in the world; Jordan ranked #9; Ghana ranked #15 and Tunisia ranked # 17)
- Countries in areas capitalizing on (close) proximity to the United States include South America and the Caribbean (Chile ranked # 8 in the world; Cost Rica ranked # 23).
The GSLI Index applies a weighting of 40% to financial attractiveness, and 30% to both People Skills and Availability and to Business Environment. The Business environment category includes an assessment of Cultural exposure . From a Customer Experience perspective, it is this cultural exposure or gap that represents the largest risk to the Customer Experience.
The importance of cultural exposure and fit with the customer base served cannot be underestimated. I am reminded of a story someone told me about the company they worked for. They had an offshore call center handling their customer support. A customer called in regarding a malfunction in her dishwasher. The agents involved were unable to understand why this was such an urgent problem and were unable to provide her a solution. When this situation was brought to the attention of the management team, the agents were called in for a meeting. They defended their response by raising their hands and saying, “If the dishwasher is broken, why not use these? What is the problem?” They just didn’t get it.
HofStede’s five cultural dimensions provide insight into the key ways in which cultures differ. Perhaps the best known of these cultural dimensions is the Power Distance Index (PDI) . The PDI describes the degree to which the less powerful members of a culture expect and accept that power is unevenly distributed. This index essentially speaks to how much a culture values and respects authority. In the workplace, an employee from a culture with a high PDI would expect detailed instructions from supervisors, would never question authority and would actively avoid decision-making. In contrast, an employee from a culture with a low PDI would feel more comfortable challenging or critiquing those in power.
The world average PDI is 55. The United States has a PDI of 40, a relatively low Index. This low PDI indicates that while there is a fair degree of power inequality in our culture, we apply less deference to title, class and status than many other countries in the world. In comparison India and the Philippines have PDIs of 77 and 94, respectively. This explains the high degree of frustration American consumers experience when they seek out-of-the-box problem-solving skills from call center agents in the Philippines or India.
Understanding that cultural differences are the source of offshore customer experience discontent, let us examine what a service experience with an agent in the “hot and upcoming” Middle East and Africa or near-shore options of South America and the Caribbean might look like.
South American and Caribbean countries in the top 25 list (GSLI-ranked) include Jamaica (#24), Costa Rica (#23), Brazil (#12), Mexico (#11) and Chile (#8). With the exception of Jamaica and Costa Rica, the remaining countries all posses Power Distance Indices more than 20 points different than that of the United States, representing a significant difference in culture. While Jamaica and Costa Rica may represent the best options for the United States’ future off-shoring needs (Global Services Location Index within top 25; PDI distance from the US of only 5 units / points), the effects of significant differences between these countries’ and the United States’ Individualism and Uncertainty Avoidance Indices must be considered.
Within the top 25-ranked countries (GSLI-ranked), only one African country (Ghana) made the list. Ghana’s PDI of 77 (distance of 37 units from that of the United States) makes it a cultural mis-fit.
So you are probably asking yourself, just as I did, why have so many chosen to outsource call centers to India and the Philippines? One may assume it’s related to numerous reasons from economic incentives to communications infrastructure to the number of English speaking residents to the large percentage of college graduates. It does seem largely evident that the GSLI was not part of the consideration.
1. The Shifting Geography of Offshoring – The 2009 A.T. Kearney Blobal Services Location IndexTM http://www.atkearney.com/index.php/Publications/global-services-location-index-gsli-2009-report.html
Work-at-Home Agents Damage Net Promoter and Customer Satisfaction. Is this Preventable? A Call Center Case Study
The remote agent model is compelling for many reasons – from elimination of the cost of physical work space, to decreased employee attrition and the higher caliber of employee that can be hired once geographical limitations disappear. At the recent Frost & Sullivan Customer Contact 2010 Event, Michael DeSalles, Strategic Analyst of Contact Centers stated, ‘It is estimated that the work at home agent model is growing by 40% annually’. Attrition among work at home agents is only 10% compared to attrition rates of nearly 50% in typical call centers. The ability to fill agent positions with individuals who have college degrees (80% of work at home agents do) and management experience while reducing overhead is an intriguing proposition to many organizations.
We recently covered this case study during our quarterly Customer Insight to Actions (CIA) user group meeting. As an applied Business Intelligence services firm we deliver actionable insights and best practices from data that is mined from voice of the customer, voice of the employee, and call center performance metrics. This case study was shared anonymously by one of our business partners after they deployed a call center remote agent model.
In the graph below, from the beginning, you see that the wok-at-home call center agents performed worse when customer’s rated the likelihood to recommend the company after their service experience (Net Promoter). The call center began working on correcting their work at home agent model as a result of this business intelligence soon after deployment but as you see recovery has been slow.
Here you get a similar perspective by looking at performance with call center agent satisfaction.
So why did net promoter scores and customer satisfaction drop when one call center sent their top-performing agents home to work? Despite significant planning to address the technological challenges of remote workers, this call center quickly discovered the down-side of their work at home call center agent model. Previously top-performing agents struggled to maintain even average-level performance.
As a result of their re-engineering of their work-at-home agent model the call center considered many things not previously considered.
A few items you may consider are:
1. Have we selected the right employees: The ability to perform well in your call center may not guarantee a high performance level will be maintained once the agent goes home to work. When selecting remote agents, certainly job competence has to be a key factor, but is it the only factor to consider? Do the agents that are effective in working from remote locations share similar characteristics? Additionally:
- Are they the self-motivated ones that strive to out-perform their peers and their own historical performance because of the satisfaction it brings them, not the praise they may receive from others?
- Are these the “low maintenance” call center agents? Do the supervisors give them little supervision or direction to complete their job responsibilities. Will this still be true when they work-at-home?
- Do these call center agents typically learn new systems, platforms or programs quicker than others? Do they have a natural interest in technology and can therefore help (not impede) remote trouble-shooting?
2. Do you need a different set of expectations? Is one of the key factors to a successful remote agent model consistency of customer experience? A customer should not be able to tell whether an agent is working from an office with dozens of other call center agents around him / her or in a home office. Of course, no dogs, screaming children, deliveries, plumbers or televisions in the background. Do the call center agents realize that the ability to work from home is a privilege – a privilege that is contingent on them maintaining a high level of performance?
3. Do you need a different plan for coaching & training? Is simply requiring that remote agents dial into regular office training sessions sufficient? Much like face-to-face training, does remote training need to be designed to teach individuals in all of the different ways in which they learn – by sound, by visual instruction and by tactile experience (doing while training)?
4. Do you need mandatory in-office events to keep agents engaged and entrenched in company culture? This consideration was the most controversial among with participants of the CIA Meeting, as it requires companies to limit their recruitment to within 40-50 miles of the company’s location. Proponents of this approach cited the ability to have remote agents work from an office location in the event of internet, phone or electricity outage, as well as the opportunity to maintain engagement through regular face-to-face contact. Do you need this?
The findings from our user group meeting case study discussion were not to construct the perfect call center at-home-agent model. Instead, it was meant to provoke thought. Because one thing is certain, you must think in a totally different manner than you are used to when designing an at-home agent model. If you don’t, the risk of failure is high and the road to recovery is long.
 Michael DeSalles, Strategic Analyst, Frost & Sullivan – April 19, 2010