For External Relationships

Concerning relationships with those outside the four walls of your organization, namely your customers.

Do you need Steve Jobs to do your Call Center Analytics?

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.

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Can I trust that you’ll callback? Your integrity is on the line

Who doesn’t love call-ahead seating at restaurants to guarantee immediate seating upon arrival?  The concept that restaurants created a service allowing me to be expected at the hostess station and be quickly taken to a table tells me that the restaurant understands the value of a dining experience and, by proxy, that they value my business.  A true enhancement to the customer experience! Living my life in the call center space is a customer-service-oriented blessing (or curse depending on the day) that directs me to appreciate gestures that value me as a customer.  A fundamental principle that makes me use this service is rooted in the fact that I trust it to work.  I trust that when I make the call and then drive to the location, I will be on the list.

So, when I was sitting in a recent meeting with a business partner listening to a discussion about the implementation of virtual queuing (also known as automated callback service), I was reminded of my call-ahead seating option.  The call center management team had many reasons to be interested in virtual queues, from enhancing the customer experience to making more effective use of their human capital.  They took the time to present each reason during the meeting (with supporting charts).  Continue reading

Listen to the voice of your customers when they say, “Get the Basics Right First”

Lately I have found that too many organizations are jumping on the social media bandwagon before ever mastering the basics of serving customers.  The result is an incompatible experience that leaves customers wondering about an organization’s priorities.

Earlier this week I was reviewing my insurance bill and was surprised to find it had nearly doubled.   Those of you who know me, know that I drive “with personality”, but I had not been fined recently for my driving style, so there was no reason for the premium increase.  I called my insurance agent and was informed that according to their records I had acquired another vehicle.  Part of me was very curious to find out what I’d purchased (I hope it’s a Mustang!!).  The more pragmatic side of me was quite concerned.  It turned out that “I” had acquired an automobile the exact same year, make, model and color of the car I already own – how boring. I should note that this insurance agency sends me a card each year on my birthday, meets with me annually to review my insurance needs, sends me quarterly electronic newsletters, has its own Facebook page, and yet it’s employees find a creative new way to mispronounce my name every time we meet. 

Companies need to take a few steps back from the glitz and the glam of social media and really examine how they are doing on the fundamentals.  Billing is one of those basics that must be done right the first time.  What the impact of this billing debacle to our relationship?  I’m wondering if anyone’s paying attention to the important stuff.  I find myself irked by little things that would have not even occurred to me before this incident and now I’m poised to quickly escalate if this billing error is not corrected next month.  In short – I’m scrutinizing the relationship and even my choice of insurers.  What is the impact of failing to send me a birthday card?  None.  Nada.  I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.  A single negative event can knock an otherwise content customer down a few levels on the loyalty ladder, so organizations need to stay ahead of such incidents by ensuring that they’ve mastered the basic before expanding into new ways of engaging with their customers such as social media:

1.     Money is important – to customers and to organizations.  For many of our business partners, the concept of money is tracked in customer surveys by classifying the data as “Billing-related”.  Thus far in 2010, those with the ability to segment feedback into the “Billing” type know that 23% of all call center contacts are related to billing inquiries.  Banking customers have enjoyed the ability to set up automated alerts for large withdrawals, low balances, overdrafts and the like for a number of years now.  Why not use the same logic to alert customers if their bills change more than expected based on forecasts, historical spend, seasonality, etc.?  As an organization you can choose to allocate resources to being proactive on behalf of your customers or you can allocate even more resources to solving problems you created while angry customers yell at your delegates.

2.     People are fairly predictable creatures.  Make it easy for your customers to get the information they’re looking for.  Every call center has a handful of questions to which answers can be recited by agents in their sleep.  Put those FAQs prominently on your website, include answers to these questions in your welcome calls / packets and play them in your IVR messaging (and if you can’t / won’t play them in your IVR, for gosh-sakes please don’t make you customers feel like they need a degree in abnormal psychology to get through your IVR).

3.     Think one step ahead.  As much as I hate to repeat myself, people are predictable.   If a customer calls to ask what their deductible is, they likely have no idea what their co-insurance percentage is either.   If a customer admits to not knowing what the transmission fee is on their utility bill, chances are they’re also unaware of what the generation fee is and why they’re being charged for it.  Answer your customer’s immediate question as simply and completely as possible and then offer to answer the question they’re likely to have the minute they hang up the phone.

4.     Do what you say you’re going to do (a.k.a – don’t lie to your customers).   Customers would rather be told the truth than some too-good-to-be-true tale.  Sure, there is a chance that they won’t like what they hear and that they will go comparison shopping.  But if your customer leaves your organization for a competitor, at least they will remember you fondly and speak of your honest business practices instead of spreading the horrors of your deception all over the blogsphere.  If your customer experience measurement suggests that delegates of your organization are setting unrealistic expectations about your product / service and/or failing to take accountability for customer issues, you may consider incorporating and honesty and accuracy criteria into your quality monitoring form that has some teeth to it.  Your agents should be more fearful of being caught lying to a customer than losing one.

If you have not already taken the social plunge, now is a good time to ensure you have the basics in place before you do so.  Your customers will appreciate the attention you’ve dedicated to serving them and your satisfaction scores will reflect it.  Of course if you’ve already executed your social strategy, it’s never too late to place yourself under the microscope to examine the way you do business and the message your approach is sending to your customers. 

Photo Credit: MessageWorks Communications

Rev Up Your FCR Rate

This guest blog post is written by Greg Levin, author of Full Contact.  He has been researching, reporting on and satirizing contact centers and customer care since 1994.

First-contact resolution has been a hot call center metric for years now. There are white papers and articles galore on the topic, and entire conferences and online forums dedicated to it. Most telling is that numerous managers have gotten “FCR Forever” and/or “One and Done” tattooed on their necks.

The majority of conversations about FCR center around two things: 1) the huge potential impact of FCR (on operational costs, customer satisfaction and agent satisfaction/retention); and 2) how the hell to measure this mega-metric accurately (no simple task, as you’ll see in my upcoming ebook, Full Contact).

What often gets lost amidst the FCR hype and the confusion surrounding its proper measurement is something even more critical: What processes, practices and tools a contact center can put in place to help improve FCR. Customers don’t care if you know how to measure FCR, they simply want you to achieve it. Following is a list of tactics to help you do just that:

Excellent agent training and tools. If your agents lack skills, knowledge and/or immediate access to key information on calls, your FCR rate is going to be lower than the average winter temperature in Greenland or the average morale level in a billing contact center. Top centers provide comprehensive new-hiring training to rookies and frequent ongoing training to veteran agents, forever keeping staff abreast of new products/services, information and approaches to help them provide the most efficient and effective service. In addition, these centers equip agents with user-friendly, fast and frequently updated desktop tools and knowledge bases that enable staff to find crucial customer data and product/service info a flash, thus reducing the number of times customers must be placed on hold, transferred, called back, or physically restrained.

World-class workforce management processes. Even the best-trained and equipped agents on the planet will die without oxygen, thus it’s critical to schedule enough staff to enable each agent to take at least two breaths between calls. Agents can’t resolve calls if they are having a stroke, or if the customer – who has been caged in the queue for 15 minutes – is screaming at them for taking so long to answer the phone. Thus, accurate forecasting and sound scheduling based on those forecasts is critical, as is mastering skills-based routing so that callers get sent to the right agent with the skill-set to handle the customer’s specific issue, and not to Bob – the quiet guy in the corner cubicle who makes paperclip sculptures of his mother.

No conflicting performance objectives. Many contact centers tell agents to focus on FCR, but then pressure them to achieve strict productivity objectives that interfere with agents’ ability to truly focus on the customer. Conflicting performance objectives are the number-one cause of agent-on-manager violence in America. Making FCR a KPI in your center but then punishing agents for not handling a certain number of calls per hour/shift or for going a little over the desired AHT average will not only hinder your center’s chances of achieving FCR success and customer satisfaction, it may result in you being killed or worse by furious frontline staff.

Incentives around FCR goal achievement. It’s always a wise practice to align agent incentives with the contact center’s and the enterprise’s performance goals. And since FCR success should be a top priority for nearly all customer care organizations, nearly all customer care organizations should reward and recognize agents when they consistently meet or exceed individual, team and center-wide FCR goals. Top contact centers do more than just order pizzas or pat staff on the back to celebrate current and propagate future FCR success; rather agents in these centers receive cash prizes, meaningful gifts/gift certificates, as well as public recognition at interdepartmental meetings and via internal newsletters/the corporate intranet. In addition to incentivizing and rewarding agents for FCR success, some centers de-incentivize and punish agents for FCR failure. This typically includes taking cash and gifts away from agents, publically humiliating them at meetings and via newsletters/the intranet, and forcing them to spend an hour alone in a room with somebody from IT.

Agents empowered to improve FCR-related processes.  Your agents know customers and customer care better than anyone, assuming your center’s hiring and training programs don’t blow. Smart contact center managers actively solicit suggestions and insight from agents regarding how they may be able to enhance FCR performance. Given the opportunity, agents will tell you what tools, training and workflows are lacking, and what processes and metrics are interfering with their ability to effectively resolve customer issues. They will also tell you what color they would like the contact center to be painted and why they need a new headset that doesn’t shock their ears, so be sure to cut them off before they stray too far from the topic of FCR.

I’d love to hear some of your ideas on FCR improvement, and/or about any tattoos you have gotten to show your dedication to this key metric.

Read more: http://www.greglevin.com/index.html

Greg can also be reached via twitter @greg_levin

Photo Credit: www.callcentercomics.com

Don’t assume with FCR, ask

The financial calculations behind the First Call Resolution (FCR) issue are simple to calculate if you have the proper variables.  To provide a valid response to the cost of repeat calls, a real-time customer feedback program is needed.  Call centers must measure the effectiveness of the service delivery and the customers’ perception of call resolution immediately after the service interaction.  The cost assessment will not be accurate without the voice of the customer.  Customers should evaluate the service received on a call that includes, among other things, overall company, call and agent satisfaction, whether the call is about a problem, first call about the problem and was the problem resolved on that particular call.

Real-time surveys can effectively capture the information you need to combat the cause of the repeat calls.  For those who had a problem that was not resolved on the call, the survey has to branch to an open-ended question to capture the customer’s description of the problem.  This qualitative information adds the explanation to the dramatic quantitative information you now have available.  The cause of the unresolved calls is invaluable to correcting process issues.

Many call centers have employed technology and manual solutions to help them answer their FCR rate question.  Some of these solutions cost thousands of dollars to implement.  But not one of them can answer the question better than the customer.  Reviewing phone records and running a software application is the ultimate beating around the bush in this case.  Stop trying to get to your FCR rate via the back door.  The customer is the one experiencing the pain, so go to the source.

Do not make the mistake of underestimating the effect of repeat calls on your call center and your company.  Customers are willing to accept and forgive the occurrence of a problem and increase their level of loyalty with a successful resolution but they will not tolerate repeat calls to resolve the same issue.  Don’t believe me…ask them.

Still struggling with FCR?  Find out how you can improve First Call Resolution now!

You hate your spouse’s selective hearing so why do it to your customers?

Earlier this week I attended a city council public hearing regarding the 2011 annual budget in my current hometown of Omaha, NE.  I won’t bore you with the details of why and how Omaha came to have a $33.5 million budget deficit, but needless to say residents had some very strong opinions about the proposed solutions – increased property & wheel taxes and a 4.4% gross proceeds tax on restaurants.

Residents overfilled city hall and shared intimate stories of loss, hardship and frustration.  They took time out of their day to express their opinions and provide unique insights into their lives  – much like your customers do every day.

What was surprising to me was the veritable wall of silence and ignorance with which these opinions were met.  I understand that the purpose of such public hearings is to collect (not share) opinions, but the blank stares on the faces of a number of council members told me that for some, this was not a research effort designed to elicit a better plan for the city’s future but simply an exercise in futility for the attendees.  They asked because they had to ask.  How many of your customers would describe your customer experience research in the same way?

Are you listening AND engaging your customers?

In order for your Customer Experience evaluation to truly be an effective listening post for your organization, customers must feel that your organization values their input and plans to take their input into consideration at critical decision points.  You can convey this to your customers in many ways:

  1. Tell customers why their input is important when you invite them to participate in your survey–Customer Relationship Metrics’ business partners vary widely in the places and ways in which they inform customers of the availability of a survey.  Some business partners play an IVR message about the survey to all customers, some play an IVR message for a randomly-selected portion of customers, some rely on their call center agents to inform and invite customers to participate in the survey.  Regardless of the approach you have chosen to take, the way you phrase the invitation has a lot to do with the response rate you receive.  If you take the time to inform customers why their feedback is important and/or how it will be used, customers will be more likely to take valuable time out of their day to provide their feedback.  Customer Relationship Metrics can work with you to design a survey invitation test to determine which invitation appeals most to your customer-base.
  2. Follow-up on survey alerts (and be timely about it)– When customers do take the time to complete a survey and they request follow-up from management it is imperative that management take action.  And swiftly take action.  Failure to do so indicates to customers that your organization is either not paying attention to customer feedback or worse; that your organization doesn’t care about the customer’s experience.  If you value the feedback you receive from customers, make it someone’s job to follow-up on the real-time alerts.  These alerts are not just complaints, they are a goldmine of opportunity to convert another customer into a loyal missionary for your brand.  I saw a fantastic tweet on twitter recently that is spot on true, “Engagement builds loyalty! Some of the most passionate brand advocates are satisfied former complainers” (@KnowledgeBishop, Tristan David Bishop).  Let’s face it, the minute your customer stops complaining you’ve already lost them. 
  3. Tout your own customer service achievements – If focus on the customer experience is not a new concept to you and you’ve been doing the work (not just talkin’ the talk), many of your customers may be spoiled by your efforts.  As you’ve improved over the years, their level of expectation has climbed.  It’s time to shake them up and remind them of how great it’s been to work with you.  If you’ve recently won a service award, if you ranked well in an industry benchmark study, tell your customers about it – in your IVR, in your bill inserts, on your website, and on Twitter! 
  4. Tell your customers how their feedback has helped shape your organization – Most importantly, if you have been recognized for your customer satisfaction efforts, remember to thank your customers for making it all possible.  It is after all their feedback that led to your organizations’ recognition.

Avoid Call Center Schizophrenia from Pay for Performance – Part 2 of a 2-Part Blog Series

Whenever I have an opportunity to visit a business partner’s call center, I take a few minutes to conduct a rather un-scientific test, call it morbid curiosity.  As I pass by cubicles and am introduced to call center staff, I always ask how agent performance is assessed.  To me, the variety of responses I hear speaks volumes and perhaps helps explain the responses I get from call center agents when I pose the exact same question. Typical responses are a shrug of the shoulders, a shaking of the head and a quick glance to co-workers for reinforcement.  They don’t know, feel they cannot explain the complexities or simply don’t remember.

Call center agents are expected to know and retain more and more information in today’s complex business environments.  Unfortunately, our short-term and working memory capacities have not increased to accommodate this environment.  Agents are also expected to generate customer perceptions that the service was excellent while managing the call to the operational metrics.  Talk about feeling committed…to an asylum! 

If you want your agents to feel less like they NEED to be committed but rather be committed to the customer experience, keep in mind and act in accordance with the very basics of their job expectations.  And be clear about those expectations.  One business partner I visited earlier in 2010 had their KPIs updated in real-time on dozens of flat screens in the call center.  Another business partner created banners as a colorful reminder of the quarter’s call center initiatives.  Great ideas because the agents understood why the KPIs were important, what impact they individually have on them and how they benefit from effectively performing to these.  Don’t assume this is the case without testing your assumption.

A balanced scorecard can serve as a visual cue for agent success.  Well-designed balanced scorecards are typically made up of four parts:

1.  Metrics by which performance will be assessed,

2.  Performance objectives for each metric,

3.  Weighting applied to each metric (an indication of relative importance), and

4.  An individual agent’s performance on each metric.

Selecting performance metrics

Traditionally, call centers have managed performance based on the goal of operational efficiency.  We see this drive for efficiency continue today through the management of call center agents to metrics like average handle time, number of calls handled, after call work, etc.  While these are very important metrics, the fallacy is in managing a call center to only these internally-focused metrics.  Customers do not care how much time an agent has to spend filling out paper-work or electronic forms after the call ends.  Rather they care that an agent is available within a reasonable amount of time when they call.   Customers care even less about how long they need to spend on the phone with a (single) call center agent, as long as the problem has been resolved with that call.  A 30-minute call might end with a delighted customer, a frazzled call center manager and a very confused agent.  Are you seeing the disposition toward schizophrenia now? 

The key to success is in selecting a variety of metrics that speak to the customer experience and balancing them with the business need for efficiency (we will speak more about this balance when we talk about scorecard weighting).  Best-in-class business partners also incorporate other data sources into their agent scorecards such as internal quality monitoring data, chat, text, SMS and email data, etc.

 

Setting performance objectives

We’ve all been in situations where a goal was picked out of thin-air by a well-intentioned executive and then carved into stone for us to follow.  In the absence of this scenario, the best set goals are based on actual historical performance.  Important elements to consider in setting performance goals are:

  • Mean or Median? (measures of central tendency)- In order to set a goal for future performance, we must first have an understanding of how we’ve performed in the past.  Measures of central tendency indicate the point on a performance continuum where the members of a group or dataset tend to gather.  While the mean (often referred to as the average) is more widely-reported in call centers, it is most useful in groups whose performance is relatively normal (normal from a statistical standpoint, that is).  A normal distribution is one in which a majority of group member performance is centered around the middle of the performance continuum and the distribution of performance is perfectly symmetrical to the right and left– in short, a bell curve.  Unfortunately, this type of distribution is not typical of call center performance.  As such, the median (the point at which half of the group’s members fall above and below) may be a better way to determine how the call center “typically” performs on any given metric. 

 

  • Time frame of historical data– Having decided whether the mean or median will be the most appropriate statistic for determining a baselineof past performance, we must now define a time frame to represent history.  At bare minimum, Customer Relationship Metrics recommends that at least three months of data be used to minimize the impact of anomalies in performance and non-normative events impacting performance.  Ideally, a larger time frame would be used which encompasses all stages of a company’s business cycle or seasons (1 year).  The danger in using more than a single year of historical data to establish a performance baseline is the possibility of negating or underplaying recent performance gains – essentially making the performance goal too easy to achieve.

 

  • Predicting the future – Once a historical baseline of performance has been established, the same data set can then be used to make predictions about future performance (statistical modeling).  Performance objectives can then be based around those predictions.  Some business partners have also found some success if applying a 5% to 7% “lift” to historical performance and using that lift as the performance goal for the following year.   

 

Metric weighting

The weighting applied to each metric on a scorecard indicates its relative importance to the call center and to the larger organization.  Before arbitrarily applying weighting or points to each metric, think about the organizational goals that have been set for the fiscal year and the ways in which the call center contributes to these goals.  Doing so will help you make the first critical decision – whether to focus on the customer’s experience or on organizational costs.  Weighting within each category of metrics (operational vs. customer experience, etc.) can then be determined based on the degree of impact each metrics has on the category outcome (ex: issue resolution has a higher impact on customer experience than courtesy, so issue resolution should have a higher point or weighting allocation associated with it).

 

Individual agent performance

If one of your goals in implementing a balanced agent scorecard is to keep agents informed about their performance and incite healthy competition, ensuring that your agents have ready access to accurate scorecards will be a key determinant in the success of the initiative. 

During one of my recent visits to a business partner, I took my usual walk through the call center and was quite pleased to see the number of agents who were logged in to Customer Relationship Metrics’ MPM real-time agent scorecards.  MPM (Metrics Performance Manager) is a reporting tool that Customer Relationship Metrics uses as part of our applied business intelligence services to gather data from disparate sources.  We’ve found that one of the outputs of this reporting tool that can be very motivating to agents are the scorecards.  In this call center, agents were actively managing their own performance and receiving immediate feedback from the system about the changes they were making to their interactions with customers.  Feedback from the ACD about their efficiency, feedback from customer satisfaction surveys, feedback from the Quality Assurance team are all in a single location, updated in real-time.  Imagine the burden you would remove from your supervisors if your agents were that tuned-in to their own performance!

The road to customer acquisition: paved with good intentions but undermines retention

road arrowsYesterday, I received an email offer from a company I have been a customer with for over 5 years.  “Sign up today!  All new customers receive free shipping on any purchase.”  I opened the email and it contained additional savings for their ‘new customers’, such as 40% off certain items and free $25 gift certificates if they spent $50 or more.  Ouch.  These incentives are far better than the ones I have ever received after being a loyal customer for years.  I wish that I didn’t feel like a second-class citizen.

Where is the CRM?

Communicating to existing customers about becoming a new customer is certainly an issue here.  When I first saw the email, I thought to myself “oops” on their part.  But the greater “oops” here is that they apparently don’t know their customers from their prospects.  How can companies communicate with their existing customer base if they don’t have a proper Customer Relationship Management system in place?  There are some companies and some CRM systems that do it better than others, but the reality is, there are solutions out there that can prevent such an “oops” from happening.  The investment in CRM solutions is not only to manage customer engagement, but there are important preventive benefits as well.

Getting to know you….getting to know all about you…

The fact is, we communicate differently to existing customers versus prospective customers.  Existing customers realize that they are just one of a million, but they still want to feel that they are one IN a million to you.  The communication to them should be geared toward their value.  It should be personalized and invoke feelings of familiarity and warmth.  This drives loyalty and ultimately advocacy.  Just recently, I received a sale email from one of the retail stores I shop frequently.  The deals offered were fantastic and I clicked on a few items I liked and added them to my online shopping bag.  Before making my purchase I got distracted by other things and eventually shut down the computer.  Two days later, I received an email from the retail store “Come back: your shopping bag is waiting for you”.  When I opened the email it read:

“Hi Jodie, Just a friendly reminder… Since many of our popular items sell out quickly, we are holding these items in your shopping bag.  Come back soon to place your order.” 

When I scrolled through the email, I saw the images of the items I had selected.  Wow!  Not only a reminder to get the sale, but customer assistance in that they actually held the items for me.  I did want the items, and it honestly did just slip my mind, so yes, I made my purchase (and told my friends about how happy I was to receive the reminder.)

CTA-big-data-dysfuntion-assessmentThe backlash when existing customers discover better incentives for new customers

As a business owner myself, I fully understand the need to grow your customer base.  Often times, organizations offer great incentives to attract and entice new customers so they can ‘hook and reel’ them in.  Makes perfect sense.  However, the problem occurs when your existing customer finds out that they are actually better off not being a customer at all.  While it’s important for an organization to experience growth and practice new ways of obtaining it, retention should never be overlooked nor should it take the back seat.  Getting back to my initial “oops”, why would organizations give better offers to new customers versus existing ones?  Are all of my old dollars not as strong as someone else’s new ones?  In the age of social media, let’s face it customers talk to one another.   Even if I had not received the email indicating such great incentives to “sign up today,” the likelihood that I would have discovered the same incentive through another channel is highly probable.

The better choice for this company would be to highlight the great offer for new customers AND the even better offer to those who have been loyal patrons for years.  Grab a new customer and show them that there are more incentives down the road in the relationship instead of just cultivating “offer jumpers”.  This is a far better approach versus having the retention team reach out and try to slap a band aid on the “boo-boo” after the fact.  Sure, this could be one of those barriers that are “just enough to cause indifference” and maybe even for some “small enough to forgive”, but is that the risk organizations are willing or better yet, able to take?

Hey CFO, where will you outsource to now?

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.

CTA-frost-and-sullivan-application-of-the-yearWhen 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, off-shoring 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 [1].  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) [2].  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.

References

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

2.  http://www.geert-hofstede.com/

4 Steps to Overcome Being a Pain in the Ass Call Center

Through real world best practices, part 3 – the final chapter in this three-part series – highlights a few “how to” steps on overcoming barriers and become less of a Pain In The Ass (PITA) to your customers.  It begins with four vital questions…

 Step 1:  Answer some questions.

According to W. Edwards Deming, the father of the quality evolution, “workforces are only responsible for 15% of Continue reading

How do you know you are a Pain in the Ass to Customers?

Yesterday, I put it out there regarding a PITA and the barriers in doing business with organizations.  In Part 2 of our 3-part series, it’s time to find out how you uncover that you are a PITA complete with customer barriers.  I’ll share the high level details of a case study where we uncovered a major barrier with a business partner.  This barrier was such a large pain in the ass (PITA) that it was significantly affecting the brand. Continue reading

Are you a Pain in the Ass Call Center?

We all have someone in our life that is difficult to deal with or just plain obnoxious.  Maybe it’s a neighbor or a sister in-law or even an employee.  Whoever it is, we often leave a conversation with them thinking, “wow, he is a real pain in the you-know-what!”  He’s a P.I.T.A. or otherwise known as a Pain In The Ass.  For me, it’s my cousin Debbie.  Don’t get me wrong; she’s my family and I love her, but she’s one of those people who is never happy, complains about everything and loves to make things difficult for others…a real P.I.T.A.  Continue reading

7 Call Center Survey Rules to Live by

How do we ensure that customer experience results are a profitable business process in the call center and elsewhere in the organization? To increase the value of the initiative, be certain that the research is done the right way, and not only done for the sake of surveying customers.  Note that customer feedback results will be used by colleagues regardless of the number of caveats listed in the footnotes, so be diligent in providing valid and credible customer intelligence from your contact center.  The consequences of a poor measurement program and inaccurate reporting can have profound and far-reaching effects on your credibility in the organization.

Put another way, are you guilty of survey malpractice by giving your company faulty information based on inadequate research methods and interpretations?

Malpractice is a harsh word — it directly implies professional malfeasance through negligence, ignorance or intent.  Doctors and other professionals carry insurance for malpractice in the event that a patient or client perceives a lack of professional competence.  For contact center professionals and other managers, there is no malpractice insurance to fall back on for acts of professional malfeasance, whether they’re intentional or not.  Of course, it is much more likely that one would be fired than sued for bad acts, but that offers little comfort.

Never put yourself in a position where your competence can be called into question.  That’s why so many call center managers are “skating on thin ice” when it comes to their customer satisfaction measurements: there are demonstrable failings with many of the typical practices used by call center managers.  By definition, an ineffective measurement program generates errors from negligence, ignorance and/or intentional wrongdoing. You have a fiduciary responsibility to your company — and recommendations made based on erroneous customer data do, indeed, meet the definition of malpractice.

Measurement programs must meet certain scientific criteria to be statistically valid with an acceptable confidence level and level of precision or tolerated error.  Without these considerations, you are guilty of survey malpractice.  Defending your program with statements like, “it has always been done this way” or “we were told to do a survey” is not sufficient.  Research guidelines adhered to in academia apply to the business world, as well.  A deficient survey yields inaccurate data and results in invalid conclusions no matter who conducts it.  Unnecessary pain and expense are the natural outgrowths of such errors of judgment.

To maximize the return on investment (ROI) for the EQM customer measurement program, and to ensure that the program has credibility, install the science before collecting the data.  Make sure that the initial program setup is comprehensive.  If there is no research expert on staff, then hire this out to a well-credentialed expert.  The alternative is to train someone in the science around creating and interpreting the gap variable from a delayed measurement.  Or better still; engage a qualified expert to design a program to measure customer satisfaction immediately after the contact center interaction.

Before assuming that survey malpractice does not or will not apply to your program, consider the following tell-tale signs of errors and biases, as they are critical to a good program.

1.  Measuring too many things. Your survey of a five-minute call center service experience takes the customer 15 minutes to complete and includes 40 questions.  While everyone in your organization has a need for customer intelligence, you should not be fielding only one survey to get all of the answers.

Should the call center be measuring satisfaction with the in-home repair service, the accounting and invoicing process, the latest marketing campaign, or the distribution network? Certainly input on these processes is necessary, but don’t try to get it all on a single survey.

2.  Not measuring enough things. An overall satisfaction question and a question about agent courtesy do not make a valid survey.  Without a robust set of measurement constructs, answers to questions will not be found.  Three or four questions will not facilitate a change in a management process; nor will they enable effective agent coaching or be considered a valid measure to include in an incentive or performance plan.

3.  Measuring questions with an unreliable scale. In school, everyone agreed on what tests scores meant: 95 was an A, 85 was a B, and 75 was a C.  Everything in between has its own mark associated with it, as well.  Yet, when it comes to service measurement, we tend to give customers limited responses.  What do the categories excellent, good, fair and poor really mean? Offering limited response options does not permit robust analysis, and statistical analysis is often applied incorrectly.  In addition, using a categorical scale or a scale that is too small (like many typical 5-point survey questions) is not adequate for the evaluation of service delivery.

4.  Measuring the wrong things or the right things wrong. Surveys should not be designed to tell you what you want to hear, but rather what you need to hear.  Constructs that are measured should have a purpose in the overall measurement plan.  Each item should have a definitive plan for use within the evaluation process.  The right things to measure will focus on several overall company measures that affect your center (or your center’s value statement to the organization), the agents and issue/problem resolution.

5.  Asking for an evaluation after memory has degraded. When we think about time, 24 to 48 hours doesn’t seem that long.  But when you’re measuring customer satisfaction with your service, it’s the difference between an accurate evaluation and a flawed one.  Do you remember exactly how you felt after you called your telephone company about an issue? Could you accurately rate that particular experience 48 hours later, after other calls to the same company or other companies have been made? That’s what you’re asking your customers to do when you delay measurement.  It opens the door to inaccurate reporting and compromised decision-making, and is also an unfair evaluation of your agents.

Conducting follow-up phone calls to gather feedback about the center’s performance is a common pitfall.  While the research methodology certainly should have its place in the company’s research portfolio, it’s less effective than using point-of-service, real-time customer evaluations.

Mail and phone surveys are useful for research projects that are not tactical in nature, but rather focused on the general relationship, product feature, additional options, color, etc.

6.  Wiggle room via correction factors. If you’re using correction factors to account for issues in the data or to placate agents or the management team, some aspect of the survey design is flawed.   A common adjustment is to collect 11 survey evaluations per agent and delete everyone’s lowest score.  However, with a valid measurement that includes numeric scores, as well as explanations for scores and a rigorous quality control process, adjustments in the final scores will not be necessary.   Making excuses for the results or allowing holes to be poked in the effort diminishes and undermines the effectiveness of the program, and highlights an opening for survey malpractice claims.

7.   Accuracy and credibility of service providers and product vendors. As with any technology or service, the user assumes responsibility for applying the correct tool, or applying the tool correctly.

There are plenty of home-grown or vendor-supplied tools to field a survey, but, again, if you do not apply the functionality correctly, you will be responsible for the error.  Keep in mind that some service providers are only interested in selling you something that fits into their cookie-cutter approach, and it will not be customized to your specific requirements.

~ Dr. Jodie Monger, President

This post is part of the book, “Survey Pain Relief.”  Why do some survey programs thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of success? In “Survey Pain Relief,” renowned research scientists Dr. Jodie Monger and Dr. Debra Perkins, tackle numerous plaguing questions.  Inside, the doctors reveal the science and art of customer surveying and explain proven methods for creating successful customer satisfaction research programs.

“Survey Pain Relief” was written to remedy the $billions spent each year on survey programs that can be best described as survey malpractice.  These programs are all too often accepted as valid by the unskilled and unknowing.  Inside is your chance to gain knowledge and not be a victim of being lead by the blind.  For more information http://www.surveypainrelief.com/

“Survey” Photo Credit: The University of York www.york.ac.uk/…/training/gtu/staff/cros.htm

Avoid Call Center Schizophrenia from Pay for Performance – Part 1 of a 2-Part Blog Series

A few weeks ago, I was reading an interesting article about schizophrenia.  It talked about the statistics, symptoms and treatment for this terrible disease.  At first I was alarmed by the recent research numbers, an estimated 3.2 million Americans suffer from this mental illness.  Wow.  As I read on, I learned that four types of “delusions” exist in schizophrenics, and from that list of four, “Delusions of Control” is one that really struck a chord with me.  Naturally, I started to draw some parallels between this particular symptom and people I know, myself and those in my line of work.  I do believe it’s fair to say that based on the delusion of control alone, we all have a touch of schizophrenia from time to time.  Perceived control is a way of life in the call center.

When reflecting on the life inside a call center, it’s easy to believe that we are patients that are often not medicated to control our delusions.  The call center as an asylum may not be a stretch!  Not only is it insanely intense, it is also a place of constant contradiction.  We often have expectations of our employees and our call center agents to adhere to a specific model intended to produce a controlled response (a great service experience).  In the same breath, we also expect that model to produce the opposite results (do it fast, right and cheap).  Isn’t this setting your team up to feel schizophrenic?    We allow agents to believe they are in control, but in reality, they are not.

I was reminded of this parallel when speaking with one of our partners last week.  This particular client had three service centers that were using the “Pay for Performance” model with their agents.  As he elaborated on the damages this was causing, I began to recall the correlation between my recent revelation on call center schizophrenia and the “Pay for Performance” model (particularly in service orientated call centers.)  In this particular model, agents are being paid based on metrics such as number of calls handled and number of minutes spent on those calls.  This is the expectation set forth.  At the end of the month, organizations are left scratching their heads as to why customer satisfaction scores are so low.  Well, the innate service component is being squished out of the agent as they are trying to hurry on to the next caller.  But yet, we are expecting an outstanding customer service experience to come from our service orientated call center, right?  Insanity in its true form and we’ve all had this conversation with ourselves and everyone on the management team.

This will be the first in a two-part series focusing on designing the perfect, or as-perfect-as-you-can-get, model for service call centers.  Part One will discuss the “Pay for Performance” model, how it has been incorporated in the service call centers and how it is affecting your agents and your customer service scores.  Part Two will discuss how to build effective balanced scorecards and, in turn, a more appropriate model to your service call centers.  We need to control the insanity!

 

What is “Pay for Performance?”

“Pay for performance” also known as incentive pay, rewards workers based on the outcomes they achieve as opposed to the traditional model of paying for time worked.  These models have been wildly popular in outbound telemarketing for many years, advancing the earning potential of skilled salespeople while “weeding out” those who in a conventional pay model would largely rely on their base salary to pay their bills.  More sophisticated (sales) incentive pay models financially penalize agents for “buyer’s remorse,” encouraging quality sales acquisition methods.

Sales vs. Service 

While time and outcome-pressured compensation models may work in a sales environment, they represent the antithesis of what is needed in the service world.  Conventional wisdom states that in a sales environment, there is only one outcome that matters — sales that “Stick”.  Certainly there are complexities in how a call center agent reaches a “Yes,” but that does not negate the fact that there is only one outcome that is guiding the call flow.  A customer service call center is far more complex.  Customer service call center agents are tasked with resolving calls in a manner that is pleasing to customers, builds brand loyalty while remaining sensitive to everyone’s time – the customer on the phone and the one waiting to be helped.  That is quite a tall order especially when a case can be made that the Sales team is often responsible for the call to the Service team.  At the end of the day, incenting agents based on a single outcome may expose your organization to a very high level of business risk.

“Why are my customer service scores so low?”

The correlation between time spent and outcome is much more fluid.  Let’s examine some of the unfortunate outcomes of ill-conceived pay for performance models in customer service centers:

As an assignment, add your metrics to this list and evaluate them against the delusion of control construct.

“If not “Pay for Performance”, then what should we use?”

In a service center, a balanced agent scorecard is a far more effective way to pay and incent agents. Balanced scorecards force agents and their managers to focus their attention on more than a single Key Performance Indicator (KPI).  Some of CRM’s existing customers have access to an important tool which assists them in determining the relative importance of agent skills, from the perspective of the customer – predictive (regression) modeling.  In the figure below, the beta levels on the left indicate the level of impact each agent skill had on the customer’s overall perception of the agent’s performance.  The right side of the figure indicates the current performance level of that skill (on a 1 to 9 scale).

One business partner uses this regression output to not only set priorities within their agent scorecard, but to also set priorities for ongoing / developmental training for the upcoming quarter.  The figure below indicates the degree of improvement in customer satisfaction this business partner has been able to achieve by linking customer, agent and training priorities.

Companies using the “Pay for Performance” model in their service call centers will remain to be at war with themselves.  If you are paying your agents on the number of calls they take, then you will get a high number of repeat callers and lower FCR rates due to customers being rushed off the call.  If you are currently using the “Pay for “Performance” model in your service center, have you experienced similar results?

Now that we identified a much more suitable, more effective model to adopt in your service call centers, it’s time to discuss “how.”  Part two will discuss just how you can build effective balanced scorecards to incentivize your agents.

365 Days of Delivering Elite Customer Experiences in your Call Center: Customer-centric sweat and celebration

Throughout the years of raising my children, my wife and I have come to realize what truly motivates them.  All 3 of my kids, though different in their passions, hobbies, activities and personalities, share the same thread of an intrinsic motivator.  That thread is praise and recognition.  In my household, my children are not rewarded for good grades or pretty artwork, but rather are rewarded for the work effort.  We are more proud of the commitment, consistency, and discipline associated with what it takes to get the 100 on that spelling test.

We at CRM know that the power of commitment, consistency, and discipline associated with being customer-centric.   As such, we felt it was so important to take that same approach with our own customers.  Top-line organizations that have made a proven commitment and are disciplined to customer-centricity and consistently delivered elite performance throughout the year need to be recognized.  And with that, last year the Elite Customer Experience Awards were born.  In January of 2010, the award winners were finalized and on February 15, 2010, these award winners were announced to the world. 

About the Awards

This program is unlike any other.  The winning organizations were measured on outstanding customer satisfaction performance over the entire year!  For 365 days!  Awards were given in several categories including:  Utility Provider of the Year; Product Support Provider of the Year; Agent of the Year; Team of the Year; Outsourced Center of the Year; In-house Contact Center of the Year and the Elite Customer Experience Award.  These organizations excel at transforming customer experience analytics into action.  More than 230,000 real-time post-call customer satisfaction surveys were analyzed by a CRM expert on the research and client services team.  Some of the award winners’ highlights include:  16.7% reduction in repeat call volume; 5% reduction in customer attrition; reduced costs to acquire new customers; increased lifetime customer value and employee engagement.

The Buzz Around the Boom

Naturally, award winning companies were thrilled with the news that they had won such a prestigious honor.  We had expected this.  We expected they would be proud and happy to then praise their teams.  What we did not expect is the whirlwind of celebrations that would soon follow.  A few of our customers have thrown Awards Parties by way of a luncheon or a happy hour.  Announcements soared through the C-Suite in some organizations and some customers received praise directly from their CEOs.  One CFO sent an email to the entire organization (including the Board of Directors) singing praises of the call center’s performance, he stated, “… now can say that we are DEMONSTRABLY best!!”

Our very own CEO, Dr. Jodie Monger comments, “It is with great pleasure that I congratulate these organizations for their exemplary performance and excellence in customer care.  The frontline in leadership and management teams has engineered the service experience to be profitable for the organization, by highlighting the customer experience.  Each has leveraged the customer intelligence from their customers to earn these awards. CRM is proud to play its part in enabling the customers to speak.”

We Tip Our Hats to…

….the 2010 award winners and honorable mentions:

  • Elite Customer Experience Award – Otter Tail Power Company; Honorable Mention – Portland General Electric
  • Utility Provider of the Year – Otter Tail Power Company; Honorable Mention – Portland General Electric
  • Product Support Provider of the Year – HP Home and Home Office Store; Honorable Mention – Black & Decker
  • Agent of the Year – Joyce Sanders, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; Honorable Mention – Tracey Forbin, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
  • Team of the Year – Mindy McDulin Team, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; Honorable Mention – Damian Reiter Team, Otter Tail Power Company
  • Outsourced Contact Center of the Year – Michelin North America
  • In-house Contact Center of the Year – Michelin North America; Honorable Mention – Otter Tail Power Company

A look into 2011 and beyond…

With the announcement of the award winners to our entire customer base during the February Customer Insights to Action Meeting (CRM’s User Group), the competitive nature amongst the organizations began to stir up.  During monthly  meetings with our customers, we are finding a common thread:  all are striving to be an award winner in 2011.  We can only assume that our customers now have yet another reason to strive for customer-centricity….and that is, you guessed it, recognition and praise for their efforts.

~ Jim Rembach, Chief Spokesman

For more information: Elite Customer Experience Awards

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