best practices

How high is your Dysfunction Index?

Services for homeowners are intertwined.  I need a phone line for my alarm system to be monitored properly.  What happens when the alarm system cannot connect to the phone and neither the phone service company nor the alarm company will cop to the issue or help me resolve it?  The alarm company says it’s a phone issue, the phone company says it’s an alarm issue and the result is one frustrated customer with nowhere to turn for resolution.  We are all paying for your dysfunction.  What part of each dollar for your product or service is needed to fund your company’s dysfunction?  This is a serious question that I am asking you!

The alarm company’s call center agent didn’t have access to the needed data, or the skills to help me troubleshoot the problem.  I am paying toward the existence of the call center but there isn’t a process in place to help the agents in a situation like this.  And while the phone company was able to connect me to a tech over the phone to help me troubleshoot the problem, it took over an hour before he asked to call me on my home phone line to test to see if the line was working.  Geez, how much did that cost because no one asked that question in the beginning?  Cha-ching to the Dysfunction Index money because the highly scripted agent didn’t use common sense to simply place a call to the phone line to check it. Continue reading

Is your call center short-term focused and long-term blind like Wall Street?

Is your call center short-term focused and long-term blind like Wall StreetI think more than anything where we fail in customer service, both in the call center and out, is the follow-up. We put great importance on the quick fix, to speedily get the caller off the phone to address the next caller in queue. Being long-term blind like Wall Street, we worry about short-term metrics such as call volume and service level and intra-day  metrics. The truth is, some problems aren’t resolved quickly, and require additional research to resolve them completely. That’s where we fall short in customer service; following up with the customer to keep them in the loop.

Blind like Wall Street?

For many companies significant costs are experienced due to poor follow up practices while also damaging the customer experience. To me, it’s like what we see played out on Wall Street today. Most of the effort is placed into meeting my shareholder expectations today (handling the call) while blind to future impacts (profitable, long customer relationships).

We’ve talked recently about the spike in customer product repairs vs. replacements and the resulting call volume to your call center. Have you also thought about the additional agent time required to access and understand how to apply the warranty and repair agreements, the time it takes to follow up about a repair and to communicate the progress (or lack thereof) with a customer? Continue reading

When you cut headcount is your customer experience bleeding?

I recently had to call the post office’s customer service number regarding a change of address form that got screwed up.  Monday I waited on hold for 15 minutes and finally hung up.  Tuesday, the same deal.  I finally physically went down to my local post office on Wednesday to deal with the mess in person.  And there I waited in line for 20 minutes before finally getting it sorted out.  There was one (!!!) person working at the post office window to deal with the many, many disgruntled people there. It sure makes it easy to see why they lose money each and every day they operate.

 While I understand the reality of our economy, it’s too simple to say ‘cut headcount’. Most financial people making the decision to cut headcount are not very skilled or intelligent. They are not capable of looking at the entire picture. They are simply making quick cost savings in the short run, without considering their long-term savings and growth potential.  Who ultimately pays the price for cuts in personnel?  First the customers pay, then the company. Your once loyal product advocates get cast aside in the name of smaller overhead and a more manageable bottom line.  So what’s the solution?  How can you reevaluate your business AND the needs of your customers to come to a more appropriate cost savings solution than just slashing headcount? Continue reading

Tips to prevent creating your own contact center analytics shelfware

Recently, I walked into my classroom for the upcoming term and braced myself for the exasperating questions that seemingly every class insists on asking:  “Will you be sending out lecture notes after class?”, “will this be on the test?”, and “why do I have to take this [any variation of math] class?”  The answers to which are “Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha,” “maybe” and “because you may want to choose to work in the fast food industry, because I’m guessing you’d prefer your Thunderbird T-top to rest on tires and not blocks, because maybe someday you’d like to have tires on your car but not on your house.”   But, this time around I was pleasantly surprised.  A student’s question about the merit of using paper and pencil (and whiteboard) to do math in a world of ever-accelerating computational speed led to a discussion of the priorities businesses place on subject-matter expertise versus technological skill.

The unfortunate reality is that many well-intentioned businesses spend millions of dollars each year on good, even great, tools designed to make their businesses more efficient and provide greater visibility into the inner-workings of the business.  They spend time and money making a business case for the purchase, calculating the product’s ROI, payback period, etc.  Unfortunately what is often lacking is the subject-matter expertise required to make good on the ROI projections.  Continue reading

2010 Year in Review: Top eleven call center posts

We all know, the need for excellent customer service never stops, and 2010 was another great year in the call center history books.  As we embark on a new year, let us take a moment and reflect on the good things we learned this past year, document our own lessons and those of others to insure that 2011 is the year we solidify our call centers as strategic weapons.

We bring you the top ten Customer Relationship Metrics Blog Recap List of 2010 and leave you with one to focus on, as we move into the New Year.

1.   Can Free Speech Analytics Software Overcome the 3 Barriers to Adoption?

The need for Speech Analytics software in call centers is increasingly growing and yet barriers continue to impede the progress.  By removing the cost of the software, CRM has lowered the barriers to adoption.  Do not enter into 2011 without checking this blog first. Continue reading

4 Best Practices to Make Call Center Santa’s Nice List

Now that we’ve talked about the “Naughty List,” let’s move on to the “Nice List” of call center practices I’ve seen this year.  Put simply, these are practices that deliver value to the customer while positively impacting the company’s bottom line.

1.   Putting customers in the driver’s seat – According to our research to date in 2010, 65% of all customers who called the organizations they do business did so because they perceived a problem.  And when they call, they have anxiety – anxiety that you (company) won’t stand behind your product/service, that you’ll charge them exorbitant amounts to do XYZ, that you won’t help them.  World-class agents recognize this anxiety and allow customers an opportunity to voice all of those fears.  And then they offer their customers options – yes options, so the customer can select the outcome that is most pleasing to them.  This may fly in the face of all of the conventional wisdom that says agents should be consultative and make recommendations, but the fact is that agents know very little about the needs of customers they serve.  Rather than assaulting customers with a barrage of generic questions designed to uncover needs the customer may not have even yet identified, let the customer choose.  The fact that as an organization, you were (seemingly) willing to do whatever the customer wanted to reconcile the situation will leave a far more lasting impression than how the issue was ultimately resolved. Continue reading

All-star Agents (and their secret game time strategy)

In some shape or form, at work or at home, we all want to be all-stars, right?  At least I think most of us do.  Call center agents, who value their jobs as well as the organization they work for and take pride in delivering top notch customer service, consistently strive for this achievement.  These are your “top performing” call center agents who cannot wait to see how their customers scored their performance via the External Quality Monitoring program.  Survey scores and comments is the customer currency that motivates them.  In a perfect call center world, your seats would be filled with this type of All-star.  The reality is, unfortunately, this is not the case but All-stars can increase the performance of the rest of the team.

Customer Relationship Metrics produces an annual Elite Customer Experience Awards program which consists of seven award categories.  One category would be the All-star recognition, specifically “Agent of the Year.”  The recipient is one of the tens of thousands across many types of industries of our client base.  How does the annual award recipient deliver Elite customer experiences on call-after-call day-after-day throughout the year?

This All-Star has valuable coaching tips for her call center teammates that can be used by any agent.  She identifies four main strategies used in every call:

1.  Ask more questions than deliver statements.  The Agent of the Year consciously flips the standard statement-based responses into question-based responses to increase the caller’s perception of control over decisions.     

Example statement-based:

Customer:  How can I make a payment on my bill?

Agent:  You can make your payment by check or we can automatically deduct it from your bank account online.


Example question-based:

Customer:  How can I make a payment on my bill?

All-star Agent:  Would you prefer to pay your bill by check or by setting up an automatic deduction from your bank account online?


2.  Stop and listen.  No one likes to be interrupted.  Customers may interrupt the agent and when they do always remember that they have the right of way.  The second a customer begins to speak – stop and listen.  This will go a long way when it comes to agent satisfaction scoring. 

3.  Use a little finesse.  Every call center agent has to deliver bad news to customers.  Using authentic empathy when explaining to a customer that they cannot be helped and WHY they cannot be helped will leave the customer with the understanding that all was done and the relationship is valued.

4.  Build rapport.  People like to be treated like people not just as an account number or as an anonymous creature on the other end of the line.  It helps to connect with customers on a personal level, to even share a laugh.  Even a small, genuine personal connection underscores the value of the relationship for the customer.

It is not uncommon for All-star agents to have difficulty expressing how they do it.  Analytics of call monitoring, operational metrics and customer feedback linking the call and the agent provide a list of your All-stars.  Listen to their calls and talk with them about their service philosophy to find their list of techniques to help the entire team.

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Joe Outlaw, Principal Contact Center Analyst, Frost & Sullivan
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