* You are viewing the archive for June, 2006. View the rest of the archives.

Titles Galore

It seems that every company has a different name for every type of representative. There are Account Specialists, Sales Concierges, Support Team Members, Technical Support Representatives, and so many other titles that you wonder how companies think of these things.

When titles get so unnecessary, they often get mocked. For example, a friend of mine said an employee in a store where cell phones and calling plans are sold had the title of “Mobile Telecommunications Sales Representative.” This title is unnecessarily wrong and though it may look nice on a name tag, doesn’t do much. Sure, people do like titles and “Technical Support Representative” is probably better than “Support Minion,” but when titles get unnecessarily long and officious, it defeats the purpose.

What is often worse, though, is when employees that have basically the same job functions use different titles. One company I was a client of seemed to have this problem. One day I’d email them and they’d sign as “Name, Technical Support”, and another day they’d sign as “Name, Support Specialist.” Having titles be the same for job functions is important – it makes your organization look more professional.

Generally, good titles are ones that fairly short and have day-to-day vocabulary in them. Furthermore, if your company says it sells cell phones, don’t use the word mobile telecommunications. They mean the same things, but it’s not the vocabulary your customers are used to.

Here are some good titles for various positions (my opinion):

  • -Department- Representative
  • -Department- Specialist

Possible departments are Technical Support, Sales, Billing, Customer Service, etc. The new titles are unreasonably long, but still a few steps above “Support Minion” or “Question Answerer.”

Another alternative I like is when companies use a format similar to below:

Technical Support Group
Company, Inc.

This way no one really has a title, but they’re a member of the Support Group or Support Team.

Another alternative is to get even more general, such as:

Company, Inc. Help Center

This gets rid of titles all together and just makes it general “Help Center” employees.

Ask your employees what they like. Ask customers for suggestions. Titles are something that should be kept fairly simple and very consistent.

A Mix of Things: Volunteering and Service Zones

OK, today’s post has two topics. Volunteering and customer service zones. When I can’t think of a topic to write about, I generally check out the list of blogs I link to for some ideas. I’ve gotten my ideas for today’s post and will probably do the same thing tomorrow. However, I do think of my own ideas of what to write about every now and then, so don’t worry.

This section of today’s post was inspired by Glenn Ross’s post on the same topic. I’ve always thought that a company volunteering, giving back to the community, and/or helping the greater good (it all depends what you call it – I’ll call it volunteering) is very important. Glenn said it perfectly: “Bottom line: Being involved in your community strengthens your community, raises your employee morale, increases your firm’s visibility and can increase traffic to your business.”

I’d word it a bit differently (Being involved in your community helps others, improves employee morale, helps your brand, and can get you new or additional business. – everyone has a different writing style), but the points are the same. Volunteering not only helps others, but it’ll help your company too. Raising employee morale is priceless and so is increasing brand awareness and strength. Bringing in extra and/or new business is rarely complained about, either.

I think instead of asking “Why should I volunteer” you should ask “Why shouldn’t I volunteer?” You should be motivated to volunteer if you just got one of the benefits, much less all four (increase morale, increase brand strength and awareness, more business, help others).

When volunteering you can be creative with your choices. There’s hundreds of thousands of worthy causes out there, so think of something related to your company and something that your employees/customers can relate to. For example:

  • Do a lot of your employees and customers have pets? If so, volunteer as a group (or sponsor as a company) at a local animal shelter or for a national organization like the Humane Society of the United States.
  • Builders donate time, money, resources, etc. to an organization like Habitat for Humanity.
  • Even smaller organizations and freelancers can donate time and expertise. For example, many web developers design free web sites for worthy causes. Some web hosts will host charity sites for free.
  • Restaurants and other eateries, consider helping at a local soup kitchen or donating food/resources.
  • Doctor’s groups can donate money or other resources (like brainpower) to various disease research funds.

There are literally thousands of ideas. Ask your employees and customers – if we volunteered our time, money, resources, etc., for whom should we volunteer? I’m sure you’ll get some good ideas and hopefully be able to put them into action. Volunteering, giving back to the community, helping the greater good, or whatever else you want to call it should be a part of your company’s culture. If it isn’t, your employees and customers may brush it off as a one time thing to meet requirements for a new program.
By the way, as most of you likely know, most of your donations are tax-deductible. Ask the organization if your donations are, and what exactly you can deduct.

Customer Service Zones
As a sort of follow-up to my post on Customer Service Zones, inspired by Meikah’s post on the same topic, I’d like to point to Meikah’s further explanations of the topic. Here is a more in-depth explanation of the “rigid” zone of customer service quality, and here is one on the “safe zone” of customer service quality. This whole customer service zone thing is very much like a personality test for your organization’s customer service department. I’m assuming Meikah will be posting some more about the other two zones in the upcoming days on her blog. I think it’s extremely interesting.

Cancellation Horror Stories

I’ve heard horror stories about AOL cancellations before, but this is by far the best example. This article and this recording sum it all up.

Listen to the recording. The call starts off okay, but the representative simply doesn’t want to get it. The customer gets frustrated, he slips a curse word, and the representative insults the customer. The customer then tells the representative to skip the paragraph about keeping your account and such and the representative gets even ruder. He then treats the customer like an idiot and it goes downhill from there.

The result for AOL? A post is made by the customer and it gets lots of popularity. AOL’s reputation for impossible cancellations is strengthened and they don’t gain anything.

Companies often give representatives bonuses if they can get customers not to cancel. This is probably the worst thing you can do for your customer service experience. It won’t help the service experience at all, and the last impression is important. It’s important to remember a customer will often cancel something because he/she doesn’t need it, but they very well may continue to recommend the products to others who need it if the experience was good and/or come back when they need the product or service again.

That experience and bad cancellation experiences in general are probably the worst examples of customer service out there. What you should do when you get a cancellation is send a reply (or say something like it) like the following:

OK, that’s fine. We’ll get your account cancelled right away. Is there any reason in particular you’re canceling?

If the customer says something like terrible customer service, it’s too expensive, etc, then the representative can probe a bit more. However, if the customer just says “I don’t really need it anymore.” leave it at that and cancel the account. Send an email or a postcard a few weeks later asking if everything was resolved to their satisfaction.

If you’re having trouble canceling with a particular service, this article provides a bit of insight. You can also ask a company what’s involved with canceling before signing up (especially with 30 day money back guarantee periods and things of that nature).

When to hang up.

I’ve been seeing a few posts at a few places about when to hang up on a customer.

Not too long ago I was actually hung up on by a company. I made a comment about an email the company sent me being awfully vague (I believe I said “You should probably work on your pre-defined responses.”) and the representative told me to call back when I had calmed down and hung up. I’ve had never been hung up on by a customer service representative before that and there were some other people in the room that heard what I was saying and they agreed I wasn’t rude.

The reason that particular representative hung up on me is probably because she was A) overly sensitive, B) having a bad day, C) not well trained/informed as to when a customer should be hung up on, or most likely, a combination of all three.

Your rules as to when a customer should be hung up on should be crystal clear. There shouldn’t be one bit of uncertainty as to when to hang up on a customer. An example operating procedure would be:

If a customer is cursing:

  • Tell the customer that cursing/using profanity will not help solve their problem and that they should calm down.
  • If the customer continues to curse, say if they curse again, you will have to hang up on them and they can call back once they’ve calmed down.
  • If the customer continues to curse, say “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have call back once you’ve calmed down.” and hang up immediately.
  • Describe the situation in the call log and make a note of it in the customer’s account.

That’s a very effective operating procedure. It’s not a script, but general guidelines as to what the representative should do. That way when the customer calls back an hour later, the next representative can be prepared for what may happen (a rude and angry customer) and if the customer service representative isn’t good with those situations, transfer the call to someone else.

The reasons to hang up on a customer vary from company to company, but here are some other possible reasons:

  • He/she is making constantly personal insults against the representative (e. g. you’re a worthless idiot)
  • He/she is constantly yelling or screaming.
  • He/she is being consistently arrogant and completely refuses to listen to logic (e. g. keeps insisting that he/she is right and that the representative is wrong, regardless of the information being presented)
  • Any physical threats and other extreme things of that nature.

As a manager, ask your front-line employees what reasons should be to hang up on customers. You should be able to get a fairly good list fairly quickly. Once you have the situations, develop an operating procedure for each one. For most instances, the customer should get at least one warning prior to being hung up on. A lot of times, companies will transfer angry customers to a supervisor or manager who will deal with the issue. It really depends on the company and the company’s culture.

Remember, when a customer is angry, be sure to keep the smile suggestions in mind as well.

Is your company’s service rigid or indulgent?

I saw this post on Customer Service – The New Competitive Edge this morning. It’s about measuring at what level you (as an entire organization) provide service. For example, does your company always stick by the rules and never bend or break them to make customers happy or do you do almost anything for customers?

The survey below is from The Quest for Quality: Prescriptions for Achieving Excellence (Amazon.com link). I haven’t read the book myself, but this survey is certainly interesting. If I do buy it (which is entirely likely), I’ll post a review.

Though you likely (hopefully) know what level you are before taking the quiz, you may be surprised. This could also make a very interesting addition to a hiring process to judge how service orientated the candidate is (but still within reason/whatever fits your company).

The quiz/survey is on the “more” page.

Continue Reading

Government Service

Government customer service has been popular the last few weeks. Maria at CustomersAreAlways has talked about it and so has Meikah at Customer Service – New Competitive Edge. Stories about the government’s customer service are usually horror stories. However, on Saturday, I actually had an interesting interaction with the government’s customer service.

On Friday, I had to call the United States Postal Service to check on if something was sent to me. I tried their automated tracking system, but it didn’t work. I tried to call them and navigate through their endless PBX system, but it didn’t work out well. I then got smart and went to GetHuman and found how to get by their PBX system and eventually reach a human (not exactly easy). I pushed the numbers I had to, waited for a minute or so, and then spoke to a person. She was quite helpful and we figured out my package had been sent to me and should be there the next day (which it was). Once I got to the human, the experience was fine, but before that, it was quite bad.

On Saturday
On Saturday I got a phone call from the USPS and it was a human. Yes, a human asking if I wanted to take a survey about my customer service experience with the USPS. He said it’d take 3 minutes and I said OK. The guy (who judging from his accent was an American probably somewhere in the south – I don’t think the government outsources its customer service) went through the script he had to read about privacy, the rating scale (1 to 5), the abbreviations used (USPS for United States Postal Service), and how to answer (honestly). I was asked some general questions like my ZIP code and if anyone in my family worked for the USPS or any other company that delivered mail and/or packages (such as DHL, FedEx, etc.).

The first set of questions was about the automated system. I gave it all 1’s (the lowest rating), except hold time (which I gave a 4). The questions were along the lines of how easy was use, was it effective, etc. When he noticed I was giving it all 1’s, he apologized for the inconveniences I had. The next set of questions was about the representative. I gave her all 5’s and she was quite helpful. The guy thanked me for my time, said to have a great weekend, and that was it.

The follow-up was quite good. It was prompt, courteous, and obviously, they value their customer’s opinion. I think the reason is because the USPS has some competition. Your captive with the DMV, but not as much with the USPS.
Just an interesting story of a good follow-up by an organization unlikely to do so.


Every person who works in customer service should smile. That should be enough information for this post. However, I have a few more tips.

When in person, always smile.
There’s absolutely no excuse to have anything less than a genuine smile when you’re helping customers face-to-face. Even if you’re having a bad day, if you smile, the customer will likely be happier and not try to make your day any harder. When you’re working with or around customers, you should temporarily forget about your personal problems and try to help the customer. Consistently being nice to customers will never hurt you (if anything, you may get a promotion, bonus, raise, etc.) If you can’t come up with a genuine smile, try to fake one.

Even smile on the phone.
When you’re on the phone, you should also try to smile. Believe it or not, it makes a big difference. (Think of the difference between you have a good light hearted conversation with a friend and a bad, upsetting conversation with a boss or co-worker.) Keep your attitude positive and upbeat, and again, try to filter out any problems you might be having at the time.

Notice how on the top banner of this site, there are pictures of people on the phone? I agree that call center representatives are rarely that happy looking, but try to emulate them. They all look happy, and they are all smiling. If their customers weren’t the photographer, but actually people on the phone, chances are the people on the phone with pick up on their good attitude.

If a customer is angry, breathe.
There’s not that much you can do to help yourself when a customer is angry besides A) don’t take it personally and B) calm down. If the customer is there in person, just take a deep breath and smile. If the customer is on the phone, politely ask the customer to hold while you look into his or her issue, and take a deep breath and smile. If the customer is emailing you, step away from the computer and take a quick walk, get a drink of water, etc. Do things to calm yourself down when a customer is angry or frustrated. If necessary, ask a supervisor pr another employee to deal with the customer.

For business owners and managers:

Hire the smile!
A hiring philosophy at Nordstrom is to hire the smile, and train the skill. Simply put, Nordstrom recruiters look for people who smile, are friendly, and are caring, not necessarily the best or most experienced in their possible position. It’s easier to train someone how to be a good salesperson or cashier than it is to train them to be nice. If you stick with that philosophy, you’ll notice the levels of customer satisfaction in your business go up quite a bit over time.

Remember, keep smiling!

Using Bad Phone Systems for Marketing

I have talked about my sincere hate for endless PBX systems before and a simple method to get rid of the frustration caused by them (use live operators). Do you remember the Citi Simplicity campaign (the one where it said “Press 0 for a human”) that ran a few months ago? I haven’t seen one lately, but I found it surprising the big deal Citi was making about being able to press 0 to speak with an operator.

Image courtesy of Signals vs. Noise
Also as part of their identity theft solutions, Citi has:

If you check out the gethuman database , you’ll see that Citi isn’t the only company where you can push 0 to get through to a human. There’s also Capital One, Xerox, Netflix, Cingular, Playstation, Microsoft, QuickBooks, and plenty more where you can just push 0 to speak to a human. My point is that it isn’t good when companies are advertising something they should have anyways.

The way for Citi to boost it up a notch? Direct to a human (aka an operator). There are some other companies that do that such as Commerce Bank, PayPal, IBM, Sprint, and several others, but it’s not too common. Operators make (almost) everyone happy, complex PBX systems make (almost) everyone mad, and simple PBX systems don’t aggravate too many people. Which does your company have? It’s obviously an important advantage, especially in an industry as competitive as banking, cell phones, or technology.

Monday’s post is going to be amount the importantance of a smile.

« Previous Page  Next Page »