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GetHuman Standards

There was an interesting post at CustomersAreAlways about GetHuman starting a new service called the “gethuman earcon standard” and how the first company that is trying to meet this standard is Microsoft, but that isn’t really what this post is about. This post is about GetHuman’s standards.

I looked at their standards and I think they are pretty good. Are they perfect? Not quite, but they are good. If every company could provide a level of service (at least in the form on tolerable PBX systems) equal to or better than the ones that GetHuman outlines, customer service would be much less frustrating.

My point by point suggestions:

Basic Standards:

  1. Almost every callcenter has an agent available. Busy callcenters rarely enough agents available to take every incoming call, though. The way this standard is makes it too much “luck of the draw” (or call) and not enough “consistent customer service excellence.” Companies could use operators to make this process more efficient and convenient for everyone.
  2. Perfect.
  3. Wait time is usually hard to tell, but if companies can up with an accurate way to tell callers of the estimated wait time, they should.
  4. A lot of companies do this and I think it is a good thing to do. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 on call backs.
  5. When you have to wait for the entire prompt to finish talking, it is very annoying. This is definitely a good point.
  6. Good.
  7. This is good. The effectiveness of short surveys is heavily debated, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an optional survey at the end of each call. Callers should also be made aware of the survey by the representative before starting to try and solve problems, verify information, etc.
  8. That really is extra credit. I have never heard of a company doing that before, but it would be interesting.

While holding.

  1. As long as it isn’t annoying. Maybe every 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Good.
  3. Letting the caller disable music is a good one. Letting them pick music is great. See this post about on hold music.
  4. I don’t think there should be ads at all. See this post about not giving customers sales pitches.

Must not:

  1. Good.
  2. Good.
  3. No one believes it anyway. Good.

Must remember:

  1. This is good. Sometimes it is good to have the representative repeat certain information to confirm it. However, representatives should always ask before doing that. “May I read your address back to confirm I have the correct address?”
  2. Good.

Language choice:

  1. That is a good assumption.
  2. Good.
  3. Sophisticated, but good.

Hopefully with my tips and GetHuman’s standards, you will be able to ensure your company is up to (actually, way above) standard. These guidelines could also serve as a foundation to training programs and how to design things besides your PBX system (such as your support site) better.

GetHuman even lets users provide their feedback at their forum. This was a presentation given by Paul English (who started GetHuman). It is interesting and I would suggest taking a look at it.

GetHuman may also want to conside partnerneing with a big company like Cisco to find phone (and even help develop) phone and other PBX systems that are capabble of doing things to make customer service better for everyone.

Dell Customer Service Experience

Like a lot of people, I own at least one Dell computer. Yesterday evening I formatted it (which I try to do every now and then) and reinstalled Windows. It worked just fine, but I was missing some drivers I had to install.

Of course, I couldn’t find the drivers disk that came with my computer so I ventured over to the Dell web site (using my other computer) and tried to find the drivers. I found my service tag (which really should be in an easier place to access than the lower corner near the back of the computer), entered it into their search box, and it came up with a few pages of drivers. I had a general idea of which drivers I needed (figured it out from the device manager), but my computer didn’t have the same description as Dell’s web site.

I noticed a Live Chat link and clicked it. I had done this before when I went through a similar process with a friend of mine and recalled the live chat experience to be fairly good. It was! Pleasant was an understatement and I had a very good customer service experience with Dell.

I went to the chat (which worked well, unlike many similar applications), only had to wait about 10 seconds to be connected to someone, and he was very helpful. He sent me the links to the drivers I needed, was patient, was friendly, and was helpful.

I even asked him if he lived in India (Yes), if he liked working for Dell (“Of course! I love working for Dell!”) and where in India he lived (Chandigarh) and all questions were responded to politely and quickly. Though answering my questions could have taken a bit more time away from other chats he was likely doing at the same time, it made the support experience more personal and a bit more pleasant.

From my experience, I can tell Dell does do some things right:

The representative probably didn’t have too many chats open.
This is a big thing that causes the quality of live chats to be lower than expected. Representatives are sometimes asked/required to have as many as 9 or 10 chats open at once, which can be quite intense to say the least. A good chat representative can handle 2-4 chats at once without jeopardizing the level of customer service. Of course, it depends on the level of complexity of the issues (finding and sending driver download links is pretty simple), but 2-4 is a good rule of thumb.

They train their representatives.
On average, if you get representatives (especially those who may not be native English speakers) off the script by asking them questions like where do they live or if they like working for a company, their spelling and grammar will get noticeably worse. The guy I spoke to maintained perfect spelling, grammar, and punctuation throughout the entire chat and I was very impressed.

I couldn’t tell if you Dell already has pre-defined responses for simple questions like mine, but in a separate experience, I was talking to a representative while I was waiting for something to install and he told me that he was studying to be a pilot. I don’t think that is in Dell’s training manual, but who knows.

On a technical level, the representative knew what he was talking about and was easily able to help me. The representative definitely knew what he was doing and the training he likely got did pay off.

They hire smart and friendly people.
In pretty much every support experience I have had with Dell, I can not say anything bad about the representative’s intelligence or level of friendliness. The only problems that customers usually run into are language barriers, which can cause lots of problems. However, the average customer service representative that works for big companies like Dell, HP, Microsoft, etc. is quite intelligent and usually very friendly.

At the end of the chat, there was an (optional) survey that I was also told about before the chat. It had about 10 questions ranging from how nice was the person I spoke to to a question like was I happy with the amount of time I had to wait to speak with someone? The scale was a 1 to 9 scale and there were about two open ended questions where I could have put suggestions or feedback.

All in all, kudos to Dell. They handled the situation very well and I don’t have any suggestions for improvement as far as customer service goes.

My only suggestion to Dell would be to perhaps fix up their process about finding the drivers you need yourself. If the representative has access to a page somewhere that says what drivers I need, Dell should make a way for customers to access it as well. Self-support is a great and if every company could improve their self-support options, they surely would save a lot of time and money.

Customer Service and Journalists

Okay, I have already talked about media relations and customer service, so I’ll talk about journalists and customer service.

Generally, journalists provide customer service to a few groups of people:

  • Readers
  • Fellow journalists
  • Media relations people
  • Editors/non-journalist colleagues

Some may provide customer service to other people, but these seem like the main groups. Even freelance writers usually have an editor to deal with, but not usually as many non-journalist colleagues as a staff writer.

Readers

Journalists should respond to readers’ emails, letters, etc. A lot of newspapers and publications have a “Write the Editor” type thing, but a lot of times, readers will email the journalist directly. The journalist should respond to requests in a friendly and helpful manner and try and keep reply time as short as possible. If a reader points something out (i. e. misspelling, etc.), contact the editor and see if it can be corrected (easier to do with online stuff than print stuff) and thank the reader. If it can’t be corrected, contact whoever handles the corrections section. Just common sense: be nice, respond to contact inquires/requests, and so on.

Fellow journalists
Providing customer service to fellow journalists is often a bit trickier than providing customer service to readers. Journalists can generally be sorted into a few categories:

  • Accessible journalists. These are journalists who you may know from other things (working together before, etc.) or who are just plain accessible to everyone (they post and reply to emails, have a published phone number, etc.). They are generally the easiest to deal with.
  • Hard to reach journalists. Getting in touch with these guys can be more difficult. It is hard to find their email or get in touch with them about anything, and generally you have to know someone to get anywhere.
  • Plain busy. A lot of journalists are just very busy. I know some journalists who get several hundred emails per day and are always on the phone. They don’t try and make themselves hard to get a hold of, but you often do need to know someone to get in touch with them.

You have to approach each person accordingly. It also depends on what you want. Often, journalists will provide some tips about various subjects, but there are many occasions when they won’t. It’s best to try and help people when they need it (or offer help with things that you are good with) and then when you need help, you know who to ask.

With fellow journalists, the same rules apply. Try your best to help out, be nice, respond to requests/inquires accordingly, etc.

Media relations people

Your sole responsibility to media relations people is to provide them with your name, telephone number, your publication, and your deadline. You have no other obligations to them.

However, that is far from the case and only exists if you are the most influential writer in your field and if you are, you probably know the direct phone number, email, and address of the person you want to get in touch with or have a shared connection to find out.

If you aren’t such a journalist, you likely will have to be nice to media relations people and answer their questions. Media relations people will usually ask for a brief description of the article and any questions (if applicable) before even letting you talk to someone or talking to someone themselves.

Again, be nice to the media relations people, answer their questions promptly and accurately, return their calls, and if you can, write for The New York Times or Fortune Magazine and write wonderful things about their company. However, if you do all but the last, chances are they will try and help you out.

Editors/non-journalist colleagues

This one doesn’t require that much of an explanation. You have to be nice to your boss and provide customer service to him or her (it is called doing your job) and if you are mean to your colleagues and don’t do what they ask, you’ll be sure to have lots of problems later on.

I’m open and willing to get some topic suggestions. I am working on securing and getting a few interviews conducted and subsequently posted. However, if you have anything related to customer service or the customer service experience that you think would make a great post – please do let me know by posting a comment with your suggestion(s).

Banks & Customer Service

Banks have notoriously bad customer service. Lots of people have told me that they hate their banks and the subsequent customer service they provide. Why do you think banks have such terrible customer service?

This is an interesting article about banks shifting from a (non-) customer service culture to sales one. The author says that if the banks concentrated more on customer service, that the sales would come easier.

I agree with him – more and more, buyers are considering customer service when making buying decisions. If banks decided to fix problems and not mess up when it comes to requests or orders, customers would consider that bank whenever they needed something.

The banks should try to make themselves the go to bank for all related to banking, which is better accomplished through customer service. Banks have to build trust and relationships with their customers and if customers are always getting a sales pitch, they may not trust the bank when the bank suggests they need something that could actually help them.

My bank is okay when it comes to customer service – I’ve never really had a problem with them, but I watch my statements and keep records of everything. However, I’m hesitant to buy anything they say “I need”, because they say I need everything.

Consumer banking is very competitive, so why don’t banks step up and try to make their customer service amazing? It surely is possible, but they either aren’t trying or don’t know how.

A few tips for any readers who happen to work for banks.

Mess up less.
Health, family, and money are probably the three most valued things people have. If doctors messed up as much banks did, it would be terrible. If schools messed up by putting kids in the wrong grade or putting the wrong grades on their scripts as much as banks mess up things of similar important, they would be in big trouble. Money is important to a lot of people and banks do happen to mess up a lot.

Banks should shift their focus to being more accurate and they’ll notice less of a need to provide customer service. This can be done by hiring better tellers and customer service representatives, giving them more and better training, and not setting performance goals based on quantity (they should be quality and accuracy based). The last point would also entail hiring more tellers and almost every point costs quite a bit of money, but if done right, would help make bank’s customer service far better.

Have humans answer the phone.
Banks have some of the most complicated phone menus available.  Some banks make it easy to get through to them, while others do not. Pressing 0 to speak with an operator was enough for Citi to start an ad campaign. Try and have a menu along the lines of:

Thank you for calling bank. If you are an existing account holder, please press 1. If you are not an existing account holder, please press 2. To speak with an operator, please push 0.

If they pressed 1: Please enter your account number found on your most recent statement. If you do not have this account number, please push 1 to be directed to an operator.

If they pressed 2 or 0: connected to a person.

Simple phone menus can make things much simpler and customers much happier. These are just two of the hundreds of things banks can do to improve customer service. Companies have to value and care about customer service for them to even try to start improving it. Hopefully banks will catch on.

Mentor: The Training Program

I decided to do something a little different today. (Not a musical post – now that would be different.) The Five W’s of a training program I usually suggest and have found that works very well. There are books, courses, and so much on corporate training, but this is an effective, but still very un-scientific way to do it.

I’ve never seen this done with executive level employees, but it works very well for customer service representatives and other lower level employees. It can be applied to pretty much any job, but the program does assume that the trainee is intelligent and has some relevant skills and knowledge.

It also works very well for waiters and waitresses (and other positions) in restaurants (though I have never been directly involved with such a program for a restaurant).

Who

The trainee and one to two senior (as in on-the-job experience and performance) employees with the same job title (i. e. customer service representative). One supervisor or manager should also be involved. If this is the first person to occupy this role in the company, find the closest match possible (for example: the first Lead Developer would work with the CTO). The senior employee should be friendly, knowledgeable, and patient. The trainee should be willing to learn and able to learn from a combination of doing and observing.

What

A mentor-like hands-on training program. The trainee will work with senior employees to get an idea of how the company works, what to do in certain situations, and more. There is also some basic “bookwork” in the form of reading the traditional training manuals, understanding company policies and operating procedures, etc.

The trainee should not walk in and say “When do I get paid?” and “How much vacation time am I eligible for about two years?” – that should be covered in the written training documentation.

Why
Why not? Actually, training employees properly is extremely important if you wish to (keep) standards high in terms of employee efficiency/happiness/knowledge and customer satisfaction levels. Turnover is expensive and mistakes on the job can also be very expensive, so you should really invest in a training program. Plus, this training program is relatively inexpensive and effective.

Where

In the office or other job location. The waiter trainee would work on the restaurant floor and in the kitchen with the senior waiter, the customer service representative trainee would work in the call center with the other senior representatives. No off-site training locations or special rooms for training. Written training manuals and documentation should be read at the office in a quiet room with no distractions and nothing else to do (people will actually read it and concentrate more than if they were at home watching TV and reading it).

When

  • The “bookwork” part should be done immediately after the employee is hired and completes all the initial paperwork (contracts, etc.).
  • The second phase is the trainee following around and just observing (shadowing) what the senior employee does – this usually lasts about a week for an average job.
  • The third phase is the trainee splitting the duties with the senior employee. This would mean the trainee will start to take calls on his or her own and start to do the work with the help of the senior employee. This generally lasts about a week.
  • The fourth phase is the trainee moves onto pretty much impendent work and checks in with the senior employee a few times a day, asks the senior employee questions, etc. This should be formalized (such as an operating procedure saying: Meet with your mentor once at 1:00 PM and another time at 4:00 PM for 15 minutes each) so that there is no confusion about what to do. This part should last about two weeks.

After about four weeks of the program, the trainee should have an excellent idea about what’s going on. A good part is that the senior employee isn’t really losing any productivity or having to spend that much time training.

Throughout the process, a manager or supervisor should check in and ensure that everything is going well. There can also be additional bookwork in between the various phases (for example: before the third phase starts, it would be a good time to give the employee the usage manual for the helpdesk and phone system).

This is one of the most effective training methods/programs I have ever been in or organized. The process works very well and is a cost and time effective way of training people.

Musicians & Customer Service

In the circle of post inspirations, this post has been inspired by Christine Kane’s post over at her blog. Christine Kane is a very talented musician who also happens to have a very good blog. In addition, she provides exemplary customer service to her customers (which are her fans/listeners/etc.).

The story goes like this. During Successful Blog’s Open Mic Night, I was made aware of her songs, but mentioned that I didn’t have RealPlayer or iTunes and had no intent to download either. I eventually found a way around using one of those programs, but that is not the point. She went the extra mile and put one of her songs into a format that almost anyone can listen to.

So Christine provided great customer service to a customer. What else should musicians and similar artists try and do?

Be nice.
It may seem redundant, but it is worth saying: be nice! As a musician (which is the term I’m using), you have to be nice to fans, the media, your agent, your manager, and pretty much everyone else you deal with. The kindness may not always be returned, but chances are, it’ll be returned more frequently if you are nice to them.

Do your job.
Besides doing your actual job as a musician (showing up to record things, writing music, etc.), there are other jobs you have to do. Sign autographs when people ask, try and reply to letters and emails, listen to what people say, and so on. You probably have time to do this if you aren’t a superstar, and it’ll definitely help you sell CDs, tickets, or whatever else.

Listen.
Christine showed a great example of listening. A customer said he didn’t have a certain program so she used another. If customers are consistently (or maybe even not consistently – if the fix easy enough) complaining about something, you should try your best to fix it. If they say you are always late, figure out how to get on time. If your web site crashes their computers, fix it.

Be accessible.
I posted a comment on Christine’s blog asking her to email me. Within a few hours, she emailed me. She also has a detailed contact page with a whole bunch of ways to contact her. Musicians and other artists should make themselves accessible. They don’t have to reply to every fan email, but they should reply to some.

Respect others.

I’m glad I wasn’t shown the door when I admitted I didn’t have iTunes or RealPlayer. However, respect is something that all musicians (and all people) should have. The respect should also be for more important groups (races, religions, etc.) instead of relatively small and insignificant groups (lack of certain software). Be nice to everyone and it’ll out better for everyone.

A fairly short post today, but I think readers will get the point. This post continues to show that underlying theme of it is important to be nice to people all the time. Everyone from an totally unknown musician to a very well known superstar musician should really try to be nice to everyone – it’s being a good person and good customer service.

Have a great weekend.

Media Relations & Customer Service

If you have ever dealt with a company’s media relations department, you’ll know why I am posting this. A vast majority of companies have media relations departments that act like receptionists with communication degrees who have the sole objective to make it so you cannot contact the people you want or get the answers you need.

However, not all media relations departments or people are like that. A surprising amount of them are actually helpful, but unfortunately, helpful people in media relations don’t seem to be all too common.

Note: I have a feeling if you write for The New York Times or Fortune, you get a different response than I do. However, people should try to be nice to everyone, even if they don’t write for a major publication. I have readers who do care quite a bit about customer service and consider customer service when making buying decisions.

If you have ever called a company’s media relations department, they generally ask you two questions. What publication do you work for and what is your deadline? They are first deciding if you are even worthy of being asked the second question, and if the person deems you worthy, they then see how long they can ignore you before you start to complain. Again, not all media relations departments are like this, but quite a few are.

Tips for media relations people:

  • Be nice. Positive media coverage is a good thing for any company, despite how big the publication the article will appear in may be. Positive media coverage is a good thing, so be nice to the journalist.
  • Be prompt. Return calls and emails, do what you say you’re going to do, do it quickly, and do it accurately. Journalists (especially those on deadlines) will appreciate quick responses.
  • Listen. If a journalist asks to interview a specific person about a particular subject, keep that in mind. If they wanted a statement regarding that particular subject, they would ask. Same goes if it is the other way around. Listen to the journalist’s questions and requests and try to act accordingly.
  • Treat equal. If possible, treat all journalists equally. Chances are, the journalists at The New York Times and Fortune or the actual publication already have contacts in the company, so it is likely going to be less known journalists contacting you, so try and treat them equally and go the extra mile for all of them.
  • Get it straight. If I had a dollar for every time I had to repeat the same information to different people in the same company’s media relations department, I’d be awfully rich. Make a file for each person and have a piece of paper or something for each article they are writing. Include contact information, deadlines, article pitch, etc. and make it so everyone in the department can access it.
  • Keep them in the loop. As there are updates, be sure to tell the journalist (especially if deadlines are approaching).

These tips may seem obvious, but from my experience, quite a few people in media relations may need them. It is amazing what being nice and actually following up can do to someone or a department that has to provide service to anyone. As they say: “It’s not rocket science!”

On a somewhat related note, I’m working with a very helpful media relations person at a Fortune 100 company to secure an interview with the company’s general manager of customer service.

Who else wishes there were no moronic idiots in customer service?

Since we are on the subject of hiring people, I thought this would be a good post. The post about customer service in the media relations department will be posted tomorrow.

This is a bit different than my usual posts, but give me a chance. Firstly, the subject was inspired by Ben Yoskovitz and the headline was written by Brian Clark (both of whom have excellent blogs). They shared their ideas with me at Successful Blog‘s Open Mic night (held every Tuesday – it is a lot of fun and worth checking out). Though the “official” topic was The Wizard of Oz, there was a good amount of talk about moronic idiots who happen to work in customer service. Many people who work in customer service are quite intelligent; but for as many intelligent ones, it seems there are 5 moronic idiot counterparts.

Everyone has dealt with people who work in customer service that are just plain old stupid. They don’t really understand what is going on, who is supposed to be ding what, what they are supposed to do, or how to do it. Their lack of intelligence often leads to a below average customer service experience at best. Hiring the right people is important.

  1. Test their abilities. Read this post written by an employee assessment test expert. Inc. Magazine had a big article about testing employee’s abilities through a series of assessment tests and job-like scenario tests (note: at the time of writing, the new issue of their magazine is not on their web site). Testing employees to get a feel about how their actual knowledge, if they will fit into your company culture and how well they will do on the job is extremely important. It’s hard to tell that from an interview, so try the tests and challenges out.
  2. Ensure the hiring and training processes are run by smart people. Make sure there are no moronic idiots interviewing, making hiring decisions, or doing the training. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – so as countless books suggest – have A players hire other A players. Otherwise, B players will hire C players, C players will hire D players, and so on. Ensure some of the company’s best and brightest employees are involved in the hiring and training processes.
  3. Find good talent. A big part of not hiring moronic idiots is knowing where to find people. Be creative with how you post your job ads. Are you looking for a customer service representative that isn’t doing anything that complicated and that you are willing to train? Then post an ad for a receptionist with above-average customer skills. This person very well may be a good fit for the job. Ask employees to refer people they think may be fits. Always keep your eyes out for talent. Or do as Craig Newmark suggests and hire hardened criminals, specifically ex-cons to work in your customer service department. (Too bad he was kidding.)
  4. Pay better. It is a sad fact, but generally, the better you are willing to pay, the more talented people you will have applying to work for you. This isn’t always the case, but if you are paying twice the average wage for the same job, chances are the best of the best for that job will want to work for you. Ensure other things like company benefits, company culture, and some other perks (free lunches, daycare, etc.) are at least up to par with your competition. If your company is a miserable place to work, no one will want to work there.
  5. Read about it. Read books about hiring smart (a book called Topgrading comes to mind), read this post, read articles in magazines and newspapers about how to hire right, ask people about it (not reading, but along the same lines of self-education), and actually make an effort to to do it right.

Remember, keep the moronic idiots out of your company and it will do better.

Edit: Brian Clark has submitted this article to digg. digg it

Edit #2: Ben Yoskovitz added this article to reddit. reddit link

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