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Do you speak Call Centerese?

I saw this link at QaQNA and thought it was pretty funny. It is certainly worth listening to.

I’ve actually had pretty good experiences with Microsoft’s outsourced support. Their English seems to be better than average and it’s not nearly as bad as the person on this message (if it is really a Microsoft employee). At least Microsoft was trying to follow up!

Either way, the little movie/sound clip is funny.

(Lack of) Total Management Cooperation

It’s been a long week. I’m going to end the week (and start the weekend) with an above average post (if you are thinking that all of my posts are above average, then this post is above that).

I constantly babble about how important it is for the commitment to customer service to start at the top (also known as management dedication). However, a question I am asked a lot is “How do I convince my company’s management team that customer service is important?” This post will hopefully help you convince them and is dedicated to people in charge of a company’s customer service department.

Very few companies want to look at customer service as anything besides a gigantic cost center (which it is – good customer service departments are extremely expensive to staff and run). Successful customer service companies don’t look at as a cost center, but instead a potential customer winner over center (that isn’t the official term, but it does work).

Remember the stool!
Remember the three legged stool? I vowed to talk more about it, but it is hard to work it into posts as often as I’d like without overusing it. However, the three legged stool is so important. Explain it to your company’s management team. Employees have to be happy or they won’t be nice to customers. If customers aren’t happy, they won’t be nice to employees. If the business results are bad, everything will likely fail. However, if all three legs (items) are good, everything will work out.

Show them examples.
I have talked about quite a few companies that have seen above-average levels of success largely due to customer service. Companies like Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton, Headsets.com, Rackspace, Chick-fil-A, Printing For Less, and Starbucks are all companies I have talked about that have seen success partly (if not more than that) due to a strong commitment to customer service. Explain to your management team what these companies have done and what they have seen.

Concrete figures.
It’s more like soft concrete figures across the street, but they are figures nonetheless. Business people like facts and figures. Fact: Great customer service increases customer loyalty. Fact: Happy employees are more productive. Fact: Great customer service helps create customer evangelists, who definitely help businesses. None of these are solid facts (not in the 2 + 2 = 4 sense), but with research and logic, you should be able to find plenty of articles, white papers, research studies, and academic papers stating the same or very similar points.

Management teams don’t like to (but need to) hear about how their competition is doing something better. Say something like:

“We at Company X have 25% customer retention. At Company Y, where they have great customer service, has 65% customer retention. I spoke to Bob in our business department and he ran some figures and said that if we could increase our customer retention by 40%, we’d make another $5 million. That’s one tenth of what I’m asking for to help improve our customer service and that’s just one figure.”

That should get them almost every time. Management teams hate to hear how much better their competition is doing, especially when they can be doing just as well.

Get support.
Before going to your management team, talk to both customers and employees. Do they want to shift to a more customer service focused company? Customers probably will, but will they spend more? Ask! Explain what you want to do and ask for support. The reactions can’t hurt (worst that can happen is you stay like you are), but certainly can help.

Be sure to.
Explain to your management team that giving you a bigger budget for customer service, hiring a few consultants, or giving you a bigger salary won’t necessarily make their company the next Nordstrom or Ritz Carlton. Tell them that for this to work, it requires constant work and a constant dedication to customer service by everyone – including them.

Take an answer.
If the management team says yes, you are free to jump up and down because you are so happy. However, if they say no, take an answer. Work on your data, talk to more people, and get more examples and try again in a few months. It may be a slow (and painful) process, but if your data is good enough, you should be able to convince your management team.

Acceptable to Great

So how do you make a customer service experience go from acceptable to great? It is a tough thing to do and it’ll take more than taking the SAT to figure it out.

Read a lot.
Firstly, to understand what makes a great customer service experience, you have to read a lot. You need to read a lot of blogs, a lot of books, and a lot of articles. These collectively will give you an idea about what makes a great customer service experience and to what extreme (for the better) some companies take customer service.

Don’t forget to ask your customers! Ask them: What would you like to see us improve upon? A simple, open-ended question like that can produce a lot of helpful feedback. It is amazing how few companies actually ask that question when it is so simple to ask and the information they get back is so useful.

After you understand what a truly great customer service experience is, you need to analyze pretty much everything related to customers with your company. Depending on your product/service and the level of detail you use, this could be done fairly quickly or literally take years (if you have a company where it’ll take a long time – hire someone to help so you do it right the first time). Some things you could look at:

  • How does the product get to the customer?
  • What is involved with setting up the product?
  • What is involved with using the product?
  • How do customers get support for the product?
    • Is it difficult to contact the company?
    • How are issues tracked?
    • Are follow ups made?
    • etc.
  • How do customers return the product?

These are just some of the many questions that you should ask yourself. Think: what does the customer have to do? Look at my series on service calls (http://www.serviceuntitled.com/category/service-calls/) and you’ll see what I am talking about. I outlined the customer service experience involved with a service call.

Once you know what the customer has to do, think how to make it better. Can you make the product easier to open? Can you make it easier to contact the company? Should you send follow ups? How can you improve the return process? You should go through each step that you came up in the analyze step and see what you can do to improve it. Your reading should give you an idea of what some other companies do, so your job is to tailor it to your product, your team, your company, etc.

You should take the improvement process one step at a time. Don’t jump and try and do everything at once. Some companies prefer to do it in order (i. e. fixing product shipping first), while other companies prefer to do it in order of importance (how I would do it). Start small and move up to bigger improvements. If all it takes to fix a step is change some words in your documentation, do that and move up from there.

Once you implement these changes, be sure to watch them. Are they actually helping? What do customers think? Be sure to monitor quality (discussed here) and ensure the changes are helping and being done wherever they should be. For example, it doesn’t do the customer any good if your training manual says “Address customers by name”, but employees aren’t doing it. You need to monitor them to ensure they are doing their part as well.

Don’t hesitate to ask your customers again in a few months. Something like “We listened to you and made the following changes. How did we do? Did we miss anything? What would you like to see improved further?” Again, simple questions that can go a very long way.

SAT Time!

It’s SAT time. However, it’s not the SAT that you take to get into college, but the Service Aptitude Test. I discovered the SAT on John DiJulius’s web site and thought it was fairly interesting. The test is here.

More about the test (as well as the actual answers and what I though the answers were) after the “more.” Take the test (write down your answers!) before reading on.

Continue Reading

Not Our Fault

It is a sad but very true fact that oftentimes when you a call a company, they will take you through troubleshooting steps not to solve the problem, but instead, to point the blame to another company (or department).

Today I read an article about companies anticipating problems that aren’t actually their fault, but they have to deal with regardless. The article says “It’s not our fault, but it is still our problem.” For companies that try to blame other companies, keep that in mind.

It doesn’t matter if you did ship out the product and UPS lost it, or if you sent out the welcome email and the customer didn’t receive it, it is your problem to deal with for a few reasons:

  • The customer doesn’t have (access to) their product.
  • It is your product and your responsibility until the customer starts to use it.
  • The customer paid you and you have their money.

The article cites an example about Disney and their parking situation. It is common that people forget where they park when they visit one of Disney’s parks, but it is certainly not Disney’s fault. However, Disney has developed an effective and customer friendly process to help customers find their cars. Disney opens lots/areas of lots by time and can help customers narrow down where they parked using that system.

The article also cites some other common examples and how best to deal with them:

  • Being booked (for restaurants or other places that require reservations).
  • A credit card being declined. The example here is one I have never heard of, but a very good one.
  • Shipping problems/delays.
  • Defective products.
  • Unhappy customers (for other reasons). I have seen similar things done, but not this exactly. It is a very good idea that more companies should do.
  • Making a picky customer happy.
  • Dealing with running out of stock during a busy time.
  • Rejection (loan declined, etc.)
  • No/lost luggage.

The author, John DiJulius writes a lot about little things that collectively make a big difference. I have read his book and would say it is one of the better books on customer service out there.

What you have to do as a business owner or customer service professional is predict what problems there will be (especially the ones that happen frequently) and think of ways to deal with them. Turn the negative experience into a potential customer service success story. I’d suggest reading the article – it is definitely worth the time and provides some interesting examples and insight.

It’s a Carnivale of Customer Service & a Retirement

Today is a mix of things. First of all, the Carnivale of Customer Service was hosted by Meikah. You can find the links to a whole bunch interesting posts on quite a few blogs related to customer service and a few other topics here.

Secondly, Anonymous Cog at Call Center Purgatory has called it quits. After (approximately) 655 posts, 2 years, 7 months, 3 days, he said it was enough. The blog was a good read and he said that he’ll be leaving the posts up for a while.

I’m waiting on getting an interview edited and approved before I publish it, but for now just two little updates.

For a little content, I called Amazon.com’s Customer Service Department today to check on the status of an order I had placed. The web site said it was expected to arrive tomorrow, the automated telephone order tracked said the day after, and I hadn’t recieved an email to tell me either way.

I found the phone number on GetHuman and got to a person fairly quickly. The person sounded American, seemed nice, and was helpful. I got the information about my order (it is in the shipping process and I should receive the tracking number by the end of the business day today) and was instantly sent an email asking me to provide my feedback.
Here are all of the questions they asked:

Your Name:
E-mail Address:
(Please enter the e-mail address associated with your Amazon account.)
Subject:     Feedback to Amazon.com

Kind of disappointing to see a simple email form one of the largest Internet companies as the way they measure customer feedback for phone calls, but whatever works for them. I was expecting  a least a 5-10 question survey, but this shows that some companies view the feedback process differently than others.

How are you today?

Every now and then I will call a company and it goes like this: “Hi, thank you for calling Company XYZ. My name is Betty. How are you doing today?”

I do not understand why customer service representatives are instructed by their training people or supervisors to ask the question of how are you, how are you doing, or anything else along those lines.

If you think about it, asking such question is not a good idea. Why do most people call companies to talk to a customer service representative? Generally, they have problems. They are calling to ask why their service isn’t working, to return a product, to complain about something, to sort out an incorrect bill, etc.

Best case scenario:

Representative: How are you doing today?
Customer: I’m doing okay.

Worst case scenario:

Representative: How are you doing today?
Customer: Terrible. My Internet is down and my bill is wrong. You are a stupid company.

See? You don’t have that much to gain and a very likely chance of producing an awkward situation at the beginning of a call. This can set a negative tone for the entire call and certainly not help get anything done.

The point is don’t ask customers how they are. Instead, ask something like:

  • How may I help you today?
  • May I help you?
  • How may I assist you?
  • What can I do for you today?
  • etc.

That’s far more productive and isn’t as likely to produce as many problems. Short post today, but an important topic.

Pace and Lead Strategy

I found this post linked to from a blog I like quite a bit (Lifehacker). The strategy, theory, exercise, etc. they talk about is called pace and lead. I have never heard of it in those exact words before, but the strategy is a fairly common one utilized by experienced customer service representatives and taught by trainers.

I’m not sure if I would exactly yell “They what?!? You’ve got to be kidding! If that happened, it’s unacceptable!!” as that makes it seem as if you are either unaware that things go wrong or just react quite a bit. Plus, the phrase “If that happened” could be misinterpreted by some customers as the representative doubting their accuracy in describing the problem and/or the customer’s honesty. I can see how it would make some customers feel better, but personally, I’d rather have a customer service representative that was a bit calmer and more collected.

Here is a lighter example of pace and lead:

Company: Hi, thanks for calling Company XYZ. My name is Bob, how may I help you?
Customer: Hi Bob, this is Betty from Company ABC. Our Internet is down.
Company: Mary, your Internet should not be down and this isn’t acceptable. Let me look into it and see what I can do to help you.
Customer: Thanks Bob.
Company: Mary, thank you for your patience. I looked into this and it appears there is an issue with the router in your building. If you don’t mind holding for about 5 minutes, I’ll call so and so right now and they can fix this in such and such a time.

It has a similar effect as the more serious/intense pacing and leading. The customer in this scenario isn’t very irate, so representatives may have to adjust their tone/words accordingly.

Pacing and leading is something that representatives should be taught during their initial training (whether it be book, classroom and/or mentor-based). It is something that definitely requires practice and is hard to teach flat out because it varies so much based on the customer, the time, the problem, etc. There is a fine line between empathizing with the customer and over-reacting and perhaps scaring them that you are a bit too “intense.”

Customer service “experts” may disagree with pace/lead, mainly because it is asking the customer service representative to stop remaining calm. If the customer service representative is freaking out, chances are the customer will feed off of that. Imagine if 911 operators were like “That happened? I can’t believe it.” – some customers look at certain company’s customer service departments as their 911-equivalent. 911 operators are usually dealing with people who are very upset and a huge part of their job is remaining calm and hoping the caller will feed off of that.

However, people who use pace/lead effectively will continue to tone it down to what the author of the blog post calls a productive state. There are lots of things companies do to deal with angry customers. I advise people to train their representatives to:

  1. Let the customer vent.
  2. Apologize for any inconveniences, regardless of who’s fault it is.
  3. Immediately assure the customer that you (the representative) understand their problem and want to help them fix it.
  4. Proceed with troubleshooting and fixing.

This works with most customers in most situations. It isn’t 100% fool proof, and pacing/leading can be integrated into that process fairly easily. I’d never suggest that a customer service representative try to match an angry customer’s tone (in fact, I’d advise against it), but I do recommend that representatives try and use some form of pacing/leading in addition to a traditional operating procedure for dealing with angry customers (like the one above).

Tomorrow’s post will be about when and when not to use the words “How are you?”.

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