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Public Shame and Praise to Drive Results

Brent Oxley is the CEO of HostGator, a web host that has been doing very well for a few years now. I know and have worked with Brent before and he has recently been experimenting with the public shame / praise model that I know works so well. It has been a longtime customer service technique and is more often than not, rather effective. In Brent’s case, it seems like it has been effective.

The public shame and praise he chose to do was posting everyone’s customer satisfaction scores on the company bulletin board in the staff lounge. The employees with the best scores were listed at the top and the employees with the worst scores were at the bottom of the list. Everyone sees this sheet every day and it couldn’t be in any plainer view.

Brent told me “I know I would be as embarrassed as hell if my name was on the bottom of the list.” He nailed it. This system is more psychological than anything else. There are no actual consequences from having your name on the bottom of the list (some companies cut the people on the bottom of the list every month), but it is really embarrassing. The fear of embarrassment is probably enough to motivate people to try.

I’m obviously pessimistic (not a common trait in customer service, I know). From the “glass half full” perspective, employees will want to show that they can do well. If they are on the top of the list, it’s an achievement. They peers will see employee’s name on the top of the list and will hopefully be envious. I am conceited enough where I would try to be on the top of the list for just that reason (I try to do my best at anything I do, though).

Regardless of someone’s motivations for getting to the top of the list, it makes a difference. The system is time tested and effective. It has worked so far for Brent and HostGator. It works for a lot of other companies as well.

Here are some tips to drive even more results from your public praise and shame system:

  • Reward employees at the top of the list. Give them bonuses, even more recognition, etc.
  • Fire employees who are consistently on the bottom of the list.
  • Each employee that is at the bottom of the list should have to get coaching or help from a supervisor.
  • Consider posting a list for each day’s scores. And then, another list for the month’s scores.
  • Track other metrics that your company values.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The system has a lot of potential and has worked well for many years and throughout many companies. I am an advocate of it and would suggest you start doing it if you don’t already.

What would you do to make this system better? What sort of results have seen with this system?

Little Things That Add Humor

On Friday, I talked about Noah Kagan’s suggestions for a company’s customer service department. A common theme among his suggestions involved humor.

His humor related suggestions were:

– Play jokes instead of mundane hold music.
– Make the “Your call may be recorded” message humorous (We are going to record your call and if you have a great voice we will listen to it every night to put us to sleep.)

I’ve heard about little things like that throughout companies. I read about a company that was sick of endless phone systems. So, they added something like push 5 to hear the lion roar, push 6 to hear the noise in the lunch room, etc. to their phone system. Again, a pretty small thing with the sole purpose of making fun of existing standards.

I’ve already posted my thoughts about how I feel that humor is sometimes uncalled for. In some experiences and situations, it can be pulled off (like the ones listed above, most likely). In others, it can’t. I don’t appreciate it during an in-person customer service interaction and there is a very fine line between funny and obnoxious.

I promise that I am not a cynical, humor hating person. I like jokes and I like comedy. I have favorite comedians and make fun of people and situations. However, I am not sure about humor in customer service situations. Here are my thoughts about whether or not it can be pulled off.

  • Depends on the company’s culture. Some companies have a very laid back, easy going culture. If your company’s culture reflects this, you have a better shot at getting away with humor.
  • Depends on the customer. You may have the most laid back team on the planet and be a very easy going company that loves humor, but if your customers don’t fit that profile as well, avoid humor.

If both our company and your customers have values that align with humor, it’ll probably work out. Make fun of yourselves, your industry, common practices within your industry, etc. as as much as you’d like.


  • Microsoft. Microsoft’s enterprise software clients would likely not appreciate humor scattered throughout their contracts or multi-million dollar invoices. Microsoft is not a company people expect humor from.
  • FeedBurner. FeedBurner deals with bloggers. They make fun of themselves and seem to have a very laid back culture. FeedBurner has been very laid back since the beginning (as far as I know). Much more of a fit for humor.
  • Random Client. A client I am working with has a service that is targeted at a very professional group of people. I advised them to stay away from humor and keep things pretty professional. The company’s culture is laid back and fun loving enough, but their customers are not.

I never discourage companies having fun internally. They can make fun of each other as much as they’d like, play games, etc. I think that is great for team building and makes going to work fun. Microsoft probably does this. Google, which has a relatively conservative and professional exterior, does. However, I am not sure about humor to customers and during customer service.

Many companies have humor scattered throughout their product. They have little jokes in their copy, funny error messages, etc. Again, depending on the company and the average customer, these can be pulled off.

What are your thoughts about little doses of humor throughout customer service?

Customer Service from an Outside Perspective

Most of the conversations I have about customer service are with one of the following groups of people:

  • Customer service executives
  • Marketing executives
  • Operations executive
  • Entrepreneurs wanting to learn more about customer service
  • Frontline customer service representatives
  • Customer service “professionals” (writers or consultants)
  • etc.

These are the people I usually talk to about customer service. They are usually involved with customer service heavily and know quite a lot about it. Ironically enough, for these people I am usually the “outside perspective” because I’m not involved with their organizations directly. If I do become involved, it is usually only for a couple of weeks as a consultant. I’m the outside perspective with different opinions about how things could / should be done. However, it can be taken a step further.

Yesterday, I read a post on Noah Kagan’s Okdork about why he thinks customer service “sucks ass” (his words). Customer service does suck, but some of these issues he mentioned weren’t things I would think about mentioning.

I’ve met Noah before and know he is a smart guy. He knows a lot about marketing (especially in a Web 2.0 world) and has a pretty practical, no BS approach to business. He is a lot more “in your face” than I am and that makes him a good marketer. I would also imagine it makes him a pretty vocal customer.

With that in mind, Noah’s customer service suggestions were:

  1. Don’t ask to put me on hold.
  2. Don’t play shitty music.
  3. Answer after 1 ring.
  4. Don’t say you are going to record the conversation.
  5. Don’t advertise.
  6. Don’t ask me about my day.

These are things that most customer service “experts” have already thought about. I know I have thought about (and most likely written about) everything he mentioned (though I don’t believe that makes me expert). However, when someone who isn’t that involved with customer service mentions them, they are an outside perspective. If that someone is a fairly vocal and well informed customer (like Noah), it is an outside perspective that you will A) hear and B) is probably worth listening to.

Nothing Noah said was that original or unheard of (sorry!), but not many things in customer service are. A lot of it is just common sense and thinking about how you can make an experience better. Getting ideas on where the common sense can be applied and how you can make the experience better is something that an outside perspective can be great at. It is one of the reasons companies hire people like myself.

Here are my responses to Noah’s suggestions:

  1. I disagree. I think representatives should ask permission to put a customer on hold.
  2. I agree. This is something I have discussed before (also see the link in #5).
  3. I’ve heard stories about a phone being answered so quickly that it actually startles the customer. It is a good idea to answer the phone within 1 – 3 things. If an IVR is answering the phone, it should be immediately.
  4. Most companies are required to do this by law. I am sure they can make the message a bit more creative, though.
  5. One of my earliest posts was entitled “Don’t give them a sales pitch.”
  6. When a representative asks this, they usually mean well. But, in general, I don’t advise it.

Somewhat long story short: get an outside perspective whenever you can. It will be valuable, especially when the person you are getting the perspective from knows what is going on.

Admit Your Mistakes

Something that a lot of companies seem to have trouble with is simply admitting their mistakes. They will apologize for you feeling that way or for the misunderstanding, but it is rare to hear a company say something like we messed up or we made a mistake.

Sure, no one likes admitting to mistakes. I certainly don’t. In companies, representatives aren’t supposed to admit to mistakes or errors. Nothing is the company’s fault – it is always someone else’s fault. That isn’t a healthy attitude.

While it obviously depends on the issue, a majority of mistakes can be admitted and the customer will be okay with it. For the customer to be okay with the mistake, the company has to make a solid effort at fixing the mistake and of course, apologize, but more often than not, the customer will forgive the company (especially if they have had good service to date).

Here is your new operating procedure for admitting mistakes:

If the company has made a mistake: If the company is at fault and has made a legitimate error or mistake, please follow this procedure:

  1. Explain the mistake.
  2. Apologize to the customer.
  3. Explain why the mistake happened. (Do not make excuses.)
  4. Apologize for the inconvenience. Assure the customer the mistake will be fixed.
  5. Work on fixing the mistake. (If needed, offer to follow up once the mistake is fixed.)
  6. Explain to the customer why it won’t happen again.
  7. Apologize again for any inconveniences.
  8. Offer appropriate service credit, compensation, etc. (To show our apologies or We would be more than happy to).
  9. If customer accepts, do the appropriate actions.
  10. Ensure the mistake is fixed.
  11. Provide the customer with your direct contact information and encourage him/her to ask questions if there are any.
  12. Before ending the interaction, thank the customer for his or her understanding.
  13. Follow up in 5 days with another apology and offering help if needed.

If the company has not made a mistake: If the customer thinks the company has made a mistake, but the company has not explain why it is not a mistake. Keep explaining until the customer understands. Fix any problems and try to alleviate the problem.

Appropriate Compensation: If the customer has had to pay for anything as a result of the company’s mistake, the customer should immediately be re-imbursed, refunded, credited, etc. If the mistake took a lot of the customer’s time to correct, a service credit should be issued.

Serious Mistakes / VIP Customers: If the mistake is a serious one or the customer is a VIP customer, apologize and elevate the call to a manager. Ask permission and explain why the call is being elevated (Mr. Smith, to help you get a faster resolution, I am going to give this call to my manager. Is that okay with you?). Answer any questions in the mean time. Do not elevate if a manager is not available.

That is your operating procedure for dealing with mistakes. Obviously, you can change it and add to it as needed.

How do you deal with mistakes?

How To Do Ticket Auditing

Ticket auditing is a necessary part of customer service. If your company does a lot of support online, then it is even more important. A lot of companies, especially smaller ones struggle with ticket auditing. The process can be complicated and time consuming.

Here are some of the best ways to have a successful ticket auditing process:

Have someone else do it.
While there are some benefits in having an employee’s direct supervisor do ticket auditing, it sometimes better to get an outside perspective. The person doesn’t have to be a consultant or someone that specializes in ticket auditing, but just another supervisor or customer service executive from your company.

Random and special.
I generally recommend doing audits on two types of tickets or cases:

  • Random tickets. Pick a random ticket from the list of resolved tickets or cases. Just pick a random one, regardless of any of the factors. Then, do the audit.
  • Special tickets. You should also audit “special” tickets. Special tickets are ones that have X number of replies, took too long to get resolved, had to be elevated, etc.

Have a purpose.
Your average audit is nice, but I think audits with a purpose are more effective. You want to have a purpose in mind. The purpose can be nearly anything, but I think it should be articulated. Your purpose can be to see why satisfaction levels have dropped 5%, look for additional things to add to training documentation, etc.

Write it down and put it into a document.
All audits should be written down. The general findings should be summarized and put into a document. The document should be sent to all employees. Hopefully, it will explain the purpose of the audit, what the auditors learned, future actions, etc. This way, everyone can get an idea of what happened and what was learned.

Tell employees if their ticket was audited.
I think it is good to tell an employee if their ticket was audited. Explain what happened, what was learned. Tell them where they did well, where they can improve, etc. You can turn the audit into a mini-coaching session.

Do it often.
Make a formal commitment to do audits of some sort every X months. If you can make a commitment to do audits regularly, it will really help.

The Apple Store Uses Technology to its Advantage

If you have been to an Apple Store lately, you might have noticed that on the desktop of every machine, there is an icon you can click to get help. When you do click it, the screen turns to red and it says a Mac Specialist will be over shortly.

I’m not sure how long Apple has been doing this, but it is a really good idea. It has a lot of potential and shows how a smart company can use their existing resources to improve the customer service experience.

Like with anything, this system has its flaws.

I clicked to get help and no one came over. I waited for about 5 minutes (the waiting isn’t  that bad when you have a full computer to play with), but no one came over to help me. This could actually make the experience worse than if there was no icon. Having no icon keeps expectations low. Having an icon and saying someone will be over shortly raises expectations.  

For a system like this to work well, you would probably have to have staff members dedicated to helping customers that request help. In a small store like the one I was at, it probably doesn’t need to be more than one person. In a larger store, you’ll need more people.

It isn’t hard to update the system to remove the icon when the store gets busy. If the manager notices the store is busy, he could probably just click something and the need help icon would good away. Or, he could have it so the message says that it may be a few minutes until someone comes over to help you.

Everyone working at the store was busy and it wasn’t a particularly busy time or day by retail standards. On a different, but still related note, there was about an 8 person deep line at the cash register. These were people who had several hundred dollar products in their hands – wanting to give Apple their money! And they had to wait. In other words, the store was understaffed.

Apple Stores sell a lot of expensive merchandise per square foot. At McDonald’s, an 8 person deep line during lunchtime is fine. At the Apple Store, it’s unacceptable. One would think that the company would hire more people. They don’t pay their  employees very much, either (last I heard they made a few more dollars than minimum wage and had no commissions), so the cost would probably be worth it. With more employees, people can ask questions when they have one, buy items when they need to, etc.

Staffing is the critical component for a request help thing like what the Apple Store is trying to do. If Apple got that right, it would be a really cool (and effective) way to improve the customer service experience using the technology they already have sitting there.

Your “homework” should be to think about ways you can use technology that you have in your store or that your customers have access to. How can you use that technology to improve the customer service experience?

Cox Communications Customer Service

A friend of mine and longtime reader of Service Untitled sent me this link on Saturday. The link outlines a particular guy’s recent troubles with Cox Communications. It seems like there is never a lack of bad customer service, especially in industries where monopolies tend to occur like cable TV and Internet.

The guy (Shanti Braford) is a programmer who needs the Internet for his work. His Cox Internet service went out for a while and Cox handled the situation poorly. Like a lot of companies, the actual issue wasn’t that complicated to fix, but since the company handled the situation poorly, it became a much bigger customer service problem.

Why his Internet went out is actually pretty sad. From my understanding, Cox decided to disconnect a lot of people and only reconnected them once they complained. Shanti was a very vocal complainer, so I imagine his Internet got connected a lot sooner than his neighbor’s.

An anonymous representative from Cox contacted Shanti and answered some questions he had. The representative said that she makes $8.50 an hour and has a very comfortable job. Like a lot of lower level customer service representatives in backwards (at least in the customer service sense) organizations, this representative has to deal with all of Cox’s dumb policies and procedures. She isn’t empowered to do that much and these policies and procedures make it harder, if not near impossible, for her to provide great customer service. 

The representative also mentions how representatives rarely get recognition for a job well done. Most of the feedback they get is when something goes wrong and then it is obviously quite negative. This isn’t helpful and definitely isn’t an example of good coaching. I’m sure Anonymous Cog, as well as thousands of other customer service reps, can relate.

From Shanti’s story and the anonymous representative’s comment, I think we can learn the following:

  • When you do service calls, it is important to have a good relationship with the company actually doing the service call.
  • It is important to empower customer service representatives to go the extra mile.
  • It is critical to praise and recognize great customer service when it is provided.
  • Don’t do stupid things like unplugging people’s Internet and not plugging it back in until they complain.
  • Don’t complicate issues when they don’t have to be complicated.
  • As a customer, you sometimes have to be rather vocal to get your problem resolved.

A lot of these issues are common themes that you see recurring throughout customer service. They are issues I and others have written and spoken about before, but so many companies just don’t seem to get it. And who suffers because of that? The customers.

Oh and Shanti, I’ve been a DirecTV customer for a while. Although I have had a few problems with them, I would highly recommend them. I also like being a customer of a company that is not the local monopoly (ours is the probably as bad as Cox company Comcast).

The Ringing

Everyone has called a company and gotten what I call “the ringing.” It is when you call and the phone just seems to keep on ringing. No phone menu, no answering machine, just lots of ringing.

As a customer, this makes you rather nervous or frustrated. If something is going wrong, then you are obviously quite nervous. If you are just a potential customer or have a casual question, it will probably frustrate you.

Regardless of who you are, you aren’t happy when you just get the ringing. Thoughts about the company’s possible technical incompetence, lack of financial stability, or even continued existence probably pop into your head. A company like that certainly isn’t one you want to buy from. A company like that certainly isn’t one you want to continue doing business with.

As a company, you should work to avoid the ringing. Not just the actual ringing that is likely caused by a problem with your IVR, but all types of similar problems. Little things that can quickly frustrate a customer that are probably completely accidental. Things like:

  • “The ringing”
  • Getting disconnected during transfers
  • Getting disconnected at all (when the customer knows it isn’t their fault)
  • Errors when a customer tries to do a live chat or submit a ticket online
  • Looping / repeating IVR menus
  • Little errors on your web site that make it impossible to navigate to a page or login

All of these are little things that drive a customer crazy. They may instantly turn the customer off. At the very least, they will cause the customer to think about other companies and re-evaluate their current deal with you.

The easiest way to prevent things like the ringing are to watch for them. Call your phone number to make sure it’s working. Check the status of your web site. Have representatives browse your web site and call your company when they start their shift. 5 or 10 minutes and it could save you a lot of upset customers.

Then, if you do notice a problem: fix it. When you fix it, make sure it won’t happen again. If it only happens once, the customer will probably forget about it. If they notice “the ringing” every time they call, chances are they won’t be happy.

On this very same note, my sincere apologies about the downtime yesterday evening. There were some technical problems. I bet when you try to visit a customer service blog that is down that you don’t think too highly of it! Well, we certainly dropped the ball and don’t want Service Untitled to be down any more than you do.

What similar things to the ringing can you think of? How does your company deal with them?

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