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Coach Employees to Boost Success

I recently participated in a teleconference about the importance of coaching in customer service organizations. It was interesting to hear the thoughts and methods of quite a few of people, most from different companies in different industries.

Though I haven’t been sent the official summary of the conversation, here is what I could gather (with my own thoughts):

Do it regularly.
Coaching is most effective when you do it regularly. Many companies integrate it into their formal review processes, which happen monthly, quarterly, etc. Doing it regularly lets employees know when it will be coming and allows them to best utilize the coaching.

Make it a formal process.
It is important to make coaching a formal process as well. If it is too casual, people will start to put it off or ignore it. Making coaching a formal process like quarterly reviews will hopefully encourage people to pay attention.

Make the expectations clear.
It is important to make the expectations about coaching very clear. Say when the coaching will happen, what is involved, who is involved, etc. If the employee knows all of this right off the bat, they can get a lot more out of the coaching.

Track results.
If possible, track the results of your coaching efforts. You want to see what is working, who it is working for, etc. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time (yours or the employee’s) through wasted coaching efforts.

One on one.
I generally advocate one on one coaching. It can be a simple thing (supervisor sitting next to the frontline employee and doing a few calls together) or a very formal thing with a third party coach or a formal agenda. I think one on one coaching is a lot more effective than having a few people together in a room or a big class.

Understand coaching.
Before you start coaching, understand it. Coaching is not really criticism. It is trying to coach and help your employees improve. It doesn’t always have to be reactive. There are always things that people can improve upon and that is what coaching is for. If you are always criticizing or pointing out faults, then it probably isn’t coaching.
Coaching should be fun.
If coaching is fun, people will want to do it. The process should be enjoyable, shouldn’t be stressful, and most of all, should be educational. Fun and educational aren’t mutually exclusive, so work on trying to make it fun.

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Discourage dead air.

I was watching a friend of mine struggle with her cellphone the other day. She was on  hold with a company that had no hold music. Apparently, her cellphone will automatically disconnect you if it doesn’t hear any noise on either side. Needless to say, this was frustrating for her. But for me and subsequently for you, it was beneficial.

A less annoying version of this can be implemented to help discourage “dead air” in call centers. My idea was this: you can set your customer service represenatives’ headsets to beep (so the caller cannot hear it) after a set period of time with nothing being said. If the customer is on hold, it won’t beep, but if the customer is still active on the call, then it will beep.

This reminds the customer service represenative to either start talking or to put the customer on hold while you research. That six to ten seconds of “dead air” can make customers wonder if they have been disconnected, forced to ask if you are still there, etc.

This is a fairly simple solution that solves a very annoying problem. Simple solutions like these can be implemented all around your company. It is just a matter of observing what is a problem and thinking about possible solutions. If you think about it concisely and pro-actively look for improvements, they will turn up.

What simple solutions have you used for your business?

Inflexibility with Schedules

The thing that I hate most about going to the doctor is the average doctor’s inflexibility with his or her schedule. You have to schedule an appointment weeks (or months) in advance. Then, when you get there, the service is still terrible and you still have to wait.

This is quite obviously the opposite of what you want to do. You should be adequately staffed where people don’t have to wait for weeks to get an appointment. And if you do make people wait weeks, then they should not have to wait once they get there.

Be realistic.
If you have to make people wait a long time for their appointment, be realistic. Explain that you are busy and that to provide them with the best possible service experience, you need that extra time.

Be ontime.
When you make an appointment, keep it. No one should have to wait more than a couple of minutes once they arrive at your office. If the appointment with the doctor is at 10:00 AM, they should see the doctor at 10:05 AM (or however long it takes on average to fill out the paper work, etc.).

Don’t rush.
There is nothing worse than waiting weeks for an appointment, waiting for an hour in the waiting room, and then being rushed on top of that. Don’t rush your customers once you are there. The long appointment delay was hopefully done to avoid that.

Hire people.
If you are in a business where you need to set yourself apart from your competitors, it may be a wise move to hire people to help. That way, you can see customers sooner. They will appreciate your flexibility and give them an extra bit of motivation to come back.

And here is it a bit of a comical post about what someone learned from tech support.

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Disaffected Employees are Evil

There is a game (free) called Disaffected. In it, you play the role of a Kinko’s employee who at first, cares about his job. However, it doesn’t take long to see that the other employees in the store could care less about their jobs. They ignore customers and do jobs poorly (at best). Then, you get disaffected. Unfortunately, this isn’t unique to Kinko’s or to video games. That’s why disaffected employees are evil.

When one employee is disaffected, it has a chance of spreading. It isn’t guaranteed to spread – that depends on the particular company, but there is no positive way to look at a disaffected employee.

  • They don’t really care about what they are doing and as such, are a lot less likely to do a good job.
  • They often complain a lot and that often encourages other people to complain.
  • Disaffected employees bring down an organization’s morale.

Keep in mind that a disaffected employee may be someone who just doesn’t care about their job. They may do okay at it (as in they don’t do really well and they don’t do really poorly), but they don’t put forth any great effort or show any real dedication. It is obvious that disaffected employees aren’t people you want to have on board.

In the presentation I gave a week or so ago, I told the audience to be patient with employees that wanted to and were trying and get rid of those who didn’t want to. There is a difference between not wanting to and not being able to. If you want to, but are having trouble doing something, it shows you have the attitude. The aptitude can usually be taught or trained. If you don’t want to, though, then you shouldn’t be on board. The best employee (technically) with the worst attitude is probably not someone you want on your team.

In customer service, attitude is really important. You can’t have someone that is negative or disaffected on your customer service team. It won’t work, especially if you want to provide great customer service. If you do have such a person on your customer service, you better fire them or move them elsewhere in your company where it may not matter as much.

What are your experiences with disaffected employees like? I run into them a lot as a customer, unfortunately. Thankfully, I have had less experience with them as an employee, manager, and consultant.

The Goal of Customer Service

Today is a short post, but I think it is an important topic worth thinking about.

A lot of people have trouble understanding the goal of customer service. The short term goal is to get the issue resolved. When a customer calls up, that is what they want to happen. They want the issue to get resolved – quickly and correctly. If you can resolve the issue quickly and correctly, the customer will be relatively happy.

Thinking about customer service as a means to get an issue resolved won’t provide great customer service, thhough. It may provide acceptable customer service or even customer service that is pretty good, but it isn’t exceptional. You have to think about customer service as more of a long term goal and a long term strategy. Great customer service is about more than just getting the issue resolved at that particular time and place.

But what about the long term goal? In a presentation I recently gave, I quoted Walt Disney who said something along the lines of: “You want to do what you do so well that they will want to come back and tell their friends.” I told the audience that they should try and deliver a customer service experience that makes their customers want to tell others about how great it is. The others I referred to, in particular, should be the customers’ friends and family.

If you can get your customers to tell their friends and family about your company, it will have a lot of benefits. You’ll save money on marketing, you’ll build your brand organically, you will get more customers, and perhaps most importantly, it shows that your customers trust you and are happy with the service you are providing. If a customer recommends you to their brother, sister, and/or boss, it shows that they feel you can do a good enough job to make that person happy.

Customer service is all about trying to get as many benefits as possible from it. You should resolve the issue, but you should also provide an experience that is so great that it will serve as a core element of your word of mouth marketing. And that, in turn, will lead to an improved bottom line and more business than you know what to do with.

Use Radios to Improve Customer Service

I talk a lot (probably mostly) about providing customer service online and over the phone. I don’t talk about customer service in stores, restaurants, etc. because I don’t have that much experience working with those types of companies.

However, I was reading something the other day that mentioned radios / walkie-talkies. Did you ever think about how they could help customer service?

In large physical locations, it can be hard to find and contact your colleagues. I personally think that PA systems are tacky and don’t add to the customer experience. Cellphones are okay, but they can be a bit flakey when inside large buildings. The best way? With walkie-talkies!

If you pay attention, you will see that more and more stores are “arming” their employees with some sort of communications device they can use to get in touch with their colleagues around the store. They make a lot of sense and can be useful.

Most offices (hopefully) have phones with extensions to contact other employees. These are used a lot and are very popular. The whole point is to have some sort of communication system that can be used to quickly contact other employees. In virtual offices, it could be IM or Skype.

A few suggestions for stores or restaurants that want to implement employee-to-employee radios:

High quality.
Get high enough quality radios and systems so employees don’t have to scream at each other to hear. This distraction will bother customers more than it will help them.

No earpieces.
As much as I love headsets and think they can be useful for some things, don’t buy headsets. I think they look a bit dorky when they are worn all the time and if you are working with customers face-to-face, probably uncalled for. Get a radio you can pick up and people will know what it is.

Use them.
You invest in these radios for a reason. Use them to help track down customer issues, look for customers that may be having trouble, etc. It is important to use whatever tools are available to you to improve the customer service experience.

Be courteous.
As always, you need to be courteous with your new gadgets. Have them turned down if you’re talking to customers, don’t yell at employees in front of customers, those types of things. It is crucial to be courteous at all times – especially when you are around customers.

Dealing with an unexpected rush.

My post on Monday talked about dealing with the rush in general. This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but there was slight confusion. Today’s post talks about how to deal with the rush that is unexpected.

Have formal operating procedures.
The first step to being able to deal with that huge, unexpected rush is to have formal operating procedures in place about how to deal with the said rush. Like any other operating procedure, your procedure for dealing with a big rush should be thought out, written down, and employees should be aware of it (and know how to do it).

Get the staff in.
Get as many employees as you can to work. Call them at home and get them to come in. Explain things are really busy. If you need to, pay them more than usual – give them a bonus at the end of the day or pay them time and a half. Whatever you have to do, do it. You’ll need extra help.

Remove people from jobs that don’t have to be done right that second.
You probably have bookkeepers, designers, marketers, stock people, etc. around that work for longer term things. Or they work behind the scenes. When you are really busy and can’t get enough , you need to move them to the frontlines. What you do with them depends on their expertise and what is needed (see below).

Use people that aren’t as experienced as support, not leads.
You know the bookkeepers and accountants you just took from behind the scenes? Don’t make them your star employees from the day. Have them do support roles. That way the people who are more used to being on the frontlines can do other things. What exactly a support role is varies from business to business, but it can be anything from assigning ticket numbers routing phone calls to directing customers to the right line.

Delegate simple tasks that can be done right.
Every business has simple tasks that can be done right (like the ones discussed above). I would delegate all the simple tasks (like routing phone calls) that are easy to do and can be done right (easily). This will let your more experiences representatives concentrate on the more complicated things.

Apologize to customers.
Your customers can probably tell things are really busy. However, you should apologize to them. Apologize about the wait. Apologize about things being a bit hectic. Apologize about it taking four transfers to get them to the right extension. Just explain that things are busy, everyone is trying their best, and that you sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding. (Don’t make excuses if possible.)

Offer to follow up later.
For customers that you feel could use extra attention, but you lack the time to do it during the busy day, offer to follow up later. If they accept (which many will), actually follow up. Offer a private appointment. Offer for them to come in next week. Just offer to follow up and then actually do it.

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