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Difference in Roles

Companies, especially those with complicated products or services, often run into the issue of the difference in roles. Companies aren’t sure about the lines between support, account management, and consulting. The first step is defining what the exact roles are within your company. Here is how I define them:
I typically look at support as reactive. The customer calls a general phone number or emails a general email address with their question, a case or ticket number is assigned, and then a pool of representatives responds. There usually isn’t a personal relationship with customers and the company. There are of course cases where individual representatives get to know individual customers, but that is simply because the customer and the representative have been there for however many months or years happens to be the case.

Account management.
Most companies define account management as a service role where the customer is assigned a personal account manager. Account managers develop a more personal relationship with the customer and work with the customer to resolve a majority of their needs. Essentially, the customer has an individual, as opposed to a group or a company, to turn to when they have an issue. Account management usually involves working with the customer to develop solutions that are best for them and doing so on an individualized and often proactive basis. It is a mix of sales and support with some consulting mixed in.

Consulting is the most involved of the three roles. Customers (usually referred to as clients by consultants) work with experts in a particular field (i. e. customer service or sales management). The consulting is usually hands on, it is customized, and while it helps to sell products and services, it does more than that. Consultants often work with products or services that aren’t made by the company and make recommendations that are beyond just the scope of the products and services offered by the company. An example is if a company is a client of a company like Oracle (which makes some CRM applications). They hire a consultant through Oracle not only to implement their new CRM from a technical perspective, but also to get the most out of the CRM throughout the rest of their company. It is part product training, part procedure and process design, etc.

Support is the least involved and consulting is the most involved, with account management in the middle. A future post (probably tomorrow) will be about deciding what your company should offer and perhaps most importantly, what should be standard.

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Increase in Elevations

I read about a company that saw an increase in the number of elevations they were seeing. More and more calls were being elevated from level 1 to level 2. The reason, though, was mysterious to the company. They weren’t sure why the calls were being elevated and why level 1 technicians were unable to resolve the issues. Their question and concern was how to find this out and what is truly the cause versus what seems to be the cause. Of course, there are a lot of potential causes and potential solutions:

Have you asked the representatives?
A great place to start is by asking the representatives why they are elevating calls. A lot of them will be quite honest about why they’re elevating calls, especially if you make it clear what they say won’t harm them in anyway. If necessary, do an anonymous survey about why calls are being elevated. More often than not, representatives want to provide their feedback and because of the nature of their job, they know (and are) the frontlines.

Any trends?
Are there trends in the types of issues that are elevated? If you can identify clear trends (i. e. there are 50% more elevations between midnight and 8 AM), you can more accurately judge what is causing the elevations (the night shift is not as good as the day shift).
Product problem.
Never dismiss the potential of an actual problem or defect with the product or service. If a lot of customers are calling up about the same issue consistently, it is probably something wrong with the product.

Consider the talent pool.
Was the standard lowered on the type of level 1 representatives that were hired? Are new level 1 agents being paid less than they were 6 months ago? Did company Y (a competitor of company X) open up a call center 10 minutes away (and they could pay more)? The talent pool and any significant changes in it will more than likely change the number of elevations that occur.

Procedures in place?
Are call times limited? Are elevations factored into the customer service representative ratings? If representatives are elevating calls to get customers off the phone, there is obviously a flaw in the system. Make sure there are no policies or procedures in place that would actually encourage unnecessary elevations. You never want to put a policy or procedure in place that discourages elevations that are actually called for, but elevations should not be done frivolously.

These are probably some great ways to start. It never hurts to ask (customers or employees) and it never hurts to ask yourself the tough questions, either. See what you’re doing versus what you should be doing and hopefully, what needs to be done will be clear.

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How to Measure Satisfaction at Every Step

I constantly preach about the importance of surveying customers constantly and consistently. Companies that don’t survey their customers often find themselves making the wrong decisions about what they should do next and what needs improvement. The executive’s perspective is very different than the customer’s perspective. This difference is the reason that companies should survey customers. A challenge that many companies run into is when and how frequently to survey customers.
There are different schools of thought about when and how frequently to survey customers. Some companies believe in doing a big survey once per quarter while others believe in doing little surveys at every single step of the customer experience. There has to be a balancing act because a survey once per quarter may not be enough whereas a survey once a day for every customer is probably overkill. If you have a ten step customer experience and send a survey for each step, customers will become overwhelmed and annoyed.

My personal preference is to send a brief (as in: no more than 2-3 question) survey after every customer service interaction (phone call, email, etc.). This way companies can get an accurate idea about the quality of the service they are providing across all mediums. If it is emailed to the customer immediately after the interaction, it should still be fairly fresh in their mind. Simple surveys with a Net Promoter question usually provide companies with a good idea of the quality of service they are providing.

Having surveys freely available to interested customers is always a good idea, too. If you own a retail store, make sure there are surveys at the counter, near the bathrooms, etc. Include them occasionally in shopping bags or a link to a survey at the bottom of a welcome email- that sort of thing. Make it easy for customers to provide their feedback and make it useful to your company. It is a terrible waste to have a customer fill out a survey that is useless to the company because it’s flawed or doesn’t address the important issues. Invest time and effort into ensuring the surveys you’re making available to customers are worthwhile.

Except for the random quarterly survey, try to keep surveys short (just a couple of questions). Make them as straight forward as possible and as always, make it easy. Surveys that are complicated, long, etc. don’t help your response rates and certainly don’t make your customers like the surveys (or by extension, your company) any more.

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Fascinating Marketing

Logo Floridalotto
Service Untitled is not really a marketing blog by definition; it is almost entirely a customer service and customer service experience blog. However, the commercial I saw for the Florida Lottery was too good not to write about. The actual commercial wasn’t spectacular, but the marketing idea behind what they were promoting was really interesting.

The Florida Lottery now gives players the option to pay a certain amount to raise the jackpot. So, if the normal jackpot for a $10 ticket is $5 million, you can pay another $1 (total for ticket: $11) to raise it to $7 million, or you can pay another $3 (total: $13) to raise the jackpot to $30 million. The ticket prices are hypothetical, but the general idea of paying a small amount (under $5) to vastly increase the jackpot is the same. The lottery’s web site says this is the breakdown:

  • $1 players will win the base jackpot.
  • $2 players will win the base jackpot plus $10 million in the $2 jackpot prize pool.
  • $3 players will win the base jackpot plus $10 million in the $2 jackpot prize pool plus $15 million in the $3 prize pool (a total of $25 million more).

Needless to say, this is a very interesting marketing move. I would think (though I don’t have the statistics) that almost everyone will pay the extra money for the possibility of the increased jackpot. The odds are winning are so small, why not spend the extra $3? Imagine if you actually did win and you didn’t spend the extra couple of bucks – it would be maddeningly frustrating. That basic thought process will probably run through every buyer’s head as they are asked if they want to pay the extra money to increase the jackpot by a huge amount. Spend $3.00 at the chance to win $25 million? It is a no brainer.

Whoever came up with the original idea to do this was obviously quite smart. Human psychology, particularly (optimistic) greed, makes it difficult to pass up an opportunity to win so much money. This is a perfect example of smart marketing. (I am sure this is done in other states, but this is the first I have heard about it in Florida.)

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Quick Post: Use Your Blog

A quick post today about using your blog to help deal with the issue of knowledge share as well as how to get the most out of your internal blog. As you may very well know, most major blogging systems (WordPress, for example) have an email to post feature. This feature allows you to quite simply email a post to a special email address. The blogging system will then translate the email format into a blog post (usually pretty simple: subject as title, body as main post). This is handy for quick posts on the go and from your email client.

This handy feature can also be used to make a dead simple internal blog. Instead of dealing with the complications and annoyances of posting solutions and good ideas to the internal blog through a desktop blog editor or through a web interface (small, but it is all relative), representatives can just email their solutions directly to the blog. Some systems keep the posts in draft mode (therefore a moderator within the company could edit / verify / approve / etc. any articles) while others just publish it right away.

Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense (and be very simple) to have a coolsolutions@company.com email address within your company that automatically posted the coolest solutions to tough problems to an internal blog. If everyone reads the internal blog, they could very well get a lot out of those posts and know what to do if the issue comes up in the future.

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Improve Customer Retention with Documentation

When I wrote my post about moving help outside of the help center, I promised to write a post about one of the main benefits of actually moving hep outside of the help center (besides the logical conclusion that customers will actually use the documentation more). The second benefit (and perhaps more importantly) is that help outside of the help center can teach customers how to use parts of your software or service that they may not be familiar with already. This is very valuable for a number of reasons.

The more they use it, the better.
If you have a software product that’s very powerful (I like to use Photoshop as an example), then there is a lot of value in teaching customers how to get the most out of it. If they know how to get the most out of your product, they are more likely to stay with your company and continue using your product or service. They get more attached, more used to it, etc. — all things that can result in higher repeat sale rates.

It helps branding.
Customers like to know how to get the most out of things they have paid for or invested time in. When companies take the time to write up documentation and helpful tips that customers actually can get use out of, it can help branding for both the company and the product.

It saves on support costs.
The more customers know about how to use your product or service, the fewer questions they have to ask. The fewer questions that are asked, the lower the support costs. The math is dead simple and it shows how much sense it makes to actually invest time and money in documentation.

It forms a competitive advantage.
Your marketing department can work very hard touting certain features of your software or service, but it is your current customers that will create your software or service’s reputation. If you have a full featured CRM product, but it is really well known for its billing application, your product may be described as a billing focused CRM by fellow customers. If your help documentation encourages customers to use other features of that same product, you can gain the reputation of a great CRM overall instead of just a great billing CRM.

These reasons, along with those mentioned in the first post, should hopefully make it clear that it makes sense to bring help outside of the help center to some degree. There is a lot customers can learn from engaging with, instead of just reading, the product or service that your company offers. Interactivity as one of several option is a lot better than just static text as the only option.

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The Star System for Customers

I’ve written about firing your customers before. It is a topic that interests a lot of companies, especially smaller ones that don’t have the time to deal with really annoying customers on a constant basis. A reader made an interesting suggestion about how to deal with the problem, though. He suggested using what he described as a star system; essentially, you rate customers on some sort of fairly objective basis (i. e. 1 to 5 stars). The rating is based on their value as a customer – how often they buy, what they buy, who they’re referred, how often the company has screwed up with them in the past, if they are an active customer (i. e. lots of feedback, etc.). Customers that meet certain criteria are given a star rating.

Say I am a customer of company X and I’m a good customer – I buy their most expensive products, I visit their store and buy something at least once a week, I refer others, I have a store credit card, they have screwed up one or two times and I am still a customer, I talk to the store manager every now and then, etc. Basically, I am a good customer who helps the company / store. I would be a 5 star customer. If, on the other hand, I was a customer of a services company and used their lowest end plan, called them 3 times a day, never referred anyone, and have canceled twice before, that would make a 1 star customer.

The idea behind the system is that no one is ever really fired. However, the 1 star customer is not given any extra attention when he threatens to cancel. To that 1 star customer, the company offers little to no rebates, credits, future discounts, etc. When that 1 star customer calls and complains that his hosted service was unavailable for two hours, he gets an apology. The 5 star customer gets an apology, plus two months of free service. They may even get a call from their account manager offering a second apology. As the reader who emailed me suggested, they “get the red carpet rolled out every time they call, visit, etc.”

This motivates the less profitable (and/or more annoying customers) to take their business elsewhere, but encourages the more profitable (and/or less annoying) customers to stay with your company. The general idea is good and I think it is something that a lot of companies use and keep in mind when they are deciding what to do for a particular customer. It is more formalized at some companies than it is at others, but the general idea is very similar.

Something that you have to be careful about, though, is how your algorithm works. It should be fairly objective (though I think you should be able to add some subjective points to it as well), but you have to keep certain situations in mind. Say I am a 5 star customer and I refer my neighbor or best friend to your company. He turns out to be cheap and annoying (a 1 star customer). If you don’t give him the same great service that I’m used to, that could be a problem and reflect negatively upon your company. You may have to tweak the algorithm to be setup so that if a 4 star customer refers someone, the new customer will never go below 2 stars, etc.

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What defines success?

One of the people who attended my session asked a very interesting question that I had never really stepped back to think about: what defines success? They were curious about what metric should be used to actually define the success of their department, of their agents, and of the service they are providing. The question is really interesting because it isn’t one that people ask that often. Companies are always concerned about making their service better, but it is very rare that they actually step back to think about what will define the success of their service changes.

Don’t try to count everything.
One of my favorite quotes is “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” The quote (which is falsely attributed to Albert Einstein) sums the idea up pretty well — there are both quantitive and qualitative aspects to most complex things in world, especially in customer service. It’s pretty ignorant to dismiss one and not the other. Keep in mind that there are things which you simply cannot measure objectively or consistently and there are things that can be measured that don’t really matter.

Concentrate on bottom-line numbers.
I consider a bottom-line number to be something like customer satisfaction. If customer satisfaction is high, the other numbers (call time, hold time, etc.) don’t really matter. The idea is that good numbers for the secondary numbers (things like call time, hold time, etc.) bring up the bottom-line numbers, but that isn’t always the case. For example, a company can have super high customer satisfaction scores and still have an average hold time around 10 minutes. What that data set suggests is that the hold time is worth it — customers are getting great service once they get connected. The data set also says the customer base is fairly patient and willing to wait extra time for better service. Other bottom-line numbers can be a mix of employee and customer satisfaction, Net Promoter (see this post), percentage of repeat purchases, etc. Which number you decide to use is a fairly individual decision based on your company, customers, and product / service.

Collect lots of data.
Statistics experts say 10% is the magic number and everything over that is basically unnecessary. That’s great for them and I am sure the theory is well supported, but I personally disagree. Even if you aren’t counting the data or agonizing over it, I think customers appreciate it when their opinion is asked and hopefully, considered. It shows the company is trying and is actively asking for feedback. Even if you don’t survey a sample that is more than 10% of your total customer base, collect data about satisfaction and success at every step (post-order, post-phone call, etc.).

Feel free to change.
Perhaps the most important part is not to feel restricted once you make a decision. You’re allowed to change your mind and measure your success on another metric that might be more representative of or more appropriate for your business. There is no one size fits all solution and that’s fine.

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