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Using tools to make the process easier.

Employees, especially customer service representatives, usually don’t like having to go out of their way to do something for a customer. It may be because they don’t have the time, it could be because they lack the dedication, or one of any other number of reasons. But, the point is – most employees don’t like to have their bosses make more work for them.

The best way to combat this attitude is usually to provide great tools that employees can use to make the process easier. The tools can be simple and just do one or two specific things or they can be monster tools that can run the world. The exact tool obviously depends on the task, who’s using it, and what it is being used for, but tools are almost always a great help. Well designed tools are usually such a great help because they just make things that might otherwise take a while go easier and faster.

Tools also have the potential to make processes more reliable and complete. A small company I worked with turned what used to be a form that employees would fill out into a simple tool that employees could use to fill out to save the same information. They not only saw the process get done faster and become easier, but also more noticed the data provided was more complete and more accurate. The simple tool forced the company’s employees to follow the right procedure and before the company knew it, people were doing just that.

And it can really be just that simple. The toolset you provide to your employees doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t need to cost millions of dollars. It does need to be well thought out, though. It has to be tested by people of all levels and most importantly, it needs to be usable (which tends to mean fast and simple). If employees have a hard time using a particular tool, they won’t use it. When no one is using a tool, absolutely no one benefits from it.

You know what, I can assist you with that.

Every customer has the eternal fear of calling a company and speaking to a representative who knows nothing. The representative is clueless about everything; how the account works, how the company works, who you are, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and who to go to. It makes you want to pull your hair out and wish there were no moronic idiots in customer service.

But, every now and then you get a representative that you know is good. You can almost immediately tell that he or she knows his stuff and is serious about it. The representative knows who you are, is familiar with the trouble you’re going through, and most importantly, knows how to fix it. And you feel good about what they say and how they do what they do. 

The question is, how do representatives instill this level of confidence in customers? When a customer calls or emails a company and gets a response back, they have no way of telling if John is smarter than Jane or if Betty is smarter than Bob. To the customer, John, Jane, Betty, and Bob are just four customer service representatives who the customer hopes are equally talented and skilled.

Something I have always found to be effective is telling the customer just what they want to hear: that you can help them resolve their problem today. I usually encourage representatives to say something like this after the customer gets finishing explaining his or her issue: I can definitely help you get that issue resolved today.

Even the most cynical customers (i. e. me) feel better when a representative says that statement or something like it. It instills instant confidence. It is infinitely better than “uh” or “okay” or “I’ve never seen that one before.” As a representative, saying you can help and that you’re willing to help will do a world of good for the customer service experience and for the customer.

Try it yourself. Encourage your employees to try it. If it doesn’t work, tell me. I may not believe you, but I promise I will listen.

Going the extra 50 feet.

The other day I wrote about how a check out clerk at a grocery store went the extra 50 feet (as opposed to the extra mile) to make my shopping experience faster and more convenient. His going the extra 50 feet brought the service experience from acceptable to great in my eyes. He didn’t do that much extra, but he did do enough to make a difference.

I preach about the importance of the little things day in and day out and when companies have employees that do them consistently, they always do end up making a difference. It doesn’t matter if the company is an average customer service provider or a world-class customer service company, employees going the extra 50 feet consistently will make a difference. It makes a difference because customers appreciate it when employees do put in that extra effort to make their customer service experience better than usual.

I am working with a company that needs to adapt the extra 50 feet mentality. They do a great job at providing the basics and while they often do go the extra 50 feet, they don’t do it consistently. They are now at the stage where they are building the idea into their processes and procedures.

They’re hoping to go from acceptable to great by not only encouraging employees to go the extra distance, but by building it into all of their processes and procedures. If going the extra distance becomes standard operating procedure, chances are, it’ll happen a lot more than if it was left up to chance. For companies that don’t really have a culture of customer service ingrained into the company DNA just yet (very few companies do – think Nordstrom and Ritz Carlton as examples of companies that do), the extra distance has to be built right into the processes. Eventually, going that extra distance will be automatic and assumed, but chances are it won’t start off that way.

The challenge that my particular client, as well as countless other companies, is facing is where and how to go that extra distance. What’s too little and what’s too much? There is no definitive answer for any particular company or industry. Everyone has different customers and different ways of providing service. And I think that is what makes it such an interesting question and an interesting challenge.

What’s the ideal response rate?

I am not a statistics expert. I know the basics: I can write reasonably balanced questions, I know which questions to ask to get the information I’m interested in, I know what is and is not a random sample, and I can use Excel to an extent where I can organize and make sense of the data. I am not a math guy, but I do find the numbers behind customer service interesting.

Most of the time, the numbers I get from surveys just confirm common sense and/or my original assumptions, but I also do learn things about the company and the customers in question just about every time. They’re worth doing, especially considering they cost relatively little and don’t take that much time.

However, a question that always plagues me is how much of a response rate is enough. I’ve seen response rates for various surveys range from 3 or 4% (for long, annoying surveys) to more than 70% (for short, direct surveys). I’ve used incentives to increase response rates and then I’ve run incentive-less surveys.

The most recent survey I ran for a client saw response rates increase by about 7 percentage points when a fairly reasonable incentive was added. The first time around, I worked with the client to run a short and simple survey that ended up yielding about a 13% response rate. Then, we added an incentive, ran the exact same survey and sent it to a slightly different group, and saw the response rate go up to go about to about 20% (which I still thought was kind of low). The randomly selected person who won the giveaway was delighted and I am confident that he is now a customer for life (despite the fact that he rated the company positively anyway).

Companies I have worked with have had survey response rates that are all over the place. Some companies just seem to have more responsive customers than others. Some surveys tend to attract more attention than others. A lot of it seems kind of random until you’ve done it a few times at the particular company.

With that in mind, is anyone aware of a good response rate that yields accurate enough results and is still manageable to obtain? I like to aim for about 30% in the surveys I do, but that is often a little bit too optimistic. What would you say is a good response rate and how would you go about achieving that?

Call monitoring leading to call coaching.

Though this is more Tom’s area of expertise, I’d like to write about call monitoring and quality assurance.

I have been working with a rapidly growing technology company over the last couple of weeks and one of their internal customer service focuses is on call monitoring. They’ve previously found it hard to set aside the time to monitor calls and have only recently developed formal customer service standards, so I’ve been helping them with it and they’ve been learning a lot and applying a lot of my suggestions.

And something I’ve learned in the process and from my other experiences with call monitoring and other types of customer service auditing is that all companies of all sizes and at all stages of customer service mastery can learn a lot from listening to their own calls.

The company I am working with has decided to keep the purpose of call monitoring mostly constructive. If anything particularly bad is noticed, they take more serious action, but most of the time, the results and findings of the call monitoring are used to coach and assist the employees in question. They meet with supervisors (and oftentimes me) and everyone goes over what the employee does well, what he or she does not do so well, and how he or she should work on improving. At the end of the meeting, the employee hopefully leaves with an idea of how best to improve. A follow up is usually scheduled to see if the employee has taken the suggestions to heart and to practice.

I’ve talked about the importance of coaching employees before and I stand by my original post – coaching is extremely important and necessary for customer service success. Making coaching a regular constructive, instead of a disciplinary, process will help to improve customer service. The company I’ve been working with has committed to coaching all new employees two times before their six month reviews and every six months after that. It’s going to be a lot of work for the company, but it is also going to be a process that they will learn a lot from.

Act with urgency.

When I work with customer service providers, I have to remind them to live and die by urgency. I’m going to make a (perhaps brave) assumption and say that all companies that wish to be successful need to value urgency when it comes to customer service.

In customer service, especially the type of customer service where you’re working on resolving customer problems, urgency has to be a priority. It has to be a priority because customers want their issues resolved quickly. They don’t want to wait a few more hours or a few more days – they want their issues resolved five minutes ago. Almost everything else is too slow and not urgent enough in the eyes of many customers. In most cases, the customer’s issue is not mission critical in the bigger scope of things, but as long as the customer thinks its important, it should be important to you and your company.

To act with urgency, your company doesn’t necessarily have to resolve issues in 15 minutes. However, it can’t waste time. Customer service representatives have to communicate to customers that they are working on resolving the issue at hand as quickly as possible. Companies that believe in urgency don’t stall and don’t make excuses for why things aren’t happening quickly – they forget the excuses, apologize, and fix the issue. If customers believe that customer service representatives are making a genuine effort to resolve their issues as quickly as possible, they will be more understanding.

Just like doing little things, acting with urgency is just as much a cultural aspect of a company as it is an operational process. The company needs to communicate with customers that it values urgency and it needs to help customer service representatives act on that. If a company doesn’t do both of those things, it probably won’t succeed.

Doing something little to make a difference.

Ran Logo
I was grocery shopping at a Randalls store earlier this evening and took my cart full of groceries to check out at the front of the store.

There were only a couple of “lanes” open, but as I was waiting in line at one lane, the cashier from another lane who had just finished with another customer offered to help me check out. He then politely offered to help move my groceries over to his lane and began to check me out. It was a little thing that made me think pretty highly of the customer service at that particular store.

While the above example was by no means a grand gesture, but it was unexpected and pleasantly surprising. Companies in industries that aren’t known for particularly great customer service (like Randalls in the grocery industry have an advantage because they can usually be better than everyone else by just being okay.

In this case, the cashier that helped me was better than a majority of cashiers who would close their registers and go take a break as soon as the number of customers in their line went down to zero. He cared and wanted to help, so he did just that.

Encouraging employees to do little things of that nature is extremely important. It is cultural as much as its operational. Having a policy or training in place that encourages employees to help out customers in subtle ways is important and it’ll almost certainly make a difference.

Having employees that are willing to go that extra 100 feet (not even a mile) can make a huge difference in the customer service experience. It’s your responsibility as manager to encourage and reward them to go that extra 100, 500, or even 5280 feet whenever they can.

Product Defect Meetings

I was talking to a company not too long ago that would have regular “Product Defect Meetings.” Employees from all departments and all levels of seniority would take place in these meetings: management, engineers, customer service people, product managers, etc. At these meetings, people would point out bugs, defects, suggestions, and ideas for particular products and services.

The challenge of fostering effective communication between engineers and customer service is a problem for a lot of companies. I think a regular “Product Defect Meeting” is a good way to help break down some communication barriers. It provides an open forum for different employees to voice their concerns, suggestions, and observations. A lot of times just incorporating and following through with the idea of open meetings between different teams is half the battle. It’s as much as a mind set as a functional operation at a company.

At Product Defect Meetings and any meetings like it, something that is extremely important is taking notes and assigning tasks and responsibilities to people. It’s really easy for people to sit in a meeting for an hour or so and just yes everyone else to death.

An effective meeting leader is necessary to ensure the meetings are actually productive. If the meetings are productive (meaning: fixes and ideas come as a result of the groups meeting), then they’re worth every minute. If people are just talking about the same bugs and issues, then it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

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