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The Hiring Push Checklist

Given the economy, this is an oddly timed post for a lot of companies, but believe it or not, there are still many companies that are growing quickly and that still need to hire people. These companies need to know how to hire the right people and to do so quickly. Rapid growth is not an easy thing to deal with, so the more prepared companies are, the better. Here are some quick tips on how to prepare for a big hiring push:

Train other employees on how to interview.
During periods of normal growth in most companies, human resources handles a majority of the interviewing and of the hiring. When they need to hire more people, more people need to be trained on how to do the interviews. Human resources should work with supervisors, senior employees, and other managers on how to interview potential employees and then begin using them to do the actual interviews.

Hire an administrative assistant to take care of the busywork.
Scheduling interviews, responding to applications, following up on paperwork, etc. is an annoying, but essential part of the hiring process. The HR department should hire an assistant or someone similar to take care of this. That way, the actual interviewer can focus on the real work of reviewing applications and hiring.

Have checklists for the entire hiring process.
The entire hiring process should be completely laid out before any hiring push. Everything from application submission to the candidate’s first day of work should be outlined on some sort of chart or document or checklist. With a system in place, there is less guesswork, which makes it much easier for a busy HR department to get its job done correctly and efficiently. Each candidate should have a paper and/or digital file and each part of the process should be kept together, so it can be easily referenced and addressed.

Formalize processes.
Again, with the goal of making it easy for additional people to help, formalize existing processes to make sure people will be able to step in and help.  No more ad hoc interviews, no more informal scheduling, etc. Write the processes down so other people can help out. 

Continue to refine.
As the hiring push continues, the person in charge of HR should be focusing on how to refine the existing processes and to make them more efficient.  If they can come up with something that saves 10 people 20 minutes a day in one hour, it is a lot more efficient than them spending an hour interviewing a candidate. Think about the long term and the scale of the operation and keep that in mind. Doing so will make the hiring push a lot easier in the long run.

The Mass-Email Checklist

I got an email today from a company and the sender forgot to BCC the recipients. Something like forgetting to BCC a group on a mass email is pretty embarrassing because it is so simple to avoid. Plus, people get pretty upset when their email is sent to hundreds of people (or more) and left open to all types of spam and annoyances just because of a careless mistake.

Here is a checklist you should always consider before sending out a mass-email:

  • Always triple read the email and then have someone else read it.
  • Be sure to check things like subject lines, attachments, to, from, CC, BCC, etc. before sending such emails. Are all of the fields formatted like they should be?
  • Make sure that all links in the mass-email work correctly and will be formatted correctly in different mail programs. Some mail programs might move them to another line or display them in a different way. Be aware of that.
  • If you are linking to images for the email, make sure they will work and that there is enough bandwidth for the images to display.
  • Make sure you have your subscribe and unsubscribe links.
  • Check your spelling and grammar once again.
  • Ask yourself if this email is worth sending. Does it let the customer know about something important? Do you already send a lot of email? etc.

None of the things above are complicated, but they are all important. Your customers probably get enough email already (I know I do!), which makes wasting their time with a poorly formatted or non-working email even worse. Taking 10 or 15 minutes to ensure the emails you send out are well done and informative will save you a lot of time and likely make you a lot of money in the long run.

Implement what’s easy to implement.

A lot of customer service changes can be extremely complicated to implement across an organization. While the principles behind customer service might be relatively simple, implementing them aren’t. Many customer service managers will have a good idea about what they want to do and a tough time subsequently making it happen.

When this situation occurs (as it often does), it makes sense to start with what’s easy to implement. I Little Things, Big Differences, but can collectively make a big difference (dubbed Little Things, Big Differences) all the time. When you are faced with a big list of things to improve, it makes a lot of sense to start with the things that are easy to implement. 

Picking things that are easy to implement can be tough. It is relatively easy to tell if something is less complicated than something else, but it is not easy to tell if that simple change is something that will be easy to keep going and easy to continue as you start to make the other, more involved changes to your customer service operations. That is the tricky part.

The best “simple” implementations are the ones that can be done relatively independently of the other changes you’re looking to make. Making it a point to address customers by their name is such an example. Chances are, regardless of whatever changes you make, addressing customers by their name will remain important. If you change your focus from reactive service to pro-active service, you will still need to address your customers by name when you interact with them. Making it a point to implement a simple change that is independent of others like addressing customers by name is a great way to improve customer service one step at a time.

Your task is to find similar examples in your customer service organization and to start making those changes. Start with what is easy to implement and then go from there. If you do it well, you’ll start seeing progress right away.

How good are your grammer and spelling?

ErrorRegular (and careful) readers of my blog will inevitably come across a typo or an awkward sentence in one of my posts. Some readers will even contact me and let me know about the more obvious ones that slip through. 

While I’m usually pretty good at avoiding errors in my posts, the quantity of posts I write, my inherent lack of an editor, and the relatively informal style of writing that I write my blog posts with makes errors inevitable. Even with an occasional error, though, I still have better grammar than a lolcat and never use resort to using chatspeak.

But some, even in professional situations, don’t have better grammar than a lolcat and do use chatspeak.

A surprising number of companies and customer service supervisors don’t place any sort of emphasis or seem to care much about employees using proper spelling and grammar when communicating with customers. The companies may care officially, but judging from what their representatives type and send out, the rules don’t seem to be enforced. It is quite likely that you have been in a customer service live chat or seen an email from a customer service representative that was filled with spelling and grammar mistakes, many of which were painfully obvious and incredibly easy to avoid.

While no one expects a customer service representative to write like Shakespeare or Steinbeck (if they can, they should consider changing jobs), they should be expected to fully spell out words, to use punctuation appropriately, to be able to use the right “your”, to know the difference between than and then and to and too, and so on. Most of the things that people mess up on are simple things that everyone was taught in middle school (and probably before that). The correct usages are readily available online and very easy to test representatives on. Improper spelling and grammar is a terrible way to lose customer confidence because it is so easy to avoid.

After you finish reading this post, check out some of the emails that come from your company and/or take a few minutes to monitor some of the conversations going on through your live chat. What type of spelling and grammar is being used? Does it present the image that you want to present?

And just in case you didn’t realize, the errors in the title of the post were intentional.

Communicate Your Goals

Every customer service department should have a goal of some sort.

The goal doesn’t have to be big or complicated, but it should be a statement that you can rally your support organization around and that can help  answer the “should we do X?” question. With a great goal, you can respond “well, doing X isn’t really consistent with our goal of -whatever-.” With a great goal, you can have relatively liberal policies and ask people to follow them with the goal in mind.

Some example goals are:

  • Ensuring that the customer leaves happier than when he or she walked in, dialed, etc.
  • Protecting and enhancing our company’s reputation.
  • Conducting service in a way that would cause the customer to refer us to their friends.
  • Ensuring that customers feel “Wow-ed” by the service experience.

These are all simple. If your goal is to ensure that customers leave happier than when they walk in the door, then you can tailor your service experience accordingly. Is a customer complaining? Keeping with your goal would obviously require that you make them happy again and delight them with your recovery (it is possible). 

A goal is a nice thing to rally around. Some organizations get into their goals, missions, etc. a lot more than others. If it is just something that hangs on the wall somewhere and has no real significance beyond just being there, then it is not going to do nearly as much good as making an effort to genuinely follow and achieve the goal on a consistent basis. 

Does your customer service organization (or company as a whole) have an overreaching, customer-centric goal?

Providing Service to 50 Million People

This recent op-ed from The New York Times talked about a little bit about the need for a huge call center to help ease the transition to digital television that is expected to happen on February 17. A huge number of people are going to be affected by this switch – most likely more than 50 million. To quote the story:

Nearly 1.5 million calls are expected to come into a special Federal Communications Commission call center on each of the two days following the transition, but this center will be able to handle only about 350,000 calls a day.

Needless to say, that is a lot of calls and a lot of confused television watchers. Assuming the call center is hope 24/7, that will be more than 62,000 callers an hour (more than a lot of call centers work with in a year or at the very least, a month). How can the FCC deal with that many calls? Chances are, they can’t. They would need a small army (read: a couple of thousand) call center representatives available around the clock and flying through calls in order to handle the rush. It sounds like they need to increase the size of their staff significantly and probably invest in better hardware/software to be able to handle the volume.

The FCC needs to invest in other methods of communication. Some ideas:

  • A plethora of self-service options (online videos posted on their web site and on YouTube, searchable FAQs, an extensive knowledge base, illustrated guides, and so on).
  • Live chat options so representatives can work with 2-3 (or more) people at once instead of just one at a time.
  • An online / forum discussion board where people can get help from others.
  • Community groups to help confused television watchers (this is suggested in the article).

There are a lot of possibilities and the FCC is hopefully prepared to do many of them. There is an okay, but not great web site called DTV Answers that provides some of the information, but there is definitely a lot of room to improve. To handle all of those people and something that affects as many people as this, they need an in-depth, interactive web site with all the bells and whistles. It doesn’t look like the government invested what they should have in making the switch simple.

What would you do to make the switch

Chronological order or reverse order?

I had an interesting discussion about something relatively simple, but extremely important today. Is it better to show tickets / email responses in chronological or reverse chronological order? There are essentially two display options, each with their own pros and cons:

  1. Showing the newest replies at the top.
  2. Showing the oldest replies at the top.

The biggest advantage to showing the new replies at the top is that it is easy to see where the ticket/issue is currently and what the customer needs or is asking at the moment. The disadvantage is that scrolling up and then reading down can be very awkward and unnatural. There is also an increased possibility that  employees will not read the early responses and will simply reply to the most recent reply, which is conveniently at the top of the page.

If the oldest replies at the top, reading from top to bottom is more natural. Employees are forced to scroll down and will hopefully see what has been done already and what the customer has asked. The display method is supposed to be more natural, but does require more scrolling and more load time for most issues and most tickets.

I’ve seen both methods used in a variety of helpdesks in a variety of industries. I personally like seeing the oldest replies at the top and reading downwards, but am curious to hear what you have seen and experienced. Which do you think is better? Does it even matter?

Admitting and responding.

Twitter has gotten really good at responding to issues. As a rapidly growing, high profile startup, they seem to have some sort of issue they need to address publicly every few months or so.

The last major response that I blogged about was back in June when Twitter was responding to criticism surrounding their less than perfect uptime and reliability. Yesterday, Twitter responded publicly in regards to 33 high-profile Twitter accounts being “hacked”.

Admitting that some of your highest profile users (including the future president!) have had their accounts compromised is no easy task. It is something the company realized they had to approach quickly and correctly, especially given the high profile nature of the company and the accounts that were compromised. Tens of thousands of people probably saw it happen, so Twitter had to respond. Responding quickly and publicly was the first thing Twitter did right.

Twitter did another thing right by responding with a terrific blog post. They provided a concise explanation of what happened (why and how the accounts were compromised, when they noticed it, and what they did) followed by an explanation of what they did to fix the immediate problem and what they are doing in the future. Additionally, they answered a question they were sure was going to be asked about the possibility of another technology preventing the sort of problem that occurred (it wouldn’t help, but they addressed the question regardless).

In less than 400 words, Twitter provided an excellent response that probably went a long way with most of the people who read it. When something happens that you know people will notice, make it a point to respond publicly. Do so quickly and sincerely. Let people know that you have addressed the immediate problem and that you’re working on making sure it doesn’t happen again and won’t affect them (again).

If you do make it a point to admit and then respond, your customers are likely going to respect your honesty and value your company’s transparency.

Thanks to Dan from Shoeboxed for sending me the link to the article earlier today.

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