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Customer Service in Layoffs

Layoffs are obviously things that every company would like to avoid, but many simply cannot. However, just like day-to-day operations, some companies handle what is essentially the same process of laying of an employee much different than others. A recent report released by a company called Telonu found that a majority of corporate layoffs were handled poorly. The company found out some interesting things:

  • 88% of laid-off employees rate ‘how their layoff was handled’ as poor or very poor. 
  • 94% rate outplacement support as poor/very poor.
  • 81% of those still employed perceive job security as poor or very poor.
  • 74% of those still employed rate morale as poor/very poor.

These are both important and discouraging metrics. When companies layoff employees, they should be on their best and providing the best service possible. Layoffs can obviously seriously impact employees’ lives and brushing them off is a horrible thing to do from a customer service and “good business” perspective.

Actually laying people off is tricky. If you announce that that a person will be laid off in advance, they are going to become demotivated and hurt morale in the office. If you catch people by surprise, it will likely be more difficult and stressful for the employee to find another job. Employees who are about to be laid off should be treated with as much dignity as possible in all circumstances.

Once someone is actually laid off, providing better service is less tricky. The company should provide as much help as possible to the laid off employees. Provide them with some job training, access to some hiring experts who can help them with their resumes and job searches, and so on. The more help that can be provided, the better. Many of these things are standard practices in companies that really want to help their laid off employees. Some companies, however, don’t care and just send the employees out the door.

When a round of layoffs is complete, it is important to talk to the other employees and let them know what will happen. Common sense will tell you that layoffs are not good for morale and this report confirms just that. As a company, you need to do whatever you can to boost morale and let the still employed employees know they are valued and what will be happening in the future.

I’ve never been involved with a layoff, so my experience with them is admittedly quite limited. If you have, however, please leave a comment and let us know what worked well and what didn’t work well before, during, and after a layoff.

What to do on a slow day.

Every now and then your company will experience something that every rapidly growing company hopes and prays for: a slow day. A day when the phones aren’t ringing off the hook, the servers aren’t crashing, and things are relatively calm and relaxing.

Even though these days are rare, when they do occur, should be cherished. And with that in mind, there are certainly productive things that can be done during a slow day.

Coach employees.
As long as things aren’t completely dead, coaching employees before, during, and after their phone calls or emails is a perfect way to pass the time. Supervisors can listen in on calls and provide constructive feedback to the employee immediately afterwards. Even if isn’t time for the employee’s formal quarterly review, informal coaching can be helpful and valuable.

Improve documentation. You know all those FAQs, tutorials, explanations, and things of that nature? Chances are, at least a few of them need updating. Use your down time to go through the documentation you provide (both internal and external) and make sure it is up to date.

Get ahead. This varies by company, but most companies have some sort of tasks that can be done to help get the support department ahead in some way. Slow days are a great time to get started on audits, monthly invoices, etc.

Try other tasks. Some companies will use their slow days to have phone people do email support or have programmers work with customer service representatives on day-to-day support (or vice versa). Slow days are a great time to expose people to things they may not have an opportunity to do everyday. (See some of my other posts on cross training.)

What do you do on slow days?

The Disney Experience

DisneylogoLast week I blogged about how I would be going to Disney for a day. I did go to Disney on Saturday and here is my blog post about my experience.

Disney has perfected crowd control. Very few companies do a better job at managing crowds than Disney and whenever I was in line, I was impressed with how well Disney manages the waiting process. The waiting areas for the rides and attractions are well designed and well laid out. They’re visually appealing, usually feature some sort of thing to look at or do, and were mostly indoors (which means mostly in the air conditioning). Once people are done waiting in line, Disney fills seats with ease and makes sure that it guests know exactly where to go. Any company that deals with long lines and large crowds can learn a lot from Disney and how they manage lines and crowds.

Employees are everywhere. I visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios on a Saturday and the park was busy with guests and employees. Employees (called “Cast Members” at Disney) were all over the place. If you had a question for them, they were almost always very nice and almost always very knowledgeable. The Cast Members probably get asked the same questions over and over again, but from my experience, they answered the questions with a smile. It is a lot less stressful for customers when there are lots of employees around who are happy to answer questions.

Disney does a lot of research. I saw multiple people with “Disney Research” logos on their shirts and was asked to participate in two simple surveys during the day I spent at Disney. One focused on my demographic data and another focused more on the overall park experience. Collecting data and using it to improve the customer service experience is essential.

They try to go the extra mile. A friend I was traveling with had a special request and Cast Members did whatever they could to accommodate his request. The general demeanor of employees and of the way the parked seemed to function was consistent with what I saw; Cast Members were dedicated to helping however they could and would gladly go out of their way to help.

They keep the experience simple. Disney could make the customer experience a lot more complicated if they wanted. They could charge more for certain rides or certain sections and so on. Instead, they break it down by park and keep it simple. You don’t have to buy anything besides the park admission ticket if you don’t want to. The result is a speedier and more convenient park-going experience. Companies should never underestimate the power of simplicity. Whenever possible, make the experience simple. It’ll make customers happier and save a lot of time and effort.

If you’ve been to Disney before, what made your experience notable?

Upcoming: The Disney Experience

I’m going to be going to Disney World tomorrow for a little while and I’m looking forward to being apart of and hopefully noticing some of the interesting service and guest experience tricks Disney uses in its many parks. Disney is a very interesting company that written about before and I’m hoping to come back from my short trip with some great post ideas. 

I’ve been to Disney plenty of times before, but I think this is will be my first trip there since I started my blog. The myth that Floridans go to Disney World all the time is not true and I am living proof of that. In fact, I think I my family and I went to Disney World more often when we lived up north than when we lived in Florida (I was quite a bit younger then, but one would still think it’d be the opposite).

Have a great weekend!

Difficult to Understand Customers

While the frequency of the situation depends on the type of company, a customer service representative will almost certainly talk to someone they have trouble understanding at one point in their customer service career. When it does occur, what’s the best thing to do? Here are some tips and suggestions I’ve found to be effective:

  • Speak slowly. People tend to respond to the way you speak and mimic it to some degree. With that in mind, speak slowly and clearly when you are working with a customer who is difficult to understand.
  • Ask close ended questions. Instead of asking questions that prompt long or complicated responses, stick to asking simple questions that can be answered with a yes or a no. This will make communication easier for everyone.
  • Ask customers to spell things. You obviously have to use discretion when choosing to do this, but asking customers to spell information can be helpful. If they say they live at 123 Random Street (but what they say doesn’t sound anything like that), asking the customer to spell that out will likely make it easier to get the correct information in a timely manner.
  • Ask customers to adjust their tone. If the issue is purely a thick accent, there isn’t much that can be done in this area. However, if a customer is just speaking too softly (or too loudly) or seems to have a bad connection, make them aware of this. It usually isn’t hard for a customer to raise or lower their voice or to call back to get a new connection. Be careful and be sure to use your best service etiquette when asking customers to adjust their tone. Something like, “I’m sorry, but I am having trouble understanding you. Would you mind speaking up a little bit?” tends to work well.
  • Identify who is good at working with difficult to understand customers. Some employees are just better at working with customers who are difficult to understand than others are. If your company is lucky enough to have such employees, identify who they are and kindly redirect the customers that are very difficult to understand to these employees. 

When a customer is truly difficult to understand, there is only so much that can be done. The methods above have always worked fairly well for me. What has worked well for you in the past?

First Contact Resolution

First contact resolution is one of the most important things in customer service. Customer service statisticians have found that solving an issue during the first contact (as opposed to over the course of two, three, or more contacts) saves time, money, and increases customer satisfaction in the long run.

Think about each way that first call resolution helps:

  • Saving time. It is easier for a representative to fix an issue during the first contact than for several representatives to try and fix the issue over several contacts. With one contact, there is no need to “catch up” on what has been done, research the problem further, etc. When an issue is resolved on the first contact, one representative handles the issue and knows what it is about.
  • Saving money. Less time spent by representatives on the phone, over chat, etc. saves the company money. Because customers don’t have to keep calling or emailing back to get their issue resolved, representatives are able to move on and help other customers instead of having to go back and keep addressing the same problem.
  • Increasing customer satisfaction. The less time a customer has to spend trying to get a problem resolved, the happier they are going to be. There is also the psychological factor of the customer hanging up feeling his or her issue was resolved. It is a lot more satisfying for the customer to end the first contact with a resolution than it is to end the call knowing that time was wasted and that a resolution is no closer.

Customers contact companies to get questions answered or issues resolved. The faster and easier the question can be answered or the issue resolved, the better. Resolving issues on the first contact is the easiest and fastest way to ensure customers end the call feeling their time on the phone was productive and that they got the help they needed.

In the long run, increased first contact resolution will almost always reduce contact volume (and costs) and incrase customer satisfaction. It is worth spending a little bit more time on the phone or working a little bit harder on the email issue to get a customer’s issue resolved the first time around. Customers will appreciate the extra effort and the balance sheet will reflect it.

Conflicting Customer Service: Part 2 of 2

Yesterday’s post focused on how to avoid situations in which different representatives will give conflicting information to your customers. While avoiding the situations is obviously the ideal thing, chances are, you will encounter problems with misinformation being given at least a few times and find yourself having to deal with it.

So what do you do when a customer tells you he or she was told something else by another representative?

  • Apologize for the miscommunication. First of all, apologize for the miscommunication. Clarify what the correct answer / information is and then apologize to the customer for having to hear the wrong information.
  • If possible, provide proof. Many customers become a little bit suspicious (understandably) after they experience a situation in which they have been given misinformation. Whenever possible, provide proof to backup the correct answer. Email an article, point customers to a place on the webpage, etc.
  • If it’s simple, give it to the customer. If the thing that was miscommunicated is easy to do or follow through with, just do it. Apologize to the customer again and say “we will take your word for it and honor this for you.” Then, do what the customer said was promised to them and let them know the results.
  • If it’s complicated, try to compromise. If it’s complicated to follow through with what the customer said was promised to them, try to compromise. Offer to do what is the standard process and then do something like offer a gift certificate or service credit to make up for the miscommunication. This is usually a simple way to help the customer calm down.
  • Tell the customer where to get information in the future. Another good way to help put a customer at ease is to let them know where they can go to get the correct information. Point them to your company’s knowledge base, FAQs, online manuals, etc. This should help comfort customers and let them know that there is an easy way to get a definitive answer.
  • If possible, follow up with the original employee. It is always important to follow up with the original employee who gave the wrong information whenever possible. Let the particular employee know what the correct answer is and ensure that the particular employee gets all of the training he or she needs.

Do you do anything differently in these situations?

Conflicting Customer Service: Part 1 of 2

Misinformation in customer service is pretty common. It’s probably something you’ve experienced firsthand as well. You call a company and you’re told one thing by one representative. Then you call back a few days later and you’re told that what the first representative told you isn’t true. The service doesn’t work that way. It really costs more than that. The fee does apply to you.

When this happens, customers get frustrated. Being told something is one way by one person and then being told it is another way by another person is one of the most annoying things that a customer may have to deal with. So, as a company, how do you avoid situations like that where inaccurate, and often conflicting information, is given to a customer?

The first and most obvious suggestion is to not misrepresent the information in the first place. Consistently accurate information comes as a result of experience, training, and easy to access resources to verify information. Many customer service representatives like to assume an answer and tell a customer without really knowing or bothering to check.

Companies have to work very hard to strongly and actively discourage the giving of inaccurate information. Make complete accuracy a major quality standard, ensure that quality assurance people are noting the accuracy of the information, review phone calls and emails to ensure the information being given is correct. Let employees know when they give wrong information and take it seriously.

One way to ensure information is as accurate as possible is to ensure that employees have extremely easy access to accurate information. This means having an extensive internal knowledge base or wiki (that is reviewed reguaraly by supervisors / management) and a representative having plenty of people to ask in case he or she isn’t sure of something. An internal IM system, easy physical access to a supervisor, an internal chat room, etc. are all great ways to encourage that type of quick communication.

The supervisors or senior employees being asked should encourage employees to ask questions. If the answer is available in the knowledge base or wiki or on the company web site, that supervisor should let the customer service reprsentative know that and keep the interaction positive. Employees who are afraid to ask for help will usually resort to just making the answers up.

Last, but certainly not least, companies need to train well and train often. Accuracy usually comes from knowing the ropes. Employees starting at companies with good training programs typically start their “real work” knowing more than employees starting a companies with bad training programs. And training does not stop after the first month, either. Ongoing training will ensure that employees are kept up-to-date about the latest changes and updates and are able to provide the most accurate information. I talk about training a lot because it’s so important. Don’t underestimate it at all.

What have you done at your company to help ensure employees give the most accurate information? My next post will cover how to actually handle a situation where there was conflicting information given.

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