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How to Leverage What You Do Right!

checkI saw a commercial today for an exterminating company that advertised the ongoing training their employees receives. I’m not looking for an exterminator but it made me think about the importance of using what your organization does right and leveraging it as part of your marketing plan.

We moved a few years ago and I researched moving companies to help us. The only way I knew to assess these kinds of companies (this was before Angie’s List) was to ask about their internal practices. I asked if they provided training for their employees and if they solicited customer satisfaction data. I was truly surprised at how different the response was from company-to-company. I ultimately picked a business that did both ongoing training and solicited customer feedback. This was important to me because it told me that employees were put through a structured training program (I didn’t want them dropping my TV) and if they asked for customer feedback, they were probably more likely to respond to customer issues.

So what kinds of things is your organization doing right that you can leverage?

  • Training: Depending on the industry, most people place value on training. Whether it is customer service training or mechanic training, most customers feel a level of comfort in knowing the people who are taking care of their needs have had the appropriate training to do so.
  • Background Checks: Whether you have service technicians who enter customer homes or are a daycare center who takes care of small children, communicating that background checks are part of your screening process can help ease the concern of potential customers. I worked with an organization that hosts a large summer day-camp every year and they do background checks on the army of volunteers they use to manage the children. Parents find comfort with that.
  • Accreditation: Accreditation and certifications demonstrate a person or organizations credibility in providing products or services. Whether your organization is accredited through the Better Business Bureau or have certifications in information technology, the paying customer is interested. These kinds of credentials are what separate the professionals from the not so professionals.
  • Financial Transparency: Nonprofit organizations that solicit and rely on outside funding and donors benefit greatly when they provide financial information to donors. Donors want to know that the money they are donating is being used wisely and for the purpose it was intended.
  • Customer Satisfaction: When a customer purchases a product or service, they want to be reassured that they will receive what was promised to them. Collecting, monitoring and advertising customer satisfaction data can be a powerful tool in marketing to new customers. Customers want to know that their voices will be heard.
  • Quality Data: Organizations that track quality data can use it to advertise products or services. Whether an organization has won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award or can claim a 0.001% product defect rate, quality data can be a great way to sell your product or service.
  • Best Places to Work: Customers like to do business with organizations that have happy employees. Being nominated or winning awards for best places to work is another way to demonstrate creditability with the community and improve employee engagement.

Organizations that advertise the things they are doing right have the advantage of attracting the educated consumer. The ever-changing consumer driven culture demands more and more transparency in how an organization is run so you might as well boast of your good practices!

What are other things you leverage in your marketing plan?

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

photo credit: PNASH

Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 4 of 4

This is the fourth and final part of my interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob talks about performance reviews, how Zappos encourages employees to further their knowledge (and pays them for doing so), what he thinks about seniority and tenure amongst call center agents, how Zappos handles scheduling, how the company encourages “personal emotional connections,” and finally, what Rob thinks companies can do to deliver Zappos-like service.

You can read part one of the interview here, part two here, and part three here. To read this part, click “read more.”

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Walk Talk

As a member of the Board of Directors for the North East Contact Center Forum, I have the opportunity to speak with a number of Customer Service Managers, Directors and VP’s across multiple industries and geographies. The most common theme among these leaders is the intricate balancing act of providing extraordinary experiences while reducing expenses (and sometimes juggling regulatory risk and/or time constraints).

I have battled with the same dilemmas myself. Over time, I have learned to ask myself and my colleagues a few questions:

  • What do you coach your service representatives on?
  • What are the common conversations in your team and all-hands meetings?
  • What is it that your CEO/COO/VP of Customer Service is evangelizing?

More often than not, the answers sound like: call quality, customer experience, superior service, etc. Some time later, I follow up with another set of questions:

  • What are the key metrics that you look at daily?
  • How do you incent your service representatives?
  • What are the metrics that your boss (whether he or she be the CEO or someone else) are hammering you about?

These answers usually sound like: service level, AHT (average handle time), 50-75% of incentives involve productivity numbers, expenses, cost per account/loan/customer, etc.

Things that make you hmmm.

The terms [triple/quad constraints – click each to a see a picture] and charts are typically used in project management, but apply to our quandary.  One constraint cannot be changed without altering another. Triple or Quad constraints are funny; everything cannot be the most important or the highest priority. Trying to make everything the highest priority will only drive you and your service representatives crazy. It leads to mediocre quality, often subpar cost metrics, low morale, and CEO’s/COO’s/VP’s of Customer Service breathing down your neck.

With all of that in mind, how do you move (walk) forward?

  1. The first step for any recovery program is to admit you have a problem.
    1. Be objective.
    2. Ask your floor representatives what they think you say and what you really focus on.
    3. Listen to calls, review chats, and emails (are your associates rushing, taking too long?).
  2. Force rank your current priorities (create the order that you believe you are presently working under)
    1. Everything cannot be equal
      1. Quality (call quality, defect management, complaints, customer incident surveys)
      2. Cost (AHT, service levels, cost per X, expenses, utilization, occupancy)
      3. Time (are new product releases critical? Service availability?)
      4. Risk (regulatory/legal, credit, reputational)
    2. Make sure you have accurate differentials – use an entire 1-5 scale
  3. Have an honest, direct conversation with senior management about what is the most important priority, what is the second most important priority, and so on.

Now that you have your direction, you need to determine what you are going to change. (Hint: don’t limit yourself to the base of the box, work the edges. Read Seth Godin’s Linchpin for more on that subject.)

  • People – Do you have the right people in the right places to succeed? Do you need to reorganize? How would you incent people to deliver your priority? What do you need to communicate to your associates?
  • Process – What processes would you change? What metrics would you highlight? What dashboard items need to change?
  • Systems – How can you leverage your technical solutions to maximize your priorities? Are you able to walk your talk? Or do you need to change your talk?

Guest Writer Bio: Michael Pace is the Director of Customer Support for Constant Contact’s award winning Customer Support Department and on the Board of Directors for the North East Contact Center Forum. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

Image Credit: Joe

Expedited Shipping as an Incentive

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I am a big advocate of giving credits to help “ease the pain” that customers feel when they’re inconvenienced by one thing or another. What a lot of companies often neglect offering to customers is something that is usually just as (If not more) important: expedited shipping.

Just how much sense expedited shipping makes for any particular company will vary greatly. Large companies that ship a lot of products (and thus have a lot more leverage with their preferred shipping company) will find expedited shipping to be a lot more cost effective than small companies that don’t usually ship products. The cost of expedited shipping depends on the product, the shipping company, and perhaps most of all, what your company means by “expedited.” Some companies consider expedited faster than two weeks, others consider it faster than 24 hours. These are all things you’d want to look into and make decisions about before offering expedited shipping to customers.

Expedited shipping makes perfect sense for any sort of issue relating to an order delay. If the order is delayed a day or two from the factory, make that time up by upgrading the shipping from ground to next day air. If there was a problem with a product that is supposed to be deliver in a week, fix the problem and upgrade the shipping. Including expedited shipping as an option of possible incentive to customers certainly broadens the possibilities.

You can also use expedited shipping as a credit-like offer. Apologize for the inconvenience and say the customer’s next order will be shipped via next day air. That may make a bigger difference and a bigger impact than a $10 credit. When that one customer calls to ask if there are any discounts, instead of offering him or her a 15% off coupon, upgrade the shipping instead. You don’t necessarily have to upgrade it to the highest level, so that builds in quite a bit of flexibility.

The most important thing to remember is that there are more creative ways of “easing the pain” than just throwing money at customers.

Cut back on phone service? No way! Enhance it instead.

This is a guest writer post by John Federman, the CEO of eStara, a leading provider of online conversion solutions for enhancing multichannel sales and support initiatives.

As mentioned here about two weeks ago, a number of companies are implementing alternative contact solutions, like click to call, to control the volume and quality of calls sent to their contact centers.

Analysts agree that click to call is an effective means of reaching out to Web site visitors to engage them in conversation. For this reason, thousands of companies around the globe are deploying these solutions to enhance multi-channel sales and support efforts.

Basic click to call functionality is very easy to set up. It requires no additional software or hardware, and calls are routed directly to your existing CRM and telephony infrastructure. By pasting a JavaScript code into a Web site script, a standard click to call button is embedded on a Web site, and customers can start talking with your agents immediately either via their computer, or by entering in their phone number for an immediate call back.

If volume is not a concern, then this is the way to go.

However, if your business is growing and you’re attracting a lot of customers, you face the very real possibility of being overwhelmed with customer sales and support requests.

This is why most companies would prefer not to have every customer inquiry result in a phone call or chat, and invest heavily in providing self-service tools like FAQs and knowledgebase systems. However, in those instances where customer contact is desired or required, click to call not only helps offer quality service, but enhances the customer experience and increase sales conversion as well.

But not all click to call deployments are equal. Before deciding which solution is right for your business, it’s important to understand the deployment options for click to call functionality. These include:

Dynamic/Rules-Based Deployments – Unlike the static click to call buttons described above, dynamic/rules-based deployments are visible only when specific conditions exit. Dynamic buttons are triggered by a series of rules that are predetermined by the business during implementation. Business rules can range from:

  • Number of items in a customer’s shopping cart
  • Total shopping cart value
  • Amount of time a customer has spent idle on a page
  • Incomplete transactions
  • Preferred customer status
  • Hours of operation or call center availability

Because there may be uniform reasons of when customers abandon your Web site or require customer service, rules-based deployments provide a way to automate a call offering to prevent these things from happening and offer customers a chance to speak with a live agent based on their perceived needs.

Proactive Deployments — Like dynamic deployments, proactive deployments offer more flexibility than static click to call buttons, and give contact center agents more control over when to engage online prospects. Using real-time Web analytics, and rules-based triggers, contact center agents can determine if, and when to engage customers to call or chat based on their online behavior. With proactive deployments, the agent can control when and where they decide to offer the click to call invitation to offer a customized online shopping, or service, experience for each consumer.

Integrated Deployments — Integrated click to call deployments can either be static, dynamic or proactive, but leverage unique data integration and collaboration technology to create a truly seamless experience for customers as they transition from an online session to a phone call.

This is done through a process called “cross-channel data passing.” Cross-channel data passing ensures a continuity of customer experience by transferring information about the customer and the context of their online session directly to the call center at the time of call initiation. The call center software can be configured to display this information directly on the agent’s desktop screen, or it can use the incoming data values to trigger lookups into the company’s own databases to retrieve related details (customer records, purchase history, billing information, etc.)

Rather than having the customer start all over again, the contact center agent can use this information to verify account status, identify problems with the online transaction, and more efficiently troubleshoot whichever issue prompted the customer to call.

Additionally, integrated deployments also open up a new level of collaboration between online customers and contact center agents. Using data passed when calls are initiated, agents can push relevant pages to customers, or initiate co-browsing sessions to guide customers through the sales or support process.

Conclusion — Nothing is more frustrating to a consumer than having to “start all over again” when they transition from the Web to a phone conversation. Click to call offers one solution to this problem by integrating the power of Web analytics with the convenience and comfort of the telephone. Given the range of options available, it’s critical to have a full understanding of your business goals and how customers behave on your Website. Doing so allows you to offer the right form of contact at the right time to maximize the benefit of click to call offerings, and not only reduce call center costs, but turn your call center into a revenue generator.

John Federman is CEO of eStara, a leading provider of online conversion solutions for enhancing multichannel sales and support initiatives. Mr. Federman is responsible for eStara’s strategic direction, growth and corporate vision. He brings more than 20 years of experience with innovative information technology and media companies to eStara, and has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, including Continental Airlines, DaimlerChrysler and Dell Financial Services, to enhance their multichannel sales and support operations.

Interview: Robert Stephens – Founder of The Geek Squad

I interviewed Robert Stephens, who is the Founder and Chief Inspector of The Geek Squad and a VP at Best Buy a few weeks ago.

It took two phone calls and a good hour or two, but I got the answers to all of my questions. Good answers, too. The interview totals in at about 5,300 words. I really need to keep my interviews short and sweet, but there is so much to ask! So, I’m dividing the interview into four parts over two weeks. Most of it will be posted this week.

I’m doing another interview today was an equally interesting company, but I won’t reveal who it is for a week or two. My only hint is that I have talked about the company before, but have never had a first hand experience with them.

Geek Squad is owned by Best Buy and both organizations are gigantic. Geek Squad has about 11,000 employees (called Agents) now. When the company was acquired, it had 55 agents. Talk about rapid growth.

The first part of the interviews talks about Robert’s philosophy when it comes to customer service and business as well as his background and education. Click the “read more” link to read the interview.

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