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How to help call center representatives improve customer service

cubicle row 2Centralized call centers receive and transmit an enormous volume of telephone requests daily, with the purpose of collecting and handling information, ranging from product inquiries, questions about transactions, and customer service. Although emails and social media networks provide more outlets for complaints regarding a particular organization or service, statistics show calling is still the most popular method of communication when a customer or client has a problem.

Handling complaint calls successfully from customers, require customer service representatives to recognize the problem and respond to it in a satisfying and efficient manner. Although the theory of complaining is universal and understood by all of us since our own “pre-toddler” days, the different presentations of “unhappiness” with a product or service often manifests itself in different ways.

For instance, some customers call up and preface their conversation with words like, “I don’t like to complain,” or “I really like  (company name inserted here) but this happened (identified the problem in a cursory manner), and I wanted to bring your attention to it”. Whereas a customer service representative may not have picked up that the consumer is having an issue, it is therefore imperative that front line personnel are trained and taught to be able to recognize a complaint, respond to the problem, and thank the customer for bringing the company’s attention to the particular issue.

A glimpse of more statistics reveal 95% of customers will give an organization a second chance if the problem is resolved, and 70% of customers will continue their business relationship with a particular organization if the resolution is in their favor.

So who are the most successful customer service representatives and how is that achieved? These are the men and women who can think on their feet after, and only after, having been provided with the best education and training in the company’s culture, as well as with their products and services. When someone calls, the best representatives can assess through customer interaction whether the person is meek, aggressive, or just an ornery character trying to get something they truly don’t deserve and a person no one will ever make happy. Of course, in those situations, customer representatives still must maintain the ultimate in professionalism while making every attempt to be patient and objective.

Customer service representatives – either at  the front of the call center or in a specialized section of the company, need to be able to provide solutions and have the authority to do so. They are friendly, non-confrontational, and patient. Although not every customer is always right, their information shouldn’t be discounted, since they might be giving a company some insight into future problems and what should be avoided. An important aspect to efficient service is therefore the ability to manage customers and avoid unpleasant experiences. We lose customers when expectations and solutions don’t jive.

Good business sense dictates we recognize the complex problems, and give the customer the  opportunity to suggest how he would handle the problem. You never know; our customers often help us find new solutions and help to pave the way to success.

photo by: sun dazed

Bad customer experiences make customer service mistakes harder to forgive

Perhaps the most repeated complaint when having to deal with poor customer service is the need to keep calling back when something is wrong with a product. Most of us want to think problems should be resolved with the initial contact; at the very least let’s get our complaint directed to the department in charge. Too often however, it becomes a litany of bad experiences, repeated phone calls, and thus the eventual loss of brand loyalty and business.

Statistics tell us that bad customer experiences are shared twice as much as good experiences, and the vast majority of bad service is vocally transmitted to family members, friends, and then coworkers. Why is that?

When I remember my college days, and yes, I loved the experience, but what sticks out in my mind when friends and I are reminiscing is always the Economics II class that I barely eked through with a respectable grade. When I think about my family life as I was growing up, and yes, I had lots of fun with older brothers, but what sticks out in the past is one of my brothers pushing me out of a tree. In high school, I remember losing my wallet with $50 in it; rarely do I mention bringing home a paycheck from being a waitress at a small breakfast and lunch cafe and having the disposable income to buy new clothes.

Psychologists suggest that bad memories and their details stick further into our minds than positive ones. Haven’t we all formed some bad initial impressions quicker than good ones, or haven’t we stereotyped situations or people before ever realizing the good attributes? At the top of the list of things we tend to remember is losing money and losing friends. It just seems the bad wears off slower than the good.

Therefore with all of this in mind, is it any wonder that poor customer service triggers those negative feelings in us? It drives us to spread our poor experiences with others as well as to move on to the competition hoping for a better resolution should a similar experience happen again.

In a recent experience with my new car, the negative repeated service experience already has me convinced to abandon my brand loyalty with Mercedes Benz of North Palm Beach. Although it is not a critical mechanical defect needed for safe operation of the car, customer experiences are expected to impress us. As the same problem has continued for months and months, this disappointing experience has now resulted in negative feelings towards the product and the people employed to “make it right.”

As bad experiences most often trigger customers to move on to another organization, it’s important therefore to address the dissatisfied as a priority. When a customer is impressed with the product, and when a disgruntled customer shows their displeasure, it’s a stellar customer service department that goes beyond the basic acceptable customer experience to “wow” someone back from the edge of their past loyalty. Bad experiences need to be managed separately; the loyal and the satisfied are already there. The unhappy ones are ready to move away. We must be aware of the customer’s needs and improve performance to cancel out those disappointing moments in time.

Increasing customer service popularity with Facebook

FB-f-Logo__blue_144Facebook gives organizations the opportunity to “WOW” customers with their human and approachable touch so important to building business, loyalty, and the development of a company’s brand. With over one billion active users, why not use Mark Zuckerberg’s brilliant social platform to help to build an audience, engage them in interesting conversation about one’s product or service, and then have the opportunity to convert visitors into more customers?

Facebook isn’t just about tracking down your old boyfriend, sending birthday wishes to your friends instead of the snail mail obligatory birthday cards, or posting photographs from your high school graduation cheerleader captain days; now it’s also about interest groups and ones that are organized by workplaces intended to target visitors to specific sites. In addition, business pages encourage friends and their friends to “like” us, and thus engages another opportunity to share feedback and to help people. After all, we do tend to share our best referrals with our friends and relatives.

The best business pages make answers easy to find. In the very complex world of algorithms, Facebook business pages crawl to the top of the popularity lists through comments, shares, and “likes.” Leading the parade are comments and shares, and of course it is better when customers praise a company with positive comments. Mind you now, this is a perfect opportunity to acknowledge the positive comments with “thank you” responses. On the other hand, it still provides an excellent venue to listen to complaints by responding quickly and being able to help with solutions.

Customer service always comes with the territory on Facebook, as it gives consumers an outlet for airing their issues and allowing  for the most frustrated to have their voices heard. Imagine Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “shot heard around the world” as the American Revolutionary War in 1775 began on the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts as the first shot rang out killing British soldiers? Although not nearly as dramatic as America’s fight for freedom way back when, disgruntled people are always searching for solutions, and the more people who they can engage, the more drama that emerges.

Although Facebook promises to provide opportunities to boost businesses, an important caveat needs to be considered; the staff monitoring the page must know their business and be diligent and prompt with responses. Unhappy customers become even more disgruntled if they are ignored; maybe it’s not intentional because staff members are attending to other business dealings, but it’s doubtful a customer whose product has failed will have much sympathy. There is even a good possibility the customer has already tried to communicate via telephone and was met with “please don’t hang up; your call is very important to us” while waiting 15 minutes on hold listening to the same advertisement about the company over and over again. Therefore if a business decides to use Facebook as another customer service portal, make sure to be diligent with sharing feedback, personally answering customers, and responding quickly with solutions.

Constant monitoring can help customers find answers before comments become negative. Even building a FAQ can drive customers to helpful answers. Setting up keyword alerts for words like “frustrated” or “disappointed” depending on the type of business or service, can notify staff members to address a potentially volatile situation before it gets out of hand. Being warned beforehand can still be one of the best opportunities to turn the negative into opportunities.

Take advantage of social media; it’s here to stay.

Customer satisfaction for retailers at all time high

For the third year in a row, customer satisfaction in the retail trade for the United States is at an all time industry high, but of course there are always some caveats since many of the top retailers who scored relatively low for customer satisfaction are among the top retailers. Go figure!

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report examined the implications of both e-commerce and retail businesses concluding that better customer service, discounting of prices, and lower gasoline prices offset a drop in Internet sales. For instance, gas station business is based solely on price, and with GasBuddy.com, it’s easy to check, however stations have also improved by offering customers quick options for groceries instead of having to head off to the nearest supermarket and  make another stop.

Perhaps one of the more interesting conundrums of the report stated that eight of the ten retailers with the worst customer satisfaction scores were among the 20 top retailers in 2012. Macy’s, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walmart with the supermarket scoring the lowest ACSI score for customer satisfaction  and poor customer relations, still received a high customer satisfaction score for mobile and Internet business. Part of the problem of low scores come from employee feedback where lack of benefits and competitive salaries evoke mediocre to low reviews from the staff.

Interesting enough however, even though brick and mortar stores suffered this past year from less foot traffic, customers were pleased with shorter waiting lines, more products in stock, and the personal service that brings consumers into a store. Add that kind of exemplary service to a romantic city street decorated with twinkling lights and attractive merchandise offered from decorated windows, the holiday season became a fun experience for shoppers.

For specialty stores, the availability of merchandise scored the highest benchmark for customer satisfaction, and in general consumers were pleased with relatively good service, clean and attractive spaces well laid out, and quicker checkout. The down part of specialty stores compared to department stores, however are less sales and promotions. (Even the wealthiest shoppers enjoy a good bargain.)

The Internet retail experience was affected this year by a huge mess of weather delays; scarcely was there a day in the news that supply and delivery didn’t make headlines. Amazon.com didn’t seem to suffer much by offering free delivery and other “wallet oriented” apologies. It doesn’t seem one can beat the convenience, the merchandise selection, ease of navigation, useful customer information on the sites, and customer support of e-commerce; especially coming from an age of young professionals who spend more time online shopping than at the mall. Brick and mortar organizations are constantly challenged to meet and surpass a shopping experience worthy of a personal adventure.

Maybe one of the worst customer satisfaction experiences lately, scoring at the very bottom of ACSI benchmark are Internet Service Providers. Comcast Corporation, as it wens it way to a $45 billion mega merger with Time Warner Cable may be destined to become the two worst companies combining for the worst service imaginable. Facebook pages like Comcast Sucks and I Hate Comcast have thousands of likes and complaints ranging from outrageous bills, endless waits on the phone for service, and inconsistency of service. It’s practically unimaginable that Internet providers will ever do better.

As a new year of customer satisfaction rolls on, let’s hope to continue to see improvements whether we step into a store or sign on to the Internet.

Ease up on customer service demands during inclement weather

Snow Storm, Dec. 2008Whether it be hurricanes, blizzards, fogs, or floods, inclement weather has its own way of leading an otherwise civilized society into moments of rage and unacceptable behavior. Spend a few hours in a busy airport and listen as a few narcissistic and petty customers scream profanities at service workers in fast food establishments, airline employees, or transport personnel as if the adverse weather and all of the complications that frequently occur during such times are the fault of the employees.

For airlines at least, and of course in my business of real estate sales, force majeure, or an act of God as contracts state, parties are free from liability when an extraordinary event or circumstance prevents them from fulfilling their obligations. Of course this rarely excuses them altogether, but at the same time airlines are not required to compensate passengers for hotels or other expenses during the delay, and hence something seems to click negatively in the human brain of a few, but no matter how upset we may all become, maybe a “teachable experience” can remind us of what we teach our children.

It is the responsibility of airlines and other services to safely operate during severe weather and emergency  conditions. Businesses that stay open during harsh conditions often have employees who have risked their own safety and comfort to provide necessary services. So instead of telling the person behind the desk she is a “blithering fool,” please learn how to treat people with decency and respect.

For employers who need their staff to brave serious weather conditions, be flexible and realize the difficulty of the situations. Employees are not automatically entitled to being paid if they can’t get to work, and those policies should be clearly explained in staffing contracts or the company handbook. Maintain fair and consistent employment relations with employees before emergencies and have an “adverse weather” policy in force for the continuation of services in case of such emergencies. If employees are able to work from home using remote devices, it maintains stability of the business as well as an important morale booster in times of stress for both employers and employees.

And for all of my fellow travelers in the airports of the world, although airline companies can be a challenge all of their own, use these simple suggestions to ensure a better experience during inclement weather:

  • Check online before your flight or call ahead when adverse weather conditions are expected.
  • Call reservations. While most delays do not require rebooking, some do.
  • If you are expecting to board a connecting flight, see the reservation personnel for additional help.
  • Maintain your patience.

Check the website of the airline carrier for their policies concerning inclement weather. For instance, United Airlines has some extremely useful and informative information.

photo by: thisreidwrites

Beware of the fine print in Terms of Service before you complain online

unhappyfaceJohn and Jennifer Palmer of Layton, Utah are suing an online retailer over a $3,500 charge assessed to them by KlearGear.com, a Grandville, Mich. company which the Palmers posted a negative online review with Ripoff Reports.com.

Perhaps you have never read the fine print in the Terms of Service when ordering merchandise, but this situation might encourage consumers to pay attention, since it is well known that litigation costs money. So let’s start from the beginning.

In December 2008, John Palmer ordered a desk toy and key chain from KlearGear.com; the entire purchase added to less than $20. It seems the tchotcheke never showed up, so after a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach the company, the couple canceled their order via their Paypal account. Pretty standard fare one would say, except Jennifer decided to post an unfavorable review of her dissatisfaction with the company on Ripoff Reports.com, a site that doesn’t remove posts unless legal fees are involved. Jennifer’s criticism, in part, included the following:

“There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being. No extensions work.”

So who would have thought after three years, the KlearGear company would seemingly send the couple an email giving them 72 hours to remove the unflattering review. According to CNN.com, the company’s demand was based on an obscure (or maybe not so obscure) “non-disparagement clause” which stated:

 “Your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com.” The Palmers say this clause was added after they purchased the items, citing their 2008 customer agreement which they found.”

The Palmers claim their credit has been adversely affected by the company who reported the $3,500 charge to the credit bureau as an unpaid charge. The couple is taking this to court and have vowed not to give up. CNN legal expert, Paul Callan stated the terms of use of the company would most likely be deemed as unfair and be thrown out of court.

“We don’t want them to get away with this,” Jen Palmer said. “We are apparently not the only ones that they have done this to, but we are the only ones who are fighting back. And we’re not giving up.”

Meanwhile KlearGear seems to be taking a lot of heat and criticism.

Interestingly enough, the First Amendment does guarantee us the freedom of speech, however you better be sure it’s accurate because you could be sued for libel; even without a “non-disparagement clause.”

During this busy holiday shopping season, take the time to read the fine print.

The top remedies to quell ‘customer rage’

Cliente enfadado?

In the world of social media, where consumers publicly speak out against poor customer service, it has been estimated that U.S. businesses can lose $60 billion in future sales of goods and services. A recent report from a cloud contact provider stated  85% of consumers retaliate against a company with bad customer service. “Customer rage”, as it is called, has caused 49% of consumers from doing business with a particular organization, and interestingly enough, the 18 through 34 year-old age groups are three times more likely to vent their frustrations out on social media.

For at least 70% of the purchasing population, the first line of complaint begins with a phone call. As so many  large organizations utilize call centers, customers get easily frustrated with the maze of number presses, the disconnects, rudeness from call center personnel, language barriers, and of course, the incompetent service representative.  That adds up to a lot of complaints when 43 billion calls a year are processed through these call centers.   The major companies which notoriously press a customer’s “rage button” include cable television providers, satellite providers, telephone products and services, electronics, retailers, banking institutions, and automobile manufacturers. Ironically these most often are big ticket items; thus involving more hard earned income and therefore more serious consumer consequences.

So what enrages customers the most and how can we improve our services? Oddly enough, out of the ten most popular solutions to improving customer service, six suggestions have no bearing on prices. The overwhelming top response from unhappy consumers centered around being treated poorly and the lack of respect. Although we may laugh at some of the popular “customer rage” videos popular on YouTube, the message to be conveyed is not to have to call back, explain the problem to someone else, and repeat the vicious cycle of ineptness until the proverbial cork pops out of the bottle.

It’s hard to find a company who actually admits blame, but unhappy customers want to hear a company acknowledge they are sorry, and then to make an offer to correct the lack of service or fix or replace the defective product.

“I’m not asking for a miracle, but I want the company to acknowledge my time is valuable, my business with them is important, and they will try their best to make it better for me,” explained Pamela Davis, a former AT&T Bell Labs executive assistant. “I’ll even settle for mediocre now before I change companies, but I want them to resolve my conflict.”

Customer service, despite all of the edginess of progress and innovative tools available to businesses,  still boils down to the importance of communication. “I’m sorry you are unhappy,” and “Thank you for your business,” aren’t  complex formulas, but it brings the humanity back from a very complicated world; and although it doesn’t cost a lot, it certainly encourages brand loyalty.

photo by: Daquella manera

Service with a snarl: What to look for and how to avoid it

No doubt we have all been victims of bad customer service, and no doubt we have left companies and moved on to their competition because the experience, at least in our own eyes for the moment, had been intolerable. Of course, we all have those particularly heinous stories of sub par service and indignant insults, but fair is fair, and perhaps some of those “fly off the handle” experiences could have been handled better; both by the customer and the service person.

Whereas the warning signs of poor customer service seem to be universal in this day and age of technology and good old personal one on one intervention, the adage of the “customer is always right” can never be a one-size fits all solution. It is true that waiting in line or a long telephone “hold” wears down a customer’s patience, and could very well be the foreshadowing of a busy and understaffed company, statistics state Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line for such services as cash registers, amusement parks, movies, fast food restaurants, and the list goes on.

The real payoff happens when we get to the front of the line or the representative answers the phone. How is the customer treated? Is there an apology for making us wait? Is the service we expect now provided? Is the customer service representative owning the problem, or are we told someone else will have to get in touch with us? The popular recording:

“Your call is very important to us. Please do not hang up. All of our representatives are busy helping other customers,” is only believable to us if we can expect our problems to be corrected or addressed.

The real solution is a customer service representative who is well-trained and intelligent who tells an unhappy customer:

“We’re sorry, and we will make this right.”

On the other side of the customer service debate, however we must remember that customers need to own  respectable codes of behavior. Customer service agents are not FBI hostage negotiators and should not be expected to tolerate screaming profanities, unrealistic goals, and vulgar behaviors. Agreed, everyone can get slightly miffed from waiting in line or being left on “hold” for more than a customer thinks is acceptable, ( could be one minute, ten minutes, or an hour) beginning the conversation in an arbitrary manner is not likely to get the desired results. Try to throw, “it’s the principle” out of your mind and concentrate on the desired end result; whether it is to be a refund, a replacement part, or a better seat in the auditorium for a Katy Perry concert. Nothing replaces the time honored old English proverb:

“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Organizations have

to figure out which way they want to operate. Low levels of service are inexpensive, but the high costs of customer dissatisfaction, the lost business, and the money spent to process and repair the damage, takes its toll. High levels of service are expensive, and it costs more to provide those services, but the costs for dissatisfaction issues are much lower.

So the next time you think you are a victim of a snarly customer service person, why not take a deep breath and imagine the “best in life is yet to come.”

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