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Improve the quality of customer experiences

Holiday Extras Customer's Awards picturesAccording to Strativity Group Customer Experience Management, which provides customer experience services, a recent Sydney, Australia study found 48 percent of executives increasing their investments in customer experience over the past three years by at least ten percent. This acknowledges the benefits of building positive and meaningful experiences around the customer; in other words developing the customer-centric approach.

Improving the quality and consistency of the shopping experience, 73 percent of consumers stated they would spend at least ten percent more. That superior customer experience improves sales, boosts referral rates, and drives up profit margins.

So how do you do it? The first step is to analyze the problem. Sometimes customer dissatisfaction isn’t just the pink elephant in the room. Sometimes it isn’t clearly defined, but everyone realizes there is something just not dynamic about the customer experience. Then comes the hard part, but surely not impossible to figure out and solve the problem. Organizations should start with employee communication and brainstorm practical solutions to bring in more enthusiasm and help to deliver the right services to the right customers. Management training commences because great leaders inspire more great leaders. Use customer surveys, analysis studies, and reviews to bring about suggestions and improvements. Encourage employees to participate. Have quarterly analysis reviews, and be able to prioritize issues that matter to customers. Everyone in the entire organization needs to focus on improvement because everyone is immeasurably tied to each other.

As the company comes together with the executives now taking an active part in the customer experience improvement, every part of the business begins to work together more efficiently. For instance, in a retail furniture company, the supplier makes sure the orders are filled on time, and in turn the store makes sure the supplier is paid on time. The delivery men are ready to pick up the order for the customer, and the delivery is on time. If the customer finds a scratch or a tear in her new sofa, the repair team is immediately dispatched to remedy the situation. The office staff follows up on customer service. A short survey is sent to the customer with a discount certificate for their next purchase as a thank you for being a great customer. While it may not be the circle of life as in the Lion King, the circle of executive, managerial, and employee engagement immeasurably increases sales with key customers through exceptional customer experiences.

photo credit: Holidayextras

Customer service a lot less friendly in the skies

midtownAccording to US News and World Report Travel, Atlanta-based Delta Airlines scored the worst of major airlines with the dubious honor of ranking first in delays. It had the largest drop in customer satisfaction in a twelve-month period when only 78 percent of their flights arrived on time. Trailing with similar complaints were United, Alaska Airlines, American, and US Airway.

The annual poll entitled Airline Quality Rating Report is compiled by joint professors at Wichita State University and Purdue University and uses “subjective surveys of consumer opinion that are infrequently done with the goal of creating a rating for individual airlines with interval scale properties that is comparable across airlines and across time.”

So besides travelers having to wait on long security lines and enduring inadequate parking facilities, customers frequently are at their wit’s end even before the wheels of the plane touch away from the airport runway. Other lodged complaints compiled were mishandled baggage, delays, and involuntary denied boarding. There was also a general dissatisfaction with substandard meals, rude flight attendants, and baggage fees.

Now we all know that airlines are our favorite subjects when it comes to consumer complaints and lack of customer service along with banks, cell phone providers, and internet companies, but the lack of communication and listening to their customers are the one constant complaint for all of the organizations. On Friday, a lonely Twitter entry stated, “Delta is improving” and linked to a list of awards the airline has won dating back to 2007.

So what’s a consumer to do? Well, we all could take the bus, leave our luggage at home, just use a carry-on, and brown bag our own food, or airlines could start paying attention to consumer opinions. Understandably airlines can be constrained by  federal regulations, weather conditions and security controls, but that doesn’t mean customer service has to be so poor. When airline reports emerge titled, “America’s Meanest Airlines” surely it is time for the companies to listen hard and look at their operation and employees.

Airline employees need more training; it’s as simple as that. Statistically consumers find employee rudeness to be one of the most obvious reasons they will no longer deal with a company. Ground personnel and flight attendants have to be able to deal with the public and remain professional and polite in all circumstances. If an airline is known for its terrible food, isn’t it time the company sat down in a passenger seat and actually tried and tasted the food themselves to put themselves in the place of the passenger? Bad tasting food is pretty universal. And as to one’s baggage not making it to the proper destination? That’s completely controllable also. Why not train baggage carriers to do their jobs better? Again, customer service training is the key.

I know from personal experience, if I had to hurry through the airport, dread the security lines and procedures, but finally made it to my assigned flight, could check my one bag for no additional fee, didn’t have to pay extra to sit in an aisle seat, and I could enjoy a decent snack, a legitimate weather delay wouldn’t irritate me half as much.

photo credit: SpecialKRB

The value of roleplaying in customer service training

Infosec 2007. Olympia.The typical customer training course teaches agents what a customer wants or doesn’t want and highlights the common mistakes committed by new and experienced agents. The course traditionally goes on to warn agents about the possible negative impact on the company and business. It highlights the need to smile, help fellow workers, delegate projects as a team player, and have a positive outlook. Many agents politely listen, but consider the training course just a supplement to common sense. How do we then make it more interesting and applicable?

Training needs to start with a clear objective, and role-playing places the service representative into the shoes of the customer, and helps to bring clarity to particular situations. Begin with the customer scenario and use detail to create a  specific situation. Perhaps the customer is calling to ask for more information and is clearly in a hurry. What would a successful outcome then be for the company and for the customer? Start from the beginning, and take it through the question period, the emotional aspect of the hurried customer, and what to say and how to say it.

Keep the role-playing scenarios simple at the beginning. Customer service representatives who are not used to role-playing will need to get used to the heightened awareness of core issues and will actually be able to focus on skills they may have never thought of before the training session began. The role-playing should be fun; employees identify with positive attitudes. We often learn mistakes we are making by laughing at ourselves. None of us like to be lectured, but when we have the opportunity to reverse roles, we can get a clearer vision of our purpose.

Our role-playing then continues with more difficult tasks. Meet the needs and calm the angry customer. Focus and build skills that can handle the issues. What a perfect time to drive home behaviors that are not acceptable or non negotiable. Record and play back the practice scenarios and figure out collectively what could have been said or done to make the experience better. We’re all adults, and when everyone has the opportunity to participate, we all tend to be more interested and more engaged. As roleplaying continues, training becomes more effective as each person has the opportunity to keep trying to perfect an appropriate and satisfying result.

At the end of the training session, customer service representatives come away with existing approaches that work well and have had the opportunity to learn new points and share tips. The opportunity for more experienced employees to share techniques with new employees leads to more teamwork. All of it helps to build more confident, knowledgeable, and happier employees.

photo credit: jlcwalker

Customer service representatives who help their communities

焦糖咖啡星冰楽 (●ω●)Coffee giant Starbucks is changing its hiring, recruiting, and training methods to encourage employees to become more involved in their careers and their communities. Applicants who want to volunteer and work on their personal development which shares a commitment to community work will more likely be offered  new careers as “partners.” Prospects will also be judged on their conversational skills as well as their coffee skills.

Starbucks will work on improvements to their management training, personal development, and learning new skills. They are hoping that by increasing their investment in these skills the turnover rate will decrease and customer service will improve.

Volunteers in the community are the backbone of not-for-profit organizations. Ranging from ambulance drivers, firemen, community support groups, animal welfare to national groups such as Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer, Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity, people contribute of  themselves to give back to the community.

Starbucks recognizes the important link in employee development and their roles in volunteer projects. It’s an essential method of learning new skills as they share their commitment to their own communities. Customer service is not just knowing the words; it is more like the positive relationships we can develop individually as we expand our personal and professional passions.

In the customer service business,  loyal clients and customers are built through the development of positive customer relationships. We seek referrals, and build goodwill by becoming known in our communities because we really care. Many leadership roles are volunteer programs which take our time, energy, talent, and skills. Our purpose for accepting volunteer roles in the first place usually coincides with our personal or professional passions.

When Howard Schultz returned to the CEO seat of Starbucks in 2008, he knew the company needed more than just money to bring a failing  business back to life. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Schultz stated:

I decided against the advice of many people at the time, because it had a high cost attached to it – to take 10,000 store managers to New Orleans. I knew that if I could remind people of our character and values, we could make a difference.

With that commitment and encouraging employees to give of themselves, that effort became the single largest block of community support in the history of New Orleans. With a total contribution of 54,000 volunteer hours and $1 million, volunteers painted, landscaped, and built playgrounds to a community devastated by disaster.

If we hadn’t had New Orleans, we wouldn’t have turned things around. It was real, it was truthful, and it was about leadership.

Employing company vision in customer service training

Benny HillEvery company needs a motivational vision; what you want your company to ultimately become. Training customer service representatives to understand and value what the organization is seeking will provide that sense of purpose, enthusiasm, and commitment; it just requires a meaningful platform to be used in a successful training program.

Almost any company will state on a mission statement their commitment to excellent customer service, but how many of those organizations follow through on that campaign? The vision is fundamental, but many fall flat and never train their personnel to deliver. Engaging service visions captivate our realities and our imaginations. For instance, the Ritz Carlton’s “experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”  Those of us who have had the pleasure of staying at a Ritz Carlton most likely have experienced that monumental commitment to service.

Companies who truly motivate and engage their service representatives enable customers to actually hear the organization’s mission.  “Yes, that’s who they are,” customer Jane Doe says about a particular company with an engaging service vision. It’s different from the competition; it makes them stand out. “We’ve been asked by a lot of people how we’ve grown so quickly, and the answer is actually really simple. We’ve aligned the entire organization around our mission: to provide the best customer service possible. Internally, we call this our WOW experience,” explains Zappos, one of the most successful customer service oriented businesses of today’s competitive market.

Successful businesses have created a mantra; the organization’s philosophy incorporated into their daily routines. This makes it easy and natural for everyone to remember and act upon accordingly. And to add to the customer representative training, is the support and knowledge of the front offices with the back offices and every office in between; it truly needs to be a company effort. In other words, everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction, and everyone helps to row.

Each business has their own style of service, and customer value should be crafted so the service vision addresses and satisfies the needs of the customers. An emergency medical care office will want to create a warm and inviting atmosphere with compassionate personnel while a hardware store’s customer service representative needs to have expert knowledge of merchandise and advice for the customer entering with a specific purpose. Some restaurants cater to expensive clientage while many customers want family oriented and reasonably priced. Keep in mind how each business needs to be different from their competition; what makes your business stand apart from the others?

photo credit: liber

Social Customer Service – A completely different animal?

I'm Watching YouFor the last 30 years, traditional customer service recruiting, training, core skills, and performance management have not changed dramatically. Service professionals and their management teams have been able to hone the delivery of customer needs through various channels. But are the same attributes that make a great traditional customer service representative applicable for Social Customer Service?

Traditional customer channels & attributes:

Channel: In Person

– 1 to 1+, Face to Face
– Visual presentation & interaction
– Immediate responses are critical
– Quality of written responses typically less important

Channel: Phone

  • 1 to 1 voice conversation
  • Improved with personal connection, tone important
  • Near immediate responses improve satisfaction

Channel: Email

  • 1 to 1 digital conversation
  • Persona driven by written word
  • Between 2-24 hrs is expected turn around time

Channel: Live Chat

  • 1 to 1 digital conversation
  • Typically a casual conversation, short responses, and grammar less critical
  • Immediate responses are critical

But are these the same attributes needed for superior social customer service? Let’s look at responsibilities and qualifications of a social customer service representative.

Responsibilities for “traditional” customer service representatives:

  • Monitor Constant Contact social media outlets/networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs) for customer service related inquiries, complaints, concerns
  • Organize customer service inquiries, concerns, and responses for record and reference track the types of questions that appear on social media outlets
  • Distribute and/or partner with various  internal resources to ensure social media generated issues are resolved and communicated
  • Partner with various internal (possibly external) resources to update customers on promotions, technical advancements, general content, issues or changes
  • Facilitate the Voice of the Customer (Social Media) to various internal departments and individuals to enhance the customer experience and product strategy

Qualifications for “traditional” customer service representatives:

  • Excellent writing and phone skills
  • Strong grasp of the structure, purpose, and tone of social networks
  • Ability to think quickly, and formulate responses within a short turnaround time
  • Ability to communicate on social networks in a professional, yet personable, way
  • Flexibility
  • Comfortable presenting organization’s values, positioning and persona potentially to the  entire social universe
  • Able to “Exercise Responsible Freedom” (See Chip Bell’s Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service)

But what about the last channel: social service? Here’s what social service looks like:

Channel: Social Service

  • 1 to many (possibly thousands or millions)
  • Persona dependent upon media type
  • Response dependent upon media type
  • Your response is now your brand

I think we are dealing with a completely different animal.  So if we are dealing with something different, what should we consider changing?

  • New job titles/roles/descriptions
  • Recruiting – should it need to be socially sourced?
  • On-board training – inclusion of marketing, product, service, HR
  • Core skill development
  • Career progression paths
  • Performance Management
  • Continuous education models

Since this is such a new arena, all comments and thoughts are very much appreciated.

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.

photo credit: Sheffield Tiger

Help your customer service staff to help your business succeed

Blonde Girl in Black Ruffled DressI was pulling into my office this morning when I heard a Zappos commercial on the radio. The purchaser told the customer service representative she had to return merchandise she received yesterday because she was “emotionally unable to handle” the new dress she just purchased and had not touched the box, and had left it lying in the garage. The pleasant voice on the Zappos end assured her that she could return the dress, and there would be no delivery or return charges; just that the customer would have to “touch” the box to return it.

That clever advertisement is the positive mode of customer service, and  “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” We need to foster better attitudes with employees who think dissatisfied customers are the problem. I think we all have been in a position when we just didn’t want the item we purchased, but at times have been forced to lie when returning it.  When employees get nervous, defensive, and confused while managing customers, the lack of skills can only result in a loss of customers; thus the loss of revenue. Do we always need an excuse to return something, and will the customer service agent respect our decision? Therefore each organization needs a clear and concise company ethos, and clear organizational training and discussions to help employees interact with customers to enhance the customer experience. I always suggest role-playing; it’s fun and effective. Take the worst examples that could happen, and practice different solutions. Help employees resolve problems, but give them the proper tools.

The customer service staff should also be able to deal with the inherent human condition where we need to always be right. We tend to look for evidence that proves how right we are, but if an employee unconsciously reacts to this way of thinking, that is paramount to a breakdown of communication. Even if we say that we are having a difference of opinion or agree to disagree, the customer may perceive she is wrong; that unfortunately is a free pass to our competition. Senior staff and trainers need to remind all service representatives that customers are the top priority. Sometimes it isn’t clear. Training, role-playing, and practice help employees communicate positively to work out satisfactory resolutions.

Finally, we as trainers or company owners need to encourage personal growth, and find the connection which helps our employees to use their jobs and identify their own values. It should never be, “just a job” because we will have loss that connection to the customer as well as to the employee. We want to listen to employees, gain their trust, treat them fairly, and give them all the tools to encourage positive customer relationships; even if the woman needs to return the dress she was emotionally unable to accept.

photo credit: PinkStock Photos!

Employee engagement is a force behind success

Strategic Sales team playing aroundEmployee engagement is the motivation, commitment, and loyalty of  people working in order to further an organization’s interest. Top companies recognize how this tremendous force can bring customer satisfaction, able suppliers to productively be in involved in the company’s best interest, and consequently mean profitability as all the cogs operate in a synchronized manner.

From the top senior levels, management is obligated to show they care about employees. It is much more cost-effective to encourage job security, stability, and career growth in this troubling economy than it is just to offer employees raises. People are afraid to buy homes right now, even though they quality for mortgages, because people are afraid they may get fired or laid off from their jobs and careers. With those thoughts in mind, shouldn’t senior management work on motivating factors to help employees maintain their business loyalty and commitment?

Let’s start with the negatives. Employees are concerned with customer losses, layoffs, employee turnovers, and the extra work that has resulted from under-staffing. Mix into the brewing storm, inefficient systems, inflexible bureaucracy, and lack of intercommunication; rumors fly, and you now have unengaged employees who become very expensive for any company. From that negative comes lack of productivity, low self-esteem, and a breakdown of teamwork.

Senior management can lead with their vision and strategies in order to instill employee confidence. Senior leadership must motivate employees by nurturing career development, integrity, and dedication. Leaders can not just assume what factors motivate employees. Make employee engagement an important part of the process. Give employees the opportunity to provide feedback. Often they are the ones on the front lines, and isn’t that a good indicator of what needs to be heard? Go back to the 90’s and put a suggestion box for employees to drop a note. Have focus groups; consider an employee survey. Inform employees about goals, activities, and plans using newsletters or at the very least, use memos. Eliminate the unknown for employees.

In a recent Gallup poll of 1000 United States employees, the best way to encourage employee engagement was for managers to address employee performance. The Gallup poll showed employees whose review focused on their strengths were 61% engaged; reviews focused on employees weaknesses were 45% engaged, and those employees who were ignored were only 2% engaged. Negative feedback was better than no feedback at all, and when employee performance is articulated in positive measures, employees strive to do better.

Rewards are why people work. The bottom line is we work to get paid, but almost everyone wants to be recognized for their particular contributions, ideas, and work; some of us more than others, but the more engaged we become, the more important other factors besides just a paycheck matter in our lives. When management encourages us to “think out of the box” or to “go the extra mile for a customer,” employees who perform such outstanding work should be rewarded. Let’s face it; the more positive employee engagement, the more positive customer service, and the more company success.

photo credit: lululemon athletica

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