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Avoid costly mistakes by creating a better call center for customers

Call centers can range from one or two people in a small office to thousands of customer service representatives in huge office complexes, but a customer’s view is set by their first impression or that first phone call needed for help. Whereas customers don’t ever want to feel that once their purchase was made, the organization no longer cares about them and is just out there fishing for new clients, one of the prime frustrations often deals with call centers and their notorious poor service ranging from finding the right representative, hanging on hold for an extended amount of time, repeating the problem to representative after representative, or to never being able to reach an authorized person capable of making a decision to rectify a problem.

The most lucrative businesses cultivate a base of loyal customers who typically campaign on an organization’s behalf as to the reliability and excellence of the brand. With people spending an average of five hours a week on social media with the average of 150 friends on Facebook and 300 Twitter followers, negative feedback on a business can affect an average sized company’s profit margin. With consumers very willing to switch brands nowadays for better service, and even if it means spending more money, statistics show that 73 percent of consumers will eagerly make the change.

So what can a company do to improve the quality of their call centers? Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t outsource your company service outside of the United States. One major turnoff and a significant reason why customers will not recommend an organization to their friends, relatives, or co-workers is the inability with poor language communication skills.
  • Customers want their problems solved in a single call if possible by one customer service representative who speaks clearly, is knowledgeable, polite, and helpful.
  • It is important to have the technology to access a customer’s records quickly and not have a customer “on hold” for more than a few minutes.
  • When a customer calls in for help to a call center, navigating the menu and a path to a human representative should be simple.
  • Customer service training should provide representatives with the knowledge to solve most problems.  And just as important, a customer should also be offered an alternative to be given a credit if they are not happy with the outcome.
  • A supervisor should always be available at a call center if a problem has not been resolved.

An antiquated way of thinking once perceived service and call centers as costs, but the loss of a customer is much more expensive. With repeat customers come recommendations and more customers. It’s not much different than cultivating a garden. As the plants grow and spread, the garden gets bigger and bigger yielding more vegetables. Never cut back on training, and continue to be an inspiration for those employees who make a difference in an organization’s campaign on behalf of their brand. Why not call in one day and pretend to be a customer? In fact, call in with a problem that is not in the usual text training manual and see how the unusual issue is handled; it promises to provide an excellent insight into your customer’s world.

What Two and a Half Men Can Teach Us About Customer Service

01 (285)Customer service isn’t an easy task, and for the representatives who successfully calm angry customers, soothe irate tempers, and are able to solve consumer problems in a polite and reasonable manner are those employees any great company should consider giving a raise in salary. Staying calm isn’t always the easiest task to do, especially when the attacks are often met with rudeness and unprofessional behavior on the part of the customer.

Angry clients, customers that feel a product is defective, poor service, an insecure co-worker  may be all in a day’s work for an experienced customer service representative. Now what makes one representative so much better, and what are some of the traits successful agents all possess?

One of Charlie Sheen’s most memorable Two-And-A Half Men stories centered around Allan’s former wife Judith being frustrated and angry with life’s turmoils. On one particular afternoon, Judith was ready to lay into Charlie’s lack of respect and whatever else was bothering her, when Charlie immediately diffused Judith’s anger. And how did he do that? Charlie assumed a natural, relaxed posture, softened the expression in his eyes, and as Judith shot off her frustrations and anger, Charlie shook his head in agreement and repeated “I understand.” As much as the sitcom is designed for pure enjoyment, isn’t how Charlie acted and responded those very traits a seasoned customer service agent utilizes when dealing with angry clients?

Breaking it down, the primary initial response is to stay calm, be reasonable, and let the client vent. Of course, there is no need to ever be subjected to rudeness, unacceptable behavior or profanity, and in that case inform the customer that their behavior will not be tolerated. If it is a phone call, then warn the customer you will hang up, or perhaps they would like to call at another time when they have calmed down. If you are in a face-to-face confrontation, excuse yourself and ask that person to get herself under control.

Never resort to anger yourself, because the situation more than likely will become explosive, and then nobody wins, and nothing gets solved. By now the anger should be waning, and the real problem is most likely somewhere near the surface. Listen carefully to the customer; don’t interrupt but assure the customer you are on their side and will do everything you can to rectify the situation to the best of your ability. At all times, remember you are speaking just like Charlie – both calm and engaged. From there you and the client can work on an amicable solution.

Remember however – if the problem was your fault, the first necessary protocol is to apologize. Customers will forgive you if you make a mistake, you apologize, and then rectify the situation. Don’t embellish your excuses with blaming other people; you represent your organization, and you need to fix the mistakes.

Whereas every company has their own standards and procedures for customer service, the ABC’s of staying calm, knowing your product, and having the ability to right those wrongs in a professional and satisfying method which suits your customers’ needs, is the key to a successful organization. And at the end of the day, that same professional wipes her hands, grabs her purse, and leaves the day’s complaints behind her as she goes home to her family.

photo credit: Victor1558

Yes, the customer is always right!

I won’t reveal my name, but I am a customer and may very well be or have been a customer of yours. I want to tell all of you business owners and entrepreneurs that I am always right. If you don’t agree, many more customers just like me will agree to leave you for your competition.

While I can be demanding, rude, and unreasonable at times, you have taken my money for either a service you promised or some kind of merchandise. Simply stated – what you sold me has not met my expectations.

I may stomp my feet in frustration, yell at your service representative, and act in an unprofessional manner, but if you don’t want me to do business with you again, and  if you don’t bend over backwards to fix what’s wrong or try to calm me down by listening to me, I will leave your business and take my friends, co-workers, and family with me. Surely that will be a lot less customers for you to deal with in the future.

You see, my frustrations come from poor customer service. I have issues with owners who never come out of their offices to speak with me when my day is ruined by a faulty product or lousy service. I take it personally when a customer service representative tells me that he will put me “on hold” for a few moments, and I’m still on hold some ten minutes later. I take exception being referred to another department again and again without any resolution.

For the most part I just want value for my money that you have taken from me. Maybe you can relate to the time I purchased a pair of running shoes from the store, and only tried on the left shoe for the fit. When I got to the park, I found I had two left sneakers; the store clerk didn’t notice on check-out? Bad went to worse when I tried to return the two left shoes the next day, and the customer service representative told me it was a final sale, and it was my responsibility to make sure I had the correct shoes.

Perhaps you restaurant owners can relate to sitting at a table when the server comes over, pours four glasses of water, spills one and hands me the towel to wipe the table. The server said she would be right back with our order.

Does it make you wonder how angry you would get if you ordered furniture months and months in advance to be sure it would arrive in plenty of time for a gala Christmas party I had planned for months in my home, and even ten weeks later than promised the furniture was never delivered, nor did anyone from your store ever bother to notify me? Think about my 40 guests roaming around in a beautiful new home decorated to the “nines” for a holiday party with no furniture other than rented chairs?

I really have to adamantly disagree when you, the company owner or service provider tells me that the customer is not always right. When your business decreases and you start wondering why your customers have left, remember  consumers like me and how we feel. Maybe I should tell the world or write about it on a blog?

photo credit: TheeErin

The cost of poor customer service

Genesys Lab in conjunction with Datamonitor/Ovum calculated a 338.5 billion dollar lost resulting from poor customer service. The survey done by Greenfield Online questioned 8800 people from every age and income group with a 28 online questionnaire based on the services provided by  internet and call centers. Sixteen different countries including the United States, United Kingdom, China, Brazil, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, and Canada were polled and results were reported in “The Cost of Poor Customer Service: The Economic Impact of the Customer Experience and Engagement.”

This was the first large-scale attempt to place an economic value on poor service since few companies ever measure their losses which includes time spent on each phone call as well as  the speed of answering. Revenue losses were evaluated by the amount of customers who “defected and abandoned their purchases” and those services taken to a competitor. The poll showed 63% went to a competitor and 37% did not buy the product or service.

The hardest hit companies affected by revenue loss were cable and satellite providers, telecommunications, and government offices. The most positive companies were involved with consumer products, travel, hospitality, and financial services.

The most common complaint focused on automated self-service not being integrated with human assistance. Also waiting too long on-line or on the telephone for service, untrained representatives, and repetitive conversations ranked high on the annoyance scale. The best customer service experiences reported were based on employee competence, consumer convenience, human services integrated with self-service, being proactive, and personalization.

It’s not surprising how customer frustrations actually figure into such profound losses. No matter how much automated self-service is instituted and the human factor eliminated, the savings realized by cutting back on employees may be costing the company far more with the loss of customers. Just borderline or mediocre customer service can no longer retain customers; exceptional service is what consumers demand.

photo credit: guspim

Customer Service Pet Peeves

I came across this post recently, which lists some of the more prominent customer service pet peeves submitted by the blog’s readers. Some of the major examples included:

  • Phone problems (long hold times, annoying hold music, getting disconnected, blind transfers, etc.)
  • Employees that aren’t happy to see customers (rude, disaffected, unhappy, etc.)
  • Having to repeat information to multiple agents or to the same agent.
  • When representatives read from or obviously use some sort of script.

The four examples above are good examples of broad categories of customer service frustrations. What’s sad is that the issues above are relatively easy to avoid or to fix, but they’re incredibly common in the customer service field. Training representatives and putting processes in place to avoid blind transfers is not rocket science, but a majority of companies still do blind transfers more often than not.

If your company is doing any of these things, think of ways to change that. You should also try to take a few minutes to think of what frustrates you as a customer and ensure that you aren’t doing whatever that is in your own call center. Chances are, if something bothers you, it bothers other people as well. For example, I always want to get my problems resolved on the first contact, but I know most call centers don’t have perfect first contact resolution (a lot aren’t even close). You could do the same in your call center.

What are your customer service pet peeves? Which of the pet peeves above really bother you? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Customer Segmentation

Smart companies segment their customers into different groups. While every customer is important, different types of customers tend to have different types of requests and needs. For example, a customer that has been with a company for two years is going to have different questions than someone who has been with the company for a month.

With that in mind, customer segmentation makes providing customer service much easier. Key customers can have the opportunity to work with the best representatives at the company on more complex issues. There is no need for a key customer to wait in the phone or a ticket queue behind another customer that has a simple issue and makes the company little to no money.

Segmentation makes it so the best customers or the most advanced customers do not have to waste time going up the escalation ladder. It also lets customer service representatives tailor the customer service experience more and lets them know what customers to really go out of their way for.

Though it isn’t purely egalitarian, segmenting does make sense. The best customers do deserve special treatment and special SLAs. If a key customer makes an order, chances are it won’t be a fraudulent order or an order where you need to wait for their bank account to clear. You shouldn’t treat your customers like criminals, but many companies find themselves having to take extra precautions in certain situations. Segmentation allows you to eliminate many of the problems associated with this.

Segmentation can also be useful for dealing with “VIP” customers or customers who have a lot of previous frustrations with your company. It’s much easier to put a customer like that in your “key customers” group than to instruct every staff member to look out for him or her and then try to do all you can to make his or her life easier.

Segmenting is about treating your best customers better. It doesn’t and shouldn’t make regular customers second class citizens, but it should certainly ensure those that are paying you the most or that are most profitable to you have an extra reason to stay with your company.

Do you segment your customers at all? If so, to what extent and how?

Fix Your Phone System!

KXTDA100 A post by Glenn at AllBusiness Customer Service got me thinking. He had a negative experience with Nintendo because of incompetence. The incompetence, though, wasn’t the normal type of incompetence. It was phone system incompetence.

Phone system incompetence is one of the worst types of incompetence. Firstly, it’ll cause a lot of inconveniences and frustrations. Secondly, it’s so easy to avoid. It is a lot easier to fix a phone system than it is to make all of your employees more competent.

I generally advise my clients to fix the easy things first. In a given customer service experience, there are generally a lot of things that can be improved easily. I advise my clients to start with those. Collectively those little things can make a difference and if that collective difference does not require much effort, it’s well worth it.

Fixing a phone system is one of those easy things. I am not an engineer and know very little about how PBX’s, IVR’s, etc. work, but I do know that they can work and they often do work. Technology that is not super complex (this stuff is not artificial intelligence, rocket science, or neuroscience) should work.

Having calls drop is a sure way to aggravate the customer. It is extremely frustrating and extremely time consuming to have to call back, navigate through phone menus, explain your problem, and sometimes, start over.

If you have gotten any sort of complaints about your phone system dropping calls, look into it seriously. Hire someone to check out your phone system and ensure that it’s in proper working order. If it isn’t, get it fixed. If it can’t be fixed, buy a new phone system.

If your phone system is well designed and works well, you shouldn’t have to ask for a phone number to call back customers if they are disconnected – hopefully they will not get disconnected. When you do collect customer information for the first time (ticket ID’s,case numbers, etc.), you should collect their phone number as part of that process. It isn’t worth asking every customer for his or her phone number if only 1 of 1,000 calls get dropped, though.

Make sure your phone system is working well. It’s worth the time, effort, and money. There are a lot of things that are much more complicated to get right, so make this one right if you can.

Amazon Gets Call Backs Right

I talk about click to call/call backs every now and then. Recently, I saw a post on the GetHuman blog about how well Amazon did with their click to call/call back solution. Amazon seems to have used the click to call technology to their advantage. eStara provided their thoughts as well.

The technology was able to tell that Lorna was logged in and automatically verify her identity. By checking out who you are logged in as, they can skip account verification, and answer questions right away. I believe that when companies use click to call for reasons like that, they are using it effectively. It seems to be a powerful technology and like many technologies, when it’s used correctly, it can be a lot of help.

By doing this, Amazon can avoid a lot of frustrations. It saves time on the call and subsequently, saves the company money. Lorna was connected to a representative right away, which is a lot better than being connected to just a hold queue. That seems to be what a lot of companies do with click to call – they just connect the company to the hold queue.

Lorna pointed out that the represenatives sounded foreign and the company was having some technical problems. She also pointed out that the prompts talked a bit much, but weren’t too bad.

I don’t like how Amazon forces you to use click to call – they should allow you to just call a number as well. However, since they do click to call right, it isn’t so bad.

I wonder if GetHuman is going to start including click to call in their ratings? Should be interesting.

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