By tdye, December 5, 2013 at 7:32 am
Derek Lanham explains how call centers can blend multiple channels into their workforce.
Derek Lanham explains how call centers can blend multiple channels into their workforce.
When I talk with clients and different companies, everyone has a slightly different view of what customer experience means. So, what the heck is customer experience exactly?
Forrester defines customer experience as how customers perceive their interaction with your company. Those interactions happen across the entire customer journey. It is the perceptions that are core here—the perception of the experience in the minds of your customers. Those perceptions are often referred to as the customer experience pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid we have “meets needs,” where you are providing them with some functionality for which they are looking. The second tier is whether they perceive that your company is easy to do business with. Finally, at the top of the pyramid, is the customer having an enjoyable experience?
Enjoyability is not about plastering a permanent smile on your customers’ faces and sending them skipping down the road. Enjoyability is about connecting with customers in some emotional way, understanding that they are just not a number in your CRM system. They are humans with attitude, behavior and most importantly emotions that you need to connect with in order to deliver a great customer experience. In order to determine how companies across a variety of industries fare on these three levels of customer experience, Forrester conducts a large consumer survey every year.
They asked 8,000 consumers, “How well did company X meet your needs? How easy was company X to do business with? How enjoyable was company X to do business with?” They found that the average customer experience was mediocre. That seems crazy; why aren’t more companies providing an enjoyable customer experience? It is probably because providing an enjoyable customer experience is not cheap. It takes commitment. It takes investment. So why even make the commitment? Why invest time and money in providing a good or excellent customer experience?
In addition to asking consumers about their perceptions of the companies that they do business with, Forrester also asked them three questions related to loyalty. What they found was that customer experience correlates with loyalty. Specifically they found a strong positive correlation between the customer experience index scores, willingness to consider another purchase and likelihood to recommend to a friend. They found a negative correlation between customer experience index scores and likelihood to switch business to a competitor.
What this means is that the better your customer experience is, the more likely your customers are to buy from you again and tell their friends about you, and the less likely they are to take their business elsewhere. Once you have these loyalty metrics you can start to do some really fun math with them. Forrester feeds these correlation coefficients into a financial model they created that looks at what would happen if a company increased its score from being below average to above average on their customer experience index. They found that increasing your customer experience index score is worth millions of dollars of increased revenue.
This article was adapted from the webinar, No More Lip Service: Customer Experience in the Age of the Customer.
Is customer experience your company’s top focus?
Are you really sure? It does not matter how successful your company has been in prior business eras. If you want to succeed in the current era, you must shift your perspective and you must focus on customer experience.
A Brief Economic History
This is a really exciting time to be in the customer experience space, but it is also a really challenging time. To put this in perspective I want to review the last 110 years of economic history. From 1900 until the 1960 we were in the age of manufacturing. During this time, if you owned a factory, you owned the market. From 1960 until 1990 we were in the age of distribution. During this time, if you owned a distribution network, you owned the market. From 1990 until 2010, we were in the age of information. During this time, if you owned the information, you owned the market.
Some people may be saying, “Hang on, wait a minute. Are we not still in the information age? We are being bombarded by information from every single direction.” Yes, that is true, but we believe that starting in 2010 we entered a fundamentally different business era and that is the age of the customer.
Now, of course you cannot own your customers today like you could own a factory or a distribution network or information in the past, and so the companies that are going to own the market for the foreseeable future, the next several decades, are going to be those companies that learn how to truly understand their customers and then engage with them in meaningful ways.
All of the previous sources of market dominance have been commoditized and so now a handful of people starting up a very small tech company, a product or services company or even just an enterprising individual with a smartphone can tap into global factories, distribution and information and compete with some of the largest companies on the planet.
That means that companies can no longer compete on product features alone, and we have seen this of course in the tech space but we have also seen it in product and services spaces as well. The reality is that companies are looking for something new to compete on and that new thing is customer experience. We have found that a handful of customer experience leaders such as Starbucks, Apple, Disney and Virgin have set new standards. What that means is that when your customers are interacting with Starbucks, Apple, Disney or Virgin, these companies are resetting your customers’ expectations about the type of experience that they anticipate having with you.
If your customers do not get the experience they expect, you are going to hear about it in very public ways. Customers have more power than ever, and this situation is never going to be reversed. So, the point of this is that it really does not matter how successful your company has been in these prior business eras. If you want to succeed in the age of the customer, you have got to shift your perspective and you must focus on customer experience.
This article was adapted from the webinar, No More Lip Service: Customer Experience in the Age of the Customer.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software has become a staple in a vast number of organizations that have a heavy emphasis on sales and customer service. The basic concept of CRM software is to assist you in gathering and managing information on all the customers who interact with your business.
That said, not all CRM software is created equal. While some may perform simple information gathering operations, other more advanced CRM software might be more user-friendly, integrate better with other typical call center business software, or provide more specialized functions that make it suitable for specific businesses.
You can write information down on a Microsoft Excel Sheet or even just a basic word processor, so a CRM that pitches this as its selling point isn’t likely isn’t one worth investing in.
CRM software needs to integrate into your entire business network. Everything needs to be interconnected. This will allow your entire workforce – from customer service agent all the way to executive – to be able to pull any data any information they need in an instant.
To a small business, having CRM software integrated across your entire network may seem too costly or unnecessary because of business size. That may be the case in a few circumstances, but consider this…
Suppose you have a call center team that makes cold calls, a call center team that makes outbound calls, and a customer service inbound team. If all of these different teams are interacting with customers and gathering information, how would they share it all without a good CRM to take, sort, and manage all the incoming information?
If there’s any level of confusion or even a minor mistake, such as the containing computer breaking down, accidentally deleted, or data becoming corrupted, you’ve just lost time, information, and money. This is the core need of quality CRM software – to ensure that all your data is instantly logged, widely accessible, and completely safe.
We went over data gathering, so now let’s talk about customer retention and follow-up.
A good CRM should either have its own high-quality outbound messaging system, or integrate with an email client like Microsoft Outlook. After all, what good is gathering client and prospect data if you have no way to contact them and follow up?
The entire process shouldn’t be taxing on you or your customer service agents – it should flow seamlessly and conveniently. This is what you’re really paying for in a quality CRM. Convenience saves time, and more time saved means more money saved for you. This is why the more diverse flexibility the CRM you choose has, the better.
High-quality CRM software will give you options to automate several processes, such as the ability to have prewritten emails sent out to newly added clients, or a thoughtful message to be sent out on that person’s birthday.
Any function that would normally take time that can be automated, make sure you invest in a CRM that can take care of it. The real reason you run a business is because you desire personal freedom, and the only way you can have more personal freedom is if you have more time.
All of these CRM functions serve to improve call center results and efficiency through effective use of leverage. Make sure the CRM software you purchase has all of these functions to save more money while giving you and your call center agents more time to work on other aspects of your business that matter.
Today’s customers have multiple preferred channels and limited patience. Understanding which metrics to focus on to improve customer experience is not a nice-to-know, it’s a necessity. Meanwhile, many contact center professionals suffer from “analysis paralysis” – a difficulty making decisions due to too much data, and not enough clarity on how to use it. So how do you take action and move forward? Watch this video to learn the top three metrics you should measure to drive customer experience, actionable tactics to implement and improve results, and how to successfully incorporate these into your existing program.
You can’t win the heart of customers without first winning the hearts of and fully empowering your agents. This doesn’t mean totally spoiling your staff and letting them have complete reign over your center. There’s no need to replace agents’ workstation chairs with jeweled thrones or to give them the authority to fire you, nor is it necessary to let agents make expensive technology purchases or allow them to handle customer contacts only when they feel like it.
Instead, you can empower your agents with practices that completely engage and motivate them while simultaneously setting them up to delight customers and quickly resolve their issues.
A Culture of Agent Empowerment and Autonomy
Top contact centers inspire agents and prepare them to create stellar customer experiences by sustaining a culture of agent empowerment and autonomy. They give agents a lot of say and ownership both on and off the phones.
Your agents possess a wealth of skill and knowledge, and they know your customers better than anyone. Empowering agents to use those skills and that knowledge and experience to make decisions and to improve or even create processes is probably the best way to continuously better your contact center and the customer experience, while simultaneously making agents feel valued.
The Benefits of Empowered Agents
Truly empowered agents not only have the authority to make on-the-spot decisions, offers, and exceptions to make life easier for customer during interactions, they’re also given ample opportunities to provide input on critical issues, work on special projects, and serve on key task forces and committees to make life easier for the company, the customer, and, of course agents themselves. In addition to improving operations, the customer experience, and employee engagement, empowering your agents on and off the phones frees up contact center managers and supervisors to spend more time on things like coaching and development, which in turn improves operations, the customer experience, and employee engagement even more.
An Example from Albridge Solutions
One contact center that knows how to sustain a culture of agent empowerment is Albridge Solutions. Few centers compare with it when it comes to empowering and engaging staff. Albridge Solutions has a virtually non-existent agent turnover rate. The center regularly meets or exceeds its ambitious customer satisfaction objective of 85% overall customer satisfaction. Albridge Solutions prides itself on giving agents tremendous opportunities based on agents’ interest in career goals, providing opportunities for agents to learn new skills, participate in interesting off-phone projects, and help make key decisions that impact the customer and the business.
Some of the examples of agent empowerment and autonomy at Albridge Solutions include agents interacting with clients at meetings and conferences, earning subject matter expert status and training others in their areas of expertise, serving on focus groups where they share their valuable customer knowledge to come up with better service practices and processes for the business, and participating in the center’s peer-mentoring program, where they get to help new or struggling reps succeed. As they provide mentoring, agents also develop critical supervisory skills that can help them advance their careers.
In addition to participating in one-on-one skip level sessions with Albridge senior management twice a year, Albridge’s agents are given the opportunity to ask the company’s CEO questions directly whenever he presents at quarterly department meetings.
This article was adapted from a portion of Greg Levin’s presentation in the webinar, Look Alive, Contact Center! Deliver Stellar Customer Experiences.
Many centers are changing their operational model to include methods of generate revenue. For some centers, this may mean using the same service-skilled agents to sell instead of hiring a dedicated inside sales team.
Some customer service agents are less than thrilled at the prospect of selling. They often share their negatives in coaching sessions I participate in. These are few of the more common complaints they’ve shared:
Agent doesn’t see sales as a part of providing great service
This agent doesn’t see sales as a positive thing for a customer. They feel that they are “bothering” the customer by trying to sell other products and services. Some agents have told me that they “hate” being sold to when they themselves call a service center or say they don’t see how selling creates a positive experience for customers. These individuals don’t view selling as an extension of great service, an opportunity to insure the customer has the products and services they may need.
Agent experiences sales as “Flavor of the Month”
Unfortunately I’ve heard this comment multiple times, especially from agents working in smaller centers. They tell me that marketing has an occasional “special” for customers that the agents are expected to discuss at the end of their calls.
Because these are infrequent marketing blitzes, the agents see selling as reading a disinterested script before ending the customer call. When this sales approach is used the agent is doomed to fail because the customer hears their lack of enthusiasm and the sales attempt isn’t personalized to their needs. There is no consistency with both the approach and the skills of the agents.
Agent isn’t given the tools to be successful
Some Agents tell me that there are too many products to cross-sell and they aren’t familiar with many of them. As I watch them search through endless screens to find the product information to discuss during the sales process, I can see why they are concerned.
Worse yet is that the company often sets goals for limited talk time so the agent feels pressured to do a fast sales pitch or none at all. Agents may have no pop-ups with suggested cross-selling products or no photos or interesting descriptions when they do pop up. A customer’s questions are met with “I don’t know…I haven’t seen that (item)”.
…It’s easy to blame an agent for sales failure but management needs to take responsibility as well. We need to take a proactive role in creating a positive sales atmosphere for our agents, and also review our job descriptions and hiring expectations if a blend of service and sales will continue for our agents.
What are you doing to insure that your customer service agents are empowered, properly trained and engaged in order to provide a great customer sales experience?
One key to ensuring stellar customer experiences is committing fully to agent development. From the first day on the job through years of career development and advancement, training and development of your agent workforce should never stop.
Start With New-Hire Training
The best centers provide ongoing training and coaching to continuously drive performance improvement and enhance the service and support that customers receive. Start your agents with a comprehensive new-hire training program that gets agents off on the right foot using a variety of training tools and approaches to foster and sustain high levels of agent engagement and learning throughout training and beyond.
In new-hire training, top centers effectively combine interactive classroom training, e-learning, role playing and simulations. Also try tactics transition training, which entails having trainees take calls in a well-supervised and controlled environment after they have received ample classroom and other types of training. These trainings are a fantastic way of helping the new hires transition from initial training to the phone, providing a place where agents can work out their call-handling kinks and gain confidence before working with customers.
Continue to Cultivate Agents
Contact centers that commit fully to agent development don’t stop with new hire training—they continuously cultivate agents and inspire performance improvement and advancement through ongoing training classes and e-learning modules, frequent and focused coaching, peer-mentoring initiatives, and on-the-job training and shadowing. They measure the effectiveness of training and coaching with written tests and on-the-job assessments, and by soliciting feedback directly from agents themselves on the training.
They also solicit feedback from customers. In fact, the best contact centers have a “customer as coach” initiative in place, where detailed customer feedback and ratings from post-contact surveys are used to identify and quickly close agent skill and knowledge gaps.
An Example from a BPO
One large BPO embodies all these agent training and development practices and handles customer contacts for a large number of corporate clients.
Prior to receiving customized client-specific training that incorporates a diverse range of modules and training methods, each new agent goes through an orientation and onboarding program that pertains particularly to working to for the BPO. All aspects of training and development of the company are designed not only to accelerate the knowledge and performance of new hires, but also to enhance employee engagement and retention.
A senior VP of corporate services at the company a said, “We want our agents to have fun while learning. Our training is interactive and hands on. It involves team exercises, group discussion, role playing, and experiential learning through buddy on-the-phone exercises.” Agents are taught to be involved in the learning process, which helps training to be fun and captivating.
All training takes place in the BPO’s state-of-the-art training facilities, which are equipped with fully functioning workstations for call simulations, audio/visual equipment, topical videos, and an area where trainees can monitor actual calls. It is important to have trainees listen to real calls, get their feedback, and do some coaching of their own with their coach or trainer.
As a dedicated learning organization, this BPO doesn’t disappoint. They view training development as a continuous activity. Training doesn’t stop at new-hire training. Throughout their tenure, agents receive ample coaching, and they complete advanced training modules to help them develop new skills, allowing them to take advantage of a comprehensive career path within the contact center and the larger organization.
If you want to improve the experience of your customers, you must inspire your agents to perform in a way that provides the best possible customer satisfaction. Rewarding and recognizing agents in meaningful ways is important for prompting agents to provide excellent customer service.
Top centers provide praise and incentives that truly inspire agents and drive the kind of behaviors that positively impact the customer. “Meaningful” is the key word. Too many contact centers have become overly reliant on colorful balloons, pizza, and cookies to inspire agents. But few agents will go the extra mile for helium or sugar or fatty foods.
What agents do go the extra mile for are rewards and recognition that show how much the organization respects and values them in their critical role in creating customer loyalty. The best centers recognize this, and they perpetuate engagement and higher performance by providing dedicated agents and teams with incentives that are truly meaningful.
Agents crave public praise. One of the most popular and effective ways to recognize deserving agents publicly is to create a wall of fame that features the names and photos of agents who have recently achieved excellence in key areas that impact the customer experience, like contact quality, customer satisfaction, first-call resolution, attendance, adherence, and even sales. Most centers place their wall of fame in an area of the contact center that gets a lot of traffic, such as a busy hallway, or in a space or gets a lot of exposure, like a break room.
If you’re looking for an innovative alternative to the more traditional wall of fame, consider this alternative: instead of hanging photos of your agents on the wall, “hang” your actual agents on the wall. Put them someplace visible. They’ll love the direct attention, they’ll get some passersby, and they’ll certainly welcome the extra time off the phones.
Effective meaningful rewards and recognition tactics can come in the form of performance programs. Agents who perform well in key areas can receive points that they can then redeem for merchandise. This is gainification. Zappos has an excellent gainification program that uses what they call “zollars.” In this program, Zappos agents can earn zollars for meeting key objectives and for teamwork, and then they can use their earnings to buy Zappos merchandise.
Peer recognition programs are another good tactic for meaningful rewards and recognition. Supervisors and managers shouldn’t be the only people dolling out agent awards and recognition. Agents like it when one of their own goes out of the way to show them a little love and appreciation for the good work they’re doing.
Many contact centers empower agents to give on-the-spot awards and recognition to peers who go above and beyond, off the phones and with customers. Sometimes agents are the only the ones who see their peers doing small, yet important, things that promote customer satisfaction, so it’s nice to be able to empower agents to recognize their peers for things that managers and supervisors may not notice.
Some centers also let agents nominate their coworkers for more formal and prestigious awards in the center. Some even let agents select the winners of such awards. One example is at Salt River Project, a large utility contact center in Arizona. They have a monthly award for best call, and the winning agent is chosen by a committee of fellow agents who listen to all the nominated calls and determine which agent provided the best customer experience. Prizes for the winner include movies tickets, lunch with a supervisor, the agent’s preferred schedule for one week, and an extra-long lunch hour during that week.
Many contact centers hand out internal awards like agent of the week, agent of the month, or, in centers struggling with high turnover, agent of the hour. While these internal accolades are meaningful, consider taking the idea one step further. Nominate top agents in your center for external, industry-wide customer service awards. One example is ICMI’s Spirit of Service Award, which recognizes the best agents in the business. Even if your nominees don’t win, the mere fact that you nominated them for such a prestigious award is very motivating for them, and it will inspire them to continue to provide top-notch service to your customers.
Recognition for Recognition’s Sake
Handling demanding customers day after day is no easy task. Staff who manage to do with a smile should get a little recognition. A great time to give such recognition is during customer service week, the first week in October.
Many contact centers have a lot of fun with games, contests, gifts, and awards during customer service week. But you don’t have to wait until October to do such things. Celebrate your agents on all the days that you want to, not just when the calendar tells you to. You can hold your own company-sponsored employee appreciation day or week whenever it’s convenient for your center. Even just a small party once in a while to thank staff can go a long way toward enhancing engagement and inspiring agents to improve the customer experience.