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What Does Customer Service Wait Time Cost You?

By , December 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm

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When it comes to customer service, wait time is downright evil. It’s just ridiculous that we pay companies for their product and end up waiting to be served. We call about a billing issue and sit on hold listening to really bad music. We’re given a 4-hour “service window” for when we can expect a technician to arrive. We have to go looking for a store clerk to answer our questions then wait in a checkout line…. to give someone our money!

Waiting to be served is frustrating, wasted time. It’s time we’ll never get back. Studies say that Americans waste more than $100 billion worth of time per year, which amount to $900 per employee in lost productivity. All because they are waiting… waiting… waiting….

I recently asked our employees to put a personal perspective on customer service wait times and come up with the total number of days in their lifetime that they will wait for service. The results were both dumbfounding and enlightening.

On average, every Intradiem employee expects to spend an average of 123 days of their adult life on hold, in line or waiting for a service technician. That’s more than four months of their life spent waiting!

Now the kicker: even conservatively speaking and taking into consideration the “connected” population of the world today, this equates to more than 1 billion years of lost productivity for the human race! Just think for a moment what we human beings could do collectively with a billion years. Put a man (or woman) on Mars? End world hunger? Cure cancer? That and probably much more, if we just didn’t have to wait.

As consumers, we’ve come to expect having to wait. Because they believe they can’t fix it, or it’s too expensive to do so, organizations would lead us to believe that customer service wait times are necessary. But in a time of instant communication and response, customers are increasingly wary of barriers getting in the way of where they need to go and when they need to get there. And they’re getting to the point where they’re not going to take it anymore

A quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln says, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” As customer-facing organizations, we had better learn to hustle. To keep our customers — and keep them satisfied — we had better evolve our service models so we can answer customer service demands in real time.

As customers, we really only want two things: a speedy response, and accuracy in the answer. To do this we have to make sure that customer service agents are truly prepared and available to deliver on these needs. So demonstrate to your team that you really care about customers. Keep them engaged. Find time to train them. Enable them to respond – not react – to every customer interaction, in real-time. Make the frustrations of customer service wait time a thing of the past.

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Are You On the Customer Experience Naughty List?

By , December 16, 2014 at 9:33 am

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‘Tis the season… Santa’s making his lists and checking them twice.

Oh no! Your company shows up on his Customer Experience Naughty List! What did you do wrong this year? In short, a lot.

There are five categories in which companies continue to fall down when it comes to the customer experience. For each category, I’ll call out some of the most egregious reasons for being on Santa’s CX Naughty List.

1. Customer Culture

Customer Culture is all about setting the stage for successfully designing and delivering a great customer experience. If you don’t have a leadership team who supports and drives a customer-centric culture, forget it; it won’t happen. Here are a few things your company did or didn’t do around developing a customer culture this year that caused you to land on the Naughty List.

  • You still don’t understand the importance of focusing on the customer experience: your executives don’t get it, but there are plenty of examples and statistics as to why focusing on the customer experience pays in spades.
  • You think and operate inside-out rather than outside-in: your focus is on processes that are designed and implemented based on internal thinking and intuition. The customer’s needs and perspectives do not play a part in this type of thinking. You make decisions because you think it’s what’s best for the business.
  • You don’t make the employee experience a priority: employee engagement is down, turnover is up, and you still question why you should focus on delivering a great employee experience.
  • You still think the purpose of a business is to maximize shareholder value: so that’s how you prioritize your decisions and investments in the business, based on delivering a great rate of return for your shareholders. The real purpose of a business is to create (and nurture) a customer.

2. CX Strategy

CX Strategy refers to your approach to delivering a great customer experience. Some of the reasons you may have landed on Santa’s Naughty List this year include:

  • You listen to customers but only focus on the metrics: instead of taking what you heard from customers and improving the experience, you decided to focus on the numbers and what moves the numbers. You promised your customers free oil changes if they rated you all 10s!
  • You don’t have a customer experience vision: without a vision, you’re left short-sighted when it comes to the customer experience.
  • You believe you already deliver a great customer experience: honestly, this is about short-sighted and egregious as it gets. Why? Because you don’t.

3. Constituent Understanding

Do you know who your customers are? They might be partners and/or end customers/users. Why do they buy products and services from you? What are their needs? What problems are they trying to solve? What are they trying to achieve? You made the Naughty List because of the following.

  • You don’t listen to your customers (or other constituents): you either don’t understand why you should listen, or you don’t care.
  • You don’t know who your customers are: you’ve decided to focus on target segments instead of personas, when personas will get you closer to the customer and to a better customer experience design.
  • You don’t map the customer journey: without mapping the journey, you truly don’t understand what your customers are experiencing, which means “empathy” also isn’t part of your vocabulary.

4. Analyze

Analyze is all about how you use your customer data. The following behaviors got you on the Naughty List this year.

  • You don’t analyze unstructured data for insights and sentiment: there’s so much richness in that unstructured feedback, but you’ve chosen to ignore it because it seems like too much work.
  • You focus on the wrong outcomes: there are a few different ways to look at this one, but in your case, you decided to focus on growing referrals, when that’s not all that relevant to your business.
  • You don’t tell a story with your data: you deliver dreadful charts and statistics to your employees, hoping they’ll know what it means and how to apply it to delivering a great experience.

5. Operationalize

This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s time to execute. It’s time to improve and to deliver a great customer experience. You made the Naughty List based on this category due to a few shortcomings.

  • You don’t train employees on what it means to deliver a great experience: if they don’t know what it means or what it looks like, how can they deliver it.
  • You develop products without understanding customer needs or what they are trying to achieve: you haven’t listened to customers or tried to learn more about them; as a result, your products don’t meet needs and frustrate customers.
  • You spend a lot of money on marketing to acquire new customers but can’t keep the customers you currently have: it’s a lot cheaper and easier to focus on the customers that you have than it is to acquire new ones; if you focus on delivering a great experience for the customers you have, they will help you acquire new ones.

Santa’s hoping you’ll do better next year and move to the Nice List!

To help you land on the Nice List next year, I’m working on a white paper that outlines these problems — and many more — and what you can do to overcome them.

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. –Oprah Winfrey

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Turning Feedback into a Customer Service Advantage

By , December 9, 2014 at 11:30 am

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Customers have always had a voice, but today it is louder than ever. Great companies want to hear from their customers. They want their feedback, opinions and anything else that will give them an advantage. And, great companies don’t wait to hear from their customers. They actively solicit feedback in the form of surveys and have programs in place to ensure they deliver an experience that makes their customers want to come back.

Recently I was asked about companies who have reaped rewards from surveying their customers and measuring their customer service. A few excellent examples came to mind.

Ace Hardware is one of the best examples of a company that uses surveys and measurement to stay successful. A network of privately owned stores, they are recognized for their helpful customer service. To ensure they are meeting their customers’ expectations, they participate in a mystery shopping program where a high score will “certify” them as “Ace Helpful.” Their goal is to be the most helpful hardware stores on the planet, and there is a direct correlation between a high score and a successful store. They go up against big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes. It’s a David versus Goliath story, and they use helpful, which is their version of customer service, to win. To their credit, J.D. Power and Associates ranked Ace Hardware “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Home Improvement Retail Stores” for the seventh straight year! [Read Shep’s previous blog posts, Customer Service Goal: We Don’t Want You to Come Back and Customer Service is More than Just Being Nice, for more about how Ace Hardware’s customer service initiatives.]

American Express has had a tremendous turn around over the years. From a credit card company with typical complaints and customer dissatisfaction, they started using a short survey question that measures their “member” satisfaction at the end of a call. It’s the well-known Net Promoter Score question: On a scale of 1-10, what is the likelihood that you would recommend us? The call center employees’ bonuses are based on their scores. The management and executive bonuses are also tied to the score. This is one of their most important metrics. It’s not how fast they get through the call. It’s how well they take care of the customer. They are now recognized as a top customer service company, worldwide, in any industry.

Enterprise Rent-a-Car is another great example. They also use an NPS type of survey. Over time they became the number-one car rental company in the world – not just in size, but also customer satisfaction. They acquired Alamo and National Rental car, which at the time of the acquisition were at the bottom half of the top ten customer service companies in the car rental industry. Infusing the Enterprise culture of customer service and using surveys confirm what was working and what was not, they moved Alamo and National to being top performers.

Companies that track and measure their customer service have a competitive advantage. They know when they are doing a great job, and more importantly, they know when they aren’t. They take advantage of all data, good and bad, looking for opportunities to take their customers’ experiences to the highest level possible. The reward for this effort is more business from existing customers and new business from the excellent reputation they create in their marketplace.

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Why Every Employee Needs Customer Engagement Training

By , December 2, 2014 at 9:45 am

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One of my favorite customer service quotes is by Karl Albrecht, founder of the Aldi supermarket chain, who wisely said, “If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.”

It’s easy to understand the need for service skills training for customer service, tech support and sales teams. They interact directly with our customers every day, so companies offer training programs specifically for these teams related to engaging, retaining and providing excellent service. Unfortunately the training is often focused on the external customers with little or no mention of internal ones.

An example of this internal disconnect occurred recently when I monitored a customer service agent answering a call from a company employee. The service agent sighed with frustration, used negative phrases and at times was downright rude to the other employee, “Sue.” The service agent acted as if Sue’s call was an annoyance.

When we coached with the agent and asked her what she heard when listening to the recorded call, she said, “That Sue is so aggravating. She should know the answer instead of calling me.” The agent saw no problem with giving poor service to Sue and even admitting this to us. For this agent, great service was only for those outside of the company walls.

Many businesses also forget to take the steps needed to ensure that ALL employees company-wide understand how their work and communication interactions impact both internal and external customers. Employees who seemingly have little to no direct contact with outside customers, for instance back office administrative or plant personnel, have not been trained to see their part in the customer’s journey with the company. That’s where the value of customer engagement training for all employees comes in.

Management in these administrative or manufacturing areas may understand the customer impacts but their teams often seem to work isolated from the customer experience, customer expectations and the importance of what they do in terms of customer satisfaction. It’s not their fault if these ideas are foreign to them if management doesn’t make the effort to connect the customer engagement dots for them as well.

Customer engagement training is the missing link to connect all of our teams with the importance of service — internally and externally — and proactive communication. They also need coaching from well-trained customer-focused managers and front-line supervisors who understand the part every employee plays in customer satisfaction and retention.

For internal and external customer experience, we should focus on these:

  • Be polite and respectful with everyone — Making other employees feel valued will go a long way for respect back from them and also for your reputation throughout your company. Positive and polite attitudes internally affect external customers, too.
  • Answer internal calls professionally offering your name and a greeting  — I had an agent tell me that they answered their extension, “What do you want now?” thinking it was a work friend and trying to be funny. Unfortunately the caller was a manager from another department using that person’s desk phone. He was not amused.
  • Look for opportunities to educate co-workers if they are calling with common questions and issues  — Instead of being annoyed by repeat calls, take the time to explain to an employee how the process he/she is calling about works. Take responsibility for things that ultimately affect the customers inside and out.
  • Follow-through on your commitments to internal customers, too — Don’t say, “It’s only John. He can wait.” Be on time and schedule their requests and needs on your calendar too.
  • Ask internal customers questions to make sure you are clear on needs — One agent told me she doesn’t ask what they want because she KNOWS what they want! She pulls up screens and looks at info while simply saying, “U-huh” to everything the employee is saying without really listening to them. Such assumption of needs is poor service and insulting to others.
  • Encourage employees to report internal processes that are hindering great service inside and outside your area — Stop complaining about problems with communication and processes and instead, document the issues along with suggestion on how to improve. Your boss will appreciate solutions instead of just complaining.

Let’s provide all of our employees company-wide with the training and coaching needed to ensure consistent and superior customer experience, whether toward internal or external customers. An added benefit… someone in the plant who is customer-focused and service skilled may be a great fit for that customer service opening in your center!

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Call Center Metrics: The Numbers We Don’t Look at Drive the Numbers We Do

By , November 25, 2014 at 8:36 am

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In the contact center, metrics are always important. Whether in-house or outsourced, you can’t manage what you don’t measure – and measurements drive behavior.

Most of the time, management looks at quantifiable call center metrics that give them some feeling of happiness or despair but may or may not drive agent or customer behavior.

One of the table stakes that we will discuss later on is service level – how fast you answer the customer’s call. Historically, that has been a number that everyone focuses on because it drives so many other things like hiring, the number of agents required on the floor to answer calls, revenue, and the number of support people you need.

But what it may or may not drive is customer service. Just because you answer the call quickly doesn’t mean you answered it correctly – nor does it mean that you actually helped the customer or led them to some sort of loyalty to your product or brand.

Too often, contact center executives look at the wrong numbers and draw the wrong conclusions. Here are some of the numbers we don’t look at that literally drive the numbers we do look at. One example of this is employee satisfaction.

Employee Satisfaction

A satisfied employee will perform with the behaviors you expect and all of the underlying supportive measurements will be met. But a dissatisfied employee can screw up all the metrics.

In the upcoming year, it will be critically important that contact centers pay attention to how satisfied their employees are. What, exactly, does that mean? Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are agents being paid enough?
  • Are there opportunities for advancement for those who want it?
  • Are you creative in your scheduling?
  • Are you hiring the right skill set to give them a chance to be productive and successful?
  • Do you provide agents with good coaches who develop them to their full potential?
  • Do you give them recognition and rewards for the behaviors you want?
  • Do you ensure your workplace is safe, encouraging, and even fun?

All of this drives all the rest. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you need to find out. And if you know, you need to act on it because this describes your culture.

Every call center has its own culture. That culture can be vibrant and successful or it can be caustic and miserable.

Customer Satisfaction

As an industry, the importance of customer service and its impact on revenue, loyalty, and profitability is often discussed. But how do you actually measure customer service with every customer interaction?

How soon after the interaction do you capture the customer’s level of satisfaction and how does their response drive different reactions, coaching or training?

Just look at the example of TripAdvisor and its impact on the hospitality industry. Customer satisfaction can have the same impact on contact centers.

Do you ask customers immediately after an interaction how well they were satisfied? Or, do you send a survey later or do you never find out what they thought? And based on what you discover, how is the feedback loop completed so that agent behavior can be modified? Do coaches understand what needs to be coached and developed? Do trainers understand what needs to change with their training?

Consider this example: A customer calls and asks a question about a specific product or service and the agent either doesn’t know the answer or gives the customer the wrong answer. In either case, the customer is not satisfied with the interaction.

If you discover a customer is not satisfied, how do you trace it back to the individual agent who handled the call? Then, how do you discover the root cause?

Did the agent not have the correct information about the product? Did the product or service being asked about change? Was the agent not told? Was training ineffective? Did coaches not coach it?

If any of these things happened, every contact thereafter will experience the same level of dissatisfaction. It’s a closed-loop process.

Now, look at your current measurements for customer satisfaction. You can measure customer satisfaction on a scale of 1-10, with a simple “yes” or “no,” or you can capture a Net Promoter Score by asking customers if they would be likely to recommend your products and services.

There are multiple ways to ask customers about their level of satisfaction with the interaction they just had. The important thing is to make sure that action happens with that information.

And, by the way, customer satisfaction is one call at a time, every time. So, even if the scores are high, you need to analyze why to make sure they are consistent.

Tune in next month, when we’ll discuss the next two high profile call center metrics to watch in 2015: table stakes and profitability…

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Storytelling is a Trojan Horse for Customer Experience Learning

By , November 20, 2014 at 9:15 am

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What is storytelling, and why is it an important tool to have in your CX Toolbox?

In a post I wrote several months ago, I outlined the 5 Rules for Turning Data into Action for a Better Customer Experience: Centralize, Analyze, Socialize, Strategize, and Operationalize. I have since pulled out details from Analyze and Socialize to create a sixth rule: Synthesize (or Contextualize).

What does that mean?

Synthesize is really the opposite of analyze. Once data have been broken down and analyzed for better understanding, they are most useful for the end user when they are transformed into insights; those insights are best ingested/digested in the form of a story. That means putting all the pieces of the analysis together to tell a story, putting them into context for those who need to act on it — a story that can be easily understood and translated into a better customer experience. Here’s where we tell the audience what a great experience looks like.

The example I like to give is one of a client of mine that was offering repair service in their stores. We listened to customers about the experience and uncovered that there are three activities that had to happen for the customer to leave completely satisfied and likely to recommend (a Promoter). We spun those details into a story for the employees so that they could walk in the customer’s shoes, too, to understand what that experience had to be like. The service they provided improved almost immediately. Employees were able to contextualize/visualize what a great experience looked like. So, rather than using metrics and charts to tell employees what customers want, we spun a story for better understanding

Let me take a few steps back and answer some basic questions about storytelling.

What is storytelling?

Storytelling is a communication tool and a teaching tool. It’s a Trojan horse for learning. You can tell stories, and people will listen; they won’t even know that they’re (supposed to be) learning! Stories allow you to deliver a message in a way that engages people, inspires them, and helps them understand a desired or intended outcome as a result of a series of steps or actions taken.

Why use storytelling in your customer experience management strategy?

Quite simply, storytelling is a tool to gain buy-in, whether it’s from executives or from the frontline. Storytelling can facilitate delivering an impact from both the emotional and the rational perspective, capturing both the hearts and minds of the intended audience.

I believe that bombarding the frontline with charts, graphs, metrics, and bullet points is not the way to teach them or to inspire them to deliver a great customer experience. Setting an example or being a role model is probably the best way to teach; absent that, when we tell a story about the intended customer experience, it paints a picture of what is expected; we end up taking employees on a journey, the customer’s journey. And it humanizes the experience.

Stories can also be used to recognize or to reinforce desired behaviors. People connect to stories and, therefore, remember them/the point.

In addition, stories…

  • clarify and help the audience understand
  • give you background information
  • convey what the characters (customers) think, do, feel
  • bring a concept or experience to life
  • engage the audience (employees)
  • explain the ideal customer experience
  • sell (concepts and products)
  • support change
  • reinforce
  • motivate and inspire
  • facilitate empathy and understanding
  • make you want to care
  • help you connect
  • draw the audience into the story, carry you away
  • help the audience relate
  • convey good and bad, successes and failures
  • are memorable

Can anyone be a Customer Experience storyteller? Or must it be taught?

I don’t believe that everyone is a natural born storyteller. I do think some people need to be taught. Can it be taught? Yes. To some degree. It does take creativity, but if we can develop that creativity, we can teach storytelling.

How do you teach storytelling?

I think we need to break it down into bite-sized chunks. Stories have various components to them, so the teaching begins with those components, including…

  • the usual: who, what, when, where, why
  • the business challenge or problem
  • the customer challenge or problem
  • steps to re-create the challenge or problem
  • the thinking, doing, feeling of the participant
  • the desired actions and outcome, the denouement

… and we must also consider…

  • the audience: different audiences require different messages or different levels of detail
  • what’s the message; what are you trying to convey
  • how will you tell it
  • how will the audience participate after you tell it
  • how does participation affect the story or change the outcome in the future

I also think that, for teaching purposes, we need to ensure future storytellers…

  • draw on their own experiences for anecdotes and to help connect with the audience
  • share their own lessons learned
  • stay on point and keep it focused/straightforward

This TED talk from storyteller and filmmaker Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Toy Story, and more) provides the clues to a great story. It’s worth the watch, if you want to learn how to tell a story.

MoreKnown.com summarizes his seven clues to a great story:

  1. Know your punchline, your ending. Everything in your story is leading to one resolution.
  2. The number one rule of a good story is to make your audience care. All of these rules help to accomplish this.
  3. Make a promise. Promise the reader (or listener, or viewer, or whatever) that the story will be worth their time. This will propel you from the start to the end of the story.
  4. Hide the fact that your reader will have to do some of the work themselves. “Absence of information draws us in.” You will have to choose the order of events and what to include/exclude, but your audience connects to the story when they have to figure things out for themselves.
  5. It’s alright to nod to a grand design. In Lawrence of Arabia, Stanton points out a scene that directly asks the protagonist, “Who are you?” This is the theme of the whole film. Have a theme.
  6. If it’s possible, allow your audience to surrender to wonder. This is the secret sauce of the best stories.
  7. Focus on your personal strengths as you tell your story. Use what you know.

In your organization, do you use stories to teach? How do you tell your customer experience stories?

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. -Robert McKee

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Will the Holidays Stress Your Customer Service Delivery?

By , November 18, 2014 at 3:47 pm

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It’s that time of the year. The weather outside is getting frightful, the mistletoe is looking ripe for picking, the tree farms are popping up all over town, and yes, businesses are stressing out about their most wonderful time of the year.

Holiday time has always been bittersweet for me. Yes, I am abundantly blessed with wonderful family and friends and all I could possibly need for a comfortable life. I’ll reflect on the spirit of the season and give to those in need.

And, I will shop. I will endure the irritating traffic and irate fellow consumers of Christmas commercialism and sally forth to my favorite mall to compare prices and buy my goods, then make my returns and exchanges, and watch the days on the calendar dwindle as surely as sunlight during Daylight Savings Time.

For organizations in the business of customer service delivery, the holidays can stretch the limits of their operations. Yes, business is brisk and hopefully sales are good. You’ve made your forecast wishes that Black Friday revenues will come true, and that your frontline staff is ready to suit up and show up to meet consumer demands.

If all goes as planned, Christmas will come and there will be joy in the world. Your customer service delivery agents will handle every interaction with as much ease and jolly as Santa’s elves. Your customers will be well-clothed and well-fed, warm, cozy and satisfied… if.

If…. Small word, big consequences. Of course, proper preparation goes a long way to preventing the ‘ifs’ from turning into fire fights. Exceptional customer service delivery relies on the preparation of an adequate, well-trained staff prepared to address customer needs at the point of contact. So how do you short-circuit the ‘ifs’ and reduce your holiday stress? Here are four keys:

Real-time staffing. Are properly staffed to handle customer volume, as it happens? One proponent for holiday stress-busters says to “Make an educated forecast of how many customer inquiries you will receive this year.” I read that as make an educated guess about expected volume, and staff based on those projections. And guessing is a fool’s game.

But what if (there’s that word) conditions change? Are you ready to adjust scheduling in real-time to account for vacation days, sick time, holiday hours, even bad weather that could prevent your frontline workforce from being present and equipped to deal with volume? And what if one area of sales exceeds forecasts, or problems with a particular product line or online shopping tool is compromised? Can your workforce systems automatically adjust to move the right people to the right queues in a way that doesn’t impact customer service delivery?

Some telling stats to keep in mind: A recent Forrester study found that 50 percent of consumers would take their business elsewhere if their needs couldn’t be met quickly. Three out of 5 wanted to know, above all else, that the company valued their time. Two out of 3 said that resolution to their issue at the first point of contact most affected their satisfaction. The biggest detractor from customer satisfaction? Being made to wait.

An actionable frontline. Ask yourself if your agents are trained to handle not only product inquiries but the what-ifs that customers may ask. Training of course takes time, and with seasonal stress, time is short. But sometimes your agents may be idle, and that’s the perfect time to push on-demand training so they won’t be caught off guard by the what-if inquiry. If a condition changes, like a call volume spike on a particular issue, make sure you can get that information into the hands of your frontline now, in real time, so they can deal with the next what-if. That creates an environment of engaged and eager employees ready to, literally, give your customers the sweater off their back.

One story goes that when a customer called in to say that the exact sweater she wanted for a gift wasn’t in stock in the size she needed, and while the agent had exhausted all the channels he had at his disposal, he said that he himself had that exact sweater, he had only worn it twice, and that he would send it to the customer, no shipping or rush charges. Everyone was in good cheer, and Christmas was saved.

Open lines of communication. The holidays remind us to stay connected, and at this time of the year customers look to connect as quickly as possible using every channel available. Instead of staffing your multi-channel operations to capacity at all times (which can drain holiday revenues via excessive labor costs), look to meet channel demand as it happens, again, in real time. Intraday automation and channel balancing allows you to monitor service levels and fill demand with agents who are most capable in those channels.

Serve with your heart. The voice of an engaged, knowledgeable frontline employee can go a long way toward thawing the heart of the most cynical Grinch. And this is the essence of exceptional customer experience.

Metrics don’t drive this. Neither does any form of CRM technology in its purest sense. This gift comes from people, those who feel they are a vital part of something greater, that they are fully engaged and empathetic with each and every customer interaction. This frontline workforce reacts with heart because they know they are prepared and empowered to answer real-time demand. Much of this comes from training, coaching and mentoring your agents, some comes from rewarding exceptional abilities, some from addressing the needs of your agents, but most comes from your culture.

The ‘ifs’ of the holiday season are coming, as surely as kindling the lights on the menorah or Old Saint Nick coming down the chimney. Beating the holiday rush and handling the stresses on your customer service delivery is all about preparation and being able to adjust in real-time to unforeseen conditions.

You may have to wait on Mother’s exceptional Honey Ham dinner, but don’t make your customers wait on exceptional service.

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Dear Doctor: Stop Making Patient and Employee Experience So Painful

By , November 11, 2014 at 9:40 am

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I’m certain very few of us enjoy going to the doctor’s office for an exam or a medical need. Unfortunately many medical practices make the experience more “painful” by implementing negative or ignoring poor customer/patient experience practices. And, the patients aren’t the only ones suffering. The employees are on the receiving end of customer complaints that could be easily resolved. Often, employee experience suffers because they are not receiving the training and recognition needed either.

Here are a few examples of the “painful” patient and employee moments:

1. We’re not open yet… go away!

I arrived at 8:45 in the morning at a medical practice for a 9 o’clock business meeting. As I walked up to the door, an elderly man joined me and we noticed that the office was completely dark inside. At 8:55 an employee opened the door a few inches, stared at us and barked, “We don’t have any appointments today”. The man explained that he just wanted to reschedule an appointment while he was in the medical building area. She reluctantly let him in. I was given the same stare and told to sit in the waiting area inside. She mumbled to someone in the reception area and the man was finally assisted with the same poor attitude received earlier.

2. We’re a call center… well, not really

A medical group decided that all employees other than nurses would answer incoming calls on a main number. Nurses would receive only transferred calls. The group purchased a small call center system but barely used the features provided for best routing. Each employee was set up as an individual call center, not as an agent. When I asked about it, I was told there was no requirement for employees to login to the system and “we can barely get them to answer the phone.” Because of the lack of procedures for the system, the reporting showed crazy metrics such as the agent/employee never taking a break or leaving at all.

To add to this disorganized process, everyone multi-tasked answering calls, greeting patients walking in, scheduling appoints and even taking payments. The employees were clearly miserable and the patients were feeling that pain too based on comments I heard from them.

3. I’m a doctor and I love technology. I can do it myself.

Ok… you love the new technology, Doc. You have an iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, and your home and office are filled with all the latest gadgets. That does not mean you are an IT or telecom expert. It just means you have hobbies besides your medical career.

I’ve seen doctors meet with vendors who are prepared to provide the best practice advise, but refuse to take the advice because they want to do it “their” way.

Please let the pros help you set up the proper call flow, settings, reporting related to the calls and other patient/provider contact methods.

4. Hire, train and engage the right people for patient interactions

Stop hiring process-only people to provide customer service in your offices and on your phones. Please spend some money on your most valuable office assets you have for patient retention: the people who work there. Don’t just stick them on the phone and hope for the best.

When did you last provide training for them on how to offer great customer service to retain your customer patients? If your focus is purely on the process and medical knowledge, your employees will focus on just that.

Be sure to reward your hard-working employees for creating great customer experiences. Avoid focusing just on the boring, “employee of the month” plaque and find unique ways to show appreciation to every employee who is observed going the extra mile to provide great service. And don’t forget to train your supervisors how to coach and motivate their customer-facing teams.

Avoid putting temporary bandages on your patient experience and employee experience/engagement and give them both the time and effort that they deserve. Your business and bottom line will be healthier than ever!

Healthcare Case Study

Are You Respectful of Customer Time?

By , November 4, 2014 at 9:03 am

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Did you ever stop to think about how much time people spend on the phone making calls to complain about bad customer service?

A recent article in The Street pointed out that, on average, adults in the U.S. spend about 364 minutes every year placing calls to report complaints, waiting and hoping to talk to someone who will make things right. In other words, if you are one of the “average people,” you spend about six and a half hours each year on the phone. In six years’ time you lose almost an entire work week, and over 25 years, an entire month of your life will be dedicated to complaining about bad customer service. Much of that customer time will likely be spent “on hold” (which could in itself be considered bad customer service).

The author of the article, Brian O’Connell, used data from Populus Research and Kana Software, which refer to the “complaint wait” as the “hidden price of doing business.” Here are some other interesting facts that the study produced:

  • More than 70 percent of consumers in the U.S. have taken the time to voice a customer service complaint in the last three years. The average time spent to lodge a complaint was one hour and four minutes – for just one complaint!
  • In most cases, actually getting problem resolution didn’t just happen in one attempt. Sixty-nine percent of consumers had to repeat their complaint, and on average, it took three attempts to get a problem resolved.
  • Thirty-nine percent of complaints were made by phone call, and 33 percent via e-mail.
  • Despite its growing popularity, social media – such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp – was the channel for only 7 percent of the complaints.

Personally, I expected the number for social media complaints to be higher. Other surveys show that more consumers are turning to social media to air customer service grievances. Even at 7 percent, however, complaints via social media have to be taken very seriously as they are visible not only to the company receiving the complaint, but also to the customer’s friends and followers, and in some cases (such as Yelp) to the public. Even if the overall percentage is low, customer service complaints via social media are definitely on the rise as consumers realize its effectiveness and companies’ desire to maintain a positive image.

This article should be a wake-up call to all types of businesses, especially those that market to the general consumer. It’s surprising to learn just how much customer time is spent on the phone dealing with customer service issues. Time is a precious commodity, and if you “steal” customer time, you are showing a tremendous amount of disrespect.

Customers have limited time and can’t afford to waste it with repeated calls or long waits on the phone. If you don’t have respect for their time, it won’t be long before they decide to find another company with better service and faster resolution when a problem does occur. Be smart. Respect your customers’ time and always fix problems quickly… and with the right attitude!

Shep Hyken is a customer experience expert and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to http://www.hyken.com.

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4 Barriers to a Successful Gamification Program in Your Contact Center

By , October 28, 2014 at 9:29 am

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The world is changing and contact centers have to keep up.

Generation Y – the “Millennial” generation – has a different outlook on life than generations before it that extends to everything from the way they communicate to the way they work. And the truth is, not only does this group make up a large part of your newest crop of contact center agents, but they also represent a huge percentage of your customer base.

One of the latest trends to engage this generation of contact center agents is “gamification.” Through the use of games, recognition and rewards, the monotony of the day is broken up so that agents are ultimately more involved and productive. The use of gamification makes the agent’s day more fun, which ultimately reduces attrition and has a powerful impact on the customer experience.

Gamification can be a powerful tool to recognize and reward agents for outstanding performance and it is gaining in popularity. In a recent survey of contact center executives, almost half said they plan to do something with gamification in 2015.

The top reason cited for why gamification is important was “agent engagement.” The idea being that the more engaged your agents are, the better they will perform.

Gamification can be applied to behaviors that promote productivity and elevate the customer experience, but the challenge remains: How can gaming be incorporated into the workflow of the tightly scheduled contact center environment?

Though many contact centers intend to implement gamification programs in the future, only 9% report already having these recognition and reward systems in place. Why? Primarily, it’s a lack of time.

Contact centers executives say they have concerns about supervisors and agents not having time to learn new concepts and applications (67%) or time to keep up with the program and rewards for agents as they complete tasks and activities (51%).

Learning what gamification is and how to build a successful gamification program, adopting new technologies, and updating the program as agents complete training and coaching and improve their performance – and then tracking their performance improvements – all requires an investment of time.

And speaking of time – what about your agents? If incenting and rewarding performance within gamification, how will you find time to help agents improve in these areas?

Here are some common operational barriers to implementing a gamification program in your contact center:

  1. Employees need more training and coaching
    In most centers today, there is a constant churn of scheduling training, cancelling that training, and then rescheduling. Agents don’t get the training they need. They don’t feel supported and can’t do the things you are rewarding in your gamification program. The customer experience and your company performance suffer as a result.
  2. One development plan does not fit all
    It is incredibly impactful to reward agents for high performance and the completion of development tasks. Imagine how much more impactful it would be if these development plans were custom-tailored to each agent and specifically targeted the performance metrics you want to reward. In most centers today, it is very difficult to find the time for coaches to analyze agent performance and assign targeted training that will improve that performance – and it’s even harder for agents to find the time to get it done.
  3. Lag in updating performance related activities
    Many contact center executives are concerned with the administrative effort required to update gamification systems. These programs are seen as just another task for coaches and supervisors, when what they really need to be doing is spending face time with their agents, building personal relationships and improving agents’ ability to satisfy customers.
  4. As agents improve performance, they need new challenges
    As agents complete training and coaching activities and acquire new skills, they are able to improve their performance and handle more types of customer calls. But in many of today’s centers, it can take weeks or even months before skills are updated. As a result, supervisors are not notified of achievement, agents are not recognized and rewarded for their accomplishments, and customers are not always interacting with agents who are most capable of handling their inquiry.

A call center’s number one priority is providing an outstanding customer experience. Gamification, when leveraged effectively, can be an innovative and powerful tool to engage and motivate agents and continually challenge top performers.

And when your agents are satisfied and happy, so are your customers.

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