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4 Barriers to a Successful Gamification Program in Your Contact Center

By , October 28, 2014 at 9:29 am


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.


Measure Twice, Cut Once (A Mantra for CX Change Management)

By , October 22, 2014 at 9:26 am


How well do you vet any process improvements or other changes within your organization before you make them?

I’ve used this quote below, i.e., Pearson’s Law with my addition in bold below, in posts and presentations several times in the past, but it’s one worth repeating:

“When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, and acted upon, the rate of improvement accelerates.”

So I started thinking about what happens when we accelerate improvement – and that’s when the proverb “measure twice, cut once” came to mind. Why? Well, especially given my addition to it, I think it’s important to not only measure performance to accelerate the rate of improvement but also to make sure you plan accordingly and prepare thoroughly (measure twice) before taking action (cut once) within your organization.

Let me step back a minute. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back to my original question: How well do you vet process improvements or changes before you make them? What factors come into play and become serious considerations when you make those decisions? Maybe that’s a silly question, but you’d be amazed how often these things aren’t thought through completely.

In last month’s post, I wrote about the change management process in terms of customer service and the customer journey. But before we can undertake this process, we really need to do our homework. We need to make sure the changes that we’re about to make are the right ones, that they have the right effect and make the right impact, where and when it’s important.

In that post, I outlined some of the things you need to do to execute your changes, to transition to some desired future state. But as we think about that transition, what else should we do? What other guidelines should we adhere to? Well, “measure twice, cut once” reminds us of a few things. Since “measure twice” is all about the preparation, we should…

  • understand our customers (and the customer journey)
  • understand what they are trying to do
  • listen to customers
  • ask the right questions
  • measure the right things (take the time to identify the appropriate metrics and KPIs for your company)
  • measure what matters (to the customer)
  • analyze thoroughly (but not to the point of over-analyzing)
  • make changes that matter (to the customer)
  • think before we act
  • not rush into things
  • plan ahead to minimize waste and to save time (haste makes waste)
  • prepare thoroughly
  • be informed (to make informed decisions)
  • think about issues that might arise (conduct a pre-mortem)
  • clarify expectations about outcomes
  • consider all constituents
  • pay attention to details
  • not take shortcuts
  • proofread or QA
  • test our hypotheses

I know that’s a lot to do and some are likely duplicate ways of saying the same thing, but as Ben Franklin said, “Take time for all things; great haste makes great waste.” Take the time to do things right – or take the time to do them over. Your choice. We want to make sure that when we make changes to policies, processes, the organization, or the customer experience that we don’t inadvertently introduce more waste and inefficiencies.

There’s definitely a trade-off between speed and accuracy, and there’s also a difference between speed and urgency. We don’t want to delay any important improvements, and yet we certainly want to convey the need for change. But, at the same time, we want to do the right thing and do things right. You’ll find that balance as you outline the steps you’ll take to implement changes within your organization, whether you create your own process or use Dr. Kotter’s 8-Step Process that I mentioned in a previous post.

Does this mean we’ll always get it right, even when keeping all of this in mind? No, but that’s ok. It happens. But recognize and acknowledge it quickly. If, in the end, the change you made doesn’t work as anticipated, re-measure and recut. Adjust accordingly.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.  —Abraham Lincoln

A Nose for Real-time Customer Service

By , October 16, 2014 at 9:15 am


Have you seen the viral video making the rounds about Sherlock, the adorable and very energetic dog “employed” by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, who finds passengers’ lost items and returns them to their owners? When a KLM crew-member comes across an item — a child’s stuffed animal, a phone, a laptop — the highly trained canine retrieves it and puts his Beagle nose to work to hunt down the owner and return the lost belonging. You can imagine the delight of air travelers passing through KLM’s hub in Amsterdam as the quintessential real-time customer service agent runs past them to reunite a little girl and her favorite pookie-bear, the pup’s enthusiasm for delighting customers and making their experience with the airline a great one evident by his floppy ears and wagging tail.

What great customer service, you say, what a terrific ambassador of an airline devoted to delivering on their promises to their patrons. “An airline providing a prompt and useful service in a way that warms passengers’ hearts,” said a Washington Post article.

Unfortunately, and sadly, Sherlock is but a marketing ploy — but a really good one. KLM doesn’t employ a Beagle named Sherlock trained to find and return lost belongings. In reality, Sherlock is merely part of KLM’s campaign to showcase its Lost & Found program, which uses customer data such as seat number and location, phone numbers and public social media details to get forgotten personal possessions back into the hands of wayward travelers, with a success rate of about 80 percent.

If you’ve ever lost something on a flight or had your luggage sent to Albania when you were really going to Albany, you know that most of the time the best customer service in world won’t make you happy. But KLM boasts that it sometimes returns an item to a no-doubt grateful passenger before they even know it’s gone (now that’s real-time!).

Sure, Sherlock will put his paw prints on your heart, but you should also see him as a symbol for real-time customer service done right. The viral video — ok, it’s an advertisement —has garnered more than 12 million hits on YouTube alone since its release just a little more than two weeks ago. People loved it, yes, for the snugly Beagle, but also for the face (albeit a canine face) that the airline is out to put on its customer service efforts. It’s a heart-warming turn-on to know that an organization would be innovative and committed to training and engaging a creature to do what it does best to help others (aka, customers). (BTW, beagles and other canines use their noses in in many service roles, including cancer and drug detection, so the premise of lost-and-found seems quite plausible.)

Still, having caught scent of the fact that the video was actually just a marketing pitch, many media outlets semi-derided poor Sherlock as a “fake,” a “lie,” a “PR stunt,” even saying “we can’t trust anyone anymore, not even the puppy in that KLM video.” Why the letdown and sarcasm? Simple, because we want to believe an organization would go to the inventive lengths to put the omniscient canine nose to work in the name of customer service, that they would endeavor to both serve and delight their stakeholders. We want to believe that great customer service is possible!

So, do your agents have a nose for real-time customer service? Giving them this sixth-scent (yes, pun intended) means that they have access to all the information they need. It means that you have you devoted time and resources to their training, to make sure that they can delight your customers and give them what they want, when they want it. Make sure you have more “Sherlock’s” on your workforce: ready, willing and able to deliver real-time service.


The Multi-channel Agent: Are Your Canned Emails and Chats Past the Fresh Date?

By , October 14, 2014 at 9:05 am


Let me begin by saying that it makes perfect sense to have a knowledge base for multi-channel agents, with some specific standard information to copy and paste during written customer interactions. Some agents are using this effectively and others, not so much. A few even end up creating really bad “moments of truth” for their customers.

This written exchange in a chat works nicely:

Customer: “How do I reset my password?”

Agent (pulling info, copying and pasting or having auto-response technology): “I’ll be glad to help you (pasted info here) In order to reset your password, please….”

That makes perfect sense. A clear-cut response to the simple question asked.

Where we get in trouble with our agents using canned messages and responses is when the customer asks something more detailed. The agent may not read these involved messages completely or make assumptions that make their response inappropriate and frustrating for the customers.

For instance this email or chat example:

Customer: I received a notice that my account has been billed a $___ fee for late payment.

I sent in my payment on July 1st and I have a copy of my cleared check. I’m not sure why I’m being billed and I’m not happy to have this charge when I paid on time.

Agent (pulling info, copying and pasting or having auto-response technology): For this type of account, if your amount due isn’t paid by the 15th of each month, you will be billed a late fee of $_____.

Customer: WHAT ???? I just told you I paid it. I didn’t ask what my late fee was.

Far-fetched? Unfortunately not, as I’ve seen these type of transcripts and have been a victim of the “bad copy and paste” syndrome myself.

Agent training and coaching is critical of course but we may also encouraging these errors ourselves when we tell our teams to “hurry up” and get to the next call, email, chat interaction, etc. Multi-channel agents often tell me they feel pressured to get to the next customer so they look for ways to cut corners.

Are we creating copy and paste solutions that are vague or even inaccurate without constant review and updating? These will become quick-fix bandages for the rushed agent balancing 5 to 6 chat interactions and not sure where they left off when they return to chat number one.

Our need for speed to meet business revenue goals may be causing more complaints and actually lengthier interactions while the agent frantically tries to fix the errors that came from not listening completely or reading carefully what the customer is asking about.

So what makes our emails, chats and written interaction with customers more engaging and positive?

  1. Make sure your emails and chats have the right tone: Your written correspondence has a tone, too. Friendly but not too personal should be the goal. Personalize with customer name. Courtesy words as simple as please and thank you are needed.
  2. Multi-chat overload may cause multi-stress: Studies have shown that not everyone can multi-task successfully. An agent who does well with a single email at a time or one call focus may not have the ability to juggles several chats at the same time. Watch for multi-tasking stress signs including chats that are focused on speed and not the best experience for the customer
  3. Respond with empathy: I emailed a question to a company regarding their travel webcams and asked why a certain landmark wasn’t viewable. Their response was a curt: “We don’t man this 24 hours a day.” Did it answer my question? Sure. Was it pleasant and empathetic sounding? No.

Knowledge bases with copy and paste or other auto response methods are fabulous tools for our busy chat and email agents, but only when used with common sense. Multi-channel agents must have a clear understanding of what the customer needs and respond accordingly and positively.

As managers, we must provide them the time necessary to personalize, engage and create a positive impression in their written customer interactions as well as their verbal ones.

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Customer Service Goal: We Don’t Want You to Come Back

By , October 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm


Do you ever get the feeling that some business’ customer service goal is to keep the customer from coming back?

Sometimes, it is an employee’s lousy attitude that makes you feel unwelcome and unwanted. Or perhaps it is some other type of poor service, but the end result is that the customer has no desire to return. It’s not likely that this was the company’s customer service goal.

As I teach about customer service techniques, tools and tactics through books, articles and speaking engagements, I try to impart to companies how to keep customers coming back time and time again. There are times, however, that you might actually have the goal of not having the customer come back. Or, to state it another way, there are times when you don’t want the customer to need to come back.

If a customer calls with a complaint or service issue, you want to resolve the issue and make the customer happy. In this case, he or she doesn’t need to return for the same reason. There is a name for this – first-call resolution – and it is the goal of many customer service support centers. Some companies take it one step further. In the process of resolving the customer’s original problem, they ask questions to try to predict any future problems the customer may encounter and then solve them as well. If they do their job well, the customer won’t need to call back.

This approach can work for other types of businesses as well; it’s not just limited to complaints or call centers. Take Ace Hardware, for example. [Read Shep's previous blog post, Customer Service is More than Just Being Nice, for more about how Ace creates amazing customer service.] If you go into an Ace store to buy a can of paint for a home project, the sales associate will try to ensure that you go home with everything you need. The associate will ask questions about the project so you don’t have to return to the store an hour later because you forgot brushes, or rollers, or drop cloths. If he does his job right, you will be fully equipped to finish your project without visiting the store again. But, the next time you have a project to do, where will you turn? You’ll remember the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the helpful Ace employee and will most like head for Ace again.

So, do you want your customers to come back? Yes and no. Not because they are repeatedly seeking a resolution to an ongoing problem or because you didn’t do your job thoroughly and they are forced to return for something they need. Ask enough questions to be a one-stop shopping destination. However, you do want to be the one the customer turns to in the future – not because they need to, but because they want to.

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

7 Steps to Healthy WFM Scheduling

By , September 30, 2014 at 9:59 am


How do you know when your schedules need a check up? Is it time for a check-up on your WFM scheduling?

Regardless of the tools you use in your contact center, schedules are produced based on parameters – or “fences” – that the scheduling system is required to schedule within. To make sure your schedules are at their most effective and productive, here are some of the settings that should be routinely checked:

  1. Are your supervisors complaining that they don’t work the same hours as their agents?
    Do you use block scheduling? If not, then you may have an issue scheduling supervisors with their agents. For example: if you have a supervisor responsible for 12 agents, but their agents come in anywhere from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM throughout the day, how can they effectively supervise when they are not scheduled together?
  2. Do you start schedules on the 15-minute, half-hour or hour?
    The difference is the ability to have more flexible break and lunch placements.
  3. Are you having trouble meeting adherence goals because agents are late for breaks and lunches? What is your Average Handle Time?
    If your AHT is greater than 13-14 minutes, be careful about scheduling breaks and lunches starting on the 15-minute mark. Generally, if AHT is too close to the scheduling interval, it is very difficult to meet adherence.
  4. What percentage of part-time and split shifts do you have?
    Typically, the percentage of part-time and split shifts should be 20-30% of your total schedules and should be used to cover your breaks and lunches.
  5. Do you have too many agents on break and lunch at the same time?
    Make sure the intervals from start time for first and last break and first and last lunch are wide enough to give you plenty of room to schedule. The tighter the interval, the more people who will be out at the same time and the tougher it will be to make your service levels.
  6. Do your weekend schedules match your weekday schedules?
    If your schedule start times on weekdays don’t match your weekend start times, you may be doing daily scheduling instead of weekly scheduling. As a result, agents and supervisors may have a start time of 9:00 AM on weekdays, for example, and a start time of 8:00 AM on weekends. Producing schedules that agents can’t or don’t want to work ultimately increases turnover.
  7. Are you scheduling people for less than 40 hours or more than 40 hours a week?
    Check your settings on schedule length by day so that you don’t have people working 10 hours one day, and six hours another. This can create work weeks of less than 40 hours, causing you to pay costly overtime to cover these shift.

You can’t do without WFM scheduling in the contact center, but you can do better. WFM scheduling can be enhanced with an intraday staffing solution that enables workforce management teams to adjust their frontline staff to meet customer demand in real-time. Intradiem’s Intraday Staffing solution responds automatically to unexpected staffing needs (and aligns with your healthy WFM scheduling practices) to reduce labor costs and protect your service levels.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Stop Playing WFM Tug-of-War

Customer Satisfaction Means Never Confusing Your Customer

By , September 25, 2014 at 9:47 am


Are your customers confused? Do you even know what that means? And do you know what the implications of customer confusion are?

There’s a marketing maxim that states:

A confused customer buys nothing.

This isn’t a good thing, from a variety of angles — most especially customer satisfaction. Think about that for a minute. And while you’re doing that, let’s start with defining what a “confused customer” looks like.

The following outlines how you can identify confused customers; they…

  • Can’t find their way around your store or your website
  • Can’t find what they are looking for
  • Find what they’re looking for but don’t understand product details, pricing, or discounts
  • Have an issue with your product or service and can’t understand why you can’t resolve it
  • Don’t understand your jargon
  • Think your products can do something they can’t
  • Have too many choices
  • View your brand, products, or services no differently from your competitors
  • Don’t understand the difference between your product offerings
  • Have too much information, none of which is or may be relevant to the task at hand
  • Have too much or the wrong information to make a decision
  • Don’t have enough information
  • See inconsistencies in the brand, brand purpose, product, services, etc.
  • Find brand messages inconsistent with brand experiences
  • Don’t understand what your brand stands for — what your purpose is

Would you add anything else to the list? Does this describe what your customers experience?

What does that mean for you? Well, just as the maxim states, confused customers won’t buy anything. They won’t return — at least not without a lot of effort from you and, perhaps, from their friends — and they won’t recommend you, either. On top of that, they develop this dissatisfaction that leaves a general bad taste in their mouths about your brand.

But wait. Why are customers confused? Yeah, there are two parties to this equation! What are companies doing to create that confusion (and thereto damage customer satisfaction)? They are…

  • Sending brand messages that are no different from their competitors
  • Creating websites that are not clear and not easy to use
  • Making store layouts and displays convoluted
  • Developing pricing and discount strategies that require an MBA in Finance to understand
  • Imitating rather than innovating
  • Offering too many products
  • Creating line extensions that don’t jive with the brand
  • Not training staff adequately to be able to answer customer questions or to address their issues
  • Speaking in jargon rather than in customer-friendly terms
  • Trying to be all things to all people; as a result, they aren’t meaningful to anyone

What else are companies doing to create confusion for their customers?

What should companies be doing to eliminate any confusion to begin with? There are some basic strategies and practices that ought to be in place to avoid customer confusion. Some of them begin with their employees and their own internal messaging: clarity is required for employees to know what is expected of them, both in their roles within the company and how what they do contributes and relates to the customer experience. That means that training and communication are probably the most important tools in order to provide clarity of:

  • Purpose
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Brand promise
  • Goals
  • Expectations

When employees have clarity, it translates to clarity for customers, as well. Why? Because employee know-how and the employee experience drive the customer experience, which translates as customer satisfaction. They take their knowledge and clarity into everything they do, including developing brand strategies and communications, pricing and discounts, marketing messages, products, product information, websites, customer support experience, and more.

Another way that companies can reduce customer confusion is to eliminate operational and process inefficiencies. The best way to do this is to inventory touchpoints, map the journeys that customers take for the various tasks that they are trying to achieve, products they are trying to buy, etc., and identify where the journey breaks down. From there, fix the operational and process issues that lead to confusion and pain. Think simplicity. Think effortless. Think ease of doing business. Think process improvement.

Are your customers confused? You want them to buy, right? So, how and where can you eliminate confusion for them?

There’s nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy concept.  — Ansel Adams

Report | Call Center Performance

Customer Experience. It’s the Number-One Priority Driving Contact Center Workforce Optimization

By , September 22, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Customer Experience and Workforce Optimization

(This is a guest blog authored by Spence Mallder, SVP, GM Workforce Optimization, CTO of Aspect Software, originally published on July 2, 2014.)

Improving the customer experience has long been the siren’s call of industry analysts and B2C enterprises, but when out of the spotlight, most would have admitted that driving new revenue, cost reduction and risk avoidance were their primary objectives. However a new day is dawning. A recent Aberdeen Group survey regarding workforce optimization (WFO) programs shows that for the first time, the quality of customer interactions really is more important than agent productivity — and by a substantial margin. In the two short years between 2012 and 2014, the surveyed businesses became almost twice as likely to rank quality of customer interactions as the number one priority driving contact center WFO programs. The commoditization of products and services in many industries has left customer service as the only real differentiator, and the implicit threat of posts about negative experiences propagating through social media channels gives the consumer much more power and commands much more attention than ever before.

aberdeengraphWorkforce optimization has long been largely an automated overseer of contact center policies on agent performance, quality monitoring, actual vs. planned staffing and adherence to intraday schedules. The primary goal of traditional WFO has been to minimize labor costs while maintaining a targeted level of service. We need to start thinking about WFO from a new vantage point. How can we use the rich portfolio of tools in a robust WFO offering, such as Aspect’s Workforce Optimization 8.0 solution, to ensure remarkable customer experiences?

  • Fix the agent WFO experience: There is a direct and incontrovertible relationship between the quality of your customer’s experience and happiness of your agents. Your WFO system is in many ways representative of your internal brand and can be a powerful enabler or a huge frustration for agents. Aspect recently released a highly simplified and intuitive user interface in its WFO 8.0 solution. Agents love it, and it is changing the very culture of contact centers where it is installed. View this short video explaining this new user interface that is changing the face of workforce optimization.
  • Extend front office WFO into the back office: Tarp Worldwide estimates that 60% of a customer’s satisfaction is attributable to the enterprise’s back office operations. Workforce management software can be easily extended from the front office to the back office with much improved labor and operational effectiveness.
  • Implement automated intraday staff management: Although automated staff management is a fairly new concept for WFO, it is very powerful, since it can intelligently and rapidly adapt staffing to real-time call volume changes. One of the key benefits of this new technology is its ability to turn unproductive agent idle time into productive time that can be used for other tasks, such as proactive agent training resulting in much higher morale and better experiences for customers.
  • Identify agent behaviors resulting in high customer satisfaction with speech analytics: Use speech analytics to rapidly understand agent behaviors, phraseology and call flow that result in high customer satisfaction ratings, and institutionalize them as best practices. When used properly, speech analytics is one of the most powerful tools available for improving the customer experience. Our white paper discusses what to look for in a robust speech analytics solution.
  • Use performance management with tight integration to quality management: Many contact centers are not getting full value from their performance management solutions or are not using them at all. Customer satisfaction surveys from your quality management solution need to be accessible in a robust performance management system, so you can easily view agent performance data in many different ways to reveal new insights regarding how to achieve good customer experiences.

Of course, this is just a sampling of the many ways you can apply WFO technology to directly improve the customer experience. Expect to see more WFO innovations as the consumer becomes increasingly empowered, and the customer experience becomes by far the most important metric for contact center success.

Spence-Mallder-colorSpence Mallder, General Manager of the Workforce Optimization Division and Chief Technology Officer at Aspect Software, is focused on identifying process efficiency improvement opportunities in the enterprise to meet the market demand for a single solution to optimize and orchestrate the different resources and tasks that impact the customer experience in both the front and back office.

Is Agent Training On-Board Your CX Train?

By , September 16, 2014 at 9:05 am


Whether you call it employee development or skills enhancement, it’s all about training our agents and leaders to be successful with our customers and improve the bottom line. Not enough training and our employees may fail to provide the customer experience needed.

Some centers do not have the luxury of having a full time center trainer or team of trainers and may rely on corporate trainers to support them with some or all of the classroom-type training done with both new and seasoned agents.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that corporate development people rarely have any contact center experience. Some have never worked in any customer service or sales role. Many tell me it’s been years since they spent any time talking to customers and have never observed agents and center leaders on the job to learn what type of skills are key for success.

It’s not only the corporate trainers who are disconnected. Some executives have the same problem.

I recently heard about an operations executive in charge of starting up his company’s new contact center. He had no center experience but he was confident that he knew how one should be set up since he knew how the branch offices were run.

Since the new center team would need training, he decided it was time for the entire company to also have training so he enlisted the Human Resources manager to work with him to create classes for everyone: retail, administrative and even the newly hired contact center team would attend in mixed groups.

Unfortunately, everything on the agent training agenda they designed revolved around operational processes: data collection, product info and terminology refreshers, and how to use the systems to document information. Nothing was designed from the customer experience perspective or for the agents who would be dealing with them on the phone.

In place of soft skills training, the center team was instead issued management designed canned scripts for their incoming calls. The scripts were based on what they thought would be best for a quickly-get-off-the-call approach rather than customer engagement. Once the agents realized that the scripts didn’t work for most customer interactions encountered, the scripts were tossed.

On the job skills development for agents was a major issue since monitoring and call recording was not available. The company had purchased a phone system a year earlier that had not been considered for contact center use, so adding any quality coaching tools now would entail a large expense to replace phones and system. Management was unwilling to spend the money and the only coaching done was “feedback” when another department or customer complained about an agent.

Agent training done just to say “we’re training” is clearly not enough and yet it continues for some businesses. Without clear customer experience and agent success goals, without being customized for the appropriate skills for the work being done, generic training is wasted time and effort for all involved.

Poorly designed training lacking focus on customer success and agent engagement will quickly drive your business “off the rails.”


Customer Service is More than Just Being Nice

By , September 11, 2014 at 8:22 am

Customer Service

I recently had the privilege of speaking to the people of Ace Hardware about creating amazing customer service. If you know anything about Ace, you might be thinking that they could be the ones delivering the lesson on service – Ace has built its own special brand of customer service centered on being helpful. One of the corporate speakers at the event, Tom Knox, Vice President of Retail and Business Development, made a statement that really resonated with me:

We don’t want to be known for having the nicest people. We want to be known for having the most helpful people.

Does this mean that Ace Hardware’s personnel are not nice? No, I would say that “nice” is one component of helpful, but there’s another element as well – being knowledgeable. It’s the combination of nice plus knowledgeable that adds up to Ace’s special brand of customer service.

Let’s consider each component then. Have you ever done business with a company where the people were extremely nice, but still weren’t able to offer what you wanted? You might remember thinking, “they are so nice” or “they try so hard,” and you might even have returned a time or two to give them another chance. But eventually, if they don’t get the job done, you will turn to another business that offers the same product or service, looking for someone who will get the job done.

So then perhaps you find another business with people who are knowledgeable and offer the product that you want to buy. But if they are knowledgeable without being nice, you are not likely to give them your long-term business either. There may be a few customers who will put up with bad attitudes and a lack of appreciation, but the majority will move on. Customers want the total experience – nice people who know what they are doing – and don’t forget that a quality product or service is a must as well.

For Ace Hardware, the equation looks like this:

Nice + Knowledgeable = Helpful

Ace promises to be “the most helpful hardware stores on the planet,” and they work hard to fulfill that promise of customer service. As the customers experience their friendly, knowledgeable service, they gain confidence, which leads to repeat business and eventually, loyalty.

So what components do you want to include in your brand of amazing customer service? Define how you will offer the total package – from the quality of your product to the attitudes and abilities of your staff – and you are on your way to happy, confident customers.

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