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11 Things You Must Know to Win the Customer Experience Battle

By , August 21, 2014 at 9:54 am


If knowing is half the battle, what’s the other half?

In the 1980s, there was a G.I. Joe cartoon series for kids that embodied good vs. evil. At the end of each episode was a public service announcement (PSA) that would answer various questions and teach kids some valuable lessons. Each PSA ended with, “Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!”

This got me thinking, in a customer experience sort of way.

Knowing really is half the battle. You want your employees to deliver a great customer experience for your customers, right? What do you need to tell them? What must they know in order to deliver the experience customers expect?

Here are a few topics that are pretty important to know.

Customer Understanding: Listening to customers and ensuring that their feedback is shared and acted upon throughout the organization helps connect the dots for employees, who hear how what they do translates into the customer experience. At the same time, the knowledge must go beyond listening to really understanding who your customers are and what they are trying to do.

Customer Journeys: A customer journey map is the ultimate tool to help connect all employees to how they impact the customer experience. It details what the customer experiences while trying to complete a task with the company. It also helps create a clear line of sight for all employees, frontline and back office, to the target/goal: a great customer experience. It helps them understand how their contributions matter.

Customer Experience Vision: Your CX vision will be inspirational and aspirational; it will outline what you see as the future state of the customer experience. (Of course, it will be rooted deeply in customer understanding.) It will briefly describe the experience you plan to deliver. And it will serve as a guide to help choose future courses of action. Your CX vision statement will connect the dots between what you’re doing and for whom you’re doing it, in addition to creating alignment within the organization.

Brand Promise: A brand promise is the expectation you set with your customers; it’s a promise you make to your customers. Everything you and your employees do should reflect this promise. Consistently. It’s a combination of the brand purpose and the reality of what the brand can deliver. In most cases, defines the benefits a customer can expect to receive when experiencing your brand at every touch point. For example, JetBlue’s brand promise is “You above all.” If I’m working for JetBlue, that’s a clear message to me that I the customer comes first.

Core Values: Your core values are guiding principles for your employees; they outline which behaviors and actions are right and which are wrong, both for your employees and toward your customers. Everything you do must be aligned with your values, and they should be integrated into everything you do.

Purpose: It’s your reason for being, your Why. Customers buy from brands with which they align; similarly, employees want to work for companies with which they are aligned. Make sure everyone in the organization understands your Why.

Empathy: Teach employees to really pay attention to what the customer is saying, both verbally and through body language. Anticipate customer needs/emotions/reactions, and recognize when/how to use empathy. Role play for employees to really make it click; teach them the cues that signal it’s time for empathy to kick in. Show them that it’s important to always be listening and be prepared to respond in the way the customer needs you to respond, not in the way a script tells you to respond.

There’s more, but I think this covers the major categories.

How do you then ensure your employees are in the know? Maybe you need your own PSA? There are a lot of different ways to get your employees on the right page. The primary vehicles for delivering this knowledge are:

Onboarding: You can’t just hire people, set them free, and think they’ll understand what’s expected of them. By “knowing what’s expected of them,” I don’t just mean knowing what to do in their new roles; explaining the job, the benefits, and where to find the paper clips are all important to the onboarding process, but they must know what it means to be a part of your organization, i.e., knowing your brand promise, values and commitment, what it means to live the brand, where the priorities lie, and how to deliver a great customer experience. This is a great time to set the tone for the culture.

Continuous Training: You also can’t expect that as both the business and customer expectations evolve, employees will automatically know and adapt/evolve, too. There must be ongoing training to ensure that employees are kept abreast of changes in the business, expectations, and more. It’s always wise to provide refreshers and reinforcement of the things that are most important for employees to know.

Communication: What gets shared and communicated regularly is viewed as important to your employees. Not only does communication lend clarity, it is critical to a clear line of sight to the goal. Communication must be open and ongoing.

Culture: While this isn’t technically a vehicle for delivering knowledge, it is the guard rail that helps keep employees within the yellow lines. As Herb Kelleher said, “Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

If we provide employees with clear guidelines and expectations, recognize and reward the right behavior, and allow them to learn from their mistakes, they’re covered for half the battle.

So knowing is half the battle; what’s the other half? Technically, fighting. But in our story, I would say it’s making sure you hire the right people, i.e., having the right people in your frontline workforce to fight the good fight.

Hire for attitude — train for skill. Those are the two halves of this battle.

White Paper | Value in Naysayer Feedback

Are You Engaging New Agents, or Training Them for Your Competitors?

By , August 12, 2014 at 9:30 am

New Hire Agent Engagement

Our contact centers today have a wide range of new hire training agendas depending on the complexity of the products and services, skills trained and even the size of the centers. There’s classroom time, self-directed learning, tests, games and activities, guest speakers, call examples to listen to, side-by-side observations and even mentors.

Many managers are very focused on coaching experienced agents to insure continuously improved skills and growth for them within the center. Some of these same managers, however, are missing the opportunity to provide newly hired agents the same benefits of coaching received during the crucial first days of training.

Regardless of the size of the center and complexity of training, I find that there is a lot of training process happening and not a lot of agent engagement.

Trainers on a fast-paced schedule get caught up with the need to stuff those eager new agent heads with tons of detailed information. Some have told me that they are following a checklist and their goal is to check off the skills taught as their measure of success. Others feel they are successful if the new hires test well in the classroom.

In the midst of all this organization and process, new agents may be lost.

New agents may lose the great enthusiasm they displayed in their interview and during the “honeymoon” period of the first two weeks in training. The excitement withers and even may die, ending in turnover if they aren’t feeling engaged and motivated.

Managers have complained to me about agents who looked so promising at the beginning of training and then ended up being average or worse in terms of skills and attitude.

The question to be answered is whether they hired the wrong person or was the reason more about lack of engagement, personal interaction, and motivation during training and even after.

Some agents have told me that they were initially excited to be a part of the team but soon found that the excitement wasn’t supported or encouraged by the trainers, supervisors and managers. Others say that they are being lectured to and never asked for their input during their training as new agents. A few complain that they never had a one to one sit down with their new supervisor during the first month to share experiences and get to know them.

New hires must have personalized one to one time, not only with their trainers but also with their supervisors. Despite all these processes in place to document progress and skills, the personal connection with leadership certainly appears to be lost for many. The supervisor never really bonds with the new agent until later, if at all.

Coaching with seasoned agents is tough enough for us to do well consistently given all the center challenges we face as leaders. Coaching with new hires can be even more challenging. They enter eager, positive and open to learning. They need validation from day one.

Our new agents need personal feedback daily, especially during the first few weeks of training, and then weekly as they progress through your on-boarding agenda to becoming a fully engaged member of your team.

Make sure your trainers and front line leaders are making agent engagement a priority so new hires feel welcome and involved right from the start. If not, your call center competitors in town will be thanking you for sending new agents their way!

On-Demand Webinar | Real-time Coaching

Is Customer Service Getting Worse, or are Customers Just Getting Smarter?

By , August 7, 2014 at 9:27 am


“Customer service isn’t getting worse. Customer service is getting harder.”

This was the message that Barak Eilam, the CEO of NICE, a technology company focused on customer experience solutions, shared with an audience of customers at the recent NICE Interactions users conference in Las Vegas. How profound. And, he’s right.

Surveys in the customer service world are coming back and indicating that customers perceive customer service to be worse than last year. W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University finds that in 2013 customer problems climbed to 50% from 45% in 2011 and 32% in 1976. Yet, at the same time companies are marketing and bragging about how they provide great customer service.

Here’s my take. The customer is smarter than ever when it comes to customer service. The best companies are becoming benchmarks for others to aspire – not just in their own industry, but across all industries. Companies such as Apple, Amazon, Zappos, Ace Hardware, Ritz-Carlton, Nordstrom and others are consistently top performers in the world of customer service. They are very proud of it, and they tell the world about it, thereby educating the consumer on what really good customer service looks like. As a result, customers hope to get this level of service from all of the companies they do business with.

That just makes it harder for companies that aren’t quite as customer focused, and that is a good thing. Companies that really want to compete and stand out are being forced to raise the bar and give customers a better experience. It can only be good for customers – and good for business.

So, how does a company begin to not just meet, but exceed the customer’s expectations? How do they raise the bar? A good start is to identify the typical customer’s journey. Determine all of the main touch-points or front-line interactions. Think of each of these interactions as a link in a chain. If there is a weak link, figure out a way to strengthen it to eliminate or mitigate problems and customer complaints. Look at the strong links and determine what might be done to make them even stronger.

At the same time, take a look at what is happening behind the scenes to support these front-line interactions. The systems and people behind the scenes can make or break the front-line customer experience.

There is no doubt that some companies aren’t good at delivering customer service. But what about the ones that try, yet fail? Is it that they are bad or getting worse? Maybe not. Maybe they are failing because the bar has been raised and the customer is expecting more. Maybe it’s just getting harder.


6 Ways to Fully Engage Your Contact Center Agents

By , August 5, 2014 at 9:22 am

Agent Engagement

Up until relatively recently, many managers and executives considered the topic of employee engagement to be “soft.”

Those that still feel that way today are finding that keeping employees and customers around is HARD.

Consider some of the organizations known for obsessing over agent engagement in their contact centers. Organizations like Zappos, Disney, USAA, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and J. Crew, to name just a few. Then take a look at these organizations’ incredible employee retention rates, C-Sat rates, and annual growth. Afterward, let me know if you still think employee engagement is “soft.”

While talking about engagement is important, achieving engagement is what you really should be after – unless you are about to retire and couldn’t care less if your agents torch the place. For those of you who still do care, following are six proven ways to keep contact center staff fully engaged and customers from wanting to physically harm you.

1) Turn on-boarding into long-boarding. To help ease rookie agents into the challenging and dynamic customer care environment without the use of mood-altering drugs, consider implementing an extended on-boarding initiative. Such initiatives spread the transitional phase out over several weeks or months to help foster a strong sense of preparedness and belonging among new staff, resulting in higher levels of engagement and fewer incidents of them vanishing into thin air.

Key components of a successful “long-boarding” initiative include: a comprehensive orientation program; transition training (a.k.a. “nesting” period); peer mentoring; onsite and offsite social events; and specialized satisfaction surveys for new(ish) agents.

2) Measure what really matters. Focusing too strongly on straight productivity metrics (e.g., Average Handle Time (AHT), Call Handled per Hour, etc.) strict performance targets destroys agents’ souls and compels them to do whatever is necessary to hit their quotas. This might entail rushing callers off the phones before their issues are resolved and speeding through after-call work and making costly mistakes.

Start emphasizing more customer-centric (and agent-centric) metrics like Contact Quality, Customer Satisfaction and First-Call Resolution, and you’ll be surprised how things like AHT and CPH end up falling in line anyway.

3) Provide dynamic and customized training and coaching. Committing fully to agent training & development not only helps agents perform at optimum levels, it ensures that they’ll actually want to. When agents see how much the organization has invested in and values their development, they become highly engaged and inspired to take care of customers, and usually even call off the violent coup they’ve been planning for months.

If you want such positive stuff to happen in your center, make training and coaching entertaining and intriguing with things like games, role-plays/simulations, e-learning, transition training, agent self-evaluations, and “ideal call” recordings. Also consider incorporating customer ratings and comments into agent feedback sessions, as agents would much rather a customer tell them they’re horrible at their job than have you do it.

4) Defend against “death by desktop.” All the training and coaching in the world won’t do much for the customer experience if your contact center’s CRMs, desktop tools and workflows make agents look like morons when interacting with customers. You need to place relevant customer data and other critical information and tools right at their fingertips to ensure that every interaction goes smoothly and makes customers swoon.

But such smoothness and swooning isn’t happening in most contact centers, and that’s because in most contact centers the agent desktop is a mess. Due to disparate and uncoordinated systems and applications, agents often spend more time fighting with their desktop than focused on the customer. More and more contact centers are fighting back by moving to a unified agent desktop – also referred to often as an ‘intelligent agent desktop’ or a ‘dynamic agent desktop’, or a ‘desktop agents don’t want to punch.’

5) Unleash agents on the phones and off. You can create a strong culture of engagement and ownership by giving agents a lot of authority on the phones, and a lot of influence off of them. Empower and trust agents to make on-the-spot decisions, offers and exceptions during interactions to make life easier for customers. And give agents ample opportunities offline to provide input on critical issues and to work on special projects and task forces to make life easier for everybody – the company, the customer and the agents themselves.

Empowering agents off the phones to help improve processes has been shown to have a hugely positive impact on agent turnover: A contact center study conducted by Cornell University found that centers that offer employees a chance to join a problem-solving group or team, had 50% fewer workers quit. …And yes, you should feel proud that you work in an industry that is now being studied by hoighty-toighty Ivy League schools like Cornell.

6) Reward and recognize outstanding performance and effort. Provide incentives and praise that really show agents how much the organization respects and values them and their critical role – and that inspire agents to keep doing the kinds of things that delight customers.

You can’t expect agents to continuously give it their all on calls if your rewards feature little more than balloons and cupcakes and pizza. All that agents get from those things are squeaky voices and Type II diabetes – neither of which typically contribute to good customer experiences. What agents do get inspired by and go the extra mile for include things like:

  • A Wall of Fame featuring agents in the center who have recently achieved excellence in key areas;
  • A points-for-performance program, where agents who kick butt in key areas receive points that they can then redeem for merchandise or for Xanax;
  • Peer recognition, where agents are empowered to give spot awards – like “You rock!” stickers or a shot of vodka – to peers who they witness going above and beyond on the job and with customers;
  • Recognition for the sake of it, like honoring agents during Customer Service Week, or giving them a plaque in appreciation of them not trying to kill any customers.

I kid around, but there’s nothing funny about failing to properly reward and recognize your agents. If you force agents to pat themselves on the back for a job well done, they might very well use that same back-patting hand to wave goodbye to your contact center – and don’t be surprised if they use one of the fingers on that hand to salute you as they are exiting.

Report | Call Center Performance

Is Agent Disengagement Leaving You Stuck in Neutral?

By , July 30, 2014 at 9:02 am

Agent Disengagement: Stuck in Neutral

As a consultant in the business for over 40 years, I can walk into any call center in the world, and if I see agents who are standing up, I guarantee you they are non-productive and Average Handle Time is lower than the expectation.

Why? Because if they are standing up, they are talking to each other.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but typically, the more idle time there is in a center, the lower the AHT. What happens is this: when agents are idle, they talk to one another and the customer call becomes an interruption. They put forth minimum effort with the customer so that they can return to their “productive” conversation.

The result is lowered customer satisfaction, productivity, and in some cases, it can actually be detrimental to morale.

Agent disengagement is the difference between an agent wanting to do the job and having to do the job. Once agents have disengaged, they are no longer focusing on the customer.

They are stuck in neutral.

The way to combat this is to enrich the agent’s job in such a way that agents feel they have value and that they are more than just a tool or asset. This means providing agents with better tools and more training so they can improve their performance, combined with opportunities for advancement, varied uses of their talent, and getting them engaged as part of your company’s overall success.

[RELATED CONTENT: White Paper | Turnover a New Leaf: Reduce Attrition and Improve Agent Engagement]

Idle time – the natural downtime between customer interactions – can actually be productive. This time can be used to enhance the value of agents by providing specialized training on new practices and policy changes or doing something fun as a reward for good performance.

Do-nothing and idle time simply becomes time between calls for agents to engage in non-productive and sometimes disruptive behavior.

Instead, use this time for activities that make your agents more informed, confident, productive, engaged and better at their jobs and they will be more apt to help making your business successful.

Benchmark Report | Contact Center WFO

Delivering the Customer Journey: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Change Management!

By , July 17, 2014 at 10:04 am

Customer Journey and Change Management

What is your company’s approach to change management?

In last month’s post, I wrote about the customer experience inflection point. I stated: There comes a time in every company’s history, present time, or future when it must change or adapt – or die. In order to change or adapt, there must be some systematic process in place, a process that gets everyone on board and marching to the same beat; that process is often referred to as change management.

On Wikipedia, change management is defined as: An approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations to a desired future state. In organizational change, the approach is structured to ensure changes are smoothly and successfully implemented to achieve lasting results.

Why is change management important for the customer journey? Ultimately, we listen to customers in order to improve the customer experience, and this really means changing how we currently do things. The best way to approach both your customer experience management (CEM) strategy and how you will improve the customer journey as a result of listening to customers is to have a clearly-defined approach in place.

As you start to think about the strategies and steps involved in CEM, you realize that it is a change management process in and of itself. So the steps to transition to some desired future state are probably no different than what you already know. But for fun, let’s run through some of the key tenets.

Executive buy-in is a must if any organizational or other changes are to take place. To win the hearts (emotional) and minds (rational) of your executives, you’ll need to build the business case, which will require some quick wins to show not only what can be done but also your commitment and persistence to achieving some outcome. As change is implemented, further quick wins may be required.

Going hand in hand with that (“some outcome”) will be the need to develop an inspirational and aspirational customer experience vision; it will define and outline what you see as the future state of the customer experience. It will briefly describe the experience you plan to deliver. And it will serve as a guide to help choose future courses of action. How can you manage change if you don’t know what you’re changing. Define it. Communicate it. Early and often.

This will be important because you’ll also need to get employee buy-in. Change cannot be imposed or forced upon employees; they must be involved in it, understand the what and the why, and help to shape the outcome. When they’re involved in the changes, they are more apt to be accountable and to take ownership.

At the same time, empower employees to do what’s right, and let them know that it’s OK to make mistakes during this process: own up to mistakes, fix them, and move on. Reinforce the right actions, and model and recognize the desired behaviors. All of this will be a reflection of your culture and a relentless focus on a great employee experience. Changes must become a part of your DNA.

Cross-functional buy-in and commitment will also be key. If change is to happen, if the experience is to be improved, silos must be eliminated, and the organization must work together as one.

Beyond developing that framework, some other important things to keep in mind:

  • Listen to customers – past, present, and future. Identify not only their needs but the tasks they are trying to achieve. This is the groundwork that must be completed before you can begin to execute on your change management. You need to understand the present state before you can head to some desired future state.
  • Design the new customer experience based on understanding who your customers are and what jobs they are trying to do with your organization’s products or services. Incorporating principles of human-centered design is a good idea at this point. Bring employees into the innovation and design processes.
  • Implement changes across the organization based on who your customers are and what they are telling you. For employee buy-in and involvement, communication and training are key, as well. And model the right – the desired – behaviors for them.
  • Measure the changes and their impact. Recalibrate and redesign as needed. You may not get it right the first time. That’s OK. Speed of re-innovation and redesign are important testaments to your commitment to change. Don’t sit on it.
  • Communicate. It’s your best and most important tool in the change management process. Use it early and often.
  • Deal with objections. Not everyone likes change. Haters will hate – figure out how to bring them into the fold. We need everyone on board. You may have to go back to the basics, i.e., getting buy-in (hearts and minds). Socrates said: The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new. Let’s make that the mantra.

One last tip… you’ll want to prioritize your changes. You can’t make all of the changes at the same time; pace yourself. Remember that the customer experience is a journey

Do you need to think about change management? I think you know the answer.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. -Richard Buckminster Fuller

White Paper | Value in Naysayer Feedback

Preventing the Accidental Customer Experience

By , July 10, 2014 at 9:56 am

CX Airlines

It turns out, companies that performed worse on the American Customer Satisfaction Index actually performed better in terms of stock market performance. Can you believe it?

True, it was an anomaly in 2013, but it happened. Historically, though, companies with higher customer satisfaction ratings actually outperform those with lower customer satisfaction in the stock market. But how could something like this happen?

It’s helpful to first understand the business value of the customer experience. It’s simple, really: when customers have a good experience, they buy more, which ultimately increases revenue.

In our recent webinar, “Preventing the Accidental Customer Experience,” customer experience expert Kerry Bodine (@kerrybodine) shared some interesting facts:

  • 81% of consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience (about a 5% premium).
  • 70% have stopped buying goods or services from a company after experiencing poor customer service.
  • 64% have made future purchases from a company’s competitors after experiencing poor customer service.

Most companies today understand the connection between the customer experience and customer loyalty and spend a lot of time trying to create a brand people will identify with, Bodine says.  [WHITE PAPER: Ask the Customer Experience Experts]

She used the example of the airlines, which have launched a number of recent campaigns that make this promise from United’s, “Flying the friendly skies,” to Delta’s, “Flying is more than just a flight: Delta continues to elevate the flying experience.”

Yet, these marketing promises often fall short, as there is a disconnect between promises made and the frontline service reps of the organization. Bodine shared a recent experience her husband had with Delta.

He was taking a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It was the last flight of the day, and though there had been lots of flights cancelled for bad weather, his flight was cancelled for mechanical reasons. He was not offered another flight that night, nor a complementary hotel room, and the best they could offer was a flight the next day that went to Sacramento, Salt Lake City, and then finally back to San Francisco.

Definitely not living up to Delta’s promise of “elevating the flying experience.”

Bodine then hopped on Twitter and tweeted to Delta Assist, who promised to be “listening around the clock, seven days a week.” She tweeted, “2 AM, husband’s LAX->SFO cancelled b/c of broken plane. No hotel & rather than put him on SWA/UA direct, 3 connections tomorrow!”

No response. So, 10 hours later, she tweeted again. Over two hours later, Delta finally responded with, “Thank you for your patience, we have had EXTREMELY high call and twitter traffic due to the weather conditions across the U.S. How may I assist?”

Though Delta had spent so much time and investment making the promise of an outstanding customer experience, they had really left the customer experience to chance. In this example, despite the bad weather, they didn’t have a plan to staff up to handle the increased call and Twitter volume.

Unfortunately, says Bodine, this type of thing happens all the time. Companies make promises but fail to follow-up on these promises – and it’s often the contact center that feels the brunt.

So many times, the contact center is viewed as a cost center rather than a strategic arm of the business, keeping the promises – both implicitly and explicitly – made by marketing organizations.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, says in his book, Delivering Happiness, “Our belief is that the telephone is one of the best branding devices out here.”

How can you move from a reactive approach to customer satisfaction to proactively creating an outstanding customer experience that builds your brand and customer loyalty with every interaction? Click here to open the on-demand webinar, Preventing the Accidental Customer Experience.

Webinar | Preventing the Accidental Customer Experience

The Three Contact Center “Coacheteers” and Agent Engagement

By , July 8, 2014 at 9:28 am


In the Alexandre Dumas novel, The Three Musketeers, the main characters are Musketeers of the Guard. They fought in battle and also formed a royal guard for the protection of the king.

Dumas penned their famous and often quoted “all for one, one for all” motto in this novel. When I read this phrase recently, I thought of the daily battles fought in our own contact centers to keep the customer experience great and agent engagement top-notch.

We also have three musketeers of sorts in our centers. I like to call them our “coacheteers.” They are sworn to protect and fight for our customers and agents when problems arise. These are our front line leader supervisors and managers, quality analysts and trainers.

Unfortunately, instead of “all for one, one for all” in unity, some centers have seen the motto instead become, “all for me and my group”. With this focus, the customers and agents are certainly lost in the battle of control.

At times, our coaching for quality isn’t a unified effort with clear missions and goals for all of the “coacheteers.” The trainers, quality analysts and supervisors may operate separately and even become hostile when quality scoring or their processes are questioned during calibration session. They are more concerned about being right and protecting their turf, instead of asking how what they are doing is truly impacting customers and driving agent engagement.

I recently observed this type of turf war during a coaching session. The agent we listened to had responded to a customer’s questions accurately, empathetically and positively based on what the customer needed regarding the status of a complaint. The problem had been completely resolved, much to the customer’s delight. Instead of kudos, the agent received a “fail” on the call from the quality analyst because the analyst said that the agent should have told the customer that there had been a initial failure to enter information correctly by an agent at another company location, hence the delay.

The agent objected to this (and rightly so) responding that telling the customer about the details of the failure, including the failure of a co-worker, would not have done anything for the customer but upset them again after having the problem resolved, and the customer happy.

This agent’s supervisor and quality went round in circles for days about this. The excellent customer experience itself was completely lost during these disagreements over what should’ve been done and instead it became all about quality’s need to be “right.” The agent was upset and now views the quality analysts as antagonists rather than part of the same team.

To add to the agent’s frustration, the customer in this scenario sent an email to his supervisor telling how pleased she was to have this particular agent’s help since he quickly provided the information she needed and was very empathetic regarding her problem.

At your center, do you have agent coaching and quality initiatives that are “one for all, all for one” or “it’s all about me”? Make sure your trainers, quality and front line leaders are working together to create an atmosphere that is positive for both customer and agent engagement success.

White Paper | Reducing Attrition

Though Customer Service Isn’t Perfect, It Can Be Excellent

By , July 3, 2014 at 9:22 am

Customer Service Excellence

Everyone knows the old saying, “Nobody’s perfect,” and since customer service is delivered by human beings, it won’t always be perfect either. There will be mistakes, problems and complaints – hopefully not many, but they will happen from time to time.

However, there can be a benefit to striving for perfection. If the goal of your customer service is perfection, you are well on your way to providing excellent customer service.

I heard my friend and colleague Art Holst speak at an event recently, and his words got me thinking about this idea and about customer service motivation. Art is a former NFL referee and he talked about his friend Bart Starr, an NFL star quarterback. Starr is known for the following quote:

“I don’t think it makes sense to strive for perfection. Perfection is not attainable. I believe totally in striving for excellence, and I think there is a great deal of difference between the two. Although we strive for excellence, we set sensible goals because one of the most frustrating things in the world is to set our goals so high that we have no chance of reaching them.”

I found another quote on the same topic by Edwin Bliss, author of “Getting Things Done.” Similar to what Starr said, Bliss stated:

The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic, and a terrible waste of time.

Both of these quotes make a distinction regarding the reality of reaching perfection. Perfection is not reality, but by setting a goal of perfection – and having a realistic understanding that there will be a glitch now and then – will still set you on the path to excellence.

Related: Intradiem Examines Customer Experience Impact on Cable Providers in Consumer-Driven Market

You will have interactions in which the customer service you deliver seems perfect. It is attainable – but in reality, not 100 percent of the time. We wouldn’t be human if something didn’t go wrong sometimes. Look at those times as opportunities, though, and use them to offer excellent customer service by addressing the complaint or problem in a way that impresses the customer. A good recovery can actually increase the customer’s confidence.

I can’t think of a time when I’ve heard a company’s customer service referred to as “perfect.” However, words like “great,” “amazing” – these are used to describe many top companies’ customer service.

So, shoot for perfection! Even if it’s realistically unattainable, just having perfection as a goal will ensure that excellence is within reach.

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

 Benchmark Report | DMG WFM Report 2014


Agent Coaching that Your Workforce Actually Wants to Receive

By , July 2, 2014 at 9:16 am

Bad Agent Coaching

According to a study that I’ve completely made up to make a point, 90% of contact centers either don’t provide any agent coaching or provide agent coaching that makes agents wish the center didn’t provide any coaching.

While a total lack of coaching certainly won’t win your contact center any awards, it’s actually better than providing bad coaching. Bad coaching not only fails to effectively address the performance issues that are driving your customers up a wall (and away from your company), it also makes agents completely resistant to coaching, and can lead to them stuffing their supervisor in the trunk of a car.

Most agents want to improve and to delight customers, and thus are open to – and even welcome – coaching and feedback, provided the coaching/feedback doesn’t make them want to cut themselves [VIDEO: Automating the Coaching Process].

Following are several coaching tactics shared by contact centers that never have to bandage agents’ arms or rescue supervisors from a car trunk:

Deliver coaching in a timely manner. Coaching is of little use if the agent doesn’t receive it until after they’ve quit and moved to Marketing. In the best contact centers, supervisors provide clear and concise coaching and feedback soon (and sometimes immediately) after a customer interaction that the agent totally blew. Such timely instruction not only limits the number of customers who must endure poor service going forward; it also shows agents that the organization is on the ball, cares a lot about customers, and is willing to invest in agents not sucking.

Gives agents an opportunity to self-evaluate. Supervisors that let agents start off the “what needs to improve” conversation find that coaching goes much more smoothly and drives improvement. Agents tend not to embrace input and feedback that comes in the form of a unilateral attack. The best coaches give agents the opportunity to review their monitored contacts and allow them to express how much their performance stunk before the coach goes and does it for them.

Lead with the good. When it comes time to provide feedback (after the agent’s self-evaluation), good coaches start by acknowledging and recognizing what the agent did well, as opposed to opening with something of a more critical nature that may put the agent on the defensive. Even if the agent stunk up the call, a good coach will still find a way to lead with something positive: “Bob, you did an excellent job of being in your seat, continuing to breathe, and not pressing ‘release’ when the call arrived. Now I’d just like to talk a little bit about how you swore at the customer and broke into tears before pressing ‘release’….”

And when it comes time to address the problematic aspects of the agent’s performance, top coaches are graceful and tactful in their approach. They point out the issue or behavior in question and ask the agent what they could have done differently. This results in a collaborative conversation that makes the agent feel respected and forget all about the headset shocks and repetitive stress injuries they must endure all day long.

[Read how Intradiem helped this global outsourcer drive improvements in both FCR and AHT by automating standard coaching processes and delivering targeted coaching to agent desktops during downtimes in call volume.]

Show, don’t just tell. Agents often complain, “They tell us what we did wrong, but they don’t show us how to get better.” The best coaches eliminate such complaints by using recordings (or email/chat transcripts) of past agent-customer interactions that demonstrate a desired skill or behavior they want the agent in question to emulate. For example, if an agent is struggling with excessive handle times, the coach can have them listen to a recording featuring an agent demonstrating excellent call control. Or if an agent is unwittingly coming off as rude to customers, the coach can sit them down to listen to a call handled by an agent who isn’t a total sociopath.

Telling an agent they have to decrease their handle time and/or not be less sociopathic doesn’t work nearly as well as showing them what call control and courtesy sounds like and asking them to comment on what they’ve just heard.

Turn your customers into coaches. As good as your supervisors might be at providing agents with feedback, there’s just something about customers’ direct comments – taken from post-contact surveys and hate mail – that cause agents to really take notice and strive to improve. Having a supervisor tell an agent he needs to work on his empathy doesn’t hit that agent nearly the same way as having him listen to a recording from a post-contact survey and hearing the customer say, “The agent I spoke to made me want to learn a deadly martial art.”

Where agents may occasionally feel a supervisor’s or QA analyst’s take on their performance is subjective or biased, there’s no way an agent can argue with the “Voice of the Customer” – unless, of course, the agent really is a total sociopath, in which case he should be transferred immediately to a job in IT.

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