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Storytelling is a Trojan Horse for Customer Experience Learning

By , November 20, 2014 at 9:15 am

storytelling-trojan-horse-customer-experience

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.

Aberdeen Report - Intraday Management

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

By , October 22, 2014 at 9:26 am

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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

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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.

Blog-WB-Rembach-Sept2014

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

By , October 14, 2014 at 9:05 am

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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

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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 http://www.hyken.com.

7 Steps to Healthy WFM Scheduling

By , September 30, 2014 at 9:59 am

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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.

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