By Greg Levin, March 4, 2014 at 9:38 am
Customers today can hate you in a wide assortment of channels.
That may not be the most positive and optimistic statement, but in today’s always-on omni-channel customer care environment, it’s something contact center managers and company execs need to understand – and fend against.
One of the best ways to ensure that your customers don’t hate you in any channel is to formally measure and actively manage customer sentiment across all channels.
Plenty of centers today handle most if not all of the following: customer calls, emails, chats, self-service transactions and social media contacts. Relatively few, however, have a C-Sat measurement initiative in place that takes all those channels into careful account. Sure, many may have a formal post-call survey process in place to measure customer satisfaction via the phone channel, but ask those centers if they have a similar process in place for the other contact channels they handle, and you’ll likely get a lot of “Not per se” and “We’re working on it” responses.
How can a multi-channel contact center truly succeed if it only consistently measures how customers in one channel feel about the service and support they receive? Quick answer: It can’t.
Multi-channel C-Sat Measurement & Management
Top centers today have a comprehensive C-Sat measurement process in place that enables the organization to capture and quickly act on customer ratings and direct feedback following every type of interaction, regardless of the channel chosen. The best multi-channel C-Sat initiatives include the following:
1) Short and concise (6-8 questions) post-contact surveys conducted immediately or (very soon after) a customer interaction occurs. In leading centers, the survey method used depends on the channel through which the customer interaction took place:
- For phone calls, either an automated phone survey is conducted via IVR, or a live phone survey is conducted via a third party person.
- For text-based interactions (i.e., chat, email and social media contacts), the survey is sent to the customer via email, or via a link at the end of the interaction.
- For phone self-service interactions (IVR), an automated survey is conducted via the IVR; for web self-service interactions, the survey is sent via email or a web form that pops up following the interaction.
Regardless of channel or survey method used, the best C-Sat surveys ask the customer to rate their overall service experience, the agent’s knowledge and courtesy/professionalism, and include a “resolution” question to confirm whether or not the reason for the customer’s call/contact was fully taken care of. In addition, effective surveys give the customer an opportunity to provide open-ended comments to elaborate on their ratings.
2) The use of interaction analytics to detect possible defectors. While multi-channel post-contact surveying is key in gauging customer satisfaction, world-class contact centers don’t stop there. They delve even deeper using interaction analytics solutions that can evaluate both voice- and text-based customer interactions and alert managers whenever it appears a customer is dissatisfied. The power of interaction analytics tools is that they’re “always on.” They can detect and help the center “recover” angry/frustrated customers who opted not to complete a post-contact survey and who thus may have otherwise slipped through the C-Sat cracks – and the company’s hands.
3) Social media monitoring. Customer care organizations can learn a lot about how well they actually are caring for customers by keeping close tabs on “social feedback.” Customers today often take to Twitter and Facebook (and blogs and YouTube and…) to express dissatisfaction with – as well as positive praise for – companies with whom they’ve recently interacted. A recent survey conducted by Dimensional Research and sponsored by ZenDesk found that 45% of customers who suffered a bad interaction and 30% of customers who had a good experience shared their experience on social media.
Smart contact centers have a person or team in charge of monitoring the social landscape and capturing what customers (and potential customers) are saying about the organization, sharing that feedback with key members of the enterprise, and, when called for, taking action to turn a negative customer experience into a positive and memorable one. The most progressive organizations have set up their own social communities where customers can interact with one another (and the company) and whose comments, suggestions and feedback prove invaluable in helping the multi-channel contact center to continuously improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The Impact of C-Sat on E-Sat
Much is said about the impact that happy and engaged employees have on customer satisfaction; well, it works both ways. Just think about how your agents feel after interacting with a happy customer versus how they feel after interacting with one who’s out for blood. If agents are forced to interact mostly with the latter type of customer, those agents aren’t going to like coming to work and may soon decide to not show up at all.
By carefully evaluating and acting on C-Sat data and other forms of customer feedback across all contact channels, companies have a much better chance of keeping customers happy and engaged, and happy and engaged customers don’t yell at agents or insult them and their families, which makes agents happy and engaged, which, in turn, drives customer happiness and engagement even higher.
And the positive – profitable – cycle continues.
By Matt McConnell, February 27, 2014 at 9:23 am
In an effort to provide better customer service, contact centers have added more channels of communication. But how do channels like e-mail, chat, Twitter and Facebook impact the agent?
Ultimately, it’s a balancing act, says Jim Rembach, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Customer Relationship Metrics, an award-winning contact center managed analytics services company.
Jim tells us, “When you look at the ability of human beings and what we can handle, multi-tasking isn’t always possible. Studies have shown the brain ends up inefficiently switching focus from one activity to another. When you have all of these channels, you increase the likelihood of poor performance from your agents.”
Over the past few decades, organizations have gone back and forth between segmentation and universal agents. When too much is put on agents’ plates, the degradation of the customer experience begins and the roles are often separated again to turn around poor agent performance.
“There’s a lot of back and forth,” said Jim. “We’re riding the wave of universal vs. dedicated agents – it’s a balance.”
So, what is the best way to handle this challenge? One way, Jim says, is through technology. While technology exists to help agents more efficiently multi-task, it is important to remember that agents are not machines. The best run centers use technology to augment and support their agents’ ability to serve customers by automating processes.
“We often lose sight of the overall employee experience and what the agent actually can do to deliver a good customer experience,” said Jim. “There are several elements at play including desktop and application integration, even how breaks are scheduled, for example. When an agent handles more complex customer interactions, studies have shown they may need to take a (shorter) break more often.”
The type of customer interaction isn’t the only thing that affects agent performance and the ability to handle multiple channels, Jim says. Some factors are physiological and can’t be overcome.
“Women, for example, are more physiologically equipped to multi-task than men. We joke about it, but there is science behind it – it’s just the way we are made,” Jim explained. “So when you start thinking about this in the context of the contact center environment, there will be gender-based performance differences when attempting to create universal agents.”
Despite these differences in agents – and the multiple channels they serve – quality must be monitored across all channels to ensure a consistent overall customer experience.
“If we don’t measure the quality of all our channels, customers can get stuck. They won’t call because the knowledge base is outdated and the agent doesn’t have the correct information, or they stop using social channels because the response time is too slow or supported by unskilled agents,” said Jim. “When this happens, companies begin losing control, customers start complaining, and the herd grows. Ask yourself: are you generating volume in one channel because of poor service in another?”
The goal is to create a multi-channel contact center that is good for both the customer and the agent – and ultimately, good for the enterprise.
As Jim says, “If everyone doesn’t win, we all lose. If the customer loses, that speaks for itself. If the agent loses, it leads to low morale, burnout and turnover – and the same is true for supervisors and call center leaders. If they are high performers, they will go somewhere else and you’ll be left with just warm bodies.”
Jim Rembach is a twenty-year contact center veteran, SVP for Customer Relationship Metrics and Principal for Beyond Morale. “…His past experience in operations builds the credibility that follows.” Jim is a Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, Certified Contact Center Auditor, and is a CX Expert panel member for the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). He is the author of nine books, introducing leading insights into contact center quality, analytics, surveys, employee engagement, customer experience, and leadership development. Jim helps his clients develop the fearless pursuit to engage customers and employees. You can connect with Jim via LinkedIn or Twitter.
By Vicki Herrell, February 25, 2014 at 11:42 am
But what is the answer? Unfortunately, it’s not crystal clear what is best. It seems like the trend towards universal agents in a multi-channel contact center has swung back and forth over the past few years. For a while, it was all the rage – let’s teach everyone to answer every call, and then we’ll need less staff overall.
Well, that didn’t quite work – we found out that not every agent is good at every type of call. For example, agents that were fabulous with customer service calls were maybe not so fabulous at sales calls. And vice versa.
But today, with a huge emphasis on the multi-channel contact center, we are again trying to have our agents work many different types of contacts. Before we get back on this path, it might be helpful to look at some of the pros and cons of universal agents in your multi-channel contact center.
- Optimal leverage of economies of scale
- Simpler forecasting and scheduling model
- Greater agent flexibility
- Improved First Call Resolution
- Reduced transfers
- Agents may take longer on some calls
- ALL skills must be kept current
- Turnover can be higher
- Training time is longer for new hires
- Existing staff may not have aptitude for all calls
- No career path for agents
So as you look at this issue, weigh these pros and cons and look at your current agents – are you all ready to try it again?
By Flavio Martins, February 20, 2014 at 9:28 am
“Do unto others” is a good principal to follow when it comes to dealing with people in general, though it may come off bit like an over-generalization when it comes to creating a positive customer experience. For this reason we’re going to go over the key points of importance regarding how customer service agents should go about handling clients, in order to establish maximum efficiency, customer satisfaction, and client retention.
1. Listen Carefully
Customers either come to your business or call your hotline. If you’re providing a service that fixes a problem, then the fact that the customer is contacting you means they most likely have one. People aren’t typically happy when they have problems, but a customer service agent must keep their cool and hear the customer out completely. They’d do well to also confirm what the customer is requesting to show that they’re paying attention.
2. Express Interest
We’ve gone over why people don’t like dealing with machines and automated systems – they’re mechanical and don’t express any sincere interest in their problems. This is where the human factor resides. Showing legitimate interest for a client’s concerns contributes heavily to customer retention, because people want to do business with people they like.
Part of showing interest also means keeping communication with the client open. Even if a customer service agent has no real progress to report, simply reminding the customer that their problem is being worked on and is a concern to your business is a powerful relationship building gesture.
Even as customers come to your business with complaints, you and your staff need to empathize with their problems. Founding a business on anything but empathy and a desire to provide people with an effective solution for their problem is a recipe for long-term backsliding. Remember, this is a game of trust and relationship building, and empathy quickly builds both.
Ensure that your employees are delivering the maximum benefit to your clients, going the extra mile to ensure complete customer satisfaction. Your clients aren’t used to being treated so well by other businesses, so do everything you can to give them a truly remarkable customer service experience.
4. Achieve Complete Clarity
If a customer service employee isn’t sure what the customer’s issue is, they should always ask questions to pinpoint the problem. Businesses of all sorts suffer financial loss and customer relationship strain by not delivering what the customer requested. In the auto industry, the wrong tires on a car might be replaced, and in pizza delivery, the wrong order might be taken, or delivery address could be miswritten.
Employees should be trained to double-check the client’s request. It’s common for fast-food industries to read back a customer’s order to ensure accuracy, and it’s a practice that should be adopted for all client interactions for all types of business.
5. Follow Up
Do you know why most customers fail to return to a business? Because they feel the business is indifferent to them as an individual. So if you’ve designed your business to deliver a wonderful customer service experience, the best way to “seal the deal” with your customer to ensure maximum retention rate and customer satisfaction is to follow up with them.
You can give your customers a form that requests feedback on how they thought your employees performed and how your services were delivered. You can have a marketing employee send out letters of thanks and coupons for discounts on their next visit, which further incentivizes the customer’s return. All of it comes down to providing a positive customer experience, and if you can do that, you’ll keep them coming back indefinitely.
It’s tempting to be passive and reactive when monitoring for quality. We plug into phones, look at emails sent, listen to recordings, review chat texts and assess the skills of the agents, followed by coaching. Extremely important to do of course, but are we missing other things equally important?
If we are focused primarily on agents’ skills, we may find it easy to overlook the opportunity to view customer experience through various channels.
Surveys and other customer feedback tools are helpful, but some customers don’t or won’t give the feedback requested using our structured VOC processes. Some are in a hurry to get off the phone. Emailed feedback requests may end up in spam boxes or simply deleted. Responses to our feedback requests may come mainly from the angry customers who rate our service extremely low, or the ones we’ve delighted who give us high fives.
Many customers tell the agent, via phone, chat, email or on social media, exactly what they are feeling and thinking during their immediate “moments of truth” with us. They may offer suggestions for product improvements and how to make our processes easier for them. Such valuable information often goes unnoticed. This type of customer feedback goes well beyond a closed “press 1 through 5” survey and even if we are providing a comment “box” for customers to fill-in they may not remember something specific to share after the interaction is done.
So, how should we be listening for customer experience opportunities? By focusing on both agent skills and what the customer is saying, as well as by asking agents to note customer comments and input that is helpful to improving our service and processes.
These are some examples of customer comments I’ve heard when monitoring:
- Process improvements on Calls
“I had to press several buttons before I could get to a live agent. None of the choices fit what I needed to do.”
- Skill improvements on Chat
“The other person I’ve chatted with didn’t answer my questions. They took too long to respond so I just ended the chat and opened up a new one.”
- Product improvements in Email
“This (product) would be so much easier to use if it had (______). I’d buy more of them and so would my friends.”
- Self-Service comments on Calls
“I looked this information up on your website but I couldn’t find the answer”
By actively monitoring, looking and listening to what our customers are saying or writing across our multi-channel interactions, we will gain more insight into how our customers really feel about our processes, people and technology and what we can do to improve their experience with us.
We need to actively listen to our customers and then take the actions needed to make improvements that will make our customers, agents and business successful.
By Matt McConnell, February 17, 2014 at 9:15 am
You need to make sure that your customer’s end-to-end journey, their customer experience, is seamless as they move from one stage of their buyer’s journey to the next. So how can you do this?
In order to do this successfully, it’s really helpful to understand your customer ecosystem. And as we heard on a recent webinar with Forrester Research, Inc. (“No More Lip Service: Customer Experience in the Age of the Customer”), the customer experience ecosystem should be viewed as a framework.
Kerry Bodine, Principal Analyst for Customer Experience Management at Forrester Research, Inc., shared an analogy about how the ecosystem in Zion National Park has undergone a really profound change that was totally unforeseen. It’s as poignant an example of the classic “butterfly effect” as I can imagine, a pretty sad story that may resonate with many of you who are faced with dwindling customer segments.
It seems that there are far fewer butterflies today in Zion National Park than there used to be, and scientists have figured out the reason. The Zion National Park had an influx of tourists, and while the Parks Services folks were elated to have more visitors, the foot traffic scared off some of the wildlife. Not the butterflies as you might initially guess. The higher foot traffic initially scared off many of the area’s cougars, who might look ferocious but are actually quite timid. So the cougars retreated from the areas of the park where all the tourists were hanging out. As a result, the deer population increased dramatically. The deer are admittedly super cute and also super hungry. Without their natural predators keeping a check on their feeding habits, they became nearly unstoppable in their quest. That meant that fewer trees were reaching adult maturity and the soil lost its primary source of protection from erosion. The eroding soil made it difficult for the wildflowers to take root and bloom. With fewer wildflowers in the park, the butterflies had little to eat, and so they left.
Zion National Park had a complex ecosystem that experienced an unforeseen chain of events involving tourists, cougars, deer, cottonwood trees, stream banks, wildflowers and butterflies. This chain caused a perfectly healthy and sustainable ecosystem to deteriorate. It took scientist decades to figure out what had caused the butterflies to leave, and that’s because a natural ecosystem comprises complex interdependent relationships that change over time, much like your customer experience ecosystem.
Your customer experience ecosystem is made up of a network of connections between your organization, employees, partners and customers that determines the quality of all customer interactions. You may not know, or may not have known until now, that you are in a customer experience ecosystem.
Kerry went on to remind us that short-term fixes aren’t the way to go, like releasing a drove of new butterflies into the national park and expecting them to thrive even though other conditions in the ecosystem had not changed. To create sustainable, viable customer service improvements, you need to understand and learn how to take control of – and nurture — your customer experience ecosystem.
The important thing to remember is that at each step of the journey there are hundreds of individual touch points through which your employees and your partners are interacting with your customers. Kerry advocates a services design blueprint that identifies these touch points and the requirements for each, and then lays out specific ways to positively influence the activities under each of those touch points. This blueprint helps us see how these touch points are interconnected and create a better sense of flow throughout the customer journey.
It’s critical that you enable your frontline workforce to keep pace and adjust to business conditions in real-time, intraday fashion, to keep from being caught flat-footed. If and when they are, their performance is impacted, customer service suffers and your customer experience ecosphere is affected. That’s why you must unify the experience for your customers. You need to make sure that it is seamless as they move from one stage to the next.
Click the link to view the on-demand webinar, No More Lip Service: Customer Experience in the Age of the Customer, featuring Kerry Bodine of Forrester Research, Inc.
By James Barrett, February 13, 2014 at 10:20 am
Regulatory compliance is always top-of-mind for financial services organizations and critical for sustainable business. Non-compliance and a lack of knowledge of the latest rules and procedures can result in penalties and increased scrutiny by regulators, but these issues also can have a dramatic negative influence on customer satisfaction and the ability to attract and keep your customer base. Customer agents in financial services contact centers are put in an especially precarious position of providing a superior customer experience on a minute-by-minute basis while staying current with the information they provide.
Speed and accuracy are in constant flux in the financial services contact center. Training and communication are a must, but these centers face the dilemma of balancing shrinkage with service, and traditional ways of dealing with the issue can lead to increased labor costs required to meet the demands. Add to that the constant of internal audits and compliance, and the balance is even more tricky.
These institutions are constantly working to improve the customer experience while meeting operational requirements, juggling direct customer interactions with back office tasks and training. Statistics show that more than one-quarter of customers who contact service centers are dissatisfied because their issues were unresolved, often because the service rep didn’t have all the facts they needed or were not adequately prepared to address the concern at hand. Customers are even more dissatisfied by long wait times often brought on by shrinkage and high call volumes without adequate staffing.
Organizations are ill-equipped to manage these problems when they rely on outdated task and workforce management tools that silo agent training, coaching and offline operational needs. Frequently, well-meaning financial services organizations don’t take the time to look at their processes and procedures for how they balance customer service with how they prepare their agents to handle direct interactions.
That’s why Intradiem developed a 2-minute assessment geared specifically for the customer service centers of financial organizations. This 11-point checklist gets these orgs focused on how they plan and manage these tasks, including how to best utilize idle down time and channel balancing requirements so that these agents can react in real-time to at-hand interruptions and continue to meet compliance requirements. Use this assessment to ask yourself about your contact center operations:
- How do you adjust staffing to deal with business disruptions, such as increased call volume and foot traffic, and enable multi-channel service delivery?
- How do you make agents and associates aware of compliance communications and know when they read the alerts?
- How do you enable agents to complete compliance training and back office tasks without impacting service staffing or requiring additional staffing budget?
Our case study with Homeward Residential illustrates how Intradiem helped the mortgage services provider get a better handle on their compliance needs while maintaining service levels and staffing budget. Intradiem enables Homeward to balance agent training and show regulators that agents are prepared and able to deliver both compliance and a great customer experience.
By Scotty, February 10, 2014 at 5:09 pm
Not too long ago, the only way to engage with customers was by phone, mail or in person. But today, when it comes to customer service, it’s a whole new game.
Technology, smart phones and social media have not only dramatically changed customer service – they have also changed customers’ expectations. Today’s customers expect their issues to be handled fast, on the first try, and in their preferred channel of communication.
Is your center prepared for this next generation of customer engagement?
Join us for a 30-minute interactive webinar on Wednesday, February 26, featuring guest speaker Richard Snow from Ventana Research. In this Q&A format, Snow will share recent benchmark data showing how companies are improving their customer engagement processes and discuss best practices from some of the companies that are really excelling in this area.
Webinar attendees will learn more about:
- Benchmark statistics showing the maturity of customer engagement processes
- Collaboration tools that drive improvements
- Metrics that keep engagement programs on track
- Technologies to leverage to help manage multiple channels
- A free contact center assessment
Save your seat for our webinar.
By Scotty, February 6, 2014 at 8:30 am
Frontline organizations pride themselves on keeping their employees busy. However, according to a recent Intradiem survey, 11% of the agent’s day is still spent idle. On average, this equates to 45 minutes per agent, per shift. Learn how to make the most of this idle time to increase agent performance…
By Greg Levin, February 4, 2014 at 7:48 am
Look over at that workstation! It’s a customer service agent handling emails… no, it’s a sales agent handling calls … no, it’s a tech-support agent handling chats… no, wait – it’s…it’s…it’s…SUPER agent!
Super agents (a.k.a., universal agents) are the stuff of contact center myth and legend. They’re faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to handle all customer issues – via any channel – in a single contact. Super agents are what contact center managers and supervisors dream about, what they wish for before blowing out birthday candles.
But myths and legends don’t resolve customer issues and foster brand advocacy. Dreams and wishes aren’t sufficient for driving success in today’s multichannel, multifunctional contact center. What’s needed are actual super agents.
The trouble is, actual super agents may not actually exist. But don’t let that stop you from trying to obtain them.
The pursuit of super agents is a journey – not a destination. Don’t expect to quickly assemble a team of agents who can proficiently handle all contact types (service, sales, tech support, etc.), master all contact channels, and who can effectively toggle back and forth between inbound and outbound. But DO create a culture that focuses on maximizing the potential of every agent – a culture that helps and inspires each employee to come as close to the super agent ideal as possible. Here’s how:
Look for super agent potential when hiring. As already mentioned, you’re not likely to find candidates who will hit the ground running as super agents, but there’s a lot you can do to ensure you attract and acquire super candidates who’ll likely thrive in your multichannel center. Effective recruiting/hiring tactics include:
• E-cruiting. Online recruiting not only reaches more candidates than traditional recruiting does, it also increases the chances of finding candidates who are web savvy and who, thus, are likely to know a thing or two about email, chat and social media interactions. Effective e-cruiting tactics include posting compelling “super agent” job ads on third-party career websites (e.g., CareerBuilder, Monster, Simply Hired, Indeed) and on social media sites – namely LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
• Employee referrals. Nobody knows the multichannel agent position and what it takes to excel in it better than your existing (and hopefully super or near-super) agents, so be sure to encourage them to continuously refer talent – and incentivize them for their valuable recruiting assistance.
• Multichannel applicant assessments. Attracting promising applicants is only half the battle; you still need to assess each candidate to see if they indeed have what it takes to perhaps someday don a super agent cape. There are a number of good assessment solutions available that can enhance hiring success for multichannel, multi-functional contact centers. Such solutions test each candidate’s soft skills, sales skills, technical skills, writing and typing skills, multitasking skills, and phone voice. Most also include a personality and work habits assessment to help ensure that seemingly talented candidates aren’t complete sociopaths.
Provide super training. A super hiring program isn’t enough – your center must have training programs aimed at developing new and existing staff into diversely skilled service (and sales and support) gurus.
A strong training program for today’s multi-everything contact center includes things like:
• An overview of the various contact channels and contact types the center handles, including the use of recordings/transcripts of ideally handled contacts that show agents what optimum interactions look (and sound) like.
• Instruction on how to naturally and non-invasively transition from service/support to sales – showing agents that selling, when done right, is not diametrically opposed to service/support but rather an important component of it.
• A clear explanation of the key performance metrics (e.g., Service Level, Response Time, Contact Quality, First-Contact Resolution, C-Sat, Sales Conversion Rate) the center measures to ensure efficiency, stellar customer experiences and optimum revenue generation.
• The style and tone of writing the company prefers when handling text-based (email, chat and social) contacts, as well the appropriate use of text templates to enhance response speed, accuracy and consistency without coming off as scripted/impersonal.
• Comprehensive instruction on the center’s various desktop tools & applications (e.g., knowledge bases, screen pops, web collaboration tools, etc.) and how to use the resources provided to elevate service, sales and support.
The best training programs incorporate a diverse range of training methods to enhance learning and keep agents engaged. Such methods include role-plays and simulated customer interactions, e-learning (great for quick learning “bites” during idle periods), transition training (a.k.a. “nesting” – handling new contact types in a controlled and heavily supervised environment), and peer mentoring (which can be very effective for cross-training agents on new skills and channels).
Empower and engage top talent so they stick around long enough to get close to the super-agent ideal. What’s the point of developing super agents or near-super agents if they leave the contact center soon after they’ve become highly valuable and diversely skilled resources?
The best contact centers work hard to keep top talent highly engaged and in place for years by unleashing them to work on special projects, lead task forces, and serve as mentors and subject matter experts. Empowering star agents to share their expertise in such ways not only helps to retain them, it raises the skill and performance levels of the peers with whom they work and interact, thus providing the center with a whole slew of healthy “baby” super agents.
Warning: If you somehow manage to find/develop any true super agents – reps who can proficiently serve, sell and support via phone, email, chat and social (and effortlessly toggle between inbound and outbound) – be sure to keep it a secret. Otherwise you risk having those agents scooped up by scientists and taken to a lab for intense study, or to a museum that houses customer service rarities and treasures.