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Give Your Agents Time To Know Their Customers

j0309612When I started working in a call center back in the communication dark ages, we just had phones, desks and lots of paper to count calls and sales made each day. Our agents had little to support their efforts and what they did have for interactions was also paper driven. Customer files were tucked away in desk drawers, to be pulled out only when absolutely necessary.

Today, we have highly advanced technology to power phones and data in our centers, and we also have wonderful tools to help our agents be successful not only on their calls, but across multiple communication channels.

 The tools we provide our agents for customer interactions are only as good as the agents using them.

Their ability to engage with the customer is a major key to their successfully creating a great experience and lasting impression. Helping agents to be more proactive in knowing and engaging with their customer is a daily challenge.

Sometimes it’s the seemingly small things that can have a big impact.

 

Updating and confirming customer information

In the rush to meet metrics focused on speedy response and high volume call handling, agents are often missing the chance to check customer data on file to verify and confirm what is on record.

While sitting with agents during customer interactions, I’ve seen missing phone numbers, blank spaces where emails could be entered, and other missing or sometimes “old” data that fails to be updated with the customer. When I ask why, the agent will often tell me that they need to keep the calls brief and that information takes too long to check. Some will even add that they are only focused on what they are trained to do, or get monitored and scored for, so they don’t bother doing anything extra.

We need to coach agents to use data verification as a way to engage and show appreciation. One simple but often missed opportunity for the agent is to check how long the customer has been with us and say thanks.

 

Don’t assume anything about your customer

During recent coaching with an agent, the calls we listened to were all polite and professional, but the agent never asked questions. I asked the agent why they didn’t ask the customer any questions regarding their needs. The agent replied, “Well, they called and told me what they wanted. Why should I ask?”

Once we discussed the benefits of finding out more about the customer and making sure that she was proactively assisting rather than just reacting to something the customer said (and may not really understand fully), the agent said she realized the was missing the opportunity to connect with the caller. The agent also felt asking and confirming would open the door for cross-selling too.

 

Engage with your customer

Our customers are telling us that they want appreciation and to have personal recognition during interactions with agents. Some agents are losing this personal touch and sound like robots. Even their emails are cut and pasted forms that offer nothing personal to customers.

Too many agents are focused mainly on the process of the call, and are often coached and trained more on that than on the soft skills needed to show we value the customer’s continued business.

This happens too frequently during phone orders, where opportunities to interact are often provided by the customers themselves.

I recently monitored an agent whose customer commented about the dress she was buying, “Oh I just love this color blue”.   There was silence except for the agent’s nails clicking on the keyboard. The agent finally spoke, saying, “You should receive this in 4 to 5 business days.”

The customer’s voice tone lacked enthusiasm as she replied, “OK…thanks” and ended the call.

ENCOURAGE your agents to interact and engage with customer to create a personal touch. Coach them to use customer data, questions and comments to make the customer feel important and valued. It doesn’t take a lot of time on a call to create a positive impression or a negative one.


My article first appeared on the MindTouch blog.

Guest Post: How To Recognize a Leader

GenYgroupMy Guest Post today is from Doug Sandler, also known as “Mr. Nice Guy”.  He is a keynote speaker, blogger and a true customer service advocate.  I first met Doug on Twitter where I enjoyed reading and sharing his enthusiastic and positive posts about sales, service and leadership .  I’ve asked Doug to discuss leadership today and some of the myths and misunderstandings about what it takes to be a successful leader.

 

Leadership comes in many shapes and sizes but one thing is certain; people are not given a position of leadership. Management might award a position of authority but don’t misinterpret leadership and authority. A position of authority can be given to you but you will need to earn leadership. Leaders have worked on the front line, they have done the heavy lifting and they understand the workload, the pressures and the key elements necessary to effectively carry out the job. They are masters at building relationships, trust and teams. They are quick to provide praise and genuine when showing gratitude.

Since leadership is earned and authority is assigned, there can be some confusion as to what creates a leader and what gives him his leadership abilities. Here are some common myths about leaders:

 

People are born leaders – Not true. Most leaders have failed their way to success again and again. They are masters at trial and error. Actually, the most effective leaders have lots and lots of battle scars. They have tons of great stories and are relatable to those they lead. They not only talk the talk, they have walked the walk their followers are walking and have no problem sharing their experiences. If you want to hear the how they got into their leadership position, just ask, they will be happy to tell you exactly how many irate, screaming customers, mistake shipments and problem service calls they have dealt with. But they will also share the magic that was created with many more positive customer experiences too.

 

Leaders are fearless – False. Most leaders have their pants scared off again and again.

What often will separate a leader from anyone else is their ability to work in the face of fear.

Leaders have lots of empathy for others that have fears as well. Leaders excel at their ability to work towards a solution, getting past their fears, as opposed to having their fears stop them in their tracks.

 

Leadership is about power – Wrong. As a matter of fact, a good leader learns how to give up power and delegate power in the right situations for the greater good of the team. In order to accomplish a task, project or goal, leaders need the help of a team. A leader must be good at developing relationships with those they lead. Power is replaced by guidance and a good leader shows the way.

 

Leaders are full of personality – Not always. Certainly, leaders have to be good communicators, have a clear vision and understand what their weaknesses are. Sometimes leaders that have overbearing personalities are a liability to a team instead of an asset because often times the focus will come away from the purpose of the group and focus squarely on the leader because of their personality.

 

There is only one type of leader – Not true, leaders come in a variety of packages and styles. The mark of a great leader is one that can lead a group of many personality types as well. Again, the key to being an effective leader across a huge range of personality types is to be an effective communicator.

 

Additionally, one fact remains true concerning leaders. True leaders show gratitude and understand the concept of honest appreciation and heartfelt praise. Leaders know the difference between “thank you” and “I appreciate you.”

 

Leaders understand that nothing can be accomplished without support from others. Genuine gratitude and appreciation motivates others to want to pitch in and do a good job. We all want to be appreciated and it’s proven, once we receive genuine appreciation, we will work harder to accomplish a task, project or responsibility.

 

Think about the connection you have with people you like the most. They are probably the people that appreciate you the most, show gratitude for a job well done, and sincerely regard your relationship and your efforts. And isn’t someone like that worth following?


 

High Res DJ Doug Headshot-2
Doug Sandler, aka Mr. Nice Guy, created his “Nice Guys Finish First” program in an environment where too often people accept average as the norm when it comes to customer service. His philosophy has always been to set HUGE expectations and EXCEED them. Doug is a speaker, author and blogger specializing in exceeding service expectations and he can prove to you why nice guys (and girls) finish first. Doug shares his message with customer service departments and salespeople all over the country.

You can reach Doug at: Website  LinkedIn Twitter

 

Actively Listening for Customer Feedback Across Channels

ListeningtoCustomer

Customers are sharing “moments of truth” everyday with our Agents

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 only 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.


This article first appeared on Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

Multi-Skills in the Multi-Channel Era

goingcrazyWith the continued growth of multichannel service options for our customers, our agents face many challenges that weren’t planned for when they were initially hired for their service roles. Recent studies show that our millennial employees are able to juggle tasks and skills more easily than our older employees and Gen Y are more likely to become bored with repetitive work and tasks so they enjoy the work variety.

We can certainly recruit for new agents with multiple channel skills going forward, but how will our established, longtime center agents handle these new skill demands? Many may be able to transition to the new skills needed.

Unfortunately, some of your agents, regardless of their age or center experience, may not be completely successful in meeting the challenges of today’s constantly changing communications environment.

I’ve seen some excellent phone agents of all ages who also have very poor writing skills. There are other agents who are very proficient at written communications but are clearly uncomfortable during calls and struggle with verbalizing empathy phrases.  Still others may love fast-paced social media interactions, but cringe at the thought of solving a problem face to face with a customer in a retail service location that their company may rotate agents through.

Given the range of skills and abilities in your center now, you will need to decide how multi-channels will be staffed to be most effective for your customer needs, your business goals, and to help your best agents continue to be successful and feel engaged.

These questions are a good place to start:

  • Does every agent need to be proficient on all customer channels or just focused on the one they are most successful doing?
  • Would a core group of successful “multi-taskers,” combined with a few agent channel specialists who handle only one channel, make sense for my center?
  • What is the best way to train and support my longtime agents in the multichannel settings?
  • How can I involve my agents in transitioning our center to improved multi-channel experiences for customers?
  • How are workforce management and intraday management tools able to make sure my staffing, agent skills and customer experience needs are best met?

Multi-channel, multi-skills and multi-tasking will continue to drive our customer communications. Make these work for you by assessing your own center needs, the skills of your people, and designing the strategy for successfully implementing and growing these opportunities for great customer experiences.

What brings success for other centers may not necessarily be the right approach for your business.


This article first appeared on Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

Guest Post: Is Outsourcing The Best Choice For Me?

lightbulbAhhh!  My first contact center job…I remember it well.  I hint at it here in some of my blog posts but haven’t mentioned the name of the business that took a chance by hiring a young, call center inexperienced but eager girl and gave her a great start in the industry.  The company was DialAmerica,  one of the nation’s largest privately owned dedicated domestic call center services companies.

Today’s Guest Post is by John Redinger, SVP of Sales & Marketing with DialAmerica.  I’ve asked John to share some of his insights on outsourcing including reminders and tips on what to consider when looking at outsourcing to support your company.


The American economy is, decidedly, an outsourced economy. Large, successful businesses often do not have the resources to efficiently handle all functions fully in-house. This system drives innovation, competition and creativity in myriad industries and professions country and worldwide.

The next time you enjoy a terrific Super Bowl ad, or encounter stellar IT, web development or e-commerce – remember, those functions were likely the product of outsourcing.

Outsourcing is a healthy business practice that carries real economic benefits with it. At the same time, I also recognize that it is not the best choice for every business and situation.

So, how (and why) should companies make the decision to outsource a function? Here are a few key concepts to consider:

The nature of your business – and what brings it to a crashing halt

One of the most overlooked factors to consider when exploring outsourcing is where the weak spots are. I have had conversations in recent years with businesses that have experienced a temporary inability to operate due to extreme weather and natural disasters. In the case of call center solutions, having multiple, dispersed contact centers can allow a company to continue functioning even if an unforeseen event affects headquarters. This is particularly important to firms involved in healthcare delivery or transportation. The same principle can apply to other vendor and industry types.

Technology and infrastructure demands

If the U.S. highway system is any indication, maintaining complex infrastructure that delivers functionality throughout is an enormous challenge. Frequently, government entities will outsource some of these functions to specialized contractors to make sure the job is done on-time and on-budget.

Technology and infrastructure in business are no different. There are times when it simply makes more sense to outsource a function that is IT / infrastructure heavy. Contact centers are an example of this, but there are many others – such as workstation support and certain supply chain elements.

Cost

Companies exploring outsourcing should always consider the cost – and especially maintenance cost – of an in-house solution versus an outsourced one. No firm should make the decision to outsource for short-term gains on the balance sheet. They must answer the question: In the long-term, will an outsourced solution be more efficient and cost effective?

Do your due diligence internally and have a potential outsourced partner make its case in this area.

Brand is everything

This sounds cliché, but it really is true. If outsourcing is completely antithetical to your brand, it doesn’t work out well for anyone involved, including the outsourced partner.

However, businesses can be too cautious and hang on to brand and industry stereotypes rather than facts and performance-based evidence.

For example, despite one of the more common complaints about outsourcing that a client had – that people do not like being exposed to different regional dialects during service interactions – that same client’s customers actually started asking for my firm’s “nice, Southern agents.”

Quality, quality, quality

Ask your prospective outsourcing partner these questions regarding service quality:

  1. Can the prospective partner effectively and proactively measure its success in the context of client business results?
  2. What are their hiring and HR practices, and how do they ensure their employees are capable across the board?
  3. How long has the partner been doing what they’re doing / what is the tenure of the managers you’re negotiating with?
  4. How up-to-date are their practices and technology, and can they keep pace in the long term?

When outsourcing, quality is everything.

If it is the right decision, make sure you are engaging a partner that can synchronize with your brand, your management philosophy, your fiscal priorities and provide consistent, quality service.


JOHN Approved_8132_ret_01John Redinger is SVP of Sales & Marketing at DialAmerica. He leads DialAmerica’s new business development team and is the creative force behind DialAmerica’s marketing campaigns.

Previously, he managed numerous DialAmerica sales offices and was responsible for developing and leading DialAmerica’s Consumer Communications Division. He is a member of the Professional Association of Customer Engagement and the Direct Marketing Association.

Founded in 1957, DialAmerica is one of the nation’s largest privately owned dedicated domestic call center services companies. More than 5000 DialAmerica employees work for a diverse portfolio of clients, making millions of calls each year on their behalf. Twitter: @DialAmerica

Stop Talking…Start Walking The Behaviors You Want From Agents

comunicationhornsSome people talk a lot. Some not so much. I’ve seen research that says the number of words spoken by a person ranges from 6,000 to 10,000 words per day.

As Contact Center leaders we are probably keeping pace with the high side of this speech range. We are communicating frequently with our agents, supervisors, support staff, co-workers, customers and the C-suite.

I love to watch how the front line leaders and managers interact and communicate with their agents and support staff. As I continue to work in the center, I occasionally observe center leaders demonstrating many of the bad habits that they tell me their agents are displaying.

 

There is a lot of, “do as I say, not as I do” happening.

As leaders we should be heavily focused on coaching and mentoring with our staff. This does not mean that coaching only happens in a closed-door session or during side-by-side training. It means that by our very behaviors and attitudes in our every day activities, we are shaping the behaviors and attitudes of our teams. They are watching and learning constantly from us and from others around them.

Here are a few of the opportunities we have to inspire our agents:

How do you enter the center? Smiling or complaining about how tired you are and how you wish you were at home.

How do you handle a difficult caller? Mocking the caller, bad mouthing the customers or demonstrating the importance of every customer, even the ones that aren’t so nice.

Do you talk about importance of wait times and just yell “call in queue” when you notice a backup? Or do you roll up your sleeves and help by answering a few of those calls and thank the agents for their hard work?

Do you talk about how important coaching is and then think of every excuse to NOT do it or set a time to coach and then cancel repeatedly on agents needing help?

Do you talk to your supervisors about how important it is to have well-trained agents and then never spend the time or money to allow it to happen?

Do you talk about the importance of team-work for customer success and then bad mouth the other teams or departments in your company in front of agents or customers?

Are you talking to your team about how focused you are on engaging employees and improving attrition and the next day remove a bonus for an agent for a minor error that was easily fixed?

Do you talk about the popcorn parties and fun things you will do to make agents happy and never ask THEM what really DOES make them happy and interested in staying on the job?

Help your team to learn the best behaviors and customer first philosophy by living and demonstrating those behaviors everyday!

 

♦ This article first appeared on Intradiem’s Blog where I’m featured as one of their Call Center Experts.

Guest Post: Amazing Service Begins With Engaged Leaders

bizmeetingcollage Today’s Guest Post is by Sean Hawkins, Manager of Technical Support and Support Engineering at iContact. Sean and I met through Social Media and he and his team interviewed me for their Call Center Weekly blog last year.  From our conversations, I know that Sean is passionate about leadership’s role in driving customer satisfaction and agent engagement.  I’ve asked him to share some of his tips here today.


 

Providing service to customers is not as hard as some make it seem. It does take diligence and lots of effort to do it exceptionally well. In its simplest form, it is about treating customers with courtesy and respect. Unfortunately, in the business world we often lose sight of that.

When doing business leads to unsatisfied customers, it is time to reevaluate how business is done. Companies are competing for the same customer, and if all things are equal, customer service is usually a deciding factor for the consumer.

How can you as a contact center leader help your agents to be successful in providing “amazing” service above and beyond?

Review Processes
Exceptional service allows agents to offer immediate solutions without getting bogged down in processes or policy. This leads to happy, loyal customers. In turn, your contact center will see an improvement with CSAT. Removing barriers that prevent exceptional customer service will lead to a more engaged service center. I make it practice of regularly reviewing processes, policies and procedures impacting our customers and agents. As business needs change, policies should be reviewed and updated if necessary.

Agent feedback
I’ve never met an agent who enjoys denying customer requests. On the contrary, they have a desire to satisfy them. Team members have often requested that they be allowed to offer a good will credit to customers. This request was due to their willingness go beyond good service to amazing service.

They knew that random acts of kindness made customers happy.

What I learned is it empowered them and made them feel a part of the decision-making process. Upon implementation, we were able to see how this directly impacted customer and agent satisfaction.

Manager Buy-in
I’ve always treated my team as customers. In my opinion, showing them what great service looks like is more impactful than telling them. When they see it alive in you, they will emulate it amongst one another and customers. Leadership must be committed to improving and should regularly attend training, seminars and conferences.

Front line supervisors, leads and managers are a great source for ideas. Allowing them freedom to develop CX initiatives will ensure they are customer focused and invested in organizational goals. I recommend that all leadership review customer feedback and CSAT performance as a team. Some of the benefits in doing so is everyone is aware of department/team performance, problems can be identified, and new ideas can be presented to the group.

Below are 4 simple and immediate steps you as a leader can implement on your journey to customer service excellence.

  1. Empower agents- accept feedback, include in decision-making process
  2. Be transparent- honest and effective communication (internally & externally)
  3. Be accessible- provide support in multiple channels, expand support hours
  4. Be attentive- your own active listening allows agents to better assist customer and anticipate future needs

As you can see, these suggestions can be easily implemented, are quick wins, and address some core areas of customer experience. With consistency, effort, and diligence, I’m convinced these steps will set you on the right path and improve your service department.


Sean HawkinsSean Hawkins is a Contact Center manager with over 13 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He’s implemented social service, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

His contact center is a past winner of the ICMI “Global Call Center of the Year” award for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. In addition, he was named one of ICMI’s Top 50 Contact Center Thought Leaders on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanBHawkins and @CallCntrWeekly or join him on  LinkedIn

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