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Building Customer Loyalty and Trust Through Timely Follow-Up

TooLateMany companies spend a majority of their time and budgets on chasing business instead of taking care of the customers they already have.

Are you focused on offering the most innovative products and services to your customers? Do you have creative marketing and brand awareness activities for your business in hopes that customers will respond positively and stay?

All of your marketing and product development efforts are wasted if your customers don’t trust you to do what you say you’re going to do.

Following through with customer requests and timely follow-up are great ways to build trust and this trust is a big part of customer loyalty.

Our call center sales and service employees have the opportunity to build trust everyday. Unfortunately, some don’t understand the importance of something as simple as following up when you say you will.

Do these sound familiar?

  • A bank CSR promised a call back by 4pm and instead left for the day without calling the customer and letting him know that his major problem was still being researched. The customer found this out when he called later that day and no one else there knew what he was talking about.
  • A technology representative was asked to submit a proposal in 5 days and agreed to do so. Unfortunately the proposal wasn’t received until 7 days later with no apology or follow-up by the rep.

Our agents aren’t the only ones breaking trust through poor follow-up. The processes we have in place to communicate when customers contact us for help can be responsible for this as well.

  • A customer called a local retail store where they had purchased an expensive product that developed major problems after a few months of use. The service rep at the store was very helpful and explained how to submit the claim. A week after submitting she called to check if it was received since there was no contact from the claims center. The rep said yes but the receipt for purchase was missing. No one had told the customer to send this. No one called or emailed to request it.

If we don’t follow-up with customers when we say we will or we ignore them when we learn there is a problem, we are saying, “You are only important to us when you buy or when things are going smoothly.”

What are you doing to insure that your representatives across all channels are providing timely and professional follow-up?

What processes have you put in place that help build trust?

It all comes down to making customers feel valued AFTER the sale, not only when they are prospects.


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

Using Callback Technology To Improve Customer Experience

j0309612

In a recent article, Craig Borowski, the Managing Editor and research analyst for call center software at Software Advice, examined how companies can use callback technology to reduce wait times and increase customer satisfaction. I asked Craig to share his findings here to help us be more successful using callback technology.


Software Advice recently conducted a survey related to customer wait times and customer experience. What are some of the survey findings, Craig?

Craig: It’s no secret that customers dislike waiting on hold. Hiring more agents to reduce waiting time is rarely a cost-effective solution and can cause scheduling dilemmas. Having enough agents when call volume is at its peak usually means paying for many agents to sit idle when volume is low.

Our first survey question asked respondents which they’d prefer if they called a company and all agents were busy: waiting on hold, or receiving a call back?

 The majority—63 percent—preferred callback.

 

What else did your survey find out about customers and wait times?

Craig: A clear majority expect their call to be returned within 30 minutes but a surprising result is that over one-quarter of respondents said it does not matter how soon their call is returned. It seems plausible that this is due to the fact that so many people now carry cell phones with them wherever they go, making the timing of the return call less important.

 

What’s the number one thing a business should consider when implementing callback technology?

Craig: First and foremost, a business needs to look carefully at how well it’s handling its existing call volume. If average wait times, or peak volume wait times, are exceeding four or five minutes, then a strong argument can be made in favor of implementing callback. The data supporting this is very clear as the chart below shows.

Consumers prefer the option of getting a callback versus waiting even 6 minutes on the phone and a high percentage “always prefer a callback” regardless of wait times.

                       Time Customers Will Hold Before Preferring Callback

softwareadvicechart

(source: software advice survey results article)

 On the other hand, we have seen cases where businesses choose to implement callback even when their average and peak wait times are quite low. Take, for example, a business with many higher value clients. Now suppose its phone line has an average wait time of 2 minutes and a peak wait time of 5. But once every few weeks, calls stack up and wait times can exceed ten minutes. Rather than accept these longer wait times as inevitable, or try to address them with some scheduling acrobatics, the company is smart to offer callback and reduce the small but real chance of alienating one of their high-value clients.

 

What are some features customers want to see when using callback technology?

Craig: More than anything, customers want information. They want to know how long they’ll be waiting on hold and they want to be told this as early as possible in the call. Given this, estimated wait times should be announced as early as possible in the IVR queue.

 Customers also want to be reassured that by using callback, they won’t be losing their place in line.

 

Thanks for sharing your results with my readers, Craig!

…The bottom line here is that it’s clear that most customers do prefer callback. And, surprisingly, they prefer it to waiting even just a few minutes on the phone. Given the variety of ways it can be implemented into an existing phone system, or implemented with a new system, it seems a smart way for businesses to improve their telephony platform and save, time, money and their customers’ patience.

 

For more information on callback technology you can read the full report from Software Advice here: 3 Ways to Offer Callback


About my Guest:  CraigBorowski

Craig Borowski graduated from Colby College in 1997 with a degree in East Asian Studies. He moved to Taipei, Taiwan soon after to begin a career in journalism, publishing and translation. Craig relocated to Austin, Texas in 2008 and was director of marketing for the U.S. office of Tunze GmbH before joining Software Advice in 2013.

 

Using Real-Time Agent Monitoring to Motivate

congrats In the early day of call centers, the outsource company I worked for as a supervisor, and later as a manager, was paper driven. Every day we had reps calling to make sales from pieces of paper that they marked as a sale, no answer, no sale, or other codes we devised. These were collected and counted daily and filed away if callbacks were warranted.

Since we weren’t tech savvy, there weren’t any computers for reps or supervisors, and two supervisors shared one desk at the front of a classroom-style phone room. Each supervisor was responsible for driving sales and keeping the team happy. I was lucky to have a great supervisor who shared team duties with me and he also shared his leadership wisdom.

Our live agent monitoring was silent in terms of muting the call on our end but not invisible to the agents. Since our monitoring phone was on the solitary supervisor desk in the front and no cubicles were in the room, it was often the case that a supervisor would pick up the receiver (no headsets), press the monitoring button and look right at the rep being monitored.

It was a challenge making this “in your face” type of monitoring a beneficial and positive time for our reps, but we soon found that the ability to hear live calls was our chance to immediately reward the reps who showed great skills with customers and also those who were making the effort to improve.

We were able to walk over to the reps when we did hear them excel on a call and publicly thank them in front of their peers. The big smile on their face was our reward. And, when we heard someone having a bad calling day, i.e. no sales being made, we would walk over and tell them we knew how hard they were trying and we appreciated their efforts. We would sit with them and make calls as they listened, coaching in real-time instead of waiting for a formal session later.

In our busy, metrics-driven environments, we may miss the opportunity to use live monitoring to motivate and encourage.

Many front line leaders spent far too much time in their cubicles instead of walking the center and simply making the agents feel valued.

I love the agent monitoring tools we have today. The recordings are time savers and the advanced technology available to enhance quality coaching is exciting and beneficial for customer experience. There are equally advanced systems for tracking results and offering incentives to reward agent success.

But sometimes, it’s the simple things that our agents would like from us. Monitor live, walk to their desk and tell them, “I just heard your last call. Thank you for creating a great experience for that customer.”


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

Guest Post: Is Contact Center Turnover Cause For Celebration?

Jeremywatkin2My Guest Post author today is Jeremy Watkin, Director of AWESOME Customer Service at Phone.com  I met Jeremy on Twitter in the active contact center and customer service community there and was impressed with his enthusiastic approach to service excellence and leadership.  I’ve asked Jeremy to share with us his thoughts on contact center turnover.


Regardless of the size of your contact center, turnover hurts. But in the small contact center where the sense of community is strong and turnover rates are low, it really hurts. We are getting the most from every agent so when an agent gives their two weeks notice or gets promoted to another department, it’s not likely that we’ll be ready with a suitable replacement in time—leaving a void in our customer service operation. Furthermore, we’ve invested a lot of sweat equity in their development, only to see them leave the team or even the company.

Before I go any further, I want to identify the two types of turnover we typically encounter.

Bad turnover is when employees are fired, laid off or simply leave for a number of other negative reasons.

The turnover I want to talk about today is the good turnover. Allow me to break down the two types of good turnover in our contact centers:

The Internal Promotion- In these cases, the agent has proven that they are first and foremost a fit for the culture of the organization and secondly, that their skillset can be an asset to another part of the business. Depending on their abilities, they might move into marketing, engineering or perhaps an area of management.

The External Promotion- In these cases, the right opportunity within the organization didn’t exist and the employee went out and landed a job with a marked increase in both responsibility and compensation.

 Regardless of the type of good turnover you face, it presents a challenge for the contact center leader and can cause a great deal of stress. I’m here to tell you that any response other than celebration in the face of good turnover is selfishness!

Before you check out completely, hear me out. I’m fresh off a situation where one of our most productive agents left for another company where he landed a marketing job that doubled his salary. He would have been foolish not to take the job and we were in no position to match the offer. While we didn’t promote him to a marketing position, we did allow him opportunities to gain experience with key skills required in his new position– making the jump possible.

As contact center leaders we should always aim to celebrate in the success of our employees.

How do you get to a place of happiness you ask?  Here are three actions that should be a part of your leadership style in the contact center:

1. Understand the strengths of your employees- Great leaders gain clear understanding of the unique strengths that each employee possesses. By understanding their strengths, you can then put them in positions to succeed.

2. Set goals with your employees- Is answering call after call, day after day, year after year really a goal? Maybe for some it us, but many people are using customer service as a stepping-stone to their ultimate career. We need to understand that and support them in achieving their goals.

3. Seek opportunities for your employees- In our contact centers we’re always aware of the ever-present need to get the calls answered and it is a challenge to give any agent time away from the phones. Whether it’s involving an employee in a meeting, brainstorming session or project that takes them off the phones, don’t underestimate the benefit of giving your employees a broad range of experiences.

At the end of the day, great leaders put their people in the best possible position to succeed given their unique skills and abilities. If you’ve successfully done this, good turnover will be cause for celebration and an opportunity to lead their replacement toward their ultimate career goals!

 


Jeremy Watkin is the Director of AWESOME Customer Service at Phone.com and co-founder of CommunicateBetterBlog.com, a blog dedicated to learning about good and bad customer service with the intent of providing awesome customer service for Phone.com. Follow Jeremy on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Building Customer Loyalty and Trust Through Timely Follow-Up

gettingagreementMany companies spend a majority of their time and budgets on chasing business instead of taking care of the customers they already have.

Are you focused on offering the most innovative products and services to your customers? Do you have creative marketing and brand awareness activities for your business in hopes that customers will respond positively and stay?

All of your marketing and product development efforts are wasted if your customers don’t trust you to do what you say you’re going to do.

Following through with customer requests and timely follow-up are great ways to build trust and this trust is a big part of customer loyalty.

Our call center sales and service employees have the opportunity to build trust everyday. Unfortunately, some don’t understand the importance of something as simple as following up when you say you will.

Do these sound familiar?

  • A bank CSR promised a call back by 4pm and instead left for the day without calling the customer and letting him know that his major problem was still being researched. The customer found this out when he called later that day and no one else there knew what he was talking about.
  • A technology representative was asked to submit a proposal in 5 days and agreed to do so. Unfortunately the proposal wasn’t received until 7 days later with no apology or follow-up by the rep.

 

Our agents aren’t the only ones breaking trust through poor follow-up. The processes we have in place to communicate when customers contact us for help can be responsible for this as well.

  • A customer called a local retail store where they had purchased an expensive product that developed major problems after a few months of use. The service rep at the store was very helpful and explained how to submit the claim. A week after submitting she called to check if it was received since there was no contact from the claims center. The rep said yes but the receipt for purchase was missing. No one had told the customer to send this. No one called or emailed to request it.

If we don’t follow-up with customers when we say we will or we ignore them when we learn there is a problem, we are saying, “You are only important to us when you buy or when things are going smoothly.”

 

What are you doing to insure that your representatives across all channels are providing timely and professional follow-up? What processes have you put in place that help build trust?

It all comes down to making customers feel valued AFTER the sale, not only when they are prospects.


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

Recruiting for Agent Coaching Success Across Channels

InterviewResumeRegardless of the channels we’re hiring for, some principles remain the same. I firmly believe that these two points are necessary for providing the best customer experience:

  1. We need to recruit agents who are open to change, willing to learn and committed to offering great service.
  2. Agent coaching only works if all parties (agent, supervisor and coach) are engaged.

We must hire the best and most coachable agents and future agent coaching leaders who will learn the skills needed to work with our customers and prospects across channels. Here are four pointers to keep in mind as you recruit coachable agents:

Be careful that you don’t become the company’s “orphans” drop-off spot

Oddly enough, some contact center managers still seem to be encouraged and even forced by the C-suite to hire company employees who aren’t suited for a contact center role.

Often these are long-time employees who may be doing a poor job in another department or perhaps not getting along with co-workers. Some are up to the challenge of joining your center; however, some are just taking the seat while they look for something else or wait to retire.

They may have years of company experience and know your products inside and out, but if they have been working outside the customer world, how will they feel about daily contact with often not-so-nice callers? Will they be able to multi-task calls and emails as your center might require or handle social interactions? Do they really want this opportunity and are willing to be coached and trained on something new and very different from their past jobs?

Make sure new hires are screened for the right coaching attitude for your customer channels

The most coachable agents are those who are open to feedback, willing to learn and flexible. There’s lots of debate regarding the benefits of hiring primarily for attitude or for skills, but in my experience, poor attitude often isn’t coachable. Decide which channel skills are absolutely needed upfront and what you are willing to train, but be clear about what is the right personality to engage with your customers.

An agent has to be able and willing to learn and improve. And their coach has to make the right approach to motivate and reward even the smallest improvements to gain their trust and make agents feel appreciated for their efforts.

Blend candidate testing with good old-fashioned eye to eye contact (and over the phone) discussions.

Ask open questions and sit back and listen. The more they talk, the more you learn about what they really think, much as we do when we listen to our customers.

Review email/chat skills versus resume skills

Candidates have access to lots of books and information online telling them how to design the perfect resume or they pay to have someone else write if for them. Written tests for spelling and accuracy only go so far. Be sure to exchange emails with a candidate as part of your screening process. Does a positive and friendly personality come through? Remember that accurate information delivered in a curt, canned manner doesn’t make for a “customer delight” moment.

Always remember, our customers are judging channel interactions based on agent interest in their issue and getting the answers or help they need.

Recruit for coachable agents who have the right attitude and really want to be a part of your center and create great service experiences. Hire agents who want to learn how to be the best they can be and your customers will love you for it.


 

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

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.

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