By Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D.
The interaction anyone has at any level with your employees, including you, gives a customer an opportunity to make a judgment about you, your company, and all companies like yours. I’m not just talking about call centers here. All technical support or help desk personnel are included as well. As a matter of fact, anyone who is in the customer service business – period.
The preamble to the United States Constitution begins, ‘We, the people…” I feel strongly that we, the people, are what make the difference in life, both personally and professionally. But how does that relate to customer service?
With continued focus on customer satisfaction, customer retention, and lifetime value of the customer, it is no surprise that contact center operations continue to increase in importance as the primary hub of a customer’s experience. For the customer, the person on the other end of the phone is the company. The contact center is still the most common way that customers get in touch with businesses. In fact, Gartner reports 92% of all contact is through the center. And it’s been reported that 70% to 90% of what happens with customers is driven by human nature, having nothing to do with technology. State-of-the-art technology is a necessity today, but it is meant to enable human endeavors, not to disable them.
I often talk about taking customer service and “kicking it up a notch.” In the food industry, the word “lagniappe” is often used. Its definition is “a small present given to a customer with a purchase.” For example, when you go to the bakery and buy a dozen donuts or bagels, you oftentimes get a free one or a baker’s dozen. That’s what customer service should be about: giving the customer more than they expected! Let’s bring lagniappe into the contact center industry.
Customer service is those activities provided by a company’s employees that enhance the ability of a customer to realize the full potential value of a product or service before and after the sale is made, thereby leading to satisfaction and repurchase.
The First W: Why?
The state of customer service today is not good, be it over the phone or self-service. Because 92% of people feel their call experience is important in shaping the image of a company, this reinforces the importance of centers in branding the image of their companies.
According to a Mobius Management Systems Survey, here’s what happened because of poor customer service:
• 60% cancelled accounts with banks
• 36% changed insurance providers
• 40% changed telephone companies
• 35% changed credit card providers
• 37% changed Internet service providers
Are you one of these statistics? I certainly am.
In a study done by Purdue University and BenchmarkPortal.com, in answer to (1) how did agents satisfy your needs and handle the call?, and (2) based on any negative experience, would you stop using this company in the future?, the findings reveal a strong correlation between the participant’s age and the tendency to stop using the company after a bad experience.
What does this mean? Younger participants were less tolerant and more likely to move to the competition. People over 65 were found to be more demanding than those in middle age.
What can you do? Give younger callers a “wow” experience – maintain their loyalty. People over 36 probably have more of an “emotional bank account” with the company they are dealing with – maybe had some good experience and therefore are more willing to forgive.
70% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service – up from 9% last year. But most feel businesses aren’t measuring up. In countries around the world, a majority of consumers are willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent service, with the average amount they are willing to spend ranging from 7% to 22% more.
Average Percentage More Than Consumers Are Willing to Spend
Source: 2011 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer Survey
In a recent study (CRM Magazine/PeopleSoft Webinar on How Usability Helps to Drive a Profitable Contact Center), the number of applications required for agents to access customer inquiries were:
3.7% just 1
81.5% 2 – 5
7.4% 5 – 10
7.4% more than 10
As you can see, the majority of applications are two to five. The goal, of course, is to link every point of contact to one central location for a customer-centric, synchronized approach satisfying customer experiences with every interaction.
Strategies for success for world class service should include:
• Respond promptly
• Handle requests through the customers’ choice of medium
• Be brief and clear
• Reduce back and forth communications (especially in writing, i.e., e-mail; kick it up to a phone call if it goes beyond two messages)
• Personalize the service
• Delight the customer
What does it mean to delight the customer? It means inform and educate them, offer options, and diffuse any anger, if necessary. It also means establishing your expertise and professionalism, and taking ownership of the call.
Remember we’re still on the first W – the Why. Today’s pressures on agents are different than in the past. They are asked to handle more customers, more volume, more complex and/or complicated calls. After all, if we could handle our issues with self-service, we probably would not call. But if we tried self-service and it didn’t work, now we’re upset and it’s an escalated call from the get-go.
Agents are expected to provide more information, do it faster, and be available and accessible. But they are also expected to lower costs, generate revenue, incorporate new technologies, ensure closure and commitment, and deliver great service – yesterday, of course.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has concluded that the causes of death for people under 65 are:
21% – environment – war, accidents, crimes
9% – health care system – doctors, hospitals, medications
17% – human biology – not because of lifestyle
53% – because of the way people choose to live their lives!!!
The good news here is that for more than half of us, it’s about choice. There’s something we can do about it.
Who needs to be involved in the effort to improve customer service? Front-line agents/representatives, supervisors, team leads, managers, assistant managers, internal customers, and other departments – anyone who is a touch point so that he or she can learn to speak the same language, and more importantly, not be in an adversarial position, but rather feels that together they are serving the external customer or end user.
Certainly it is most cost effective to have training on site. However, distractions are rampant and the participant remains available to other personnel and to solve problems.
Offsite is more costly. However, there are no distractions, and the participants are unavailable to other departments, their managers, or any issues. I believe there is psychic value in taking people away from their workstations and off-site to acknowledge the tough jobs they have.
The following modules provide a robust, powerful, and succinct training curriculum:
I also suggest university certification to up the ante. The more professionally you treat your employees, the more professionally they will treat your customers.
For new hires, training should occur monthly, continually, consistently, whenever change occurs, when stressors increase, and as needed. Each employee should get a minimum of 24 hours per year of ongoing training, spread out over time for the most absorption. We divide our trainings into two four-hour sessions per day and deliver six days per employee. Therefore, 30 people can participate in the training per day. If there has been no ongoing training, we do four days once a month for four months and then a session three months later, and then another three months later. In this manner, training is customized, in real time, and can address whatever challenges are presented when they occur.
Remember, as it reminds us in the preamble of` the US Constitution, “We, the people,” make the difference.
Rosanne D’Auslio, Ph.D., is President of Human Technologies Global, Inc. Known as “the practical champion of the human,” she is an industrial psychologist, consultant, master trainer, bestselling author, executive coach, and customer service expert.