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Is Your Customer Service World Class?

Posted on : 19-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service


Over the past several months I have done a lot of soul searching of where I am headed.  I have had a unique time over the past few years and it does cause me to wonder where I am going.  Each week I have had the opportunity to guide many companies regarding Customer Service and social media.  This week alone I will have conversations with representatives from around the world, including places like Russia, Canada, England, and, of course, the US.  Besides these 1 on 1 opportunities, I do speak at a number of Customer Service events, including the Call Center Summit next week in Orlando.  I will also be part of the Social Media Today webinar, “The Future of Customer Service is Here” with Brent Leary, Michael Chui, and Mark Yolton.  I am so privileged to have the opportunity to guide so many well respected companies.  One of the decisions I have made is that my career will be guided by Customer Service over social media.  To me, social media is a part of a Customer Service strategy, but there are many components to becoming world class.  It is now my goal to not only change the views of companies regarding social media, but in the process to change the level of Customer Service all companies provide.  If you are looking to create a world class Customer Service organization, here are some thoughts to help you along the way.

The first key step is how close is the leadership team to the Customer?  There are many ways to accomplish this.  You could establish a C-Suite level position of Chief Customer Officer, something I am a strong advocate of, but there is much more to it.   How effective is your leadership team at listening to the Customer and employees of all levels?  This is an area many companies pride themselves on, but truthfully much of what they hear is smoke and mirrors, I have seen it for a long time.  A few years back I worked at a credit card bank, and the CEO was getting much more involved in the overall Customer experience.  He would have weekly meetings with many leaders of the organization, and one of the goals was to listen to calls.  My boss at the time would have us listen to 100’s of calls looking for the perfect call to share.  This of course sent the message that all was well.  I have seen it numerous times, not just with calls, but in many times data too.  People like to share the good work they are doing, especially when they have the opportunity to connect with the most senior leaders of the company.  Of course this message tends to back fire as it creates a false sense of security for the leaders, and they do not know the impact their decisions have on the Customer.  While at that Company change came fast and furious once we started to share the reality.  If you ever hear me talk about sharing the Customer story, well the reason behind my strong opinion on this does not come from social media, but rather what we accomplished at my prior company.

Social media is helping to flatten the organization, and that is very helpful for keeping leaders connected, but has your company embraced internal uses of social media?  One of the keys of being a world class Customer Service organization is providing employees that are connected directly with the Customer access to share what they are hearing with the right decision makers.  Some companies have referred to this as a voice of the Customer process, but ultimately it is providing employees the empowerment to share what is working, what is not, and the needs of their Customer.  Of course it is not just providing this information, but it is really the actions of the leadership team regarding this data source.  It has to be part of the overall thinking of the organization.

The biggest opportunity is the way Customer Service agents are measured.  So many people believe productivity means average handle time or talk time.  How would you feel if someone was behind you with a stop watch all day?  I bet I would find some inefficiencies, of course you would really begin to hate your job too.  I know many in the service world have this unsubstantiated fear that removing this as a measurement would lead to higher costs.  I have found the opposite to be true.  When we experimented at the bank we found handle time went up 20 seconds for 2 months, then returned to normal.  At the same time Customer and employee satisfaction increased dramatically and repeat calls went down significantly.  This tends to have cost benefits.  It is important to remember that a Customer does not like being on a call longer than necessary.  Another typical measurement is call quality, some arbitrary person saying how bad you are at your job.  While I was at the bank I worked for the VP as the manager of quality and Customer satisfaction.  I tend to know a little about this area.  First who is the best person to measure handle time or quality?  The fact is that person is not in your call center, but rather the person calling.  The Customer does not want a long call, they just want to be helped.  They also know if the person met their needs or not.  I am a big supporter of Customer surveys to rate performance.  I do not believe it should be done immediately following the call because it is possible the Customer may not know if the situation is resolved, but within a day or two it can be perfect.  Email makes this very feasible and a great way to follow up with the Customer.  I am still a fan of listening to calls, but it is not about a score, but rather grading the organization or the center.  For the agent, listening can be focused on behaviors and helping the supervisor better coach to help the agent improve.  Other measurements that do make sense are schedule adherence, because it is important to have staff available when a Customer calls.  Finally measuring repeat calls is a strong financial measurement that also has dramatic impact on Customer satisfaction.

You will notice I did not mention sales.  I think sales are important, but only when you actually resolved the reason for the call and when the sale makes sense in an effort to meet the Customers needs.  I think this can easily be done with financial incentives with the caveat and coaching to make the first priority resolving the reason for the call.  I also did not get into outsourcing, which is a topic that can be very divisive.  There are times that outsourcing makes complete business sense, but the key is to treat them in the same manner your own staff.  They need to have similar measurements and the capabilities to share the voice of the Customers they interact with.

For those that say companies need to change their culture and create a great experience through all contact channels, I want you to know I agree.  Together, we are going to change the Customer Service world and help many companies create world class experiences for their Customers.  I am looking forward to that day!