Friday, June 27, 2014

Four Elements of Good Customer Service

A few years ago, I was asked to zoom in on some of the elements of good customer service for a brief talk at a meeting of service professionals. In preparing the slide deck, I came to focus on four things I believe are the keys to everything else, and I often refer to them as "Roy's Famous Four" because others have picked up on them and repeated them elsewhere. There are many other elements that you might focus on, but for me, you don't get really good service without these, each of which builds on the prior one.

Listening: Whether a customer is calling you or sending email or chat messages, you need to be paying attention to what they are saying and the way they are saying it. Whenever I've "jumped the gun" and started to offer a solution without actively listening to the customer, I've gotten it wrong. Really paying attention and thinking about what the customer is saying--and how they are saying it--can give you a wealth of information about the customer's context, the urgency of the issue, and other factors that might very well figure into the correct solution to assist your customer toward the best outcome. As Covey says, "Seek first to understand..."

Empathy: Every call for assistance, technical or otherwise, has at least two components: One is the stated reason for the contact (question, difficulty, complaint, suggestion, praise, exchange, return, etc.); the other is the emotional state of the customer. There's an example I've seen in more than one customer service textbook about a woman who rushes into a hospital and excitedly asks where her sister is. Without that first component, listening, we're not sure whether the sister has been seriously injured in a car accident, or whether she is giving birth to a child. Once we've determined which it is, we can empathize, either to share the deep concern or the joy of the new child, and act appropriately.

Clarity: Once we understand the circumstances and the emotional components, we have come to the point where we have gained some insight into the issue. At this point, it's a really good idea to confirm with the customer that you do have a grasp of why they are contacting you by asking something like, "If I understand you correctly, you're calling because..." and then restate the issue, question, or complaint. (Don't forget to practice active listening when the customer responds. You may pick up details you missed.) 

As you begin to provide the customer with a solution, clarity is extremely important. Here are some quick tips:
  • Don't speak in jargon.
  • Don't use internal language--that is, language your company uses, but that the customer normally would not.
  • Don't talk down to the customer, but assess what level of information they are comfortable with.
  • Confirm that the customer understands what you are telling them.
  • Don't wander off track; stick with the customer conversation.
  • Don't ask the customer to "bite off more than they can chew." Keep it concise.
Consistency: Not every customer should be treated exactly the same way, but the level of service and the information you provide should be consistent. This requires that a body of knowledge be developed and shared so that the entire team is giving responses that match up and serve to solve the problem.

Note: Scripts, in my opinion, are death to customer service, especially if your representatives are unable to deviate from them. Customers see right through scripts, and often get the impression that the representative has no understanding of the issue, and doesn't have the authority to solve the problem. Provide guidance, good shared knowledge, and training, not scripts.

There you have them, in very short form: Listening, Empathy, Clarity and Consistency. The four corners of the customer service foundation.

Give it some thought.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Abandoned Surveys: Look At the Where to Get At the Why

Customers abandon surveys for many reasons. Chief among these are that the survey is too long and/or that it doesn't ask relevant questions.

As an illustration of the first case, I often tell the story of staying for one night in a hotel and getting a 142-question survey (yes, really) the next day. Of course I abandoned it after the first five questions, when I advanced to the next page and the progress bar barely moved.
As for the second case, people are likely to abandon a survey that is not asking questions which are relevant to them as customers, or which seem likely to be attempting to blame the customer service rep for the original problem--or at least for not having the power to fix it.

Call centers track abandoned calls and make note of how long people were on hold before they hung up. That's useful information, because it can help drive staffing levels and efficiencies if the call center management is paying attention. But what about surveys? Are you tracking the "drop off" points and making some sense of them?

As an example: If 45% of survey takers drop the survey after filling out the questions on page one and advancing to page two, you probably shouldn't have a page two--your survey is too long. If 25% of survey takers drop after answering the third consecutive question about the customer service rep (Was the rep professional? Was the rep knowledgeable? Was the rep courteous?), they are getting the impression that you are conducting an HR survey, not a customer survey. Customers are not there to solve your personnel problems. If a rep is being rude to customers, you should already know that, unless you hired them ten minutes ago.

Some quick, simple rules for your survey:
  • Keep it short - 5 questions maximum, fewer if possible
  • Keep it relevant - Ask questions about whether the problem was resolved and how the customer feels, not about details of the transaction
  • Leave room for comments - Open text fields require analysis, but can give you vital information about the customer experience and your products or services
Whether you use a customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey or a Net Promoter® (NPS®) survey or a customer effort score (CES) or something else, you are trying to determine a very small number of things:
  1. Why did they contact you? (If they report that product failed and 80% of your contacts are similar, no amount of great service will help. Fix the product.)
  2. How do they feel about your organization? (Key question, whether you are after satisfaction, delight, or "Wow!" reactions)
  3. What do they want to tell you? (Open comments)
Comments, or "verbatims" as they are often called, can give you terrific insights into what your customers expect and how they might respond if things were changed, even slightly.

If you are going to survey, get it right.

Give it some thought--and leave a comment. 

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Measuring for Success: The "Science of Metrics" Tour


science of metrics logo

We've all heard it: "You can't manage what you don't measure."* But what do you measure? How? How often? To whom do you report the numbers? How often should you review these measures to make sure you're measuring the right things?

I'll tackle one of the questions in Boston on May 30th when I present Why You Need a Metrics Review as part of the "Science of Metrics" program, representing HDI's New England and Northern New England local chapters. Building on recent HDI research and thought leadership in the support industry, this presentation shows why many of the measurements used today are not as relevant anymore, why support centers need to shift from quantitative to qualitative metrics, and how important it is to understand and integrate with the strategic priorities of the business or institution. The business environment has changed; your metrics need to change, too.

Come join me and renowned service management thinkers Malcolm Fry, David Ratcliffe and others. It's only $25 to register, and who knows how much it will save your organization?

*Although often incorrectly attributed to Peter Drucker, this is from W. Edwards Deming 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Metric Is Not the Goal

Yesterday at the supermarket, I received the card shown at the left along with my receipt. Christa was doing her job, making sure that customers knew that there was a survey and an associated contest. Many businesses run contests or offer other incentives to increase their survey response rates. It's not a great practice, but it's not uncommon, either. So far, not optimal, but acceptable. The problem begins with the words, "If you were HIGHLY satisfied with your experience today..." which implies that if I wasn't highly satisfied, I shouldn't bother completing their survey.

The goal here is clearly not to gather useful information about the store, the brand, the merchandise or the service. The goal is clearly not improvement. The goal for Shaw's is to have a high score. They've made the metric their goal.

The metric is not the goal: The metric is there to help you measure your progress toward your goal.

The goal shouldn't be to get a higher score. The goal should be to improve.

Shaw's does have an ongoing problem that was clearly evident in my shopping experience yesterday: They consistently run out of sale items early in the sale. My stop yesterday was prompted by a phone call from my spouse, who said, "If you're passing by Shaw's, they have X, Y and Z on sale today and tomorrow." I did get X, and Y, but they were out of Z, in every flavor and type. It's a three day sale, and I stopped in on day two

For the record, my first "real" job back in high school and college was in a high volume supermarket chain, where I started as a bagger, became a cashier and then went on to the customer service desk and later became a department manager. I know the difficulties of predicting demand for sale items, and I can forgive the occasional miss. In this case, I was surprised Shaw's had X and Y because they are so often out of sale items.

So, I decided to go online to the survey link for two reasons: a) Because I wasn't going to give them a 10, and b) Because I had something to say - stock more sale items.

But I did not complete the survey. Not because I knew that Shaw's isn't interested, but because they immediately wanted to make it about the checkout and the cashier, not about the complete experience of shopping at Shaw's. Not about any improvements I might suggest. Not about the quality of their brand products.

Shaw's, your customers can give you very valuable information. They can tell you about problems you may have overlooked, for one thing. But more than that, they can help you improve your products and services, and in doing that, win more customers in the bargain.

Are you listening, Shaw's? Well, no, you aren't; you're busy checking your score.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"That's OK. I Don't Need Customers"

Each year, my best friend and I spend a couple of days together. We catch up on what's new, remember what's old, and usually do something golf related. This year, we decided to try  golf simulation place located at a country club not too far from where we were staying. We drove to the club. arriving a little after noon.

We were welcomed and offered food, since it was their open house weekend. We asked where the simulator was, and were directed to a building next door to the club's restaurant.

I had brought my clubs along for the occasion, expecting to spend an hour or two hitting balls onto virtual fairways and greens. We could hear golf balls being hit.  A gentleman appeared behind the counter, and we asked for some time on the simulator.

"No, I'm closing up as soon as these people are done."
"Really? We drove here just to use the simulator. It's $32 an hour, right?"
"Yes, but I'm done for today."

So the man who runs this operation wouldn't stay open for an hour to make two customers he did not know (perhaps we'd be future regulars) happy. In fact he accomplished the opposite, making me feel rather odd as I trundled my clubs back out across the parking lot.

Do you think this operation will be in business next year? I don't.

Give it some thought.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Customer Disservice Playbook

Many of us in the customer service community write--again and again--about the things that help customers and make them feel great about their interactions with your business. If we compiled all these things, they'd be in a "Customer Service Playbook." This morning, I read an account on Facebook (i.e., from someone I know personally) that tells me there also seems to be a playbook of all the opposite behaviors, and some businesses seem determined to follow it. The account follows, stripped of personal information and the name of the institution. (Why? Because this type of behavior is not limited to them, and also because I don't want to give them the publicity.)

Here's the story:
_

I needed to order new checks. Normally, it takes 1 minute. Go to the check company website. Enter routing number, account number, next check number. Click. Done.
Today, the website gave me a the message, "We can not help you. Contact your financial institution. Same with [the check company when I called] the phone number. 


So, I call [my bank].
 

First, all I can get is automated info about my account balance, etc. Finally, desperate to talk to a human (pressing 0 didn't work), I claimed to have lost a card. That person told me I had the wrong department (I know!) but connected me to the right one. Finally, after a cumulative half hour on the phone, I got to the right person.

Was it as simple as giving him my account number and next check number? No, no, no. He asked for: 

  • My name
  • My Social Security number
  • My wife's name
  • Her Social Security number
  • Our address
  • Who I received direct deposits from
  • The amount. Same for [my wife]
  • The expiration date of my ATM card
  • My driver's license number(!)
 
All to ensure security so they can send one stinking box of checks to the address on record.
 

In the end, I learned that they changed check companies. He gave me the website. 

Why he didn't just do this at the START of our long, intimate conversation, I can only guess.
_
Now, as many of my readers know, I am very concerned with security, and so I see the value in properly identifying customers before making any changes or exchanging personal financial information. This, however is an exercise in stupidity. 

Here are some of the elements in the "Customer Disservice Playbook" illustrated in the story:

  • Poor communication - My friend wasn't aware that he needed to contact a new company, and there was nothing on the old check company site saying, "If you're a [financial institution] customer, please see this page on their site." On that page would be a link to the new company. (You can't, after all, expect the check company to advertise their competition.)
  • Bad phone tree - Give people a real option to speak with a human if they wish. My friend had to lie (lost card) to get attention. 
  • Inappropriate security practice - Good grief! My friend wasn't trying to empty the account and have the balance sent to the Cayman Islands! What should have happened was quick identification by the calling number, or a good identifier like the usual mother's maiden name or secret question, then the news that the check company had changed, and not only speaking the link to their site, but an offer to get the check company on the phone or at least get a helpful customer service number to call as an option.
  • Bad guidance or scripting for the customer service reps - few simple questions would have uncovered the reason for the call, and sent my friend on his way to the check company website where he would have to properly identify the accounts and address anyway.
Making it difficult for your customers means that they will jump to another institution as soon as they can. 


Give it some thought.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Making Customers Wait May Drive Them to Your Competition


While today's customers demand a choice of contact channels, studies have shown that self-service is very effective for the simplest of customer issues or requests, but that complexity drives channel choice.* Customers want to speak with a human about more complex questions or problems.

But what happens when customers do call about a complex issue may not be helping your brand's perception with your customers. In fact, it may be damaging your credibility and possibly even driving your customers to the competition.

Why?

Two things happen:
  1. Customers have to wait in lengthy customer service queues
  2. Customers have to repeat information they've already given
Imagine calling your friend Pat to ask a question about this week's PTA meeting, and being told to hold on for a few minutes while Pat's phone repeats how important your call is... then when Pat gets back on the line, you have to identify yourself and your reason for calling all over again. Annoying? You bet. And yet so many brands do this to customers all the time.

According to a study conducted in September, 2013 by Virtual Hold Technology, 64% of customers will hang up after waiting on hold for 5 minutes, and a whopping 91% will hang up after 10.  So, why do companies make us wait and then (96% of survey respondents said) have to repeat information? [Infographic]

The alternative would seem to be to increase staffing to a level they cannot afford, they say. Well, that probably isn't true. Information capture technologies exist that can integrate with self-service (and other channels) to provide call-backs in the place of long hold times, and will capture the relevant information so that customers do not have to repeat it.

If you can stop needless hold time, bring together information from multiple channels, and end the annoyance of repetition for your customers, why wouldn't you? After all, 90% of the consumers in the VHT study said that a positive customer experience will increase their loyalty.

What do you think? Would getting a call back instead of waiting in a queue make you feel better about your own customer interactions with a particular brand?

Give it some thought.

*See the American Express 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer (PDF)