Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Interview: Customer Service in the Digital Age

Last week, I spoke with Real Business about the State of Customer Service in the Digital Age. There's little doubt that mobility, social media/social business, and "always on" access to a world of information have changed the customer experience in general and customer service in particular.Among the questions Real Business asked:
  • How has the conversation around best practices changed?
  • What are the areas that still need to be improved?
  • Has the tech age changed the ways customers want to be engaged?
  • It what ways is new technology going to shape customer service in this decade?
  • How will innovation such as virtual agents factor in?
Read the entire interview here.

Then, give it some thought.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Some Thoughts on Labor Day

"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country." - US Department of Labor

Today, Labor Day--like many other American holidays--has become a big day for special promotions and sales in many industries, especially retail. Retail workers, as we know, are often part-time, and usually are at or close to the minimum wage.

I cannot help but think of the irony that this holiday is now taking a holiday away from those it was intended to celebrate. 

Say an extra thank you to those who are staffing the checkouts or handing over the ice cream cones, or taking your tickets at the county fair today.

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.