This article first appeared on CX Accelerator on January 7, 2019. Click here to read the original post.
I’m not known for being quick on the uptake by those closest to me. A couple prime examples include long division and driving a stick-shift. When my only option was a manual transmission, my parents just sort of cut me loose on the streets of Rancho Cucamonga, California to learn to drive (Yes, I already had my driver’s license but on an automatic transmission).
What followed was a couple solid weeks of stalling that red 1987 Toyota Corolla at every intersection with my two little brothers laughing at me from the back seat. Perhaps out of pity or because I had jostled a headlight loose, my dad finally took me out for a lesson and helped me understand the balance between the clutch and the accelerator. Within fifteen minutes, I knew how to operate a manual transmission without stalling. Without that short lesson, there’s no telling if I would have ever figured it out on my own.
So keep that in mind as I talk about technology for customer experience. I’m slow to grasp new concepts but once I do grasp them I generally understand them very well. That being said, I thought it might be helpful to share what I understand thus far about a couple concepts that are often mentioned in the CX technology space.
Do terms like NLP and Machine Learning mean anything to you? It’s OK if they don’t but chances are you’ve heard a well-meaning salesperson try to sell you on the latest greatest CX tool and they’ve dropped these terms like they’re hot. For the sake of clarity, let’s break these terms down a bit.
Natural Language Processing (NLP)
NLP enables computers to process large amounts of text in any language and understand what’s being said. This is exciting because we communicate with our customers via text whether it’s through inbound support messages, transcribed phone calls, or voice of customer survey responses. The big challenge is parsing through the data to get actionable insight and NLP is foundational to this work.
Let’s look at an example where we see NLP at work in the CX. Imagine you’re on a company’s website and are searching through their knowledge base for an answer to a question before contacting customer service. Traditional searching based on keywords yields results but with far less accuracy. NLP on the other hand understands what you’re searching for and the context around it to provide a more accurate recommendation. This is basically what all of the buzz around IBM Watson has been since beating Ken Jennings on Jeopardy nearly a decade ago.
Now take into consideration chatbots or any sort of automated response to a customer. This is something that’s received a lot of buzz in CX communities over the past few years. The ability to respond to customer inquiries is all predicated on understanding accurately what the customer is saying or asking. This doesn’t happen without NLP.
The second important concept in this mix is Machine Learning. This is the process of training or conditioning machines to respond accurately. The best way to do this is by feeding it data, lots of data.
Here’s an example from the text analytics world. Let’s assume you want to be able to predict if your customers are going to be satisfied with a particular response from customer service. Even better, what if you could give your agents not only the correct answers but the best way to answer ahead of time? You’d want to first build a machine learning model where you feed it thousands of customer interactions and tie those interactions back to success metrics like Net Promoters Score, Customer Satisfaction, or closed sales. Pretty soon, the machine will be able to understand the patterns that lead to success or lack thereof.
Going back to chatbots, you can totally train a bot to automatically respond to customers, and chances are they can do it with more consistency and accuracy than a human. But this first requires a ton of data to build of the confidence level that the bot is accurately answering the question posed by the customer.
The next time you search a knowledge base or interact with a chatbot and it asks you if the answer it provided accurately addressed your question, consider that you might actually be training a machine and helping it gain confidence. Contact center agents might also be assisting in this work every time they apply a canned response or macro to a ticket or a chat.
I recently wrote an article for ICMI with technology upgrades for contact centers to consider in 2019. In that article I cautioned us to not become too enamored with chatbots but to keep our focus on making the agents more efficient. Keep in mind that I live in the contact center world so I tend to spend a lot of time in that little slice of the overall customer experience.
When we look at NLP and machine learning, which are both members of the AI family, it’s important to recognize that, while there’s certainly excitement around automating everything, that also takes a ton of work, time, and data. What you’re more likely to continue to see are applications with these technologies built in that continue to learn and make significant gains in efficiency, slowly automating some of the low hanging fruit in the process.
This is definitely an exciting period where we’re training machines to get better at certain functions. Hopefully this helps you recognize where AI is actually making a difference as you evaluate tools and technologies in the CX marketplace.
This is the AvoCAREdo Show where business leaders are asked to get real about their self-care wins and struggles while they are busy at work. How does stress in the contact center affect your habits? How do you make time during your day to get up out of your desk and go for a walk? Let CX leader, Nate Brown, share his self-care wins and struggles with you in this episode of The AvoCAREdo Show.
AvoCAREdo Show Episode #5 Featuring Nate Brown - YouTube
Nate is the Co-founder of CX Accelerator. While Customer Service is his primary expertise, Nate is able to leverage experience in professional services, marketing, and sales to connect dots and solve the big problems. From authoring and leading a Customer Experience program, to journey mapping, to managing a complex contact center, Nate is always learning new things and sharing with the CX community. Follow him on Twitter using handle @CustomerIsFirst.
In order to take the best care of others, you must first take the best care of yourself. AvoCAREdo combines contact center wellness coach Jenny Dempsey’s love for avocados with her lighthearted personality to deliver a realistic dose of self-care wisdom to motivate YOU while you’re flippin’ busy at work. Because when it comes down to it, supporting support teams and customers starts with YOU. Duh!
This article was originally published on the FCR blog on February 7, 2019. Click here to read the original post.
It’s official. I’ve completely caught the fly fishing bug — an unavoidable consequence given the abundance of fishable water here in Oregon. New in 2019, the state moved to an online system for fishing and hunting licenses which means we can now carry our licenses in an app on our phones rather than toting around a piece of paper.Eager to start fishing as soon as possible, I tried to obtain my license online only to be faced with an error message. It read:
Something has gone wrong. Please call us at 555-1212.
Ugh. It was Saturday and they were only open during the week. After running into the same error at my local Walmart it finally became apparent that my only option was to wait.
I finally placed the call a couple days later and was connected with a customer service representative. Here’s how the conversation went:
Representative: Thank you for calling. How can I help you today?
Me: Hi. Thanks for taking my call. On Saturday I tried to get my fishing license using the new online system and it gave me an error message telling me I need to c… (Rep cuts me off)
Representative: That’s because you probably created a second account when you were signing up and there’s a conflict that needs to be resolved.
The rest of the conversation actually went well and the representative was able to help me get my license. But did you notice how they cut me off before I was done talking? While we’re all guilty of cutting people off on the phone by accident, this one was no accident and there was no apology. I was so annoyed! But before I affix blame, let’s look at the underlying thought processes of both parties in this interaction to see what we can learn.
What the customer was thinking
When the representative asked, “How can I help you today?” my response was to describe the issue as thoroughly as I could. I wanted them to understand that I tried to resolve the issue multiple times online. I wanted to tell them about how I had then driven to Walmart to see if the folks in the sporting goods department knew of a solution.
It was off putting, to say the least, when the representative cut me off a quarter of the way through my story. I had so much to say and I needed to make sure they understood all of the facts. Yes I can be a bit sensitive at times but I was very aware of the sting of annoyance that lingered for the next couple minutes of the call. For the most part, that feeling dissipated by the end of the call and that was aided by the fact that the representative was able to resolve my issue without additional hassle. It very well could have been added fuel to the fire if other aspects of the call were poor.
What the representative was thinking
Now let’s put ourselves in the representative’s shoes for a moment. By asking, “How can I help you today?” they were likely following the guidelines set out for them by their boss for answering the phone. In reality the representative probably would have prefered to ask, “In 100 characters or less, what are you calling about or what’s the error message you received?”
As I began answering the question, the representative likely heard a phrase like “Error Message” and knew exactly what was going on. They knew this because I was already the tenth fisherman to call that day about that issue and it was still only 10:00 am. The representative didn’t need to hear anything else from me in order to solve my problem. It was out of respect for everyone’s time, (by everyone I mean mine, theirs, and the other callers waiting in line) and with little regard for my feelings, that they cut me off and took care of my problem.
What do you make of this situation?
I’ve been on both sides of this conversation more times than I can count. I’ve been that representative who didn’t need to hear another word from the customer in order to solve their issue. I’ve also been the representative who jumped to conclusions too soon, assumed I knew what the customer was talking about when I didn’t, and then took the customer down the wrong path, wasting a ton of time in the process.
As easy as it is to throw the customer service representative under the bus in this situation, the responsibility for this poor encounter is only partially theirs. No, the representative should never cut the customer off, but let’s look at the actions leaders can and should take to ensure this doesn’t happen in their contact center.
Evaluate call scripting. Even in the least scripted contact center environments, there will be some general guideline for how to answer the phone. I would guess that for most, it’s something like, “Hi! Thanks for calling. This is Jeremy. How can I help you today?” It’s important to realize that if you’re going to ask, “How can I help you today?” you’d better be prepared to listen to the full answer. Perhaps there’s a better question that gets to the heart of the matter more quickly.
Improve the customer experience long before the customer calls. There are going to be times when customers have to call support. Sure we could tell the state to fix the bug in their system but sometimes that takes time. It’s probably much easier to edit that vague message on the site to include something like, “When you call, please give the representative this information and they’ll know what to do.” The more descriptive the error message the better.
Empower your agents to focus on the customer – Imagine if the representative I spoke with risked losing their job if the call exceeded three minutes? Or what if they were staring at an endless call queue and feeling the pressure to end the call so they could get to the next one? Those are just a couple of examples where tracking and emphasizing the wrong metrics might have compelled the representative to cut me off.
At the end of the day, it’s still important to coach the representative to never cut the customer off. It’s never OK and they could have at least waited for a better opportunity to begin speaking, and most certainly should have apologized for talking over me. But it’s even more critical for leaders to take a look in the mirror and eliminate unreasonable goals, expectations, and disconnects in the customer journey that prevent representatives from doing their best work.
This article was originally published on the FCR blog on February 1, 2019. Click here to read the original post.
My son and I have birthdays a few days apart in January and I always love observing what various companies do to recognize us on our special days. My son’s information isn’t plastered all over the interwebs yet but I’m sure my birthday is stored in many company CRMs.
This year I couldn’t help but notice that many of the companies I do business with all have a similar marketing automation to send an email to wish me a happy birthday. While I appreciate any effort to wish me a happy birthday, this felt a bit routine and blah. All of the emails blended together with none really standing out.
It was reminiscent of the dozen or so emails I got from sales folks at various companies on January 2 saying, “Hey, it’s been a while since we last spoke. I’d love to connect and hear about your plans for 2019.” If everyone is following the same playbook it’s awfully hard to set ourselves and our customer experience apart from the rest.
I’ve talked about the concept of Lagniappe in the past — a creole word meaning bonus or extra gift. Giving customers a little something extra is a great way to delight them and build loyalty. We should expand this a bit, taking a page from Chip Bell’s book, Kaleidoscope, and be sure we’re adding some extra sparkle and shine while we’re at it. Customer birthdays are a great time to both give a little extra and add a little extra to make your business stand out. Amid all of the routine emails and cards, here are the couple birthday experiences that stood apart from the rest for me this year.
Free cookie at The Muffin Mill
My son chose coffee cake for his birthday dessert. I chuckled a bit at the non-traditional request but the laughter stopped when I tasted the coffee cake from The Muffin Mill, a local bakery here in Eugene, Oregon. The cake was amazing and made for a great birthday for my son, but that’s not the reason this experience stood out.
The Muffin Mill has become a Saturday morning staple for my family over the past year, largely because there’s not a bad item on the menu, but also because of Dave who owns the business with his wife. Even when the line is out the door, Dave takes the time to give each customer a smile and the assurance that whatever items they’ve selected are a great choice. He says things like, “That cranberry orange scone is right out of the oven. You wouldn’t believe how many of these we sell” or “Great choice with that cinnamon roll. It’s the best thing on our menu.” I always appreciate the vote of confidence and it’s made the Muffin Mill a place I love to visit with my family.
On our most recent trip to pick up the birthday coffee cake, Dave took the experience to a new level. Rather than simply selling us the cake, he invited my wife to go pick out a cookie for our son for his birthday. It was totally unnecessary but took a typical interaction that was already very good and made it a whole lot better.
Free drink at Starbucks
I always make it a point each year to go to Starbucks for my free birthday drink. Frankly, I don’t have a Starbucks nearby so my status in their loyalty program has slipped a bit. That’s why I was surprised and pleased to find that they still offered me a birthday beverage. I went through the drive-thru and informed the barista that I had a birthday drink. As he handed me my drink he said, “I hope you have a great birthday.”
Honestly, since I’ve probably had a birthday drink at Starbucks each year for the past decade, it’s mostly become routine and expected. When the barista took the time to wish me a happy birthday, he moved it from a routine, once-a-year transaction to a special one.
There are a few insights we can draw from these experiences:
Sending customers a note of thanks or an email to commemorate a special occasion is good but may get lost in the shuffle with all of the other companies doing the same thing.
Giving customers something extra like a free drink, or cookie, or whatever your business happens to sell is better, especially when it’s unexpected.
Encouraging customer service professionals to personalize the experience by recognizing the signs that it’s the customer’s birthday and wishing them a happy birthday is best.
Those three things together make for a winning combination and are key to the experiences that stood out during this year’s round of birthdays. Now think about your last birthday? What companies honored you on your special day? I’ll bet some of them stood out more than others.
This article originally appeared on the FCR blog on January 24, 2019. Click here to read the original.
I have many guilty pleasures during the holidays – generally food-related. One of my biggest is eggnog and in recent years I’ve grown to love eggnog lattes. They’re sweet, creamy, and delicious with just a hint of coffee flavor. One cold, rainy December evening, after the kids were in bed, I had to have one. I ventured to a local coffee shop for my drink of choice and a hot chocolate for my wife.When I pulled up to the drive through window, I ordered the hot chocolate without a problem. But when I ordered the latte, the barista informed me that they were out of eggnog. It was unclear if they were out of eggnog for the evening or for the entire season and I didn’t ask. After pondering alternatives for a few moments I decided that if I wasn’t having an eggnog latte, I wasn’t having anything. I said, “Ok thanks. I’ll just have the one drink then.” I paid for the hot chocolate and drove off.
It’s normal for a business to run out of an item, right? That doesn’t diminish the fact, however that the coffee shop lost out on three dollars and some change that night. It’s probably not a huge hit to their bottom line unless a bunch of customers were craving eggnog lattes and were sent away with empty stomachs. So should we just accept this as the status quo and move on? As I drove away I couldn’t help but replay this encounter in my head and imagine what would happen if the barista had thought outside of the box just a bit to take better care of me, the customer.
This sort of thing comes up fairly often in customer service where, for whatever reason, we don’t have a solution and we feel compelled to say something like “Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do for you.” But is there really NOTHING we can do? If our goal is to take care of the customer, by using a little bit of creativity, we find that we do have some options at our disposal. I like to think of these as alternative doors we can walk through. Let’s explore some creative alternatives where the barista could have avoided saying no in this situation.
Door #1- Not now but maybe later.
Rather than saying, “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog,” the barista could have said, “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog, but we may have more tomorrow if you want to stop back in.” This option is only slightly better than the original. The barista did keep the door open by inviting me to try again later, but I’d prefer something a bit more definitive. This would be a great opportunity to offer some sort of a rain check and say, “Since we didn’t have the drink you were looking for, here’s a free drink coupon on us.”
Door #2- One to say yes, two to say no.
The barista could have said, “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog, and to be honest, I’m not sure if we’ll have any more this season. Can you stand by while I ask my boss what the plan is?” Regardless of the answer from the boss, this response gives the customer some confidence that the barista isn’t merely misinformed or being lazy. It’s that whole “one to say yes, two to say no principle” and it’s a good check and balance so we don’t say no unless there truly are no other options.
Door #3- How about an alternative?
The barista could have dug just a bit deeper to better understand my underlying issue and need. “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog, but we do have TONS of other drinks. What do you love about the eggnog latte in particular?”I might have responded with something like, “Well I was really wanting something sweet and creamy with a hint of coffee flavor.” And then the barista might have said, “You’re in luck! We have tons of drinks that fit that description. What about a vanilla latte with half the espresso and two pumps of caramel syrup?” At this point it’s clear to all reading this article that I have no clue about coffee beverages — but the barista most certainly does and they should be equipped to suggest viable alternatives that are attractive to the customer.
Door #4- OK, let’s start thinking outside of the box.
Door number four is a bit more outside of the box. The barista could have said, “Wow it sounds like you really want an eggnog latte. Let’s make that happen for you. Do you see that store over there? If you’ll run over there and get a pint of eggnog and bring it to me, I’ll make you an eggnog latte at no extra charge.” While this would require some effort on my part, I may have actually taken the barista up on the offer. I likely would have offered to pay something for the drink as well, or I would have at least left a nice tip.
Door #5- Now, let’s go WAY outside of the box.
Last one. Now imagine that the barista said, “Wow it sounds like you really want an eggnog latte. I am going to make that happen for you. See that store over there? If you can pull into a parking spot, I’m gonna run over there and get some eggnog and make you that latte. Can you wait an extra five minutes or so?” Had the barista offered that I would have said “Yes” to the wait, I would have paid full price for the drink, I would have left a nice tip, and this article would be all about how that barista had provided me with incredible service.
It’s important to note that if the barista was working by themselves or there was a huge line of cars behind me, this might have been logistically impossible and even irresponsible because of the negative impact to other customers.
Back to reality
I’ve just shared a recent customer service encounter where I was told “No” and presented five alternative responses an employee could have given with varying degrees of associated WOW factor. One might look at doors one through three and think that they’re fairly attainable alternatives for most support teams right now. Door three is what great customer service professionals naturally do. They are experts at marrying their extensive understanding of the product or service they support with the customer’s both stated and underlying needs.
Doors four and five on the other hand might set off alarm bells for some support professionals. Sure there are those companies that go to great lengths to take care of customers and they’re spoken of often because this kind of service is ingrained in their entire culture as a company. I don’t know about you but I love hearing the stories and reading viral posts about these WOW customer experiences. But the reality for many companies is that this level of creativity is up to executives to determine the parameters of how far they’re willing and able to go for customers — especially if it represents a large commitment of time, money, or both.
In the end simply saying, “Sorry, we’re out of eggnog” isn’t an acceptable response. In a brick and mortar store you can literally watch the customer walk out of the store with their money still in their wallet — and they may not ever come back!
My challenge to customer support professionals is to never stop being creative. Take some time, either by yourself or with a colleague, to brainstorm what fantastic alternatives lie behind doors one through five. I’m guessing you can think of more than five options within your control to help the customer rather than sending them away empty-handed. Give that a shot and let me know how it works out for you.
This article originally appeared on CustomerThink on December 17, 2018. Click here to read the original post.
Have you noticed the change in professional sports television viewing over the past few years where it’s become standard for a rules official, oftentimes a former referee, to provide expert interpretations of the rules and judgment calls in instant replay situations. If you’re not into sports, just take my word for it. My point is that if you’ve worked as a leader in a contact center, chances are you’ve felt like that rules official a time or two.
It’s been nearly two years since I shared my Recipe for Consistent Customer Service, and while that covers many customer service situations, there are still plenty of scenarios, or edge cases that require a rules interpretation from a manager or supervisor. In this article, I’m going to summarize a couple recent situations that challenged this recipe and then I’ll talk about how to address these and whether or not agents should be empowered to handle them.
Scenario #1: What if taking care of the customer might mean stepping on some toes?
A colleague recently approached me with a question. A support ticket had been handled by someone in another office and the customer was unhappy with the service they received. Remember that I work for an outsourcer and it’s not uncommon for our clients to have internal customer service teams as well as other outsourcing vendors. For one reason or another, the ticket came to our attention and we felt compelled to reach out to the customer to make it right.
Typically in the event that a customer is dissatisfied with the service provided by one of our agents, we review those cases, using them as opportunities to coach agents to provide better service. That didn’t apply in this case because someone at another office or vendor originally handled the ticket. While my colleague wanted to follow our normal process, she didn’t feel it was her place to reassign the case to an agent at another office or provide any coaching to them. After all, she didn’t manage that person and also ran the risk of making another vendor look bad in the eyes of our client.
When she asked for my recommendation I immediately asked, “What’s the top priority here?”
Yes, coaching agents for better quality and consistency and playing nice with our partners makes the list, but we agreed that the most important thing was to take care of the customer. We were then able to find a path to do so without causing a stir with the other vendor.
Scenario #2: Where’s the line when it comes to taking care of the customer?
A former colleague asked for my opinion on a recent customer service situation. She learned that a long time, repeat customer of theirs had passed away. Upon hearing the news she felt compelled to send flowers to the family of the deceased customer only to have the gesture vetoed by her boss. Thanks to Zappos and the effect they’ve had on global customer service, some might feel it’s their obligation to make a grand gesture in these cases — and anything less would be bad customer service. Furthermore, the boss that says no is heartless, right?
As we chatted, however, I encouraged her to look at this from the perspective of an owner of a small, but growing startup. Yes, we absolutely want to take care of the customer, but let’s also consider that having flowers delivered could run as much as $50. Is there something less expensive that can adequately express our sympathies — like a card or a phone call? Maybe the boss isn’t such a bad guy but is concerned about setting a precedent in the event that this happens again in the future. Or perhaps the customer, while a valued customer, only paid a few dollars per month.
To empower or not to empower
In my previous article, I spoke of authorizing or empowering agents to make decisions and take action on behalf of customers. In the two stories I’ve shared, you could make the argument that depending on the company, it would be easy to empower agents to handle these cases. But let’s assume these are indeed edge cases and talk about the best course of action. Here are four things to consider:
On support teams the old adage of one to say yes, two to say no isn’t a bad thing. While it certainly means more questions for supervisors and managers and it might reek to some of bureaucracy, it’s important to build checks and balances into your support operation where agents, if they don’t know the answer or aren’t empowered to make a decision, seek a second opinion. But before you shake your head no or wave your magic wand and make it so, you can still prepare your agents for the next level by reasoning through a decision with them. Ask them what they’d do if the decision was all theirs. Rather than shooting them down, take the time to affirm their judgment and steer them in the right direction. What a vote of confidence it is for your agents if they help make the decision and learned something along the way.
Keep track of the occurrences. Whether it’s a disposition or tag in a ticketing system or a tally on a whiteboard, keep track of how often such edge cases arise. You may find that some of these only come up once in a blue moon, like a customer passing away, whereas others are more frequent and require you to adjust policy and agent training to be able to guide these situations. That’s one of the benefits of requiring a second opinion because it helps leaders keep their finger on the pulse of what’s going on and how often these issues arise.
Point back to your north star. In my first story, there was never a question that the right thing to do was to take care of the customer with the unresolved issue. There were, however, a few other things in the way that required a bit of care and consideration. How often do we get bogged down with policy and procedure and forget that without our customers we don’t have a business? Think about that for a microsecond, the fact that we’re here to take care of the customer, and many of the other details become trivial and begin to fall into line.
Also don’t forget about customer lifetime value. I’ve heard a number of folks mention a customer lifeboat so I’m not sure who to attribute it to. To summarize, it’s a set dollar amount up to which agents are authorized to spend to make it right for a customer. At a previous job, we were authorized to credit a free month of service up to $50. At the Ritz-Carlton, employees are authorized for up to $2,000. While we want to take care of customers and share gratitude or sympathies, it’s possible that sending $50 worth of flowers is bad business — especially if the customer only spends a few bucks a month. Think about how much customers spend and give accordingly, but by all means, be sincere about it.
As I reflect back on these stories I’ve shared, my favorite aspect of both of them is that my colleagues were wrestling with this stuff. They genuinely cared about the customer and wanted to do right by them. If you do nothing else, be sure to continue to foster that in your company culture. My hope is that these few tips help us, like a good referee, make the right call.
The text of this article originally appeared on the ICMI blog on December 5, 2018. Click here to read the original and click here to watch a video where I discuss the content of this article.
Hint: Focus on Agent Performance
If you’ve sat through any customer service technology demos or walked the showroom floor at an industry conference, you’ve undoubtedly heard well-meaning sales folks speak of innovation, disruption, and automation. I’ve heard this spoken of chatbots, in particular, this year. Statements like, “Chatbots will automate X% of your customer interactions” and “Your competition is working on a chatbot as we speak” have been uttered in my presence.
While automation continues to grab headlines in a variety of industries, there’s plenty of innovation happening in this space in other key areas that can improve your customer and agent experience – and in some cases, you’ll see gains in both quality AND efficiency – a rare win-win. There are five such areas where I see significant gains for your contact center by upgrading in 2019 if you haven’t already.
Integrate Slack with support tools
Slack has revolutionized contact center communication. Still, I was stopped dead in my tracks earlier this year when a client asked, “Is there anything out there that’s better than Slack?” Wait, what? I thought Slack had completely disrupted their space. How could there be anything better?
That sent me on a quest to understand how our support teams use Slack (Read Part One and Part Two of my findings here). That exercise led me to a variety of Slack applications, of which there are many. Let me give you a couple of examples of where support teams are gaining some efficiency in Slack.
Tighter integration with ticketing system – A common workflow on support teams when agents have questions is to enter their question and the ticket ID they’re working on in Slack – hopefully to a channel with multiple people who can help versus a direct message to one person. As you can imagine, this is a lot of copying and pasting and navigating between the ticketing system (like Zendesk or Salesforce) and Slack. That’s when we discovered an integration called BubbleIQ where agents, by simply tagging a ticket, can have that ticket posted to the appropriate Slack channel. Whoever reviews that post can add a note to the ticket from Slack without ever opening the ticketing system.
Tighter integration with knowledge base – Another common use case with Slack is where agents ask questions. Many of our support teams have elaborate systems of editing the post with the question to also include the answer so folks can later leverage the searchability of Slack to find answers to questions that have already been asked. In a way, Slack becomes an internal knowledge base. To take it a step further, Guru has a great integration where agents can query the customer-facing knowledge base and even add new content directly from Slack. This article by Yael McCue, Senior Customer Success Manager at Guru talks about how they’ve gone all in on Knowledge Centered Support (KCS), a process for involving your entire support team in the creation of the knowledge base. It’s a perfect complement to this integration.
Those are a couple examples among many possibilities when it comes to integrating Slack with your other support tools. The likes of Zapier and Workato can take this even further.
I already touched on self-help and knowledge base a bit but have more to say on this topic. Gone are the days of the stale FAQ or knowledge base on your website. Sure, if you don’t have a knowledge base, that’s a great place to start – and if you already have a ticketing system, chances are there’s a knowledge base included that you can use.
When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), self-help is where the biggest difference is being made. While this begins to dip a toe into the chatbot waters, small to medium organizations likely don’t have the volume needed to fully automate customer interactions. There’s still plenty of opportunity for AI to help understand what customers need and connect them with faster, better solutions. Here are a few ideas to take that stagnant knowledge base off the back shelf and place it in the spotlight:
Make sure knowledge is updated and relevant. As mentioned before, a process like KCS can make a difference on your support team. Without going into detail, KCS ensures that everyone on the support team, during every customer interaction, evaluates whether or not a knowledge article needs to be added or updated, keeping the content up to date.
Track what customers are asking. In any searchable knowledge base, the system you’re using should be tracking what customers most frequently search for. Analyze that data closely and make sure you have answers to the questions they’re asking. Any time the customer can’t find what they’re looking for, they’re either calling customer support or walking away.
Put content where customers are looking for it. Don’t expect your customers to go find your content. Present it to them in places that make sense. For example, Zendesk’s Answer Bot sends an automatic response to customers after they email support suggesting articles and allowing customers to close their ticket if it answered their question. Solvvy analyzes the questions customers enter into a support or chat form and presents answers before the customer proceeds with a support ticket or chat. AnswerDash is a widget that lives on every page of your website making it incredibly convenient to search the knowledge base. All of these tools use Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to understand what the customer asked and they serve up the most relevant information. Furthermore, they track how often the presented solutions accurately address a customer’s issue.
We’re busy in contact centers and I’m guessing that the possibility of shutting off the phones for an hour or two for meetings and training is slim to none in your center. How often do we put off training simply because there’s no time?
There’s a better way and it has to do with making the most of those slow times between customer interactions where agents need something to do. With a robust LMS, it’s easy to design lessons that take a few minutes and can be completed in between customer interactions on an individual basis. Lessonly and Hickory are a couple platforms that do a great job at this and have the tracking to ensure that everyone completes the training.
Recognize the speech patterns that lead to success
This article from Harvard Business Review on words and phrases to use and others to avoid during customer interactions was particularly insightful this year. The authors found that using “I” instead of “We” language, speaking in specifics, and taking charge of the situation leads to more successful customer interactions. This isn’t particularly shocking but sometimes difficult to quantify.
This is the power of speech and text analytics. Our customer interactions continue to be a huge learning opportunity where we can understand both the challenges and successes in the customer experience. I’ve been particularly intrigued by a company called RapportBoost that uses AI to analyze chat conversations and understand the speech patterns that lead to more sales and/or higher customer satisfaction. Those insights are then used to train the entire team to better engage customers.
Keep an eye on the customer engagement market
2018 has been a fascinating year for popular customer engagement solutions. Just to name a few, Salesforce announced an end of life for Desk.com, Zendesk did a number of things like bolster their reporting with Guide and acquire their own CRM platform, Amazon now offers their Amazon Connect phone platform and doesn’t charge user license fees, and systems like Kustomer are rising up with the promise of getting us closer to a true omnichannel customer support experience.
I don’t have a recommendation on this front yet other than to say that this competition stands to benefit the customers using those products. This means that whether you stay put or adopt a new customer engagement platform in 2019, you’re sure to see more and more AI, better integration, deeper insights, and richer features.
To conclude, it’s been a good year of product demos and I expect the same in 2019. There are plenty of opportunities to beef up contact center technology whether it’s in communication, training, self-help, analytics, customer engagement, and more. As you do so, I urge you to focus especially on your agents and ways to empower and equip them to more efficiently serve customers without sacrificing quality.
This article originally appeared on the OpusResearch blog on November 16, 2018. Click here to read the original.
Today’s contact centers are overflowing with insights about how to deliver a better customer experience. There’s just one problem: the best insights are housed in the customer conversations (phone call recordings and chat and email transcripts) and it’s traditionally been incredibly time consuming or costly, to garner actionable insights. These are still largely untapped resources and within them are a treasure trove of information that can fuel business success.
Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, specifically natural language processing, and machine learning, the tide is beginning to turn as voice and chat analytics platforms are becoming more accessible, affordable, and insightful. With many new players in the market, it makes sense to spend a few moments discussing how voice and chat analytics are similar and different while also highlighting some of their key benefits.
A chat analytics platform and a voice analytics platform are like a screwdriver and a hammer. While both are tools aimed at solving a similar problem, they often arrive at the solution in very different ways. Just like hand tools engineered for specific applications, voice and chat analytics platforms are engineered to optimize specific customer support channels.
Phonetic – Listening to the call for specific keywords and phrases like, “I’m upset” or “I want to cancel my account.”
Full transcription – Converting the entire call into text for the ease of reading and also deeper analysis. This is more resource intensive but also more insightful as well, giving access to every word spoken on the call.
Extended speech emotion recognition– Understanding and analyzing not only what is said on a call but how it’s said. The emotion behind a statement helps better understand what a customer said and meant.
In addition to these approaches, some voice analytics platforms analyze the human voice for energy, tone, tenseness, volume, and pace — regardless of what language is actually being spoken.
Chat analytics platforms, like RapportBoost, analyze the data generated by a company’s live chat conversations to uncover the drivers of a successful conversation. And the great news is that chat conversations are already converted into text — eliminating the need for transcription.
By using machine learning and natural language processing, RapportBoost understands the conversation between the customer and agent and generates company-specific recommendations for agents regarding their communication style. Imagine the ability to tie often subtle patterns like formality or lack thereof, reassurance, optimal message length, cadence, and word choice back to key business and success objectives like customer satisfaction, closed sales, and first contact resolution.
Building a model that drives better outcomes
Building a voice analytics or chat analytics platform requires significant software development and data science resources. And all too often these tools can sit on the shelf if they aren’t built with the right outcomes in mind. When done right, the system can analyze the thousands of variables that make up a conversation. It can take note of the actions or words used by agents that are most likely to change the outcome of a phone call or chat — the actions that result in a successful sale. The success of any analytics platform lies in identifying those variables that affect conversation outcomes, determine their impact, and fuel efficient coaching of agents to effectively lead their interaction with a customer or prospective customer.
Beyond the text: Comparing the variables that change outcomes
It’s important to note that the variables that affect the outcomes of chat and voice conversations, while important in each, are different because spoken word is different than written. People use a fundamentally different language for different channels. The challenge regardless of channel is to move beyond just the words to understand tone, emotions, and cadence in alignment with customer expectations. Here are three key variables that are important to watch.
Tone Both chat and voice offer unique opportunities for expressing tone. Chat relies on grammar, punctuation, word choice, timing, abbreviations, and the occasional emoji. The human voice on the other hand, conveys tone through volume, rate of speech, and variations in pitch. Voice analytics company Cogito learns by analyzing thousands of phone conversations to understand the tone and patterns that lead to success. They then provide guidance to contact center agents in real-time around critical skills like turn-taking (AKA not talking over the customer), tone, empathy, mimicry, and tenseness.
Cadence Also known as turn-taking, cadence comes naturally (for most) during face-to-face or video conversations thanks to non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language. It’s not quite so easy via phone and chat. Voice and chat applications mitigate this problem in different ways. On the voice side, i2x and Gong.io analyze recorded calls to recommend an optimized talk-to-listen ratio for customer support agents. For chat, RapportBoost analyzes conversations to recommend optimal formality, message length, reassurance, question type, and timing between messages.
Patterns of speech Patterns of speech can vary significantly between customer support channels like chat and voice. On phone calls agents are often required to communicate significantly more information and detail to customers. In contrast, customers in chat are communicating on an internet-connected device so agents can link the customer to helpful information like product pages and the company knowledge base. Patterns of speech like volume, tone, and speed of delivery while sharing critical information with customers requires extra care over the phone.
Also regarding speech patterns, it’s important to compare the potential for spontaneous interaction. Chat is de facto linear. Only one message can be sent at a time, and a visual cue often indicates when one party is typing — sometimes even allowing agents to see what the customer is typing. Phone calls on the other hand have greater potential for interruption and improvisation. i2x helps agents stay on track by providing a ‘don’t say list’. Gong.io overcomes this challenge by building a playbook based on top agent’s questions and pricing conversations.
Each customer support channel, whether it’s voice, email, chat, etc holds unique potential for optimization. Voice and chat analytics platforms like those mentioned in this article continue to make huge gains in this area. As you evaluate the tools that are right for your business, it’s important to adopt a platform that aligns with your specific channel mix. It’s also essential to understand the variables in communication for the different support channels to analyze tone, cadence, and speech patterns. Once these are identified and understood, they fuel a coaching and continuous improvement process that will drive your business toward your desired outcomes and beyond.
This article was coauthored with Tony Medrano. Tony is CEO of RapportBoost.AI, a leading conversational sales analysis platform for brands that use chat, SMS and messenger tools to engage customers. Tony received his MBA and JD from Stanford, M.A. from Columbia and B.A. from Harvard.
This is the AvoCAREdo Show where business leaders are asked to get real about their self-care wins and struggles while they are busy at work. Do you give yourself permission to feel your feelings while you’re at the office? In this episode of AvoCAREdo, we talk with Kaye Chapman, Learning and Development Manager at Comm100, about how wellness in the workplace goes beyond healthy snacks and yoga. Be sure to let Kaye know what you think of this episode on Twitter.
AvoCAREdo Show Episode #4: Featuring Kaye Chapman - YouTube
In order to take the best care of others, you must first take the best care of yourself. AvoCAREdo combines contact center wellness coach Jenny Dempsey’s love for avocados with her lighthearted personality to deliver a realistic dose of self-care wisdom to motivate YOU while you’re flippin’ busy at work. Because when it comes down to it, supporting support teams and customers starts with YOU. Duh!
This article was originally published on the FCR blog on December 21, 2018. Click here to read the original.
Nobody likes goodbyes, right? Well sometimes we like them. I’ve had a couple recently in my life as a customer — one that I’ve fantasized about for a while and another that hit me by surprise and left me both happy and sad at the same time. Let me explain.
Happy Goodbye – Bye Bye Cable Company
I recently canceled my service with the cable company. Given that I was only using them for basic internet service, I opted for a local wireless provider and so far the quality of service is fantastic. For those of you who have read 100% of my tweets for the last 3 years (I know that’s exactly zero people) and this blog post, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I wasn’t terribly happy with the cable company.
For the most part the service wasn’t bad and the customer service folks were friendly and helpful, but there were a sprinkling of negative issues in my time with them. The moment I found a better deal I was poised to move on.
The first issue occurred when they didn’t tell me about an additional fee during the installation. I was just sort of pleasantly surprised when I got my first bill and not thrilled when they only credited part of that fee back to me because of a policy.
Next came the steady increases in my bill from around $40 per month to somewhere around $70 per month. They conveniently didn’t tell me about that during the sales process. When I inquired about improved pricing, they gladly offered a slight discount if I added cable TV to my plan which I assume would slowly ratchet my bill up closer to $100 once all of the discounts wore off.
The last issue was just the intermittent weekly loss of connectivity. They could see when my connection wasn’t working given that it would stop responding, right? And I’m sure they knew that my modem was old and probably needed to be replaced. What about reaching out proactively to make sure everything was still working properly and even sending me a new modem rather than asking me to drive to a store to get one? I realize that probably no cable company does this but one can always dream.
No this was not a sad goodbye. My hope is that the cable company, when looking at the reason I canceled, doesn’t just chalk it up to my stated reason of “don’t want the service anymore.” This was preventable and if they take the time to connect the dots, there were warning signs along the way.
Sad Goodbye – Bye Bye Melissa
I continue to be a big fan of Great Clips after observing their effective use of CRM to better remember their customer preferences. It’s a great way to fuel robust customer engagement. I ventured into my local salon last Friday evening for a haircut, sat down in Melissa’s chair, and quickly noticed the sign that said “Congratulations” along with flowers and cards. I asked her what it was for and, with a big smile, she said it was her last day.
Rewinding a bit, Melissa has cut either my hair or one of my kids’ hair at least a half a dozen times in the last year. Every time I enter the salon I’m greeted with a smile and a “Welcome to Great Clips.” And while I’m not sure she has my name memorized, she definitely calls me by name once she locates me in their CRM.
Over the last year Melissa has shared with me how she was just finishing up her bachelor’s degree and was so excited because her field of study would allow her to work with and serve elderly people. I was able to congratulate her after she graduated, and then by the perfect stroke of luck, was able to be there to say goodbye. She was leaving Great Clips after landing the job she had spent six years preparing for. How great is that?
Melissa and I aren’t BFFs and may never see each other again, but in the process of delivering and receiving great customer service we made a connection. I’m not even sure she did much more than be friendly, consistently do a great job at cutting my hair, and share just enough about her life for me to know her as a person. Needless to say, I felt compelled to give a little extra tip that evening.
Of course this is a happy goodbye but it was also a bit of a sad goodbye. The good news for Great Clips is that it’s not a goodbye at all. I’m still a customer and probably a more loyal one at that. Any company that hires people like Melissa, supports her in working toward her personal and professional goals, and then send her off in grand fashion is alright by me.
What goodbyes teach us
These two goodbye stories in many ways are polar opposites from one another. Ultimately I canceled with one company and increased in loyalty with the other. There are some lessons we can glean here.
Sometimes customers are happy to leave because they’ve been aggravated at multiple stages in their customer journey. Don’t always take their stated reason for cancelling at face value but take the time understand all of the reasons why. This may require hard work. Otherwise, you run the risk of never realizing that, as in the case of the cable company, your sales process is dooming your customer relationship from the very beginning.
We like to talk a lot about great customer service but there are times that customers aren’t leaving or staying because of your customer service. The customer service team at the cable company was always friendly and helpful but there was much left to be desired about the rest of the experience.
When you have star performers on your team inevitably say goodbye to your organization because they took the next step in their career or followed their passion, it says a lot about your organization if you can send them off in grand fashion. It also says a lot when you support their growth and development all along the way.
But hopefully many of your star performers get promoted internally and continue to benefit your organization. That’s worth celebrating too!
Be sure to learn from those star performers, like Melissa, so you can hire and train other members of your team to engage customers in similar fashion. That way customers can always enjoy connecting with your staff regardless of who’s serving them. There’s probably a reason a hair stylist like Melissa gets more tips than everyone else. That shouldn’t be a mystery.
Speaking of goodbyes, I guess that’s about all I have to say about that topic. Goodbye for now!