This is type of mindset where, as an agent, you find that customers are generally friendly and cooperative, issues are resolved successfully and answers to questions are all found either in your mind or in the resources available to you. Pretty much everything is working right. No outages or giant technical bugs to squash. Things are simply flowing along.
Until they are not simply flowing along.
How can you look at those things that throw you for a loop in a different light?
Last week, I wrapped up my workday from home. I was meeting up with a friend in the afternoon. I grabbed my purse and car keys, as I normally always do when I’m about to leave. I exit my front door, close and lock it with my key. I’m not thinking twice about anything around me. I’m just moving along, in my zone after a productive day at work.
My purse slides down my arm and I move quickly to catch it before falling on the cement porch. As I do this, I catch a glimpse of something black out of the corner of my eye.
It doesn’t register at first. After what feels like hours, but was really only a few milliseconds, I understand what I am looking at – a snake.
The snake was sitting on our porch, about six inches away from my flip-flop wearing feet.
Fight or flight mode kicks in and my heart starts racing. My stomach tenses and I rush back toward my door. My hands are shaking so hard that I struggle fitting the key back into the lock.
Once inside, I hop up on the kitchen counter and peer through the front window to get a better look at the surprise visitor.
A California King Snake slithers across our porch. Non-poisonous and actually a snake that is immune to venom (meaning, they actually can eat a rattlesnake and be just fine), the snake doesn’t seem to be affected by my presence at all. It didn’t lunge nor hiss during our encounter. It just continued to slither along, trying to navigate how to reach the plant bed below our patio. If you want to see the video I took of the snake, check it out over on my Instagram.
Over the years, however, I developed an intense fear of snakes. I avoid hiking on warm Southern California days simply because I do not want to encounter a snake.
But, on this particular overcast summer day near the beach in San Diego, I find a snake right in front of my doorstep.
I was no longer in “The Zone”. That was crushed with the impact of adrenaline racing through my body.
I text my friend that I am likely going to be late, as the snake is now stretched out across the length of our entrance way.
I watch the snake move across the floor. Is this someone’s escaped pet? I suddenly felt compassion for this lone creature. The snake took a few more minutes on our front porch before sliding down the incline into the bushes.
Had my purse not slipped off of my shoulder, I would not have looked down at the ground and this could have been an entirely different story.
Just like being in “The Zone” with our customers and focusing on what we need to get done, I never considered a snake being an issue that I’d face while leaving my home. I have a newfound awareness. Even when we’re in “The Zone”, keeping our eyes peeled for new and bizarre issues is imperative for the success with our customers. There’s an opportunity to thank them for bringing these types of situations to our attention.
So, here is my thank you letter to the snake:
Dear Snakey McSnakerson,
It was quite a surprise to see you the other day! I know that we are both happy that I didn’t step on you. I greatly appreciate you for making me more aware of my surroundings. I also want to say that should you decide to stay in the area, please remain off of our porch (or the porch of any other neighbors). You are also highly encouraged to eat whatever rodents or creepy crawlies that appear in the vicinity.
All the best to you,
In contact centers, we’re often faced with surprises on a daily basis. How do we deal with these surprises?
In some cases, it’s much easier to run away and pretend they never existed.
But some of these surprises, corner us with no way out. The only opportunity we really have is to look at what came in our path and learn from it. Then we can look toward the future to understand what we must do to prevent this surprise from happening again. While we can’t stop all the surprises, we can at the very least, expect them to show up at the most random time, even when we’re in “The Zone”.
Omnichannel is a word that’s mentioned often in customer support circles and it’s fascinating to see what existing cloud-based platforms like Zendesk and Salesforce are doing to make this a reality. You may want to check out the recent announcement from Zendesk on this topic and also Salesforce’s decision to discontinue Desk.com and transition to Service Cloud Lightning by March 2020. Furthermore, players like Kustomer and Gladly are entering the market with new, fresh offerings worth keeping a close eye on.I recently collaborated on an article with Kustomer to explore some of the benefits and possibilities of omnichannel. One of the benefits is the ability to more completely hear the voice of the customer. Whereas in traditional tools a customer’s email, chat, and phone history might potentially live in three (or more) disparate systems, imagine how powerful it would be to have the complete customer history in one central place. A common practice on many support teams is to search the customer’s history in all of these system to make sure there aren’t duplicate interactions.
Couple this with customer survey data, sentiment prediction that’s fueled by machine learning, and other insights about customer orders, shipments, billing, etc and we’ve made the customer and agent experience better and more efficient. The goal of omnichannel is ultimately to put everything pertaining to each customer and their issue at hand in a central place in a way that makes sense — and it’s exciting to see what different vendors are coming up with.
For us in the contact center world, we know it’s expensive to run a full time phone support contact center. It’s even more expensive when that contact center is 24/7.
Phone support is a channel we’ve all known over the years and grown to hate. We’re stuck on long IVR menus, waiting to speak with a real human only to get another robot on the line. Even those with a call back feature are not always the most functional or efficient.
Tack on social media support, chat support, email support, video chat support and even support via SMS – there’s a multitude of channels to communicate. When it comes to support channels, it’s not about how many you have, it is more about how well you use the channels.
I’ve seen some companies have major “support channel FOMO”, enable any and every option on their website then provide less than stellar support on each one.
Customers don’t care about what goes on behind the scenes – they just want to communicate with someone and resolve their issue on a channel that fits conveniently into their lives.
I work for NumberBarn. We’re a phone number management startup. We help people port, park, find and forward phone numbers. We also have a cute pig as a mascot!
So instantly, you’d think we have phone support.
Nope, we don’t.
We’re honest and transparent with our customers on not offering phone support and simply say:
NumberBarn does not offer phone support so we can pass the savings on to our customers. It is extremely expensive to house and run a full-time call center. With our industry-low prices, we know after 16 years in the business, customers prefer to have the savings passed on to them.
About 99% of our customers, once they understand why we don’t offer phone support, are accepting and understanding.
So, how do we communicate with our customers?
We’re a fun team of intelligent individuals who wear many (cowboy) hats. In fact, even the two co-founders and owners of the company do support tickets on a daily basis.
We may not have phone support, but what we do have, we do it well.
We strive to reply to customer emails within an hour during the weekdays and within 3 hours on weekends and holidays.
Chat support response time is within 5 seconds.
We showcase our brand voice on social media, replying to any direct messages or comments left from customers.
We’re not perfect, of course, we’re human! But we do our absolute best to ensure that our customers are supported. And, we have the feedback that proves we’re doing something right!
Here’s the thing—phone support offers a great way to make a human connection. Chances are there are times or types of customer issues that would benefit from personal, human, one-on-one help. The question is: Is your business designing phone support around those scenarios or fielding expanding call volume because care in other channels isn’t up to the mark?
The article then discusses how having an omnichannel mindset could actually benefit your contact center and move interactions from phone to digital for quicker, seamless communication.
Would your contact center ever consider not doing phone support? If so, what would you do instead? Share with me in the comments or over on Twitter!
Breaking the Ice Episode #64: A Stroll Down Memory Lane - YouTube
In lucky number 64 we share our favorite memories after more than a decade of working together. We then try to boil down to the one word we’d like people to use to describe our customer service. Here are the questions for this episode:
Icebreaker Question: What’s your favorite memory of working with Jeremy/Jenny?
Customer Service Question: As a customer service professional, what’s one word you’d want your customers to use to describe you? Why?
This article was original published on CustomerThink as part of Jeremy’s regular advisor column on April 13, 2018. Click here to read the original.It’s not uncommon at FCR for one of our clients to reward a top-performing agent on the team with an all expenses paid trip to their headquarters. This is one of many ways our clients drive engagement on their outsourced teams — and I thought that’s what was at play here. That was until I sat down with a couple of my colleagues to hear more about a recent experience. I expected to hear about great food, accommodations, and hip, modern offices in cities like New York, LA, or San Francisco. While some of those things may have been a part of the experience, that’s not what stood out in the minds of my colleagues.
The CX Lab
As we talked, it became very clear that real work is done on these trips. One agent described a day where she sat at a workstation and teams of three to seven engineers gathered around her as she responded to emails and chats. It ended up being an exhausting, but also incredibly positive, full-day experience.
Some of the engineers she met with were responsible for building and implementing the support tools. This was an opportunity for them to see the tools they created in action. Others were responsible for the product and wanted to get closer to the customer experience and better understand some of the pain points.
As I picture this encounter, I can’t help but imagine a bunch of folks in lab coats in a sterile environment observing their subjects and documenting their every move. While they’re actually more likely to don skinny jeans and flannel, I like this idea of transforming our contact centers from this oft forgotten place in organizations to a laboratory where we observe the customer experience through the eyes of our frontline staff. This practice has the power to improve both the customer and agent experience by helping the people in all other areas of the business understand the impact their work has on the experience.
This lab can take on a number of different looks in your organization. Here are some ideas to help you build your own CX lab:
Bring a top performing agent to your office and watch them work- If the contact center is in a separate location or you’re working with an outsourcer, emulate the experience I’ve just described and fly a top performer to your office, observing how they work, and taking the time to ask lots of questions and initiate improvements.
Visit your contact center and shadow agents- If under the same roof, go to your contact center and spend some time shadowing agents. We often call this “side jacking” where you put a splitter on their headset and listen to calls with them or watch them respond to chats, emails, tweets, text messages, etc. If you outsource, any good partner will open their doors, allowing you to visit your team as much as you want. This practice allows you to ask agents questions as they work.
Conduct agent round table discussions- A great way to surface some of the top issues in the contact center is to ask and you’ll never be short on feedback. I particularly love the round table format if we’ve just released a new product or feature or we’ve done a new marketing campaign and I want focused feedback on what’s working and what isn’t.
Review customer interactions regularly- Do you realize your contact center has volumes of call recordings, emails, chats, etc just sitting there? They can likely even break those down by certain topics for you. Want to get close to the customer experience? Queue up a bunch of call recordings and you’ll quickly hear what’s going on directly from the mouths of your customers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve paused a call halfway through and said something like, “We really need to change this policy right away” or “We need to call this customer back and make it right.”
Now that we’ve talked about what our lab looks like, let’s get clear on our objectives. This is a lab so we’re doing research and it’s our job to use this time to uncover issues and improve our customer experience. Here are three objectives:
Objective #1: See the customer experience firsthand
Regardless of the format you choose, your first objective is to witness what’s going on with real customers day in and day out. You’re looking specifically for issues relating to your product, policies, procedures, and agent behavior.
Here’s an example I see often. Let’s say you just completed an initiative to limit the amount of credit agents can issue to customers if something goes wrong. On paper it’s a great idea because it prevents them from giving away the farm on every call. You’ve limited credits to $10 to be used at their discretion but you have an upset customer on the phone that easily spends $25K with you annually. Hearing the customer’s response to a $10 credit might prompt you to make sure that this policy also guides agents on what to do for high dollar customers. You might also discover that any amount of compensation might not be sufficient when what they really want is the confidence that this issue won’t happen again.
Objective #2: Observe the way you (the company) are interacting with customers
Surveying the scene of the various clients we work with, there’s a good range from heavily scripted to completely unscripted in the way they interact with customers. And many of these clients have a specific brand voice that’s in use on any macros or canned responses that ideally should align with other company communications.
My colleague noted that one of her favorite moments in the above experience was when she used a macro to respond to a customer but not before significantly updating it. One of the folks observing noticed that she didn’t follow the typical process, and after my colleague explained her reasons for the change, they immediately updated the process for everyone. Whether you use macros or not, this is an opportunity to observe how customers react to your messaging and in some cases make small, positive improvements very quickly.
Objective #3: Improve the agent experience
When’s the last time you counted how many windows your agents have open at any given time during the process of supporting customers? Consider that just to reply to a chat, they might have many of the following windows open:
CRM to see the customer’s profile.
Ticketing system where they’re adding notes or sending follow up emails.
Slack to get help from colleagues and supervisors.
Knowledge base to find answers.
Website to see what the customer is referring to.
That in and of itself is a lot to manage and we’re just getting started. How much more complex is it to handle two or three conversations concurrently when all of these windows are required? How much of the customer’s and our time is wasted just navigating between windows? You can see how easy it might be to mix up conversations and make mistakes. This sort of thing is incredibly frustrating for agents — and it would be for you too if you spent some time in their shoes.
Whether you’ve purchased your support tools off the shelf or built them from scratch, any efficiencies you can add, improves the customer and agent experience in a variety of ways. As you’re seeking out efficiencies, it might mean that it’s time to consider a new platform or perhaps better integrate existing systems. There are so many out of the box integrations nowadays and I’ve been amazed at the ways companies like Zapier and Workato have extended those possibilities.
Time to build your own CX Lab
The reality here is that a CX Lab isn’t a place — it’s a practice within your organization — and a simple one at that. I’m sure many of us know what’s driving our contact volume and our top reasons for customer dissatisfaction. We should also know why our customers are churning and what’s driving agent attrition — all great stats for a slide deck. But the real benefit to experiencing these issues firsthand is that we feel a little bit of the pain and frustration that goes along with them. These issues become more real and sometimes that’s required to make our customer and agent experiences better.
I encourage you to create your own CX Lab, and no, a lab coat isn’t required. But I do highly recommend hand sanitizer because it’s flu season and we don’t need that going through our contact centers!
Regardless, it seemed like a good opportunity to share my favorite customer service insight from the book. And may I say that while I definitely grew up watching Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, I’m only just recently realizing what a remarkable human being he was. Check out his definition of neighbor:
A neighbor is whoever you happen to be with at the moment — especially if that person is in need.
There are two key elements to this definition that we need to unpack a bit.
At the moment
The word “neighbor” is used in many different ways in our culture. It could apply to the people living in the house or apartment next door or it could be the person in the office or cubicle next to us. While these folks are indeed all our neighbors, I like Rogers’ broader definition. If the person we’re with right now is our neighbor, that includes the person at the grocery store that’s too short to reach an item on the top shelf, or the homeless man asking for money on the corner, or the woman who accidentally drops her coffee at Starbucks, or our kids asking a hundred questions about a topic we know nothing about. This definition most certainly also applies to the customer on the other end of the phone, email, chat, Tweet, text, etc.
What Rogers is getting at, and what he did so well, is the importance of making ourselves present in the moment, giving full attention to the person we happen to be with right then and there. It’s so easy to not be present and instead think about our next meeting, or what we want to say next, or multitasking by looking at a computer or phone screen. The first challenge here is to recognize who our neighbor is and be present with them.
Once we’re present with them, we are more readily able to recognize their need and respond accordingly. When we work in customer service, our job is to accurately recognize needs and innovate ways to solve problems. This starts by first recognizing the emotional need of the customer, whether they’re elated, upset, or somewhere in the middle, and responding appropriately. This builds the essential trust required to move to the next step of solving the actual problem the customer contacted us about.
As I think more about this in a support environment, I’m reminded of the onus placed on leaders to allow their teams to focus on being present and recognizing needs. This means remembering that contact center metrics, like average handle time, should be driving a better customer experience. It also means keeping the number of windows agents have open, the number of clicks they have to make, and the number of items they’re required to multitask, to a minimum. Our job is to free our agents up to be present so they can connect with customers and recognize and solve problems.
In the past I’ve shared my passion for the names we call our customers. I’m only referring to good names here, of course. I’m now realizing that I left a name off my list. What if we referred to our customers as neighbors? And while I’m sure this is standard for the likes of State Farm (like a good neighbor…) and Nextdoor, I think we could all benefit from thinking of the customer on the other end of the line as our neighbor. Once we’ve done that, let’s apply Mr Rogers’ definition and focus on being more present and recognizing their need. While we’re at it, let’s apply it outside of our workplace as well!
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you!
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?
Episode #63: Our Ideal Day Off & Memorable Customer Service - YouTube
It’s summer and we’re enjoying a little time off. In this episode, we talk about what our ideal day of looks like. We then share some of our more memorable customer service stories. Here are the questions for this episode:
Icebreaker Question: What’s your ideal day off?
Customer Service Question: What’s your most memorable customer service story?
Breaking the Ice Episode #62: Show & Tell and Hiring Great Customer Service Reps - YouTube
Who doesn’t love a little show and tell? In this episode we share a little something and then talk about what we look for when hiring great customer service team members. Here are the questions for the episode:
Icebreaker Question: It’s show and tell. What would you bring to share?
Customer Service Question: What are your keys for hiring great customer service team members?
This article was originally published on the FCR blog on May 16, 2018. Click here to read the original.
I just completed another full marathon (26.2 miles) — my ninth. I started running almost ten years ago and my goal is to complete a tenth before the end of the year. The latest was the annual Eugene Marathon, a lovely run through the town and along the Willamette River. As someone who perspires heavily, the cool temperatures and the big trees make it a perfect place to run.
As I’ve done in the past, I love to share my lessons learned after completing a race and I seem to waffle between deep reflection about what motivates me and observations about the customer experience that we can learn from. On this occasion, I have a few customer experiences to share — one good, one bad, and one in between.
Good: Names Make a Big Difference
In this race, I grew to appreciate the fact that my first name was printed on my bib. This has become standard for many races. As the miles wore on and pain and fatigue set in, it was a fight to keep my morale up. Running by perfect strangers and hearing “Looking great, Jeremy” or “Goooooo Jeremy” or “Good job, Jeremy” was a huge lift and helped take my mind off the pain for a few minutes.
Many of our programs at FCR encourage agents to use the customer’s naturally during interactions. While once is plenty when it comes to most text-based interactions, there are definitely ways to work the customer’s name into phone and chat conversations. Just be sure that it doesn’t sound robotic or canned. Perhaps we haven’t spent enough time thinking through just how impactful it is for our customers to be known by name. It just might ease their present agony over a lost shipment or an incorrect bill.
Bad: Running the Gauntlet for a Shirt
A couple days before the race there’s an expo where all of the runners go pick up their race bibs and t-shirts. Most expos, both big and small have a similar layout. The first thing you’ll see is a table where you pick up your bib with your number on it. After supplying you with a bag and some safety pins, they tell you to walk to the other size to get your t-shirt.
When they say “other side” that means you have to run the gauntlet through all of the exhibitors trying to sell you their products. This was a fairly small race but I had to walk a good distance to finally get to other side to claim my shirt. Is this a good experience for the customer? Well as a runner, I’ll never shy away from a little extra walking but that’s a lot of effort when they could easily put the shirt table next to the bib table.
Of course I’m not naive. I realize that this is business and these exhibitors pay a pretty penny for their booth and that comes with the promise that every racer will walk by en route to the shirts. Ultimately it’s a minor inconvenience but an inconvenience no less. This happens in business but we should seek to minimize customer effort wherever possible.
In Between: Customer Satisfaction Survey Made (Too) Easy
I’m a big fan of customer satisfaction surveys and have completed some lengthy surveys for races in the past. This race did something different. They actually had little kiosks placed in strategic locations where customers could rate their experience. And we’ll just ignore the violation of the “I before E except after C” rule in this picture.
Regardless, this is an interesting way to allow racers to quickly and easily rate their experience. I submitted a rating for both the race course and also the festival at the finish line — and in both cases selected the happy face.
What do you think about this method? On the positive side, it’s simple and attractive (other than the typo) so they probably have a terrific response rate. It’s also placed in a spot where the experience is extremely fresh in the customer’s mind so you’re likely to get a more accurate gauge. I’m sure the race organizers are able to quickly see how they performed in the various aspects of the event.
On the negative side, there’s no way for customers to submit feedback or request follow up. What if one of the volunteers at the water stop at mile 18 was heckling people? Or what if they ran out of Gatorade at mile 23? It might be wise to note somewhere on this sign where customers can go if they have additional feedback and want to speak with someone who can do something about it.
While I looked at this experience with a bit of a critical eye, I am elated to be able to finish another marathon. I’m also grateful to the hundreds of volunteers that made my experience possible. And that’s a great way to end this post. Here’s continuing to run the customer experience race and to observing ways to make it better along the way.
This article originally appeared on the FCR blog on May 9, 2018. Click here to read the original.
Without exaggeration, I think I’ve seen quality forms for a hundred different companies in my tenure at FCR and can confidently say that they come in all different shapes, sizes, and flavors. Some of that’s to be expected given the variety of clients we work with. I’ve also sat in seminars about quality assurance and observed one half of the room that thought their quality form was the bomb while the other half seemed to be perpetually searching for a better way to monitor their quality.
When it comes to scoring methods on quality forms, the variety continues. Some forms feature broad rating scales like 1 to 10 and others have simpler scales like 1 to 3. In some cases the rating scale is used to rate the degree to which an agent completed a behavior and in others the behavior simply has multiple parts and they lose points for failing to complete a particular part.
Others, including FCR, adopt a yes/no scoring model where agents either do or don’t complete a desired behavior. Behaviors that are more critical to the success of an interaction, like providing correct information or properly authenticating the customer, might be weighted more heavily toward the overall score or result in an automatic failure if missed.
My goal in writing this article isn’t necessarily to convince you that one way is better than another. But I’ve been asked about this enough by my colleagues that I thought it fitting to share our reasoning for using yes/no scoring. Here are 3 reasons.
1. Easier to define
It’s challenging to define a quality customer service interaction but essential if you’re going to deliver any level of consistent service to customers — let alone get agents and supervisors to all understand and agree on the standard (this is called calibration). Our standard practice is to create a definitions document that accompanies quality forms so agents can read and understand what’s expected of them when they interact with customers.
With a numerical scale, regardless of what scale you choose, it becomes important to define what a 10 is versus a 9, 8, 7, and so on. This can be exhausting to document and difficult to maintain. With the yes/no model, it’s important to define what a yes is and then understand that anything that doesn’t meet that standard is a no. The goal then becomes to affirm the areas where agents excel and coach the areas where they need improvement.
2. Eliminate score haggling
Inevitably, the more scoring options that are available, the more tempting it is for the reviewer to say, “I gave you this score because…” when in fact it’s the agent that earns the score. Read more about why I feel strongly about this distinction. It’s easy for the conversation to devolve into a negotiation where supervisors defend their ratings and agents haggle for a better score — essentially working to determine the degree to which the agent either did or didn’t do the desired behavior. While I won’t argue with the fact that it’s important to score the interaction correctly, and sometimes this means reviewing the interaction together with the agent, yes/no can simplify this process significantly.
The other temptation in this process is for reviewers to give agents partial credit for partially completing a behavior. While I appreciate the sentiment, especially if the agent is putting forth strong effort and showing improvement, this can be tricky — especially if we’re talking about a partially correct answer given to a customer. At FCR, our quality reviewers are encouraged to think about the impact every interaction has on customer satisfaction. Partially correct answers often require customers to contact support again and this typically doesn’t result in more satisfied customers.
3. Shift focus to coaching and excellence
Your time is better spent focusing on coaching agents to deliver consistently excellent customer service. Where scores are present, most agents will look directly at those, and if negative, may not hear the other feedback about their performance. It’s essential that they hear the feedback and put it into practice on future interactions. Some of our supervisors have gone so far as to stop showing agents quality scores altogether so the conversation is completely focused on their performance and opportunities for improvement.
So why do we track quality scores at all if they’re such a problem? This is a great question. There’s value in being able to understand and track the behaviors on our interactions and see where agents are excelling and where they need improvement. This is a great opportunity for quality and training to work together to identify areas where agents can benefit from additional training. Also, in a regulated environment, we simply can’t afford to compromise sensitive customer information, so we have to ensure that we detect, track, and correct any errors right away.
A simple yes/no scoring method for quality allows us to place our focus on coaching and developing our agents to deliver a consistent, excellent level of service on every customer interaction. Let me know if you have any questions.