Category Archives: Customer Service and Support

Another Nail in the Post Office Coffin

Even before the Post Office’s current problems, stemming from a requirement for prepayment into retirement programs, it hadn’t been a place you wanted to business with. It has been the butt of jokes for years about their service record:

  • Slow service at the counter
  • Lack of technology for payment
  • Package and letter handling disasters
  • Attitude of workers toward the public

The USPS was pretty much a monopoly for years. As such, it engendered all the bad habits of a monopoly; the attitude that since you couldn’t get the same service elsewhere they knew you were stuck with the system. Granted, the United States has had the privilege of low costs for mailings for over a century. And it does still turn a profit.

But changes came fast and furious. Private enterprise had trouble keeping up. Could anyone actually expect a bureaucratic behemoth like the postal service to be any better? Or even as good as? Now revenues are dropping as more the post office’s work goes online. Talk about a new sense of convenience and efficiency…just what we humans like – everything made easy. Why go somewhere that went out of its way to make it hard to do business?

Even now, when I can see some workers trying to make a better effort at customer service, too often the post office doesn’t seem to be able to convince all their workers that the post offices future lies in being of great service. Now the USPS has another trouble of private enterprise: not enough revenue to pay for more workers, training, and technology to pull itself back to the top.

The Third Element of Great Customer Service: The Right Technology

Pellerin Portfolio

Here is the last element in our brief series on taking your customer service to greatness. The first two, people and a quality product, are equal legs on this stool and so it having the right technology so your customer service agents can spend their time with customers, not tabbing between applications, looking up answers in several different databases, or taking second and third calls from customers whose problem wasn’t fixed with the first call. Nor do they want to spend time with calls that could have been avoided if the customer had access to information or processes that don’t need another human involved.

First, the easy stuff. Make it possible for your customers to find their own answers if they prefer. Give them access through a customer portal for self service where they can access a knowledgebase, connect with other users, and submit problems or get right in contact with an agent if they can’t fix it themselves.

Give your customers the ability to engage with you on the channel they prefer. If they would rather interact through chat, set up a chat channel. If they start on that channel and it would be better to switch to another, like the phone, make that possible. Many still prefer the phone. Don’t load them down with an endless phone menu, get them to a person as quickly as possible if that is what they need.

And fix it so they don’t have to repeat information. To anybody. They should be able to enter or provide it once and be done. Nothing is more annoying than telling your problem over and over. (Note to customers: do give the agents time to read through lengthy content if your ticket is complex).

When agents must get involved, make sure they only have to deal with one system for customer information, ticketing, documentation, and knowledge management. Every time a new application must be opened or switched takes time that would be better spent engaging the customer and solving their problem. This single system helps the rest of the organization too. No dropped tickets between applications or departments, alerts for everything, and time tracking to keep up with staffing. A way to see aging and open tickets and schedule time to take care of them. Get fast answers from knowledge infused support processes and technology.

In short, make it as easy as possible for both customers and customer service agents to fix problems without putting technological obstacles under their feet. Will it cost up front? Sure. But in the long run, that new system will pay for itself, possibly inside of six months.

There are systems out there that do all of this. Of course, we think PhaseWare is the best and most affordable. But, really, there is no excuse these days to still be tracking a spreadsheet or using multiple software applications to do what one customer service and support solution can do.

So there you have it. The three elements of great customer support:

  1. People
  2. Quality
  3. Technology

Read all three posts:

The First Element of Great Customer Service: Your People

The Second Element of Great Customer Service: Quality of Information

The Third Element of Great Customer Service: The Right Technology

The Second Element of Great Customer Service: Quality of Information

Pellerin Portfolio

We are continuing our look into each element of great customer support from our popular November blog entry: The Three Basic Elements of Customer Support. Next element: Quality of Information.

[Q]uality answers and information can make or break a customer’s level of trust in the company as a whole. The sole customer support representative interacting with a customer will shape their opinion of your company, so customer support representatives giving quality information is key.  If a customer is given bad information, then their opinion of the company will be bad.  Bad news spreads quickly.  However if they are given quality answers, their opinion will be positive and they will give your company glowing reviews.

Your customer support agents need to sound like they know what they are talking about. They also need to convey the same information regardless of channel, product, or service. If your company or customer support is siloed this will be an issue.

If your company or support department have grown and added products, services, or channels over time, it is possible that each area has cobbled together their own way of doing things and their own knowledge bases. With separate repositories of information and training/support practices, your company will begin to sound fragmented to your customers, particularly if they use more than one of your offerings.

Nothing is more frustrating than to be told different things by different people from the same company. Even when the products are different. It is time to consolidate those knowledge bases and training practices so everyone is on the same message. A particular question should receive the same answer by web customer portal, live chat, phone, or other interactive method.

Additionally, to make things easier for everyone, information should be presented in the knowledge base using the same conventions. Whether someone is looking up answers about widget A or sprocket B, the information should be presented in the same way. One way to accomplish this is by using templates for knowledge base article entry. With specific fields to fill out, articles become easier to reference.

Make all channels access the same knowledgebase and the siloes of inforamation disappear. With good editing, the article quality and completeness will improve. And creating a way to automatically check for same or similar information keeps duplication of effort down.

Agents will feel more confident if they know the answers are there, correct, and easily accessed. Customers will feel more confident of the answers they get to their problems. And your company will receive stellar reviews on its quality of customer service.

Who doesn’t want that?

Managing the Customer Experience: CEM vs VOC vs EFM

Customer Experience Management

Marketing and customer service have started talking about the “Customer Experience” as an initiative. It seems a very nebulous term without any way to measure your progress or level. As always, the nomenclature for customer experience management has yet to settle into place. There seems to be multiple names for it with the typical alphabet soup of aliases.

As a service to you, the CXO, I present a brief list of definitions by Syed Hasan in destinationCRM:

  • CEM:
    • Customer Experience Management
    • Comprehensive business improvement and brand-building strategy
    • Encompasses strategic planning and operationalization
    • Envision desired experience
    • Collect, manipulate interpret all forms of customer experience data
    • Use intelligence to improve offerings, business planning, customer facing practices, and service delivery
  • VOC
    • Voice Of the Customer
    • Market research programs designed to discover customer requirements and needs
    • Differs from CEM: Less to do with day-to-day customer experiences
    • Used more for long term business improvement
    • Ensures customer needs are part of product development and service delivery strategies
  • EFM
    • Enterprise Feedback Management
    • Includes all customer feedback technologies including automated survey technologies
    • Consolidates organization wide surveys onto a single platform to centralize the information and create efficient processes for managing the submission and manipulation of large volumes of survey data.
    • NOT just data mining

Unfortunately, even now multiple platforms and services claim to any and all of these and claim to cover the total of customer experience management. The field is slowly finding universal definitions but the best way to know what practice is really being discussed is to take a deeper look into each service or product.

Mr. Hasan advocates “cutting to the chase.” You want to solve problems not write definitions. What you need to be looking at:

  • Customer retention
  • Customer feedback (who cares by which acronym)
  • Satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy measure by meaningful metrics

Keep those three bullet points in mind when the customer experience promoters come to call. It isn’t that they aren’t right. It’s just that you, as CXO, need to help them understand what you need to know.

And it isn’t a jumble of letters.

Cross posted from The Successful CXO:Committed to Customer Service

Laying a Foundation for the 3 Basic Elements of Customer Service

Jody Pellerin, Writer

Foundation

In keeping with this week’s theme of three essential elements of customer service I wanted to talk about the C-suite’s role.

In our top-down, hierarchical paradigm that has persisted over many decades, we tend to think of the C-suite as the top of the pyramid, the apex of the business. Over time this can cause a disconnect between the executive officers and the rest of the business. Decisions are made without really feeling the consequences because all the layers between executive and the rank and file dull any pain through spinning any bad news to sound not so bad.

The truth is, the C-suite is the foundation for the business. This is where company culture is set and where any change must start in order to successfully steer the business in a new direction. As the executives think, so goes the company.

In The First Element of Great Customer Service: Your People I wrote about the most essential part of great customer service. Like a three legged stool, customer service will fail if any one of the elements is missing, but I believe if the first element, people, are missing, it doesn’t just allow the stool to fall, the other two legs will cease to exist. People are necessary for the existence and success of quality and technology.

You, as the CXO, have the greatest impact on the people of your company. Your opinions, decisions, and actions inform the environment in which people work. You lay the foundation upon which the elements, especially the people, rest. I know it is easier to look at a spreadsheet and play with the numbers, but those numbers were affected by every person in your organization, and nobody has more impact than your customer facing employees.

It is incumbent upon you to make the right decisions and set the right tone for their success.Communicate, communicate, communicate.

  • Make it known that you will be patient with the hiring process if quality employees are being found.
  • Make management understand you consider money spent on training to be an investment, not an expense.
  • Make sure the proper tools are available to make it as easy as possible to answer customer concerns and desires.
  • Make your expectations crystal clear.

And if you must slash personnel do it as soon as possible with those who simply aren’t measuring up. Do yourself, your staff, and that employee the biggest favor you can by moving quickly before resentment, bad habits, and lost customers become a problem. Not everyone is cut out for customer service and the hiring process may not catch all of those who should be guided into other roles. It serves no one to let this slide because it is easier than facing someone to tell them they aren’t right for the job after all.

Your people are your greatest strength and your greatest weakness.

Your chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

These cliches exist because there is truth in them. Do your best to lay a solid foundation on which to rest this element and support it so the business can stand strong.

Cross posted to The Successful CXO: Committed to Customer Service

The First Element of Customer Service: Your People

This entry is cross-posted to The PhaseWare Files. The post was created to comply with all the elements recommended by HubSpot.

Back in November we published what turned out to be a rather popular blog entry: The Three Basic Elements of Customer Support. I want to flesh each of these elements out this week with some tips on optimizing each element.

First Element: People

Table of Periodical Elements - Carbon

You need carbon based life forms as a foundation for great customer service

“[P]eople that are right for your company and have an interest in making your customer happy are the right people to have… working with the customer. A customer can tell whether your employees are smiling or not, even over the phone.  If your people are happy, ultimately your customers will be happy. It is amazing to me how true happiness and excitement can make a customer happy to be part of a winning team.  A positive attitude is infectious so start an epidemic by hiring happy people.”

Making employees happy seems to be what this paragraph is saying but in reality it is a statement about hiring practices. Not everyone is cut out to give great customer service although some of it can be taught. You need to find a way to identify those who will succeed in the role which ultimately makes them…..happy.

According to *randstad the first thing to identify is the type of culture ingrained in your company. Some examples from authors Terrance Deal and Allan Kennedy include:

  • All Hands On Deck
    • Focus: Working together to get things done
    • Everyone works as a team regardless of title or position
  • Process
    • Focus: Procedures and bureaucracy
    • Data, grids, and forms are at the forefront and the culture lacks creativity
  • Work Hard/Play Hard
    • Focus: Fun and action
    • Employees take pride in quality of work but like to have fun with co-workers
  • Tough-Guy, Macho
    • Focus: Get the job done
    • People expected to know what they are doing and do it, little supervision. Lots of feedback and constructive criticism.

Maybe your company is a mix of one or more, or it doesn’t resemble any of these, but this list can get you started. And unless you are a one-person shop, make sure you get feedback from your current employees and customers about what the culture feels like to them.

Now you have some guidance on the types of questions and scenarios to go through with prospective employees. Try to drill into what each thinks so they don’t just give you a well rehearsed answer found on an interviewing website. This is your company. You need the people who will make it successful.

Once hired, there are three very important things that must happen:

Training
Training
Training

Nothing makes a new employee feel worse than having to say “I don’t know” or to be seen fumbling. If you can’t find a way to properly train people then be prepared for employee (and customer) churn.

Once trained, make sure to let them know how they are doing. Don’t let them get a huge surprise at their employee assessment when you roll out all the things that they’ve been doing wrong and nothing about what they have done right. Gently correct mistakes when they occur. Advise and coach with frequent quick talks and some back patting. Employees will let you know how much, how often, and what works best.

Need more in-depth information on these steps? Check out a book from the library or borrow from a friend. Check out the reviews on Amazon. Watch free on-demand webinars and search the web for information on hiring specifically for your industry. In this age of TMI, there is no shortage of help to be found.

Your people are your company. Make sure you put your company’s best face forward by hiring and retaining the right people.

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*Randstad provides temporary, temporary to permanent, permanent, and outsourced placement services for local and global customers.