It’s Not About You: Keep Your Employees Focused on the Customer

When customers call into your contact center, they are looking to have their issues resolved as quickly and effectively as possible. A recitation of your customer service processes and policies does not necessarily serve their interests. An ideal customer care experience will instead focus on the individual, not your business’s imperatives—except for the one that says “put the customer first.”

A customer care Communicator who responds to an inquiry with a statement of policy is anathema to the reason for customer service, as it puts up a wall between Communicator and customer. It shows disrespect for the customer as an individual. Instead, Communicators who feel they can’t positively resolve a customer’s issues should find someone within the organization who can.

Indeed, the experience you create for your customers will directly impact your business’s bottom line, oftentimes significantly, according to a 2017 Forrester report. While Forrester acknowledges the challenge of connecting customer experience (CX) quality with revenue growth, the research company demonstrated—using its own CX Index data—how CX improvements, for the most part, drive customer loyalty and, subsequently, greater profitability.

More important than being right is being considerate and helpful. Customers rate companies more on how they handle issues than whether their products or services have minor issues.

To improve the customer experience in your contact center, try to abide by the following list of do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  • Acknowledge the validity of the customer’s complaint, and show empathy for his or her trouble.
  • Seek help from an expert in the organization for customer questions you can’t answer.
  • Listen! Don’t be so committed to your script that you miss connecting emotionally with your callers.
  • Consider backing up your customer service actions with a promotional gift, such as a discount on a future purchase, to inspire the customer’s loyalty and good will.
  • Be human/authentic. That is, avoid sounding robotic and/or disinterested.
  • Treat the caller as a unique individual. Don’t lump his or her complaint into a global category that makes addressing it unlikely.
  • Connect customers with someone in service who speaks their language.
  • Distinguish between personal and professional behavior. While the Communicator may not be personally responsible for a product defect, for example, he or she is professionally responsible as a representative of the company.
  • Be polite and friendly.

Don’t:

  • Use foul language. Ever.
  • Label customers or call them names, like stupid, fat, rude and obnoxious. (It’s happened.)
  • Quote policy.
  • Expect customers to know or care about your processes.
  • Pass the buck. If you can help, then do help; don’t ask an associate to do it for you.
  • Blame the customer for the product or service issue.
  • Refer the customer to another support source, such as a doctor or the Internet.
  • Say there’s nothing you can do to help.
  • Contradict the customer. If he or she says something happened, assume it did.
  • Be sarcastic; don’t act frustrated or angry. Be empathetic instead.

Using Gamification to Motivate Your Contact Center Staff

Are the rewards you offer your Communicators sufficiently motivating and engaging that they translate into benefits for your customers? That is, are rewards—from employee recognition to paid time off to wages—enough to overcome job stressors in the heightened customer service environment of today’s contact center?

Appropriate motivation becomes ever more relevant as Communicator responsibilities continue to extend beyond simply reading from a screen. Today, these customer care associates are expected to empathize with customers, use initiative to solve problems and remain focused on conveying a professional demeanor during each and every interaction.

The methods used by contact centers to motivate and engage Communicators to perform these duties were analyzed recently by ContactBabel, with results published in a new study, “The US Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide 2016.”

The study shows that the 221 contact center managers and directors who responded to the ContactBabel questionnaire believe that their reward systems for Communicators are generally effective. Yet, ContactBabel found this to be true only when the reward was monetary, which approach was only used by 68 percent of respondents (compared to the 86 percent who use employee recognition).

In fact, cash bonuses were the least used reward.

For the most part then, contact center leaders think they are motivating and engaging Communicators in an appropriate and effective manner. Yet, by using attrition and absence rates, ContactBabel discovered a strong correlation between low salary levels and high staff attrition. The picture was a little different for absence rates, however, with those contact centers that ranked their reward programs “very effective” having fewer absences.

Overall, the findings present contact center leaders, who are not in a position to give significant wage increases to their customer care staff, with the need to find another reliable motivator. Enter gamification.

Gamification

Gamification is an approach for improving Communicator engagement, and aligning behaviors and characteristics with those of the contact center and wider enterprise. Basically, it involves turning work tasks into games. The opportunity for reward and recognition is presented at an individual level, with team-based successes also quantified. Achieving company-set goals is rewarded with points and badges.

Gamification increases Communicator engagement in a handful of ways:

  • Rewards those behaviors and characteristics that most closely align with contact center and company goals
  • Provides immediate feedback on performance to employees
  • Improves group performance through the pooling of knowledge and collaboration
  • Reduces ramp-up time for new Communicators, as it provides real-time feedback that encourages positive behaviors
  • Cuts down on time that managers must spend running incentive programs, and delivers them more objectively

Gamification requires company leaders to carefully set goals to avoid the risk of negative repercussions. For example, rewarding Communicators based on average handling time could cause them to drop difficult calls or not address customer concerns fully. Also, prepare for the novelty of the technique to wear off over time. This means that managers need to keep games fresh and goals relevant. It’s also quite possible that rewards will need to increase to maintain motivation levels.

Show Customers You Care

Customers connecting with your contact center are looking for empathy as well as the resolution of their issues. When interacting with your Communicators, they want understanding, not pity.

A recent Aspect Software study shows that customers who reported an exceptional contact center experience also rated Communicator empathy very high, at 88 percent. This strongly suggests that strong empathy skills, in addition to providing customers with the service they require, are key to ensuring customer satisfaction.

Empathy is achieved in not only what the Communicator says but in his or her tone. Communicators exhibit empathy when they intently listen to the customer’s concerns and respond with warmth and sincerity. Oftentimes, paraphrasing the customer’s message back to him or her effectively communicates understanding without judgment. At the same time, Communicators should avoid sharing personal opinions or experiences; instead, they should maintain a professional and courteous manner.

While some aspects of empathy can be taught, contact center managers should attempt to hire Communicators who are naturally inclined to be empathetic and reassuring. When training is warranted, role playing is a good technique for managers to employ, bringing in appropriate remediation, including Communicator motivation (to build the trust that is essential to winning and retaining customers). Oftentimes, Communicator training includes learning rote phrases to use with customers; however, these often are more sympathetic than empathetic, which can sound condescending and insincere.

Instead, consider using empathy statements like those listed below, offered by Call Centre Helper, that exude the empathy that can lead to the development of customer/Communicator rapport. When communicating empathy, remember to use personal pronouns (“I” and “you”) to show personal involvement and interest:

  • I want to make sure that I truly understand what you’re telling me. I’m hearing that …
  • If I get your message wrong, please correct me before we’re done.
  • I will help you get this issue resolved.
  • Thank you for bringing this concern to our attention so that we can deal with it immediately.
  • I understand the problem and I’m taking the following steps to resolve it …
  • Your satisfaction means everything to us. Have we covered everything that you wanted to discuss today?

These are just examples, as it’s important that Communicators relate to customers naturally; otherwise, their sincerity could be called into question. Demonstrating sincerity and empathy will allow for better interaction for both parties.

When contact center leaders establish a culture based on core brand values, such as treating co-workers and customers fairly and politely, and set a good example in the workplace, then carryover from staff to customers will be easier to accomplish and reinforce.

Web-Based Workforce Management Solutions for the Contact Center

Modern workforce management (WFM) solutions allow contact center managers to integrate Web-based scheduling and resource planning, enabling real-time connections with team leaders and Communicators. This sort of visibility into contact center operations helps managers make every second count as business requirements change.

WFM tools also facilitate certain work-life balance options, such as working from home. Empowering remote Communicators is one way that today’s contact centers are creating workforces that can more easily scale up and down as business fluctuates.

The latest Web-based tools, previously sold as add-on modules, are now being included as part of WFM packages. They are designed to perform on a range of browsers, encouraging collaboration and promoting transparency among managers and Communicators.

Let’s look at the ways these new WFM solutions are benefitting contact centers:

Agility: Operationally, the latest Web-based resource planning and scheduling tools put team leaders and resource planners in control of their contact centers at all times, even across time zones. They can modify team schedules on the fly to accommodate seasonal peaks and valleys—or daily unforeseen shifts in traffic volume. Managers have the ability to compare actual Communicator status against schedules and contracted hours to make better-informed decisions to improve workflow.

Skills-based routing: Using the powerful search functionality embedded in Web-based solutions, team leaders can group Communicators by various criteria, e.g., location or expertise. This allows someone like a resource planner to search cross-company for Communicators with a specific skill, such as the ability to translate Spanish to English. Features include the option to group by multiple criteria, such as performance rating, which allows managers to resolve issues or make improvements more quickly.

Collaboration: The entire operations team gains clear and accurate visibility into Communicator activity at all times. Advanced search, sort and editing functionality enables team leaders to alter shift times and allow substitutions when Communicators request a swap. Daily workforce activities and requests can be managed with quick clicks in a single, integrated platform.

Performance improvements: Web-based WFM tools support development of a winning front-line workforce. Managers can track schedule adherence, and monitor individual and team performance, which allows them to easily identify training gaps and set up relevant coaching sessions. All this can be done from the desktop in real time.

Contact centers still relying on paper-based manual processes, or even using non-integrated WFM modules, for forecasting and scheduling are missing an opportunity to excel in customer service delivery. Both over- and under-staffing costs money: overpayment for idle Communicators, and missed revenue opportunities and customer dissatisfaction, respectively.

For contact centers that mean to look after their customers’ needs at the highest level, centralized resource planning and visibility into workforce activities is the new ideal. With a Web-based workforce management solution, it’s easy to keep tabs on staff and keep Communicators engaged and happy by reducing inefficiencies.

Issue Resolution: The Primary Prerequisite for Customer Satisfaction

When customers call into contact centers, they are usually experiencing one of two problems: 1) a billing issue, or 2) product or service assistance. And quick resolution is their aim. Unfortunately, this is not happening regularly. Along with this complaint, customers are growing impatient with companies’ interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Together, these issues have caused the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) to drop to 68—the lowest it’s been since 2007.

Released last month by CFI Group, the latest CCSI score, based on a 0- to 100-point scale, slid four points this year. CFI reports that just 52 percent of issues are resolved on first contact (down 6 percent from 2015) and one-third of consumers fail to resolve their issues through self-service options. Especially frustrated by these hurdles are today’s young adults—those individuals born between 1980 and 2000 known as millennials.

Raised in an on-demand digital world, millennials—the nation’s largest demographic—expect readily available information they can easily tap into themselves.

To meet the demands of this generation, and consumers in general, contact centers must better align their processes to exceed customer expectations. Here are some key points to guide these improvements:

Get on board the omnichannel train: Consumers want to interact with brands using their preferred channels. The top five of which are telephone, email, live chat, online portal/FAQ and search engine, according to a 2015 report from Microsoft. Despite telephone’s popularity, Microsoft found that 57 percent of people in the U.S. typically begin brand interactions online; 35 percent begin with the telephone.

First call resolution: Customer satisfaction with contact centers goes hand in hand with the first call resolution (FCR) metric. In addition, even when FCR is achieved, satisfaction is decreased if the caller has to speak with more than one Communicator. On the flip side, the length of time it takes to achieve FCR is not a factor unless the call lasts more than 30 minutes.

Yet, most U.S. customers won’t wait on hold for service no matter how quickly their issues can be resolved. Only 43 percent of Microsoft’s respondents reported a tolerance for even a one- to five-minute wait.

Personal customer care: Even the best technology, wonderful as it is at helping contact center leaders to forecast call volume and deploy skills-based routing, cannot replace the human touch. When customers are frustrated or angry, no IVR or self-help portal is going to be able to de-escalate emotions the way a responsive, empathetic Communicator can.

Whereas a 2012 Amdocs survey found that 75 percent of consumers would prefer to use online support if it were available, a new Verint study shows that human involvement is a critical component in solving queries, especially when complex or sensitive. In fact, four out of five of the 24,000 respondents to Verint’s interview prefer that customer service continue to include human interactions.

Your contact center is critical to creating a customer experience that can differentiate your company in the marketplace. Deploy technologies and strategies now that will show your customers how much you value their business.

 

Listen Up! Maybe Your Customer Has a Right to Be Angry

Keep in mind that your customers have something at stake when they call you for service—namely money. We can all relate to wanting to protect our interests when we’re at the receiving end of an acquisition. Does your caller feel the quality of your products or services was misrepresented?  Does he or she disagree with company policy or procedure regarding returns or cancellations? As you know, there are nearly as many reasons for customer ire as there are items in your product line.

Whatever the cause for a caller’s anger—and whether or not it seems reasonable—contact center Communicators are tasked with turning these tense situations into valuable customer experiences. You want your customers to feel validated and appreciated at the end of their interactions—nothing less. Ideally, your Communicators will also end exchanges feeling positive and effective.

Surely your business has policies in place for handling irate customers. Communicators must know what they can offer customers independently or with a supervisor’s approval. On the flip side, they ought to understand limits imposed by the business. Most Communicator strategies involve resolving the issue and retaining the customer.

As I like to remind my Communicators, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason: Listening twice as much as we talk gives us a chance to stay quiet long enough to allow our brains to properly interpret what customer are saying and better understand their needs.  So when we do open our mouths, our words will help build a stronger relationship as opposed to making the situation more volatile.

Before you attempt to defuse an angry caller, a good tactic is to let the person complete his tale of woe.  If not, then you won’t have the facts you need to understand the issue—never mind empathizing with or validating the customer’s concerns. And that’s what you want to do: acknowledge the caller’s state of mind and substantiate the complaint.

Remember that your customer didn’t come to you to complain, he or she came to you for assistance. Explore the problem to pinpoint the exact cause so you can formulate a solution. Tell the customer the steps you are taking to resolve the complaint. Take action immediately. Per business practice, reassure the customer that the problem is resolved according to their expectations and that it won’t reoccur in the future.

Before ending the call, ask the customer if the issue has been resolved to his or her satisfaction. If not, agree to take further steps, and then follow up.

Gearing Up Your Contact Center for the Holiday Rush

From early October through December, the contact center reflects both the uptick in holiday shopping and the push to hit the year’s projected numbers.  When you’re standing in a line waiting for the doors to open on some retailer’s one-day only seasonal sale, just imagine the hold queues forming in contact centers that didn’t prepare for the onslaught! Due to the rise of mobile shopping, and the phenomenon that is Cyber Monday, the holidays now represent one of the busiest times of the year for contact centers.

Most contact centers bring on extra Communicators for peak holiday business. Here at InfoCision, we bring on about 500 new employees, which represents one-eighth of our normal Communicator workforce.

To be a prepared contact center that continues to satisfy customers during holiday shopping periods, here are a few additional suggestions:

Use data to forecast the rush: Review historical data, industry projections and other intelligence to estimate how many extra hands you’ll need to meet customer demand at this time of the year. Beyond hiring Communicators, consider adding staff to handle monitoring of social media channels and other contact center functions. Consider whether extending service to 24/7 availability or enlisting an outsourced contact center would enhance the customer experience over the holidays.

Acclimate existing and new staff: Even experienced Communicators hired for the season need some time to acclimate to new surroundings, so don’t wait until the last minute. It’s also a good idea to team new hires with expert Communicators to teach them the ropes.  Also, prepare all staff to handle seasonal promotions by giving them written materials detailing how to upsell and cross-sell products, and provide additional training and scripts to help Communicators maximize revenue.

Support Communicators: Some contact centers have gone to extremes to keep their Communicators happy during the holiday rush—offering chair massages, for example. Others provide free coffee and cookies delivered to workstations and bring in complementary lunches. Still, others hold drawings for merchandise and gifts. To build team support, try an ugly Christmas sweater contest or offer a prize for best decorated cubicles.

Make sure your holiday shoppers—who may contact your business only at this time of year—have a great experience with your brand. When you’re well-prepared for the rush, you can build stronger relationships that will last all year.

 

Change Your Employee Performance Metrics to Better Reflect Customer Engagement

Are you aware that customer engagement and customer satisfaction are two distinctly different metrics? A recent Gallup poll sheds light on the differences and how each can be measured most effectively.

Gallup confirms that engagement is a much higher bar to reach than satisfaction. One doesn’t necessarily follow from the other, and both are strategic choices for companies looking to grow business revenues.

Half of all customers in Gallup’s customer database say they are satisfied with a given brand, but only 38 percent say they are engaged with it. Gallup gives examples for each metric. For instance, a retail business may earn customer satisfaction by offering great sales, discounts and deals. But it will engage customers if its salespeople go out of their way to be helpful.

Four possible combinations of the two metrics were identified by Gallup: 1) low satisfaction/low engagement; 2) high satisfaction/low engagement; 3) low satisfaction/high engagement; and 4) high satisfaction/high engagement. No. 4 is obviously the ideal situation, and No. 1 is a sure miss.

Ranking in No. 2 or No. 3 can be valuable—but only if following from a company’s leadership and strategic aim to be there.

Gallup defines No. 2 customer relationships as ones of “convenience,” meaning that either price or product features are appealing but customers have no strong emotional connection with the brand. Here, customers want what the company offers—not the company itself. This is a perilous position for brands because customers will simply leave if another brand offers more bang for the buck.

Companies that rank in the No. 3 category are known for their emotional connections to customers but hardly rational aspects of their products or services. Think highly successful, upscale hotel chains and theme parks.

How can companies drive employees to performances that help them reach the ideal No. 4 category of both high satisfaction and high engagement? Start by measuring the right metrics; identify the specific actions that keep customers coming back and purchasing more. Spreading a positive message should be the primary focus of training and management efforts.

Senior leaders are the only ones in a position to instill organizational norms that engender greater customer satisfaction and engagement.

Here’re Gallup’s four key strategies for advancing within each category:

  1. Clarify the purpose and mission: Only a well-defined mission can drive purpose effectively.
  2. Reverse-engineer the culture: Organizational norms must serve the mission.
  3. Invest in what matters: Highly successful organizations invest time, energy and money into advancing their missions.
  4. Measure the right things: If you want engagement, measure customer “moments” as locally as possible.

Consistency and persistence across these four areas determine a company’s value proposition to the marketplace, says Gallup.  Senior leaders must be intentional in connecting mission—whether customer satisfaction, engagement or both—and strategy to turn organizational norms into strengths.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Get in Touch With Customer Needs

Businesses still struggle to meet customer expectations even as they universally acknowledge the criticality of supporting and engaging customers in today’s digital world. Nowhere are their efforts to provide an optimal customer experience more important than in the contact center—the hub of customer service interactions. Yet, a recent report from Ovum and Boldchat indicates that a discrepancy exists between customer behaviors and contact center support. Specifically, contact centers are not delivering integrated support offerings that meet the demands of connected, mobile users.

Whereas customers are using multiple digital channels to search for information, businesses fall short when it comes to providing responsive websites and applications that seamlessly support those usages. Even contact centers that incorporate technologies to address multichannel customer engagement must still strive to improve resolution rates by reducing customer efforts to find answers and reach Communicators for urgent queries.

To put these needs in perspective, consider that the use of mobile applications to access support has increased from 64 percent in 2014 to 83 percent in 2016, according to the report. In addition, customer use of mobile websites to access customer service has increased from 57 percent to 64 percent in the same time period. Plus, the number of callers using smartphones vs. landlines to reach a contact center is greater for the first time.

So, what can contact center leaders do now to narrow the gap between customers and contact centers regarding the quality of customer support?

One way is to use data to better track customer Web usage related to service issues. Another is to increase Web-based, self-help experiences for customers. To maintain a feeling of support in these instances, enable a live chat option. Forward-thinking companies have already implemented this service with success. The report revealed that live chat use from a mobile site or application has increased from 33 percent to 44 percent in the last two years due to increased accessibility and the technology’s ability to provide fast access to a live representative during a Web or mobile experience.

Contact center leaders should also be paying close attention to customer complaints about automated response systems. Forty-three percent of customers reported frustration with the amount of time it takes to reach a representative, which likely explains why 40 percent of customers turn to the Web for answers to their inquiries. Ovum and Boldchat’s report also indicates that 78 percent of customers would choose a channel other than phone calls if they knew they could get a resolution on the first attempt.

Today’s customers are more empowered than ever. Businesses must respond to this new environment by investing in tools that support digital channels and improve internal processes and response times. Stay agile; the next big thing is just over the horizon.

Five Scary Contact Center Interactions to Banish This Halloween

As we prepare to ward off ghouls and ghosts on October 31, are you certain your contact center isn’t haunted by some frightening phantoms of its own?

Some Communicator behaviors, as well as some contact center processes, can spook your customers if they don’t meet customer expectations. Here are five scary things to unmask in your contact center this Halloween:

  1. Improper emotional responses: Your Communicators are expected to possess great communication skills. This involves the capacity to relate to customers professionally as well as to connect with them emotionally. An angry and/or frustrated customer must be given empathy by a calm Communicator who works efficiently to resolve the issue. Contact center managers can do a lot to ensure their Communicators meet these standards—beginning with the hiring phase.
  1. Unprepared responses: Some 59 percent of consumers responding to a Harris Poll on customer service calls indicated that they place the most value on quick and correct answers. Yet, Communicators fail to answer their questions 50 percent of the time, according to Harris Interactive. This conundrum indicates the need for contact centers to improve their first call resolution (FCR) rates to meet customer expectations. The best way to do this is with focused Communicator training. FCR will be elusive if Communicators do not possess the necessary product or service knowledge to resolve customer issues. Another important factor is employee engagement. Communicators who feel valued and are recognized for their performance will repeat it at the desired level and motivate others to do so.
  1. Asking customers to repeat themselves: Give your Communicators easy access to customer histories so they don’t have to ask customers to repeat information already provided. A robust customer relationship management (CRM) solution can relay real-time information so Communicators can deliver a stellar customer experience. The majority of today’s enterprises have implemented CRM capabilities to leverage resources and gain a holistic view of the customer. Make sure your business is equipped to keep up with the major players in your space.
  1. Putting customers on hold: Customers don’t like being put on hold. Research shows that even one minute on hold leads to dissatisfaction. The solution is to include a callback option for customers requested to hold. For tips and tricks on initiating an optimal callback strategy, click here.
  1. Slow response: For efficient contact center interactions, Communicators must be trained to multitask. The job requires not only responding to customers directly but inputting data and using reference materials. Training must be built around resolving queries using both soft and technical skills simultaneously. Teach trainees their craft live on the floor in tandem with front line managers for greatest impact; it exposes them to real-life scenarios and ways to handle them. If managers are not trained in mentoring and coaching Communicators, make it a priority.