From a Customer Experience to a Customer Journey

Years ago, a company’s interaction with customers was largely limited to two points of contact. A consumer interested in a product would come into a brick-and-mortar store location and speak with a sales representative. If the consumer made a purchase and had a question or problem down the line, he or she would call a contact center for assistance.

In an age of rapidly developing technology and new channels, however, providing a top-notch customer experience requires a 360-degree approach. In many cases, the customer experience begins far in advance of the consumer’s first contact with a company and, for the most successful businesses, carries on far past the first purchase. In other words, the customer experience is now an ongoing journey.

For instance, research reveals that today’s buyers wait until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete before contacting a company. Studies have also repeatedly shown that consumers increasingly expect proactive customer service from companies they patronize.

But for many companies, providing this kind of 24/7/365 quality of customer service is a foreign concept; a comprehensive strategy for building and maintaining strong customer relationships simply isn’t part of their core competencies. For these businesses, teaming with a multichannel marketing partner may be a wise decision.

Industry-leading marketing and service organizations have the experience and tools to help acquire, retain, upsell and restore customers. These partners can help take some of the burden of providing great customer service off an organization with solutions like:

  • Top-of-the line inbound and outbound call center services
  • Demographically targeted direct mail campaigns
  • Email and text marketing and service
  • Web chat

Although the emergence of new channels creates added complexity for businesses, it can also be advantageous. For instance, research shows that the majority of customers are more likely to share customer experiences than they were five years ago and that consumers increasingly rely on consumer reviews to make purchasing decisions. That means that if a business is knocking its customer service out of the park, other people are going to hear about and be impacted by it.

So…are you ready to lead your customers on a journey?

Summer Heat Makes Everybody a Little Cranky: Are you Ready?

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, summer has unofficially started—and its official beginning is not far off. While the season offers a lot of opportunities for fun in the sun, it also brings warmer temperatures and sometimes, sour moods. In fact, scientific research proves that when temperatures get hotter, so do tempers.

Keeping that in mind, businesses need to be especially sharp with their quality of customer service during the coming several months. The bottom line is that people are human, and the combination of the heat and service follies like long hold times are going to get under their collective skin. In the summer, a normally cool-headed consumer may not have quite the same level of patience he or she would during the other seasons.

If your company’s contact center was barely making the grade during spring, perhaps teaming with a partner for best-in-class customer service solutions is a good plan of action. When the thermometer reads 98 degrees, the fact is that most people don’t want to be on the phone—or any other channel—dealing with a customer service problem. They are often starting the call in a bit of a cranky mood, so it’s up to your representatives to rise to that challenge.

InfoCision has decades of experience in the contact center and customer service space and can provide the tools you need to excel this summer. Our Communicators are the best-trained in the business and can handle any customer-related scenario that comes their way. Leveraging our experience will give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that every single contact between your customers and representatives is being handled in a courteous and professional manner.

In other words, with InfoCision at your side, cooler heads will prevail.

For Customer Service, Consider Baby Steps Over Giant Leaps

In days gone by, great customer service meant employing knowledgeable salespeople and friendly cashiers in-store. But as new channels emerge, and consumer expectations for quality of customer service continue to rise, providing a top-shelf experience can seem like a daunting task.

When looking to make a change, some business owners immediately look to the end goal as opposed to the steps that need to be taken to make an impact. For instance, a contact center manager might hastily decide to completely re-write a call script. Or, a social media marketer might create company accounts on five platforms in a single afternoon.

Oftentimes, the most prudent way to begin re-shaping your customer service is through smaller, incremental steps. Making 100 percent improvement in a single area is usually unrealistic. Making one percent progress in 100 different aspects of an operation, however, is easier to accomplish. Taking smaller yet more impactful steps is likely to immediately yield better customer service. Here are some small steps you can take now to assure quality of customer service:

  • Reduce your supervisor-to-agent ratio
  • Provide more extensive training to new hires
  • Invest in customer analytics
  • Implement quality assurance to ensure that every product is manufactured and delivered with ease
  • Stay abreast of developing contact center technology

Some of the recent research released about customer service is jolting. For example, 55 percent of consumers said they switched to a different company for a product after a single negative experience, according to a Zendesk survey. But companies should guard against making sweeping changes as a reaction to these kinds of statistics. In other words, just as you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, you shouldn’t toss your entire customer service strategy if making tweaks might do the trick.

Going Beyond ‘I’m Sorry’: The Difference between an Apology and Service Recovery

Much of what is written on this blog is designed to help business leaders understand the importance of excellent customer service and the tools they need to provide it. But no matter what business you’re in, occasional customer service slip-ups are unavoidable. Sometimes the issue—like an airline forced to delay flights because of inclement weather—is completely out of your control.

No company looks forward to these incidents, but if approached with the right perspective they are actually opportunities for you to stand out as a business dedicated to providing the absolute highest quality of customer service. How? By going beyond “I’m sorry.” True Service recovery is more than a simple apology—it’s about making things right. Here’s how you can do it:

Listen closely for subtle clues

Oftentimes, if an agent remains silent while a customer vents they can gain better insight into his or her ideal resolution. For instance, if a customer calls a bank’s contact center because he was mistakenly charged a $30 overdraft fee on his checking account, chances are the inconvenience and hassle are more at issue than the money itself. Sometimes a refund or store credit is a good idea; other times a consumer might be pleased to learn your company is going to re-examine a particular policy. The key to finding the right course of action is really listening, not just hearing.

Be empathetic

You might be surprised to know how much customers value an empathetic response from a customer service Communicator. Everybody has had a negative experience at some point, so encourage your representatives to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes and think about how they would like to be treated in a similar situation. Coach your agents to validate the customer’s feelings by saying something like, “I can hear you are upset and I will work with you for as long as it takes to get this straightened out.” That kind of compassionate response can help calm the costumer and get the call going on a more positive track.

Take responsibility

Trying to deflect blame, especially back to the customer, only makes things worse. Even if the consumer did play some small part in a mishap Communicators should avoid mentioning it because it is simply not important anymore. What matters is getting the situation fixed—quickly. Agents should be held accountable for their individual actions and, brand representatives should be held responsible for the company’s mishaps, as well.

Use feedback to make changes

Consumer feedback is one of the most valuable assets for any company because it allows you to make changes to your best practices based on empirical evidence rather than guesswork. Leveraging customer responses will improve service overall and can be particularly satisfying for customers who see their suggestions put into practice.

Research indicates that 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t complain when they have a problem, so you can be sure the ones who do reach out feel strongly about their issue. Though they may be upset at first, if your customer service Communicators make consumers feel their problem is as important to your company as it is to them, you’re on your way to service recovery and loyal customers.

When It Comes To Service, Your Customers Have a Long Memory

If you have been keeping up with our blog, by now you are well aware of the impact that customer interactions have on business. In this same vein, you know that top-of-line quality of customer service is critical for improving customer retention, which in turn has profound power over your company’s bottom line.

According to a recent survey conducted by Zendesk and Dimensional research, a stunning 39 percent of consumers will avoid a vendor for two or more years after a bad customer experience. Meanwhile, 55 percent will simply switch to a different product or company following a negative interaction. This same study also reveals that consumers are far more likely to share experiences than they were even five years ago when things go awry with a brand.

What these numbers boil down to is that customers are likely to remember how they were treated by your organization—and for longer than you expect. Here are three ways you can avoid becoming a bad memory:

Real-time interaction

Nothing makes a customer happier than getting quick answers to pressing problems. On the flip side, it’s why obscenely long on-hold times are always frustrating and why customers continually press zero in the IVR menu. Today’s technology makes it possible for customers to visit a company’s website, chat digitally or even request a call back from a representative so that questions are answered quickly: bottom line. Skills-based routing, for example, ensures that complex calls are received by the Communicator best equipped to handle that particular inquiry. Getting the most seasoned agents on the most difficult calls helps boost first-call resolution rates and, consequently, customer satisfaction.

Customized CRM

Customer service representatives spend a sizeable amount of their day seeking information needed to effectively manage customer interactions, according to a recent Aberdeen report. That is precious time that can be reclaimed, however, with the right CRM solution. Comprehensive customer profiles and customized scripting that pop on screen as soon as an inbound call number is recognized allow Communicators to skip the tedious and irksome process of asking the customer for personal information and move right into providing personalized customized service.

Quality assurance

Like anything else, call center processes need a regular checkup. Program supervisors that conduct skills assessments each month and independent quality assurance teams that remotely monitor representatives are two ways that managers can ensure that their facilities are embracing constant improvement. To help foster this, supervisors can engage in training exercises with Communicators. For example, a supervisor can play the role of a caller during a mock interaction to give a Communicator a more realistic idea of what a live customer call will actually feel like, from the simplest to the most complicated scenario.

Rather than biting your fingernails at the realization that consumers today have the memory of an elephant when it comes to customer service, take it as a grand opportunity to distinguish your brand. After all, customers remember outstanding service just as they do poor interactions. In fact, 52 percent of customers are more likely to repurchase from a business following a good experience, according to Zendesk.

We all want a strong reputation, in life and in business. By taking advantage of the many solutions at your company’s disposal, you can be certain your brand will be remembered – for all the right reasons.

Three Crucial Takeaways from the Target Data Breach

Who can forget the now infamous Target hacking? During the 2013 holiday season, the company suffered a massive data breach where hackers stole the credit card and personal information of perhaps as many as 110 million customers. The network security breakdown is still being scrutinized and, for now, it remains unclear what steps the company might have taken to prevent the breach. What is not disputed, however, are Target’s major failings in the quality of its customer service.

Target’s follies, however, cast a spotlight on broader business lessons that can be learned, serving as a reminder of the extreme importance of excelling when it comes to customer service:

Takeaway #1: Prepare for the worst case scenario

Taking a proactive approach to service doesn’t mean that you expect something catastrophic will happen—it just means you are prepared if it ever does. Most customer service issues won’t produce the number of queries that Target’s breach did; however, businesses should adopt scalable solutions for one-off scenarios that call for extra capacity. Customers simply don’t want to hear that a situation was isolated and will never happen again; they care about resolving their problems quickly and courteously and you should, too.

Takeaway #2: Renew focus on agent training and quality of customer interactions

According to Forrester, only 31 percent of organizations closely monitor the quality of interactions with customers. In the meantime, anything could be happening; agent slip-ups, multiple transfers and best practices could be falling through the cracks. Paying close attention to client communications—and coaching agents to help them improve—is vital to keeping your head above water when the pressure is on. In Target’s case, many customers complained about what they perceived as a lack of empathy from agents. The fact is, without a solid foundation in empathy training, your representatives are not going to best prepared in a high-stress situation. A positive and respectful attitude must be cultivated during training and continually developed over time. Once this best practice is created it must also be maintained.

Takeaway #3: View every customer service challenge as an opportunity for service recovery

A data breach or any other customer-centric problem is an undesirable position for any company, but it can also be viewed as an opportunity for excellent service recovery. These potential crises can be stressful but they also give your company a chance to show customers how important their business is to you. Service recovery is more than a simple apology—it’s about going the extra mile to rectify the situation. In some cases, this may require checking back in with customers several times to ensure that they are still satisfied with the resolution. As the great American businesswoman Mary Kay Ash once said, “Every failure, obstacle or hardship is an opportunity in disguise.”

Unfortunately, no business is immune to mishaps. How those problems are handled, however, is critical to preserving customer relationships and bolstering brand image. According to a recent consumer survey from Zendesk, 87 percent of customers believe brands need to work harder to create a seamless consumer experience, meaning there is a lot of room for improvement out there. So rather than allowing Target’s situation to strike fear in your workforce, take the opportunity to learn from it and make sure you are prepared for whatever comes your way.

Retaining Customers with Stellar Inbound Call Center Services and Practices

The call center is the front line and starting point for customers’ experiences; they can either choose to continue their journeys with your company or quit cold turkey. This essentially makes your agents the face of your company.

So how do you ensure the best quality of customer service in your inbound call center?

Foster an Atmosphere of Teamwork and Consistency

Two of the most important attributes for call center success are a sense of togetherness and consistency of services delivered. One way to help build a sense of teamwork is to keep a low call agent-to-supervisor ratio. This ratio ensures more individual attention and training for agents from supervisors, shaping an intimate work environment that is competitive yet team-oriented.

Capitalize on Employee Strengths and Training

Once you have the analytic tools to measure what agents excel in what areas, you can leverage skills-based call routing to ensure that calls are being sent to subject matter experts mostly likely to be able to resolve them. Combining the power of call metrics and cutting-edge technology solutions ultimately guarantees that the most complex calls go to your most effective agents.

Accurately Measure Agent Effectiveness

As you work to improve your call center, you need visibility into what is working well and what might need some tweaking. Backed by the right call center solutions provider, you’ll get metrics like Average Handle Time (AHT) and Calls Handled per Hour, and the all-important response rate that easily spell out how well your scripts and procedures are working. Just how important are analytics? Consider that companies that use them generate 73 percent more sales than those who do not according to IBM. Keep in mind, however, that while increasing sales is a huge business objective, companies that turn a blind eye to the power of analytics are squandering the easiest way to reach that goal.

These services and others can help improve your agent-customer relationships, boost retention and reduce its mortal enemy—customer churn. In fact, the impact of customer churn on your call center can be so devastating that research shows it can cost eight times (or more) as much to acquire a new customer compared to keeping an existing one.

The fact is that today’s consumers aren’t interested in hearing the reasons why they aren’t getting their issues resolved—they simply move on to a competitor.

Communicators vs. Agents: The InfoCision Difference

In your time as a contact center manager or business executive, the lengths you have taken to ensuring the best quality of customer service possible has probably led you to read a lot about “agents” or “representatives.” These are of course widespread industry terms held by many; however, InfoCision isn’t one of many. If your goal is to create more than just adequate customer relationships and instead set the standard in your field, you may need something more than these industry standard operators—you need Communicators.

At InfoCision, we refer to the employees who answer calls as Communicators because they do more than simply represent your company—they are your brand ambassadors. They are essentially an extension of your own internal team responsible for expertly communicating your message and expressing your core competencies. Our Communicators hold an impressive level of credentials including maturity, experience and dedication:

  • Have an average age of over 40 years and an average tenure of more than 4.5 years, and 78 percent are full-time employees
  • Receive up to four months of client-specific training and are brand experts by the time training is complete
  • Are provided the opportunity to earn performance-based compensation, and as such are committed to the highest level of professionalism

In addition to rigorous training requirements, Communicators are assigned to programs based on their own affinities and skills, allowing them to truly flourish and feel invigorated from the inside out. We also route calls to those Communicators with the skill set to provide the clear resolution of a customer issue on the first service call. In other words, first call resolution isn’t a hope of ours, it’s a hard reality. Combining all of these factors allows companies to provide their customers an unmatched quality of customer service.

InfoCision has spent decades refining its culture to create best practices that help build customer loyalty. As a leader in the contact center and customer services spaces, we enjoy engaging business colleagues, sharing our experiences and leveraging the lessons we’ve learned as pillars for the years to come. We look forward to communicating with your business in the near future in the hopes of creating partnerships that stand the test of time.

For more information about InfoCision’s call center solutions, click here.

Customer service critical to brand identity and customer loyalty

It seems every day there’s a new, exciting technology emerging that aims to make our frenetic lives a little easier. While many of these new conveniences are fantastic, most of us have, at one time or the other, experienced the bumps along the learning curve regarding setup, troubleshooting and the like. And when we need it, that’s when great customer support serves to strengthen that brand. I found Dan Pallotta’s recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Nest and Google’s Customer Service Problem quite insightful. Companies that have grown tremendously because they are incredibly innovative when it comes to technology, are now branching out into service industries. Providing a customer service option that is in tune with their customers is not necessarily in their wheelhouse. As they begin to hear more and more complaints they will begin to realize how critical the customer experience is to brand identity, as well as long term growth and customer loyalty.

Dan’s customer service blog post is timely in that our winter Marketing Solutions magazine just published and is focused on providing an exceptional customer experience. The cover story features our longtime client, Little Tikes, who has built a highly successful culture of customer service. It’s a great story and I encourage you to check it out.

Like Little Tikes, customer service is in InfoCision’s DNA. What about your company? What are you doing to move the needle? Leave a comment and let’s start the conversation.