How to Resolve the Top Three Most Frustrating Customer Service Experiences

Microsoft’s annual U.S. State of Multichannel Customer Service Report is filled with helpful insights about customer expectations for service and engagement, and it confirms something most of us already know: A full 98 percent of U.S. consumers say that customer service is very important or somewhat important in their choice of, or loyalty to, a brand.

There will always be challenges in achieving the highest level of customer service, though. Some of those issues were brought to light in the report, which asked consumers to name what they consider to be the most frustrating aspects of a customer service experience. Let’s take a look at the top three customer frustrations and consider how they might be addressed in any one of our contact centers. Who knows—maybe next year we can bump these off the list entirely (or at least move them to the bottom of the list!).

  1. Being passed between agents was cited by 22 percent of respondents as a frustration, topping the list as a whole. Interactive voice response (IVR) systems can go a long way toward resolving this frustration. While IVR is already widely in use in contact centers, it’s not always used to its full potential. IVR is great for automating simple, repetitive tasks, but it can also direct calls to specific individuals who are most qualified to help. Assignments are made based on selections chosen by the callers as they progress through the system. But don’t stop there—take customer surveys to get actionable feedback to improve your IVR. Continuous review and redesign of the system will ensure that customers reach the right party every time, with no bouncing around. If a Communicator is forced to transfer a call, be sure you have the technology available to pass customer information from one employee’s screen to the next.
  2. Having to contact a brand or organization multiple times for the same issue was cited by 21 percent of respondents as the second-greatest frustration. Before you fix anything else, be sure your Communicators aren’t being incentivized to wrap up calls quickly. If your performance metrics emphasize average handle time, you may be unwittingly cutting off calls before they come to a full resolution. Rather than get rid of the metric altogether, combine it with other metrics that focus on customer satisfaction. Some businesses are making a concerted effort to resolve problems on the first call by training Communicators to dig deep for answers—putting customers on hold while they contact other parties in an effort to find an answer. Still other businesses are providing Communicators with a robust knowledge base to serve as an information resource, which could be useful for solving a host of problems.
  3. IVR automation/not being able to reach a live person was cited by 18 percent of consumers as a major frustration. IVR is often cited as a customer pain point, but again, a more thoughtful implementation delivers better results. Some IVR systems don’t offer customers a way out, so make sure yours does. To keep the use of this “exit strategy” to a minimum, simplify your menu options. Providing four or five options is considered optimal, and prioritize them so the most commonly selected ones are stated first. Only include essential information, and incorporate a callback feature to prevent too-long holding times. Very often IVR is the beginning of the customer service journey, so it should be considered as important as any other channel in the contact center. If you dedicate the appropriate funds, time and effort into getting it right, you’ll reap the benefits in happier—and less frustrated—customers.

Click here for a brief summary of customer expectations around the globe as presented in the Microsoft report.

Offshore Contact Centers—Is Your Message Getting Lost at Sea?

As part of a cost-initiative movement during the mid-1990s, contact center companies took a leap across the pond and began transferring their centers offshore. In doing so, these businesses were able to keep their wallets a little bit fuller, but not without lowering their customer satisfaction scores. This unintended outcome eventually hastened a return to U.S. soil for a good number of these offshore adventurers.

Communications between Americans and representatives at offshore contact centers often suffer from language barriers such as accents and pronunciation, creating customer dissatisfaction. Besides actual anomalies in voice interactions, cultural differences can cause communication issues too—usually from problems in message transmission. Values, beliefs and expectations for behavior accompany all human interactions, and often these are significantly different between countries, leading to missed cues and even insults.

Any of these communication gaffs can cause callers to feel undervalued because they add time to inquiry resolution.

After all, one key to making customers feel appreciated is to respect their time. Think about restaurants that give their customers a small remote control so that they can easily notify the valet service to bring the car around so that it’s waiting when they exit. Or, consider a contact center’s time-saving option that provides a callback service to customers waiting in its IVR queue.

Conversely, when customers and Communicators must continually repeat themselves to be understood, quick questions can turn into aggravating time drains. Even the technology that supports contact center functions can inadvertently add to the call’s duration; bad phone service or a poor Internet connection can ruin a conversation before it gets off the ground.

Quality communications, or the lack thereof, go beyond just accents and cultural differences, of course. When you offshore customer service, you increase the likelihood that call scripts will be followed too closely—in order to avoid introducing vocabulary and cultural hiccups—making customers feel like they’re talking to robots and/or being given irrelevant information. Plus, canned responses slow down the whole customer service process.

Remember that customer service has become one of the most important aspects of a company’s business. In fact, research shows that 66 percent of consumers who switched brands did so because of poor service. More often than not, cutting costs means cutting corners—a decision that may be compromising to your brand.

 

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.

 

Tactics for Hiring the Right Communicators for Your Contact Center

Only people uniquely qualified to fit an ideal contact center Communicator profile are going to stick around long enough to justify the investment made to hire and train them. After all, the turnover rate in the contact center industry is between 30 and 45 percent, compared to 15 percent overall for other U.S. industries. So, finding candidates with traits that match up with the job requirements should be a priority for contact centers that strive to provide stellar customer service.

After all, a contact center is only as good as its Communicators. So, how can you avoid wasting time, energy and money on Communicators who are ill-suited to the position?

First, realize the challenges you’re up against. The United States is host to approximately 5 million contact center jobs (with about 12 percent of those outsourced overseas). That makes the job of contact center Communicator one of the most common in the world, meaning that many businesses are competing for the same pool of workers.

The point is that contact center supervisors need to have high expectations when hiring Communicators despite these hurdles; elsewise, customer service and business as a whole will suffer. For instance, seek candidates with top-notch communication skills, speed and a willingness to go the extra mile for customers.

Beyond that, define your own ideal applicant. You can easily do this by assessing the qualifications possessed by your existing top Communicators and extrapolating those into your profile. Look for things like a capability for fast and efficient resolution of issues. According to the Avaya Preference Report, 41 percent of contact center users rate this skill as the most important factor influencing their perception of the interaction.

When interviewing candidates, how can you determine whether they possess these traits or any others you desire?

Asking the right questions will take you far. When assessing critical thinking, for instance, you might ask a candidate to describe his or her biggest challenge when interacting with customers, and how he or she resolves it when it comes up. This will give you insight into what a potential Communicator considers a challenge and how he or she works through a problem.

Here are some questions that’ll help you find the right hires for your contact center:

  1. What motivates you in the workplace? If they talk about wanting to help others overcome problems, you could have a good fit.
  2. How do you learn? It would be good to know that the candidate has an ability or technique for quickly absorbing new information. Customers have more confidence in Communicators who can answer their questions without pause (ostensibly, to look up information or ask a colleague).
  3. What does being a team player mean to you? Assertive and sociable Communicators can boost overall contact center performance and morale.

When you’re looking to make your next great hire, be sure to attract the right people, interview them thoroughly, and evaluate their skills accordingly—doing so may require more attention up front, but will undoubtedly save you time and money in the long run.

Tips for Offering Feedback in the Contact Center

As a contact center leader, you spend a great deal of time observing Communicators during customer interactions. In this way, you have become quite familiar with the individual strengths and weaknesses of your team members. Your job is to convey these observations to your Communicators on a regular basis and help them perform their best.

Understand, though, that what you say to your Communicators, and the way you say it, will go a long way in shaping the culture of your contact center. Regardless of your intent, constructive criticism can actually be very destructive if poorly communicated. It can undermine the working relationship of those involved, making it less likely that they will be able to collaborate well in the future. Harsh, or inept, criticism has also been found to increase the likelihood of future conflicts, as well as directly impair the ability of people to do the work for which they have been criticized.

So, rather than attempting to give Communicators constructive criticism, try approaching them with positive feedback and coaching support. By doing so, there will be no hurt pride or animosity in your contact center. Act as a mentor and emphasize the Communicator’s strengths. Granted, sometimes you have to deliver criticism—in which case, break your feedback down into three segments, the Praise-Improve-Praise technique.

Begin by highlighting your employees’ skills, and express your appreciation for their work. Then, transition into the improvement stage. Be clear, but considerate, on the areas that they can improve upon. Reiterate both the praise and the improvement, and conclude with a final praise—this is crucial to ensure that the Communicator feels appreciated and welcomed.

Communicators who feel appreciated are more likely to lengthen their tenure with your company, reducing turnover, which is expensive and bad for team morale. Plus, when Communicators do move on, they will be more likely to post positive employee reviews on employment websites, helping you to attract qualified workers in the future.

Use these guiding principles when delivering your Praise-Improve-Praise conversation to employees:

Offer feedback privately: Generally speaking, direct feedback is best given in private, even when it is positive in nature, to avoid embarrassing the Communicator in front of others.

Avoid accusations: Even if you are certain that a Communicator is in the wrong about something, don’t hurl accusations at him or her. Ease into the topic at hand, and give the person a chance to explain his or her reasoning for taking a particular course of action. Ask questions, and try to figure out the root cause of an issue.

Be genuine: Reinforce the fact that you are trying to help the Communicator improve. Tell a story about a time when you made a similar mistake. Then, explain what you learned from it. The Communicator will appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your story.

Explain your goals: After you coach your Communicator about the issue, explain how the conversation fits into his or her long-term future with the company. At the end of the conversation, lay out some small steps the employee can take to move closer to his or her ultimate goal.

Have the right mindset: Before you pull an employee aside to provide coaching or support, make sure you have the right attitude. The conversation will be smoother and more productive if you are feeling positive and non-confrontational.

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.

Customer Care: A Magnet for Consumer Retention

We are in a new era of consumer relations: the Information Age. With technology readily available to your customers, your contact centers have to be more effective than a Google search when addressing their needs. Although this will require extra effort, you’ll notice a great increase in your brand-loyal customers.

The trick to retaining customers is to use your Customer Care to draw customers toward your brand—like a magnet! Build a strategy that focuses on engagement and relationship building to stay tightly connected to those who support your business.

Why is Customer Care so important for establishing repeat business?  If you take care of your customers, and make sure that they are totally satisfied with your company, they will be more apt to keep doing business with your organization.

According to a recent study, 89 percent of respondents claimed that good service makes them feel more positive about the brands with which they engage. Additionally, 43 percent admitted that when companies make mistakes, they are more forgiving to organizations they think understand them.

Consider the following points to magnetize customers to your brand:

Use data to your advantage: Your business gathers information about your customers during every interaction. But are you using this information to the best of your advantage? Compile the information you collect, and use it to improve customer interactions. The goal is to understand your customers’ needs more and more with each engagement. Communicators should be able to access notes from previous calls or chats so that customers do not have to repeat themselves. Customers who require foreign language assistance should be automatically routed to agents who can communicate with them. The same can be said for customers who are hard of hearing. Remembering small details will go a long way in fostering feelings of trust and loyalty from customers—especially because not every company goes to such lengths.

Be flexible when possible: Suppose a customer calls, explaining why he or she can’t make a payment on time. Listen to the customer, and offer support or advice to make the payment process easier. Remember: Communicators should not perform like robots, so encourage your team to be empathetic and understanding. These customers will, in turn, think of your brand as compassionate and friendly. As a result, they will be more apt to reward your company with repeat business and recommend your company to others.

Be accessible: Customers value effortless communication. After all, that’s our job! Offer self-help features on your website for speedy assistance. Use a call-back service, so that customers can go about their businesses without having to wait on hold. And consider providing after-hours support for customer assistance after normal working hours. Making your brand accessible will show your customers that you care about their patronage and are standing by to accommodate their needs.

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.

Walk a Mile in Your Agents’ Shoes

Here’s a management technique that’s been heard around the world: Unobtrusively, a manager wanders around the workplace, keeping his or her eyes and ears open for an employee who’s doing something right. After observing one such activity, the manager reinforces that behavior with a one-minute praising, which essentially consists of telling people specifically what they did right, how it made the manager feel when he or she witnessed the behavior, and how that behavior benefits the company.

That’s an idea from the best-selling business fable by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, “The One Minute Manager,” a book that’s sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.

This idea was expanded upon in the popular television show, Undercover Boss. The premise of the show is that executives take on their employees’ jobs for a time, and while the activity sometimes leads to reprimands—but more often praise—the underlying theory is the same: Observing your employees in their natural setting gives you a truer sense of how your employees perform on a daily basis, and provides managers with a simple way of encouraging people to do better more often.

As the leader of a contact center, it’s easy to get lost in our own point of view. We often see our employees from our own vantage point, from the perspective of someone who’s just reviewed call analytics, or overheard a harsher-than-necessary tone, or implemented new technology and training processes. We forget that our Communicators are seeing things from the other side: as someone who’s having a rough day, struggling to incorporate a complicated tool into a challenging customer interaction, or multi-tasking to get more done.

Crossing Over as a Management Tool

It’s important to take time occasionally to see things from the other side. When was the last time you handled customer calls for an entire workday? Spending a day in your Communicators’ shoes will give you valuable firsthand experience of what they deal with every day on the job. You might find that they’re lacking a useful tool that would help them do their job better. Or, you might see opportunities for additional training, working conditions that could be improved, or processes that should be modified.

For example, one executive on Undercover Boss experienced firsthand the negative impact of his cost-cutting measures when he had to spend a long, hot day in the warehouse without water. “Company picnics are nice,” an employee told him, “but take care of us on the job instead.”

One caveat here: Your focus should be on fixing problems, not people.

Another benefit of spending time on the other side is that your employees will be more likely to buy into your mission if they see that you “get it.” You understand the opportunities and challenges they are facing, and you understand their reality. Effective leaders inspire trust, which is more easily done if you feel a genuine connection to those you are leading. You’ll also see an elevated sense of collaboration, where Communicators are open to an exchange of ideas when it comes to the workplace.

If it’s simply not feasible to take to the phones for a day, consider inviting employees to share feedback about their jobs and provide solutions. You may get complaints, but you’ll also get some valuable thoughts about how to fix things—and what to fix. If you do choose to ask for feedback, make sure employees feel safe in sharing their thoughts or the entire exercise will be fruitless.

You may be surprised at what you discover from a trip to the other side. Among the many revelations you’re likely to have, one will surely be a renewed sense of appreciation for your Communicators.

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.

Champion Your Contact Center This Olympic Season

The Olympics is about more than just sports. In all the hubbub surrounding world records and gold medals, there’s an undercurrent of something even more compelling: the stories behind the athletes.

People with such extraordinary levels of focus and dedication invariably encounter obstacles along the way, but their determination to keep going despite those obstacles is what makes a good story. Like gymnast Kieran Behan who was once confined to a wheelchair and told he would never walk again. Or 18-year-old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who had to push a sinking boat through the Aegean Sea for hours after fleeing the country.

Everyone can learn a lot from these athletes, not the least of which is the value of hard work. Business leaders, too, can look to them for inspiration. There’s been a lot written about the mental prowess of Olympic athletes, and how mental skills training—like visualization and concentration—can be useful in the business world. In the contact center, visualization tools are handily used to help Communicators be more successful in their jobs, and improving concentration is an essential part of managing stress.

I believe there are greater takeaways, however, on a less scientific level. No matter what their individual story, every Olympic athlete has one thing in common: a winning attitude. Part of that includes setting challenging goals and managing the process of achieving them. The same principle applies to success in the contact center. Have you defined your contact center’s goals clearly and documented them? Do your daily tasks contribute to achieving those goals? By demonstrating a high level of commitment on a daily basis, you’re developing the “will to win.”

A winning attitude also means being dedicated to performing your best. No matter where your contact center is in the evolutionary process—multichannel or omnichannel, technologically challenged or on the cutting edge—we need to measure success our own way. Although we put great emphasis on being the best, start with trying to be better than you already are. In what ways can you move your contact center forward, one step at a time? Sports psychologist Peter Haberl put it best: “When you become your own yardstick, you experience success, no matter if you win or lose.”

Enjoy the 2016 Olympics! Then bring that winning attitude closer to home.

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.

Is Talent Development on Your To-do List?

A recurring item on every contact center manager’s list of concerns is retaining customer care agents. In contrast, an item that’s often missing from that very same list is talent development. The key to addressing the former is to take action on the latter; yet, for a variety of reasons, very few managers do so.

Most people want to do their best and get ahead, but they receive surprisingly little direction beyond the basics they need to do well in their present positions. To move the needle forward, managers should be thinking beyond the present, and look to identify and develop talent within their ranks. Talented people who want to grow are an enormous asset for any business. Not only will they be top performers, they’ll also inspire others to do their best—both of which are hallmarks of a future leader, and the cornerstone of a successful business.

To identify talent, look for the following attributes when vetting a Communicator. He or she:

  • has a high level of respect among peers;
  • has an excellent track record when it comes to traditional measures of job competency;
  • is open to feedback and constructive criticism;
  • is cognizant of the company’s overall mission and goals, rather than a narrow focus on the individual job;
  • handles change well; and
  • has relationship-building skills.

Once you’ve identified these attributes in an employee, let him or her know. Informing employees that you’ve recognized their potential to lead signals that your organization recognizes and develops talent, which is a powerful incentive to stay. You’re also building a reputation outside the company, one that will attract other talented Communicators.

To develop talent:

  • Provide growth experiences outside the employee’s usual job function, with support in place. This gives Communicators a chance to demonstrate their capability in other situations, and the cross-training will increase their knowledge of the organization.
  • Provide access to a professional network. By introducing your most talented Communicators to other professionals in the field and connecting them with outside learning opportunities, you’re giving them other sources for advice and information that will increase their understanding of the business.
  • Set goals for moving up. In all situations, advancement requires reaching goals. Discuss the objectives that need to be met and set realistic goals.

Strong organizations are built around strong people; now is the time to start building.

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.

The Changing Nature of Phone Calls in the Contact Center

By now we’re all used to the idea that digital technology is transforming our contact centers. A new report by Dimension Data says that most data centers will soon be equipped to handle nine different channel options, and that the number of digital transactions is poised to overtake phone transactions by the end of 2016. Even more striking: 42 percent of call centers expect a decrease in live agent telephone service within two years.

Despite this expected drop in phone calls, live agents aren’t going away. In fact, employment of customer care representatives is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024—faster than the average of most other occupations. How can we account for the seeming contradiction?

Many of the other channels cropping up today are having an unintended effect, which is to drive customers with more complex issues to the phones. From the customer’s perspective, text, email, Web chat, and other outlets are viewed almost as self-service lines, where they can find answers to basic questions or solve simple problems.

When the problem can’t be solved any other way, customers take to the phones.

There’s no definitive reason why the statistics are at odds, but it’s logical to believe that customer interaction times are increasing thanks to the complexity of calls, which could be a contributing factor. In fact, many customers may already be frustrated by the time they place a call, having tried and failed to resolve a problem through one or more other channels. In a sense, it’s a channel of last resort.

As a result, it’s more important than ever for Communicators to realize that many customer calls may very well be a pivotal moment in the brand-customer relationship. With the proper training and support, they’ll be ready and able to handle these challenges as they come.

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.