In the eyes of many customers, self-service is not a compound word but rather a four-letter one. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad about IVR or web self-service applications – it’s that there’s something bad about most contact centers’ efforts to make such apps good.
Relatively few contact centers extend their quality assurance (QA) practices to self-service applications. Most centers tend to monitor and evaluate only those contacts that involve an interaction with a live agent – i.e., customer contacts in the form of live phone calls or email, chat or social media interactions. Meanwhile, no small percentage of customers try to complete transactions on their own via the IVR or online (or, more recently, via mobile apps) and end up tearing their hair out in the process. In fact, poorly designed and poorly looked-after self-service apps account for roughly 10% of all adult baldness, according to research I might one day conduct.
When contact center pros hear or read “QA”, they need to think not only “Quality Assurance” but also “Quality Automation.” The latter is very much part of the former.
To ensure that customers who go the self-service route have a positive experience and maintain their hair, the best contact centers frequently conduct comprehensive internal testing of IVR systems and online applications, regularly monitor customers' actual self-service interactions, and gather customer feedback on their experiences. Let's take a closer look at each of these critical practices.
Testing Self-Service Performance
Testing the IVR involves calling the contact center and interacting with the IVR system just as a customer would, only with much less groaning and swearing. Evaluate such things as menu logic, awkward silences, speech recognition performance and – to gauge the experience of callers that choose to opt out of the IVR – hold times and call-routing precision.
Testing of web self-service apps is similar, but takes place online rather than via calls. Carefully check site and account security, the accuracy and relevance of FAQ responses, the performance of search engines, knowledge bases and automated agent bots. Resist the urge to try to see if you can get the automated bot to say dirty words. There’s no time for such shenanigans. Testing should also include evaluating how easy it is for customers to access personal accounts online and complete transactions.
Some of the richest and laziest contact centers have invested in products that automate the testing process. Today's powerful end-to-end IVR monitoring and diagnostic tools are able to dial in and navigate through an interactive voice transaction just as a real caller would, and can track and report on key quality and efficiency issues. Other centers achieve testing success by contracting with a third-party vendor that specializes in testing voice and web self-service systems and taking your money.
Monitoring Customers’ Self-Service Interactions
Advancements in quality monitoring technologies are making things easier for contact centers looking to spy on actual customers who attempt self-service transactions. All the major quality monitoring vendors provide customer interaction recording applications that capture how easy it is for callers to navigate the IVR and complete transactions without agent assistance, as well as how effectively such front-end systems route each call after the caller opts out to speak to an actual human being.
As for monitoring the online customer experience, top contact centers have taken advantage of multichannel customer interaction-recording solutions. Such solutions enable contact centers to find out first-hand such things as: how well customers navigate the website; what information they are looking for and how easy it is to find; what actions or issues lead most online customers to abandon their shopping carts; and what causes customers to call, email or request a chat session with an agent rather than continue to cry while attempting to serve themselves.
As with internal testing of self-service apps, some centers – rather than deploying advanced monitoring systems in-house – have contracted with a third-party specialist to conduct comprehensive monitoring of the customers' IVR and/or web self-service experiences.
Capturing the Customer Experience
In the end, the customer is the real judge of quality. As important as self-service testing and monitoring is, even more vital is asking customers directly just how bad their recent self-service experience was.
The best centers have a post-contact C-Sat survey process in place for self-service, just as they do for traditional phone, email and chat contacts. Typically, these center conduct said surveys via the same channel as the customer used to interact with the company. That is, customers who complete (or at least attempt to complete) a transaction via the center’s IVR system are invited to complete a concise automated survey via the IVR (immediately following their interaction). Those who served themselves via the company’s website are soon sent a web-based survey form via email. Customers, you see, like it when you pay attention to their channel preferences, and thus are more likely to complete surveys that show you’ve done just that. Calling a web self-service customer and asking them to compete a survey over the phone is akin to finding out somebody is vegetarian and then offering them a steak.
It’s Your Call
Whether you decide to do self-service QA manually, invest in special technology, or contract with third-party specialists is entirely up to you and your organization. But if you don’t do any of these things and continue to ignore quality and the customer experience on the self-service side, don’t act surprised if your customers eventually start ignoring you – and start imploring others to do the same.
Those of you familiar with my writing know I’ve long been a proponent of the home agent model. So you may be confused by the title of this post and are likely thinking one of two things: 1) Greg is extremely wishy-washy; or 2) Greg is about to unleash a satirical blog post where he only appears to be against the use of home agents, to help readers see how effective the work-at-home model actually is.
Wishy-washy or smart aleck – which one could it be? I’m sure the suspense is killing you.
So, without further ado, here are the five reasons why you and your contact center should NOT embrace the home agent model:
1) The increased agent retention means you won’t get to meet as many new and interesting people. If you are the kind of manager or supervisor who loves to meet and interview new people every month and who gets bored when surrounded by the same talented employees for years on end, stay away from the home agent model. In my (somewhat) recent study on home agent staffing, nearly every participant said their use of home agents has had a ‘very positive’ or ‘positive’ impact on agent retention. Fewer people quitting means fewer new folks for you to meet, and fewer people for you to get to know a little better several days or weeks later during their exit interview.
2) The sound of joy in agents’ voices will be disorienting. When you have grown accustomed to hearing agents sounding exhausted and apathetic during interactions with customers, hearing those same agents suddenly perking up and caring about customers is very jarring to the system. Such increases in happiness and engagement have been known to distract those who conduct quality monitoring to the point where they cannot focus and end up forgetting to fill out the monitoring form. This is just the kind of problem you can expect if you are silly and brazen enough to embrace the home agent model and give agents the kind of work-life balance they crave. Keep in mind, too, that sudden rises in agents’ spirits and performance can also be very disorienting for customers, who, upon hearing an authentically warm greeting and inspired efforts to assist them, may very well hang up assuming they have dialed the wrong number.
3) Hiring decisions will be too hard due to the overabundance of talented applicants. You may not have a lot of job openings after implementing a home agent program (since current agents won’t be quitting), but expect to be inundated by high-quality candidates whenever there is an opening. Once word gets out that your contact center uses home agents, applicants will come out of the woodwork in hopes of snagging a job where they’ll have a chance to work in their underpants. The real pain is that many of these applicants will be talented individuals whom you would be crazy not to offer a job. But good luck making the best selection when there’s only one agent position open and 50 candidates with solid college degrees, good references, and no police record to speak of. Who needs that kind of stress?
4) You’ll no longer have a good excuse for low service levels during storms. Senior management never likes it when you fall short of your service level objectives, but at least they are somewhat forgiving whenever a snowstorm or flood is to blame for it. If you implement a home agent initiative, you can forget about such leniency during severe weather situations. “There are 200 calls in queue because half our staff couldn’t make it in” doesn’t hold water when you have a team of home-based agents in place. Once you go virtual, it’s your workforce management and training skills that will be to blame – not the weather – if service dips when a blizzard hits. Better to keep all your staff on site to ensure that your managerial shortcomings aren’t fully exposed.
5) Your center may be suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Many contact centers with home agents in place win awards for customer service excellence, but those same centers are often accused of pumping staff full of PEDs in order to achieve such accolades. You can’t really blame folks for being skeptical. I mean, when you see a center suddenly increase agent engagement and retention, productivity, customer satisfaction, staffing flexibility and operational costs, it’s only natural to suspect that center of cheating somehow. And while you – if your center implements a home agent program – may know that the aforementioned improvements came naturally from going virtual, are you sure you’re ready to face such serious and hurtful accusations? And are your agents willing to undergo random blood testing throughout the year?
One other reason not to embrace the home agent model is the searing envy experienced by agents in your center who are NOT selected to work from home. There’s even a famous song (at least in MY mind) about this: http://www.offcenterinsight.com/cc-tunes.html (scroll down to the third song on the page, titled “On the Phone at Home”, to hear a sample).
In this age of social media, sound bytes and ADHD, people love quick and catchy stats. Unfortunately, in the contact center and customer care space, there seem to be only a handful of snazzy stats in circulation. The same ones just keep getting regurgitated over and over (yes, that’s redundant), especially on Twitter.
This is perplexing considering how dynamic customer care is and how much contact centers have evolved. It’s actually worse than perplexing – it’s depressing. Every time I see someone tweeting the old chestnut , “Satisfied customers tell only 3 people about their experience, while dissatisfied customers tell 8-10 people” (or some variation of this), a part of my soul dies. I even wept a little just now while typing that stat.
Rather than just complain about the lack of statistical variety being promoted by self-proclaimed customer experience experts in the Twittersphere, I aim to remedy the situation. Following are several fresh and captivating stats about customer care and contact centers that I believe you and everybody else will feel compelled to talk and tweet about:
- 86% of customers would be willing to pay more for better customer service. 100% of contact center managers would be willing to pay more for even mediocre customer service.
- 70% of contact centers list Average Handle Time among their key performance metrics at the agent level. Of those centers, 100% need a clue.
- Only 17% of contact centers really mean it when they say “Your call is very important to us”. Of the remaining centers, 38% feel “Your call is somewhat important to us”, 24% feel “It’s surprising how unimportant your call is to us”, and 21% feel “It’s hilarious that you are still holding for a live agent.”
- 73% of contact center managers claim to know how to accurately measure First-Call Resolution. The remaining 27% of managers are telling the truth.
- Engaged customer service agents are 35% more likely to provide a positive customer experience than are customer service agents who are already married.
- The top three criteria contact center managers consider when selecting work-at-home agents are: 1) Past performance; 2) ability to work independently; and 3) body odor.
- Every time a caller must provide his/her name and account number to an agent after having just provided that exact same information via the IVR system, a puppy dies.
- 97% of contact center agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Bengal tiger to the home of abusive callers. The remaining 3% of agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Siberian Tiger.
- 81% of contact center agents are empowered to do exactly what their managers and supervisors tell them.
- Each year, over 150 customer care professionals die from overexposure to acronyms.
- 50% of managers feel their contact center is highly unprepared to handle social customer care; the remaining 50% do too.
- The three people that satisfied customers tell about their experience are Sue Johnson, Dave Winthrop, and Bud Carter. All three are tired of hearing about these experiences.
- 42% of contact center managers say they will not hire an agent applicant unless said applicant has a pulse and/or can work at least one weekend shift a month.
- Four out of five agents represent 80% of all agents. In contrast, the remaining agents represent only 20% of all agents.
- The average agent-to-supervisor ratio in contact centers is 20:1. The odds that this is enough to provide agents with the coaching and support they need to succeed is 2000:1.
- 100% of managers destined for greatness and wealth purchase a copy of the Full Contact e-book. 0% of managers understand why the author of said e-book looks so angry and aggressive in the photo on the book cover.
“Why is morale so low?”
“Why can’t we hang on to our best agents?”
“Why do we lose so many new-hires during or right after initial training?”
“Why are some of our agents carrying around voodoo dolls, and why am I suddenly experiencing such sharp pains in my face and back?”
If you often find yourself asking one or more of the above questions, it’s likely due to one or more of the following issues:
1) The metrics you measure (and enforce) are killing agents' spirit and the customer experience. Your agents bought into the “customer-centric” culture you sold them during recruiting and came on board excited to serve, but then the center started slamming them over the head with rigid Average Handle Time (AHT) objectives and Calls Per Hour (CPH) quotas their first day on the phones.
Focusing too strongly on such straight productivity metrics – and punishing agents for not hitting strict targets – kills agents' service spirit and compels them to do whatever is necessary to keep calls short and to handle as many as possible. This includes rushing callers off the phones before their issues are resolved, speeding through after-call work and making costly mistakes, and even occasionally pressing “release” to send unsuspecting customers into oblivion. You need to start emphasizing metrics like Contact Quality, Customer Satisfaction, First-Call Resolution, and Adherence to Schedule (the latter is a productivity-based metric your agents actually have control over). Do so, and you’ll be surprised how things like AHT and CPH end up falling in line anyway. Oh, and better do it soon – before your agents AND your customers decide to leave your company in the dust.
2) Your quality monitoring program emphasizes the “monitoring” much more than the “quality”. Your supervisors and/or QA team are too focused on your internal monitoring form and not enough on how customers actually feel about the quality of the interaction they recently had with your center and agent. All agents see are subjective scores and checkmarks on a form that is likely better suited for measuring compliance than quality. To get agents to embrace the quality monitoring process, let them have some input on what the form should contain, and, even more importantly, start incorporating direct customer feedback/ratings (from post-transaction surveys) into agents’ overall quality scores. For some reason, agents prefer it when a customer – rather than a supervisor – tells them how much their service stunk. Who knows, some agents might even try to improve.
3) Your contact center doesn’t fully embrace a culture of empowerment. Your contact center has failed to recognize and/or act on the fact that agents possess a wealth of insight, and know your customers better than anyone. It’s time to start empowering agents to use that insight and knowledge to improve existing processes and come up with new ones. This is probably the best way to continuously better the center while simultaneously making agents feel respected and valued. You’ll be amazed by the positive impact their ideas and suggestions will have on operational efficiencies, revenue and customer satisfaction. And because empowerment greatly increases engagement, you should see a big reduction in agent attrition and arson attempts.
4) Coaching & training continuously get buried beneath the queue. Agents are eager to continuously develop and add value, but your overworked supervisors can’t find the time to stay on top of coaching and ongoing training. Your center needs to begin exploring feasible and effective ways to fit coaching and training into the schedule, such as using “just in time” e-learning modules, creating a peer mentoring program, and empowering agents to take on some supervisory tasks – which will free supervisors up to conduct more coaching and training while still giving them time to go home and visit their families on occasion.
5) Agent rewards & recognition programs are uninspired – or non-existent. You’re merely going through the motions in terms of motivating and recognizing staff – futilely hoping that such stale incentives as cookies, balloons and gold stars will get agents to raise the roof performance-wise. It's time to revamp your agent rewards & recognition programs with proven approaches like: a Wall of Fame that pays tribute to consistent high performers; opportunities to serve on important committees or task forces; nominations for external industry awards for agents; fun happy hours where agents get to socialize and receive public praise for their concerted effort; and inspired events and contests during Customer Service Week and National Kiss Your Agents on the Mouth Day.
6) You're handing the wrong people a headset. Maybe you are actually doing all the positive things I’ve suggested thus far, and are STILL struggling with low agent engagement and retention. Well, then you may want to take a close look at your recruiting and hiring practices. Regardless of how well you train, empower and reward staff, if you are attracting and selecting sociopaths and others who aren’t cut out for contact center work or your company culture, you’ll never foster the level of agent commitment or performance that’s required to become as good a customer care organization as your customers demand and deserve.
A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on the “Productivity Plus” blog put out by the very good people at Intradiem.
Three questions seem to be on every call center professional’s mind these days:
1) How should my call center handle social media?
2) How should my call center prepare for mobile customer service?
3) What would happen if Billy Joel wrote a call center song?
I feel that the first two questions are easy, thus I’ve chosen to tackle the third. I imagine this will help you immensely in your career.
What would happen if Billy Joel wrote a call center song? Probably something like what you see below. (Sorry, I would have made a recording of me singing the song, but I have laryngitis from shouting at Billy Joel’s lawyers. Besides, it will be more fun for you to sing it yourself with your agents during slow periods, or when you've all just given up.)
“The Call Center Is on Fire”
(to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”)
High attrition, battle scars
Spikes in volume, crowded queues
Budgets that are low
Calculating all the calls
Agents running down the halls
Service Level’s all disheveled
Systems that are slow
Senior managers aflame
Saying we take all the blame
Screaming that our stats are bad
Now our call forecaster’s sad
Driving callers to the web
Doing so to get ahead
Please adhere. Need a beer
Handle times are rising!
The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing
FCR is down a bit
Unsure how to measure it
Social care has got us scared
Abandonment has grown
Seven agents called in sick
Seven more called in to quit
Callers now are getting mean
And I don’t like their tone
Monitoring all around
Agents lying on the ground
Everyday I have to swim
Through these freaking acronyms
SL, C-Sat, CPH
AHT, I need a break
ASA – blown away
What else do I have to say?
The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing
Skills-based routing, traffic peaks
Half the staff releasing shrieks
Shrinkage, blinking readerboards
50 calls in queue
Chat requests and emails swell
Agents don’t know how to spell
All our text is just a mess
I don’t know what to do
Coaching, motivating reps
Work-at-home or under desks
Customers now own our soul
Your call is important – hold
Twitter volume’s on the rise
Facebook too, I want to cry
Time to train? Hide the pain
Obviously I’m insane!
The call center is on fire
The calls ain’t stopping
Many calls are dropping
The call center is on fire
All the phones keep ringing
Not sure why I’m singing
For more customer care related song parodies, check out my “Contact Center Tunes” page, where you can listen to song samples and, if you feel so inclined, download full songs. (Let me know what you think about “The Call Center Is on Fire” lyrics above – maybe I’ll record the song soon!)
By guest blogger, Matt McConnell If doing the same thing 50-75 times a day sounds intellectually stimulating, stop reading.
Still there? Since many of you may have begun your career as contact center agents, you probably know how monotonous the job can be. As a manager, there are many things you likely already schedule to break up the agent’s day periodically. Things like training and team meetings along with activities like special projects. (Whether they actually happen or not is a different story.) But what else can agents do in between calls that don’t have to occur at a specific time? Consider putting together a list like the one below to build variety into your agents’ days. Happy agents make happy customers, so read on for ideas to end up with both:
1. Development. How satisfied can you be if the customer knows more than you do by the time they make it through multiple channels before reaching you with a complex problem? Ensure your agents get the communications, training and coaching they need to do their jobs well.
2. Social Media. Certify agents to support customers or even just interact on behalf of your brand via social media to liven up their day and take your service to where your customers are.
3. Customer Community. If you have a customer community, send your agents to mingle and help. If agents participate in your customer community via an assigned task, not only would you alleviate boredom, you could end up turning idle time into call avoidance.
4. Back Office. The customer experience involves the whole enterprise. Help alleviate back office backlog, elevate the customer experience and provide variety by delivering back-office tasks like application processing, fax communications, and processing returns to agents during call volume lulls.
5. Welcome Calls. Give your agents the opportunity to take a customer call without a “problem” attached to it, and start your customer relationship off with warm fuzzies.
6. Game Time. Games can keep agents engaged, especially Generation Y agents. If you’re planning to incorporate gamification into your center, make sure you give your agents time to earn their badges, kudos and bragging rights.
7. Peer Awards. What if agents received reminders to nominate their peers for awards? Doing something nice for someone else can improve one's mood, and on the receiving end, recognition from one's peers can mean a lot.
8. Fitness Breaks. Give agents a chance keep their body and mind healthy by giving them a fitness break. A walk around the grounds could be just what’s needed to break up the day and get a healthy boost of energy to bring to the next call.
Most call center leaders want to make the center a better place to work for their agents, but time is tight, and service levels rule the day. High attrition and low agent engagement don’t have to be the norm, however. You do have options if you’re willing to challenge some of the accepted methods and manual processes around intraday management. Even with all the maneuvers workforce management does when staffing and call volume don’t quite match up with your forecasts, 85% occupancy equates to 17 hours of idle time a month. Automating intraday management allows your workforce management team to re-purpose that time so that your agents can take a break from calls to improve your customer experience, your center productivity and your agent retention. About Matt McConnell:
Matt is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem
. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in intraday management technology with more than 450,000 agents and managers around the world using Intradiem every day.
We keep hearing how “it’s all about the customer”. Companies constantly claim to be truly customer-focused or customer-centric or customer-iffic or customer-whatever. But many of these organizations fail to walk the talk. For instance, they focus more on measuring efficiency than they do on cultivating customer relationships. They alienate customers via poorly designed self-service systems rather than woo them with highly personalized care and support. And they rarely, if ever, say “I love you” at the end of a call, or ask to snuggle after making a sale.
It’s time for contact center leaders to check themselves before they wreck themselves (and the customer experience). If it is, indeed, “all about the customer”, then let’s really see it in action.
Here are some suggestions. (WARNING: Satire ahead.)
Take cordiality to the extreme in call scripts. “Hello Mr. Jones, how may I help you today?” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Have your agent try something like, “Mr. Jones, is that really YOU? It’s so wonderful to hear your voice! I miss you. We ALL miss you. In fact, I was just talking about you with my cubicle neighbor this morning…” Such enthusiastic and warm call greetings will catch customers completely off guard and make them think they actually are as important as your IVR repeatedly expressed while they were waiting in queue. Make sure the agent adds, “This just feels right” at some point during the call, and closes with, “No, no – YOU hang up first!”
Set up a Facebook page for your contact center. In today’s world, merely telling somebody they are important to you isn’t enough; you have to back up such sentiments by “friending” them on Facebook. To ensure you are able to connect with each customer in this critical manner, have agents confirm not only each caller’s name and account number during calls, but also their personal Facebook URL. Once you are connected to a customer on Facebook, don’t forget to regularly post comments like “Just thinking of you” or “Call me” on their wall.
NOTE: If a caller says they are not on Facebook, instruct agents to hang up on them immediately – you don’t need any troublemaking non-conformists or weirdoes as customers.
Invest in “defection detection” software. Capturing and analyzing every suspicious utterance and change of voice tone during phone calls isn’t just for the U.S. Government to do. The most customer-crazed contact centers are taking advantage of speech analytics and monitoring applications that detect whenever callers are disgruntled and at risk of defecting to the competition. Such innovative tools can be programmed to listen for when customers say the names of competitors or phrases such as “close my account”, “cancel my membership”, or “I’d sooner watch C-SPAN than do business with you ever again.” Top applications can even detect callers’ emotions and send an alert to a manager or supervisor whenever a customer sounds more confused, angry or homicidal than usual. Once alerted, the manager or supervisor can listen to a digital recording of the entire customer-agent interaction and, if necessary, call the would-be defector back to hypnotize her or him into forgetting how incompetent the center and/or agent is.
Customer-ize your KPIs. Many contact centers covet such performance metrics as Average Handle Time and Number of Calls Handled. The trouble is that these metrics do not truly relate to nor capture the quality of the customer experience. The most progressively customer-centric centers realize this and have revamped their key performance indicators (KPIs) accordingly. These centers now focus on such metrics as Caller “Woohoos!” per Hour (CWPH), Customer Marriage Proposals per Agent (CMPPA), and Average Sweet-Talk Time (ASTT). For a slightly more serious look at customer-focused metrics, be sure to check out the following blog post – written by me before I stopped taking my medication. http://goo.gl/PQy9V
Contact Quality. C-Sat. First-Call Resolution. Adherence to Schedule. These are just a handful of the metrics the best contact centers fully embrace.
Here’s another one: Corporate Social Responsibility.
In our industry, “CSR” usually refers to the people handling customer contacts, not the social good the organization does. Nevertheless, if you want to raise the level of engagement among the former, it’s very wise to raise the level of commitment to the latter. You see, CSRs LOVE CSR.
If you don’t believe me, ask them. Studies and companies’ engagement surveys consistently show that agents want to work for an organization that cares just as much about the community as it does about the customer. They want to see that “Service Level” refers to more than just how accessible the center is to callers. And they want to play an active role in reducing not only complaints and handle times but also homelessness and hunger.
That’s exactly what companies like travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance have found.
“We have a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility program that provides opportunities for all [contact center] agents to become involved,” says Daniel Durazo, Director of Communications (USA) for Allianz. “Our CSR program is well liked by our agents, and the community recognizes us as a responsible corporate citizen.”
Among the CSR initiatives and activities that Allianz’s contact center agents, supervisors and managers participate in include assembling food kits to be sent to hungry families in developing nations, volunteering at Ronald McDonald house, painting houses for Elder Homes, and more. In addition, whenever an employee gives a donation to their favorite charity or non-profit organization, Allianz matches it.
Another customer care organization that views CSR as a key metric – and has seen the hugely positive impact on agents – is global contact center outsourcer TELUS International. (TELUS was recently recognized as the most philanthropic corporation in the world by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.) Since 2007, TELUS team members have volunteered thousands and thousands of hours of service to build sturdy and affordable homes in villages in The Philippines. In addition to helping with construction, team members regularly volunteer in the villages to help run livelihood programs, teach lifestyle skills and English, and host children’s recreational activities. TELUS team members’ volunteer efforts in Latin America are equally impressive, with the focus being namely on children and education (e.g., helping to construct schools).
Certainly, the most important things to come out of such noble philanthropic efforts is the improved standard of living in the aforementioned impoverished communities, but in keeping with the topic of this article, I need to point out the positive impact of TELUS’ CSR efforts on CSRs. According to TELUS President Jeffrey Puritt, since the organization started fully embracing Corporate Social Responsibility, “attrition in all of our contact center programs has dropped, employee satisfaction indexes have increased, employee engagement scores have increased, and we are now considered a ‘Top Employer’ in both Latin America and the Philippines.”
Puritt acknowledges that TELUS’ CSR initiative isn’t solely responsible for all these improvements, but points out that it definitely has had a significant and direct impact.
“By opting to make CSR an important component of the contact center, we believe there are huge dividends for all involved,” says Puritt. “And although our daily focus needs to remain on the key metrics of our business, like C-SAT and FCR, there are many ways to inspire great performance. Corporate Social Responsibility efforts are truly a positive path to success.”
Just when contact center professionals were starting to get a handle on email and chat, social media came along and changed the customer care rules – again.
Sort of. I mean, it’s not like none of the existing principals of service and support apply to social customer care. You still have to be courteous, professional and accessible, and you still have to provide accurate information that resolves customers’ issues before customers begin to hate you a lot. However, you are now performing on a public stage – and if a customer does start to hate you a lot, it’s rarely if ever kept a secret.
With social media, contact centers can no longer just wait for customer issues to arrive; centers now also have to carefully “listen” for customer issues to arise. Often, a social customer is talking about a problem with your company, but they aren’t talking to you. Instead they are talking to whomever will listen. It’s your job to make sure you are among those listeners – and to engage and assuage the customer promptly.
If you haven’t already gotten into the social customer care game, it’s time to do so now. Here are several starter tactics to help you and your contact center look like you know what you’re doing.
Map out your social strategy. When determining just how to incorporate social media into your contact center’s customer care strategy, answer the following critical questions:
· Who will head up our social customer care strategy?
· What will agents “listen” for when monitoring the social media landscape?
· How and under what conditions will agents engage with customers via social sites?
· How will we use social customer insight and feedback to improve processes, products and
· How will we keep social agents from spending all day watching cat videos on YouTube?
“Socialize” your agents. Just because the majority of your frontline staff has practically grown up in the Twitterverse doesn’t mean they inherently understand how to serve and support customers in a social media environment. Even the most proficient tweeters and bloggers among your agents still need to be trained and coached on your contact center’s specific social customer care strategy and practices.
Harness the power of an advanced social media monitoring solution. Much of social customer care involves “listening” to what customers are saying across social sites. Using one of the many social media monitoring solutions on the market is essential for such tasks. The best ones make it easy for agents to engage with customers and provide proactive service as well as damage control. Some solutions feature advanced text analytics that can detect key words and phrases relevant to your specific organization.
Create your own engaging online community for customers. A winning social service strategy extends far beyond Twitter and Facebook. Many leading customer care organizations have created their own online communities, which are specifically designed for customers to interact with one another and share experiences. These communities serve as an invaluable source of customer feedback and insight for the company. In addition, they help reduce the number of routine customer calls, emails and chats that agents have to handle since customers can get many of their questions answered by community peers as well as by reading helpful tutorials and blogs provided proactively by the company. If you see that a community peer is doing an exemplary job of fielding fellow customers' questions, consider kidnapping him/her and forcing him/her to work as an agent in your center.
Be “antisocial” at the right times. You shouldn’t break up with your girlfriend or boyfriend in public, and you shouldn’t interact with frustrated customers via social sites. Some things are better handled in a private setting. While leading social customer care practitioners empathetically acknowledge angry customers’ dissatisfaction out in the open, their agents then invite said customers to interact via chat, email or phone to resolve their issue or complaint behind closed doors. Most companies find that when they handle such interactions well, soon the customer is back on Twitter or Facebook – this time touting how alert and customer-centric the organization is.
What are your thoughts on social customer care? Share your suggestions, ideas, experiences and exasperation in the comments section below.
Managers today realize no contact center can succeed without highly skilled, engaged and (mostly) sober agents manning the frontline. In the best centers, the hiring program is handled less like an agent acquisition process and more like an agent retention tool. After all, taking the time to recruit and select the most qualified and committed candidates is one of the best ways to reduce costly negative attrition among the agent ranks. Rushing through the hiring process may enable you to quickly get bodies in seats to meet the center’s staffing requirements, but those bodies aren’t likely to stick around for long or perform well if you don’t first take the time to ensure that they are attached to heads that are filled with what it takes to succeed in a customer care environment.
I’ve worked with many contact center managers who boast about how their “positive corporate culture” and “powerful brand” results in job candidates lining up outside the door at all times. These managers don’t fear agent turnover too much because they know they have an endless supply of applicants itching to fill the void whenever a space opens up on the frontline. But what some of the managers fail to realize is that just because the line for jobs is long doesn’t mean it’s teeming with talent worthy of interacting with the organization’s valued customers.
Having a large pool of applicants to pick from provides an advantage only when the contact center has the tools in place to separate the real reps from the replicas. These tools include: a focused recruiting process that doesn’t miss alternative yet viable labor pools; proven screening and assessment techniques and technologies that identify which candidates possess the aptitude and attitude to succeed in the dynamic inbound contact center environment; and realistic job previews that show candidates exactly what the job entails so they can make an informed employment decision.
In this economy, having swarms of a job applicants buzzing around at all times isn’t anything to brag about, and it certainly doesn’t indicate there’s anything special about your organization. If your agents are quitting despite the poor job market, then you definitely don’t have anything to brag about. And yes, agents will leave – regardless of the economic outlook – if they feel like they aren’t cut out for the job, can’t keep up with the persistent demands of customers, and/or discover that what the organization “sold” them during the recruiting and interviewing process isn’t at all reflective of the reality of the agent position.
What does give you bragging rights is having an entire team of agents who are committed to the mission and vision of the contact center and the larger enterprise, who are dedicated to resolving issues and delivering exceptional customer experiences, and who are eager to help bring others like them into the organization.
In my 18 years covering the contact center industry, I’ve seen those kinds of agent teams. I’ve seen them time and again, but only inside of organizations that view their hiring program as, first and foremost, a powerful retention tool.