Off Center
 
When it comes to social customer care (providing service and support via social media channels), there are two key practices that contact centers must embrace: 1) monitoring; and 2) monitoring.

No, I haven’t been drinking, and no, there isn’t an echo embedded in my blog. The truth is, I didn’t actually repeat myself in the statement above.

Now, before you recommend that I seek inpatient mental health/substance abuse treatment, allow me to explain.


Monitoring in social customer care takes two distinctly different though equally important forms. The first entails the contact center monitoring the social landscape to see what’s being said to and about the brand (and then deciding who to engage with). The second entails the contact center’s Quality Assurance team/specialist monitoring agents' 'social' interactions to make sure the agents are engaging with the right people and providing the right responses.

The first type of monitoring is essentially a radar screen; the second type of monitoring is essentially a safety net. The first type picks up on which customers (or anti-customers) require attention and assistance; the second type makes sure the attention and assistance provided doesn’t suck.

Having a powerful social media monitoring tool that enables agents to quickly spot and respond to customers via Twitter and Facebook is great, but it doesn’t mean much if those agents, when responding…
  • misspell every other word
  • misuse or ignore most punctuation
  • provide incomplete – or completely incorrect – information
  • show about as much tact and empathy as a Kardashian.
  • fail to invite the customer to continue his/her verbal evisceration of the company and the agent offline and out of public view.
 
All of those scary bullet items above can be avoided – or at least minimized – when there’s a formal QA process in place for social media customer contacts. Now, if you’re thinking your QA and supervisory staff are too busy to carefully monitor and evaluate agents’ Twitter/Facebook interactions with customers (and provide follow-up coaching), then what the Zuckerberg are you thinking even offering such channels as contact options? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): If your contact center isn’t ready to monitor a particular contact channel, then it isn’t ready to HANDLE that channel.

Customers don’t applaud organizations for merely being progressive. If Toyota came out with a new automobile that ran on garbage but that had a 20% chance of exploding when you put the key in the ignition, customers’ response wouldn’t be, “Deadly, yes, but I might make it across the country on just banana peels!”

Social customer care is still new enough where organizations offering it are considered progressive. If your contact center is one such organization, are your customers applauding the strong and consistent social service and support your agents are providing, or is your center overlooking the quality component and losing too many customers to explosions?  

For more insights (and some irreverence) on Social Customer Care, be sure to check out my blog post, “Beginner’s Guide to Social Customer Care”. Also, my book, Full Contact, contains a chapter in which best (or at least pretty good) practices in Social Customer Care are covered.

 
“Smile, you’re on Customer Camera.”

Such a statement isn’t quite as silly or absurd as it sounds. Video calls are no longer just a whimsical fantasy. The technology that drives video interactions with customers is ready for prime time, and has been for a while.

Not a lot of contact centers have experimented with video calls to date, but some have and even report success in the visual medium. These centers claim that video calls aren’t just a gimmicky trend but rather something that many customers want – particularly those who are voyeurs and/or exhibitionists.

Video calls break down the barriers that exist with faceless phone conversations (and emails, chats, tweets), thus enabling companies to establish stronger rapport and more personalized relationships with customers. And because video lets customers put a face with a name, it makes it much easier for a disgruntled customer to find the exact agent he wants to slap after driving (or flying) to the contact center site, thus saving innocent staff members from any harm.

Achieving success with video calls, however, requires careful planning and strategy. Easy to overlook when implementing video are the unique performance metrics the center needs to measure in association with this new contact channel. While many of the metrics used for traditional phone calls also apply to video contacts, there are a few new measures that are particularly essential for success with video, including…

Food Particles In Teeth Per Shift (FPITPS): Agents who handle traditional voice-only calls can get away with having a piece of spinach or broccoli caught between their teeth, even if it does disgust their coworkers. For video agents, however, such a common occurrence can cause a customer experience disaster. In fact, a recent study found that video callers are 87% less likely to continue doing business with a company whose video agents fail to floss effectively.

Video agents should be coached and trained not only on proper pre-call flossing but also on the use toothpicks and hand mirrors to ensure that their FPITPS numbers remain very low. While there is no industry standard for FPITPS, the best video-enabled contact centers aim for between 0.0 and 0.2 food particles in teeth per shift for the entire center. The exception is suicide prevention hotlines, where higher FPITPS numbers are not only tolerated but encouraged, as studies have shown that agents with food caught in their teeth on camera helps emotionally distressed callers feel a lot better about their own lives.

 
Agent Smile Radius (ASR): Agents have historically been told to “put a smile in your voice” (and your emails/chats/tweets). Despite being an annoying and ambiguous command that makes agents feel like punching their supervisor, this practice has been shown to increase customer satisfaction. Now, with video, agents must learn to put an actual physical smile on their face when interacting with customers – no easy task when you consider the long hours, verbal abuse, physical confinement, low pay, and corporate motivational posters that agents must contend with each day.

To ensure that agents smile widely on a consistent basis during video calls, it’s important to hold them accountable and reward them for achieving an ambitious yet feasible Agent Smile Radius (ASR). ASR is the distance from one corner of an agent’s mouth to the other when forcing a smile during customer interactions. When choosing an ASR objective, select one that requires agents to smile big enough to make customers feel warm and special, but not so big that the customer mistakes the agent for Julia Roberts or Mick Jagger.
 
If you have some agents who simply cannot force a smile onto their face during video calls, consider using some strategic tools and props to help elicit genuine grins from these grumps. Possible smile-inducing tactics include having a supervisor stand off-camera wearing a pinwheel hat, and investing in workstation chairs that tickle.

 
Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR): For traditional phone agents, the rolling of eyes while speaking to bothersome customers is as common a practice as sobbing alone in the break room or beneath a workstation. However, video agents must strive to keep such insulting actions in check. If customers see an agent rolling his/her eyes, they will feel the company doesn’t value them – thus increasing the likelihood of them taking their video contacts to a more caring company where agents merely have food particles stuck in their teeth.

Given the idiocy of some customers today, it’s unfair to expect video agents to completely refrain from rolling their eyes. Still, it’s important to keep eye-rolling to a bare minimum. Establishing a strictly enforced Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR) objective and educating agents on said objective will help in this endeavor.

For best results, reward and recognize video agents who maintain a low AERR over time, or who last more than 10-15 minutes without rolling their eyes even once during a shift. And be sure to deal with problematic eye-rollers swiftly and sternly, either by docking their pay or by telling them that if they don’t stop rolling their eyes, their face is going to stay that way. 


Got any good (read: funny) metrics for video-enabled contact centers you’d like to recommend? Please share them in the comment section below.


 
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.



 
I’m only 42, but I have the mind of an 80 year-old. It’s not that I easily forget things or enjoy shuffleboard or easily forget things; it’s that I’m cranky and crotchety well beyond my years. Where I used to be playfully irreverent and relatively good-natured, I now simply complain at the drop of a hat. In fact, I get really aggravated when somebody drops a hat.

In other words, I’m no fun to be around. But I am fun to read on occasion – especially if you are a call center or customer service professional who’s been forced to keep quiet about bothersome things in the industry and your job. Customer care folk are expected to be forever positive and optimistic and cheerful and accommodating. And many of you truly are, which is why we rarely hang out.

Call centers and customer service are evolving and improving in a lot of ways, but I didn’t come here to talk about that. I’d rather rant about some of the current bad ideas and troublesome trends in our field.


Personality-based call routing. This recent call center technology development is sort of like skills-based routing on steroids. And, as all of you who do not make your living as a football player, baseball player or professional cyclist know, steroids are bad.

The thinking behind personality-based routing is this: If a company can match each customer with an agent who shares similar traits and behaviors, positive experiences and increased loyalty (and sales) will result.  Sounds good in theory, but so did Windows Vista.

There are several inherent flaws with personality-based call routing:

1) Many customers, like myself, are obnoxious jerks, and when we call with a problem or complaint, we don’t want to speak to anybody even remotely like us. Give us a sweet and empathetic sap who will kiss our butts while we roar and rant -- not some fellow cranky smart-ass who’s going to try to steal our thunder.

2) Personality-based routing assumes that your agents all have a personality. I have called your company and happen to know for a fact that this isn’t the case. What this means is that, if you deploy personality-based routing, many of your employees will be sitting around doing nothing while the members of your staff who are even just the least bit interesting or annoying will be getting slammed with calls.

3) By matching up individuals who are highly compatible, you risk having your center’s Average Handle Time (AHT) go through the roof. Rather than efficiently handling strangers’ inquiries and issues, agents could very well fall in love with some of their callers – or vice versa – thus turning your ACD into a sort of call center Match.com apparatus that fosters intimate relationships rather than profitable ones. 

(For those of you who think I’m making personality-based routing up, you can read more about it here: http://bit.ly/9fYSYX -- but please return to my website or I’ll come looking for you)  


Video calls. I continue to hear talk about how video is going to take customer service by storm and greatly humanize the caller experience. Keep in mind most of that talk is coming from desperate vendors who over-invested in video-over-IP software back when they were hooked on illicit substances in the mid 1990s.  

There’s nothing wrong with the actual technology that drives video interactions; it’s been ready for prime time for years. The problem is that allowing callers to see the faces of employees whom you pay $8.50/hour and whom you cram into tiny cubicles is risky business. Your agents may be able to put a “smile in their voice”, but their attempts to force an actual smile onto a face that’s attached to a body that’s suffering from wrist, back and eye maladies can end up making them look like somebody punched them while they were sucking a lemon.       

Granted, there are a few call centers that have effectively implemented video calling, but most of them are located in Europe, where agents get four weeks of vacation and are encouraged to drink wine between calls. 
  

“Customer Effort” as a KPI. Is it important to gauge how easy it is for customers to do business with your organization and agents? Absolutely. But good luck precisely measuring that effort in any real quantifiable way. Fanatics of the latest metric craze – “Customer Effort” – would have you believe that you can accurately track not only whether each customer’s issue has been resolved or not, but also how many times each customer smashed their head against a wall or desk while awaiting such resolution.

I’m certainly not against the idea behind Customer Effort, but I can’t imagine how it could be a formal KPI in the call center. I suggest you forget trying to put a number to something so ambiguous and subjective. It’s best just to maintain a comprehensive quality monitoring program that incorporates C-Sat results into scores (“Voice of the Customer”), and then just assume if those scores are decent, you’re making things easy enough for most customers.

If, on the other hand, you discover that customers have started a Facebook hate-page dedicated to your organization and/or some of your agents, you need to either dramatically improve the service you provide or replace your existing customers with some who don’t mind putting in a little work to get what they need. Customers can be so lazy these days.


I look forward to your comments, as long as they are extremely positive and full of exaggerated praise. You’ve already seen what happens when I get cranky.