Off Center
Every 30 seconds, a contact center agent somewhere breaks a hand after punching a computer monitor.

Only YOU can prevent shattered knuckles.

How? By providing agents with a desktop that actually allows them to do their job and take care of customers. Unfortunately, such a desktop isn’t what’s gracing the workstations in most contact centers. According to recent industry research:
  • More than one in three companies cite disconnected and complex agent desktops as a key obstacle.
  • Agents are forced to navigate an average of five screens to handle a typical customer interaction.
  • Agents estimate they waste more than 25% of their time (during customer interactions) searching for relevant data across different systems.

Spend a day toggling between various applications, asking customers to repeat information, and keying in redundant data on multiple screens, and see if YOU, too, aren’t overcome by the urge to put your fist through your computer monitor. If such disparate and uncoordinated systems are causing this much frustration on the frontline, imagine how your customers feel. Actually, you probably don’t have to imagine – I’m sure every day they’re letting you and your agents know how they feel… through their sighs and obscenities, and their ‘1 out of 5’ ratings on post-contact surveys.
Make the Move to a Unified Desktop
Leading contact centers protect agents’ hand bones and elevate the customer experience by investing in a unified desktop (a.k.a., ‘intelligent desktop’, ‘dynamic desktop’, ‘a desktop agents don’t want to assault’). Such desktops take all the existing systems and applications agents need to access and place them all behind a single intuitive interface. Every resource the agent might need – regardless of contact channel – is organized and presented together on the desktop. This includes all the customer account activity and history as the contact arrives, including any information a customer may have provided to the center’s IVR prior to being routed to the agent. A typical unified desktop also features: user-friendly knowledge bases; dynamic rules-based screen pops; text templates to help agents seem less illiterate when handling email, chat and social media contacts; and other helpful tools and applications.

So, those are some of the key features of a unified agent desktop. Now let’s take a look at something even more enticing – the benefits that those features make possible. Talk to just about any contact center that has moved to a unified agent desktop, and they'll tell you how it has enabled them to do the following:

Reduce Average Handle Time (organically!). Naturally when agents aren’t fumbling around different applications and keying in stuff they had to ask customers to repeat, calls (and chats) go a lot faster… without anybody feeling rushed or spontaneously combusting. A large contact center outsourcer, Group O, reportedly reduced overall AHT by 36 seconds after going the unified desktop route. I’ve heard of other companies shedding as much as a minute or more off of handle times thanks to a more dynamic agent desktop.     

Increase First-Contact Resolution. Having a complete view of the customer’s activity and immediate access to relevant applications/knowledge bases means agents don’t look like morons during interactions and can better resolve customers' specific issues. Telecom company Blue Casa reportedly increased FCR by a whopping 25% after implementing a unified desktop.

Increase sales. It’s much easier for agents to sell to a customer (and not feel dirty doing it) when they can see the customer’s purchase history and preferences, and when dynamic screen pops alert agents to ideal sales opportunities. Just ask Servicemaster, a large home services company that reportedly DOUBLED sales conversion rates due to the enhanced customer info and context-specific cross-selling suggestions provided by their unified agent desktop.

Increase C-Sat. Highly personalized service and quick issue resolution make customers fall in love with agents and your company. Your agents might even receive some marriage proposals. My own wife has walked in on me professing my love to an agent who rocked my world during an interaction. By the way, Group O (that same company that realized big AHT reductions with a unified desktop – see above) also reported an 8% jump in their Customer Satisfaction rate – proof that organically lowering AHT directly and positively enhances the customer experience.      

Increase agent engagement & retention. As an agent, having customers profess their love and propose marriage several times a day makes you feel valuable and special. So does having everything you need to thrive at your job right at your fingertips.    

Reduce training time. I know of a large cable company that reportedly shortened new-hire training by three-weeks after moving to a unified agent desktop – saving the company $5 million annually. Of course. that huge profit gain didn’t stop the company from raising its rates, but if you ignore that part, it’s a lovely success story.

Save the Knuckles
Recent research shows that less than a third of contact centers are currently equipped with a unified desktop; however, many other centers report that they are in the process of implementing one. For those of you that don’t fall into either of these camps, I recommend you at least consider investing in a padded desktop – to limit the number of ruined agent knuckles in your center. 

As Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, Bruce Temkin has helped thousands of organizations become more customer-centric. Bruce describes himself as a 'customer experience transformist.' If you see him work, hear him speak or read his writing, you'll agree that the aforementioned description is very fitting.

Anyone in a managerial or supervisory role in a contact center can benefit greatly from Bruce’s keen insight. Following are several of his notable customer experience tips – simple ideas (backed by real-life examples) that he assures will yield powerful results:  

Help customers achieve their goals. Don’t push your products and agendas on customers. Instead, find out what they want and create experiences that fit your company into their journey. As Wayne Peacock, Executive Vice President of Member Experience at USAA, said:

“We want to create experiences around what members are trying to accomplish, not just our products. If a member is buying a car, then we would historically see that as a change in auto insurance. We are changing that to an auto event – to help the member find the right car, buy it at a discount, get a loan, insurance, etc. and do that in any channel and across channels. There’s enormous value for members and for USAA if we can facilitate that entire experience.”

Make employee engagement a key metric. Since 2007, Bombardier Aerospace’s annual employee engagement and enablement survey has given all employees a voice within the organization. In 2012, 93% of employees completed the survey. Managers are evaluated based on the engagement levels of their employees. To create an environment that ensures performance, every leader has an annual target for employee engagement.

Motivate employees with intrinsic rewards. Companies often try and force employees into doing things by slapping on metrics and measurements. While these types of extrinsic rewards can change some behaviors, they can often cause conflicts and lead to unexpected consequences. When Staples put in place a goal for $200 of add-ons per computer sold, some store employees stopped selling computers to customers who didn’t want to purchase add-ons.  Compare this outcome to inspirational coaching at Sprint, which leads to an environment where employees consistently excel and measure their performance against their best effort and compete with themselves to be their best. It turns out that people tend to be more motivated by intrinsic rewards. To build commitment from employees, stop relying so heavily on extrinsic rewards and focus on providing them with the four key intrinsic rewards: sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress. These types of rewards build an emotional, instead of a transactional, commitment from employees.

Tap into customer insights from unstructured data. As more companies thirst for customer feedback, the number of surveys has escalated. But there is a limit to customers’ willingness to complete surveys. As completion rates get more difficult to maintain, companies will become more efficient with the questions they ask, target questions at specific customers in specific situations, and stop relying as much on multiple-choice questions. Tidbit: When we asked large companies with Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs about the changing importance of eight listening posts, multiple choice survey questions were at the bottom of the list. Companies must learn to integrate their customer feedback with other customer data and tap into rich sources of customer insights in unstructured data such as open-ended comments, call center conversations, emails from customers, and social media. This new, deeper foundation of customer intelligence will require strengthening capabilities in text and predictive analytics.

Use ambassadors to build links across the organization. Fidelity’s Voice of the Customer Ambassadors program is the cornerstone of Fidelity’s efforts to engage customer-facing associates across the organization around their customer experience vision. Ambassadors are associates from across Fidelity’s functions who apply to become part of a network of customer experience evangelists who (1) identify opportunities for improvement by amplifying the voice of the customer/associate; (2) inform new product and service development; and (3) inspire their peers with local dialogue and other activities. Ambassadors are supported by extensive executive sponsorship across multiple levels of management and are asked to dedicate 10% of their time influencing Fidelity’s shared customer experience vision.

Actively solicit insights from employees. Adobe’s Intranet includes an online suggestion tool called “Tell Adobe.” Through this simple mechanism, employees can submit suggestions for improving the company, covering everything from current products and services to the processes used to engage and help customers. All submissions are reviewed by a member of the People Resources team, who then brings in internal subject matter experts or functional teams to evaluate the submitter’s suggestions, work with him or her to understand the idea better, and then decide if and how to proceed or pursue further. The process closes the loop with the employee so that he or she has visibility to the outcomes resulting from the initial submission. 

Maintain a list of top 10 customer issues. Oracle drives consistent customer experience activities across all regions and lines of business through a structured framework and standardized approach to monitoring the customer experience: Listen, Respond, Collaborate for Customer Success. The portfolio of feedback tools includes transactional and product surveys, relationship surveys, customer advisory boards, user experience labs, and independent user groups. Feedback from across these sources is integrated and analyzed to identify the 10 customer feedback themes that have the greatest impact on customer experience and business results, and programs are established to improve each.

Empower employees to create memorable moments. Hampton has trained its team members on a set of Moment Makers rather than checklists and scripts to handle a variety of situations. Moment Makers are designed so that team members can choose approaches based on their personality, comfort level, and individual style to match the cues from guests. These approaches include being anticipatory, using empathy, using humor, providing unexpected delight, and giving a compliment. Moment Makers are taught from a team member’s first days on the job when he or she learns the brand story and continue to be reinforced on an ongoing basis through learning maps and e-learning modules. 

This post was excerpted (with permission, of course) from Bruce Temkin’s brilliant “50 CX Tips: Simple Ideas, Powerful Results” article, which can be read in its entirety here.

You can learn more about Bruce Temkin and his organization here.

True contact center success comes when organizations make the critical switch from a “Measure everything that moves” mindset to one of “Measure what matters most.” Given that we are now living in the Age of Customer Influence, “what matters most” is that which most increases the likelihood of the customer not telling the world how evil you are via Twitter.

No longer can companies coast on Average Handle Time (AHT) and Number of Calls Handled per Hour. Such metrics may have ruled the roost back when contact centers were back-office torture chambers, but the customer care landscape has since changed dramatically. Today, customers expect and demand service that is not only swift but stellar. A speedy response is appreciated, but only when it’s personalized, professional and accurate – and when what’s promised is actually carried out.

AHT and other straight productivity measurements still have a place in the contact center (e.g. for workforce management purposes as well as identifying workflow and training issues). However, in the best centers – those that understand that the customer experience is paramount – the focus is on a set of five far more qualitative and holistic metrics.

1) Service Level. How accessible your contact center is sets the tone for every customer interaction and determines how much vulgarity agents will have to endure on each call. Service level (SL) is still the ideal accessibility metric, revealing what percentage of calls (or chat sessions) were answered in “Y” seconds. A common example (but NOT an industry standard!) SL objective is 80/20.

The “X percent in Y seconds” attribute of SL is why it’s a more precise accessibility metric than its close cousin, Average Speed of Answer (ASA). ASA is a straight average, which can cause managers to make faulty assumptions about customers’ ability to reach an agent promptly. A reported ASA of, say, 30 seconds doesn’t mean that all or even most callers reached an agent in that time; many callers likely got connected more quickly while many others may not have reached an agent until after they perished.

2) First-Call Resolution (FCR). No other metric has as big an impact on customer satisfaction and costs (as well as agent morale) as FCR does. Research has shown that customer satisfaction (C-Sat) ratings will be 35-45 percent lower when a second call is made for the same issue.

Trouble is, accurately measuring FCR is something that can stump even the best and brightest scientists at NASA. (I discussed the complexity of FCR tracking in a previous post.) Still and all, contact centers must strive to gauge this critical metric as best they can and, more importantly, equip agents with the tools and techniques they need to drive continuous (and appropriate) FCR improvement.

3) Contact Quality and 4) C-Sat. Contact Quality and C-Sat are intrinsically linked – and in the best contact centers, so are the processes for measuring them. To get a true account of Quality, the customer’s perspective must be incorporated into the equation. Thus, in world-class customer care organizations, agents’ Quality scores are a combination of internal compliance results (as judged by internal QA monitoring staff using a formal evaluation form) and customer ratings (and berating) gleaned from post-contact transactional C-Sat surveys.

Through such a comprehensive approach to monitoring, the contact center gains a much more holistic view of Contact Quality than internal monitoring alone can while simultaneously capturing critical C-Sat data that can be used not only by the QA department but enterprise-wide, as well.

5) Employee Satisfaction (E-Sat). Those who shun E-Sat as a key metric because they see it as “soft” soon find that achieving customer loyalty and cost containment is hard. There is a direct and irrefutable correlation between how unhappy agents are and how miserable they make customers. Failure to keep tabs on E-Sat – and to take action to continuously improve it – leads not only to bad customer experiences but also high levels of employee attrition and knife-fighting, which costs contact centers an arm and a leg in terms of agent re-recruitment, re-assessment, re-training, and first-aid.

Smart centers formally survey staff via a third-party surveying specialist at least twice a year to find out what agents like about the job, what they’d like to see change, and how likely they are to cut somebody or themselves.

For much more on these and other common contact center metrics, be sure to check out my FULL CONTACT ebook at

Few metrics have made contact center managers drool like first-call resolution has. And with good reason: FCR has been shown to have a significant impact on customer satisfaction, operational costs and employee morale. So we’re looking at a metric trifecta – a measurement that is both qualitative and quantitative, and that is also engaging for agents.

Unfortunately, FCR is also one of the most misconstrued and mis-measured metrics in the contact center. Many managers get so caught up in the potential benefits that FCR can bring, they simply add it to the center’s scorecard and start tracking it haphazardly – without really grasping some key concepts or taking the customer’s perspective into full consideration.

To avoid the typical FCR pitfalls that doom many a contact center and customer relationship, it’s critical to understand the following:

Accurately measuring FCR takes work. This metric is not easily captured and calculated. You can’t just rely on callback tracking technology, as some customers may not call back even if their issue wasn’t resolved. For instance, they might instead contact the center via another channel (e.g., email, chat) or perhaps even defect to the competition out of frustration. Nor can you just have your quality monitoring folks decide if a call has been resolved (though that doesn’t stop many centers from doing this to gauge FCR); it has to be measured from the customer’s perspective. And while asking customers about issue resolution via post-contact surveys is highly recommended, that method alone isn’t sufficient for accurately tracking FCR either, as sometimes a caller might think their issue was resolved during a call, but then the agent or somebody else doesn’t follow through with what needs to be done to complete the resolution, resulting in a later callback.

The best way to track FCR is to use a combination of the aforementioned methods, and to then just hope you are catching the metric at enough angles to get close to what your actual FCR rate is. That’s a lot of work to still be unsure, but the good news (sort of) is… 

...Customers don’t actually care if you know how to measure FCR – they simply want you to ACHIEVE it. It’s important the managers don’t get so obsessed with measurement of FCR that they forget to focus on what processes and practices actually drive FCR improvement. Who cares if you are doing a bang up job of tracking FCR if all the reports show that your rate never goes up. Top contact centers worry less about numbers and more about positive customer experiences, and thus embrace such FCR improvement tactics as:

      -Providing agents with the training and resources to quickly and effectively resolve contacts.
      -Ensuring that there are no conflicting performance objectives hindering customer-centricity and

         FCR achievement (like rigid AHT goals).
      -Mastering skills-based routing so that callers get sent to the right agent with the skill-set to handle 

       their issue.
      -Building agent incentives around FCR goal achievement.
      -Empowering agents to make improvements to FCR-related processes.

A high FCR rate isn’t always something to cheer about. Even if your center effectively measures FCR, and your reports consistently show a rate in the 90%-95% range, don’t assume you are an FCR rock star. While rates that high can be legit, more often than not they are inflated by simple “slam dunk” inquiries that the call center could have avoided entirely by providing (and effectively promoting) strong self-service options (e.g., speech-enabled IVR; dynamic web self-service tools.) A potent self-service strategy not only can save the company mucho dinero, many customers prefer self-service when it comes to basic transactions and inquiries.

A high FCR rate doesn’t always account for the amount of effort expended or pain endured by the customer. Sometimes an issue may get resolved on the first call, but not before the customer considered suicide while stuck in a IVR hell only to get transferred to an agent who, while equipped with the answer required, was not equipped with much courtesy or professionalism. That’s why no FCR initiative is complete without solid Quality monitoring and C-Sat measurement practices in place. They are key to ensuring calls are resolved AND relationships are cultivated.

Last week in Part 1 of this post, I cited several quality monitoring practices commonly embraced by the world’s best contact centers, then stopped midway through in a desperate attempt to make you come back to my website this week.

Here we go with Part 2. I hope the wild anticipation didn’t cause you to lose too much sleep.
Incorporate customer satisfaction ratings and feedback into monitoring scores. Here is where quality monitoring is really changing. This shift in quality monitoring procedure is so important, it’s underlined here – and just missed getting typed out in ALL CAPS.

Quality is no longer viewed as a purely internal measure. Many contact centers have started incorporating a “Voice of the Customer” component into their quality monitoring programs – tying direct customer feedback from post-contact surveys into agents’ overall monitoring scores. The center’s internal QA staff rate agents only on the most objective call criteria and requirements – like whether or not the agent used the correct greeting, provided accurate product information, and didn’t call the customer a putz. That internal score typically accounts for anywhere from 40%-60% of the agent’s quality score, with the remaining points based on how badly the customer said they wanted to punch the agent following the interaction.

Add a self-monitoring component to the mix. The best contact centers usually give an agent the opportunity to express how much he or she stinks before the center goes and does it for them. Self-evaluation in monitoring is highly therapeutic and empowering. When you ask agents to rate their own performance before they are rated by a quality specialist (and the customer), it shows agents that the company values their input and experience, and it helps to soothe the sting of second- or third-party feedback, especially in instances when a call was truly flubbed.

Agents are typically quite critical of their own performance, often pointing out mistakes they made that QA staff might have otherwise overlooked. Of course, the intent of self-monitoring sessions is not to sit and watch as agents eviscerate themselves – as much fun as that can be – but rather to ensure that they understand their true strengths and where they might improve, as well as to make sure they and your quality personnel are on the same page. Self-evaluations should cease if agents begin to slap themselves during the process, unless it is an agent you yourself had been thinking about slapping anyway.

Provide positive coaching soon after the evaluated contact. Even if you incorporate all of the above tactics into your monitoring program, it will have little impact on overall quality, agent performance or the customer experience if agents don’t receive timely and positive coaching on what they did well and where they need to improve. Notice I said “timely” AND “positive” – this is no either/or scenario: Giving agents immediate feedback is great, but not if that feedback comes in the form of verbal abuse and a kick to the shin; by the same token, positive praise and constructive comments are wonderful, but not if the praise and comments refer to an agent-customer interaction that took place during the previous President’s administration.

At the end of each coaching session during which a key area for improvement is identified, the best centers typically have the coach and the agents work together to come up with a clear and concise action plan aimed at getting the agent up to speed. The action plan may call for the agent to receive additional one-on-one coaching/training offline, complete one or more e-learning modules, work with a peer mentor, and/or undergo a lobotomy.

Reward and recognize agents who consistently deliver high quality service.  While positive coaching is certainly critical, high-performing agents want more than just a couple pats on the back for consistently kicking butt on calls. Top contact centers realize they must reward quality to receive quality, thus most have some form of rewards and recognition tied directly to quality monitoring results. Agents in these centers can earn extra cash, gift certificates, preferred shifts and plenty of public recognition for achieving high ratings on all their monitored calls during a set month or quarter. In some centers, if an agent nails there quality score during an even longer period (six months or a year), they may earn a spot on the center’s “Wall of Fame”, and perhaps even the opportunity to serve as a quality coach who can boss around their inferior peers.

To foster a strong sense of teamwork and to motivate more than just a select few agents, many centers have built team rewards/recognition into the fold. Entire groups of agents – not just the center’s stars – can earn cash and kudos for consistently meeting and exceeding the team’s quality objective over a set period of time. Such collective, team-friendly incentives not only help drive high quality center-wide, they help protect the center’s elite agents from being bludgeoned with their own “#1 in Quality” trophy by co-workers.

If you have some other key quality monitoring practices you’d like to share, please do so in the comment box below. If you’d like to take serious issue with the practices I’ve highlighted, get your own blog.

As Lindsay Lohan will attest, sometimes it’s simply more profitable to be bad. Such is the case with customer service – if you know how to be bad correctly.

Many of you have probably heard of a little something called “The Service Recovery Paradox.” (And not just because I’ve alluded to it in previous posts – that would assume you’ve read me before and still returned.) The Service Recovery Paradox basically states that an effective recovery process following a bad customer service experience often results in higher customer satisfaction ratings than if the bad experience had never occurred in the first place.

While many of you are familiar with this paradox, most of you aren’t taking full advantage of it. Your service is simply too solid and consistent to ever shake things up, to ever wake customers out of their comfortable service coma and take notice of your company. Sure, your agents occasionally mess up on a call and give your company the opportunity to put the powerful paradox into action; however, you have too many quality initiatives and incentives in place that keep agents from screwing up big enough to have any real and lasting impact on customer sentiment.

If you truly want to win customers over, you have to dare to almost lose them first. I’m not suggesting that you encourage agents to sabotage every customer call, email and chat they handle
just one out of every five.

Below are some tips on how to help your call center suck just enough to dazzle customers:  

Utilize screen pops featuring impolite phrases and insults. Most of your agents don’t care very much about their job and thus shouldn’t have trouble finding ways to alienate and offend customers on their own. Some of your better agents, however, may struggle with intentionally botching service. A great way to overcome their struggles is to send them screen pops featuring cold, non-empathetic phrases and insults that will help them push customers to the brink of defection.

The key is to use screen pops containing language that is just offensive enough to make the customer emotional but not so over-the-top that the customer orders a hit on your agent or, worse, refuses to ever again do business with your company even after the recovery team swoops in to bring delight.

Fail to keep promises made during calls. Insulting customers isn’t the only way to win their lasting loyalty. It’s important to also make sure that their needs aren’t met 100% of the time.

However, don’t merely have agents tell customers that their issue can’t be resolved during the call, as such a feeble attempt on the part of the agent is likely to result in an angry caller explosion from which your company cannot recover. To best set customers up for the type of powerful service recovery that will ensure lifetime loyalty, you need to make customers think that their issue has been resolved upon ending the call with the agent, and then wait for them to realize that it hasn't been.

For example, agents should promise to process every order and issue all appropriate credits, but then occasionally not follow through on such actions. This will invariably result in angry callbacks from customers that escalate to the Recovery Team, who can then apologize profusely, fix the problem immediately, and tell the customer that the company will love them till the end of time. It’s also a good idea to (falsely) promise the customer that the agent in question will be fired, beaten or, worse, demoted to outbound telemarketing.             

Fire any agent who doesn’t receive at least two or three serious customer complaints each month. Make “Serious Customer Complaints” a formal metric for which all your agents are fully accountable. If it doesn’t fit on your agent performance scorecard, abbreviate it as “SCC” and/or get rid of First-Call Resolution, which is impossible to measure anyway.

Provide rewards and recognition to agents who consistently maintain the center’s desired monthly SCC average. For agents who fall short, provide coaching to help them become a little ruder and more incompetent, or just take away their medication. If you have any agents who far exceed the average SCC rate, move them into the Billing department.

ATTENTION: This is a satire. This is only a satire. Had this been an actual insightful blog post, it would not have been written by Greg. Any positive result that comes from taking Greg’s advice is strictly coincidental.

Finding fresh water in the middle of the desert doesn’t help you – unless you drink it.

It’s the same thing with obtaining timely customer data and direct feedback via a C-sat surveying process: It won’t help your business – or your customers – unless you actually “take it in”. The aim of the best C-sat initiatives is not merely to measure C-sat, but to better it – to spot trends and uncover opportunities that can lead to continuous improvement and customer advocacy.

Top contact centers carefully analyze C-sat data and customers’ comments and suggestions on a regular basis, and, importantly, act on the key findings. Here are several examples of how these centers use information gathered during the C-sat measurement process to enhance service and avoid hate crimes against them.     

Setting up service alerts to quickly “recover” customers. This is one of the simplest and most impactful C-sat measurement/management practices shared by leading contact centers. In these centers, whenever a customer – while completing a post-contact survey – compares their experience unfavorably to a root canal procedure without Novocain, an alert is immediately sent to a manager, supervisor or quality assurance team member. This person either contacts the disgruntled customer him or herself within a couple of hours or less, or has a recovery specialist do so. Either way, the goal is to quickly uncover specifically what went wrong during the interaction in question, and what can be done to regain the customer’s favor and keep them from forming a riot squad via Twitter.       

Many customers will tell you that the mere act of being contacted personally regarding their recent dissatisfaction is often enough to make them forget how angry your company made them. Of course, sometimes more is required – such as a free offer or upgrade – to repair the damage and sustain a positive relationship with the customer, who may be considering seeing other people.

It’s not them. It’s you.  

I’ve seen numerous contact centers – typically larger ones – that have an entire dedicated service recovery team in place. Of course, if you require a team that spends everyday doing nothing but contacting unhappy customers, perhaps your center blows more than most.

Capturing individual customer preferences to provide more personalized service and sales. I typically avoid using the hackneyed term “CRM”, but that’s really what this is all about. C-sat surveys supply the center with a wealth of customer trends and specific preferences, and the best contact centers are careful not to let such invaluable data slip through their fingers.

After a customer completes a post-contact survey, top centers update the customer’s profile/account with any relevant notes/preferences so that agents who interact with the customer in the future can kiss their butt and cater the products/services they offer to that particular customer’s needs and expectations.

Even more importantly, leading contact centers share key data and customer trends with other departments – e.g, Marketing, Sales, and Product & Development – in exchange for better parking spaces.

Uncovering gaps in training and other processes. Whenever a customer expresses significant dissatisfaction, rarely can the blame be placed squarely on the shoulders of the agent who handled the contact. True, there are some agents who are just plain mean and/or grossly incompetent, but that is still the fault of the center for hiring such freaks in the first place. But usually when a customer is livid over their latest interaction, it has more to do with problems in the training that agents receive or the information they have available to them, and less to do with agents being sociopaths.

What frustrates a customer more than anything is when the issue they contacted the center about is not resolved during the first or second interaction with the company. Lack of first- and second-contact resolution is very often a result of insufficient training (the agent hasn’t been shown how to fix the problem/handle the issue), poorly designed workflows/knowledge bases (the agent doesn’t have quick access to the information they need to fix the problem/handle the issue), or agent narcolepsy (the agent has no control over when they fall asleep during a call).

Customers also get very frustrated over poor accessibility to an agent – e.g., having to wait in queue until they grow a full beard or until the Cubs win a pennant; getting hopelessly lost in the IVR system; getting routed to a tech support nerd when what they need is a warm fuzzy hug from a customer service softy. Again, none of these problems have to do with the agent who (eventually) handles the contact going out of their way to provide bad service. No, they all have to do with poor processes and systems.

The best contact centers, via in-depth root-cause analysis of C-sat findings, are able to pinpoint gaps in training and real-time communications, problems with information systems and workflows, and issues with workforce management, IVR menus, call routing, web self-service application function/design, as well as other processes/systems. Once they pinpoint such problems and shortcomings, they up their antidepressant dosage, lie to senior management about the extent of the problems, and work quickly and diligently to make reparations.

Many contact centers make the erroneous assumption that email is something that can wait… and wait… and wait to be answered by an agent. Certainly the days of one-week response times or of completely ignoring customers' email inquiries are over – at least in companies that still turn a profit. However, it is not uncommon for a contact center to average two days or more before a live agent responds to email inquiries. Not so good.

Another erroneous assumption that many email-handling centers make is that all of their agents know how to read and write. It’s probably better that a customer’s email inquiry isn’t responded to at all than for them to receive a response with more grammatical gaffs and syntax errors than Dan Quayle’s autobiography.    

Ok, enough about contact centers doing email wrong; let’s talk about those that are doing it right. Following are several best practices in email management that I have uncovered during my many years in the industry acting like a guy who knows stuff.   

Prepare agents for email-handling success.  Top contact centers not only train existing agents on effective email handling, they proactively screen for candidates with decent writing skills, strong reading comprehension and ample email savvy during the hiring process. In doing so, the center is forever staffed with agents who know better than to use inappropriate acronyms and emoticons, and who know how to spell without the use of numbers. Studies have shown that such email messages as “OMG! LOL!” and “Have a gr8t day – we are always here 4 u!” are 83% more likely to cause customer nausea and to lower C-sat than is a message that appears to have been written by a fully functioning adult with more than a fourth grade education.

Email training in leading contact centers focuses on such things as:

• The center’s performance metrics/objectives for the email channel
• The types of email contact agents will be receiving
• How to incorporate existing text templates into answers to help increase email response times
• How to quickly access knowledge bases and other resources needed to fully resolve customer email inquiries.      

Determine an email response time objective that works well for YOUR contact center. There is no set industry standard for email response times that applies to all contact centers. It really depends on the types of contacts your center receives, what your customers expect, and how much Red Bull you can get your agents to drink.  

Contact centers need to play around with response time objectives until they find a feasible target that the company can afford to hit and that still meets customer expectations. If you consistently meet a response time objective of eight hours or less yet constantly receive follow-up contacts and complaints from customers, it’s time to up the ante. On the other hand, if you consistently meet the aforementioned objective and never once get a sign of customer impatience and dissatisfaction, you could probably scale back a bit on your response time goal and use the money you save to pay agents bonuses for never using “LMAO” during a customer email interaction.       

Invest in an advanced email management system. While it is possible to get away with using Outlook and other rudimentary email management tools, centers that do rarely if ever achieve a high level of email performance and C-sat, and often get teased or beaten up by better equipped centers at parties.

Today’s email management systems are robust solutions that enable centers to handle email inquiries not only efficiently, but effectively and “intelligently” as well. Features like advanced auto response, user-friendly text templates, skills-based routing, automated post-contact surveys and detailed performance reports enable contact centers to join the A-list of e-support. 

Use auto-response to acknowledge receipt of email and to set response expectations.
“Thank you for your inquiry. One of our agents is currently working on it and will send you a response within X hours.”

Email auto-response messages such as this give the customer instant peace of mind that their issue/inquiry hasn’t been eaten by cyber goblins – and can reduce the number of costly follow-up contacts by 75% or more, assuming your center actually delivers on its response time promise. If it does not deliver, there will be customer cries of “liar liar, pants on fire” across the social globe and in your poor agents’ ears.  

Extend quality assurance to email. While many things in a contact center are easier said than done, email monitoring is not one of them. The best contact centers, as well as many average and mediocre ones, have a quality assurance specialist or at least a supervisor evaluate a few agent-customer email transcripts (which are easy to obtain since email is an electronic text-based activity) for each agent per month. During these evaluations, agents are rated on accuracy of information provided, professionalism, grammar/spelling and resolution of the customer’s issue. Agents that struggle in any of these areas receive prompt coaching or a dictionary, while those who consistently achieve high email quality scores are sent to a lab for cloning.

If your customers are satisfied, you are in big trouble.

In fact, I overheard several of your satisfied customers chatting in a bar the other night. They’re leaving you for another company – a company that doesn’t satisfy them; a company that bedazzles them. Enthralls them. Makes them want to shoop, shoopy doop, shoopy doop.

This is the Age of the Customer, my friends, and satisfaction is no longer nearly enough.

Let me take you through the different stages that define the customer experience today. I'll cover how you can tell what stage your customers are in, and how to propel them to the next level without the use of – or with minimal use of – illicit drugs.  

Customer Satisfaction.  This can be defined as a state of extraordinary ordinariness. Satisfied customers don’t want to burn down your contact center, but they wouldn’t risk their life to put it out if it caught fire, either.

Signs of customer satisfaction – Monotone speaking voice; frequent yawning during interactions with agents; an emotionally detached “thank you” at the call’s conclusion.
How to achieve it – Just have your contact center keep doing what it’s doing. No really, I’m sure it’s fine. Everything’s fine. Just fine.

Customer Delight. While this term often caused nausea to listeners when it first started being used in the late 1990s/early 2000s, customer delight has become a widely accepted way to describe customers who would seriously consider dating your contact center exclusively if such relationships were accepted by society.

Signs of customer delight – Frequent use of phrases like, “I’ve never felt this way about a service experience before” and “I think you might be the one”; the use of smiley face emoticons during email and chat interactions with agents; late night phone calls just to make sure payment has been received or a bill has gone out; extended bouts of “no, you hang up first” in a cutesy voice at the end of calls with agents.
How to achieve it – Fire all agents who have a nasal voice or who say things like “okie dokie” and “irregardless”; hire agents who know how to spel and use, commas correctly; offer IVR menus that don’t make the customer want to cut themselves or you; give agents the tools and training they need to read customers’ minds and finish their sentences.

Customer Euphoria. Customer euphoria is the highest level of satisfaction that a customer can reach without the aid of medication, alcohol or a computer glitch that accidentally credits their account $10,000. It is the farthest a customer can go on the satisfaction scale before major organs start to shut down.   
Signs of customer euphoria – Customer struggles to form phrases while speaking with agents, replacing key words with cooing sounds and whistling. Often, a euphoric customer will suddenly start skipping around barefooted during an interaction – sometimes dropping the phone in the process, thus making up-sells and cross-sells difficult, and hindering first-call resolution.
How to achieve it – Implement a powerful speech-enabled IVR system featuring personalization and the voice of Angelina Jolie; outsource your problematic callers to Oprah; replace your on-hold message that says, “Your call is very important to us,” with one that says, “Oh my God! (Insert customer’s name), is that YOU? Hold on, let me go get our CEO to handle your call –
he’ll/she’ll be right with you!”; and finally, train all your agents to do a perfect voice impression of your CEO. 

Customer Death.  This occurs when customers receive such stellar, caring, unparalleled service that their heart literally bursts, or they decide to take their own life realizing that the rest of their interactions for as long as they live will be anticlimactic in comparison to what they’ve experienced with your center. This should be the ultimate goal of any serious customer contact professional.

Signs of customer death – The customer does not provide their name or account number when prompted, is unresponsive to offers of free gifts or upgraded service, and never calls again – unless, on the off chance, a part of their body hits “redial” when they slump to the floor.  
How to achieve it – Legally, I am prohibited from sharing tactics that can lead to toxic levels of customer satisfaction and subsequent death. However, I will be publishing an anonymous book on the topic in the near future titled, Killing ‘Em Softly with Your Service.