Off Center
 
Picture
Wanted: Agents with the inherent skill and agility to respond to social customers in 30 minutes or less, and dazzle them in 140 characters or less.

Up until relatively recently, social customer service reps were considered purely mythical beings – like Santa Claus, or home agents who bathe regularly. However, with customer demand for support and service via social media rapidly growing, social customer service agents (let’s call them SCSRs to save us all some time) have become a reality.

A necessity even – at least in organizations that aim to stay ahead of the competition and keep the number of viral tweets about their poor or non-existent social customer service down to around zero.

What this means is that contact centers that haven’t already done so need to start recruiting and hiring viable SCSRs, or at least to start thinking about doing so. Of course, they can’t do such things effectively until they learn the “anatomy” of an SCSR. What does an individual who deftly monitors and smoothly handles customer inquiries and tirades via Twitter, Facebook and other social sites “look” like? What skills and traits do they require to not only survive but also thrive in the social role?


Key Attributes of an Ideal SCSR   

Following are five things to look for in agents worthy of maintaining your contact center’s “social” life:   

Social savvy. You want reps who not only have active accounts across a broad range of social media, but who also communicate relevant information in a tactful manner via such media. Take a look at each SCSR candidate’s personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you see that they have a habit of posting inane or offensive updates, or if they appear to have had multiple infractions of “TWI” – Tweeting While Intoxicated – they’re probably better suited for your IT team than for your Social Customer Service team.

Built-in ‘analytics’. An important aspect of social customer service is being able to determine which customers (and potential customers) to engage with – and how. While some of this should be covered in SCSR training, you want reps who have the intuition and logic needed to make smart social decisions on their own. A good SCSR must be able to quickly analyze and assess customers’ social inquiries, comments and rants, and then provide customers with the answers, explanations and verbal sedatives they need.   

Excellent (and efficient) writing skills. Social savvy and keen analytical skills won’t mean much if your SCSRs write like somebody who failed fifth grade English composition. Don’t assume an agent knows how to write just because their job application and resume featured only minor spelling and grammatical gaffs. A good SCSR not only writes clearly and succinctly, but also conversationally. It’s called social media, not corporate media or academic media. Customers like and expect social responses that are casual yet professional, not rigid and robotic.

A customer service soul.  Even someone with exceptional writing skills will fail in an SCSR role if they don’t truly care about and eagerly want to assist the customers with whom they interact. It’s more important to be courteous and empathetic than captivating and clever in the social customer service sphere. Captivating and clever is nice in small doses, but it won’t get you far with customers who are on the brink of bringing your brand to its knees with a flaming Twitter campaign about how your service makes them want to a learn a deadly martial art.    

Multichannel agility. I know, I know, you thought we were talking only about agents who deal with social customer interactions. But the truth is, a good SCSR doesn’t deal in tweets and posts alone. Often, interactions that start off on Twitter or Facebook need to be quickly moved to chat or voice – particularly when the issue/inquiry in question is a complex one that requires the customer to provide detailed and private information, or when the customer is fuming and using language more fit for drunken sailors than for public consumption. Furthermore, it’s likely that the volume of social media contacts your center must handle won’t be large enough to keep SCSRs busy their entire shift, thus, it’s good to have ones who are able to hop on the phones or don their chat hat and rock the customer experience regardless of channel.    

Did I miss anything big? Please share your SCSR “anatomy” lessons in the comments section below.



 
Picture
While I usually cover contact center best practices and innovation in this blog, today, in keeping with Halloween, I’ve decided to highlight what scares the pants off of most customer care professionals (and what scares the pants back on those who work from home).

Forget about witches, ghosts and goblins – here are some things that are really scary if you manage a contact center:

Rampant agent turnover. It’s positively frightening to think that the average contact center has an annual turnover rate of nearly 40%, and that, according to the human capital management firm CallMe! (that really is their name), the average turnover cost per agent is upwards of $4,000. This means that in a typical 100-seat contact center, agent turnover costs roughly $160,000 – every year. Evidently many organizations are so paralyzed by fear of such exorbitant figures, they are physically unable to create the kind of positive culture that would cause said figures to plummet.

Disengaged agents interacting with your customers. Even scarier than agents leaving are agents who stick around – but who couldn’t care less about your company or its customers. Just because agents show up and sit at their workstations everyday doesn’t mean they are truly present, and THAT can cost you even more than actual turnover. When agents aren’t engaged, empowered and focused on the job, the unnecessary callbacks, long caller rants and customer defection could end up forcing your center to implement a 100% work-at-home initiative – because your company soon won’t be able to make rent.   

Managing Millennials. Millennials tend to be highly creative and tech-savvy multi-taskers who enjoy working in a collaborative manner. Nothing actually scary about that – unless you are a contact center manager or supervisor who only knows how to lead and develop people whose learning styles and communication preferences are just like yours. If that’s the case, your attempts to engage the typical Millennial will be a horror show featuring a lot of carnage – or at least a lot of burnout and attrition.

Social customer service. Just when you thought you had a handle on all the channels and that it was safe to go back into the contact center, social customer service entered the scene – bringing with it a new kind of terror. Now your center has to respond not only to customers who contact you directly (via phone, email and chat), but also to those who express their issue and mention your company name via Twitter or Facebook. And if you don’t respond to the latter customers – or if you respond in an unsatisfactory manner, everybody and their mother gets to see as the PR nightmare plays out. 

Big data. The vast amount of customer information today’s contact center is able to capture is amazing – and scary as all get-out if the center doesn’t have a way of structuring, analyzing and strategically acting on the data. If you thought finding time to monitor each agent a few times a month was hard, try finding time to make sense of the millions of pieces of customer intelligence flying around the contact center stratosphere. Fortunately, there have been real advances in interaction analytics and data-mining to help centers slay the big bad data monster, but many customer care organizations have yet to invest in or tap the full power of said technologies, and thus must continuously face the fear of being swallowed up whole.    

The power of the home agent model. This one may seem a bit out of place, but the power of the home agent model is scary. What else do you know of that, once implemented, has the power to vastly improve such critical things as: agent engagement and retention; agent performance and attendance; contact center staffing/scheduling flexibility; facility expenses; disaster recovery; and the environment? It’s natural to be in awe of such power, even a little frightened. But what’s REALLY scary is the fact that not every customer care organization has embraced the home agent model despite all the huge proven benefits. I guess they are deathly afraid of success – or of happy agents.


What scares YOU about customer care and working in a contact center? Share what makes you shudder and shiver in the ‘Comments’ box below.

Oh yeah, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!



 
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.

 
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

        customer service?
·      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.


 
With call centers and customer care evolving so rapidly, it’s only natural that new types of jobs should start to emerge. Back in the 1980s and early1990s – when call centers were dungeons where supervisors whipped reps whose AHT was higher than desired – nobody could have pictured that centers would one day have an entire team dedicated to quality and customer satisfaction, or that it would be illegal to line cubicles with electric fencing.

These are exciting times for call center professionals who are serious about carving out a career -- one that doesn’t involve day-trading and/or exotic dancing on the side to make ends meet. A whole slew of new and rewarding customer care opportunities are on the horizon. Let’s take a peek at some of them, and then get our resumes ready:   


Chief Customer Silencer. I’ve always been a big proponent of “Voice of the Customer” initiatives, but some customers just need a little assistance in shutting up. That’s where the Chief Customer Silencer comes in.

The person in this high-profile, low-patience position is responsible for monitoring all contact channels and community sites, identifying frustrated and problematic customers, and reminding those customers that their health could take a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse if their incessant public complaints about the company don’t cease.

Ever wonder whatever happened to that guy who made the viral video about how United Airlines broke his guitar? My guess is that United got smart and hired a Chief Customer Silencer.  

When selecting a CSS for your organization, look for somebody with ample knowledge of social media monitoring and service recovery techniques, and who lives in New Jersey, Chicago or Sicily.  


Virtual Agent Secret Agent. Home agent programs are currently all the rage. And while most call centers that have embraced the virtual agent model have a solid selection process in place, there is no guarantee that their remote staff is abiding by all the rules and haven’t at least tried removing their house arrest ankle bracelet. That’s where the Virtual Agent Secret Agent comes in (though you may not know they’ve come in – they’re stealthy).

The VASA’s main objective is to gracefully gain access to a home agent’s house and secretly watch their every move – with the exception of bathing, which few home agents do anyway. VASAs aren’t there to micro-manage performance; that’s the job of the agent’s supervisor. Instead, they take special note of such things as whether or not the agent has changed their pajamas in five days, how often they make their little brother take calls while they nap, and how much they earn daily from selling customer account information to neighbors.     

To be effective, VASAs should be small, agile and have the innate ability to go completely unnoticed in a room, thus the ideal candidate is a life insurance salesperson with a ninja or jockey background. Check craigslist. 


Textpert. With text quickly catching up to voice in terms of how customers interact with companies, call centers need to seriously panic. Centers that are not adept at panicking do have a second option, which involves accepting the aforementioned shift in communication preferences and doing something about it. That’s where the Textpert comes in.

The Textpert is tasked with responding quickly, accurately and courteously to all customer emails, chats, SMS messages, social media comments/inquiries, hate mail and ransom notes. Exemplary spelling, grammar, professionalism and eloquence are all key requirements for this position, which rules out all human beings of working age in the modern era.


Service Saboteur. Numerous studies have revealed what has come to be known as “The Service Recovery Paradox,” which basically states that an effective recovery process following a bad service experience often results in higher customer satisfaction ratings than if the bad experience had never occurred in the first place. In other words, first you have to screw up before you can really impact customer loyalty. That’s where the Service Saboteur comes in.

The person in this important position is responsible for intentionally and strategically providing poor customer service so that the center’s Recovery Team can then swoop in and sweep customers off their feet. It shouldn’t be difficult to find qualified Service Saboteur candidates from you existing staff. Just pick from among your rudest, most apathetic and most incompetent agents, give them a new business card, and instead of reprimanding them every time they alienate or offend a customer, give them a pat on the back and a slight raise in pay.   



 
Back in November I posted an “Ask the ‘Expert’” piece in which I answered the pressing questions of several call center professionals. While I have no proof whatsoever, I’m quite certain that my responses changed these managers’ lives and careers forever, and may have even altered the universal face of customer care as we know it.

But now that the damage has been contained, I think it’s safe for me to try again.    

     

Q: Our call center just recently started monitoring popular social media sites. What should we be responding to, and how?

A: I’m very pleased to see that your center has heeded the warnings made by social media experts that 100% of all call centers will soon be 100% Twitter-based. That’s an important step.

Social customer care is a lot like attending a cocktail party – there’s a whole lot of chitter-chatter going on but you really don’t need to stop drinking and listen unless somebody is talking about you. What your call center needs to pay particularly close attention to is strong negative comments about your company in general, your products, your customer service, or your SAT scores. It’s best to post an initial public response empathetically acknowledging the issue (as that shows everybody that your company is “listening” and cares), and then invite the person to discuss the problem in more detail privately via phone or chat, or face-to-face behind the trash dumpsters outside Wal-Mart.    

Don’t become so obsessed over putting out fires that you overlook the positive comments that customers post on social sites. Such unsolicited public praise and compliments are what foster widespread brand advocacy and help to keep your agents from drinking bleach on their break. Be sure to thank anybody and everybody for their kind remarks, even if you know that most are coming from your own Marketing department.


Q: We are struggling to gain agent buy-in to our quality monitoring program. Any advice on how to change agents’ opinion of monitoring and improve results?

A: Over my long career posing as a call center expert, I’ve answered that question numerous times. The fact that I’ve never heard back from anybody regarding my response to them leaves me to believe that my suggestions solved all their monitoring problems. Hopefully I can do the same for you.

First off, you need to view things from your agents’ perspective. They don’t like you or anybody else on the management team very much and don’t want any of you listening to their conversations. To help overcome their disdain for you, try loosening their ankle shackles and removing the barbed wire that lines their cubicles. Also, the next time they go over the center’s strict Average Handle Time objective for the day, flog them with a little less force than usual, or at least use a smaller club.

Once you’ve gained agents’ favor and trust, sit down with them and explain that you hate monitoring, too, but that it must be done to help protect against customers showing up in person with automatic weapons. When agents sense your empathy and see that quality monitoring is actually intended to help them, they are much more likely to accept it before they take another job two weeks later.

To really get agents to embrace quality monitoring and strive to continuously improve, you need to add a “voice of the customer” (VOC) component to your program. This entails incorporating customer satisfaction survey scores and feedback into agents' internal monitoring scores and post-contact coaching. Having a VOC-based quality program enables you to go to agents and say, “See, it’s not just me who thinks you’re incompetent.” THAT’S the type of 360-degree feedback that turns poor performers into highly mediocre ones, which is really all you can ask for considering what you pay your staff.    


Note: The views and recommendations that Greg has shared with you today are his own and are not necessarily representative of his views and recommendations tomorrow. He is very moody and unpredictable. Also, it’s weird that he’s referring to himself in the third person here.



 
As customer care and contact centers continue to evolve, so must the metrics that centers measure. Sure, some classic metrics – such as service level, quality and C-Sat – will be around forever; however less pertinent and impactful ones will fade away while newer, sexier measures emerge.

For example, in the early years of customer service, metrics like ATTCT (Average Time Till Carpal Tunnel) and NRPC (Number of Reps Per Cubicle) ruled the roost, but have since become secondary or tertiary metrics in most modern contact centers. As have such measures as HSPS (Headset Shocks Per Shift) and AAL (Average Agent Lifespan).

So, what fresh new metrics can we expect to emerge and soon bloom into powerful key performance indicators? I recently asked several noted contact center practitioners, consultants and analysts their opinion on the matter, but I forgot to record our conversations or take any notes, so here are my new KPI predictions instead:


FTR – First-Tweet Resolution. This will become an increasingly critical metric in this crazy age of social media. FTR measures the percentage of angry customers on Twitter that the contact center is able to “silence” before the customer posts any more tweets about how much they hate your company.

For example, let’s say that 10 of your customers write an incendiary comment about how the last agent they spoke to on the phone was an idiot or how your IVR system made them want to commit a violent crime. If your center is able to contact and persuade seven of those customers to not launch any additional 140-character verbal barrages, then your FTR rate would be 70%. But you will never achieve an FTR rate of 70% because 90% of human beings need Twitter to get the attention they desire but don’t get at home or work. So just shoot for a FTR rate of 10%-20%. 

Naturally, you don’t want the whole world seeing your desperate attempts to convince customers to stop flaming about your company on Twitter. Instead, it’s best to send each fuming customer a friendly private message via Twitter asking them to kindly call or email you to discuss how you might get them to shut up.    


ART – Average Refrigerator Time. This metric’s emergence is a direct result of the recent proliferation of home agents in the contact center industry. ART measures how many minutes per shift a home agent spends searching for snacks in the kitchen when they are scheduled to be on the phones. In contact centers that have a large percentage of former high school football linemen and/or aspiring Sumo wrestlers among their remote staff, ART is measured in hours rather than minutes.

To effectively measure ART, it’s essential to install in each home agent’s house a “fridge-cam” that captures and records every trip the agent makes to the kitchen while on the job. Unfortunately, it’s highly illegal to do so; nevertheless, the best contact center managers know that sometimes you have to break the rules in order to maintain the tradition and integrity of accurate and precise metric measurement.  

Most contact centers struggle to keep ART within acceptable ranges – not just because of the irresistible lure that the refrigerator presents for home agents, but also because most managers and supervisors in charge of home agents are uncomfortable telling an employee that he should watch his carb and fat intake. Some of the most forward-thinking centers have succeeded in lowering their ART rate by installing in each home agent’s fridge a sound card that says something like “You disgust me” or simply “AGAIN?” each time the refrigerator door is opened.


HSPH – Hand Spasms Per Hour. As web chat has grown as a customer contact channel, so have the debilitating finger cramps of the agents who handle chat sessions. A recent study that I conducted or maybe just had a dream about showed that contact centers that offer chat are 94.3% more likely to have agents who have hands that look like crab claws.

Thus, HSPH is fast becoming a critical metric in chat-handling centers that don’t like their employees looking like crustaceans. To measure HSPH, centers simply need to attach to the hands of each chat agent a small non-invasive electrode that detects each muscle spasm that occurs. HSPH scores in the 10-15 per hour range are considered normal; anything over that is a sign that the agent is at risk for moderate to severe hand cramping that could hinder their ability to compose coherent messages during chat sessions with customers. Once an agent’s HSPH score approaches 50 or more per hour, there is nothing left to do but pronounce their hand(s) legally dead, then move them into Sales, where all they’ll ever need to use is their mouth.


 
Social media, schmocial media.

Don’t believe the hype: Your company and contact center won’t disintegrate just because you haven't incorporated social media into your customer care strategy yet – despite what vendors and others who stand to earn a chunk of change from the social media hysteria have to say.

Is social media for real? Yes. Is it really a game-changing trend in customer contact? No, and won’t be for some time.

I recommend that managers work on mastering the essentials of contact center management before getting too tangled up in Twitter or fretting over how Facebook is going to revolutionize customer care. Most centers still don’t know how to effectively forecast and schedule, still don’t correctly measure the right performance metrics, still can’t find time to conduct quality monitoring and coaching, and still haven’t figured out how to hold on to agents for more than six months following training. Trust me, your customers would want you to get those parts of the basic customer care equation right before you try to move on to differential calculus.


And don’t panic if you haven’t mastered the fundamentals yet – neither have your competitors, thus they aren’t ready to dazzle customers via social networking, either.

This is not to suggest that you ignore social media and its potential impact on your contact center and organization entirely. However, walk – don’t run. Yes, it’s a good idea (and easy) to monitor what customers and others might be saying about your organization online, but just look for recurring negative sentiments that need to be addressed. Don’t hire a bunch of agents to scan the web for any mention of your company when you could be using those extra agents to raise your service level from 30/80 to 80/30, lower your call abandon rate from 9.2% to 2.9%, and help block the contact center door so that staff can’t escape.

So why is the so-called impact of social media on customer care getting so much attention in contact center media and at industry conferences? Because it sounds a lot sexier than workforce management, first-contact resolution, hiring/training, adherence to schedule, etc. Industry journalists and event organizers are bored of the same old topics – forgetting just how important those topics are, and how few centers have demonstrated best practices in each of these key areas. Of course, having social media solutions providers dangle wads of advertising dollars in front of publishers and conference convoys certainly doesn’t help extinguish the social media fire.

Yes, I know, it can be hard to ignore the hype. We all want to be a part of a game-changing movement, of an industry-altering trend. But it hasn’t arrived yet. So, with regard to your contact center, don’t try so hard to be social and sexy. First shoot for sufficient and solid – then you can go play on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all you’d like.

Don't let me have the last word on this. What's your take on social media as it pertains to customer care? How has it impacted your contact center specifically? I look forward to seeing your responses -- and maybe even starting some fights -- here: http://ccforumsonline.com/index.php/topic,146.0.html