Off Center
 
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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.



 
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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.

 
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.



 
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.


 
There are those in our industry who shy away from answering the most pressing and challenging questions regarding call center management. Then there is myself, who probably should.

But it’s not going to happen today.

Below are three of the most common queries amongst today’s call center and customer care professionals, followed by my comprehensive responses. In composing said responses, I drew from years of call center research, case studies, expert presentations and conversations with industry leaders. But mostly I drew from a bottle of Shiraz.   


1) What are the most important metrics we should measure?  While every company and customer base is a bit different, there are a handful of critical metrics that all call center managers need to embrace. Service Level (SL), Contact Quality (CQ), Customer Satisfaction (C-Sat) and First-Call Resolution (FCR) are certainly among the most important. However, topping the list is probably Manager Sanity (MS), and the closely related Supervisor Sanity (SS).

The reason behind this is you cannot ensure that your call center is accessible and that reps are performing at peak levels if you have completely lost your mind. Studies have shown that all other key call center metrics take a hit whenever a manager or supervisor comes into the center wearing nothing but a propeller beanie and carrying a briefcase full of cheese.    

It’s important to continually gauge your MS/SS level by self-administering a Rorschach inkblot test twice daily. If you find that all the inkblots look like Gregory Peck or a man driving a giant turnip, you are a danger to yourself and others and should be removed or restrained immediately. If you find that all the inkblots look like customers coming at you with a pitchfork and torch, you are fine.     


2) What is the best way to reduce agent turnover? This may come as a surprise, but my thoughts on agent retention tend to go against conventional wisdom. Most experts will tell you that to hang on to staff you need to empower them, continually reward and recognize them for their efforts, and create a highly positive culture in your call center.

Wrong!

Many centers do all those things and still lose their best agents to the Marketing department or an outside company three weeks after training. The best way to reduce – nay, eliminate – agent turnover is through a combination of fear tactics and massive bureaucracy. The next time one of your agents gives you their two-week notice, show them a picture of a workstation with a giant grease stain on the carpet, and tell them: “This is what happened to the last rep who tried to leave.” If by chance, the threatening photo doesn’t shake them and they still insist on quitting, tell them all they need to do is fill out a 20-page “termination request” form in triplicate with their weak hand, in Sanskrit. Then inform them that the processing of such requests takes anywhere from 4-13 years.  


3) Just how big of an impact will social media have on call centers and customer service? Social media is set to have a huge impact on the future of call centers and customer service – unless we do something to stop the onslaught right now. It’s hard enough just trying to manage customer calls, emails, chats and self-service transactions; if we let social customer care plow on through, we will all perish.  

So, we must band together as an industry and “just say no” to social customer care. This includes not only refusing to monitor activity on or offer customer support via social sites, but also helping to kidnap the handful of call center leaders whose organizations are actively engaged in such activities, as they are raising customer expectations and demands for the rest of us.

In addition, we need to silence all the vendors who pedal and promote social customer care-related products/services, as well as stop all the trade pubs and analysts from publishing articles/reports about social customer care. To assist in this matter, I’m working on creating a pill that, when force-fed to a solutions provider, will make them think that they are living in 1998 – when relatively harmless CRM hype ruled the day. 

If we work together and do all of these things, we’ll be able to limit social media to what it was originally intended for: Tweeting about which Starbucks you just stopped at; bitching about the weather, and spreading the word about how my Off Center blog has changed your life.


NOTE: If you are interested in receiving an even higher level of customer care insight, you won’t have trouble finding it elsewhere.