Off Center
(This post was written by guest blogger James Lawther, a very cheeky Englishman who knows a thing or two about customer care. WARNING: Extremely dry [yet hilarious] British wit and sarcasm lie ahead…)

You work in a contact center; customer service is your lifeblood, your reason for being. So how do you make it better? What are the top 10 ways to improve the customer care your center provides?

10) Measure everything. It is a truism, but if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.  But what do you measure? Customer Effort, Net Promoter Score or Customer Satisfaction? Should you worry about complaints or abandon rate or service level? The answer is simple, measure them all – create a “balanced scorecard” of at least 10 or 12 customer metrics.  That way you will be able to have multiple meetings to discuss customer strategy, lead and lag indicators, regression techniques and big data.

After all, if you have 12 measures you will manage 12 times better.

9) Make agents stand up and smile. It is all about the interaction. That’s what the customer remembers – tone of voice, empathy, understanding. The easiest way to create a great first impression is to get your agents to stand and smile as they answer each call. It loosens the vocal chords and opens the lungs. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Another truism.

8) Make customers wait. It’s a little known fact that if you visit Disney World on a slow day they make you wait. They reduce capacity on the rides to artificially create a queue. Making customers wait makes them think the ride is popular and creates a sense of anticipation. (Remember how exciting the run up to Christmas was when you were four?) You can create exactly the same effect with a little judicious staff scheduling.  The sense of excitement when a customer finally reaches an agent will be palpable.

7) Use motivational posters. Of course you need posters. Big posters with inspiring slogans. Pictures of happy customers having a good time on tropical beaches work best of all. Such images send subliminal messages to your agents – how great your service must be that your customers dial in from Hawaii to discuss their latest statement. A few inspirational posters and a good motto will solve 80% of your issues.

6) Add some flash. Face it, your Internet site is a bit tired. It looks middle-aged. It needs more pizazz, more flash. Add a video that shows how great a company you are to do business with. Think Hollywood, not home movie. The longer and larger the file, the more it will impress your customers; they might even get some popcorn and watch it again. Remember, a huge part of good customer service is distraction. 

5) Spice up your IVR. What works on the web works on the phone. Invest in some theme music that bursts into life the minute your customers hit your switch. Get a voiceover artist with an unfeasibly cheerful attitude to re-record your menus. Above all, make sure that her tone of voice is “on brand”.

4) Customize your products. It doesn’t matter if you are selling insurance, credit cards, mobile phones or electricity. The number-one way to make customers feel special is to create a product just for them. Mass customization is the future.  Mix up your rates, tariffs, deals and contracts so that your customer gets the product that is absolutely right for them.  After all nobody wants just electricity, right? Then wow them with your ability to deal with their individually created problems.

3) Specialize. Create pools of specialist resources that can deal with your highly customized products. Your customers will love the warm feeling they get when they realize their call is so important to you that they are queuing for an agent who has been trained specifically to deal with their unique issue. If you excel here, customers and agents will be on first-name terms. How’s that for service?

2) Ring-fence your agents. There is no benefit to be had from specialization if your “special” agents are always taking the wrong call type. Ring fence them and make sure that there is only one number that will get through to them.  And please remember you don’t want any Tom, Dick or Harry dialing it, so keep it a secret.

1) Reduce handle time. An oldy but a goldy. You’ve heard it before, but it’s so good it needs to be repeated. Your customers don’t want to spend hours on the phone talking to your agents; they have other things to do with their time. Encourage agents to reduce handle time and get off the phone quickly. At the very least train them to talk fast. You know it makes sense.

If you dare to obtain more “thought leadership” on contact centers and customer service from James Lawther, you can do so here.

8/31/2012 12:07:50 am

You forgot one:
Tedious Oversight -- agents appreciate the sense of warm caring and shepherding of their career success by monitoring every minute of every break and late arrival. Never mind that she's pregnant and might need an extra bathroom break, its about responsibility and team success. Remember there is no "p" in team.

8/31/2012 12:35:21 am

A very nice addition, Matt. I don't know how James could have missed that one. I'll make sure he's properly punished.

I'm thinking of making that last line of your comment into a t-shirt and selling boxes of them to large contact center orgs.

Appreciate your input (and sense of humor).



8/31/2012 01:46:23 am

Stretch Goals - give them new targets to generate more productivity. Extend goals past the humanely reasonable so if hell does freeze over and they reach them, they will feel super-human and invincible. This will give them the will power to reach next year's even higher targets. After all, no pain no gain.

8/31/2012 01:50:32 am

Another excellent addition. Nice job, Jim. I can almost taste the snark.

I may have to have you, Matt and James collaborate on a future guest post.

Yours in satire,


8/31/2012 03:42:34 am

Clearly we have a thing or two to learn about customer service from our American brothers.

You could of course combine minimal breaks with stretch goals.

Unfortunately we have laws against progressive commercialism like that in the UK


Susan Davy
9/2/2012 09:46:29 am

My favourites are:

1. Learn a foreign language and discuss syntax. English is a good one to pick, but you could also try Bulgarian. Life is so boring for customers they keep ringing us for new ideas on how to live.

2. Speak much more s-l-o-w-l-y. Utilise the phonetic alphabet. That way you and the customer can speak in code and elivate an ordinary conversation into something out of a spy movie.

3. Tell the customer what they already know. This is very reasuring as everyone likes to feel empowered with the knowledge they do know something.

I'll save the rest for another time. Nothing like stringing an information exchange out for maximum engagement.

So lovely to talk with you, do keep in touch.


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