Next Caller Philosopher-King Michael Cho was recently asked by Execs in the Know, a global network of customer experience professionals, to put together some thoughts for a guest blog post. You can read Michael's insight on optimizing the call center not only for excellent customer service, but also to increase revenue below:
You have 30 quick seconds to make a million fast decisions.
First impressions about a company via customer service channels make lasting impressions to the customer and whoever the customer decides to share them with (friends, family, social media). When Sir Patrick Stewart waited 36 hours for his Time Warner Cable appointment he took his thoughts to Twitter on their initial customer support. It resulted in a media backlash that had the TW social media team on their toes.
In most cases, the single point of contact with a company is when they reach out to customer service.
How will you, mighty customer service representative, measure up to the clock?
1. Be Prepared
If you’re a customer service agent that is provided with a technology to pull customer data, such as a name, phone or account number, address, etc. on your computer screen before every call, consider your job made 10% easier. If you don’t, you still have the ability to do one simple thing: ASK. By referring to the customer by name throughout the entire call, as well as opening their account to read through any previous service notes, you are a step ahead of the game to kindling the fire on a great call.
2. Be Kind
You’re on the customer’s side. Your job is to have their back. When you answer the phone, are you answering in a tone that you’d use with your best friend? Setting and keeping a genuine and friendly tone during the conversation welcomes your customer to your company, starts to build trust and showcases your brand voice in a positive manner. Not only that, it will benefit the bottom line. According to JitBit, businesses lose upwards of $84 billion per year due to poor, untrustworthy customer service.
3. Be Purposeful
The customer called for a reason. They may voice their frustrations immediately, not caring about your kind voice or that you know their name. What actions do you take then? By listening to the customer speak and release their dissatisfaction, you can zoom in on what the larger issue is at stake. You can then hold the reigns to define the purpose of the call to keep things on track and help your customer get to their desired resolution.
Here’s a Customer Service MadLib Style Script for you to act as a baseline on how to keep the empathy in your word choices when you may be challenged by a difficult customer:
[After listening quietly to customer on phone]
______________ thank you for sharing your experience with me. I completely understand why you feel
I am disappointed that _____________ has happened. Our company takes ownership of this and apologize. (Sum up customer story)
My goal is to resolve this. I will _____________________ and I look forward to working with you!
(Realistic Customer Expectations)
In a nutshell:
Write that down on a Post-It and stick it to your computer monitor, friends!
All of this happens within the first 30 seconds of the call. And the power is all in your hands.
A member of the Next Caller team, Zach Shaw holds a Philosophy degree from Princeton University with a certificate in Computer Science. Every so often, Zach shares his musings about the intersection of big data and technology with some age-old philosophical questions.
In her recent book Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle explores the effects of our constant use of social media on our mobile devices. Originally, the constant connection brought about by new technologies was seen as an extension of our personal identities. However, as Turkle notes, there are many adverse effects from these information communication technologies (ICTs) - foremost the replacement of face-to-face communication by digital interaction. People do not learn empathy through the use of social networks. They learn how to get the most likes on their profiles. Our self esteem is intimately linked with our popularity on such websites, and we'll do everything in our power to boost that popularity, including sacrificing an intimate conversation with a friend or family member. Even when we are conversing face-to-face, our mobile devices make it possible for us to be 'alone together.' We can be physically together with another person, but completely inattentive to them as a human being. As a society this is a major development, and, in the eyes of Turkle, a major problem.
Not lagging behind, the customer service space has adapted to such technologies. We can tweet about our bad experience on an airline. We can email the customer service department about our phone malfunctioning. We can online chat with a representative about our order on Amazon.com. Communication to address our concerns with a product or service has been extended by these ICTs; consequently, as customers, it is easier than ever to solve our problems. Yet, when we really are frustrated we still resort to the phone.
A customer service phone call is uniquely outside the grasp of distracting mobile technologies because both individuals on the call are focused on achieving the same goal: solving the customer's problem as quickly as possible. You, the customer, want your concern addressed, and, until it is, you will give your undivided attention to the phone call. Conversely, the representative will lose his or her job if not engaged. So in this one case, the ability to have limitless distractions and data at your fingertips does not hinder the quality of your conversation.
Let's compare this to a typical conversation with a friend. You both have several different goals. You each want to improve your status on Facebook. Maybe one of you wants some encouragement to work harder at your job from the conversation. The other friend wants to talk about the latest gossip. There is somewhat of a prisoner's dilemma here. Because you both took the time to hang out, let's assume that you both enjoy hanging out more than going on Facebook. Given that assumption, let's give the value of 1 happiness point to each of you for the action of going on Facebook, and the value of 5 for the other two activities of face-to-face conversation. However, if you choose to go on Facebook, you are guaranteed 1 point whereas, if you choose to engage in the face-to-face conversation where you both are pursuing different goals, it is likely that one of you will not achieve your goal.
Even if you are very risk-averse, you would probably choose the conversation at first - that's why you both are hanging out. But if the conversation starts to veer off course of your individual goal to another topic (I assume in my model your friend's goal instead), it is more beneficial for you to stop paying attention to the conversation and to go on Facebook. If there is a more comfortable, egotistical alternative to genuine empathy, we will take it. Therein lies the dilemma of being 'alone together.'
Conversely, returning to customer service calls, the conversation is actually improved by recently developed ICTs. Certain technologies allow representatives to access demographic information about their customers which these representatives can use to better meet their customers' needs. With new innovations like omni-channel integration, representatives can specialize their knowledge to specific products or services, and thus better achieve the joint goal of any customer service conversation: addressing the customer's concern. Instead of destroying the quality of these conversations, new technologies are enabling better communication in the customer service space.
In spite of the stigma arguments like Turkle’s have started to propagate against ICTs, customer service providers and call center professionals need to take advantage of these new technologies in order to maintain customer loyalty. The average person’s patience is dwindling because of the immediate gratification these technologies have brought to us. As a result, customer service needs to be better than ever before, and these new technologies are the only way to meet consumers’ rising expectations. Without adapting to this changing landscape, customers will go on Facebook if they aren’t satisfied within a couple minutes - and choose a competitor.
Interested in more of Zach's philosophical musings? Contact the author - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by: Ryan Cash
We spoke a couple of weeks ago about the importance of utilizing big data to create engaging and personalized content for consumers. In today’s environment, people demand personalization in customer service and experience, and, not surprisingly, that same sentiment exists for marketing and advertising. However, there is a crucial difference between the two. With many services, one great interaction and a personalized experience can create significant loyalty. And one bad interaction can serve the exact opposite purpose
For example, if a hairdresser does a great job cutting your hair and engages you in an enjoyable conversation, you will probably go back to the same hairdresser. Then, if they do not cut your hair as well the next time, your impression from the first experience may still drive you to return to the same hairdresser. Conversely, most people would not return to a hairdresser who gave them a poor haircut on the first try. Essentially, first impressions matter for good service.
Advertising, however, does not work the same way. Personalization of the content becomes a necessary but insufficient condition to even make a first impression. And much of this derives from the rise of the mobile internet, which has created a massive increase in data traffic. We referenced a statistic in our last post that, according to Cisco, more data passed through mobile internet devices in 2014 than passed through the entire internet in 2000. Consumers on their mobile phones are being blasted with content from all angles making personalization imperative to stand out from the crowd. It’s well known that standardized, mass advertisements are less effective today. They end up in the abyss of disregarded spam and internet trash.
In order to personalize content, you have to know your customer. This clearly is where data is important. It’s self-evident that knowing more about who you want to reach empowers you to better reach them. It allows you to understand what they desire, and why they desire it; it allows you to make your message relevant to them. In essence, you are practicing the art of effective communication, that is summarized succinctly by author Stephen Covey, who teaches the maxim, seek first to understand, and then to be understood. Until you fully understand who you are trying to reach, you cannot really expect to know how to be understood by them.
But, it is still a necessary but insufficient condition. You have to understand to be able to personalize and you have to personalize to be able to make a first impression, but it requires more. Why? People are bombarded by a surplus of information and they have a scarcity of attention span. We need to be reminded. Something may catch my eye on a web page, but I may accidentally click the back button, or change browser tabs, or a call may come through my phone, and I forget about it all together. Even if I’m enticed to click something or take a next step from a personalized, creative direct advertisement, I may not have the time to go through with the process at the current moment, and I forget. People need reminders. And if you do not give them reminders, then you cannot expect that first impression to last. An enticing advertisement is not congruent to a great haircut.
This means that you must not just know your customer, but you mustcontinue to know your customer. You must be able to consistently put forth content that is relevant and personalized to your audience, and in order to do so, you must have accurate and current data. It is easy to say that storing good data about your customers is key to knowing them, but is it really? How frequently does that data become outdated? People move, get married, change interests and jobs, and if you sit on a store of dated data, it will no longer be relevant more quickly than you think. This speaks to the benefit of aggregating data in real time, but it also means that data collection, validation and storage needs to be a continuous process for companies. It’s vital to be abreast of changes in the lives of your consumers and to always desire to learn more about them, their habits and their needs. Only then can you consistently engage with your customers in ways that are meaningful to them. And only then can you remind them frequently enough to stay current in their mind, and to entice them to action.
contributed by: Colleen Boyce
Gossip has existed as long as humans have. It is simple, as people are curious, social creatures who learn from one another. It makes sense that we share our problems, our friends’ problems, our friends’ friends’ problems, and so on. We use this information to gain a better understanding of the world around us so that we can survive. In that sense, gossip is a blessing.
However, in the past, gossip would only spread so far. It would stay isolated in the area of the incident or would become so outrageous that it turned into folk stories used to scare children into behaving. Today, gossip, whether true or false, spreads to every corner of the earth because of advancements in technology, most notably social media.
With one click of a button, information can be sent to the world and never taken back, which in most cases is not all that bad; it might even be funny. On the other hand, that one little tweet or Facebook post can cost a company millions in damage control. No matter how exceptional customer service may be at a company, it only takes one person slightly faltering to cause an explosion. Anyone working in a business that interacts with people knows how serious the damage can be.
This drives at the question, was social media a blessing or a curse for big businesses? With it came new opportunities to advertise, a new wealth of information on customers, and a portal for users to share their exciting experiences with a company. Some will argue that outweighs the cost of one bad mistake, and maybe it does for companies that can afford to make a mistake.
Others are not so lucky, but there are ways to prevent such disasters. The easiest and most common solution is to have your employees trained to adhere by the age old adage, “the customer is always right.” Another way is to have an alert set so that when a customer “hashtags” or discusses a company/brand then they are notified and are able to defuse the situation quickly and fairly quietly. A slightly different solution would be preventing the problem before it is too far under way. In this case, people who have a high number of followers are routed to the front of the line in the IVR because, if they have a complaint, they could cause the company the most damage.
However, we will never be able to stop someone who, rather than seek help when they are unhappy with a product, instead turns to the internet to take out their frustration. In this instance the only solution here is the goal of any company: produce the best product possible for your customers.
Contributed by: Eric Eriksen
By some estimates, there are over 2 billion loyalty program memberships active in the United States, meaning that, on average, Americans actively use between 6 and 7 loyalty memberships each. Significantly, these memberships are skewed towards the prime consumer goods demographic of 18-44 year olds. The people buying the most with the most brand flexibility are the same people who have a pile of loyalty cards. Having a regular loyalty program is no longer an advantage; it’s the norm. In order to stand out today, companies need to have outstanding customer service from the start. Pre-purchase analysis is the next great frontier in this evolution. By leveraging data early in a relationship, companies can boost revenues and build brand loyalty.
It’s no secret that the rise of Big Data has reshaped targeted marketing. The ability to analyze a customer’s purchase history and demography to provide personalized products, services, and ad messages has changed the entire game of mass marketing. Data analytics has allowed modern businesses to incorporate the personal aspects of small business with the scale and performance of a major corporation.
Biology dictates that familiarity and positive experiences breed loyalty through an inherent sense of reciprocity. The more a customer feels that a business cares about her, the more she’ll feel an emotional attachment to the service provider. Before mass production and the bureaucratization of business, personalized service and products were the norm. Eventually, this gave way to the “take-it-or-leave-it” product-focused strategy of marketing. Companies turned their products into regularized commodities, and customers responded by becoming more rational consumers and eschewing loyalty.
Today, a business thinking of a single product and a single marketing strategy seems antediluvian. Big Data allows a company with two million customers to treat each one as an individual. Knowing about a customer’s personal life, preferences, and spending habits allows a company to leverage small-business charm on a big-business scale. Unfortunately, most companies fail to take this principle to its logical conclusion and go even further than a small business can.
Too many corporations wait until a customer has already had a number of contact points to begin customization, chiseling out an idea of customer needs from a standard template. Relying on internal data maturation requires a number of inefficient initial experiences, which bleed revenue. By looking outside of an organization for existing customer data, a company is able to skip the rough beginning stages of a relationship. Knowing a target’s demography from the beginning allows a better baseline specialization which the company can enrich to quickly build loyalty. The first few months of a business relationship are vital. In that period, the new customer does not have the tunnel vision that will eventually make a particular company his default option. By giving the customer what he wants from the moment of first contact, it’s possible to build flexible market segments from the beginning and to skip the most difficult stage of a relationship.
This improved baseline also enhances omnichannel integration. By working in every channel from the same baseline, an organization can boost message conformity and contact points from the start. Making a good first impression through the power of baseline market segmentation means that a company can begin building a customer for life the moment contact is established, gaining an important competitive advantage in an over-saturated loyalty marketing world.
by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)
In today’s day and age, we know people are more likely to report negative experiences than pleasant ones, and they have the medium to do that so easily. Whether it is on Yelp or Twitter, bad reviews are all the more common, and now they have the power to tarnish a brand’s reputation more than ever. That’s why it’s important to spread the word about companies who are doing a good job when you can, so I wanted to share an experience I had with Aetna back in December.
I recently joined Next Caller, and our company decided around the same time to use Aetna as a healthcare provider. With the Christmas/New Years festivities in full swing, our application got approved retroactive to a prior date while Aetna could sort through the holiday madness and provide individual policy numbers in the coming week. However, I was dealing with a medical emergency (what are the odds) at the same time and needed to see a doctor immediately. I tried calling the Aetna customer service line in the evening, but to my dismay, at 7:07 PM, I was told by the IVR that their phone lines close at 7 PM. Feeling like the world was out to get me, I took to Twitter, and admittedly I sent Aetna not the nicest tweet in the world that basically demanded why the world was not revolving around me in my time of need.
Within minutes, I had a response from Aetna.
Clearly, my “emergency” was not as urgent as I thought it was, because I fell asleep and responded the next morning. With some basic information e-mailed over to them, Aetna could then go ahead and provide me with the policy number I would need to provide to a doctor in order to be treated. Problem solved.
However, the message was encrypted, and the person I was corresponding with, who saw that I had sent my e-mail from an iPhone, tweeted back at me asking if I would like a phone call instead with the information since iPhones sometimes have a tough time with the encrypted message.
Within seconds, I was talking to Jennifer from Aetna over the phone. She gave me all of the information I needed. She then proceeded to tell me how she had peeked at the Next Caller website the night before after my initial tweet and asked me some questions about what I do. It’s not often that customer service representatives take an interest in you as an individual, but it was truly a pleasure to feel like I was an actual person over the phone that Aetna cared about, rather than someone they would just like to get off the phone with as soon as possible. In any case, I was on my way.
But it didn’t end there. Later on, I was at the pharmacy picking up a prescription, and I ran into another issue that required me to call Aetna. I became frustrated with Aetna’s IVR, and twice I was disconnected when being transferred to a human. So I went back to Twitter. Being at a pharmacy urgently needing medication is a time where you want instant gratification. Lo and behold, Jennifer was back on the phone with me within minutes to settle the situation and ensure that I could get the medication I needed.
Looking back on the experience, I had a tough time with Aetna over the phone, but a great time with Aetna when dealing with their social media team. This has often been the case – that it is frustrating to call customer service, but I have often received great help through social media. Why is that?
Well, brands today cannot afford for people to be saying bad things about them in online communities, and so they are investing accordingly in putting together teams that meet frustrated customers where they are. Something I have often noticed with social media customer service reps is that they often try to take the issue offline immediately by encouraging the customer to e-mail them at a certain address. This diffuses the situation in a public setting, and brings it to a private place where the customer and the brand can negotiate without others taking notice.
But people who work in social media are quite frankly savvier than others. They take pride in being part of the digital wave and in doing so, they see to it that they are quick and precise. They often need to prove the value of what they do to their superiors who have invested in more archaic forms of communication for the past few decades. Measuring ROI through social media is difficult, so those who work in the field are personally invested in being good performers.
I also believe that because most executives did not grow up with social media, but are being told of its importance, they are putting the proper amount of resources into social media because they know it’s “up and coming” and “popular.” Meanwhile, they continue to do the opposite with their call centers – make them as mean and lean as possible, which leads to longer hold times and frustration for the consumer. Even basic upgrades to caller identification would save companies and customers a lot of hassle, and yet over 60% of inbound calls to call centers today still require identification.
I know that several large companies I have spoken with have at least twenty people who work on their social media. What an astounding number. I cannot express enough how satisfying it was to have an Aetna representative essentially at my fingertips throughout the day in a critical time of need.
As a Starwood Platinum Member, I have similarly had exchanges with their social media team via Twitter to handle certain issues or room upgrade requests and again I have been amazed by the prompt responses and just flat-out results that you get when you can compartmentalize an issue and deal with it head-on with a representative from the company. When you can skip all of the bureaucracy, the voice recordings, the risk of being disconnected or having to spell out your name over the phone over and over again, things are just straight up easier.
by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)
If you’re anything like me, you don’t spend too much time looking for the answer to your question online because it is time-consuming, tedious, and sometimes painful. Oftentimes, in looking for the answer to your question online, you just come up with more questions. I will be honest – I reach for the phone almost immediately. It’s just my personality. I want immediate answers, so I can get on to the next issue or task in my life.
If you Google “customer service human,” there are a variety of different websites and articles that are devoted to teaching you the tips and tricks required to get on the phone with a human as soon as possible. Many of these links are associated with specific brands, i.e., “When X airline asks whether your reservation is entirely within the United States or Canada, just press 0.” Indeed, I am used to pressing 0 as much as I can until I get a human on the phone. Why is this?
1. Quick Resolution
This is by far the most important reason anyone wants to talk to a human. If you have reached the point where you need to pick up the phone, presumably it means one of two things: either you exhausted all other means to obtain the right answer to your question, or you altogether do not care to try any of these means and just want to talk to someone right away. It’s simply easier to sit on your couch and get an answer to your question than it is to dig around for it until you find it somewhere. In both situations, the phone IVR is destined to fail before it even gets started.
2. It Feels Cheap
This might just be me personally, but complicated IVR systems that try to route me to the right place just seem cheap. It feels like the company is making every effort not to connect with me as the consumer, which makes me feel less valued as a customer. If a company is taking steps to avoid a conversation with me, why should I do business with them?
3. Doubt That Your IVR is Actually Helpful
Many consumers doubt that the IVR will actually make the process more efficient. What if what I need is Option 9 every time? This means I need to listen to 8 other options over and over again before selecting mine. Sure, when I get on the phone with someone, the call might be more efficient, but will that make up for the lost time listening to options over and over again? Why not just talk to someone immediately and let them transfer me to the right representative? Seems a lot easier that way.
4. They Have Multiple Questions
Some consumers are genuinely happy to engage with your IVR, but they have multiple questions that need resolution. This means that they would have to either make several phone calls and go through the IVR, or just call once and get transferred around to the various reps who could handle each concern. The latter seems a lot easier. Along those lines, many customers have very precise questions that they suspect going into the call are the types of questions that really do not fall into any sort of pre-determined category set up by the brand or company being called. In this scenario, it’s easier to just get someone on the phone.
5. Emotion is Involved
You know how this one plays out. The angry customers who yells “YES!!” when being prompted with a Yes or No question, and repeatedly dials 0 over and over again until some poor agent on the other line answers the phone. Let’s face it: emotion is involved when you feel wronged by a brand. Where logic and reason might guide you to a simple solution online (rather than taking a few deep breaths), emotion instead takes over and you do something you might regret later. I always try to kill people with kindness when I have customer service questions or complaints. That’s really the best way to get what you want. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way.
by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)
There is a negative stigma associated with calling customer service, but is it deserved? Personally, I have friends who have driven to a company’s physical location out of fear that said company might mishandle the situation over the phone. If you go on twitter and just follow the #CustomerService hashtag, chances are you see the words “sucks” or “horrible” quite frequently. Let’s face it: though customers are more likely to talk about negative experiences, such negative experiences are occurring still too often today. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the telecommunications industry, everyone seems to be moving forward. You can do just about anything on your smartphone today, but what you can’t do is make all of your customer service needs frictionless.
So, why are customers so afraid of calling customer service?
1. Waiting on hold
We live in an on-demand world. We’re spoiled. Everything is at our fingertips: TV shows on Hulu, games on your cell phone – you can even see a doctor immediately through a site called DoctorsOnDemand.com. Waiting in line is a thing of the past. And now that people are so used to getting immediate results, waiting on hold when they truly need your help seems all the more irritable. It doesn’t help that hold music eerily resembles elevator music, and what happens when the customer suddenly gets disconnected after a long hold? If the customer is already angry about something, making them wait minutes at a time adds up to hours and days wasted on hold at the end of the year (by our calculation, the average person wastes more than a day per year on hold!).
2. Your IVR is all messed up
I recently called one of my credit card providers to notify them that I would be traveling abroad. But first, I had to wait about a minute for the company CEO to apologize to me about the recent hacking at Target of sensitive credit card information, something that was irrelevant to me specifically. There was no way to dial out of this lecture, so I had to sit patiently before dialing “0” over and over again so that I could talk to a human. And that is precisely the issue – you invest in setting up an IVR that customers are ready to bypass before even listening. Websites like gethuman.com are designed to teach consumers the easiest and fastest way to reach a human for your company. That means the customer calls you with a predetermined plan for what to do once they get through – regardless of the protocol you have set up on the other end of the line to help streamline the process.
3. Spelling information over the phone
I have wondered why when I call airlines with questions, why I must have my confirmation code handy in order to be helped. Can’t they look me up by name? The same goes for hotels and a host of other brands. There is nothing more infantilizing than spelling your name over the phone. With the last name “Kirchick,” I have had to do this hundreds of times. And what happens when you get to a letter in the alphabet that is hard to come up with a generic word for? “C” as in “cat”…but what bout “I”? At Next Caller, we say “P” as in “pterodactyl” to poke fun at this archaic method of relaying information. The telephone was meant for conversation, not relaying bits of data. And your customers are calling you to ask questions, not answer them. I literally just got off a customer service call with Microsoft in which I spent thirty minutes spelling letters of product keys, email addresses, and physical addresses to a representative in India who repeatedly confused the letter “C” with the letter “T.” All of this for nothing, too. Which leads to the next problem…
4. An unhelpful agent
Part of the negative stigma associated with call centers is the reality that many of them are outsourced to other countries. This oftentimes leads to the feeling that the employee is not truly a part of the company, more of a mercenary working on behalf of whomever the customer is calling. What it also means is that the agent might not speak perfect English. Not only does this lead us back to problem 3 above, but it also leads to common misunderstandings over the phone. This certainly is just as likely to happen with any agent, not just those for whom English is a second language. Customers call customer service for resolution, and if their inquiry is unresolved after speaking with the first agent, this just adds to the frustration of the entire experience.
5. Being transferred to another agent
So what happens when the first agent can’t help you? You get transferred to a second agent. Many things can happen from here, but the most frustrating is that you suddenly get disconnected. Or, potentially even worse, the next agent knows nothing about why you are calling, and so now you are starting from scratch. I vividly remember last year trying to claim frequent flier miles through my preferred airline for a flight I had with one of their partners. Both companies insisted I needed to call the other airline in order to be serviced, and maintained that they would stay on the line when transferring me to resolve the issue together over the phone. And yet, every time these alleged “three-party” encounters were set to occur, the airline I had initially called would always hang up when transferring my call…leaving me right back where I started. Statistically speaking, first-call resolution is important to the consumer. So, it is important to make sure you are working to get it right the first time.