Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
August 20, 2008 01:16 PM
What's Wrong With This Promotion (or is it me)?

I get an email a few days ago that tells me about some new metric research. The email says, "If you are looking to boost your contact center performance, this guide will quickly get you up to speed. Would you like a free copy of this complimentary guide? If so, just let me know."

Immediately I understand this company doesn't "know" me. If they did, they would realize I don't manage a call center and boosting an imaginary call center's performance is not top on my list.

But, I am a research junkie. Therefore, I notify the company that I would like a complimentary copy. I comply with their instructions: "To receive your complimentary guide, simply reply to my email." (There is no link to click.)

I inform the compnay in my email that after reviewing the guide I would like to promote their company and research on the Customer Contact Performance Forum (CCPF) ( I explain we have members who might be interested in requesting the guide (I had no intention of including the entire guide on the CCPF site).

The next day, I get the most baffling email response. The company representative says, "We would prefer this not to be published on a public forum" and "I've attached the guide for your review, but please do not publish a link to this guide."

My next step was to check the company's web site to see if it is legit (and it is). Not only is it legit but the company's products target customer contact / call centers.

I don't get this. Why wouldn't the company want free advertising? Are they concerned compeititors might get a copy of their complimentary guide? Didn't they offer this valuable guide to promote their brand, company, products, and services?

I start wondering what investments companies make (mine included) to promote our products and services that become sunk costs because we put some silly restrictions around them. How many times do we miss out on great opportunities becasue we are trying to protect ourselves from that 1-2% risk that may happen?

I would love to hear what you think. I'm still amazed. Help me - I'm concerned that I'm the crazy one for reacting this way.

May 31, 2008 12:46 PM
Agent Behavior Makes a Difference

I received an email from a friend the other day describing her recent customer experience. The last line stopped me dead in my tracks because of my recent work on defining quality agent behaviors. My friend said:

Agents really make a difference. Without her, my bloodpressure would still be 180 over 140.

The agent worked for a credit card company. My friend had to call because after her husband died the credit card company closed his account and sent his $102 balance immediately to a collection agency. My friend admits she was anything but calm when she finally got through to the agent. She felt insulted that the credit card company treated her like a deadbeat after her family's long, good history with the credit card.

According to my friend, the agent handled the situation very well. My friend really wanted the agent to say the Company was the deadbeat for acting this way. Through it all, the agent remained calm and pleasant and never turned on her company. The agent ended the call with a heartfelt expression of sympathy for my friend's loss. In the end, my friend had only one small complaint... the agent could have spent a little more time emphasizing the family's value to the company.

So, how often do emotionally charged situations happen in your call center? How prepared are your agents to behave in a way that helps the customer on all levels? Do your agents have the motivation to treat each customer as an individual and the energy to follow through to satisfaction?

Do your agents make a difference? How many stories could you tell about the heros in your call center?

May 27, 2008 03:59 PM
Integrating the Internet Experience

In the early days of the Internet, companies typically formed a separate “skunk works” organization to build, test, and manage the Internet channel. This was a costly decision. As the Internet channel grew, there was little to no coordination between this channel and other customer-facing channels. The customer experience suffered greatly. Most of us recognize this mistake when we order something from the Internet and then call a company to ask a question about our order. Most companies “forgot” that these channels should be seamless to the customer. A customer should be able to purchase something through any channel, return it through any channel, and ask for service through any channel. The company should view the customer holistically, not as separate pieces depending on what channel they choose to interact through.

I remember dealing with a large company that was starting to build customer portals on their site. They were building a knowledge management database (for FAQs) along with publishing the customer’s specific help desk database so customers would have an easier time diagnosing, tracking, and solving their individual problems. There were immense issues to deal with. The company realized that the same products had multiple names – many times different from country to country. Prior to the Internet, all product promotion and sales were local. Now they were international – any customer could access any part of the Internet. Another issue was brought to light as the company formatted the help desk tickets to publish. They found that in the customer’s history were embedded technicians’ comments concerning the personality of the customer. It seemed the technicians were often venting their frustrations, concerns, and anger by commenting in the notes of the company's service history. Needless to say, the company had to launch a major clean up of the database as well as establishing the standard operating procedure of what could / should be documented in a ticket.

What challenges have you faced as your company has started to integrate the internet into the customer's experience?

July 23, 2007 11:06 AM
Don’t take complaints personally; take them seriously

How do your agents handle complaints?

Do they take them personally? Do complaining customers ruin their day? Do they think complaining customers are at fault?

Complaining customers must feel that their feedback is welcome and valued and will be used to eliminate the problem at the root. In a recent study, the amount of time agents spent on the phone, and their encouragement of customers to call again if they had additional needs increased customer satisfaction. These finding suggest that agents should make customers feel that their feedback and their business is appreciated. Showing appreciation for feedback can be as simple as saying, “Thank you. We appreciate customers to take the time to let us know when things are not right.”

Do you have structured training to help agents understand the true position of a complaining customer?

June 25, 2007 11:00 AM
Before you answer, ask the right question

Do you really know what service level your customers will tolerate? Why knock yourself out answering 80 percent of calls in 20 seconds if they are just as happy with a wait of a minute and a half? Before you hire more people and pay overtime, determine what your customers really want.

With new technology, finding out is easier than ever before. In the old days, we needed to determine the exact date and time of the customer’s call and link it manually to his or her answers on a satisfaction survey. Now VoIP automatically makes the connection.

Managers in one of our client companies asked customers about their perceived wait time. They correlated the perception with the actual wait time, discovering that customers were happy with a 60-second wait if they had a quality experience once the phone was answered. In fact, a wait time of 60 seconds or less had no impact on overall telephone satisfaction. Despite longer wait times, some customers rated themselves as “extremely satisfied” due to the excellent agent behavior.

Is this true in your center? Find out if wait time is a key driver of your customer’s satisfaction.

June 11, 2007 10:56 AM
Measure, over-deliver, repeat

In your personal life, do you over-promise and under-deliver?

Probably not. If you commit to bring cookies for the neighborhood school fair, the cookies (with icing and sprinkles on top) are there 15-minutes early 100 percent of the time.

As a manager, keeping commitments to customers may be more difficult. Slip-ups by suppliers, packagers, shippers, and field reps occur. Sales and marketing changes may not arrive on your desk in a timely fashion. Things break. The weather turns unpredictable. Flu epidemics happen. You find you can’t control everything.

However, you can measure first contact resolution. Once you know where you stand with customers, you can streamline processes and set customer expectations. Your measure of first contact resolution is a powerful communication tool to your peers in other departments. They are more likely to cooperate if you can show them that customers believe the organization is over-committing and underperforming.

And bring your customers into a feedback loop. The best centers repeatedly communicate with customers to optimize first-contact resolution. In one company, agents remind customers at the end of the conversation to call back at any time.

If you have increased your ability to meet your commitments to customers, please let me know how you did it.

July 10, 2006 12:47 PM
Just one bad apple

Is there a bad apple in your contact center? I’m not talking about the agent who makes an honest mistake; I’m talking about the one who goes the extra mile to drive customers away from you. What harm could this one person be doing to your customer base? If a rotten apple is working in your center, could you find her?

I am not being extreme; I experienced that one bad apple today. As a loyal customer of a certain airline, I did not expect to encounter such problems. Because its Internet site was down, I called the airline to make a reservation. I asked the agent not to add the five-dollar reservation fee that accompanies phone orders to my total. “I tried to buy the ticket online,” I explained, but the Internet was down.”

The agent told me that I was mistaken—the Internet was not down. The call center notifies the agents when the site is down, and because she had received no such notification, the Internet was working. Because I still had the Web page up with the error codes staring me in the face, I told her I would give her the codes as evidence; but she insisted on tacking the $5 onto my bill. She said, "If you don't want to get charged the fee, then use the Internet. Thank you for calling (name of airline)." And then, SHE DISCONNECTED ME!!!!

This one ticket was for more than $700, and the agent risked it for $5. Even more astounding, she risked all future travel revenue from this loyal customer.

Hey, maybe this agent didn’t receive the proper training. And maybe she was having a really rough day. But all of us in the industry know that is no excuse for disconnecting a caller.

I reported the incident to the airline, but (according to research) I’m in the minority. Most of your customers do not report ill treatment; they simply walk away.

I didn’t have the agent’s name or location; she disconnected me before I could ask. How will the airline management team ever find her? How much more damage will she inflict on other customers before she is discovered?

I know that 99.99 percent of your agents are good eggs; they are talented, dedicated, and well-meaning. But what would happen if a rotten apple where hidden in your organization? Would he be able to operate undetected? What could you do to mitigate the damage he might be causing?

June 30, 2006 12:44 PM
Measures, rewards, scripts, and empowerment

Last week, the national media had a field day replaying the taped incident of a gentleman who tried for 45 minutes to cancel his Internet provider account. And, recently, my associate tried in vain for 20 minutes to cancel a credit card. Customers are becoming aware that agents are desperate to keep their business. The phrase, “cancel my account,” has become the latest t-shirt slogan for frustrated consumers.

What has changed?

Contact centers have transitioned from simply being a cost center providing a service to earning their value through, among other things, retaining customers. Retaining customers is good, right?


Retaining happy, satisfied customers is different than retaining bullied and strong-armed customers. Even though I cringe when I see these news segments, I always wonder if it is the agent we should critique or the management of the contact center. What is that agent being measured on? How is he being rewarded? When he is monitored, does he get “dinged” if he doesn’t follow a script? Is he empowered to adjust to the needs of the customer for a long term advantage, even though it may seem contrary to the short-term tactics?

To the customer, both the agent and the company are at fault for making her feel strong-armed into an action she did not intend to take. Customers intuitively believe that their contact center experience is a direct reflection of the company’s values. They believe that the attributes of the agent are the attributes of the company.

So, after we hear the tape of an agent refusing to cancel an account, we quickly hear the company denouncing the action and terminating the employee. But, is it that simple?

Do you know what behaviors your measures, rewards, scripts, and empowerment policies are driving? Have you been beating a “get that sale” or “keep that customer” drum so loudly that it is causing aberrant agent behavior? Let us know if you examine your practices and have second thoughts.

January 5, 2006 10:19 AM
Customer Experience: Consistent or Variable?

In 1990, a team of researchers (Zeithaml, Pasuraman, Berry) in "Delivering Quality Service: Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations" concluded:

"The most important thing a service company can do is be reliable, that is, perform the service dependably and accurately."

These days, each customer contact channel (phone, e-mail, face-to-face, etc.) is evolving rapidly; and typically, each function reports to a different leader. The result is an inconsistent customer experience.

Three factors contribute to an excellent customer experience: technology, people, and process. While all are important, we can take one contributor out of the variation and still have a huge variation problem. Managing incompatible technology, though a big problem, is not as daunting as figuring out how to coordinate customer contact personnel and processes across all channels (especially if we don't want robots interacting with our customers).

For customers to consider us reliable, we must be consistent. For example, if a customer interacts via e-mail, he expects the same treatment (outcome) when interacting on the phone. Or, if a customer reaches one phone agent one day, she expects the same type of treatment from another agent the next.

Giving consistent service starts with consistent service quality standards and processes. In my experience, accomplishing consistency on all fronts is difficult for most organizations to accomplish for five reasons. First, most organizations don't have a documented quality / customer experience strategy. Second, the standards and processes based on the strategy are seldom defined or documented. The third reason involves the difficulty of getting people to agree about what "best practice" is. A complex political battle often ensues when people say, "We've been doing it this way for years now with good results. Obviously 'our' way should be adopted as best practice." Fourth, even after the service strategy, standards, and processes are agreed upon, the organization still has to define appropriate discretionary behaviors when customer situations are not "typical." Finally, to ensure reliability without variation, an organization must pay attention to the supporting performance management issues (e.g., hiring, training, measuring / monitoring, feedback, and reward).

Are you a reliable organization? Do you give your customers a consistent experience across all agents and channels? If not, now's a good time to get the team together to start defining those best practice service standards and processes.

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