Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
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 19, 2006 10:32 AM
Bad News First

Giving the customer "bad news" first and "good news" second is an easy way to improve customer transaction satisfaction. According to research, most people prefer to hear bad news or experience undesirable events early in the interaction; they choose to have the disappointment out of way. If bad news is followed by good news or a good experience, then customers recall the good rather than the bad (hence improving your customer satisfaction scores).

One stumbling block to implementing this "bad news first" order is that those on the front line dread delivering bad news and typically push it off until the very last moment. To overcome this hurdle, management should communicate the effectiveness of the new interaction order and train personnel to effectively communicate both good and bad news.

The "bad news first" idea has concrete implications regarding how agents interact with customers. Imagine that Rob, a banking customer service agent, has been speaking with a customer about a recent transaction. The customer called because she was concerned about the transactional accuracy; during the call, she requests a copy of a check faxed to the number on her record within the hour. When Rob sees the customer record, he learns that, in addition to the transaction problem, the customer has an overdraft charge on her account. Rob considers the impact of the overdraft and the improbability that a fax would reach the customer within the hour. He is not looking forward to giving the customer more "bad news." However, Rob has one ace-in-the-hole: the customer has an e-mail address and he can e-mail a copy of the transaction much faster. Rob first tells the customer about the overdraft (including his recommendations about dealing with it) and then suggests e-mail rather than fax as a way the customer can not only receive the information faster, but also have an electronic copy that she can save on her computer. Rob re-orients the interaction so the customer leaves with a better memory of the event. The customer won't completely forget about the "bad news," but she is likely to feel that the pain wasn't all that bad in the end.

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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