The Contact Center – Company Farm Team?
Dec20

The Contact Center – Company Farm Team?

Adapted from original post featured on www.ICMI.com in November 2016   Most of us can agree that losing top talent outside the organization is something we should work to prevent.  However, something leaders don’t talk about as often is the very real phenomenon of agents leaving the contact center to pursue roles in other areas of the business.   I will warn you right away….this is not a subject for which I have all the answers.  That being said, it’s a very important topic with a huge impact and it should be discussed.  This dialog was a sidebar theme in one of our recent ICMI chats, and many expressed interest in taking it to the next level.  My hope is to generate a conversation and help all of us become more aware when it comes to positive internal turnover.   It’s no wonder contact center employees are a hot commodity for other hiring managers within the business.  Where else do you learn the products, services and the customers more intimately than the front lines of customer service?  As Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) stated, “Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”  There is no better training ground, and it stands to reason that contact centers have become somewhat of a “farm team” for many companies.     While positive internal turnover can be a very good thing both for the analysts and the larger organization, is it possible to go too far?   Customer service is critical to the customer experience and the business.  Should we not have top talent in the contact center?  Should they not stay there long enough to make a significant impact and lay a foundation for more analysts like themselves?  According to the QATC, the average turnover rate (internal and external) is 26 percent annually.  Most leaders would agree it’s very difficult to build a high functioning, sustainable team when 1 in 4 people are gone in twelve months.  No one wants customer service to be thought of as a revolving door.  When the contact center is not a priority for the business, how can the customer be a priority for the business?   The challenge is finding balance between the “farm team” mentality and being a talent hoarder.  This requires a partnership between customer service leadership and the rest of the organization.  One possible solution?  Perhaps there is a two year expectation (minimum) for any contact center employees prior to transition.  The first year is about learning process, technologies, customers, etc.  Year two is about getting more strategically involved in the business, lending a hand in the training and development of newer representatives, and...

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The Land of Customer Service
Dec02

The Land of Customer Service

Japan is famous for it’s hospitality and customer service culture.  I’ve always wanted to experience this for myself, and in October I was given the unique opportunity to do just that.  While my trip was short, I was able to experience four different cities and absorb a full range of cultural experiences.  Despite major differences in each location one thing was remarkably consistent:  incredible customer service. So how do they do it?  How can they infuse a service culture into their entire population that transcends generational gaps, wealth barriers, and stereotypes?  The roots of this answer extend back hundreds if not thousands of years, but it really boils down to one key theme- respect.  Below are two key learnings we can all take away from this utopia of customer service. One of the most surprising phenomenons in Japan was how great the service was on each and every interaction, regardless of the context.  We stayed in some extremely nice hotels and dined in a few unbelievable restaurants.  Most would have expected top notch service – and it was.  What I didn’t expect was approximately the same level of service when buying junk food at a 7/11 convenience store!  The cashier would delicately place the change in my hands with extreme care and a bow.  The goods were purposefully bagged and handed over with a smile.  I felt extremely valued for my 75 cent purchase, proving that the service received has nothing to do with the value of the transaction.  Such treatment happens by default because that’s how they treat one another. It was a wonderful reminder that everyone deserves wonderful customer service, not because it’s a company core value or because they signed a contract, but because they’re a person. It took about 20 minutes after landing in The States for the stark difference in (most) American service cultures to hit me.  I ordered Mexican food in the airport and the employee tossed it out in front of me and walked away toward his next task.  It absolutely shocked me at the time, but the ironic part is I would not have even had noticed before experiencing Japan.  Like nearly everyone around him, this employee was focused on doing his job and moving to the next task, instead of focusing on the actual human at the counter.  It’s a simple paradigm shift that makes a remarkable difference. Another thing the Japanese do better than anyone else is combining professionalism with fun to create a custom experience.  One of the coolest experiences of my life so far was staying in a “Ryokan”, or traditional Japanese inn.  Thousands of years of tradition culminated...

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The Key to Great Customer Service: Collaboration
Sep01

The Key to Great Customer Service: Collaboration

When it comes to creating an exceptional service culture, nothing is more important than a team’s ability to collaborate well.  Both the agent and the customer experience will be exponentially better with 360 degrees of partnership – agents partnering with each other to share knowledge and solve problems, leadership partnering alongside agents to understand the front line, and everyone partnering with customers to foster a meaningful relationship.  It may sound simple, but building this type of environment is quite difficult.  Here are three proven ways to promote collaboration, as well as three behaviors to avoid.    Collaboration Enhancer No. 1: Limit Top-Down Decision Making Typically when a change is made in a contact center environment, it is leadership reviewing a set of metrics, deciding on a course of action, and announced to the agents as “the new thing.”  Most change should flow in the opposite direction.  Empower your agents by giving them raw data and challenge them with your service vision.  Ask your whole staff, not just leadership, how the customer experience or the agent experience could be improved.  When a team member comes up with an idea that makes a difference, it should be widely celebrated.  This will give everyone buy-in to the decision making process and they will no longer be victim to the “change of the week” from senior management.   Collaboration Enhancer No. 2: Get Out of the Office! In order to build a relationship culture where people are excited to collaborate, they need to build friendships outside of the office.  The workplace is almost impossible to connect on a human level with the constant barrage of problems.  People will often start to resent their co-workers in a high-stress environment….unless you give them a chance to decompress and form a real bond.   Collaboration Enhancer No 3: Walk the Walk As a leader, you can talk about a collaborative environment till you’re blue in the face, but until you walk the walk and actually set the example it’s not going to happen.  Show your team what it looks like to break down silos and form partnerships.  Resist the temptation to speak negatively about other leaders.  You may think your earning credibility with your team, but inside they will just wonder what you are saying about them behind closed doors.  If you build others up, you are pouring a strong foundation for collaboration.  See “A Promise of Positivity” for more on this topic.   Collaboration Detractor No 1 – Overuse of Competition Competition can be a great motivator, and should be sprinkled into your reward / gamification programs for variety.  However, the vast majority of the time should...

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Who Would You Crown Princess of Customer Service?
Mar10

Who Would You Crown Princess of Customer Service?

Also posted on ICMI.com.  This is entirely for fun, but it may help reveal some qualities that you want to look for in your next CSR hire! Exciting news!  The Fantasyland help desk is growing.  A position was just opened, and several of your favorite customer service pros have referred their top candidate.  One catch  – this person will be serving the “Magical Executive” customer segment and must be an official Princess.  Which Princess do you believe would make the best Customer Service Representative?  Review the referral notes below and vote in THIS one question survey by 3/17 to see who gets the job!   Candidate: Cinderella    Referred By: Al Hopper Cinderella is the hands down, most qualified, candidate for the position at Fantasyland. Cinderella worked her way into her place at the royal court, unlike some of the other applicants. She learned many hard lessons about pleasing the most difficult of clients while she lived with her step-mother and step-sisters. These three did everything they could think of to make Cinderella’s life difficult, but she never gave up or took it out on her friends. Cinderella also learned the importance of working with a team during these formative years and never turned away the insights given to her from even the smallest of coworkers.She also learned how to listen to others and take instructions from the more experienced members of her team. Prince Charming saw enough potential in her to search his entire kingdom to find her after their first meeting to make her part of his team. Any service team would benefit from Cinderella’s life of experience and personal network with the royal court.   Candidate: Ariel    Referred By: Jenny Dempsey Ariel truly understands and grasps the importance of the customer voice. She is fascinated with the world, curious and eager to soak up new information. She learned from experience about how to stand on her own two feet and will encourage and teach customers to do the same. She dives headfirst into the customer’s world with every interaction. Ariel would be the ideal customer service agent for your team! (And holy sea shells, Rapunzel is more ferocious than a hungry shark….keep that in mind when hiring her!)  * Bonus points to Jenny for actually appearing in her own princess image!   Candidate: Rapunzel   Referred By: Nate Brown Rapunzel is clearly the best candidate for a Customer Service role.  But before I get into that, let me tell you why she is the only real candidate…period.  Ariel is half fish.  Unless your service center is “under the sea”, that option is pretty much out.  Jasmine...

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How To Have An Amazing Conference Experience
Jul22

How To Have An Amazing Conference Experience

ICMI knows how to throw a party. I had the fortune of attending their Expo and Conference this year in Orlando, FL. Speaking at a major conference for the first time, I was pretty much a ball of nervous energy for the first two days. Even so, I managed to pull out several great learnings which I will memorialize and share right here on this blog :).     1. Invest in People Throughout the Year Twitter is the first big (unexpected) win. I hated Twitter at the beginning of last year. It seemed like a giant hodge-podge of worthless information. Roy Atkinson and others helped me to stick with it, and now I see Twitter as an even more powerful networking tool then LinkedIn. Walking into the expo the first day, I thought I was completely alone. As it turns out, I had walked into a room full of friends with which I had developed a great relationship with through sharing knowledge. It was an absolute blast learning from and engaging with them in person. My favorite moment of the whole conference was sitting on a panel for a live twitter chat complete with Sean B Hawkins, Leslie O’Flahavan, Neal Topf, Erica Marois, and Jeff Toister.  It is so much more exciting to learn with you are sharing the experience with others and participating in robust dialog. The best way to avoid a conference “summer camp” experience, but a much deeper and sustainable one,  is to engage with industry experts on Twitter throughout the year. Two of the greatest chats are the #icmichat on Tuesdays at 12:00 PM CST and the #custserv chat on Tuesdays at 8:00 PM CST.      2. Make Fun a Priority I was really confused when I first got my speaker ratings back. I gave two completely different types of sessions. My first was around the “Effortless Experience” and how to balance this with customer delight. It was very well researched and heavy on the content side. I expected this to be by far the more popular and highly rated session of the two. The second was more about having an exciting dialog in the room and learning a topic (gamification) together. I had considerably less “solid” content and I was afraid I would take a bath in the ratings for my (very) nontraditional approach. The “Effortless Experience” session was rated 18 out of 44, whereas the Gamification session received a 9 out of 44!! I still can’t believe that result. It tells me that if people want to listen to someone drone on about a particular topic for an hour, they can find...

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Gamification in the Service Center
Apr10

Gamification in the Service Center

How to creatively motivate and retain employees in your support environment At times I wish the word “game” was not part of the word “gamification.”  While it is certainly an important element, the principle goes far beyond the idea of playing games.  “Creatification” might be a better word to describe what is really happening.  As Robin Jenkins defines it, “Gamification is about applying the same principles that have always inspired people: goals, status and rewards – to motivate people to accomplish high-value actions.”  You are providing a unique and creative infrastructure that taps into the intrinsic motivators of your employees….the kind that will bring them to the next level. There are so many ways to make gamification happen in your workplace.  While there are countless systems and automated tools available, it’s much more than buying a piece of software.  A personalized effort is required to create a true value-add program.   While it can be helpful especially for “moment of need” training, software rarely changes culture.  In the end, it all comes down to an intentional , consistent effort over time to build great relationships.  Here are a few of the key things we learned while “gamifying” the experience in our service center:   Know your audience – Gamification should not be a “top down” effort.  Include the individuals who are going to be participating in the program while creating it.  Understanding the interests of your employees and what motivates them will be paramount to the program’s success.  Also consider the goal you are looking to accomplish.  Is this a training program or an employee experience program?  The two will look very different.  For Kevin Hegebarth (@kghegebarth on Twitter) gamification is “a formal program of collecting rewards based on the attainment of well-documented goals.”  The concept will look very different when applied in different support environments. Competitiveness vs. Collaboration – For many gamification programs, it is all about competition and moving to the top of the leader board.  These types of initiatives often work well in a sales environment.  Be careful when choosing one of these for your group, as they can often do more harm than good.  In a service center, generally a more collaborative approach is best.  Reward the individual behaviors the create success for the larger team and for your customers. Always Mix It Up – This is not a program you can put out at the beginning of the year and have it run on autopilot.  Think about why we are drawn to games….they simulate a unique and exciting experience.  As soon as that game ceases to challenge us or surprise us, we will stop playing it.  Authoring...

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