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 18th out of 44 sessions, whereas the Gamification session was 9th out of 44 sessions!! 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...

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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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High Altitude CX
Nov22

High Altitude CX

Encouragement and practical wisdom for those ascending the mountain to better customer service. If you’ve never been to Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s one for your bucket list.  The 5.5 mile trek up the mountain along the iconic Alum Cave trail is as breathtaking as it is challenging.  What makes this particular hike unique, however, is the unexpected treasure you’ll find at the top.  LeConte Lodge seems to come out of nowhere as you break through the trees and enter a small clearing.  At 6,360 feet, it brings new meaning to staying in the penthouse.  I had found a rocking chair with a fantastic view, when just a few yards to my right I was privy to a high-altitude customer service lesson. How does one obtain food and supplies for 35 guests on the top of a mountain?  Pack llamas of course!  A small herd of llamas forms the epicenter of culture for the lodge.  Not only are they essential in the most practical sense, but they are also mountain celebrities.  People could not get enough of these four legged, backpack-bearing creatures.  One group of day hikers from the mid-west was especially curious.  As they approached the animals (getting far closer than I dared to go), out came The Shepherd of the Llamas to protect his herd. In many ways, The Llama Shepherd was exactly what you would expect of a person who lived in a mountaintop lodge.  A huge beard, earth tone clothing, and Teva sandals were a few of his Appalachian attributes.  One thing, however, set this man apart quite definitively.  On his left leg was a giant brown tattoo of a llama.  He clearly loved these furry creatures more than many parents love their own children.  I braced myself for a sharp reprimand as the tourists encroached on the animal’s personal space.  After all, they were not even overnight guests of the lodge, but just dime-a-dozen day hikers. I was shocked at what actually transpired.  The shepherd welcomed them with enthusiasm…answering a barrage of questions, allowing them to be touched, and even helped the tourists with their llama selfies.  With all the people wandering around atop this mountain, it really struck me how polite, patient, and personal this man was.  It challenged me to think about how we treat customers in our service environment.  Here are two wisdom nuggets from the Llama Shepherd: Find the thing you really want to share with other people, and support that! – It may not be pack animals, but you’ve got a thing.  It’s fairly easy for many service professionals to fake a smile or warm tone...

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The Two Factor Theory and Customer Service
Aug05

The Two Factor Theory and Customer Service

 Co-written by Ben Patient and Nate Brown   In the late 1950’s, Frederick Herzberg introduced his research that has revolutionized the way we look at motivation in the workplace. This theory is known as the “Two Factor Theory” and it introduces two separate scales measuring employee satisfaction. There is one scale that measures satisfaction, and the other scale measures dissatisfaction. The key is to focus on the fact that Herzberg’s theory does not identify them on the same scale. This means satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not co-dependent opposites, but rather separate measurements all together. The two factors that comprise the theory are motivators and hygiene factors. When considered from a human resources perspective it looks like this: Motivators such as autonomy, recognition, and skill development work to GROW employee satisfaction. Hygiene Factors such as salary, job security, and work conditions work to REDUCE employee satisfaction. Depending on the combination of the two, an employee could be happy but not loyal. If the baseline hygiene factors are not well considered, then we are still at risk of losing the employee even if we lavish them with exciting motivators. The best part is that Herzberg’s two factor theory can be applied to other business functions. After all, it is a theory based on people, not any specific discipline. Customer Service is a fantastic example. Unique insight can be gained by viewing service interactions through the “two factor” lens. In a service environment we can consider: Motivators such as free products, convenient social media support channels, and “WOW” moments in service transactions can GROW satisfaction/brand loyalty. Hygiene Factors such as extended phone trees, long hold times, channel switching, or inconsistency between analysts can REDUCE customer satisfaction. There are many hygiene factors in service interactions that take the form of customer expectations. These are elements that will rarely build rapport (even when done very well), but when done poorly they are major dissatisfiers. Expectations will vary from service center to service center based on your customer demographic. For example, you will expect a different level of service at a Hilton property then you would at the Motel 6. Intentional effort to understand the expectations of your customers will be essential to predicting loyalty. Hygiene processes and workflows can be a drag to create and maintain. As service managers, we often pursue the sexy motivators -things often associated with “delight” – to try and wow customers and be the water cooler hero. This is only natural, who among us doesn’t enjoy the executive limelight for our efforts? The problem is that we often get carried away with creating “WOW” moments and we fail to meet fundamental...

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Customer Service, Kayaks, and the T.W.R.A.
Jun25

Customer Service, Kayaks, and the T.W.R.A.

A lake-side lesson in credibility.  Written by Nate Brown and Jim Quiggins. “The unspoken.”  It’s not only a feature of awkward prayer gatherings, but it can also be the most important element in customer service transactions.  An outstanding resolution requires so much more then answering the surface level question.  Oftentimes the best hope an analyst has of getting to the root cause is by perceiving the unspoken need.  If the customer has carried an emotional burden with them to the call, the analyst’s job is not only to resolve, but to heal.  This concept was recently personified by an unlikely source in Long Hunter State Park. I (Nate) love Kayaking.   Add a fishing pole to the equation, and I am a very happy man.  Such was the case early Saturday morning on the beautiful Couchville Lake just outside of Nashville.  The weather was outstanding – and I was even catching some nice fish.  My good fortunate took a surprising turn, however, as I became engulfed in the wake of a Tennessee Wildlife and Resource Agency (TWRA) vessel.  There were two agents standing on the boat, and one of them meant serious business.  His frantic yelling echoed across the otherwise silent lake.  Once my distress receded, I could hear him urgently demanding to see my life jacket.  A life jacket?  In a kayak?  Clearly this person had no idea how I’d been doing this for 12+ years and had never needed a life jacket.  A defensive tone took shape as I explained how not only did I not have a flotation device, but I did not need one.  As expected, the agent threw the book at me – taking a messianic tone as he articulated the special regulations for Couchville lake and the dangers involved. I was not even close to caring what he said.  My goal was to internalize my anger and shut up while I awaited inevitable punishment. It was at this moment that our interaction took an astonishing turn.  Instead of reaching for his ticket book, the agent began unbuckling the straps of his own life jacket.  He removed it and held it out as a gift.  His expression changed from that of a disciplinarian to a concerned friend. The realization washed over me fast and strong.  This man was not out here to punish minor violators, but rather to keep people safe and protect them.  The gesture communicated his purpose so clearly…making me see how foolish I was to have been defensive.  The agent had won my full loyalty and trust by showing that he cared about me as a person. This is how great...

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The Top Six Lessons from Six Years of Service
Jun06

The Top Six Lessons from Six Years of Service

..A jump start for those new to the Customer Service industry. Congratulations on winning your role in customer service!  As someone celebrating six years in the field, I can say with confidence that there has never been a better time to choose support as a career.  Whereas customer service representatives used to be seen one of the most entry level, dispensable roles in the company, the CX (customer experience) revolution has elevated it to its rightful place as a strategic and critical responsibility.  The past 2208 days have yielded countless tears and difficult moments for me.  Still, when I look back to consider the learning and growth that has taken place, I do not regret a single one.  Here are the top six things I wish I knew when I first put on the magic headset… 1) Take Initiative – You will know two of the absolute most important things – your products and your customers – better than anyone else.  This knowledge uniquely positions you to solve big problems.  Carve out time each week to think about the challenges your business is facing and contemplate solutions.  Be bold to offer these when opportunities present themselves (or create your own opportunities..have that elevator speech ready to go)  Chances are you will bring something new to the discussion from your daily interaction with customers! 2) Be Consultative – Don’t become a “phone drone.”  A service interaction is like a condensed marriage ceremony.  The customer has come forward with a challenge.  You as the analyst must combine knowledge of the product or service – with an understanding of the challenge – to find the best possible solution.  Customer service professionals will often train often on a product or service they support, but rarely on the industry they represent.  This will limit your ability to understand the customers’ perspective.  By becoming an industry expert, you can transcend the question the customer is asking…reading between the lines to handcraft a better solution.   The most exciting part is that you get to leverage your personality to make the interaction unique!  Customers want to see the human side of you, and when done in a professional context, it will score major delight points. 3) Find External Inspiration – Chances are 99% percent of your company believes they are customer service experts.  If you have a reasonable level of soft skills then you can make customers happy right?  This could not be further from the truth.  Customer Service is a science as wondrously complex as any other business discipline, especially when done proactively.  Find a community of service professionals that will educate you, challenge you and inspire you to...

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