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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Customer Delight vs. Customer Effort
May20

Customer Delight vs. Customer Effort

There are two camps forming.  Both are waving the customer experience flag with great conviction.  Thousands of support leaders are choosing sides and donning the colors of either Customer Delight or “The Effortless Experience.”  Before taking your long sword off the wall, however, let us consider the critical lessons we need to learn from each to create the perfect balance! There is great power in delighting customers.  Doing so on a regular basis can turn them into an army of word of mouth ambassadors for your brand.  And unlike your internal marketing team, they’re paying you!  Steve Denning systematically articulates in his article why those organizations who do not sustain customer delight as a focus are missing the mark.  In the book, “The Customer Delight Principle: Exceeding Customers Expectations for Bottom-Line Success” authors Timothy L. Keiningham and Terry Vavra demonstrate how mere satisfaction is not enough.  It takes more than modest approval to retain customers, as 60% of those who leave a vendor report being at least satisfied. A study into customer effort brings clarity to this otherwise confounding statistic.  In the book “The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty,” The Corporate Executive Board * notes that even the almighty Customer Satisfaction Score (the holy grail of customer support metrics) has an astoundingly low connection with loyalty.  A typical customer does not expect to be astonished on every touch point with the business. They simply want to reach a resolution as quickly and easily as possible. Therefore, we need to reduce the amount of effort required by the customer.  Actions to reduce channel switching and guide customers to the best resolution path are what foster a successful partnership.  Find out more here.  Business leaders who invest innumerable resources into fostering customer delight universally are seeing very little return on this investment. How do we reconcile this? We must create an effortless experience interspersed with pinnacles of customer delight! There are touch points in every CX journey where customers expect the extra mile.  We need to identify a handful of touch points and roll out the red carpet in these areas.  Even as we work to manufacture these summits, we can still cater to several “effortless” principles – including guiding the customer to the best resolution path.  If we know we will not create a good resolution experience for a problem using social media for example, then why would we guide our customers there?  Equip them for success and give them the right solution at the right time.  Having fantastic support channels is better (from both a delight and an effort standpoint) then having a large number of channels. One of...

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The Customer-Centric Ambassador Program
Apr17

The Customer-Centric Ambassador Program

Maintaining a customer-centric focus should be a priority for every group in your organization.  A simple concept in theory, but as soon as the water gets rough we tend to batten down the hatches and retreat to our internal comfort zones.  It may be time to deploy your greatest resource for customer-focused evangelism – your very own support team. Allow me to present an exciting new arrow in your quiver, the “Customer Ambassador” Program!  There are so many ways to implement this concept, but you will soon see why it is essential for both your service analysts and the larger organization. What is it? This is a program by which each analyst is assigned to represent the support group to another department within the company.  Look for opportunities to collaborate and improve the customer experience.  I have seen fantastic projects conceived and executed as a result of this cross-pollination.  Set basic guidelines on how much time per week can be allotted toward these activities, and allow creativity to guide the rest! How Your Team Benefits: With the amount of time your analysts spend on the phone, they are likely to start viewing their headset as a prison shackle.  Set them free!  Through career coaching with your analysts, you likely know what aspirations/interests/aptitudes your employees have.  Begin to expose them to the right departments and people.  I’ve worked with several analysts who had interest in another group, but after getting their feet wet, they realized it was not a good fit.  Creating learning moments such as this can save an individual years of side stepping away from their optimal career path.  On the other hand, there have been several excellent connections made through the program that have resulted in exciting promotions and new opportunities.  In addition, your team will be exposed to the larger organization in a powerful new way.  We often challenge our reps to think beyond their current role and become more strategic, but fail to equip them with “big picture”  knowledge.  If you are their only connection point to events outside the department, creativity will be stifled.  Give your analysts the chance to see the larger picture for themselves!  They are likely to come up with solutions you would have never conceived. How the Company Benefits: What could be better than having a passionate, customer-centric ambassador in each area of your business?  There is no better way to achieve a widespread understanding of customer needs. As a leader implementing this program, you are no longer the sole customer advocate to the larger business.  You equip your team with a compelling story, develop that story through key metrics,...

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“Your Title”…and Customer Advocate!
Apr12

“Your Title”…and Customer Advocate!

How to fight for your customers and win. In my second job out of college, I went to work for an internet start-up.  Not one of the ones who made it, unfortunately, but we had a good run. I started there doing marketing research, but within a month or two, the company was big enough to require a full-time Customer Service Rep, which I became.  Within another few months, they asked me to lead the team of support reps that we were hiring, and as a 23 year old new to the work-force, I jumped at the chance. Around the time that I became the manager of the team, the company founders decided that they didn’t want us to merely provide service or support – because those things can be either good or bad.  They wanted us to provide satisfaction.  And so we became the Customer Satisfaction department. A few months later, we got business cards.  I hadn’t been in a role that really merited cards before, and I was so excited to get them. When they arrived, I opened my box, and here’s what they read: Manager of Customer Satisfaction and Customer Advocate I went to show them to my friend in sales, and I said, “Isn’t this great?  They just totally get what I do.  I AM a customer advocate!” Then he showed me his new card, which read: Regional Sales Associate and Customer Advocate The company founders, being customer focused as they were; felt that everyone in our company, regardless of their specific job, was employed to help our customers.   So everyone had cards that showed their title, and ended with “…and Customer Advocate”.   After my initial disappointment of not being “special” and “understood”, I realized what a terrific gift I, and everyone in the company, had been given.  We were all empowered to make the right decisions for our customers.  And we did.  It was an exciting time.  Going into work was fun, and I never dreaded picking up the phone or checking e mail, because I had all the tools and permission I needed to make my customers happy.  And I’m happy to say, that’s exactly what I did. Sadly, like a lot of internet start-ups of the late 90’s, the company didn’t last.  But the founders of that company gave me experience that I’ve carried with me in the 15+ years since I left our crowded, chaotic office space. With every company I’ve joined since, I’ve worked to promote my customers’ needs.  In some companies, that has been easier than in others.  But my managers, and more importantly, my customers have always appreciated...

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Customer Centric Lessons from “Divergent”
Apr07

Customer Centric Lessons from “Divergent”

While it may not carry quite the same professional relevance as the DiSC test, the personality factions from Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” are a fascinating study of human behavior.  We all of us have a default frame of mind by which we approach the world, and chances are, it is one of the five outlined below.  By viewing our support centers through the “Divergent” lens, we are likely to learn something new about our analysts and ourselves.  The following is a brief commentary on each faction complete with tips on how to succeed with it’s membership.    Dauntless – Who above all else value bravery. The Dauntless have an insatiable desire to be the hero.   They often build extra urgency into situations that do not require it in hopes of saving the day.  Even when they have nothing to do, a dauntless will act extremely busy.  It is all part of keeping up the appearance that their services are in special demand.  Being treated as just an average member of the team may cause them to undermine your leadership. How to succeed with a Dauntless – If it is danger they are looking for, give it to them!  Who better to manage critical  situations?  They will tenaciously pursue a resolution and fight for the customer.  They are not afraid to step on the occasional toe to get what is needed.  Offer frequent alignment checks to establish top priorities and prevent them from getting carried away in their own passion.  When they try to take on an unnecessary burden by themselves, remind your dauntless that many would-be heroes have shown their true colors as goats.    Erudite – Who above all else value knowledge. Erudite pursue learning with an avaricious vigor.  Within a knowledge centered support environment, information is the ultimate currency.  In this way the Erudite are rich.  They will dive head first into a set of release notes…the very same document that everyone else opened up for 20 seconds, skimmed the first paragraph, and closed forever.  While they may know more than others on your team, they have a tendency to be self-serving. In their continual quest for knowledge, they may consider it a hindrance to slow down and educate others; whether verbally or in the form of public knowledge base submissions. How to succeed with an Erudite – Challenge them to admonish the rest of the group with the information they are receiving.  See “The Real Rock Star.”  As they demonstrate efforts to learn for the greater good of the team, reward them with exposure to exciting things.  As you prepare our metrics, challenge them to review the numbers...

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A Promise of Positivity
Mar20

A Promise of Positivity

  I took my promise of positivity on January 30th, 2014.  No, I don’t wear a special promise ring like the Jonas Brothers.  I do, however, require a “mind check” coming in the door each morning. If you were to leave your work environment today, would it be a better or worse place tomorrow?  So many of us detract from our environments in ways we don’t even realize.  It’s easy to take a “victim” mentality to the things around us we don’t like.  We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our coworkers to do better. There will always be frustrations at work.  This is the constant….your  reaction is the variable.  You can either choose to make the situation better and build up those around you – or you can fade into the ever popular realm of negativity and mediocrity.  Don’t settle for the later.  If you feel truly incapable of bringing positive change to your work environment, it’s time to move on.  If, however, you can be an agent for positive change then it is time to commit to making a difference.  Here are some recommendations from my “promise of positivity.”  You will need to customize yours depending on yourself and your environment: I will value relationships over results.  There is no metric or revenue goal that is worth dehumanizing another person. Providing it is not in conflict with my integrity and values, I will support the leadership of our organization. I will pursue excellence in everything I do.  I will take great pride in my work. I will find solutions to problems to make the work experience more meaningful for everyone. I will not cause harm to my co-workers through conversation that tears them down, whether they are present or not. As Kevin and Jackie Freiberg describe in their book BOOM!, your most powerful attribute is the freedom to choose.  I have not been perfect on keeping my promise, but it reminds me that I am not a victim of any situation.  To take your commitment to the next level, have a signed document between you and your mentor holding you accountable to the change.  I would love to hear your own “promise of positivity” in the comments.  Let’s make each other better!  Return to Customer Centric Support   Share...

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