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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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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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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