customer service

Transforming the Customer Experience and Great Customer Service: A Frontline Festival

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival on customer service. We asked thought leaders from around the world to share their very best post on these topics.

Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!

 

In Memorium: Bill Gessert

Bill GessertThis month, we lost Bill Gessert, the President of the International Customer Association and a passionate thought leader in building a better customer experience through better cultures. Bill was the first person to take a chance on me as a keynote speaker (while I still had my day job at Verizon), and over the years our friendship has grown.

And so today, I share some of Bill’s insights on leadership and customer service.

Here is the 2012 interview I did with him when my blog was first starting out. It’s also my pleasure to bring you  Shep Hyken’s interview with Bill Gessert on Shep’s Amazing Business Radio here about great ideas for Customer Service week.

Creating Deeper Customer Connection and Showing Up Human

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader  Gives us How Organizations Need to Confirm Humanity. Customers have to confirm humanity during online transactions. Organizations that want to deliver a great user and customer experience should confirm their humanity online as well. Here’s how. Follow Paul.

Eileen McDargh of The Energizer shares A Piece of Cake Cements a Customer Relationship. A birthday cake seems like a simple thing but getting the right cake for the right person, customized just the right way is a little more complicated and it takes a little help from the right person to make the right cake.  Follow Eileen.

Jesse Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership provides Time for Spring Cleaning: Clean Up Your Values. Clearly articulated values are the bedrock of great customer service. And without them, you are likely to lose customers, as this true story demonstrates.  Follow Jesse.

Customer service is just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never-ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate type of activity. – Leon Gorman

Correlating the Employee Experience to the Customer Experience

Nate Brown, Karin Hurt, David Dye

Nate Brown of CX Accelerator with Jenny Dempsey gives us Promoting Mental and Physical Well-Being in Service Roles.  How can we create an environment that gives life instead of sucking it out of us? How can we foster the type of relationships across our teams that encourage instead of tear down? This article will provide dozens of simple ideas to help you promote both mental and physical health for your team.  Follow Nate.

Nate and I also recently collaborated on this ICMI article, Why Survival Mode Kills the Customer Experience

We had a great opportunity to visit with Nate in his natural habitat in his contact center during customer service week. So exciting to see all the creative ideas he has to gather insights from employees on what customers need most, as well as to strengthen the employee experience for a better customer experience.

Sophie Blumenthal of Resume Library shares The Pros and Cons of Having a Part-Time Job, detailing the PROs and CONs of having a part-time job. Pay attention and make sure to use this knowledge as wisely as possible when searching for a job, and the relevancy of having customer service skills. Follow Sophie.

Robyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog presents Why It Is Imperative to Break Down Silos Now, and Five Ways to Do It. She shares that building trust, fostering collaboration, and being a role model lessens the friction points within your company, creates more productive alliances, and helps create superior customer service – and offers key tips to doing these three things effectively.  Follow Robyn.

David Grossman of The Grossman Group gives us A Strong Internal Brand = Engaged Employees = Happy Customers. Internal branding is about communicating the company brand strategy and promise to employees so they can play an integral role in helping any company deliver on its goals, which in turn creates happy customers, and a more successful business.  Follow David.

 

Leadership in Customer Service

Erica Marois of ICMI  writes, Ready to Promote Your Star Agent to Supervisor? Not So Fast. It’s a common scenario in the contact center: when a supervisor positions open up, leaders turn to their best frontline agents to fill those roles. The problem? Best agents don’t always make the best managers. This article explores how to equip new supervisors to lead. Follow Erica.

Building a Better Customer Experience

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates gives us Lessons from Helicopter Pilots as an example of great customer service.  Follow Shelley.

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited  shares Five Things a Real Professional Should Not Say.  Customer service reps, take note.  A simple change in wording can make for warmer, more effective service. Follow Beth.

Customer Service Tools and Automation

Rachel Blakely-Gray of Patriot Software, LLC provides How to Improve Customer Service When You Don’t Have Time.  Failing to offer excellent customer service can chase consumers away. Use these five tips to improve customer service, even when you’re a busy small business owner.  Follow Rachel.

Eileen McDargh of The Energizer gives us Ten Tips to Move Customer Service from Drab to Fab!  Don’t just pay lip service to the idea of improving customer service. Good customer service is the linchpin to survival at any time but especially during difficult times. Follow Eileen.

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership DevelopmentYou should not build your customer service system on the premise that your organization will never question the whims of your clients. – Richard Branson

Won’t You Join Us Next Month?

Next month’s Frontline Festival is all about building great cultures. New contributors are always welcome. Submit your relevant blog posts here!

The Power of Observation: Better MBWA

The Power of Observation: 6 Ways to Show Up Helpful

I just got off the phone with a frustrated CEO, who was fired up after a half day of observation in one of his call centers.

“Karin, Why don’t these managers GET IT?

I just left a visit to one of our call centers and within an hour, I’ve seen more than a dozen urgent and easy things to address that really matter. I’ve been encouraging managers and team leaders to be out on the floor. So they’re there. They’re theoretically doing the observation I’ve asked.  But I don’t think they know what to do!

They are standing right next to the issues I see, and they don’t see them! When I ask them for what patterns they’re noticing they offer to pull a report. How about the patterns they heard on the calls today in their observation?!! When I ask how the calls are going, they tell me “they’re good.” What does that mean? Can’t they hear what I hear? No one has a pen in their hands… I’m so frustrated. Isn’t this common sense?

How do I make them see that getting out of their offices is not enough? It’s what they do with that time.”

Does this sound familiar? This “Why can’t they see it?” feeling is the worst. And surprisingly hard to teach. But it is possible.

Observation Matters: Really Practical Ways to Ensure Your Presence Makes an Impact

After a few weeks in the role Verizon Sales exec., it became clear that there was a real difference between spending time in the stores and EFFECTIVELY spending time in the stores–observing what’s going on, learning, and being truly helpful to the team.

Some District Managers really understood the power of careful observation and used that in their helping. And for others, it was an art that needed to be taught. There were a few DMs who could be in a troubled store all day and completely miss the glaring issues– and of course, ignoring the obvious problems is far from helpful, it’s destructive.

If you’re looking to help your managers and supervisors be more observant and helpful, try working with them on this list of six ways to show up helpful.

6 Ways to Show Up Helpful

1. Start with connection.

Winning Well managers balance results AND relationships. You can’t show up helpful if your employees think you’re there to play a game of “Gotcha.”

Connect first with something personal. And then ask about what they’re most proud of and where they’re struggling. It’s amazing what you’ll hear if you just ask, “What do you need to better serve our customers?”

2. Think like a customer.

Observe what the customer is experiencing.

When I would do my store visits at Verizon, we would start in the parking lot. What does the customer see when they first walk up? Is there trash on the sidewalk? Are the windows clean? Are the signs hung correctly? Are all the light bulbs working?

Observe the customer interactions. If you can see the customers, do they seem relaxed and confident, or agitated? If you’re walking around the call center floor, are you hearing empathy from your reps? Are they providing clear and accurate information? Are they going out of their way to create a positive experience?

If you’re doing a ride-along observation on a repair truck, are you showing up during the committed time frame? Have we left the customers home cleaner than we found it? Have interactions been polite and friendly? Does the customer know how much we care?

3. Pay attention to the MITs (Most Important Things.)

Focus your observations on the most important things and work on them one or two at a time. As you’re walking around notice how employees are spending their time. Are they focused on the Most Important Things (MITs?)

If they’re not, get curious. Do they understand the behaviors that are critical to success?  If not, it’s time to revisit expectations. Are they clear on what behaviors will lead to success? Have you connected what you’re asking them to do, to why you’re asking them to do it?

One of the biggest mistakes I see managers make when they’re riding along or doing floor support is focusing on too many priorities at the same time.

If you tell someone: “Your desk is messy; you forgot to use an empathy statement; you didn’t mention the new promotion, and by the way, your handle time for that phone call was 15 seconds too long,” they’re not likely to retain much.

4. Look for patterns.

It’s easy to overreact when you see one employee with wrong information or a bad habit. I’ve seen many managers react with an emergency meeting because of one bad actor, and everyone is wondering why their manager is wasting time talking about something everyone already knows.

Of course, it can go in the other direction too. If you uncover a few employees struggling with the same issue, it’s worth keeping your eyes open to see who else needs help. The next obvious question any manager would think is, “Where else is this an issue?”

5. Connect work to outcomes.

In my Verizon days, I would never leave a store visit without spending time with the store manager in front of his “Big Board” (a white board that was to be updated daily with metrics in the back of the store for all the team to see).  We would talk about the customer experience and what they were doing to make it better. Nothing was more frustrating  than to see outdated metrics. “Oh wait, it’s better now!” The manager would say as they erased the numbers and put up new ones. “So how would your team know that?”

In your observations, it’s helpful to ensure the team has an easy, updated, way to know where they stand.

See more on developing critical thinking in your team.

6. Celebrate small wins.

When doing observations, it’s easy to focus exclusively on what’s going wrong and what needs to be improved. It’s so important to also notice what’s going well. Making a big deal out of small wins can go a long way in pointing out the behaviors that will lead to success. We get more of what we celebrate and reward, and less of what we ignore.

Your turn.  What are your best practices for effective observations and showing up helpful?

See Also: The Secret to Managing Up: The Green Jacket Effect (with Video)

When MBWA become OCHTC Oh crap here they come).

Communicating With Executives When Your World's on Fire

Communicating With Executives When Your World’s on Fire

When your world’s on fire, and you’re working around the clock to survive, it feels like the last thing you have time for is formal updates. And of course, the bigger the fire, the more the senior team needs to know what’s going on. What’s the secret to communicating with executives efficiently so you can stay focused on critical operations?

Communicating With Executives: Lessons Learned

It was 2012 and  I was leading the outsourced call center channel at Verizon Wireless when we found ourselves in the middle of a literal firestorm.

The Waldo Canyon Fires were raging through Colorado Springs and were wreaking havoc on the Garden of the God’s adjacent to the call center which had 1100 human beings taking Verizon calls. Just across town, we had another call center which, with just a quick shift of the wind, would also be in the path of the fire. Most of the homes in the area had been evacuated and the firefighters had turned our call center parking lot into a base camp for fighting the fire.

First and foremost we had employee safety concerns. Was everyone accounted for? How could we best support those in distress? Who needed help? How would we communicate?

The next concern, of course,  was the massive operational impact of 20% of our team not able to get to work, and the growing wait times, frustrated customers, and the downward customer experience that comes from the cocktail of angry waiting customers and overloaded humans doing the best they can.

What’s our capacity at other centers? How fast could we cross-train the specialty functions that were handled from those centers? Could we bus employees to the nearest centers? How much overtime could we squeeze out, and for how long? What if the centers were destroyed? Could IT pull off a temporary center or a work at home strategy? How would we keep customer data safe in a scene like that? How should we modify our HR policies during this time? The list was long…and complicated.

We were doing the best we could, my team had been working around the clock. Everyone was completely exhausted.

The C-suite needed an update.

So I scrambled. I quickly pulled together all the details. I summarized our HR and cross-training strategies in an email. Sent another update on the IT concerns. Then another email with the real estate contingency plans.

My phone rang. It was the senior leader headed into the meeting for a C-level briefing.

“Karin, I’ve just searched my email for the name Karin Hurt. Oh, lots of emails here. Now guess what I’m doing now? Highlighting them all and hitting delete…yup now they’re all gone.”

She continued.

“I get that your world is literally on fire and what you and your team are doing is very important. I trust that you’ve got it handled. But I can’t handle all this info. I’ve got five other major issues to read out on and I’ve only got 20 minutes.

Send me a new email with five bullet points. Tell us how you’ve got this under control and what else you need.

5 Questions to Answer When Communicating With Executives in Times of Crises

I was crushed. We were working hard! I wanted the C-level team to understand the brilliance of our plan and to see how hard the team was working. But at a strategic level, what they needed most was to know: What happened?  So what? What’s next?

If you find yourself in the midst of a firestorm, here are 5 questions that can help you form your executive briefing.

  1. What happened?
    Consider this a newspaper headline. What happened and what’s the current and potential human and business impact?
  2. What have you done?
    Summarize key actions, timelines, and impact.
  3. What’s next?
    Outline next steps and timelines
  4. What’s in jeopardy?
    Ditch the Diaper Genie™ and be real with what’s at stake and what could go wrong, as well as the downstream impact on other projects and business priorities.
  5. What do you need?
    Where do you need help? What additional resources or support do you need?

Of course, you need to be prepared with all the details and to engage in deep discussion of why you chose your path and other options you considered. But a strong executive summary will save everyone time, get you the support you need, and and let you get back to what matters most– fighting the fire.

Your turn. What are your best practices for communicating with executives in times of crises?

Photo Credit: Creative Commons DIVDSHUB

play the game don't game the score

3 Ways to Stop Your NPS Program From Destroying Your Customer Experience

I love NPS programs (Net Promoter Score)--when they’re designed and executed well. When I was at Verizon,  The Ultimate Question was required reading for every manager on my team. An NPS program is a powerful way to measure the customer experience.

And today, most of my clients use an NPS program in one way or another and we work to ensure that their internal metrics are helpful indicators of the view from the outside.

But when implemented poorly, I’ve seen NPS programs tick off valued customers who otherwise were having a reasonable customer experience.

If you haven’t kicked the tires on your NPS program for a while, be sure you’re focused on the three vital areas.

Three Ways to Stop Your NPS Program From Destroying Your Culture

    1. Incent your employees to play the game, not game the score. Last week I was eating at a diner at BWI airport. I couldn’t help but overhear as the overly cheesy waiter with the bad jokes and the mixed up drink orders serving the couple at the table next to me offered to “Take 5 bucks off their bill right now” if they would take the online survey  and “Rate me a 5 out of 5 for the exceptional experience I have provided you. Oh, and be sure to mention my name.”  When employees are incented by the score, they’ll care more about the rating than the experience. Even if those customers took the five bucks, their score is clearly not an indicator of their experience that day. No one walks away a promoter after being bribed.
    2. If they tell you it’s broken, do what you can to fix it. A few hours after the diner incident, my client called with an emergency change in plans and asked to put push our meetings back a day. I called the hotel chain where I have stayed close to 400 nights and asked if I could modify my reservation. I was informed that they would be happy to move the reservation up (still staying two days) but that I would still be responsible for paying for the night I had to cancel. I was frustrated, but the policy was on their side. I wasn’t going to make a fuss. Until… I went to the hotel (which was practically empty) and one thing after another went wrong… only decaf coffee in the room, shampoo not refilled, dirty everywhere, unfriendly staff. So when I logged in to their Wifi that night and they asked me to take a survey. I did and rated them a 3 with all the reasons. Within 10 seconds another window came up asking me for my room number so they could make it right. Then the next window that popped up was inviting me to leave a Trip Advisor review!  (Which I didn’t, out of long term loyalty to this company). It’s a week later and no one has contacted me to “make it right” as promised.They would have been better off not setting that expectation, and certainly not inviting detractors to leave a Trip Advisor review!
      And…
    3. Take the long view on detractors. Of course “making it right” is a good start, but doesn’t do much good if you don’t fix the root cause of the issues. I’ll never forget my first week on the job as a call center director. My team leaders were all stressed out, with more work to do than they could possibly get done. When I did an analysis of how they were spending their time, I found they were spending hours a day calling back customer detractors (people who had rated us less than 5 on the NPS). Most of these detractors had issues that could be categorized in one of three categories. There were NO plans in place to identify and discuss themes at a center level and to address the root cause. Yes, yes, call your detractors and do what you can to make it right. But don’t forget to use the data strategically to fix the process and policy issues driving your customers crazy.

Customers don’t care about your internal customer scorecard. Be sure every employee on your team knows what matters most. Focus on the game, don’t game the score.

How to Build a More Customer-Centered, Empathetic Workforce

When you call customer service you want to know 2 things:  (1) Does the person who picked up your call care about you and your issue? and (2) Are they capable of fixing it?

You don’t have to be a customer service expert to know within 20 seconds whether the guy on the other end of the phone cares and is eager to help.

When we work with customer service departments, empathy is always identified as a top MIT (Most Important Thing). And yet it’s also one of the hardest set of behaviors to train.

A Best Practice For Training Empathy (Care About Real Lives)

I recently did a follow-up visit to a client who had invested in one of our Winning Well Operations Excellence Rallies. They had identified “Does the Customer Know How Much We Care?” as a top MIT, and set about isolating the behaviors and building a focus on empathy into their training, performance management, and recognition systems.

They built a confidence burst approach to encourage empathy. One day the representatives came in to find signs of a missing baby all over the office: a crocheted bootie, a pacifier, and some randomly scattered signs, “Has anyone seen baby Carl?” “What happened to baby Carl?” The representatives were intrigued. The entire center was talking about the baby Carl mystery during lunch breaks and between calls.

The managers had fun with this for a few days and then did what they call “the reveal.” They transferred the calls to another center for a few minutes and brought in “Baby Carl,” a carefully swaddled doll. “Remember how much you were worried about baby Carl? That’s how concerned we need to be about every customer’s issue. Every customer has real life concerns like small babies to take care of or sick friends and family.

Baby Carl represents our mission to show our customers how much we care. Every call should start with CARL–Care About Real Lives.”

As weeks went on, and a representative exhibited extraordinary empathy on a call– when they showed how much they CARLed (now a verb), they were awarded the Baby Carl recognition, had their picture take with Carl who stayed on their desk until someone was able to “steal” him back with a similarly empathetic call.

Every time someone won the Baby Carl award, the management team communicated exactly HOW the representative had shown empathy. Each selfie snapped with Baby Carl reinforced the behaviors they were looking to emulate. Representatives gained more confidence and competence as they showed up more consistently as someone who Cares About Real Lives.

One thing great leaders do is make the invisible, visible. Want your employees to show more empathy? Find ways to consistently make empathy visible, and celebrate the impact.

customer experience

What To Do When The Customer is Wrong

The only problem with the concept, “The customer is always right,” is that sometimes they’re wrong.

If you’ve been in any kind of customer-facing position, I know you’re with me.

Sure, there are many, many circumstances where the only choice is to bite your tongue and concede, for the good of the customer experience.

But some wrong is just, well…wrong.

It takes confident humility to stand up to a customer when they’re doing something unethical, immoral, or discriminatory. Winning Well managers know that the MIT (most important thing) at a time like that is to stand clearly on the side of right.

Rick, the retired Amtrak conductor I met on my Southwest flight did just that.

When Employees are More Important Than Customers

My assistant conductor, Loretta came to me and said matter-of-factly, “There’s a guy in the second car, who refuses to give me his ticket.”

“Does he have a ticket?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he does.”

“Why won’t he give it to you?” I continued, now sensing an undercurrent of hurt beneath her frustration, as the color drained from her dark skin.

“Well, I have a theory.”

“I’ll be right back.”

I approached the old, balding man, “Hi Sir, the other conductor said you refused to give her your ticket.”

He laughed, “Oh, I’m happy to give it YOU. I just won’t give it HER.”

“Well then, you have a problem. You see Loretta is the only one who takes the tickets. But since yours is the next stop. I’ll take it this time.”

“Oh no, I’m getting off in Albany.”

“No sir, you are getting off at the next stop. And if you refuse, I’ll be happy to make a phone call to get you some help getting off.”

I then held the train at the next stop and explained the situation to the agent at the ticket window. He could feel free to refund his money, but under no circumstances was he to sell the meanie a ticket.

Winning Well Karin Hurt and David DyeRick sent a clear message to Loretta, her peers and all the customers watching the spectacle. Loretta’s dignity is what mattered most. Bigotry, even from a paying customer, was completely unacceptable.

Rick was Winning Well.

When the customer is wrong. Say so.

Everyone is watching your next move.

The Amazing Side Effect of Make-It-Right Customer Service

I thought I was getting ahead of the blizzard, After all, the snow wasn’t supposed to start until Friday morning. But apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking Thursday morning was a good time to slip out to our local Trader Joes. Every register was open and the every line stretched all the way to the back of the store. I had to give them credit–they had clearly planned for the onslaught and called in reinforcements.

Knowing that customers weren’t happy, the manager was getting on the microphone being a merry as possible.

“Hey everybody, oh my gosh, did you hear it’s going to snow?”

 A few minutes later she was back on the mic.

“Okay raise your hand if you are number 7 in your line.”

We all worked together to count. Nice distraction.

“Wow! Just wow! Today is your special day! Everyone of you in the number 7 spot gets a candy bar.”

She approached the #7s behind me, “Can you share?” The skinny 70 somethings behind me looked at her longingly and she caved, “Okay here’s two.”

She was clearly trying, and empowered.

After about 45 minutes, I was next in line. The woman in front of me tried to pay with her smartphone and it completely crashed the computer register in my lane which I had already observed was lane 8, #justincasetherewasanothercontest. At this point I was hungry.

They had to call headquarters IT. After 10 minutes of trouble shooting, I turned to the candy-bar-crunching 70-something- number-7s behind me.

“Okay, they were doing great, but now this is a fiasco.  I’m a leadership and organizational effectiveness consultant, here’s what I think they need to do next… I’m so ready to go give them some free consulting. Do you think that would be rude?”

They were all ears on my plan, so we began chatting about how I could offer to help in the spirit of being useful vs. obnoxious.

As it turned out no intervention was necessary. The jolly manager once again grabbed the mic.

“Okay, so this happened…. we have a lane down, so here’s what we’re going to do. If you’re in lane 8 raise your hand.”

We were all ears in lane 8, and eagerly raised our hands in surrender. Everyone else just rolled their eyes.

“First of all, if you are in lane 8, Steve here is going to come by and ask you what your favorite Trader Joe’s item is. He’s going to go get it for you and you will get that for free.”

But here’s where the rest of you come in. Some of these folks in lucky lane 8 have been waiting for nearly an hour just like you. So, you don’t have to do this, but if you would be willing to let them step in front of you, raise both of your hands (yup, that’s how many feet of snow we’re getting), and you too will get your favorite Trader Joe’s item for free. Raised hands all around, and the people began chatting and moving in an orderly fashion.

Her plan trumped mine by a landslide.

The lady next to me kindly let me step in front. We both got our steaks for free.

As my new cashier was ringing me up, she was all smiles.

“How great is this?” She questioned. “Can you imagine ANY OTHER grocery store that would respond this way?

We both knew the answer.

“This is why I work here.”