What is the magic formula for customer experience?
I recently had the chance to spend some time with a colleague who worked the last 19 years in various roles running and administering call centers. Foremost on my agenda was a deep dive into his perspectives on managing the people, building effective processes, and selecting the right technological solutions to grow the business. The results of our conversation are both insightful, and also a solid reminder of how to succeed at providing a superior customer experience to your users.
The following is the first of a two-part series delving into what works, and what will break your customer experience.
Question – First of all, what is your philosophy when it comes to customer experience?
Answer – When it comes to customer experience everything is individualized. That’s how you can create a life-long customer. Focus on helping the customer in that moment with their individual issue.
Question – You were in the customer experience space for two decades. Did you have a favorite book that you modeled your organization after?
Answer – I really liked “The Effortless Experience” by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick Delisi. We shared all of their best practices throughout our organization from new hires, to training and 20-year vets. This book really helped us model our customer experience to be on how we helped our customers, the types of words we used and how we measured success.
Question – I loved “The Effortless Experience”. I’ve listened to it several times. How did it change the way you worked with your agents?
Answer – Really, it helped us focus on helping our reps to love to help customers and want them to be happy. Not in the sense that we were trying to “please and delight” but more to drive our teams to do whatever it took to create an experience that made our customers happy and stay with us long term. Call centers are really all about figuring out the best way to drive positive, effortless experiences. This could be going above and beyond or just doing the simple things to help the customer feel heard.
Question – Tell me more about the wording you tried to use.
Answer – Really, it’s about not saying “no” and framing you answers in a positive light. Things like “I can get it done for you”, “I can definitely help”, “I can ship it as soon as possible” or “I can solve your problem today”. This just changes the tone of the conversation from being confrontational, to collaborative.
Question – How did you avoid just giving out free stuff to please the customer vs solve the real problem?
Answer – That’s a good question, it wasn’t really about the free things we might give out. If you spoke to accounting, they probably would have said we gave away too much, but our operations teams would say to keep going. We just had a core believe that giving just a little something to help the customer paid dividends long term. You can’t drive all of the value by just looking at a spreadsheet. It was important to create a sense of togetherness and help that customer feel like we were a team in making things right. If you keep your customers happy, they will refer people and it will help the bottom line. That’s just tough to demonstrate because it happens behind the scenes. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t focus so much on the money, focus on customer service as a priority, and it will give you a sustainable financial return. You just can’t always see it on paper, but I promise it pays dividends.
Question – Who had to make the decisions of what you could do in challenging situations?
Answer – Our goal was to empower our managers and agents to make the right decision. This really helped us, so we didn’t have to micromanage every call but give them the power to solve problems. We wanted to give agents the power to help customers as soon as possible in the training process. Trust is a big thing in this industry and a lack of trust is dangerous.
Question – What are your thoughts on managing remote agents?
Answer – This was one of the other reasons we fought to stay in the same location. Remote teams are generally tougher to manage and coach up. This may be an older way of thinking, but we feared that we couldn’t monitor the teams and their progress when they were at home. It wasn’t about a “Big Brother” scenario or anything. It was about a family culture and being able to easily get help on a moment’s notice.
Question – Have you heard anything from your old team and how they managed through COVID?
Answer – Well, obviously, the agents were sent home. The good thing was our technology was set up in a way to make that quickly happen. I think it was an adjustment, but it has worked. I’m pretty sure most still work from home but some really liked being in the office so they come in daily.
Question – What is your people management philosophy?
Answer – Simply put, I want to make sure the agents feel valued. That they are an integral part of our team and we can’t function well without them. I think we do a pretty good job too because our retention rate was over 4 years and we had agents that had been with us for over 20 years. We were pretty happy with that given the industry average was 18 months.
Question – Your organization was spread out over many countries. I’m sure each country had different needs and you worked with them based on their culture. Did any region stand out?
Answer – Yes, you’re right. We worked with each country a little differently. One culture that stood out was across Asia. Not one country in particular and it didn’t matter if they lived in their native land or in the US. These markets were well connected and anytime there was a promotion, the word spread fast. This wasn’t a bad thing at all, we just needed to have clear and concise rules and manage these situations appropriately. Either way, it drove tons of business.
Question – It seems like you really had a lot of great agents managing your customer experience. What was your training like to get your team to be so skilled?
Answer – We felt like we had a great training program in place. It was all completed onsite over a 3-week period with half in the classroom and the other half actually taking calls on the floor. We would assign “mentors” to help things go smoothly while the trainee was taking calls. It took between one and two months after the initial training to for an agent to be fully effective. We also conducted weekly training in the US markets to continue improving agent skills. We were really into rewarding our employees so we would reward the mentors for helping out and training the next generation agent.
Stay tuned for part 2.