Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Customer Quality Reporting: Real Customer Satisfaction Measurement - from the horse's mouth

A Customer Satisfaction and Contact Center Quality Performance Monitoring Service
Contact centers deliver services to customers and prospects by telephone, email, and chat. It is essential that organizations have insight into the quality of those interactions. The internal perspective is often delivered through a quality listening team which reviews contacts and scores measuring based upon predetermined set of criteria. In many organizations the internal quality measures are those elements of the interaction that are believed to be important to the customer as well as company focused compliance elements.

For a number of organizations this is where the quality process ends. Research and pundits tell us the measuring customer satisfaction (CSAT) is critical as CSAT has a strong correlation to customer loyalty and repurchase which contributes to lifetime value. Measuring call center CSAT is a challenge for a lot of companies. Some organizations employ omnibus CSAT surveys where they attempt to understand the customer’s satisfaction with a number of different and distinct elements. These surveys tend to be indicative of the overall feelings of satisfaction. This type of approach is not very useful when assessing transactional activities such as those generally handled by contact centers.

Some centers have embraced Net Promoter score (NPS) as a single metric upon which they can gauge the success of satisfying the customer. Net Promoter, however, is a single metric. It’s not an unbiased measure by the nature of its terminology. It is a one dimensional metric: “Will you recommend”. Many experts recommend that combining platforms is going to give you a rounder view of the customer than any single metric can achieve.

First Contact Resolution or FCR, is often touted as a premier qualitative call center benchmark. Historically the largest single challenge organizations have faced in reporting on FCR has been the data gathering process and interpretation. Very few centers are able to manage FCR on a ‘live’ basis and as a result are forced to rely on other ‘stand in’ metrics, such as a second contact from the same customer within a defined timeframe. This metric is at best an approximation as we cannot be 100% sure that this contact was related to the previous contact.

Contact centers have a number of other tools to assess the customer satisfaction such as post call IVR, after call outbound, and email surveys. Research shows that most contact centers only employ internal data as a stand in for actual customer satisfaction. Internal quality teams are important elements in many call centers. They generally complete the dual tasks of assessing call quality employing a predetermined evaluation form which highlights element which the company believes to be important to customers; and secondly as a compliance team- ensuring that agents are complaint with company policies, procedures and quality elements (proper opening, verbatim scripting, etc.).

Research and practical experience however shows that there are constant struggles with internal quality including: consistency, proper calibration, subjectivity, and scoring. And of course the fact that the basis of the quality assessment are elements thought to be important to the customer.

The Taylor Reach approach does not make any assumptions as to what the customer may value. We get our information from the ‘horse’s mouth’ – we ask the customer.

This program does not replace your quality department, it augments it. Centers still need to monitor the staff, coach for improvement and consistency. This program simply allows a company to now track Customer Satisfaction, Net Promoter score and FCR on an organizational, center, team and agent level. This assists the quality team and supervisors in allocating their efforts where they can have the greatest impact on the customer.

The Taylor Reach Customer Quality Reporting provides center with a 360° view by significantly increasing the visibility of the customer’s perspective and point of view related to the services they receive from the call center.

Best practice centers measure CSAT based on what the customer determines

The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. has developed Customer Quality Reporting as a service to assist organizations in measuring and gauging customer satisfaction.

The Customer Quality Reporting Program
Taylor Reach works with your organization to identify the anticipated customer response to an emailed survey. The goal is to deliver four to five customer responses per agent per month. This creates a sample size approximately similar to that achieved with internal quality programs. This sample varies by organization. Initial outgoing surveys are 100 per agent per month.
Each email contains a survey and or survey link. The sample survey asks the following CSAT questions:
1. How satisfied were you with your interaction with our call center on date at time
2. Was your call/contact the first time you had contacted us regarding that issue?
3. Has your issue or inquiry been resolved?
4. “On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

Taylor Reach manages all aspects of the program, including:
• Receive the customers to be sampled (a file containing customer email addresses)
• Creating and maintaining a ‘kill file’ to ensure that no customer is sampled more than once every six months,
• Sending out the surveys,
• Receipt, tabulation and analysis of survey results,

• Global reporting. This center wide reporting provides insight in the operational effectiveness of the center from a customer perspective. By aggregating all survey responses we gain the insight from hundreds of customer interactions. This center wide perspective is the customer’s statement regarding how well the organization is performing in terms of Customer Satisfaction, Net Promoter score and First Contact Resolution. Center wide reporting includes:
o NPS,
o FCR,

Trend Reporting. In these reports, we track relative performance of all three metrics over time. This reporting supports coaching guidance, based upon trend performance and specific issues.

Reporting by Agent. The ability to link specific satisfaction, net promoter and FCR data down to agent level is a significant step forward for any center. This agent level data allows for training, coaching and mentoring efforts to be targeted to poorer performing staff. It also allows the results of such coaching efforts to be surfaced quickly in subsequent reporting periods. Agent Level reporting includes:
o NPS,
o FCR,

The costs for this program are outlined below;
Set Up Fee $2,500 (one time fee)
Cost per Agent per channel per month $35.00

Cost Example
In a center with 25 agents who handle phone calls, emails and chats the monthly cost will be $35 * 25 agents * 3 channels or $2,625 per month. The same center handling voice only contacts would cost $875 per month.

All Taylor Reach fees are subject to applicable taxes. All invoices are due upon receipt.
Customer Quality reporting provides a unique and timely insight into your customers. The customer voice is surfaced in your contact center. It is transparent to management and the senior leadership. This visibility delivers significant benefits beyond the call center and across the organization.

Customer Quality reporting tracks activities and improvements and ties those changes to the downstream customer provided data.

Customer Quality reporting is completed by The Taylor Reach Group, Inc, a well respected and established consulting and analysis firm. This independence provides credibility and a perspective that is not possible to achieve internally. Customer Quality reporting can be initiated quickly and with virtually no effect on your day-to-day call operations. It is convenient and continues to operate independently regardless of the internal challenges and changes to a center.

Customer Quality Reporting Quote Request Form
Customer Quality Reporting: True Customer Satisfaction Measurement, Request A Quote Today!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Closing the Revolving Door – Part 2

By: Colin Taylor
So how do we build an enduring structure in our call center that will support engagement, motivation and allow us to deploy aligned reward/recognition programs that succeed in meeting the objectives of the center and the business? But what happens if we can design an environment where the agents push us? What happens when the agent is proactive, rather than reactive? But what happens if we can design an environment where the agents push us? What happens when the agent is proactive, rather than reactive?
Structural design focus creates a push model where staff are motivated to succeed and grow. Structure must be designed and aligned with the objectives we wish to obtain. It is a lot of work to keep staff motivated and engaged. It seems that we are always introducing new programs, pushing the agents to perform, pushing our goals.
So where do we begin our structural design? At the beginnings, by looking at how the agent perceives their role and the progress they make over their career.

The accompanying simplified fish diagram above shows and agent career progression with a call center. At the left they go through the hiring and recruiting process. They start to become familiar with the details of their job and role.
They are introduced to the ACM (Adequacy, Competency, Mastery) or other career paths and understand where they can progress. They receive and provide peer feedback helping them improve. Their improved results are recognized. They move up a level and receive increased compensation.
Hopefully they continue on to have a successful career with the call center. To understand how this framework can be the underpinning of a successful structure let’s examine each of the elements in the career progression.
Hiring & Recruiting
Good bye mirror test. Previous experience is not a reason to hire anyone. Bernie Madoff has 30+ years as a successful money manager. Anybody want to hire him?
Hire people who are best equipped to succeed. Doing so reduces turnover, especially in the early stages. The best way to achieve this is to employ skills and competencies: map your best agents.
Don’t hire others cast offs. There is generally a reason why they aren’t working there anymore. Don’t take someone's word that they have attention to detail or can type, test them.
Establish specific interview questions that will be used by all interviewers. Such as tell me about something you did really well and are proud of, who did you tell, how did you explain it to them, why did do this, how did you do this differently than others might have. Of course interview questions are subjective and present more risk than an objective test, but if we ask enough questions related to a topic area and approach the questions from a few different angles you tend to be able to weed out those who are making it up on the fly.
Job Descriptions
Almost every center has job descriptions. But fewer than 10 percent actually have accurate job descriptions that reflect what is done in the role.
Your job description must detail specifically what the position entails, state what the performance metrics will be employed to measure agent performance, tell them what performance they will need to attain and maintain, tell them who they report to, any dotted line relationships and cite the roles and positions that this job is a prerequisite for. If you are employing ACM share with them the matrix showing what they need to attain to move up the food chain.
When agents know what is expected, how it will be measured and where they can move to if they succeed most will work towards this goal. Their motivation comes from within and not from the outside.
Do not fall into the habit of creating new job descriptions for all special projects or short term assignments. Each job description should include a reference to special projects and of course the “other duties as management may assign” clause. A special project or new responsibilities do not necessarily require a new job description. These are just changes in job tasks not changes in the job.
Career path/ ACM
You need to show them where they can go, within the center and beyond. You must define, document and publish the career path. When you have a map, it is easy to work towards a goal.
Share your ACM model, or other defined career path. Share the career flow options with the agents. Let them know that your role as their manager is to help them succeed, because the more they succeed the more you as the manager will succeed.
Peer Feedback
People can become jaded just listening to their supervisor telling them what they need to do and how to improve. The context changes instantly when the guidance is coming from a peer or a mentor.
A peer feedback program empowers staff to share their knowledge. The agents and mentors will also learn through coaching. Coaching and mentoring benefits both the giver and the receiver.
If you employ a Voice of The Customer (VOC) program or call logging or recording in your call center it is quite easy to leverage this facilitate peer feedback. In short a Voice of the Customer or VOC program employs call recordings either random or based upon specific themes to provide senior management with insight into the types of calls and details of the calls being received in the center. These calls maybe scored by your QA group or not.
To leverage your VOC or base call recordings, segment calls by agent and provide these to all members of a peer group. Your peer group could be all agents in the center if it is small, or a specific existing team or you might wish to create a new peer group specifically for this purpose so that you can mix supervisors teams and/or include SME’s in the group.
Regardless of the peer group constitution, once you have distributed the calls to the peer group you meet once a week to provide feedback to one agent. If you have six people in the peer group and review three to five calls per week this will represent approximately one hour of ‘off-phone’ activity that needs to be included and planned for in their schedule. The objective of each meeting is to review the agent calls.
Now since all agents will be likewise assessed on a rotation basis, people tend not to be overly critical, rather they focus on constructive suggestions…how else could you have answered that question…when I had that question, I replied with…, have you tried… all of these informal coaching sessions can be very productive. In fact often these are seen by the agents as more beneficial than their traditional coaching sessions with their Supervisor or the QA team as they know that their peers are also ‘do-ers’.
This peer feedback should not replace your existing quality program, rather should augment it. Organizations that have implemented Peer Feedback in addition to their existing quality programs have seen much faster improvement in agent skills.
The first step in building a structure is recognizing what is important to the center. In most centers what is important includes: performance, improvement, leadership and coaching/mentoring. Performance is likely the single point on this list that your senior management will discuss with you, but the fact is that without the other three points in place it is much harder to achieve improvements in performance.
So you will need to provide recognition in all of these areas. Before deploying any recognition or reward programs in any of them, identify the metrics to employ and be sure that they will give you the information required.
If you cannot identify specific metrics that are objective, I would suggest you pass on the program. Any program that is based on a subjective assessment will be tainted. Next you must look at other unplanned for outcomes that could occur and if there are any ways for the agents to ‘game’ the system.
Don’t just recognise the best. The losers can get bored and stop trying
So recognise the top performing team in FCR, CSAT, Quality, Sales, Tickets closed etc, as well as the most improved team in these areas, Ask the teams perhaps to nominate one member of their team for a leadership award based on predefined criteria (could be a weighted combination of their teams FCR, CSAT and Sales Revenue). Recognize peer contributions; who provided the most coaching who is not in the QA team, how many sessions did they participate in, the average or aggregate improvement of the agents coached etc.
There are so many ways to recognise the winners which are cheap and easy...preferred parking, pick your shift, wall of fame, lunch with the call center manager or CEO, ride along with sales or service for a day, certificates, posted in reception, identified on the reader-boards (LCD’s), billboards, newspaper, on the website, on the intranet site, the company Facebook page, a Tweet to all.
If we look beyond no cost, low cost incentives and rewards, there are a huge number of options available to you, such as trips, hotel stays visits to other offices, cash, dinners, conferences etc. These rewards will tend to fall into two categories --work related and non work related. Both of these can have value.
The work related ones (trips to other offices, conferences, seminars, dinner with the CEO) all allow the recipient to learn. This learning will help them to improve their understanding of the company or of the call center industry, both of which can pay dividends in their positions, equipping them better to win future rewards.
The non work related rewards (trips, hotel stays, dinners, cash etc.) both improve the recipients’ quality of life, albeit briefly, but also allow them to share their reward with their significant other. This is also a chance to show off. This improves the recipients desire to win again, thereby increasing their motivation to win future rewards.
Both of these approaches can work well. Business related rewards are appealing as they not only reward the individual but also benefit the call center and the business. This provides a better match to the career path of an individual than a dinner out.
One interesting reward was a quality award at an outsourcer/BPO working with Ford. The reward for the highest quality score average at the end of each year was the use of a Ford vehicle for the next year at no cost.
Big ticket caution
Exercise caution however on ‘big ticket’ rewards. Obviously ‘big ticket’ incentives can cost a lot, and can represent a significant portion of your incentive budget. Personally I would prefer to run a number of smaller incentives rather than one big one. Big rewards tend to be won by the top agents. Very quickly less skilled agents will give up trying and pretty soon you can find yourself having just two or three motivated agents chasing this prize and 40 who have given up and are not motivated.
When giving monetary rewards, be sure that these are structured as re-earnable rather than a permanent reward. In some centers they pay a bonus of $.50 or a $1 per hour to all monthly reward winners or those who exceed threshold levels the next month. This however is re-earnable, which is to say that if I win three months in a row I will get the bonus, but if I fail to do win or achieve the threshold the next month, I don’t get the bonus and my compensation drops down to my base level.
Of course, there is still a place for tactical rewards to achieve tactical objective. An example of this would be to increase staffed hours during a known volume peak period, where a bonus maybe paid to all agents who pick up 10 extra shifts in a month. Tactical goals will by definition be short term and allow you to realize the goal in this period.
What I would hope you take away from this recognition review are that there are numerous inexpensive ways to motivate your staff, that retention and motivation aren’t just about money, that you need to structure your retention, rewards and recognition program to recognize what is important and lastly that structure, transparency, alignment and engagement can help you to reduce attrition in your center.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Closing the Revolving Door – Part1

Closing the Revolving Door – Part1
By: Colin Taylor

Staff and Agent retention was a ‘hot’ button topic in the call center industry 20 years ago and still is one now. So how is it that the same issue that ‘dogged’ call centers two decades ago is still a ‘front burner’ issue today? I think there are a number of factors that contribute to this:
• The nature of turnover and staff attrition is such that you are never done this process,
• Successive regimes have built up and eroded successful programs that addressed this topic,
• Regular and expected fluctuations in employment levels and labour availability ‘hid’ the problem for periods of time.

Addressing turnover and attrition is a never ending process. With labour costs representing approximately two-thirds of your center operating costs, it is a battle you need to wage and a battle you really want to win.
In this article we will look at what you can do, today, in your center to reduce attrition. There are many ideas, methods, tools and tactics that you can employ to reduce attrition that require time to implement, develop the business case, ROI calculations and secure funding and management approval.
But what can you do today, right now, at little or no cost that will actually improve retention in your center immediately? Specifically we will look at rewards and recognition, ways you can involve, engage and motivate your agents, today.
Proven techniques
A number of proven techniques that can improve staff retention and we will address these under the headings I have named:
• Understanding Rewards and Recognition
• It’s not just the Money
• Recognition is over rated
• Motivating without money
• Building Community
• Challenges equal Opportunities

Before we examine how to improve retention it is critical we have a good understanding of what our current situation is. Do you know what your turnover rate is? Do you know why people are leaving your center?
We have worked with many managers that have answered yes to these questions only to later ask to revise their answers. It is critical that you know or at least believe you know the answers to these questions as we begin drill down through the challenges of retention management.
All centers today employ rewards and recognition within their centers, some with robust unified programs and others moving through a series of one-off tactics. However many of the centers in both of these camps do not have a good grasp of human nature or what truly motivates people.
The recent recession has caused many call centers to scale back, they have thinned the ranks of management, fewer VP’s per square inch, and have reduced or frozen headcount and budgets. So doing more with less; really has become doing more with none.

A changing staff
On top of the budgetary and economic issues we have seen a change in the agents we have working in our centers. Gen X and Gen Y employees are different. They have different expectations, motivations and a different view of what is important. They represent new challenges in engagement and motivation. You need to approach Gen Y employees differently in order to engage with them.

Finally we must remember that tactics are short term. One off campaigns, contests and incentives will be quickly forgotten.
Wherever possible you want to develop Reward and Recognition programs and incentives that are strategic, that is to say support and align with the goals of the center and those of business. Strategic and structural programs endure and become a part of the fabric of the center.
Having said this, don’t discount the value of using money as an incentive...It is still the right size, shape and color, but it should not be the only tool in your rewards and recognition arsenal.
One fact that many centers have reported to me is that their staff has become more transient. Staff is not career focused…some just want a job and not a career. Some may be working in the center until they find a job...what does that say about their perception of the call center and the company?
Turnover is a fact of life and will always be a concern to call center operators. And like it or not our Supervisors are likely not as well selected or trained as we would like them to be. All of these factors were true in call centers 20 years ago, so has anything really changed?

Recognition is not enough
Time and time again you will hear experts and pundits espouse that recognition is all you require to have a happy and engaged workforce. Unfortunately that isn’t correct. Recognition is wonderful and makes those being recognized feel special and valued, but alone it is not enough to solve retention issues.
By themselves recognition programs have a number of shortcomings: Event and time based programs end, ‘First past the post’ generally results in the same cadre of agent winning all of the time- remember our Mastery agents...they should be winning all the time! If you can not win, you will quickly give up trying. In this situation the reward program that was implemented to motivate and incent agents is actually a disincentive.
The key to long term success and ease of management is to implement programs that are aligned with the objectives of the center. They support the attainment of the objectives and goals established for the center.
For example if one of the centers objectives in 2010 is to improve First Call Resolution by 5%, then an incentive or recognition program tied to FCR or reducing repeat callers or increasing the percentage of customers who identify “fully resolved” on the post call survey are all examples of aligned programs. Programs that recognize those who achieved a 10 second reduction in AHT is not aligned with the objective unless its’ scope is expanded to include a while improving FCR. In fact in the AHT example it is quite likely that this program would actually reduce FCR at least in the near term as agents rush callers off the phone and struggle to find faster ways of doing things.
Similarly programs that incent sales can be great, but if that is not a center objective it is not aligned.
Lots of achievements that can be seen as positive improvement in a call center, but not all of them will be aligned with the stated and published business objectives of the center; reduce AHT, reduce costs, increase sales, improve center profitability, reduce calls, reduce cost per contact, increase FCR, increase CSAT, improve ESAT etc. All of these can be identified as call center business goals. But none of these operates in a truly independent manner. We know that a call center is an interconnected web of processes, people, technology and methodologies and many of these elements are connected...some in obvious and others in far more subtle ways.

Cases of non-aligned incentives
The following are a couple of real world example of non-aligned incentives.

One services company set the center objective to reduce costs...this is likely one goal we are all familiar with. So the center management decided to offer and incentive for agents who attained an AHT of under 200 seconds. For each call they handled under 200 seconds they had their name entered into a draw for prizes. At first the results appeared stunning almost every agent reduced their AHT from 220 -230 seconds to sub 200. It was on the third day however that the center manager noticed that the call volume was rising significantly above the generally accurate forecast. They were at a loss to explain why.

On day four it twigged. They found through monitoring that they were getting lots of complaints from customers reporting that when they called in the agent would hang up on them before they were finished. Closer scrutiny found that yes; in fact the agents were hanging up on customers. In fact some even told the customers that they would have to call back because the agent had used up all of their time for the call – Ouch

In a real outbound example, one company had an inside sales team that sold new business to a large prospect database. Now the database had been cobbled together from multiple sources and had a lot of holes in the information, missing addresses, postal codes etc. The manager determined, reasonably, that if they had better information in the database then they would have fewer orders with incorrect and/or inaccurate information which required rework.
So the Manager implemented an incentive program that paid the rep $.50/ updated record. This worked, in fact it worked so well that once the agents realized that they could make as much if not more incentive dollars by simply updating records versus selling the service, they stopped selling. Now I ask you what should be the primary role of an inside sales team?
We know that other companies and organizations struggle with the exact same issues as we do. How do these firms motivate their staff?

Existing Recognition/reward programs
Before we dive any deeper on what programs could be deployed, let’s look at some of the recognition and reward programs that other organizations are employing.
• Rotating Trophies for Top Performers each month.
• Decorating agents’ workstations whenever they meet their daily and/or monthly goals.
• Managers calls: where the center Supervisor and Managers take the reps calls for an hour while the Rep coaches the manager.- The Scooter Store
• Reps pick songs and select management staff who must perform them.- Freedom Communications
• Call swapping- If an agent gets 100% QA score on 3 calls, The manager takes 3 calls for the rep.- Galileo Processing
• Top performers each month have their Manager pick them up every day for a week and drive them to work
• Earn a chocolate for a perfect call or a call resolved in X minutes. Each resolution (or perfect call) gets a round of applause from the whole center.- Wipro BPO
• 80/20 Elite Team, the Pareto principal rewards the top 20% of agents. They get a separate lounge, flex shifts, first choice of time off and are groomed for management roles. This is run and reviewed each quarter. – Wipro BPO
• Placing a rose on the seat of an agent who has gone above and beyond.
• Campaign pins, like military ribbons or scout badges placed on the agents nameplate on their workstation.- Embarq
• Producing ‘Baseball’ cards of your star performers- Embarq,
• We rely on Dr. Bob Nelson book “1001 Ways to Reward Employees”, it has been invaluable.- The McNaughton Group,
• Earning points for every call with FCR over 90, points redeemed out of a catalogue
• Call center radio, top performers get to pick the songs that will play in the lunch and break rooms

There are lots of good ideas here, but most are tactical, one-offs and some you can see that are a part of larger, over arching program. Many of these tactics could however be integrated into a strategic program.
One other thing you will notice is that almost all of these reward on the ‘best’, we know from experience that these types of programs do little to motivate or engage the ‘rest’.

Tactical versus strategic

How can we move beyond the individual recognition event?
The answer is to move beyond the tactical and develop an aligned culture and community that delivers superior service? This requires structure and design, both of the real world examples I cited earlier shared the design flaw that the managers didn’t think through the process. They also didn’t appreciate that agents are smart. If there is a way to ‘game’ or cheat a system, they will find it and exploit it.
The second part of this article will explore the creation of an enduring structure in the call center that will foster employee engagement and motivation and permit the deployment of aligned reward/recognition programs that meet the objectives of the center and the business.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Self Service - Of Cents and Sensibility Part 2

Self Service of Cents and Sensibility Part 2

By: Colin Taylor

In part 1 of this three part series we looked at the history of service service, the challenges organizations and customer face when trying to interact via self service, the most popular and preferred self service channels, costs and effectiveness and declining success rates. In this part we examine Customer perceptions regarding self service, best practices for ebilling and IVR and Self Service and the Call Center.

Customer Perceptions
What if we could peek inside the head of our customers and see what they really think about self service, what would we discover? Research completed by Paul Hudson found that customer perception is that self-service is associated with speed, convenience, simplicity……and technology – but not associated with offering support, being caring, or personalized. However, the words ‘customer service’ is associated with care, support, personalized, but less associated with being fast and convenient.

Two out of three U.S. consumers surveyed want self-service options when shopping. Nearly half of U.S. shoppers surveyed under the age of 45 want stores to offer self-checkout. Almost 46 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed want stores to offer more self-service options, like self-checkout or kiosks, to improve their shopping experience.

In looking at customer perceptions we have to realize that – 1-perceptions are not static, they can change over time –People who refused to pump their own gas or use an ATM when these SS technologies were introduced happily do so today. And 2-That perceptions are shaped by the customers environment and by their self interest and specifically is something is: A) Easier, B) Faster, C) Less Expensive

Self Service and the Call Center

According to ICMI, 79.5 of centres offer Self Service. Reasons for Implementation where headed up by : operating cost reductions (83.4%) and meeting customer demand for service options (74.3%). Over half (64%) of respondents don’t know if or when a customer has tried to self-serve but then opted for a live representative.

Among the tools contact centers use to support Web self-service channels, in particular, leaders emerged: issue tracking (53%), knowledge management (44.6%) and service management tools (42.3%).
A troubling 43.6%, almost half of respondents, don’t measure customer feedback on their centers’ self-service channels.

Regardless of the self service channels employed in the call center, each center still has to determine what to do with:
 The 13% that opt out of the IVR?
 The 40% who are still on your website?
 The 2/3 that have already tried to find the answer?
 Silo distance between call centre and ‘owners’ of the web?

Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ’s are often one of the first self service tools adopted. If questions can be self contained and completely answer the question they are well suited for web service. 80% of questions can generally be answered by FAQ’s . Yet FAQ’s are near the bottom of the self service tools employed by customers
1. Shopping carts (for products/services)
2. Order confirmation
3. Order tracking
4. Appointment setting/rescheduling
5. Bill pay and funds transfer
6. Personal account access, set up and management
7. Site search
8. FAQ’s
9. Opening and checking tickets

So how do we implement and drive self service adoption? The graphic below illustrates the considerations that need to be addressed and aligned.

Consumer must be ready, they must understand their role (89% of employees are confused by new products or services) and what is expected of them, they must be motivated; either by themselves or someone else and they must have the Ability- skills, competency, knowledge or pre-requisite technology (i.e. internet).

The product must have appeal, be compatible with the target audience, provide a tangible advantage over previous methods etc. In addition the product must overcome inertia, technology anxiety etc.

Drilling down to look at eBilling this chart illustrates a logical process to implement eBilling.

The following best practice tips can significantly improve the speed of implementation as well as the success achieved;

1. Sign up all new customers for your ebill program. Do it automatically and with no action required from the customer.
2. Use an e-mail matching service append up to 20 percent of your customer database with customer’s email addresses at very low cost.
3. Initiate an automated welcome e-mail telling the customer what to expect.
4. Then just begin delivering the bill electronically. A small percentage will opt-out, but the vast majority will accept it. Adoption therefore becomes equal to the number of email addresses you have available.
5. Offer simple bill presentment via secure email as the first step. It’s not necessary to try and ‘pull’ the customer to your website to achieve successful ebill presentment.
6. Take it one step at a time. Achieve bill presentment and paper truncation first. Then drive payment as the next step.
7. Replicate your paper bill truly in a digital format – familiarity drives acceptance. You can add additional functionality later.
8. Use opt-out rather than opt-in strategies. Customers expect you to bill them.
9. Automatic paper truncation with the ability to revert to the paper option. When your customers are familiar with the ebill, turn off the paper automatically – you will be surprised how few requests you will get to re-institute their paper bill (on average, less than three percent).

On the topic of best practices lets look at some related to the use of IVR’s
1. Menu options no more than 4
2. No more than 4 layers
3. Zero Out option at any time
4. Allow corrections at each menu level (consider routing to live agent after 1)
5. Allow to back up or re start at each menu level (consider routing to live agent after 1)
6. No Jargon
7. Make sure the customer can actually do things they want to do:
1. Account balance
2. Report a payment
3. Open a Ticket
4. Track a shipment
8. Test Speech Recognition and Virtual agents before you deploy.
9. Use IVR for outbound calls -
1. Outage notifications,
2. Pre-collection,
3. Planned Maintenance/Outages

Share knowledge across multiple channels to make it available when and where needed:
Knowledge base for web, can be employed by live agents for calls, chats, email
FAQ’s- make sure they are the same ones regardless of the channel they are viewed
Blog- If you have one promote it and link it to your website and help pages if it offers service and self service tips.
Video/YouTube channel- This can be a great resource for showing ‘How to’ and,’ where to find’ information.
You must measure all users who employ self service…those that enter and those who leave early. Only by understanding what calls, contacts you are actually deflecting successfully can you determine the ROI. And only by knowing where customers are ‘jumping out’ of self service can you identify where you need to improve.

A Caveat to the trend to self-service has been raised by William J. McEwen, Ph.D., the author of Married to the Brand. Bill cited industries that have trended towards commodity status have of often been strong proponents of Self Service…such as the gasoline retail business. 40 years ago when each retailer tried to show the superiority of their product, but by 2007 only 9% of consumers surveyed by Gallup believed there was any difference between brands.

McEwen feels that a key to maintaining a strong brand is maintaining contact and interaction with customers. Organizations like the JetBlue, Southwest and Ritz Carleton have long since identified that their staff are the key to a success and positive guest experience. Similarly we can all think of positive service experiences where it was the individual that we interacted with that made the experience so great.

So from McEwens’ perspective if we eliminate personal service interactions we are driving our organization towards commoditization. If we take McEwen at face value a move toward cost reduction through self service is less personal, less connected and less likely to create raving fans or similarly happy customers.

But more personal service costs more. Is their no way of improving service quality without increasing the costs?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Quality Listening is Not a Performance Review

Why the Quality Listening program Should Not be a Performance Review
By: Colin Taylor

Let’s look at the numbers. In a customer service call center where the quality assurance program requires the evaluation of 4 calls per month. The average agent will handle approximately 1,600 calls in the month. This means that the 4 calls evaluated represent only a quarter of a single percentage point. Or put another way we are evaluating and assessing only one out of each 400! How representative was the second Tuesday of August? To employ that Tuesday in August of last year as being representative of the past fifteen months likely doesn’t make sense. Neither does basing an opinion of an agent’s performance on every 400th call. No mater how we try to examine these individual call assessments, the sample size is just too small to have meaning. This is the fundamental problem with attempting to employ quality assurance scores as mini-performance reviews.

Attempting to use your quality reviews as a performance assessment tool misses the primary objective of quality management. Quality assurance is about assuring the quality of the service being delivered. To who is this assurance being made? The answer is to senior management. The practice of assessing quality allows center management to gauge the performance of the center and individual agents within the center. The value to the center and senior managers in knowing the relative performance of the center and comparing and contrasting the performance with previous months is significant. But perhaps the ability to identify how individual agents are performing is more valuable. By knowing where agents are at can help us direct our efforts to improve the overall performance and quality of the center.

The objective isn’t just to identify problems and what agents are doing wrong, but also to identify what they are doing well. Both the areas for improvement; through coaching leading to improved individual performance and sharing best practices improves the overall performance of the center.

Performance reviews have a place and time, and that is your regularly scheduled performance review. The agent’s individual performance reviews may play a small role here specifically related to improvement over time as their skills improved. Remember that a failure of an agent to improve or be able to overcome performance deficiencies is as much a censure of the coaching and skills development staff, recruiting and staff selection and processes as it is of the agent in question.

The correct positioning of the Quality program, its strengths and weaknesses, function and goals is key to gaining a well functioning center. This positioning needs to be known by both the senior management but also the agents. So that each can recognize their contributions and how all can help with the centers success.

Participate in the #fiveideas and vote on the call center topic you would like addressed in the next post. You can vote here

Self Service – Of Cents & Sensibility Part 1

Self Service – Of Cents & Sensibility Part 1

By: Colin Taylor
A 1% improvement in customer satisfaction in utilities is worth 4.6% in market value growth so says Claes Fornell of the University of Michigan, producers of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. So if good service pays such high dividends: why is there so much poor service around?

Most customers encounter loyalty-eroding problems and situations when they engage with customer service, according to the Harvard Business Review;
56% report having to re-explain an issue
57% report having to switch from the web to the phone
59% report expending moderate-to-high effort to resolve an issue
59% report being transferred
62% report having to repeatedly contact the company to resolve an issue
After 2-3 self service attempt failures customers will not try it again

Service failures not only drive existing customers to defect—they also can repel prospective customers. Research shows:
25% of customers are likely to say something positive about their customer service experience
65% are likely to speak negatively
23% of customers who had a positive service interaction told 10 or more people about it
48% of customers who had negative experiences told 10 or more others

If this is the experience with live agents who have been hired and specifically trained to assist customers, why would any organization want to offer self service? So why do organizations want to employ self service? Traditional service with live agents or personnel is labour intensive. It costs a lot to deploy staff in a call center, in retail or even in a full service gas station. If we ever remembered the nostalgic service from multiple attendants we could find ourselves in a state of shock (as was the case in Back to the Future) or fear, as was the case in a recent CarMax television ad.
View the ad here. CarMax TV Ad

Costs Savings, Productivity & Technology
Having said that, fear is not a primary driver of self service. Self service is pursued for other reasons. It is cheaper to have customers serve themselves than to pay someone else to do this. The multiple attendants we saw in the CarMax video have been replaced by an intercom button to press if we have a problem pumping our own gas.

If we offer web based FAQ’s and customers can find what they want by themselves, it eliminates a call and or a live retail transaction, along with the associated labor costs. In this situation agents can and should then deal with more important, complex or urgent issues improving overall productivity.

Of course we can all be guilty of wanting the latest, greatest technology, technology envy perhaps. I recently upgraded my BlackBerry. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with my old Blackberry, but the new one did have a faster internet connection and an upgraded keyboard. It was the also quite cool in my estimation. So I upgraded. In truth the main reason I did so was that it was cool. When asked why, I pointed to the internet speed and keyboard. In doing so I proved that old chestnut that people act upon emotion and rationalize with intellect. So if there is technology out there and we have read how it helped a similar organization, then we may want to try it in our shop.

So Self service can be less expensive, more productive and leverage cutting edge technologies. Cheaper, faster and sexier…what can go wrong?

Self Service almost 100 years Old
Before we go any further let’s take a look back --- Self service as a concept is almost 95 years old.
In 1917, the US Patent Office awarded Clarence Saunders a patent for a "self-serving store." Saunders invited his customers to collect the goods they wanted to buy from the store and present them to a cashier, rather than having the store employee consult a list presented by the customer, and collect the goods. Saunders licensed the business method to independent grocery stores, these operated under the memorable name "Piggly Wiggly."

In 1961, Bell System developed a new tone dialling methodology (touch tone or DTMF- Dual Tone Multiple Frequency). In doing so Bell created the technological basis for the IVR or Interactive Voice Response system. It would take until the mid 80’s for the IVR to become commercially viable for call center applications. One of the first commercial uses in Canada was the Moosehead joke line that was created to support the launch of Moosehead beer in Ontario.

Invented by IBM, the first ATM was introduced in December 1972 at Lloyds Bank in the UK. Again it wouldn’t become a daily event for a decade.

1979: Michael Aldrich invented online shopping by allowing people to purchase product from his computer store, via his Usenet site. This was many years before the worldwide web became a reality.

The term "Web 2.0" was coined in January 1999 by Darcy DiNucci- denoting inter-operability. This is user centricity, and information sharing that gave birth to web self service. It took another 6 or 7 seven years to reach the masses.

More Volume and Less Success

So with self service existing for years and years what percentage of self service interactions are successful today? According TSIA only 39% of self service transactions were successful in 2010. But this is only half the story. The level of successful transactions has declined from 48% in 2003!

So we have a dichotomy here… people are more eager to deal with virtual agents according to Harvard Business Review, we are certainly more accustomed to interacting with technology than we were in 2003. Yet the success of self serve technology is declining. So why is this happening?

In part this is caused by attempts to implement more complex self service interaction opportunities and a frequent failure to properly plan and understand what the customer is willing and able to do.

In the past few decades we have seen a huge increase in self service transaction volumes even though fewer being deemed successful than we had in 2003, there are many, many more transactions today.

Airport Kiosk Check in introduced in 1995 and now represents 95% of all passenger check ins at Continental Airlines. It costs the airline less than 5% of the cost of a live ticket agent to process a passenger at a kiosk . Forresters reports the costs at $3.02 per live agent processing and $0.14 to $0.32 per kiosk processed check in.

Mobile airline check in, introduced in 2009 and ticket purchase are the new self service options on the horizon, with most airlines supporting this self service channel. 25% of airlines offer online check in today, rising to 81% within 3 years .

There are a number of Utilities employing self serve kiosks to deliver services to unbanked (those without bank accounts) and under banked (those that do not have access to online banking and therefore cannot employ other self service channels) customers. Some of these utilities include: Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Gas, San Antonio Water Systems, Arizona Power Service and Memphis Light, Gas, and Water.

The first self service gas station in North America was in Winnipeg MB in 1949 . Pay at Pump or prepay required by Law in BC. NJ and Oregon prohibit customers operating gas pumps…thereby making full service mandatory. Today there are 135,000 gas stations in North America, only 9% of these in Canada and more than 80% are self service.

Self service in the grocery industry was introduced almost a century ago. Yet true self service was much slower to evolve. Only 16% of supermarket transactions were completed via self-checkout in 2010 (down from 22% a year ago). Supermarket self-checkout being phased out by a number of US companies such as Albertsons and Big Y.

So why are adoption and utilization rates are declining for grocery self check out? As with most failures in self service, the problem isn’t the self service itself. In the case of grocery self service, the problem isn’t really self check out. It is coupons and bags. The systems are not well configured to support various sizes and shapes of coupons. Plus the location and method for placing the bags causes frequent problems. It is not the technology. It’s the process! We need to focus on the “Why” before the ‘How’

Customers accessing Web based content increased from 2.5 million in 2008 to more than 10 million in 2010. Interaction Volumes are growing annually by 20% or more according to TSIA. More than 60% of your customers who phone have tried to find the information on your website FIRST. More than a third will be on your website when they call!

According to Forrester Research, the cost of the average Web self-service session is just $1 USD, compared to $10 USD for an e-mail response and $33 USD for a telephone call. Many utilities have expanded their Web-based menus to customers and include more services such as bill payment, bill presentment, eBill signup, view payment history, view energy usage and bank drafting signup. These six services are available on Web sites at least 70 percent of utility organizations across North America.
For some utilities (PPL Electric- a Pennsylvania utility with 1.4 million customers) process more Web and IVR Self Service transactions than they do live calls – 630,000 Web self service, 400,000 IVR self service and 975,000 live calls over the same 5 month period of 2010.

Starbucks now has 3 million customers using mobile prepaid to pay for their coffee. Apple and Facebook are able to charge 30% commission vs. the 2-3% credit card players charge. ‘Mobile money’ is the second highest priority for Google.

Why can Apple and Facebook charge these exorbitant commissions and why is Mobile money # 2 on the Google ‘To Do’ List? – The combined market for all types of mobile payments is expected to reach more than $600B globally by 2013.

Mobile operators worldwide have achieved an average customer e-billing adoption rate of 56.8 percent while traditional telcos lag at just 17.2 percent. In August 2011, EFMA (European Mobile Association) published a report after surveying 150 European banks with McKinsey on mobile banking. Their findings are that banks believe mobile will fundamentally change retail banking within five years (70%), and yet the majority have fewer than ten employees working on mobile and have yet to make any change in their operations to exploit this capability.

How do you begin to address Mobile solutions? First look at the web reporting and analytics. You must look beyond the overall mobile vs. non-mobile usage performance for the entire website. If you examine this you will likely see somewhere around 5% of your website visitors are coming from mobile devices. Look at My Account Login information, Pay a Bill and ‘Contact Us’ pages. Mobile Watch reports that mobile devices are accounting for 20-25% of all web visits during major utility outage events. Mobile devices can account for upwards of 50% of "Contact Us" page visits. And guess what? If your website isn't able to serve customers in a mobile-optimized and highly-usable way, 100% of those "Contact Us" visits through a mobile device will generate a phone call to your call center.

The second item to look at is, of course is your actual customers. If you use a customer satisfaction survey, you can add a question or two about customer's mobile/communication preferences and willingness to complete transactions via mobile-optimized interfaces (mobile website, native downloadable 'smartphone' application or via SMS texting).

PG&E mobile bill payment application has seen double-digit growth month-over-month since its release, and the application is now one of the most downloaded free financial applications available through the Apple app store.

Forrester analysis found that 70% of online consumers are willing to replace paper bills and statements.
Mobile operators worldwide have achieved an average customer e-billing adoption rate of 56.8 percent while telcos lag at just 17.2 percent. There are interesting attributes associated with eBilling customers…eBilling Customers are ;
22% more likely to pay on time when using online banking
6% more likely to pay on time if they use company payment website
64% less likely to phone call centre for online bankers
39% less likely to phone call centre for website payers

Numerous studies have identified the savings when compared to traditional paper bills: eBilling can save 40- 50 cents per bill instead of paper billing. eBilling can also ramp up quite quickly. A Whitby utility reached 15% penetration in 6 months. QuestarGas hit 50k paperless customers in just 6 weeks.

Info Trends Research shows that the majority of customers still wish to receive traditional mail invoices,

However other channels are receiving increasing levels of interest- with 45% preferring email and 27% on website and 6% by text message/SMS, voice mail or social media. The totals here exceed 100% due to the ability to select more than one preferred channels. When Gen Y respondents are examined we find that 51% wish to receive their bill electronically versus 44% of the general population.

It’s not just paying their bills on line, Gen Y respondents also want to receive their invoices electronically… by email, SMS, download or browser based.

Interactive Voice Response systems that tried and true tool for call streaming, processing and allocation can become Indifferent Voice Response when no matter what the customer enters (or says) the path and result all seem to keep them cycling over and over through IVR Hell.

Although intended to improve customer satisfaction, a survey taken by Amplicate in 2010 found that 88% of people hate IVR’s . IVR’s have changed over the years from simple call routing: press 1 for this and 2 for that and messaging, to a self service tool- listen to FAQ’s, report an outage based on phone number, from purely touch tone to speech enabled and today to intelligent AI enabled virtual agents – think Emily for Bell or Ted for United Airlines. Speech enabled IVR’s can create more customer alienation than touch tone IVR’s . This is a result of the higher emotional involvement in yelling into a telephone versus pushing buttons harder and faster.

The most commonly reported problems with IVR are:
1.) Menu options are either too short or too long
2.) There is an imbalance between functionality and usability
3.) Customers can’t find a menu option that meets their needs
4.) Menu options are focused on company needs rather than customer needs
5.) The IVR menu options use jargon that is not readily understood by customers
6.) There is no way for customers to start over if they make a mistake
7.) Error messages blame the caller
8.) Multiple language options may not be justified by the customer
demographic profile
9.) More than five seconds of dead air can cause users to hang up and call back

Yet in spite of the challenges experienced with some IVR applications the overall IVR market size now over $2 billion. Customers are now more eager to have interactions with these virtual agents and more satisfied with the outcomes says HBR (Stop trying to delight your customers).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Call Center Truth Stranger than Fiction

Originally posted by Tom Vander Well in Call Center Humor.

The following conversation was reported to (the customer is) Not Always Right from a telecommunications tech support agent who was setting up a work order on May 20th, one day before the predicted return of Jesus, the rapture of the saints, and the consequential end of the world:

Me: “Now, sir, I have appointments open for the 21st. Would that work at all?”

Caller: “Well, yes, we should be around, unless we get Raptured. In that case, we might want to cancel it. Or, if we don’t, we might not want to cancel it. Not sure which one is the bigger problem.”

Me: “Sir, I do assure you we are well prepared for either eventuality–return of Christ or not. Now, barring Rapture, I have a 1 – 3 pm and 3 – 5 pm. Which would you’d prefer?”

Caller: “1 – 3 pm. If we don’t get Raptured, we want time for looting.”


Follow mw on Twitter @colinsataylor

How Does Your Call center Stack Up?- Want to Know?

Call center audits or assessments generally cost $30,000 to $50,000 or more.
Today the Taylor Reach Group has partnered with Customer Services Audit to deliver the first and only SaaS based audit services called Snapshotz. More than 500 companies across all verticals have deployed Snapshotz and now you can to. Snapshotz recently won a Kiwi High Tech Award- this is a good product and you should check it out.

Measure your call center across 8 sections; Corporate Objectives/Business Processes, Customer Relationship Management, Health & Safety and Staff Wellbeing, Contact Center Structure, Recruiting/Career Development/Remuneration, Training, Internal Communications and Operational Metrics.
The above 8 sections are broken down into 29 subsections and more than 600 datapoints in the form of questions like;

5.1.2 Is voice quality tested prior to employment for agents?

5.1.3 Is computer literacy tested prior to employment?

5.1.4 Are expected recruitment standards defined and documented?

5.1.6 Are recruitment process standards defined and documented?

5.1.5 Who conducts recruitment?

5.1.7 What is the average tenure in months within the center?

5.1.8 Is the average tenure considered the industry norm?

5.1.9 What is the turnover rate for new recruits in the last year?

5.1.10 Does the center conduct profiling of agents prior to recruitment?

5.1.11 Does the center conduct profiling of agents to understand what is the current and optimal profile?

5.1.12 If you answered ‘yes’ to 5.1.11, how often is this conducted?

5.2.1 Is there a coaching and mentoring system in place for new recruits?

5.2.2 Does an organisational career path exist for agents?

5.2.3 Are senior and frontline management staff given coaching and mentoring training?

5.2.4 Is the center promoted as a starting base for internal recruitment into other areas of the organization?

5.2.5 How often are performance appraisals conducted for frontline management staff?

5.2.6 How often are performance appraisals conducted for agents?

5.2.7 Are there specific key performance indicators (i.e. KPI’s) for agents?

5.2.8 Talk time – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.9 Wrap time – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.10 Adherence to schedule – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.11 Number of calls / contacts handled is this an Agent KPI

5.2.12 Attendance – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.13 Competence in use of systems – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.14 Sales achieved – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.15 Customer complaints against agents – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.16 Product knowledge – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.17 Initiative – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.18 Additional on the job skills acquired – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.19 Telephone skills – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.20 Teamwork – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.21 Attitude – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.22 Contribution to development of business processes and procedures – Is this an agent KPI?

5.2.23 List any other KPI measures that have not been listed in questions 5.2.8 – 5.2.22

5.2.24 Are there specific key performance indicators for team leaders?

5.2.25 Coaching skills – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.26 Mentoring skills – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.27 Reporting skills – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.28 Agent turnover – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.29 Sales targets – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.30 Customer complaint resolution – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.31 Service level maintenance / breaches – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.32 Number of training hours / programmes delivered for the company / new recruits – Is this a team leader KPI? (key performance indicator)

5.2.33 Product knowledge – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.34 Initiative – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.35 Ability to delegate – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.36 Contribution to development of business processes and procedures – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.37 Involve team in decision making – Is this a team leader KPI?

5.2.38 List any other KPI measures used that have not been listed above 5.2.25 – 5.2.37

5.2.39 Is there currently a need in the business to track employee satisfaction?

5.2.40 If employee satisfaction is being tracked who conducts this?

5.2.41 Is contractor satisfaction being tracked?

5.2.42 How is contractor satisfaction tracked?

5.3.1 What is the average wage (Use local currency) for an agent per annum?

5.3.2 What is the highest wage paid per annum to an agent without the incentive component?

5.3.3 What is the average incentive paid per annum to an agent

5.3.4 What is the full or ‘on board’ cost for an agent (e.g. wages, recruitment, training, accident compensation insurance and other benefits)?

5.3.5 Excluding statutory holidays how much time away (annual leave) from work is granted? Please state the number of days.

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If you have any questions just drop me a note or give me a call at 416-276-9068.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Servant Leadership in your Call center

Colin Taylor

In the world of call centers, contact centers and customer service centers we are all servants to our customers. We exist to serve their needs and requirements. It is sad that some many centers do poorly at this. The attitude of the call center existing to serve our customers is foreign to some. The point of view that in our call center we are servants to our customers tends to be even more foreign and uncomfortable.

Perhaps the problem is tied to our lack of familiarity with providing service without being subservient.

We too often see those that serve as being inferior to those who are served. This is certainly not the case, ands we know this intellectually, yet our organizations often support this hierarchical, command and control, top down perspective.

The solution, well in my humble opinion it is to embrace the opportunity to serve, and to be servant leaders in our call center.

To be a servant leader, one needs the following qualities: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, growth and building community. Acquiring these qualities tend to give a person authority versus power.

This is a concept that is certainly not new. The term Servant Leadership was coined in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf and has since been supported and developed by authors such as Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, and Peter Block. But the ideas underlying servant leadership are far older. in the 4th century BC Chanakya wrote:

“The king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]” “the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”

Lao-Tzu, who wrote the Tao Te Ching lived in China sometime between 570 B.C. and 490 B.C.:

The best type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware of. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Last comes one whom they despise and defy. When you are lacking in faith, others will be unfaithful to you. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We have done it ourselves!’

Regardless of the antecedence the concept of Servant leadership is ideally suited to call and contact centers. I have espoused this approach for many years and have seen it succeed time and time again.

Servant leaders often share many of the following attributes: trustworthy, self-aware, humble, caring, visionary, empowering, relational, competent, good stewards, and community builders.

Think about your center, in some ways it could be characterized as a ship on a journey. You and your staff are moving through treacherous waters towards your goal. As we know there are many types of i and crafts that could make such a journey. But for the sake of this discussion I would like you to select from the following two choices:

A galley- this ship was popular with Romans, it utilized the power of the crew rowing in unison to the beat of a drum that established the pace.

A longship- this is a vessel of the type that were employed by Vikings as the explored and plundered throughout the North Sea and North Atlantic. This craft employed its crew to paddle or row.

In the case of the longship the crew were freemen they chose to be on the ship and to participate to the goal, their common goal. The crew of the galley on the other hand were chained into place and had no choice; input of option other than rowing to the goal that was established by others.

Now which is your center more like?

Servant leadership in a call center is much more aligned with the longship as those in charge are there to assist the crew in achieving and realizing the goal rather than beating them to try to attain it. Both vessels can get to their destination, but which on would you rather be on?

Call centers are a community of people with individual perspectives, points of view, goals, ambitions and levels of commitment. This hodgepodge lends itself very well to chaos and confusion. Many respond to the challenges of this environment by creating rules, policies and protocols simply to stifle and restrict the energies of this community. These rules can make the group more manageable, but the trade off is a loss of autonomy and independence, ideas and of original thought. Rather than harnessing the unique abilities of the community in this case we have repressed those abilities and forced those who don’t comply out. This leaves with a group malleable, manageable, but uninspired people. The analogy to sheep or zombies leaps to mind.

They are great at following, but do not lead. If this is an apt description of your call or contact centers then you only have one option for sea travel and that is the galley.

A servant leader in a call center on the other hand would see themselves as a servant to the group, whose role was to help the center get to its goal in the best way possible. This creates an environment much more akin to the longship as all members can have input, share their point of view. The role of the leader is to be a part of the crew, by steering the ship, not the master of the crew beating out the drum beat.

So again, I ask which better describes your call center: a galley or a longship?

Regardless of the answer today, you can change it in the future.

Regardless of which strategy you employ, we wish you luck and a bon voyage.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Building a Strategic Plan for your Contact Center

Building a Strategic Plan for your Contact Center

Colin Taylor

In our call center consulting engagements one recommendation comes up time and again and it is often the first one we tackle when working with our call center clients; the Strategic Call Center Plan. In a previous post we examined if a call center, contact center or customer service operation required a Strategic Plan and concluded that it is one of the most powerful tools to ensure alignment between what a company or organization is working to achieve and the support provided by the call center to realize these goals and objectives.

Of course if the company has defined their strategy then the exercise can be straightforward and can be completed as set out in our earlier post Is A Strategy For The Contact Center Necessary?

But what if no corporate strategy exists? Can we develop a call center strategic plan? The answer is that in some organizations you can and in others you likely cannot. In order to define the existing strategy you will access and active participation from the senior management and the company leadership team. Depending upon the size, industry and structure of the organization this may or may not be achievable. If the company however is of a size, structure, culture that could allow for the required participation and there is a willingness upon the senior management group to engage in this exercise then it is in fact possible to construct a call center strategic plan in the absence of a corporate strategic plan.

Of course, each organization is different as are the members of the leadership teams at any organization. Their individual experience with developing strategic plans will also vary, so our approach has been to employ pre-work for all of the participants and to set up facilitated meeting to work through the biggest strategic questions upon which the corporate and call center strategies depend. In these meetings we establish and gain agreement on a strategic framework upon which the call center strategic plan can be built.

So what are these questions? In our experience the answers to the following questions have been critical to establish that strategic framework:

1. Who is the Primary Customer? This question focuses the attention and efforts of the center against the customers deem most important to the business.

2. Who Comes First? The answer to this question establishes the hierarchy or priorities between Customers, Employees and Shareholders.

3. What are our Core Competencies? This question eliminates ambiguity surrounding what we are good at which provides and competitive advantage and what we may or may not be good at, without a competitive advantage.

4. What are our Core Values? Defining what we value and prize as an organization can help to prioritize call center and customer service decisions within the call center.

5. What will we not do? Establishing what we will not do as an organization is as important as what we will do. Strategic limits ensure that cycles and efforts are not wasted in areas that the organization has no interest in pursuing.

These five questions when combined with knowledgeable a facilitator with deep understanding of both strategic planning and call center operations can deliver a highly focused, and aligned call center strategic plan which better enables the call center operation to support the company and the brand.

For more information regarding Call Center Strategic Planning or The Taylor Reach Group call center consulting services, please contact the Colin Taylor.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

IQPC Call Center Summit – Review

Colin Taylor

I spent last week at the IQPC Call Center Summit in Orlando Florida. The venue was quite nice, though there was some distance to travel to find the lundcheon rooms. The speakers convered the gamut for such events and the topic of Social Media was once again prominent. The presentation by Michael Biondo from Thumbplay was suggested by a number of other attendees as one of the best as was the one by Steve Riddell of Blinds.com.

The number of delegates was up from last year as were the number of exhibitors in the trade show and both of these points bode well for the burgeoning recovery. There seemed to be a lot more managers and line staff in attendance this year, however. So while the number of attendees increased it appears the quality and seniority of the attendees declined.

I had a number of great meetings during the event and and also completed a couple of interesting interviews: one with Barb Bleiler of WPS who was speaking at the event, she and I sat down to discuss self service in call centers in general and the WPS call center in particular. My second interview was with Michael Biondo of Thumbplay, we discussed social media and the opporunities of call centers to use these channels to get closer to their customers. Both of these videos are availab on our YouTube Call Center Channel .

I also enjoyed my tour of the CCA (Call Centers of America) facility in Orlando, it was both interesting and informative.

Overall I would rate the event a 6 out of 10 and look forward to the next IQPC event ‘Call Center Week’ in Las Vegas this June.

How Easy is Your Call Center to Deal With?

How Easy is Your Call Center to Deal With?

Colin Taylor

There is growing debate in call center and customer service circles as most organizations (89% in a recent study) strive to exceed customer expectations, that this has little value in increasing customer loyalty. Instead loyalty is more generally derived from ‘ease’ of interaction, that is to say making it easy and simple to interact with the company call center. This can mean offering more channels of communication, (57% of customers found the need to switch from the web to the phone to be an obstacle, that the presence of robust chat might have eliminated), offering extended service hours, accurately capturing customer information and nature of the problem or challenge (56% had to re-explain their issue), and resolving the inquiry on the first contact (FCR) opportunity (62% of customers had to repeatedly contact the company to resolve an issue).

“Simplify, simplify”, said David Thoreau and that is good advice for today’s call center and contact center operator. In our call center consulting practice we have seen many organizations that added too much complexity into the process that created barriers and obstacles for customers to overcome. These obstacles can include:

* Overly complicated IVR systems – remember humans cannot remember more than 7 things and 4 or 5 is really ideal,

* Limited hours of call center operation that force customers to contact us when it is convenient for us and not them,

* Not offering multiple communication channels. We want to be available to interact with our customers in whatever channel is convenient to them…not to us. So add chat, so customers don’t have to leave the web to phone us. Offer email from the website to allow this channel of communication.

* Ensure that the call flow is logical from a customer perspective (related to the IVR point above). Don’t mix sales and service options and queues unless this is what your customers want. If it is not logical you will drive transfers and dissatisfaction.

* Offer easy to use self service. Many customers would prefer to get the answer themselves than to sit in queue to speak to an agent.

* Ensure that your systems are integrated or at minimum that the caller information can be viewed by anyone who the customer has to speak to. There is little that is more frustrating than having to repeat yourself and explain a situation for the second or third time.

* Be proactive if there is a high correlation between a stated customer issue and a follow on issue occurring, share this with the customer, give them guidance or tell them where they can find. This can eliminate the ‘next’ call and preserve satisfaction.

Being easy to do business with is a key metric when examining overall customer satisfaction with and organization and it is critical when viewed from a customer service or contact center perspective. Never lose sight of the fact that once a customer is ‘sold’ and has to contact the call center the role of the center is to protect that customer from attrition. The call center protects the revenue stream that has already been secured, making it easy and effective to get what they need seem obvious, but as with common sense, it can be very uncommon.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Root Cause Analysis in the Call Center

Root Cause Analysis- Why You should be using it,

By Colin Taylor

It always amazes me how call center managers, their direct supports and their superiors often fail to use one of the best tools at their disposal, Root Cause Analysis. Of course if you are always fighting fires it is difficult to find time and or resources to

research what is causing the fires in the first place. As with any fire there is always a cause; a discarded cigarette, an ignition source, lightening etc. There is always an underlying cause for any event.

According to Wikipedia, “Root cause analysis (RCA) is a term used to denote a class of problem solving methods aimed at identifying the root causes of problems or events. The practice of RCA is predicated on the belief that problems are best solved

by attempting to correct or eliminate root causes, as opposed to merely addressing the immediately obvious symptoms. By directing corrective measures at root causes, it is hoped that the likelihood of problem recurrence will be minimized. However, it

is recognized that complete prevention of recurrence by a single intervention is not always possible. Thus, RCA is often considered to be an iterative process, and is frequently viewed as a tool of continuous improvement”.

If we go to see our doctor we would rather that he addressed the cause of our sickness and not just the symptoms. In our business lives, however, we can often fail to see or understand the causal events that are making our lives miserable. So how can we move

from fighting the fires to preventing them? How can we do this without investing in expensive technology, costly consultants and with no additional resource bandwidth? The phrase “out of the mouth of babes” comes to mind. You see I have been practicing

root cause analysis for many years and had developed a fairly robust approach of employing process maps, live call monitors and recording as well as stakeholder interviews. All of which I must say has worked quite well and has stood me in good stead with

my clients and customers. When babysitting my granddaughter recently I was reminded of another approach and one that is extremely effective for drilling down to a root or underlying cause. “Why is the sky blue?, Why do we have day and nights?,

Why doesn’t the sun go out? Why does the moon move around the sky?, Why do the tides move in and out? Of course anyone who is familiar with six sigma understands the ‘5 whys’. Following my most recent interaction with my granddaughter I gained a new appreciation for this approach. Again from Wikipedia, “The 5 Whys is a technique used in six sigma methodology to help determine the root cause of a defect or problem. Often it takes roughly five iterations of asking why to get to the real cause of a problem, although the real key is to just start asking why” The penny dropped, using the 5 whys could be a far simpler tool for quickly assessing the root cause.

So we tried it out on one of our clients;

“41% of all callers were complaining that the service promised was not delivered”,

Oh says I “why would the service not be provided?”

“The customer must complete some preparation in order for us to provide the service. A lot of times they don’t prepare and blame it on us”

“So what percentage of the complaints are real and what percent is the customers?” I asked.

“I don’t know came the response, we don’t measure that”

“Ok, so I’ll ask, why don’t we measure that?”

“We don’t have a mandate from corporate to measure it”

“You said you didn’t have a mandate from corporate. Aren’t there service standards in place?”

“Well yes, there are, but complaints aren’t really covered.”

“Why aren’t complaints covered?” I asked gamely.

“The operations staff doesn’t want us to measure complaints.”

“And why don’t they want to measure complaints?”

“Because since some of the customers are lying it will make the operations staff looks bad and they don’t wish to be seen as doing a bad job”

At this point I had to agree I could see that point of view. After all who wants to look like they are doing a bad job? The operations staff also completed ten of thousands of service deliveries successfully each month. Though not wanting to bail out of the process, I adjusted course and went back at it, “You said there were service standards in place. Is there not a standard for service complaints?”

“There actually is, but we don’t report on it, because it just gets the operations staff upset. They tell us it is only a goal.”

“Ah ha! So these are service goals rather than service standards for complaints. So you don’t track them because a percentage of your customers may be lying. Do I understand this now?”

“Yes, actually you have put it quite well.”

There we have it. Not quite done in the suggested 5 why questions; but the underlying cause for the high percent of complaint calls is the lack of service standards. While management claimed to employ service standards in the case of complaints, they were really just goals. Therefore they were untracked and unenforceable. But maybe I am congratulating myself too quickly. Let’s fast forward a bit through the process:

We met with the senior management team and reviewed the service standards.

We found that many standards were really goals and most were not tracked or met.

We secured agreement that in order to have any effectiveness a service standard had to be tracked, analyzed and managed,

We secured agreement on all standards fairly quickly based upon a 5 nines success rate 99.999% success.

Then we bumped back into the problem with those lying customers. In all fairness it was not me who had the epiphany, but rather one of the senior group.

“So tell me” he asked “is your lying population concentrated in just one sales territory?”

The answer as suspected was “No they are all over town”,

“Good then why can’t we just accept that a percentage of our customers will be less than truthful, because I’m sure the liar density in this town, like others is pretty equally distributed”

Well that did it. We agreed to a meaningful service standard for complaints; accepted the truth that liars don’t all live on the same block. We moved forward and implemented meaningful service standards across the organization.

There were more than a few missteps along the way but at the end of the day we saw the number and percentage of total calls represented by complaints drop from 41% to less than 7%. Of course like any improvement initiative it never comes to an end. I know that today we are still working to improve the success rate for the service standards and we are still looking for those customers who are less than truthful.

A final thought if you ask the question as to why things are done a certain way and get the answer because we have always done it that way; don’t despair. There is always a better mousetrap, a better way of doing things. We just need to discover them. Root

Cause Analysis can be a very valuable tool is helping you to understand why.

Originally Published in Customer Reach Volume 2 Issue 5