Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gimme a Break!

Breaks are often frowned upon in many workplaces. Sitting, tethered to a desk for 8.5 hours a day is a badge of honor. Who needs a break? Who needs to take lunch? There is work to be done!


Breaks and lunches should not be abused. However, at the same time, they should be encouraged. Customer service is hard; answering the same questions and giving the same information over and over again can be boring at best. CSRs deal with customers who are angry, confused, frustrated and even lonely. After hours on the phone, taking call after call, a break is in order.

A break does just what the name implies, it breaks them away from the monotony and the emotion. Getting away for 5 or 10 minutes gives the CSR time to reset and recharge. It gives them a chance to breath and gain some much needed perspective.

Breaks and lunches boost productivity because a few minutes can make all the difference. It's so important that there is even a law dedicated to it. The Law of Diminishing Returns says, "to continue after a certain level of performance has been reached will result in a decline in effectiveness." In other words, if someone handles 20 calls in the first hour, and 20 calls in the second and third, eventually, they'll be answering 18 calls, then 16 then 14 calls." Eventually, there will be a decline in performance.

The law was originally used for economics but it can definitely be applied to human behavior. We've all seen this in our own work lives. We are working on a project and are completely focused, so we decide to burn the midnight oil. Yet, the later it gets, the more distracted we become and the less we accomplish: diminished returns.

Breaks and lunches break that cycle and allow workers to return to the job ready to go. So give your CSR's a break!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shuddering at Should

I have spent a lot of time volunteering at a local job readiness program. It has been an eye opening experience. So many people start the program without even having a proper interview outfit. When I talk to them, a lot of the behavior that keeps them from getting a job is justified with a should.

  • It should not matter what I wear to an interview.
  • It should not matter what my attitude is like if I can do the job.
  • My speech should not matter.

The big bad truth of the matter is that those things matter and any good human resources professional or manager is looking at those behaviors and those very things will keep many people from landing a job ... especially a customer service job.
When putting together a strong customer service team, a manager is looking for people who carry themselves professionally, speak clearly, and who have a positive attitude. Anyone who lacks those three core attributes should not be working in customer service.

Professional demeanor: Looking people in the eye, showing up on time (or early), being prepared (with paper and pen), these are the signs employers are looking for. If someone cannot prepare for an interview, they won't be prepared on the job.

Speaking clearly: Imagine calling a doctor's office for test results or a bank to straighten out an issue and speaking with a representative who mumbled, talked too fast, and/or used a lot of slang. How confident would you be with that person on the other end of the line? Diction  makes a difference!

Positive Attitude: This is critical for a customer service representative. It goes beyond a smile. Does this person have a positive approach to problem solving. Drama is great on the stage or at the movies, but there is no room for drama on the job.

Being aware of what is essential helps on both ends. The interviewer knows what to look for and the interviewee knows what they need to do to land the job. Making the right decisions at this stage of the game is the difference between a good customer service team and one that will struggle. No amount of training can reboot a bad attitude or create a polished and professional demeanor.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Squirrel Logic

You can train a turkey to climb a tree, but you might be better off hiring a squirrel. – Anonymous

As a corporate trainer for almost two decades now, I can safely say that all the training in the world won’t help a bad hire. It’s no coincidence that the people who scoff at me and roll their eyes during a training class are often the ones with the longest call times and the most complaints.

I’ve been asked to teach classes on critical thinking and problem-solving but the real problem is the customer service representative. A lazy representative who has no desire to help the customer, a representative with a bad attitude who withholds her help because she doesn’t like the customer, a representative who sees a potential problem but glosses over it so someone else can handle it, will not be helped with a class.

If a team of customer-centric CSRs is your goal, start by hiring good customer service representatives. In today’s economy a lot of people just want a job and any job will do. However, you want to make sure you are hiring the people who would be best in your environment. Here are some things you should be looking for.

Enthusiasm/Energy: You want someone who is upbeat and who truly is excited about the possibility of working at your company. If someone can’t muster any enthusiasm at a job interview, they won’t be able to muster on the phone or on the sales floor.

Real-Life Scenarios: Think of several situations you’ve encountered with your CSRs and pose those situations to your interviewees to see how they would handle the actual problems they’ll encounter on the job. If you ask for a generic example of their problem-solving skills, a good interviewee will have an answer prepared. If you give them one of your scenarios they’ll have to think on their feet and use some real problem solving skills to answer your targeted questions. Give several of these scenarios.

Look and Listen: Look for body language. Are they making eye contact? Are they interested in what you have to say? Do they look like they want to be there? Listen for the voice. Are they pronouncing their words properly? Do they have a pleasing voice and demeanor? Would you want to engage this person in a conversation or listen to what they have to say?

Enlist Some Help: Most people know they should be nice to the interviewer but what about the receptionist? In a former position, our HR associate would routinely ask the receptionist what her impression of the interviewee was. Were they personable or rude? Were they pleasant or stand-offish? Their behavior with the reception was more of a true gage of who this person really was.

A good customer service team begins with strong customer service hires.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Motivation ... More than Money

Any discussion about motivation must begin with two acknowledgements.
  1. Money is not the only motivator, and for most people it isn't the most important motivator. Of course, we all want to make more money but that isn't all that is needed for someone to be happy and content at work. Acknowledgement, positive working environment, a flexible work schedule ... all of these are motivators.
  2. External motivation is never as important as internal motivation.You can throw money at people. You can send them to motivational seminars. You can buy them self-help books. Yet, nothing will help if the person you are trying to help doesn't want to be helped. The strongest motivation comes from within.
Having said that, motivation matters. Taking the time to figure out what matters to your CSRs is important to ensuring their job satisfaction. However, if you have a big team, you might not have the time to play motivational detective. There are some things you can do overall to increase the odds of improving the morale and motivation of your team.
  • Acknowledge and Encourage: Don't be the boss that only comes around when something is wrong. Let members of your team know when they are doing things right and are on the right path.
  • Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately: When an employee does a good job, let everyone know. If there is an issue, pull them aside and discuss it one-on-one.
  • Give Credit, Share Success: If your success was a team effort, let the team share in the success. If one or two employees went above and beyond what was necessary, acknowledge their effort.
  • Back Them Up: Nothing is more demoralizing to a team than knowing that the boss is more than willing to throw them under the bus when the going gets tough. Be willing to take a stand for your employees.
  • Open Door: Give your employees the opportunity to come and talk with them. If you are busy, let them know but also let them know that you are available for them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Customer Service Training - For the Customer!

We all have customer service horror stories: surly customer service representatives, eternities spent on hold or being transferred a handful of times to people unable or unwilling to help. In that respect, we have all been there and we definitely know what kind of service we don’t want to receive. There is a clear need for customer service training. But, I have to wonder, if sometimes, we could use customer service training for the customer.

Customer service representatives have pretty stressful jobs and if we are honest, we know that we don’t always make it any easier for them. Just out of college, I worked briefly answering phones for a swanky hotel. I was routinely maligned and verbally abused. Of course, most guests were very nice but the ones who weren’t, left quite an impression!

I never understood why someone would think that yelling at me would compel me to give better service. In fact, it was just the opposite. I went out of my way to help those customers who genuinely wanted my help and were respectful. Those who weren’t ran into a lot more obstacles. Being nasty normally doesn’t work. Respect is a two-way street. If we expect to receive it, we should also give it.

Then there are times when we call in a perfectly respectful manner and receive rude treatment. I remember calling about a credit card statement once and getting a woman who was rude. I know I didn’t do anything to her and I told a little joke and her mood changed. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, I try not to take their attitude personally, and I also try not to respond to rudeness with more rudeness.

Sarcasm is an easy way to make a bad situation worse. I was not surprised when I read that a person who receives poor service shares the experience with at least 11 people. However, when that same person receives superior service, they share that experience with just four people.

We need to be more generous with our compliments. Offer a thank you to the person who retrieves your information quickly and courteously. Tip your server and tell him that he did a great job. A little courtesy goes a long way and who doesn't like it when their hard work and efforts are acknowledged?
Don’t keep great service a secret!