Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Customer Service Coaching

Last week, I mentioned that I am a corporate trainer by trade. However, several years ago, I added life coach to my professional mix after earning my Core Coaching Certification from Coach Inc. Life coaching is usually a personal pursuit. However, there is an entire arm of coaching devoted to business or corporate coaching.

Be it personal or professional, a coach does the same thing for an individual as a coach does for an athlete or team. A coach helps create the plays, supervises the practices, and gives motivation and encouragement (or tough talk when needed). They get you ready to play the game. However, the coach is never the one to get out on the field and play the game. The coach prepares the coachee to play the game.

In customer service, I feel there is a definite place for coaching and I've even seen companies that use the term 'coach'. However, I have seen very few companies use that word effectively.

A coach isn't someone whose job is to tell you what you are doing wrong. A coach isn't an on-the-job therapist or a sounding board for a litany of complaints.
  • A coach does address what can be improved but a true coach helps the CSR come up with things they can do differently or ways they can improve.
  • A coach offers acknowledgement for things the CSR does well.
  • A coach lets the CSR own their own successes and short-comings.
Next week, I’ll give you some suggestions for how to conduct your own coaching sessions.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Colors of Customer Service: How It Started

As a corporate trainer, I have worked for and with a variety of call centers. One of my first post-college jobs was working as a hotel operator for a major hotel chain, so I can definitely emphasize with what most CSRs experience on a day-to-day basis. On the flip side, I’ve been a customer too and I know all-too-well, the difference between good and bad customer service.

While working with a lot of the customer service materials, I was always amazed at the almost exclusive focus on the customer: what the customer wants, what the customer expects, what CSRs need to do to make the customer happy.

That’s what I had to teach, but here is what I knew.
  • Customer service representatives have one of the hardest jobs in any company.
  • CSRs compensation does not reflect their importance within the organization.
  • Levels of burnout are often high as much is expected of them and little is given.
  • Surly, disengaged, or frustrated CSRs do not give stellar customer service.
I couldn’t do anything about pay but I felt there was something I could do to address the burnout and disengaged issues.

Most trainers will tell you a central component in adult learning is addressing the question, what’s in it for me? For adults, it’s not enough to sit in a class because they are supposed to. Adult learners need to know why they are there. What is the benefit? What will this training do for them? How will it help them? What will they learn that they can immediately apply to their jobs?

The Colors of Customer Service attempts to answer those questions. It hits on the usual customer service touch points about hold times, answering the phone clearly and the basics of effective listening … but it goes further. It addresses many of the CSRs day-to-day concerns. 
  • How to stay engaged when answering the same questions day after day.
  • What to do to diffuse the residual emotion that remains after an irate caller.
  • How to effectively organize a workspace
  • Some dos and don’ts for creating a solid work team
I decided to write it as a short business fable (a la Who Moved My Cheese? or The Energy Bus) I wanted it to be a quick and even fun read.  Having survived years of academic text books, through high school and college, I learned the hard way that a dry reading experience isn’t usually the best educational experience! 

Currently The Colors of Customer Service is only available in Kindle, but I am working on  a hard-copy version that should be available via Amazon by the beginning of August! I’ll keep you posted!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Cornerstone of Customer Service

You can smile over the phone. You can have perfect diction. You can be empathetic and a great listener but at the end of the day, you have to have integrity. By integrity, I mean honesty and follow-through. You need to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Last week, I called to make an arrangement to pay a major bill. I wanted to create a payment via a post-dated check that would clear on June 3rd and not sooner. The woman I spoke to said that I couldn't do that. She suggested that I date the check for May 31. When I explained that the funds would not be there at the time, she told me not to worry because the check would take 3 to 4 days to clear anyway.

Having done this before, I knew for a fact that what she was stating would not be the case. It would take one day, tops, for the check to reach my bank. We debated the point back and forth but I refused to postdate the check for a day when the funds would not be there. Since she was insisting on pressing the issue, I asked her to transfer me to a manager.

After waiting several minutes, the manager picked up and I explained the situation. Yet before I could finish, the original customer service rep chimed in (I didn't realize she had stayed on the line) and denied everything she had said. I was livid.

Keeping my cool, I reiterated our initial conversation. She denied it again. The manager was useless and had nothing to say. I hung up after refusing to deal with anyone who couldn't tell the truth.

The next day I called back and had a completely different experience. I asked to date the check for the 3rd and was told to call back on the 1st because the postdated check had to occur in the same month. The person I spoke to knew the procedure and explained it to me. She didn't encourage me to do something that would have been detrimental to both parties - I would have ended up overdrawn and the company would have ended up with a returned check and returned check fees.

Knowing the procedures is critical to good customer service. I didn't work for this company. I didn't go through their training. The CSRs did. I, as a customer, am relying on them to have the right information or at least know where to find it.

Unethical behavior is never acceptable. Like most customers, I don't expect a CSR to know everything; but I do expect them to know how to find the answers.I do not expect to be mislead. I do not expect to be misinformed. I especially do not expect to be lied to.

The customer service representative was wrong for lying and not explaining the policy accurately. The customer service manager was wrong for her lackadaisical and nonchalant attitude.

The sad thing is that this was an entirely unproductive exchange. The original CSR wasted valuable time trying to convince me to do the wrong thing. She created a situation with escalating emotions and unneeded stress. She wasted my time and the manager's time in the process. She created a negative experience that I've shared with at least eight people before posting on this blog.

The second conversation took a minute, two at the most, and I left satisfied that I had been provided with the correct information and the CSR moved quickly to the next call.

Good customer service works.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Do Customers Really Want? Get the CIA!

We hear ad nauseam that the customer is always right. We also know that there are times when that isn't the case. I think the customer wants more than a "You're right." Here is what I think the customer is looking for.

They want a friendly and courteous communicator. Friendly means that you are open and easy to talk to. It doesn't mean you have to have a 5-minute conversation about their day. It does mean that you sound interested and engaged in what they have to say.  It means that even when they are abrupt or rude, you don't respond with abruptness or rudeness.

Courteous means that you speak to them in a manner that is respectful and acknowledges their importance as a customer. It mean that you say "Please" and "Thank you". These are little things but they mean a lot to the person you are talking to. Friendliness and courtesy show the customer that they are valued.

Finally, I said the customer wants "a friendly and courteous communicator" A communicator is someone who knows how to communicate effectively. It means repeating back and paraphrasing what the customer says to show them you are listening and listening is part of communication.Speaking clearly and using plain language (not technical jargon or slang) shows that you are speaking in a way they can easily understand.

The customer has not been trained on company procedures. The customer doesn't have the software or the manuals or the policy guides. The customer doesn't solve company problems day-in and day-out. You do. The customer is relying on you to provide the correct information. I can think of one company in particular where I could call once and ask for information, hang up and call again, speak to someone else and get a completely different response.  Same company. Same situation. Different information. This is unacceptable. The customer is calling and wants their situation resolved the first time. Repeated calls and different information is a recipe for dissatisfaction.

Once you have the information, follow through, take the appropriate action. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Let the customer know exactly what steps are going to be taken and make sure, on your end, that those steps are taken. Do not make the customer have to call back regarding the resolution.