Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Human Touch

It is entirely possible to go through an entire day of customer service interactions and never encounter a human being.
  • In the morning, I need gas. I go directly to the pump, swipe my card, and complete the entire transaction.
  • I go to the ATM to check my balance and withdraw some cash. Later in the day, I'll call the 1-800 number and use the automated system to make sure a specific transaction has cleared.
  • I got turned around trying to find an address. I didn't pull over and ask a gas station attendant, I pulled over and pulled out my GPS.
  • That evening, I'll pay a few bills on line.
  • I have a question about a cable service, so I log into my account, and check the FAQ section to find my answer.
  • I need to buy some clothes and a few books. I won't bother going to the store, I can do it all online.
You get the point.

Since we do so much without human contact, it's important that we remember to be human when we talk to an actual human. Many of the more mundane and common interactions can be handled through some sort of automated phone tree or simple online service.

Yet when I encounter a problem, those automated services cannot help me, in fact, they can be downright infuriating. So when I finally get through to a person, it helps if they can give me something the automated services can't: empathy, understanding and help with a difficult problem.

In a world of automation, the human touch cannot be replicated, no matter how 'human' they try to make the automated voice sound. Only a human can be a human and that can make all of the difference in delivering a positive customer service experience.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Colors of Customer Service

This blog is named after my book The Colors of Customer Service. As a trainer with a decade and a half of experience, I've done my share of customer service training. I've taught a number of off-of-the-shelf training courses and attended a number of customer service trainings.

Of course, the basics of each course were the same but for me something was missing. Sure, its critical to keep hold times down, to make warm transfers, to speak clearly and pleasantly and to show empathy. Yet, the focus was 100% about placating the customer and placing the customer first. On the surface that sounds right but dig a little deeper and you'll see the fallacy in that line of thinking.

A conversation takes two people. An interaction or exchange of information is not a one-way street. Yet, most customer service training was very omnidirectional. I found that no matter how many times you say 'the customer is always right,' no matter how many mirrors you pass out or how much role-playing you do, there is a dimension of training that is missing.

Often times CSRs enjoy training because it's a day away from the phones. However, when those same CSRs return to their desk, there is very little, if any, behavior change.

When I had the opportunity to tweak a customer service training I was asked to deliver, I added the critical component that I felt had been missing. Adult learners are always interested in "What's in it for me?" when it comes to learning new concepts. What can they apply to make their jobs easier or their performance more effective? What can they take away from the training that will make a marked improvement for them? When it came to most customer service training, the answer was "Not much."

I added some simple tips on staying engaged and staving off boredom. I gave them advice on organizing their desk more effectively. I told them how to handle an irate customer so that not just the customer would leave satisfied but so that they hung up the phone without taking the residual frustration onto the next call.

Not only were the participants more engaged, but they left with actual concepts that could not only improve their job performance but their outlooks as well.

Those are the concepts that I applied to The Colors of Customer Service an allegorical tale that takes place in a world run by chameleons that change color based on mood. When Peter, the new customer service manager starts, he's mortified to meet a team made up of discouraged blues, disengaged yellows and disgruntled reds. Through the course of this short book, he'll meet with each team member and change their colors. By the end, he's got a team made up of professional greens, friendly pinks and confident oranges and purples.

Available exclusively via Amazon, over the next few weeks, I'll be introducing some of the characters. While they are all chameleons, I'm sure you will see shades of people you know in them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Improving Customer Service ... Government Style

This article by Elizabeth Montalbano is reprinted from Information Week, October 28th.

New online services from the IRS and the State Department are among those in the works to meet a new federal mandate to improve federal customer-service engagements.

In April the White House by executive order required federal agencies to develop plans to identify steps they would take to improve customer service.
This week agencies are posting their plans online, according to a White House blog post by Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients.
Specifically, the plans are supposed to show how agencies will adopt best practices from the private sector, develop service standards and track performance against them, and benchmark themselves against the private sector to improve customers' experience.
The plans also were required to include a so-called "signature initiative" that specifically leverages technology to achieve goals.
The feds' plan to use the Web more to help customers comes at a good time, as a recent study found that people increasingly are using this channel to communicate with the government.
To that end, Zients highlighted new technology investments the IRS, State Department, and Department of Health and Human Services will make to bolster online engagement with customers.
The IRS is developing an app for its website that will let taxpayers securely authenticate their identity online and then send transcripts of tax records to an authorized third party. Currently, people can request these transcripts online but can only receive them through the mail. Millions of people annually make these requests, and the new app will expedite their fulfillment, according to Zients.
The State Department aims to simplify another bureaucratic process for Americans as part of its customer service plan—applying for a passport card, which will be valid for travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.
The department is developing a pilot so people who already have a valid U.S. passport book can apply for a passport card online by uploading a digital photo and making an online payment. The pilot is experimenting with electronic signatures to see if they are viable for this type of passport processing, which the department does more than a million times a year.
For its part, HHS will launch an online service for small businesses that helps them identify insurance plans to offer employees. Through’s Insurance Plan Finder, small business owners will be able to see benefit and cost-sharing information for insurance plans in their local areas and basic pricing comparisons between the plans.