Category Archives: Peter DeHaan

False Assumptions

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

When people ask what I do for a living, I reply that “I publish magazines and websites for the call center industry.” Their responses are varied, as well as interesting. For some people, their eyes immediately glaze over, and they change the subject.

Others key in on the word “publish,” offering to submit their writing, regardless of suitability. Incredibly, I have been asked to publish short stories, poems, and even song lyrics in my trade magazines! Another group focuses on the word “website” and enthusiastically shares their latest triumph, as in, “Yea, I’m uniquely tapping Java to develop scalable websites guaranteed to revolutionize the vertical widget industry.” That’s when I change the subject.

The Call Center Industry

For those who zero in on the phrase “call center,” their queries predictably fall into one of four areas. The first is an unthinking reaction from those who wish to blame me for the dinnertime interruptions they receive via the telephone. This provides a chance to engage in some one-on-one industry PR work.

Unsolicited Calls

First, I agree with them that unsolicited calls are annoying. Then I assure them that I don’t encourage the calling of people who wish not to be contacted. These pronouncements surprise them. From that vantage, I can then attempt to educate them about the laws and their rights. Soon they’re nodding in agreement—though perhaps just to get me to stop talking.

Voice Mail

The second category of responses is from those who associate a particular call center technology with the industry. They may interject, saying, “Well, I just keep pressing zero until I get a real person,” or “Why do I have to enter my account number and then give it again when the person answers?” Again, I have an opportunity to educate.

Do Not Call

The next group wants to grill me about the “Do-Not-Call” (DNC) legislation. This response is especially prevalent after a deluge of automated political calls being made as a prelude to elections.

My inquisitors snicker with resigned acquiescence as I share that the politicians exempted themselves from the calling restrictions that they foisted upon everyone else. I am able to explain about “existing business relationships” and inform them that they can request to be added to the company’s internal “do not call” list. At this point, I’m not sure that they’re listening, perhaps they just want to vent—and I am the handy target.

Accents

The fourth response is the most common and perplexing. They make a statement along the lines of “I never can understand those people in other countries.”

“How do you know that the agent was in another country?” I probe. “Did you ask them?”

“Well, no, but I can tell ’cause they have an accent,” is their emphatic retort.

Their false assumption has snared them. They think that if an agent has an accent, they must be offshore; conversely an agent with no discernible accent must be in the United States. Ergo only offshore agents have hard to understand accents. I have never talked with an offshore agent without an accent— apparently if someone has no accent, I subconsciously assume that they're US-based! Click To Tweet

I have conversed with heavily accented agents who are US-based—some I understood and others were a struggle. Conversely, I have talked to accented offshore agents—some I acceptably communicated with, while others were a futile effort.

However, I have never talked with an offshore agent without an accent—apparently if someone has no accent, I subconsciously assume that they’re US-based!

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Dealing with Cancellations

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

How does your company handle cancellations? Do you allow anyone to process terminations, quickly and without hassle? Or do you have a specific “cancellation” strategy, with a team assigned and trained to follow an exact protocol? Either approach has its strengths and limitations; both fall short of the customer’s best interest.

I once signed up for a credit card simply because of its rewards package. Although I built up a great number of points, I never redeemed them. Over time, my priorities changed and I realized I would never use them. I called to see what else they could offer. Was there another reward incentive I could switch to? Could I get cash back? How about merchandise? Are there other options they could offer?How does your company handle cancellations? Click To Tweet

The answers were “no,” “no,” “no,” and “no.”

“I guess my only option is to cancel the card,” I ventured.

“Is that what you want to do?” the agent replied matter-of-factly.

“Let me think about it,” I evaded, seeking to delay the decision.

It took awhile, but eventually all uses for that card were switched to another. I called again, this time to cancel. I was transferred to the cancellation department. This agent feigned shock at my intent and tried to dissuade me. She offered a lower rate, better terms, and more flexibility on the rewards package. Her arguments would have retained me as a cardholder, if not for the fact that they were offered too late. I cancelled the card.

This scenario has repeated itself on numerous occasions: with my cell phone provider, satellite and cable service, long distance, and local phone service. Each time, the agents answering the phone are not empowered to take steps to retain me as a customer. Each time I make careful plans, arranging for service from their competitor. When I call back to terminate my service; the cancellation department would step in and suddenly sweeten the deal. Often they offer the concessions that I wanted—and which I suspected were available all along—but not presented by their front line staff.

They express their regrets over my decision and ask me to call back if I change my mind. If only their solutions had been offered earlier in the process. Then they could have retained my patronage and saved me the aggravation of switching.

The solution seems obvious. Just pretend you are going to cancel so that you can get to the “cancellation” department on the initial call and obtain their best deal. I tried that and it went like this:

“I want to cancel my service.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let me see what I can do.” I wait, expecting to be transferred. After a few seconds, the agent announces, “Okay, your service has been cancelled. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

I am too embarrassed to ask that it be reinstated, so I thank the agent and hang up.

In the first examples, the staff was trained and empowered to retain me as a customer were interjected too late into the process; my decision had been made, the alternative in place, and my call was mere formality to end the process.

In the latter scenario, the agent was empowered, but apathetic and untrained. She was highly efficient, but completely ineffective.

There has to be a better way.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

By Peter DeHaan

Key Lessons in Customer Service

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorWhen my internet service goes down, I seldom call customer service to report it. I simply don’t have the time to waste with my provider’s nonsensical troubleshooting process. Instead I usually wait in hope that someone else will report the outage and achieve a timely resolution.

This hasn’t always been my approach. When I first had internet service, I would dutifully call customer service at the first sign of an outage.

However, their agents’ poor customer service skills and time-consuming nature of their queries left me feeling angry and frustrated. The agents acted as though the problem was my fault and proceeded on the assumption that a correction would be found by reprogramming my computer or repeatedly resetting my modem. And after several years of service working, asking if I installed the modem correctly is ludicrous.

In essence, they operate on the assumption that I and my computer are guilty until proven innocent. Feeling remorse over forcing me invest up to an hour of my time before a trouble ticket can taken is seemingly beyond their comprehension. Even more astounding is that apologizing for an outage is apparently not part of their protocol.

Even if the customer is at fault, agents should back into that conclusion, assuming that there is a network problem until a contrary conclusion can be correctly ascertained. Click To Tweet

To compound the situation, in the process of “troubleshooting” they instruct me to make all manner of changes, which would result in leaving me unable to connect to the Internet once access is restored. Never once have they given any instruction on returning my computer to its original configuration. They even neglect to suggest that I make note of the original settings so that I can later restore them. Fortunately, I am wise to their foolish ways.

In a monopoly environment this indifferent attitude would be understandable, albeit untenable. However, I have options and will select the provider that irritates me the least. Notice that I did not say that I seek a provider with excellent service, or who delights the customer, or that has first-call resolution. My customer service expectations are so low that I merely desire to minimize my annoyance.

I will not even suggest that my phone company pursue customer service best-practices. They can go a long way towards improvement by merely adopting a few commonsense ideas.

Take Responsibility

The people I talk to act as though their network is impervious and the blame lies with me. Even if the customer is at fault, agents should back into that conclusion, assuming that there is a network problem until a contrary conclusion can be correctly ascertained.

Isolate the Problem

The final troubleshooting tests they perform is to connect to my modem. This should be the very first test. If they can connect and run diagnostics, then the problem resides on the consumer’s end. If they can’t access the modem, there is no need to harass the customer with needless tests and counterproductive reprogramming.

Apologize

Is it that difficult to say “I’m sorry that you are experiencing problems?” Even more germane would be to say “I’m sorry that I hopelessly messed up your computer configuration and have no idea how to put it back to the way it was.” Of course, if they followed the two prior suggestions, the first apology would suffice, and the second would be unnecessary.

Use Customer Relationship Management Software

If they had a functional Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the agents could readily determine that every time I call it was because of an outage and never once have I called because of a problem on my end. They should be able know that I have a history of being credible and not wasting their time—even though they have a history of wasting mine.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

“One Moment Please, While I Disconnect Your Call”

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

The track record of receptionists successfully transferring calls is not good. In fact, based on my experience, successful call transfers actually occur less than half the time. The most common result is being disconnected.

The receptionist attempts to transfer your call, but there is no ringing and no music on hold. As you listen to silence, there is that growing realization that your call will soon come to a premature end. The return to dialtone or the automated instruction to “hang up and try your call again,” confirms that you have been summarily disconnected. Although this could be the result of technical problem, it is much more likely the consequence of human error.

When a disconnected caller calls back, how has their mood changed? The happy caller has likely become irritated, the irritated caller has become irate, and the irate caller has become abusive. None of these outcomes are necessary, and the additional stress to agents is unwarranted.

You can tip the odds in your favor, by following some common sense, but often overlooked, steps:If you pursue first-call resolution, the need to transfer callers is greatly reduced. Click To Tweet

Training

The proper transfer procedure must be covered in training. Additionally, the trainee should be able to experience the transfer from three different perspectives: the caller who is being transferred, the receptionist doing the transfer, and the person receiving the transfer. All too often, receptionists are deprived of experiencing the call transfer process from the standpoint of either the caller or the recipient. But doing so gives them a better understanding how errors effect others and provides a means for some much needed empathy.

Practice

To master a skill, it must be practiced until it becomes rote. Ample practice should occur prior to attempting it with a real caller. Plus, for receptionists not frequently transferring calls, ongoing practice is wise.

Consistency

Most telephone systems provide multiple ways to transfer calls. Pick the most universally applicable method and teach it to all employees. Get the trainers to concur that this standard method will be taught and no others. Finally, discourage receptionists from using different approaches, seeking shortcuts, or sharing alternative methods with others.

Methodology

Decide on one philosophy for transferring calls. A blind transfer is the quickest, but least professional. With it the receptionist dials the number, connects the caller, and hangs up before the call is answered. Although common, it is not even close to a “best-practice.” In an announced transfer, the receptionist dials the number, tells the recipient about the call, connects the caller, and then hangs up. A confirmed transfer is one step beyond an announced transfer, in which the receptionist stays connected long enough to insure that the recipient can address the caller’s needs.

Verification

Transfer lists need to be periodically checked. Not just read, but actually dialed. Over time, lists become outdated; frequent verification is on the only sure way to make sure that receptionists have accurate information. During a slower time of the day or week is an ideal time to assign an employee to the task of testing each number on the transfer list. Less you write this off as too time consuming or not cost-effective, consider the cost of dealing with an irate or abusive caller who calls back after being cut off. Even worse, what if they never call back?

First-Call Resolution

If you pursue first-call resolution, the need to transfer callers is greatly reduced. Perhaps that is the best prescription of all.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Dealing with Change

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Change happens. And the rate of change seems to be accelerating. We experience change at home, at work, and in our community. Change happens in our country and around the world.

When considering change, there are three general truths: change is opposed, change is loss, and change is mourned:We might not escape change, but we can alleviate some of the negative reactions to change. Click To Tweet

Change is opposed

Change represents a deviation from the status quo, from what can be expected, regardless if it is good or bad. Change represents moving from the known to the unknown. Therefore, it is normal that people will oppose change and resist it to whatever degree they can. This might mean clinging to the old ways, lobbying against the change, or rebelling by acting out, offering resistance, or passive-aggressive behavior.

Change is loss

All change means giving up something—even if it is something bad. Many people view change as a “zero-sum-game,” which implies that there are winners and losers. When things change, they assume that someone else must have won and therefore they have lost. This assumption is natural when the change that is taking place was not their idea.

Change is mourned

When something is lost, that loss is lamented and grieved. Sometimes the loss is perceived (it didn’t happen) or potential (it might happen), whereas other times it is real and tangible (it did happen). Regardless, the emotional reaction to that loss is mourning. Just as there are steps to grieving (be it five, seven, or ten), mourning the loss wrought by change will progressively proceed down a similar path.

However, it doesn’t need to be this way. Change can be accepted if it is understood, occurs in small increments, and is within the control of those affected by it. This trio of suggestions may not offer much relief when we’re confronted with global or national upheaval that is foisted upon us, because those situations are not within our control, nor do they generally occur in small doses—though we can seek to understand them. But this advice is helpful when responding to changes in our personal lives, like children marrying and moving on, or work situations, such as layoffs, job cuts, restructuring, office closings, and wage freezes or pay cuts.

In these circumstances, we can make a reasonable and successful effort to accept and even embrace change:

Change that is understood

We can best accept and deal with change if we understand it. That doesn’t mean we need to agree with the reasons for the change, merely that we comprehend why the decision for change was made.

Change in small increments

Change made over time and in small doses has a much better chance of acceptance and becomes more manageable. This gives time for a change to sink in and adjust mentally and emotionally as the change transpires.

Change within control of those affected by it

Whenever people can experience some degree of control over a change, they are more likely to handle it positively. Providing options is significant, as is allowing people to have a degree of input into the change.

A final consideration is directed at those who make decisions for change. Yes, it will be opposed, viewed as loss, and mourned, but you can take steps to greatly minimize those responses by communicating the reasons necessitating the change, making the change in small increments over time, and providing as much control as possible to those who will be most affected by it.

In the end, we might not escape change, but we can alleviate some of the negative reactions to change. That is how to succeed at dealing with change.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.