Category Archives: Peter DeHaan

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.

Call Center 101

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, Editor discusses call centerBy Peter DeHaan

I receive calls and emails from people who want to start a call center or contact center. I used to spend quite a bit of time with them discussing the nuances, ramifications, and challenges of starting a contact center. (They would already be optimistically filled with the upside, so there was no point in covering the satisfaction of helping people, the variety of work, and the profit potential.) However, after numerous such calls, I grew weary of repeating myself, so I put the basics online and simply refer people to www.StartACallCenter.com.

In talking to these inquirers, I would ask two questions. This helps me could provide the information relevant to their goals. The first was, “Will your call center do inbound or outbound work?” This sometimes confused people. On inquirer, who claimed 15 years of contact center experience, responded with, “What do you mean? I don’t understand the difference.”

My second question was, “Will this be an in-house or an outsourcing call center?” This query generated even more confusion. One caller gasped; her nonsensical retort was, “We’re in the United States!”

In similar fashion, when people subscribe to my call center magazine, Connections Magazine, I ask if they are an in-house or an outsource call center. I’m surprised at how frequently this question is fumbled. In view of all this—and at substantial risk of offending knowledgeable contact center veterans—I offer the following:To be successful, the work must be done well. Click To Tweet

Inbound Call Centers

Inbound call centers answer calls. Their agents are in a reactive mode, waiting for the phone to ring or the next call in queue. Inbound call centers are equipped with ACDs (Automatic Call Distributors) to efficiently send calls to the “next available agent.” Many inbound operations are staffed 24 x 7, with their agents scheduled to work in anticipation of projected call volume based on historical data and marketing initiatives.

Outbound Call Centers

Outbound call centers make calls to customers and sales prospects. Their job is proactive. Even if agents work is not sales per se, they still need a sales mentality. They must engage the called party, lead them towards an objective, and deal with rejection; some of which may be personally directed. Outbound call centers rely on predictive dialers to place calls. Agents are scheduled as needed to complete a requisite number of calls within a certain window of time, as limited by law.

In-house Call Centers

An in-house call center is an internal department or division of a company; it provides services exclusively for their own company. The chief advantage of an in-house call center is that greater control and oversight can be given to the call center, its agents, and their activities. An in-house call center can be a cost-center or a profit-center. Cost-centers they do not generate enough revenue to cover their expenses. They need to be subsidized by the company, whereas profit-centers generate enough business to cover their expenses.

Outsourcing Call Centers

An outsource call center does work for other companies. Their business is making and receiving calls. They often enjoy an economy-of-scale that is not feasible for the in-house operation. As such, their margins allow client’s to save money, while they make money. Agents at an outsource contact center work for their clients, but work with their clients’ customers or prospects. Outsource call centers are increasing in number and importance as more companies look to outsourcing as a way to increase service levels and options, return to their core competencies, save money, or all three.

Offshore Call Centers

An offshore call center is simply any call center that is located in a different country, or “offshore.” Offshoring is often erroneously considered synonymous with outsourcing. Offshore call centers are a subset of the outsourcing call center industry. (An in-house call center can be moved “offshore” as well.) A recent trend has been moving call center activity to other countries that boast stable technological infrastructures and offer qualified workers who possess lower wage expectations. This is offshore outsourcing, which is too often incorrectly shortened to outsourcing.

Despite all these distinctions, the essential lesson of Call Center 101, is that to be successful, the work must be done well!

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

A Contrast in Customer Service Outcomes

Customer service examples from Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

In Customer Service is a Strategy, Not a Slogan, I put forward the question: Do you actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it? I then offered a comparison study, based on personal experience in the area of automotive repair. Here is another consideration from the retail sector.

Customer Service Failure

Several years ago, my wife and I went to rent a movie with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the residual amount from a gift certificate on account. Our expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using the coupon and credit balance. However, we were wrong.

The first sign of trouble came in the checkout line, when the clerk could not pull us up in their computer. “We got new computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain. After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you last here?” Our answer irritated him. “Well, that’s your problem,” he announced. “We gotta put ya in again.”

Next, as he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded, I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and we’re Acme Video Plus, now.” I pointed to the in-store sign displaying the name Acme Video Hits. “We got bought out and they voided all the coupons. It happened three months ago,” he explained, as though this was common knowledge about which only ignorant people were unaware; “We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed some more. “That will be seven dollars.”

“You charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing to a sign for 99-cent rentals of older movies.

“But you got DVDs,” he said with a slight roll of the eyes. “Ninety-nine cents is only for VHS.” (Yes, this was a long time ago.) He paused and, saving me from another query, added, “They changed that, too.” An unfruitful discussion ensued; eventually he gave up and summoned the manager when I inquired our credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or computer upgrade.

Then the manager appeared and summarized anew the critical information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk. He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.

Sensing this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand, no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a customer retained. My wife and I, however, left with a far different perspective. The uncaring clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of; damage had been done and it was irreparable.Do you actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it? Click To Tweet

Customer Service Success

It wasn’t until another movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and genuinely welcomed us.

Upon learning we were first-time customers, she explained how everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and the specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor was refreshing and put us at ease.

As we began browsing, clerks would momentarily appear, helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they appeared. This was not like my usual retail experience.

When it came time to pay, Michelle, reiterated the value of membership and reinforced the specials. She even did a successful up-sell—which seldom works with me—to pre-pay for several movies, thereby earning a discount; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with having a credit balance. However, when one has a compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is easy to be successful.

What amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this, she was training two employees. She had the ability to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.

Given these two examples, where would you like to work? Where would you like to shop?

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

Customer Service is a Strategy, Not a Slogan

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, Editor writes about Customer ServiceBy Peter DeHaan

Does your organization make customer service a priority? I expect that it does. In fact, I suspect that the phrase “customer service” is found somewhere in your mission or vision statement, etched on a wall plaque, proclaimed in your marketing material, and oft orated by upper management.

However, as is often said, “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.” So the question becomes, do you actually provide quality customer service or just talk about it? Has the vocabulary of providing world-class customer service been bandied about so often that you—and the entire organization—have been falsely convinced that it is a reality, when in fact it has no basis in truth?

Customer Service Failure

In my article, “A $175 Oil Change,” a local car dealership charged $175, accomplishing no tangible results other than changing the oil. This was the only impetus I needed to return to the trustworthy comfort of my local service station, where I continue to be a loyal customer of their car care services. Unfortunately, the day that I dreaded came last summer 2011, when they informed me that repairing my heat-producing air conditioner was beyond the scope of their services; I would need to take the car to the dealer.

With trepidation, I walked into the dealer’s brightly lit and tastefully decorated service department. As I walked up to the “customer service” desk, a representative, clad in business attire with tasteful tie, greeted me by name. I explained the problem and, knowing their mode of operation all too well, asked for an estimate. With a confidence-building smile and positive words of assuredness, he sent me on my way.

His phone call came shortly after I returned to the office: $1,575! Following my dumbfounded silence, he launched into an extended explanation, mixing mechanic jargon and automotive terminology— which I doubt even he fully understood—seemingly aimed to intimidate me into accepting their costly diagnosis. According to their investigation, a heater problem was also uncovered and somehow related to the AC repair. True, for only $980, I could fix just the AC, but then it would be over $1,200 to go back later to repair the heater.

“Let’s get realistic,” I challenged him, determined to not be victimized again.

The representative apologized that he had no other options and admitted that his “hands were tied.” I declined to authorize the repair and made arrangements to pick up the car. He kept repeating, “I’m sorry; I know I’ve lost you as a customer.”To be successful, customer service needs to be more than just a slogan, more than mere lip service. It needs to be a strategy Click To Tweet

Customer Service Success

It took some time, but eventually I heard about a full-service garage with a reputation for honesty. I took the car in. Sitting in a small and dingy office, with a dated décor and amidst organized clutter, I explained the chronology of events, sharing the dealer’s written estimate. The owner of the garage chose his words carefully, “Well, they could be right, but I think we can get it working for much less.” He had a $185 solution that he wanted to try. Plus, if he was wrong, he would apply that amount to the repair the dealer recommended (for which his normal price was only $800). As far as the heater issue, he found no justification for any repairs.

I followed his recommendation. The $185 AC repair proved to be accurate, keeping us cool through a hot and humid summer; the heater worked as is without incident throughout that winter.

The dealership had talked ad-nauseam about their top-notch customer service in their ads, promotions, mailings, and sales pitch. They even put on an impressive front, but there was no substance; to them, customer service seemed to be maximizing the repair bill. The garage, on the other hand, didn’t talk about customer service; they just did it.

How to Lose at Customer Service

A second pair of customer service stories, from several years ago, are equally illustrative. Although my family is not often prone to renting movies, we did have a membership at an outlet in a nearby town. My wife and I entered their store, with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the residual amount from a gift certificate on account. Our expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using the coupon and credit balance. We were wrong.

The first sign of trouble came in the checkout line, when the clerk could not pull us up in their computer. “We got new computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain. After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you last here?” Our answer irritated him. “Well, that’s your problem,” he announced. “We gotta put ya in again.” He took all of our information and had us sign an ominous contract.

As he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded, I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and we’re Acme Video Plus, now.” I pointed to the in-store sign displaying Acme Video Hits. “We got bought out and they voided all the coupons. It happened three months ago,” he explained exasperatedly, as though this was common knowledge of which only ignorant people were unaware; “We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed some more. “That will be seven dollars.”

“You charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing to a sign for 99 cent rentals of older movies. “They changed that, too.” An unfruitful discussion ensued, but he gave up and got “the manager” when I inquired our credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or computer upgrade.

The manager appeared and with great boldness began demonstrating to his lackadaisical charge, proper problem resolution skills. He aptly summarized anew the critical information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk. He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.

Sensing this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand, no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a customer retained. My wife and I, however, left with a far different perspective. The uncaring clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of; damage had been done and it was irreversible.

How to Win with Customer Service

It wasn’t until a movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and genuinely welcomed us. Upon learning that we were first-time customers, she carefully and patiently explained how everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and the specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor was refreshing and put us at ease.

As we began browsing, clerk after clerk would momentarily appear, helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they appeared. This was not like my usual retail experience when a clerk asks if I need help and I feel compelled to say “no” even though I do. At the movie store, the clerks’ interactions were both welcomed and beneficial.

When it came time to pay, Michelle, with her effervescent personality and evident enjoyment of her job, made the process of becoming a member both pleasant and effective, reiterating the value of membership and reinforcing the specials. She even did a successful up-sell—which seldom works with me—to pre-pay for several movies; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with having a credit balance. But when one has a compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is easy to be successful.

What amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this, she was training two employees! She had the ability to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.

It is not surprising that I am looking forward to my next movie rental. I have even planned my selections for that snowy weekend that winter, when I take advantage of their “buy two, get three free” special! Good customer service is always an invitation to return.

Summary

To be successful, customer service needs to be more than just a slogan, more than mere lip service. It needs to be a strategy, one that is fully and successfully implemented with the customer’s best interest in mind.

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

Your Company’s Future May Be Online

Peter DeHaan recomends that every business have a websiteBy Peter DeHaan

I have long been a proponent of the necessity for companies to have websites. In fact, I view a website as a veritable requirement for success in today’s market.

Organizations lacking a website are quickly viewed as second-rate providers and not worth the consideration of first-rate prospects. With the current concerns over attracting new customers, now is the time for site-less companies to embrace the Internet as a means of marketing and validation.

I know there are still organizations out there that have not yet fully embraced the internet revolution. Sadly, I hear from them on a somewhat regular basis. In addition, a few business owners and managers still say they don’t have an email address. Lastly are those who do not have a website or who state that “it’s not up yet.”

How can these companies serve customers, market to prospects, and stay in business? If you are one of these organizations, take action today to embrace the Internet before it is too late, with your business paying the price.

Website Basics

Although it can cost thousands of dollars to have a whiz-bang, high-tech, professional-looking Website designed, there are less costly options. After all, we don’t all drive a Mercedes-Benz—sometimes a Chevy will do. You can make an inexpensive website yourself for under $100. The goal is for it to not look cheap. Most hosting companies offer do-it-yourself website templates that you—yes, you—can customize to provide a basic, yet professional-looking site. However, there are a few beginner mistakes that you will want to avoid: It doesn't matter if you are a beginner in this area, have experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace. Click To Tweet

  • Stay away from line art graphics or any artwork that looks like it was homemade.
  • If you need to resize a graphic, be sure to keep it proportional. Otherwise, it will distort, either being stretched or squished.
  • Take time to proofread the text, verify spelling, use correct grammar, and employ commonly accepted punctuation. Have others double- and triple-check your work.
  • Don’t go crazy with different fonts. Use one or two at the most.
  • Avoid uppercase text; people will feel like you’re screaming at them. (The one possible exception might be listing your company name at the top of the page.)
  • You might be tempted to insert a page counter or some other nifty gadget. Resist that urge. Just because those features are available doesn’t mean you should use them.
  • Although not available with predesigned Website templates, you might think you need to have a flashy animation on your home page. Don’t go there; the only ones who will be impressed will be you and the person who designs it. Everyone else will be irritated, and the search companies will dismiss you.
  • Don’t piggyback off someone else’s domain name; get your own. This can be inexpensively obtained from your hosting company. While you’re at it, set up an email account using that domain name. Post that email address on your Website. If need be, you can have this new address forwarded to an existing email account.

Search Engine Optimization

Now that you have a functioning website (which avoids all the beginner errors), you want people to find it. Aside from telling everyone you meet and listing it on every piece of literature and stationery that you have, you need search engines to notice and appreciate your website. This is Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Although this is more of an art form than an exact science (since the search engine companies closely guard their methodologies), here’s some generally agreed upon SEO basics:

  • Each page of your site needs a title tag, and each page’s title should be different.
  • Each page also needs a description tag; again each one should be different from the other pages.
  • Add reasonable and accurate keywords. Although most experts say Google ignores them, some search engines will use them, so it’s a good idea. Again, they should not be the same for each page.
  • Although some people still value reciprocal linking (that is, “I’ll link to your site if you link to mine”), the conventional wisdom is that in most cases this no longer helps and may actually hurt your visibility with the search engines.
  • Most of the companies that guarantee you top search engine placement for a fee, fail to deliver or can’t do so for the long-term. There are experts who can do this, but they are in a minority and their skill is often hard to substantiate.

Search Engine Marketing

If you want people finding your site and contacting you, the next step to consider might be Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This is when you sign up with Internet advertising companies such as Google, Yahoo, or a host of others. Basically, you tell them how much you are willing to pay each time a person clicks on your ad, and they place your ad on Websites where potential prospects frequent. If you go this route, proceed slowly and carefully until you have a good understanding of how this works. I have heard stories of novices spending hundreds of dollars in a couple of hours with not much to show for it. A key thing to remember is that just because they clicked on a link that points to your Website does not mean they will become a customer—or even contact you.

Given the current concerns over the economy and finding new business, organizations need to do everything they can to help them succeed. The Internet is a cost-effective and increasingly popular method. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner in this area, have experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace.

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