Tag Archives: customer service

False Assumptions

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

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

Dealing with Cancellations

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

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

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Key Lessons in Customer Service

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When 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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Connecting with Customers Through the Keyboard: Getting Your Chat Service Right

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-chatCustomer: Hi, I’m having a problem with my bill. I’m being charged 50 dollars more than what I expected. Could someone please help? I’m finding this very frustrating. Thank you.

Chat Agent: Hello! Glad you are chatting with me this morning! This is Matt. What can I do for you today?

Customer to Himself: Huh? Well for starters, Matt, you could read what I typed before asking what you can do! Furthermore, you can take that smile off your face

Providing exceptional service via chat involves more than simply choosing a technology platform. Chat is a distinct communication channel with its own set of rules, and organizations that choose to implement a chat system need to prepare their service representatives to use it effectively.

Step One

After you’ve chosen a chat platform or while that activity is in process, you should determine who on your team is well suited to serve customers online. Chat service providers should be able to type, and they should have a basic command of English spelling and grammar.

Step Two

Once you have a team in mind, you must identify some rules to guide their chats. The following questions are examples of basic considerations you should know the answers to before your representatives start typing.

  • How many chats should an agent handle at once? (In the beginning, nobody should attempt more than one, and even experienced agents shouldn’t divide their attention among more than three.)
  • What topics can and can’t be addressed via chat? Depending on your industry, regulations may limit what your representatives can and can’t say.
  • When will you move customers to a different mode of communication if chat is not appropriate?A good way to start thinking about your organization’s look and sound is to start chatting. Click To Tweet

Step Three

Sometimes organizations implement chat, and the tone of what’s typed takes on a stilted or off-brand look and feel. For that reason, it’s important to think about what on-brand messaging looks like before rolling out the chat platform.

How should a chat start if a customer has already shared information? What words and phrases align with your brand? What words and phrases should providers avoid?

How should representatives address angry or frustrated customers? In what way should greetings differ?

A good way to start thinking about your organization’s look and sound is to start chatting. Visits sites that use chat. Think about each experience: what you liked, what you didn’t, the brand you felt, and so forth.

Step Four

Be prepared for the obvious. Anyone who has worked in service usually starts to notice patterns. For example, if the provider is an online retailer, close to the holidays the organization may receive more inquiries about delivery times. If the provider is a utility, representatives may realize they receive more inquiries about billing on certain days of the week.

The point is to plan for the expected. Just as telephone service agents in most industries should know how to handle the top twenty or thirty customer requests without having to reference a lot of documentation, the same is true for chat. Consistency is essential. This is especially true when it comes to the basics.

Before being set loose with a keyboard, providers should go through both systems training and roleplays that address common inquiries.

Step Five

Determine the extent to which you wish to use canned responses. Pre-written text has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, it’s quick, it’s not written in the moment, and it’s had the opportunity to be proofread by one or more people. On the other hand, canned text can sound canned. Furthermore, representatives sometimes choose pre-written responses that don’t get to the heart of what a customer is asking.

So what’s an organization to do? The answer to that question varies. No matter the option chosen, canned text should sound conversational. If you wouldn’t say what’s written in the course of natural speech, it probably isn’t right.

Chat is supposed to be a dialogue. It’s not a brochure, the text from a website, or worse still, verbiage from a policy or legal document.

One way to help maintain a conversational tone is to keep your text short. Long sentences usually equate to a longwinded or unnatural feel.

A good place to source potential pre-written responses is from your representatives’ actual chats. If your organization is like most places, some people will show a natural gift for chat. Why not leverage their strengths and skills?

Step Six

Learn from your failures and your successes. When service goes wrong, most first-rate organizations address the shortcomings. Beyond fixing what’s broken, the best organizations also invest time in figuring out what went right and why. They then replicate the good.

As with any service interaction, chat can go well, or it can go poorly. The key is monitoring, course correcting, and standardizing success.

Providers and their supervisors should regularly review chats. What can we leverage? Where are the opportunities? What was on-brand? What was off-brand? The questions are essentially endless.

The trick is to systematically ask and answer them. The more methodically you evaluate your chats, the quicker you will capitalize on what works and eliminate what doesn’t.

Step Seven

Chat training is not a one-and-done activity. Needs change, technology evolves, and staff turns over. Ideally, organizations should focus on one or two best practices a week, they evaluate the pre-written text twice a year, and they spot check transcripts daily.

Chat is no longer a novelty, and more customers expect their service providers to offer it. No matter where your business is in the chat-implementation process, there is always room to improve the way you connect through a keyboard.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

“One Moment Please, While I Disconnect Your Call”

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

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