Saturday, December 17, 2011

UNDERSTANDING CUSTOMERS | Excellent Customer Service

Satisfied the customer is depends very much on the ability of the CSR to develop rapport. This requires CSRs to quickly recognize the type or personality of customer they are working with and the benefits of doing this are:
  • The customer becomes more relaxed.
  • It makes the interaction smoother and o en more easy for both parties.
  • The customer’s service experience is increased.
Customers come in all shapes and sizes and for this reason it is necessary to respond to their individual circumstances:
If the caller:
Your response should be:
Is angry
Has an emergency
Is friendly
Is natural
Is overburdened
Set deadlines
There has been much research conducted into personality types and there are many descriptions of the types of customers who might be found on the telephone: friendly, anxious, controlling, detailed, determined, etc. One of the most popular tools for describing personalities is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on the work of the psychologist Carl Jung. The MBTI maintains that each person has a primary mode of operation within the following four categories:
  1. a person’s flow of energy;
  2. how a person takes in information;
  3. how a person prefers to make decisions;
  4. a person’s preferred day-to-day lifestyle.
Contained within each of these categories people prefer to be either:
  • extraverted or introverted;
  • sensing or intuitive;
  • thinking or feeling;
  • judging or perceiving.
And, of course, people’s behaviour changes depending on how they are feeling and the circumstances.

Handling complaints

Where a customer is enquiring about an action that would appear not to have been completed, CSRs, ideally, should not respond, ‘I don’t know what caused that. I am going to put you on hold while I find out who was responsible. Is that all right?’ Or, ‘That’s Stephen’s responsibility, let me explore what went wrong. Please hold.’
Instead, it is be er to apologize and explain that you will investigate the specific circumstances. At the time of the call the full circumstances may not be known, eg delivery of the product/service may have been a empted but the customer was not at home at the agreed time. Blame should not be apportioned and a more suitable response could be: ‘I’m very sorry you didn’t receive your package. Let me investigate and try to find out what happened. Would you like to hold or shall I call you back as soon as I have more details? This should be within 15 minutes.’

Handling angry customers

Customers normally become angry for a reason and this must be addressed in order to bring the dissatisfaction to a conclusion and hopefully retain the loyalty of the customer. However, before this happens it is sometimes necessary to allow customers to ‘let off steam’ before their situation can be properly investigated. Generally, their frustration will build up before they make the call and this is likely to increase in the early stages of the interaction. During this time it is be er to just listen, because when people are angry reason and logic are not at the top of their minds.
Gradually people will calm down and it is at this stage that problem solving can occur through the use of appropriate questions. Once the problem is understood a solution should be proposed and it is important to ensure that the customer is satisfied with it.
The final stage is to ensure that the action required to rectify the situation is carried out. Taking responsibility for ensuring the resolution is a key role for advisers, but the problem is that o en they are not the person delivering the solution nor have they responsibility for the computing system design.

Figure 1: Level of service and customer satisfaction

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The Dutch operations of an international mobile telephony company implemented a unique training programme for experienced CSRs called ‘pit stop’. The analogy with a Formula One pit stop is clear: the company sees CSRs as sitting at the steering wheel, wanting to take their laps as quickly as possible in order to win the race. However, customer satisfaction surveys show that speed is not always the best way to work with customers because quantity and quality of customer satisfaction are not always as they should be. Therefore, the company takes CSRs off the track and fine tunes everything.
The idea of the pit stop, therefore, is to take a whole team of CSRs, including their team leader, out of their normal routine and place them in the pit stop for a week. The pit stop works on a problem at the team level, but actions are differentiated towards individual team members. This means that interventions take place at both individual and group level. The pit stop is a full-time programme of 40 hours; no exception is made for part-time workers. CSRs describe the programme as being very intensive, but they also indicate that they like it very much.
The objective of the pit stop is to create a ‘Wow’ experience for CSRs in order to exceed customer expectations. It should lead to an increase in their empowerment, proactive behaviour, and loyalty, while at the same time generating revenue. The pit stop programme is structured as follows:
Monday: Kick off session by pit stop manager and focus on individual CSRs: feedback from CSRs on what is blocking them (content, process, tooling), and talks with CSRs on what motivates them.
Tuesday: Communication training in order to sharpen the analytical skill of CSRs (questioning techniques).
Wednesday: Attitude training (from reactive to proactive behaviour).
Thursday: Customer experience management: feed-back session with customer experience management department and short behavioural training to give and receive feedback to and from customers, colleagues and management.
Friday: Evaluation and making appointments with the team leader on how to establish changes and how to follow up on the training.
In the morning, two hours are spent discussing a theme, then this is applied in practice. At the end of the day, an evaluation is made: what did CSRs learn? Some training in the pit stop is e-learning, whereas other training is in class. The telecom company developed the pit stop training itself. Three trainers are available to train on communication and attitudes, five trainers handle training in knowledge on products and systems. More specifically, the pit stop programme is designed to train both soft skills and technical skills. Soft skills include:
  • analytical skills (understanding customer behaviours by listening and questioning);
  • showing empathy (emotional awareness and response);
  • providing guidance (ability to communicate at a personal and professional level);
  • tone of voice (knowledge and adoption of differences between positive and negative language).
Technical skills include:
  • being brand ambassadors (excellent knowledge of products and services);
  • escalation (organizational structure);
  • follow-up (understanding system navigation skills to effectively manage customer enquiries);
  • resolving the problem/request (understanding of processes and relevance). When CSRs are back on the work floor, they have to meet the appointments agreed upon during the final day of the pit stop. Every two months the team leaders make a report and CSRs fill in a short questionnaire with 10 questions about the use of skills learnt in the pit stop. In general, the pit stop is evaluated on customer satisfaction, employee motivation and operational KPIs (key performance indicators). The results of these evaluations show that:
  • There is an increase in customer satisfaction (speed of problem resolution, friendliness, expertise, problem solved during first contact, service exceeds expectations).
  • There is an increase in employee motivation (work situation, work climate, empowerment, knowledge, coaching, influence over work situation, pleasant feeling, being motivated).
  • Operational KPIs improve: higher occupancy (how much time can be spent on customer contacts), more first-time resolution, average handling time (this increases, but is expected to decrease over time), and less repeated calls of the same customer on the same issue.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


The content, duration, scope and style of most customer service training varies considerably and is o en integrated with a number of organizational development initiatives: front-office design, market research, new technologies, organizational structure and strategy and, importantly, the customer.
There are also differences in customer service training with some being comprehensive and systematic through a tailored approach that is incorporated within employee development and reward systems. Other programmes, however, might involve a major corporate ‘event’, be bought off the shelf, or have employees sent on residential or oneday programmes. The focus of programmes also varies from developing techniques and a service culture, to changing attitudes 
This movement towards character formation rather than training is said by some writers to represent a ‘sea change’ in organizational practices and requirements. Rather than imposing bureaucratic practices, employees are empowered to use discretion which then personalizes the customer interaction and provides a ‘new authenticity’.
In effect, there are two models for handling calls. The first involves a very structured and systematic approach that restricts the adviser to a limited range of responses – this is the ‘production line’ approach. The second approach is to develop skills and attitudes and to give advisers a considerable degree of personal freedom in their handling of calls. This approach is o en used for more complex and high-value interactions and is called the ‘empowerment’ approach.

Advisers’ attitudes to customer service training

In some quarters there is a view that customer service training is merely a form of ‘sham empowerment’ designed to increase the workload for advisers, but in fact most employees are very positive about the training. There may be some organizations that adopt a cynical approach but where this is the case there will be no genuine buy-in to the principles of customer service by advisers, with the result that customer satisfaction figures are unlikely to improve.
In practice, most people a ending customer service training recognize the value of it and fully support the intentions. In a study of supermarket managers and staff, ‘no one spoke negatively about the value of the initiative. . . and the majority were enthusiastic’.
All employees should regularly a end customer service training and not just advisers. One of the continual gripes heard by trainers is, ‘You should get our managers to a end these courses, they are the ones that need it!’

Thursday, December 8, 2011


There are a wide range of so skills. A number of the popular ones particularly associated with customer service are briefly described below.

Explain what can be done, not what can’t

It is nearly always more constructive to explain to a caller what can be done rather than what cannot. This has been described as spin-doctoring and involves replacing negative information with something more positive eg, ‘Sorry, we don’t have one at the moment’, becomes, ‘A new delivery is arriving tomorrow and we will send one, Mr Jones’.
In Phoneco, training was focused on ‘emotional trigger words’ that conveyed negative associations eg, ‘sorry, no problem, vehicle, premium, and sales training’. These were called RIP words and were prohibited. Instead, they were replaced by positive sexy words including, ‘certainly, rest assured, immediate, and great’.

Problem solving techniques

When products and services are more complex, such as financial services, callers can become frustrated with their own lack of understanding or control of the situation. To avoid misleading, bullying or patronizing the customer the best solution for the agent is to ask, ‘How can I help solve this problem? What would you like me to do? What would make you feel be er? Is there anything else that I can try for you?’. Training in problem solving techniques can also be used to address issues in the call centre itself, for example, where staff use quality circle activities to identify and implement solutions.

Selling skills

Selling can be very demanding particularly when salary is related to sales targets. This o en involves out-bound calls to potential or existing customers, although many organizations now consider most of the calls they receive from customers (ie, in-bound) as an opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell. The skill sets and attitudes of employees who prefer in-bound calls and those who were involved with out-bound calls o en tend to be different. It has also been noted that many employees in each of these categories are reluctant to change from one role to another.

Provide a choice

Giving the caller a number of options provides them and the organization with a number of benefits. Where two choices are suggested by the adviser it is o en the second one callers choose because it is the freshest in their mind. Therefore, if it is anticipated that one option may be more favourable to the caller then this should be used second.
Providing two options or more also gives the impression of choice. This strategy is sometimes used to close a sale where the two options both produce a positive outcome for the seller eg, ‘Would you like it in red or blue?’

Build rapport

Empathy with the customer can be developed through the use of techniques such as neuro-linguistic programming. This encourages the adviser to mirror the caller’s speed, tone and volume. Likewise, vocabulary should be chosen to match that of the caller and there should be careful use of jargon and technical language.

The customer is boss

Read the following dialogue and assess how customer friendly it is:
Mr Khan: The breakdown of the satellite for three days last week resulted in the loss of my television, telephone and internet access. I would like a refund of my annual subscription.
CSR: Now Mr Khan, we can’t refund your annual subscription just for a few days interruption in service. You don’t seriously expect the company to reimburse you for a whole year when you only lost a few days. We aren’t able to authorize that because everyone would want it.
This response has the potential to destroy the relationship with the customer, which may have lasted for many years. Many of the words and phrases in the CSR’s response have the potential to act like an incendiary device and escalate the bad atmosphere, eg:
‘Now Mr Khan’ This is a very patronizing way to address a customer. It is talking down to the customer and treating them like a child.
‘We’ Using the word ‘we’ suggests that the CSR is hiding behind the corporate fa├žade rather than dealing personally with the issue. Using the word ‘I’ indicates that the CSR is making this a personal conversation and will take responsibility for resolving the situation.
‘Just a few days interruption in service’ Three days may not appear to be a long time but that is not for you to judge. Lack of communication services may have serious implications, eg a family member may be in hospital requiring frequent contact.
‘You don’t seriously expect’ This phrase belittles the claim of the customer and suggests that his or her call is frivolous and not important.
‘When you only lost a few days’ The use of the word ‘only’ implies that the three days were insignificant; it is not possible for the CSR to judge how important or not the lost days were.

‘We aren’t able to authorize’ Once again there is the use of ‘we,’ and using ‘authorize’ implies an organizational structure that prevents a refund. In fact, many customers understand that this is just a means of putting off the customer and not really listening to their legitimate complaint.
‘Everyone would want it’ This is not really the concern of Mr Khan since he is interested in his own situation.
In the short paragraph above the CSR has presented at least seven challenges or negative ‘moments of truth’ to Mr Khan. Each of them has the potential to destroy the customer relationship and remove the income stream that comes from this customer. Ultimately, as Sam Walton the founder of Walmart said, ‘It is not the company which pays the employee’s wages it is the customer.’ Walton also said, ‘There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.’
It is not unreasonable for the customer to expect some degree of reimbursement and the request for a full refund may be a response to the frustration of not having access to any of the services. It may also be an initial negotiating position with Mr Khan expecting a counter-offer. The company should have anticipated calls of this nature and have a policy in place with a range of options rather than leaving it up to the individual responses of the CSR. A much be er and possibly scripted response might be:
CSR: Thank you for your call Mr Khan. We understand the difficulties you have experienced not having access to our services. This was caused by technical problems in the communication between the ground station and the satellite. We would be happy to reimburse you one month’s charge and also provide you ‘free of cost’ access to our premium film channel.

Handling chatty and over-familiar customers

It is not unusual to get customers who wish to chat more than is really necessary. This can actually help develop rapport because it sometimes requires less initiative from the CSR; however, the transaction does need to be completed successfully and in a reasonable time period. Treating them courteously and without negating their feelings takes skill and there are a number of strategies that are useful. Appropriate responses include:

Irrelevant information: when they give superfluous details you might respond:
That’s interesting. Could you provide me with your . . .address, etc.’
That’s very interesting, now if I could have your reference number. . .’
Personal information: some customers ask for personal information about the CSR: ‘Are you married? Do you have any children’, etc. One swiftway of handling these are to say, ‘I’m sorry, the company doesn’t allow us to give this sort of information.
Minor requests: some organizations have their ‘regulars’ who call up with minor requests (perhaps seeking a bank balance) but in fact are lonely and are really looking to have a conversation. Company policy may vary about the speed with which these calls are handled. They can o en occur in the evening when call pressure is less and this allows a more considerate approach to be taken.
Callers needing personal help: some callers may be in particular need of medical or even psychiatric support. Those with serious need should be directed to appropriate counselling and support services. It is good practice to have these numbers available.

Transferring customers

In an ideal world, automated call distribution would direct customers to the most appropriate CSR and all their needs would be handled by that one person. However, this is not always possible for a number of reasons including:
  • Callers may not always select the correct option.
  • Several different actions may be required.
  • The CSR may not possess the necessary knowledge to facilitate the transaction, etc.
Where this happens the CSR should not make the caller feel guilty about arriving at the wrong desk. Instead, they should not transfer them immediately, but should explain why and where they are going to be transferred, and if possible give the name of the person to whom they will speak. Before transferring them ask if they are happy with this process eg, ‘I am going to transfer you to our accounts department where they can deal with your enquiry, is that ok?’ This is much more considerate and demonstrates that the customer is in control of what he or she wants to achieve. If the customer says, ‘Yes’ he or she is sanctioning the transfer, or alternatively sometimes people may prefer to call again later.

When the call has been transferred, it is important that customers are addressed with their own name to indicate that the new person dealing with their call knows who they are and, preferably, knows most of their details eg, ‘Hello Mrs Kovak, this is Samira in Dispatches. I understand that you haven’t received . . .’.

Putting customers on hold

If the customer is told, ‘Please, hold for a moment,’ in effect they are being excluded from the process. This can be very off-putting particularly if it happens as soon as the call is answered, where the CSR or receptionist is perhaps dealing with another call or personal caller. Putting someone on hold is inconvenient and they should be asked first whether they agree with the request, eg: ‘I’m just going to put you on hold for a few moments, is that ok?’

Holding time

When a customer is asked to hold, different procedures should be used depending on the length of time a person may be expected to wait. If it is up to a minute then a suitable remark might be: ‘I’m going to put you on hold. I should be a short while/a few moments/a minute. Is that all right?’
If the hold is likely to be longer, one to three minutes, overestimate the time needed. This is done for a number of reasons: first, it may well take longer than you anticipated. Secondly, if the customer expects five minutes and you get back to them in four they will be more satisfied. If you say it will be four minutes and you return in five minutes they will normally be less happy because their expectations were not met. For example, ‘It is going to take about five minutes to find an answer to your question. Would you like to me to call you back, or would you prefer to hold?’
If the expected hold time is more than three minutes many organizations choose to offer a call back. If it is possible, it is courteous to get back to the customer every 30 seconds or so and say, ‘Sorry to keep you waiting, I am currently speaking to our deliveries department.’ ‘Thank you for holding, I’m processing your enquiry.’
Thanking customers for holding is a normal courtesy that conveys respect and o en overcomes any problems with unduly long holds. After all, they want a resolution to their call and will normally be willing and patient for a solution.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION | Delivering Excellent Customer Service

Figure 1 plots the challenge faced by the organization in trying to balance the provision of a satisfactory level of customer service while at the same time doing so in a financially viable manner. The figure shows that in some cases a high level of service can be too expensive for the organization. Alternatively, if the level of service is too low the customer will go elsewhere.

Figure 1: Identifying service levels
The secret of success is to find a quality of service that is satisfactory for the customer and achieves a profit, or reaches service level targets for public sector organizations. This is the ‘zone of agreement’. Point ‘A’ indicates the lowest level of acceptable service for the customer. Point ‘B’ indicates the highest level of service the organization can deliver without it becoming unprofitable.
This zone of agreement is rarely fixed and is dynamically changing over time and with the type of customers. All customers are different and their expectations vary considerably, so that what may be satisfactory for one may be unsatisfactory for another. Furthermore, individual customers have changing expectations and whether or not they are having a good/bad day will affect their telephone responses. To compound these variables, there are also other competing organizations that seek to offer better products and customer service.

Why customers stop doing business

Customers stop doing business with an organization for a variety of reasons but, as can be seen below, the main one is indifference by an employee:
  • 1 per cent die.
  • 4 per cent move to another area.
  • 6 per cent develop alternative associations.
  • 10 per cent change for competitive reasons.
  • 15 per cent are not happy with the product.
  • 64 per cent leave because of an unsatisfactory interaction with an employee.

Dissatisfied customers

The main objective is to keep the customer satisfied, happy or better still excited. Without this, customers are likely to become discontented and seek other providers. The challenge for the organization is that many dissatisfied customers just disappear and are never heard from again. There are some general rules of thumb that provide some insights into the challenges that organizations face:
  • The average business never hears from 95 per cent of unhappy customers.
  • For each complainer there are 19 who do not tell the organization.
  • 90 per cent of unhappy customers will not give their custom to the business again.
  • People who complain are more likely to return to the business than those who do not complain.
  • If the problem is resolved the majority of complainers will continue to buy from the company.
  • The average dissatisfied customer will tell 10 other people.
  • The average customer who has his or her complaint resolved will tell only five.
  • A customer who receives exceptional service will, on average, tell three or four other people.
It is evident from the above points that many organizations may not even be aware that they have dissatisfied customers who just disappear, never to return. Thus, it is very easy to develop a bad reputation when dissatisfied customers tell 10 other people about their poor experience. Moreover, even when there is exceptionally good service it takes a much longer time to develop a good reputation than a poor one, so it is essential to keep a close focus on service levels. For this reason, all organizations should conduct audits to ascertain how well they are satisfying their customers.

Service recovery training

Service recovery training is designed to rescue situations where the customer has not received satisfactory service. When customers are satisfied with the service they receive, 65 per cent remain loyal and return compared with only 30 per cent returning when they are dissatisfied.
Surprisingly, when customers feel that a complaint has been handled well 85 per cent of them will return. For this reason, advisers should be trained to take responsibility for the problem even though it is not their fault. They should not blame other departments and instead give a sincere unconditional apology, which will normally calm even angry customers (Crome, 1998). Generally, the rule of thumb is that it is five times more expensive to gain a new customer than retain an existing one. As a result, and particularly in recent years, much greater attention is being given to keeping existing customers satisfied.
It is clear from these figures that it is far easier to get a bad reputation than develop a good one. Most customers complain because they are seeking to have their problem resolved and if they are given attention and the problem is resolved they o en become loyal customers.

Excellent service

It is not the organization that decides whether the service is excellent or not, it is the customer. Thus the customer should always be given opportunities to provide feedback on the level of service.
Where customer service is only satisfactory it becomes almost invisible to customers. They are not even aware of its existence, except when it is missing. To be fully perceived and recognized, customer service needs to be excellent.

Back office becomes front office

One significant aspect of turning back office functions into customer facing ones is that staff who never had direct interaction with the customer in the past are now in very regular contact. Furthermore, they are o en expected to sell, up-sell and cross-sell. In a three-day programme called ‘Making it easy (for the customer) to say yes’ for a direct insurance company, the objectives were:
To improve the conversion rate from call to sale; to improve the average transaction value of each sale; have the confidence and the skills to control calls and indeed increase business through professional telephone techniques; develop an action plan; . . .to delight the customer; be the best (company); today everyone (in the company) sells.
In many organizations there are now few places to hide for people who do not like interacting with the public. Thus, it is essential that customer service training is provided for all employees and at regular intervals. After all, everyone has customers, whether they are outside the organization or inside.

Standardizing service

Standardization of service is o en aligned to prescriptive requirements and is very common in contact centres. The procedures and tactics to be used are o en condensed into a number of ‘commandments’ as this checklist for a utility company confirms:
  • Quick response time.
  • Standard greeting.
  • Be polite and professional.
  • Use listening noises.
  • Take control.
  • Ask questions – don’t demand information.
  • Take notes.
  • Obtain reason for call.
  • Use customer’s name.
  • Take appropriate action to defuse anger.
  • Make the customer feel important.
  • Treat the customer as an individual.
  • Know our products and services – promote them.
  • Summarize the call.
  • Offer your name and extension.
  • Thank the customer for calling and finish the call with goodbye.
  • Always use the standard greeting: Good morning/a ernoon, . . .speaking. Can I take your reference number? Never say . . .Hello!
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