Saturday, January 28, 2012


The 1944 Disabled Persons (Employment) Act provided the legal foundation for the first comprehensive structure to support disabled people in the UK. It led to the establishment of the Disabled Persons Employment Corporation in April 1945 and the first factory was opened in Bridgend, South Wales in 1946 making furniture and violins. Much of the momentum for these developments was the provision of suitable employment for disabled ex-servicemen. The title ‘Remploy’, meaning ‘re-employ’, was first registered by the ex-Services Employment Welfare and was adopted in 1946. The mission of Remploy is, ‘To expand the opportunities for disabled people in sustainable employment with Remploy and the communities it serves.’ Currently, over half of employees have a mental health condition or learning disability.
Remploy has a network of 82 factories in a wide range of operations across the UK and has a turnover of £165 million. In 2005 more than 5,700 people were employed in Remploy businesses and over 3,500 disabled people were assisted in finding jobs with employers. The aim is to maximize the number of disabled people in employment through employment in Remploy manufacturing businesses, service sector businesses and encouraging people into mainstream employment.
Remploy (2005: 24) considers that, ‘Learning and development is the key cornerstone to success in Remploy. It is the key enabling process that allows every person we employ or support into work to achieve their potential and independence.’ Company policy is that 5 per cent of employees’ time is spent on development and in Remploy Offiscope (a division of Remploy) it is between 10 and 15 per cent. Approximately 5,000 external courses are run across the organization and 1,000 people gained a literacy or numeracy qualification and more than 300 people gained an IT qualification. Overall, 60 per cent of employees received training leading to a qualification (Remploy, 2005). Each work site has a union learning representative and this has led to the establishment of a learning centre at each of the factories. Use is also made of Learn Direct courses and each factory has links to a local college with tutors providing training including basic skills.
Remploy has two call centres based in Aberdeen and Acton, north London, which support internal operations and mainly provide services for external organizations, many of whom are from the charity sector, eg Royal National Institute for the Blind. Remploy Offiscope can provide call centre services and combine this with dispatching, thus providing an integrated fulfilment service.
The Aberdeen call centre was set up in July 2000 with 15 seats and eight people working there. The number of employees depends on the volume of work generated by contracts and there is a very low churn rate, with people staying with Remploy for many years. When new staff are required they are located by Interwork (a Remploy agency). No specific qualifications are required although skills assessments are carried out and flexibility and enthusiasm are expected.
The learning and development structure
Induction training has evolved over the years and includes company information, health and safety, data protection, office procedures, customer service, communication skills (including enthusiasm, rate, flow, clarity, tone, voice mirroring), objection handling, and why people buy.
There is a buddy system where the new person sits next to an experienced person. Support is also provided through listening in and also replaying calls. Informally, there is also the opportunity to hold calls and seek advice from colleagues or the supervisor.
With regard to ongoing training, clients are encouraged to come and deliver training about themselves, their products and services so that Remploy becomes a virtual part of their organization. There is a considerable amount of role play and test calls before a new client’s system goes live. Clients sometimes require changes in the provision of service and this leads to further training. Some advisers have achieved S/NVQs for learning supported by a local college. During quieter times staff are encouraged to use the computers to increase their own learning.
Remploy is ISO 9001 accredited, which means that there are detailed procedures including a training matrix and the monitoring of training. There is a training plan and also a training log for each client. There is a performance appraisal system that also includes a development plan.
The technology will allow both Aberdeen and Acton to operate as a virtual call centre and it also has the potential to enable people to work from home. However, working within Remploy provides the opportunity to interact socially and allows employees to be given good care and attention. Working onsite also provides more opportunities for learning and for all these reasons homeworking has not yet been introduced.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

GIVING FEEDBACK | Coaching and mentoring

Giving honest feedback is not an easy thing to do and some coaches shy away from it, defeating the purpose. However, being honest does not mean that the limitations of the learner have to be starkly presented to him or her in a personally threatening manner. Ideally, the feedback should be invited by the learner not presented by the coach and it should be done in a manner where the learner does not reject the information.
Holding back on giving honest information so as not to cause offence prejudices the chances that the learner’s behaviour will improve. The true message should not be so deeply hidden that the learner is unable to recognize it. In order to do this:
  • Feedback should be clear and specific.
  • It should focus on the behaviour and not on the person.
  • It should focus on behaviour that can be improved.
  • It should be invited where possible and not thrust at the learner.
  • It should be delivered in a timely manner.
An effective model for giving feedback is the DESC approach by Bower and Bower (1976). Essentially, it involves identifying the goal or objective you wish to achieve then following this process:
  • Describe your situation in terms of what happened; describe behaviour and not the person.
  • Express your feelings about the situation in a calm and constructive way.
  • Specify what you would like to happen.
  • Consequences – explain the positive implications of the change in behaviour and/or what might happen without a change in behaviour.
Another very useful model for improving communication and coaching is the Johari Window (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Johari Window
In Figure 1 there are four areas within the quadrant: arena, blind spot, façade and unknown. The arena represents the area of common understanding by you and the other person. The blind spot represents that which is known by the other person but not by you. The façade illustrates what you know and what is not known by the other person. Finally, the unknown area represents that which is not known by you or the other person.
If we wish to improve communication and understanding in the blind spot and façade areas it is important that more information is provided by you and/or the other person in order to draw the exchange into the arena. Where nothing is known by both people, investigation and research are necessary to identify what is unknown thereby allowing it to be carefully examined and discussed.

The importance of timing

Coaching feedback should be delivered in a timely fashion. If the period of time between the behaviour and the feedback is long then the coachee may not remember what happened or be less inclined to do anything about it. This means that the coach or team leader needs to be up to speed with all the metrics and behaviours of their team. Learners will know which coaches and team leaders are on top of their jobs and those who are not. It is therefore necessary to be up to date and also to set a good example.
Providing prompt feedback is a more successful means of behavioural change. This can o en be done through listening in to calls and providing guidance and recommendations as soon as the call ends.

Coaching is not criticism

Coaching is generally regarded as a form of constructive one-to-one development that involves identifying areas where performance is not up to the required standard and developing agreed solutions to address the performance gap. Unfortunately, coaching delivered in the wrong manner or through an inappropriate system can be perceived negatively by the learner. In fact, even genuine coaching can be interpreted negatively by the learner and so it should be approached professionally.
Another area of concern is the use of the term ‘coaching’ when what is actually meant is ‘criticism’ (Cameron, 2000). This use of the word ‘coaching’ as a so form of criticism or discipline corrupts and degrades the original meaning of the word and thus undermines those who coach in an ethical and professional manner.
It is essential to separate coaching from performance evaluation because the two processes have very different purposes. Coaching may involve an assessment of a person’s skills but the main objective is about development and improvement of performance. Performance assessment connected to salary or other forms of ranking should be completely separated from the coaching process.
The most satisfactory solution to this is to ensure that the person doing the coaching is not involved with performance assessment or grading. In this way the relationship is not compromised; however, in many organizations the team leader who provides input on performance is also the coach. Encouraging the team leader to be a coach is entirely logical and practical, but this structural arrangement may also mean there is a conflict of interest and roles.
The reasons for separating grading and coaching are obvious. For successful coaching to happen there needs to be trust and a true rapport between the coach and learner. If learners feel that their performance is also being assessed and that this may impact upon salary or other benefits they will feel inhibited about admitting limitations and mistakes, etc.

Coaching the coaches

In many organizations there are trained and dedicated coaches whose main purpose is to support and develop employees. But o en the role of coaching falls within the remit of the team leader or manager who may have extensive knowledge and skills but who does not necessarily have experience of coaching. The problem is that team leaders get promoted because they are good at their job, not necessarily because they are good at managing and leading. For these reasons, there should be general management training for team leaders and this should include coaching them how to coach. In particular, induction training for team leaders should include coaching skills.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


In 1991, two large banking and insurance firms in the Netherlands (Nationale Nederlanden and MNB Postbank Group) merged to form ING, one of the largest financial services companies in the world. The ING brand offers banking, insurance and asset management in more than 50 countries worldwide. Most activities are ING branded, but there are also some very strong local brands, eg Postbank. In the Netherlands, the contact centres of ING bank and of Postbank Zakelijk (Postbank Business) operate as one unit, as they both serve mainly business customers. Headquarters and central management are located in Amsterdam.
The contact centres of Postbank Zakelijk are located in Arnhem and Amsterdam and employ 100 FTE customer service representatives. Each location has a manager and teams consist of 12 CSRs and a unit supervisor. In addition, about 40 FTEs work in the correspondence department and deal with written mail and e-mails only.
Recruitment and induction
All new CSRs at ING/Postbank Zakelijk are hired by a temporary work agency that does the first selection. A group assessment and a click talk with the unit managers is also part of the selection process. Because of the high skill demands, CSRs need to have commercial experience in sales or other call centres, secondary vocation education (MBO level or more) and have the right attitudes and competencies. Words like dare, eagerness, charisma and team player must apply to them and they should have good communication skills.
Induction training is normally in groups of 10 and involves products, processes and systems, with different types of learning being used including simulated calls, presentations, cases, role plays, etc. There is some attrition during the early stages, approximately two people in every group of eight to 10 who start the training leave, either during the induction training or in the first weeks after the training. This may be because the level is too high even for graduates of tertiary vocational education (HBO). The final exam after the induction training is a big hurdle. If CSRs fail and their motivation and behaviour are considered really good, they can do a resit. If they fail the resit, they will have to leave.
Organization and structure of training
The training department of the contact centre is based at ING headquarters in Amsterdam and consists of a coordinator and a project leader. In addition, each contact centre location has a trainer, who is interchangeable; if necessary, trainers can work at different locations. The training department develops and gives training, determines ING’s training strategy and meets regularly to discuss issues. It has a central budget, which includes money to pay for external training given to all CSRs. In general, all product, process and system training is in-house. Sales training and conversation training are provided by two external training agencies. Basic sales training is covered during induction and this is supplemented later with more advanced courses. In addition to the central training budget, each unit manager has a decentralized budget (an amount of money per CSR) to develop CSRs.
CSRs do not use scripts and have a lot of freedom in their customer contacts, as long as targets are reached by the end of the year. They can look up information on customers, their contact history, and on all financial products and services in the electronic knowledge system. In addition, call guides on the CSRs’ desks help them with special promotions or sales. These call guides provide examples of standard phrases CSRs could use, the main objections of customers and how to refute them, and some information on the products.
Experienced CSRs also follow additional training on customer complaints, conversation skills, and on new products, special promotions and product updates. Major changes in products or services are announced by e-mail and explained in the regular team meetings. All updates are stored in the knowledge database. Sometimes, there will be a short (maximum one hour) instruction on a product change. There is also additional training on the knowledge database and on e-mail. Training for experienced CSRs is only done when workload allows it, ie in down-times. In addition, this training should not take too long. These limitations often lead to a ‘struggle’ between the training department and the planning department.
CSRs receive a print-out of their performance each week in which they can see whether they are above, on, or under target. The unit managers personally bring these print-outs to the CSRs and then informally talk to them about the outcomes. Targets are, for example, on sales, call time, login time and breaks.
Coaching is done at least six times a year and there is a coaching calendar to keep track of the knowledge, skills and attitude of CSRs and their points of attention. As training can only be carried out in down-times, unit managers spend quite a lot of time listening in to calls and developing CSRs’ skills at work.
Coaching is done by sitting next to CSRs and listening in to calls. Sometimes calls are taped. There is a checklist for content per product and an ‘online sales model’ to score conversation skills. These checklists contain 30 items on which CSRs can score. In an individual interview, the items and targets are discussed and three points of attention are mentioned and agreed upon. For example, these could be listening in with a colleague who is good at selling a specific product; using a specific phrase three times a day in calls; or selling a specific product twice each day.
All CSRs, like all other employees of ING bank, have an individual development plan that outlines their personal training and development. CSRs have a formal talk with their unit manager three times a year. At the beginning of the year, they have a planning interview to set goals and targets. Half way (in June) there is a staff appraisal to check up on the CSR’s goals, and at the end of the year there is a performance appraisal to judge whether targets are met. ING says the system is ‘working successfully’. A good performance could lead to a small salary increase. A bad performance means that CSRs have to enter a specific coaching trajectory for six months in which clear expectations and actions are indicated. If they succeed and get a good evaluation, then they are allowed to stay. However, if they still score badly after the coaching route, they will enter a ‘last chance route’ in which they are stimulated to look for another job and eventually can be fired.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

COMMITTING TO ACTION | Coaching and mentoring

Changing behaviour is a challenging and difficult thing to achieve with other people and with ourselves. Think of the number of New Year’s resolutions you have made and how many of them have lasted for only a short time. Likewise with our health, we know that it is not wise to smoke or eat or drink too much but changing our behaviour is remarkably difficult.
The reality in many cases is that we know exactly what behaviour is needed but there is something missing to bring it about. Part of this might be willpower and this is where the coach is especially valuable. By including someone else in the process there is an increased responsibility for learners to live up to the agreed commitments and do what they promised. There is also more incentive to do so when someone else will be checking on the achievements at a later stage. In some circumstances the coach can hold a metaphorical mirror up to the learner and describe some of the work elements that are not being achieved.

Setting targets

There is a large amount of performance data available within contact centres and this can o en be used in the process of setting targets and appraising individual accomplishments. When a person achieves a target this does not mean further improvement is unnecessary; instead, strengths should be applauded and built upon to encourage excellence and to model behaviour that inspires co-workers.
Where areas are not so strong they should be identified and agreement reached about the best means of improving them. These targets may then be set as goals to be achieved and revisited at the next session. The assumption should not be made that the coaching provided during the current session will be enough; where appropriate, ongoing support should be provided. These learning goals should then be practised and enhanced on a regular basis in the workplace.
One of the most commonly used techniques for setting targets or objectives is the mnemonic SMART. This details all of the elements that should be used in setting targets, namely:
Relevant, and
This model has also been extended to include Evaluation and Review, making SMARTER.
Another helpful approach is the GROW model, which is o en used in coaching and mentoring. It stands for:
(current) Reality
One way to think of this GROW model is to consider the metaphor of a map. Each coaching session benefits from having a Goal that can be clearly measured (perhaps using the SMART approach). To reach the goal it is necessary to understand the current Reality of where a person is – not the imagined position but the actual one. For the coach it is o en helpful to have evidence to support this accurate description of the situation. A journey can o en take a number of different routes and these Options should be fully explored. Finally, there has to be a Will or desire to achieve the objective of improved performance.

Challenging targets

Identifying accurate targets is an art form rather than an exact science and it can only be achieved through careful negotiation with the learner. The Yerkes-Dodson Law (1908) explains that when a target is not challenging enough there will be insufficient motivation to do anything about it. Alternatively, if a target is too challenging and is not reached it will undermine the learner’s confidence. Not surprisingly, a balance is needed but this o en cannot be identified in advance and it is better to ascertain this through discussions and negotiations with the learner.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


The telecom company puts a lot of effort into quality monitoring and there are several instruments used for this. First, customer satisfaction is measured each month by an external organization. Not only its own customers, but also customers of other companies are asked about the company’s services in the past six months, and the results are given to management. Furthermore, there are internal customer panels that provide qualitative information. E-mails and the website are evaluated by a net questionnaire. In addition, employee satisfaction is measured once every two years with a survey and once every three months with a short questionnaire.
Secondly, the handling and logging of calls (including what CSRs do on the computer) is recorded by the monitoring system. This provides qualitative information for team leaders. In addition, the team leaders evaluate four calls of each CSR every month. They use specific evaluation criteria for this, which are based on customer satisfaction, like degree of empathy, first-time resolution, closing of conversation, etc. In the past, CSRs knew that their calls would be recorded in even weeks or in uneven weeks. As this turned out to bias the monitoring, they decided to record 20 per cent of all calls.
The evaluation of these taped calls is discussed in a one-to-one talk between the CSR and the team leader. CSRs also receive information on their performance on their Agent Score Card with important quantitative KPIs. This scorecard is also discussed in the monthly bilateral talks. It is used for improvement only, not for judging performance in a formal way. For example, the team leader might notice that the CSR needs more skills in a specific area. He or she will then decide which intervention is necessary. One outcome could be more training, in which case the team leader and the CSR can take a look at the training catalogue in which all training courses, e-learning and manuals are listed. After one month, the team leader and the CSR evaluate the intervention together. All team leaders follow courses on giving feedback. They have a coaching role, but it is acknowledged that this is not fully developed at the moment. In general, the company wants to ‘train less and coach more’ in the future.
Once every three months, CSRs have an appraisal interview with their team leader, and once a year a performance interview. This performance interview is usually scheduled in January or February. CSRs and team leaders look back on the past year, review the salary, and set expectations for the next year. Important KPIs on which performance is monitored are average handling time, adherence time (this is the time CSRs work on schedule and are not taking too many breaks), logging percentage, first-time resolution, and front-line completion.
CSR training is also evaluated. For example, at the end of each e-learning module, there is an evaluation form that CSRs fill in. In addition, the last day of induction training is spent on evaluation. These training judgements made by trainees are in line with Kirkpatrick’s level 1 training evaluation. The contact centre is developing an evaluation based on Kirkpatrick’s level 2: what did CSRs learn? Level 3 would imply an evaluation of whether skills learnt are actually applied at the job. Kirkpatrick’s level 4 was assessed as part of the international company’s evaluation of the impact of training actually leading to improved performance.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


There are a number of stages in the coaching process and while they are not firmly fixed it is certainly beneficial for most of them to be utilized. A systematic approach will help ensure that the quality of the coaching is high without imposing an artificial environment:
  • Inform the learner when the coaching session will happen. Coaching may happen on an ad hoc basis when there is an opportunity, but in most circumstances it is less unsettling if learners have the chance to prepare themselves in advance.
  • Minimize the potential for anxiety. If a person is anxious he or she is more likely to be defensive and construct barriers that hinder true communication with the coach.
  • Break the ice. It is advisable to begin coaching sessions with a lighthearted discussion that puts the learner at ease and which develops a positive rapport.
  • Invite learners to comment on their performance first. Asking learners to begin the session allows them to take some control and thus reduces possible tension. It also enables discussion of aspects of which the coach may not even be aware.
  • Ask questions. It is o en better to ask questions and guide learners to assess themselves rather than directly presenting them with evidence of non-conformance. Of course, there may be some individuals who will not openly acknowledge shortfalls in skills or who may even be oblivious to them.
  • Acknowledge strengths. It is important to acknowledge where people have been doing well because if there is no recognition of positive behaviour it may decline. Furthermore, giving genuine praise, where merited, will enhance confidence and motivation and encourage further learning.
  • Areas for improvement. From a psychological perspective it is o en beer to discuss what could be done better than what went wrong. Presenting an area as a deficiency is a negative approach and it is better to look optimistically at upward trends in performance. A popular strategy is to begin with, ‘What went well?’ and then follow this with, ‘What could have gone be er?’
  • Agree targets. Arbitrarily imposing targets for learners o en fails to get their commitment and may result in resistance. A more productive approach is to ask what can be achieved and negotiate an objective that is challenging but achievable. Setting a target that is too ambitious may only result in demoralizing the learner if it is not reached. Stretch targets are acceptable, but unachievable ones are pointless and undermine the learner and the organization.
  • Support and motivate. Coaching sessions provide a very good opportunity to develop a closer relationship with learners and this enables them to be encouraged and motivated.
  • Is there anything else? Before the coaching session is concluded it is o en helpful to ask if there are any other areas that haven’t been discussed. By using this invitation other areas of concern may also be addressed.
  • Arrange date and time for next session. Setting targets is insufficient if there is no particular deadline by which they should be achieved. Arranging a time for the next meeting gives a focus to the agreements and motivates the learner to implement the actions.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The benefits of coaching

Coaching is a very useful form of development in many spheres of work but it has particular application in contact centres, and there are many benefits for the following reasons:
  • It provides a regular opportunity for the team leader and adviser to discuss levels of performance.
  • It is flexible and can be undertaken when it is needed and around work requirements.
  • It is targeted at the needs of the individual.
  • It allows targets to be agreed and then monitored.
  • It can be part of a regular series of development and can therefore be linked to previous coaching sessions.
  • It connects formal classroom training with actual practice.
  • It provides much opportunity for two-way communication between the team leader and the adviser.
  • It can be carried out in real work situations.
  • It can build rapport between the coach and the learner.
  • It can be targeted at specific actions and be standalone.
The value of coaching would appear to have a positive impact on employee attrition. Significantly, only 29 per cent of centres that provide at least two hours/agent/week of coaching had attrition problems. This increased to 48 per cent of contact centres which provided less than two hours coaching/week 
Contact centres are frequently very target-driven focusing on quantitative measures and clearly specifying how things should be done. This o en translates into detailed and strongly enforced scripts that allow little room for freedom on the part of advisers. This dictatorial approach may ensure a minimum standard of service but, unfortunately, it is unlikely to result in excellent service.
Telling people is nearly always less effective than asking them for their views and building towards a common understanding. If an idea originates from an individual rather than being imposed from above it is more likely to be adopted and be more enthusiastically applied.
Both coaching and mentoring in their purer forms are designed to bring about a desired outcome focusing on a joint agreement about behaviour, motivation and commitment. In some forms of coaching, eg high-level sports coaching, a lot of pressure is sometimes applied to the person being coached; however, this is rarely successful in work situations.
There is some confusion about the differences between coaching and mentoring and much of this arises because quite a few of the approaches overlap with each other. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Coaching and mentoring


The coaching of customer service representatives tends to begin during the latter part of the induction training and then continues throughout the period of employment. In general, advisers receive approximately three weeks of training per year, although those in outsourcing tend to receive the least. Much of the training is in the form of coaching, with agents receiving approximately 20 minutes per day and which commits team leaders to four hours/day for a team of 12. This is clearly a major dedication of time, which is considered valuable: ‘Public services team leaders are said to spend most of their time in coaching – which we believe should be the main role of team leaders’
Team leaders in small contact centres tend to spend almost twice as much time coaching as those in large organizations: 1.9 hours/agent versus 1 hour/agent. There are several reasons why this difference may occur: there may be more paperwork and administration in larger centres; also, smaller contact centres generally have fewer agents per team leader, which may mean that they are able to offer more coaching. Alternatively, it may be that because the agents receive less induction training than in larger centres they are more in need of it when they are in a fully operational role
Less than half of contact centres use a trainer for coaching and only 16 per cent of centres have a dedicated coach. For this reason, the team leader or supervisor is fully or partially responsible for coaching agents in over 74 per cent of contact centres. This situation can cause problems because of the lack of coaching experience among team leaders:
Again this raises the question of whether the team leader has sufficient capacity and the relevant skills to perform this function at a satisfactory level. Considering that many of the required competencies for coaching are not included in many team leader induction training courses, it is concerning that they are now responsible for coaching.
It is clear that call centres consider coaching a very important means of developing their employees. Yet, providing feedback on performance is a sensitive area that requires good skills and experience. Newer team leaders who have not been trained as coaches face a challenging time that may also have detrimental effects on their advisers. The evidence, in some cases, is that insufficient support and investment is being delivered to enable effective and professional coaching by team leaders and other staff. 


It is believed that the word ‘coaching’ evolved from the skills required to handle a team of horses a ached to a stagecoach. Coaching has been subdivided into four areas: tell, show, suggest, and stimulate (Clu erbuck, 1998). Generally speaking, coaching involves the improvement of performance directed at enhancing specific skills. The coach and learner agree targets and the coach provides direct feedback on behavioural performance over a period of time. A definition is:
Coaching is the process whereby one individual helps another: to unlock their natural ability; to perform, learn and achieve; to increase awareness of the factors which determine performance; to increase their sense of self-responsibility and ownership of their performance; to self-coach; to identify and remove internal barriers to achievement.


The term ‘mentor’ originated in Ancient Greece when Odysseus went to fight in the Trojan War and gave responsibility for bringing up his son, Telemachus, to his friend Mentor. Mentoring involves developing and advancing the whole potential of an individual. It is o en a long-term relationship where the goals and the process are owned by the learner. The mentor is o en a form of resource for the learner and it is the learner who controls the process.

The qualities of a coach

Good coaches should be able to create an environment that is conducive to learning and it is their personal attitudes that allow the interaction to happen successfully. Successful coaches are:
  • able to detach themselves;
  • accessible;
  • credible;
  • good communicators;
  • good listeners;
  • interested and attentive;
  • knowledgeable;
  • knowledgeable about the organization;
  • patient;
  • perceptive;
  • supportive;
  • technical experts.

The roles of the coach

To develop the talents of employees a coach needs to use a variety of approaches and roles but not necessarily all at the same time. A coach should be:
  • an adviser;
  • a confidant;
  • a counsellor;
  • a friend;
  • a guide;
  • a motivator;
  • a role model;
  • a supporter;
  • a teacher.

Monday, January 2, 2012

HANDLING ABUSIVE CUSTOMERS | Delivering Excellent Customer Service

Almost inevitably there will be occasions when customers become so frustrated that they want to express their anger to someone. Generally, this is not when something goes wrong the first time: most people understand that things will sometimes not be perfect. Instead, most frustration and anger occurs when a mistake has already been notified and the promise that it will be rectified has not been kept. One failure is rationalized by the customer, but two are o en enough to exceed his or her patience. Thus, when a mistake happens it is very important that someone takes direct responsibility and it is quickly corrected.
Dealing with angry and frustrated customers comes with the adviser’s job and it is important, for self-preservation reasons, that the adviser does not take these criticisms personally
Where customers are abusive and use inappropriate and threatening language, they should be informed that this is unsatisfactory and that the call will be terminated if this language continues. O en callers will apologize when their behaviour is pointed out to them and will explain that they just want a solution to their situation. Phrases to be used where there are these types of calls include: ‘Mr Smith, that language is unnecessary and doesn’t help me resolve your complaint’, ‘We have a policy to close calls when there is abusive language. Please explain your situation slowly while I write it down.’ This strategy slows the caller down and makes them focus on their complaint rather than how they feel.

Moments of Truth

The book Moments of Truth was written by Jan Carlzon, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines System, about how he used customer service to improve profitability. Each time a person comes into contact in some way with the organization it is a moment of truth when the customer is either happy or disappointed with the situation: a person waiting too long for service in a retail outlet, too many selection choices in an automated call distribution system, etc.
Essentially, a moment of truth relates to whether or not customers receive the service they expected. Seven out of eight contacts in the overall transaction between the customer and the organization may be satisfactory, but if the eighth represents a bad experience for the customer then that is what will be remembered and he or she may not return. The whole system is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain and it is this weakest link that the customer is likely to remember.

Choosing attitude and handling boredom

In some contact centres the calls are o en very similar in nature and they may become very tedious to the customer service representative. As the monotony increases it can become increasingly difficult to be motivated and give a lively, enthusiastic and professional level of service. This, obviously, has an effect on the customer who does not want to speak to a dull and ‘couldn’t care less’ adviser.
The book, Fish, based on the Pike Place Fish Market in Sea le, describes the high levels of energy and enjoyment that can be created between employees and customers. Mary Jane, a manager in a nearby office, had her third floor area described by her manager as a ‘toxic energy dump’ and was severely disheartened by this. On her lunch break she went to the Fish Market and found that the employees there enjoyed their work even though many of the actions were repetitive. One of the Fish Market employees explained that, ‘There is always a choice about the way you do your work, even if there is not a choice about the work itself’ (Lundin et al, 2006: 37).
Three other principles described in Fish were:
  1. Play – have fun doing your job.
  2. Make the customer’s day.
  3. Be present – give the customer your whole attention.
By putting these principles into action advisers’ work becomes more interesting, fun and rewarding. Indeed, ‘The greatest satisfaction appears to be derived from customers (“helping people”) and from the camaraderie and social support that develops in the work environment’

Surprise the customer

There are a number of levels of service that can be provided to a customer and these will have an impact on whether they continue to offer their business to the organization; see Figure 1.
  • Unacceptable: This falls so far below what customers want that they are highly unlikely to ever use the service again.

    Figure 1: Handling angry people
  • Basic: This is the minimum standard customers will accept. They may tolerate this for a variety of reasons, eg convenience or price, but if a competitor presents a more appealing offering they are likely to be attracted to it.
  • Expected: Most customers begin an interaction with an anticipated level of service quality. This may be as a result of previous interactions with the organization or it may be a benchmark of wider levels of service, eg customer care received from other call centres.
  • Desired: Customers also have higher levels of expectation and if these can be achieved then the customer is likely to be a happy one.
  • Excellent: The service is of the highest level and makes the customer an unpaid ambassador for the organization.
  • Unanticipated: Customers will have an expectation of the possible service levels that might be offered to them. If the organization can provide something positive that is unanticipated, this should surprise and delight the customer, eg free entry into a prize draw; advising them of a cheaper account.

Managing expectations

Each customer enters a transaction with an expectation of a certain level of service and, depending on his or her experience, the following results happen:
  • Above expectation – happy.
  • As expected – neither happy nor disappointed.
  • Below – disappointed.
What is interesting about expectations is that they do not remain at a fixed level. Not only do different people have different levels of expectations ie, what satisfies some people will be an intolerable level of service for another, but also a person’s expectations will alternate up and down.
This can be due to their mood eg, they might be having a bad day. It may also be due to the fact that they have become accustomed to a high level of service that was at a ‘desired’ level but they now find this expected. In other words, their standards have risen and they now expect more.

Sense of humour

A sense of humour is a powerful ally in the tactics an adviser can use with the customer and it will quickly develop rapport and lighten the interaction. It is difficult to script this because it depends very much on the nature of the transaction and the mood of the customer. Therefore, the adviser is the best judge of whether to employ humour using his or her experience and skill, and if he or she is successful it will lighten the mood and enable other services to be offered. It should, however, be used with caution since a humorous attempt that misfires may upset the caller.

Audit customer services

Good practice dictates that there is a regular examination of all aspects of service provision. This should begin with a list being made of all current and possible dimensions of service.
The next stage is to ask customers what they expect and how important each element is. In this way the most important elements for the customer can be prioritized and strategies can be put in place. Using the Pareto Principle (the 80:20 rule), can help in this process: 80 per cent of problems o en arise from 20 per cent of causes.
Having internal standards is a good starting point, particularly when the areas of concern have been identified by customers. However, these standards should also be benchmarked against competitors through the use of mystery shoppers, etc.
Existing customers can provide helpful information about service levels but it should not stop there. This is a limited population: what about the customers who are dissatisfied but do not tell the organization and just take their custom elsewhere? These should also be investigated as they may provide some valuable insights into why they le .
Finally, ensure that service is always excellent and be aware that standards continue to improve. Last year’s excellent service is this year’s routine delivery and will need to be upgraded to retain the customer.
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