From Brian's Desk

Contact Center Excellence – Stand Out From The Crowd

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How to Misuse Technology

I am all for using technology to deliver or improve a customer experience.  Technology can make business processes more efficient, more effective, and more transparent.  The problem is, back-office process issues are also brought to the fore more efficiently and transparently.  Translation; bad things can happen to your customers more quickly, and progress to very bad more quickly.

I typically don’t use a blog to complain about a bad experience, but I think this one really makes a point, really surfaces why a company must be very mindful about simply jumping to the web and eCommerce without doing the proper level of forethought (and who knows, perhaps some effort into journey mapping).

I had never tried ordering car tires over the internet.  I know the capability has been around for some time, but it just didn’t seem to be a good use of eCommerce.  In short, I didn’t trust that the back-office processes would work, didn’t trust that the right communication would get to a local installer at the right time, let alone the tires actually showing up at the right place at the right time.  However, my trepidation was not due to hearing horror stories and countless bad experiences.  In fact, I only knew of one or two people that had ever tried ordering tires over the internet, and they were not unhappy with their experience.

So, I thought I would take the plunge, given I was out of town and my car was in my home city and was in bad need of tires.  So, I went to goodyear.com (sorry Goodyear, maybe I would have had a poor experience elsewhere, but you’re it on this one).  The actual ordering experience was actually pretty good.  In short, the technology did its job; what was the year of the vehicle, make, model, and up would come a list of all tires available for my vehicle.  I could sort by most popular or by price.  I chose the tires I wanted, and the check-out process was good as well.  I could choose my installer and even set up an appointment for the tires to be installed.

All was well.  I checked-out and received an email within a minute telling me all about my purchase, the address and phone number of the local installer, and my appointment time.  I had a good experience.  Well, almost.

The next morning I received a call from the installer.  He had bad news.  The tires I ordered were out of stock, and there was not going to be any in stock for 30 days.  Well, so now I have my credit card charged for two tires that are out of stock, an appointment to install tires that were not going to show up at the installer, and yes, I needed to call goodyear.com to get it straightened out.

So I called, and explained my situation (how could they possibly let me order tires that were clearly not available), and after being put on hold for 10 minutes was told that I was authorized to get the next higher priced tires for the same price as the tires I ordered.  Well, that was good, could they still keep my appointment (didn’t I say they really needed to be replaced?).  Well, on hold for another 10 minutes, no answer and someone would call me back later.  Well, they could keep the appointment, and they would cancel my order, but I would need to reorder the higher-priced tires, and then I would have to send an email to a supervisor to get a refund of the difference.  I was less pleased.  Especially when I was given the wrong email address for the supervisor and the email came back telling me in awful sounding language that my email could not be delivered, and had to place yet another call, and explain everything once again, and be put on hold for an eternity once again.

Well, my original order was cancelled, but the cancellation email stated that the refund could take 4-6 business days to show up as a credit on my credit card.  So, now I had nearly $500.00 charged on my card.  24 hours has passed and I have not heard back from the supervisor.  Did the technology work?  Maybe too well.  Goodyear could not seem to bypass the technology.  I had to fix their problem.  I had to create a new order and have twice the charge on my credit card, I had to email the supervisor for a refund of the difference (the jury is still out on whether I will ever see that).

And so, a simple back-office problem of not having updated inventory/out-of-stock information for their web site caused a poor experience to quite quickly become a very poor experience.

Companies like to grandstand on how important the customer experience is to their company.  I have been in the service industry for nearly 25 years, and I would like to believe that especially the big guys would have gotten it right by now.

So, fix your back-office processes first, journey map the exceptions, not the ‘happy-path’.  You don’t make advocates through your happy-path, you make your best customer advocates when you fix a problem you have created for them.

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Cable Companies; Do they Really Suffer From Poor Customer Service?

Cable companies have long been viewed as having poor customer service, among the poorest looking across industries.  I think this needs to be probed a bit deeper to perhaps get a better understanding of why this is.

Consider your own experience with one or more cable companies that you have had.  Mine has been that my emailbox, mailbox and pop-up ads all show me what I can get for a ‘low monthly price’.  Then they start me out with teaser rates to get me to sign up as a customer, and I do so because the price is right.  Then, 6 or 12 months later, even though they warned me in the small print, my introductory rates expire and then I pay much more for their service.  And, then I am unhappy.  Therefore, whenever I call into customer service, I am already not happy.  It is very difficult to have a satisfying interaction with a customer service department when I am already unhappy with the company, and further annoyed at having to call customer service in the first place.

I don’t view this so much as a customer service issue as a value issue. This is what has dogged the utilities industry for so long. Not that the service experience per se is so poor, but rather the company’s value proposition is so poor. In short, the way customers view the value they receive spills over into their view of their customer experience. Cable and satellite companies spend generously on customer acquisition, but not on customer retention. As a brand new customer, I feel valued and I feel I am receiving a product at a price point that I feel matches the value I receive from the product. The problem is, acquisition is based on the teaser rates that increase dramatically once the discount period is over. The value does not increase, but I am paying much more. And, my mailbox and emailbox is stuffed with more teaser offers, all to the benefit of new customers, but not me. In the end, utilities and those that look like utilities don’t spend enough effort on convincing customers that they provide value equal to cost, and that dissatisfaction manifests itself in the service call center.

Personally, when I am billed over $100 a month for a scant few channels outside of what I can get locally, I don’t see the value lining up with the cost.  And I am not happy about it.

Employee Engagement Improvement Step 1

The first step (I’ll be reviewing the other 6 steps in upcoming posts) to improving employee engagement in your call center, is to identify your actively engaged employees.  You know them; their handle times are lower than average, their customer feedback is better than average, they are the ones that have few absences from work, the ones that adhere to their schedule, the ones that you want to hold up as models.  Identify who they are, make sure they know that they are identified as role models, tell them you want to recruit them to be engagement evangelists.  This is called ‘gathering the troops’.  You’ll need to have them not only fully engaged in their work, but fully engaged in your improvement program.

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