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Call Center

5 Tips for Agent Customer Service Success

Master the Art of Effective Call Center Communication

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Some people think working in a call center is easy because they like to talk. But that doesn’t guarantee agent customer service success.

Instead, successful agents need to work at it. Yes, this is easier for some than others, but no one is born with the ability to readily realize customer service success.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Here are five tips to pursue to develop agent customer service success:

1. Develop Active Listening Skills

Better customer interaction begins with active listening. This starts by removing distractions and giving your whole self to listening. But don’t just focus on the words they say, but also how they voice them, as well as what they might not be telling you.

Then address their concerns—both those stated and those implied.

2. Tap Non-Verbal Communication

Communication has three components: the words said, the tone of voice, and body language. Most communication occurs through body language, which doesn’t come across over the phone—unless it’s a video call. (More on this in a bit.)

That leaves words and tone. But don’t just focus on the words said. Key in on the tone of voice as well, which carries more communication information than the actual words spoken.

To build rapport and empathy requires understanding the emotions and needs of customers. This means going beyond what they say. Doing so helps provide a more personalized and satisfactory customer experience.

3. Employ Effective Communication Techniques

Agents should use appropriate language, tone, and non-verbal cues to convey messages clearly and professionally. Yes, your body language comes across over the phone.

People can hear you smile. They can also hear you frown. Both impact the way your words come across and how customers receive your message.

Also avoid industry jargon and insider shorthand. Use simple language that customers can understand with ease.

4. Aim to Solve Problems and Resolve Conflicts

Equip yourself with problem-solving skills to efficiently handle customer concerns. This means addressing fully the reason for their call. Don’t just do the minimum and assume it’s good enough.

Each call should end with the customer having full confidence that you addressed their issue. There should be no need for them to call back.

Sometimes, however, before you can tackle their concern, you’ll first need to address conflict.

To master both problem solving and conflict resolution, take classes, go to seminars, and read books to learn how to better deal with difficult or irate customers, resolve conflicts, and de-escalate tense situations.

This brings us to the fifth tip of agent customer service success.

5. Embrace Continuous Training and Feedback

Agent success is not something you learn once. Instead, it’s something you continue to learn.

Be open to regular training sessions to further hone your skills. Embrace feedback to improve your communication skills over time.

This includes learning from your mistakes and receiving constructive feedback from trainers and coaches.

Summary

Follow these five agent customer service success tips to help you enhance your customer service effectiveness.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

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Call Center

Don’t Forget the Human Touch

Technology May Save Money but Human Agents Make the Difference

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

We’ve been hearing a lot about artificial intelligence (AI), and we’re going to hear a lot more about it. Some claim AI is the future of the call center industry, saving money and retaining business.

Others fear it’s the end of customer service as we know it. Neither is right, nor are they both wrong.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

But AI isn’t the only technology in our call centers. We have digital assistants to help our agents and automated bots to help our customers. Before that we had interactive voice response (IVR) and auto-attendant solutions.

Regardless of the technology or the era it comes from, each innovation brought with it the inherent promise to speed resolutions and reduce labor expenses. To some degree, they accomplished this. Yet they also fell short of meeting expectations.

In most cases, however, the implementation of technology has brought with it a corresponding ire of the customers it’s supposed to help.

In some cases, technology—especially AI—can make a real mess of things. When this happens, human intervention is the only way to correct the problem. This assumes, of course, that people are available to intercede to fix technology’s error.

Here are some things human agents can do that technology can’t do or can’t do well:

Correct Miscommunication

Technology struggles to correct its mistakes. When it determines what path to take, it persists on that course even if it’s the wrong one.

Often, miscommunication devolves into such a quagmire that the simplest approach—sometimes the only one—is to terminate communication and start over later.

Yet this is an ideal time for human intervention to clarify the customer’s concern and redirect action toward the right solution. This means that human agents need to have the ability to override technology. They also need to have both the training and confidence to know when to do so.

Calm Frustrated Customers

Technology isn’t good at realizing when customers are upset and responding in a truly comforting way.

Though through algorithms, AI can detect anger or frustration, customers will likely discern any attempt to diffuse their concerns as disingenuous. This will escalate their tension, not defuse it.

A successful outcome requires a real person, someone who will listen, comprehend, and offer sympathy. Though no human agent can accomplish this all the time, their chance of success is much higher than that of a machine,

Respond to Complex Issues

Convoluted problems can escape the ability of AI to accurately comprehend and successfully navigate. This is especially true when a situation is unique, something AI has not yet encountered and never will again. Yet human ingenuity shines in these situations.

Offer Empathy

Sometimes customers feel a need to vent. Ironically, this is often over the failure of technological solutions to appropriately address their concern. Though AI can determine the need to give an apology and mimic the right words to say, can it do so with empathy?

Will the customer feel they were heard? Will the response come across as sincere?

A person has a much better chance of doing this successfully than a computer.

Conclusion

Though AI technology will continue to improve, causing fewer problems and producing more satisfyingly complete solutions, don’t plan on replacing your staff. Though you will not need as many, you will need some.

And the skill set of these super agents will carry higher requirements than current ones.

Being able to offer the human touch will distinguish contact centers from their technology-only counterparts.

In an era when technology surrounds us and threatens to overwhelm, a human customer service agent stands as a core distinction between offering solutions that are close versus ones that are comprehensive and complete.

Don’t forget to offer the personal touch of a human agent to best serve customers whenever needed.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

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Call Center

Consider How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Us in the Call Center

We Should Embrace AI as a Useful Toolset and Not Fear It

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a fad that will soon go away. It’s a fundamental shift in how all businesses—and even every person—will function in the future. And though you may not yet realize it, that future is here. Even if you haven’t openly invited artificial intelligence into your call center operation, it’s already arrived, albeit via circuitous points of entry.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Many people already use AI and don’t even know it. Artificial intelligence helps us draft e-mail messages and compose text messages. It facilitates online searches. And it targets advertising—both the ads we receive and the ones we send. And AI works to keep us secure online. In doing these things—and many more—AI saves us time and helps us work with more effectiveness.

We’ll talk about artificial intelligence in general terms because the specifics will be out of date within days. That’s how fast artificial intelligence technology is advancing.

Consider these areas where artificial intelligence can help us in our call centers to do our jobs more effectively and efficiently.

AI Management Tools

Artificial intelligence can help us manage our call center operation and our call center staff with greater ease. One key area, for example, is in quality assurance (QA). AI can perform a QA analysis on our agents to measure the overall effectiveness of their work. This not only removes the tedium of doing so manually, but it also makes sure it is actually done and not put off. And it also does so for every call, which is something that is not feasible from a human standpoint.

This is just one example of an AI management tool that will fundamentally change how we oversee our call center staff.

Interdepartmental Interactions

While we typically think of how artificial intelligence can facilitate interactions with clients and callers, we shouldn’t overlook its potential to assist in internal communication and collaboration between departments. Consider a customer service event and the ripple effects it’s resolution causes. AI could serve to automatically notify all stakeholders and even support their work that relates to it. As appropriate AI could trigger a billing adjustment, escalate a QA report, reprogram an account, update a service record, and so on.

Agent Support

Though artificial intelligence could—and one day may—replace much of the human involvement in call center work, we’re best to view it now as supporting our agents so they can do their jobs better and faster. The above mentioned—and presently available—AI assisted email and text messaging tools are an obvious start. Though these still require agent involvement or agent approval, imagine being able to compose these messages in less time and with greater accuracy.

Customer Facing Communications

When many people think of AI in the call center, they envision frustrating bots that hamper effective communication and thwart timely resolution. Though reports of AI run amok confirm just that, it doesn’t need to be—and shouldn’t be—the case.

Chat bots are an obvious example. Though they don’t presently function well as a holistic solution and can make a mess of unusual situations, they work great as a front-end resource to solve basic problems, gather key information, and appropriately route customer requests to agents.

Now consider the same concept occurring with telephone calls. Then imagine text to speech technology producing canned responses in each operator’s voice and indistinguishable from their own speech when they need to take over a call.

Summary

We need not fear the forward march of artificial intelligence. There is much we can do to make our call centers function faster and more accurately than ever before. We’ll benefit and so will those we interact with, both inside our organization and without.

Artificial intelligence can help us, if only we will let it.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

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Call Center

7 Tips to Conduct Engaging Customer Surveys

Incorporate Best Practices into Your Customer Survey Process

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Do you survey your customers or clients? Should you do a customer survey? And if you already have a survey process in place, do the results meet your needs? Or should it be overhauled or even retired?

Regardless of where you are on the survey continuum, don’t rollout a customer survey without first determining if it’s necessary, ascertaining what you hope to accomplish, and having a well thought out plan.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Here are seven tips to conduct engaging surveys:

1. Determine Your Why

Decide what you want your customer survey to accomplish. Never do one until you know why you’re doing it. The worst reasons to do a survey are because everyone else is or because you think you’re supposed to. If it doesn’t make good business sense, don’t do it.

Here are some possible reasons why you should have a customer survey: To improve the level of customer service, to reduce customer churn, or to close more sales. But don’t try to achieve all three objectives with one survey. Pick one.

2. Fine Tune Your Focus

Next, you need to narrow your focus. Don’t expect one customer survey will meet the needs of every department throughout your organization. Thinking that you can conduct one survey to give useful information to your service department and your sales department and your marketing department is folly. Again, pick one.

3. Assign Responsibility

Based on your survey’s why and focus, assign it to the department that will most benefit from the results. Then pick a person in that department to champion it. They may or may not be the person to design and implement the customer survey, but they do need to ensure it moves forward.

4. Design with Intention

In planning your customer survey, be intentional with its design.

In preparation, take as many surveys as you can from other companies to see what you like and don’t like. Common survey issues are ones that are too long or too short. Other pet peeves include forcing users to explain their answer or not providing the option to leave a comment. Posting a time estimate for the survey helps increase participation; displaying a status bar increases the completion rate. Both are nice touches.

5. Test and Retest

With the design of the customer survey complete, it’s time to test it. The survey designer should test it thoroughly before asking for more input. Next, have employees in the sponsoring department test it. Then solicit input from the rest of your company. Last, invite select customers to go through the beta version.

After each round of testing, implement the recommended changes that support your objectives. But don’t implement every suggestion. Just do the ones that make sense.

6. Rollout Your Survey

At this point, you’re ready to publish your survey. But don’t blast it to every potential recipient, through all possible channels all at once. Instead do a soft launch. This way, if there are errors or oversights, you have a chance to fix them before everyone experiences the problem.

7. Iterate and Repeat

If you have a rolling survey that continues to collect data over time, periodically look at it to see if it needs tweaking but do this only after waiting a sufficient time and gathering enough data to do a thorough analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.

And if your customer survey is a one-shot endeavor, look at what went well and what didn’t. This can inform the next time you launch the survey, because—unless you really bungled it—you’ll want to do it again.

Conclusion

When done properly, customer surveys can provide valuable data and critical feedback to inform decision making. To achieve the best results, apply these tips to your design and implementation process.

Happy surveying!

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

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Call Center

Avoid the Covid Excuse in Your Call Center

Admit Your Service Faults Instead of Blaming the Pandemic

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Different countries around the world and various areas within have had differing responses to the covid pandemic. For some it is but a memory—albeit a painful one. Others, however, are only now beginning to emerge from its grip, with its influence lingering on.

Regardless, it’s impacted our call centers and how we do business. Many are quick to blame it for their staffing shortfalls and service failures. I call this the covid excuse.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Citing the covid excuse for low staffing levels, reduced hours of support, and delayed response times may be truthful, but it’s wearing thin.

Some businesses have successfully responded to the pandemic and rebounded appropriately, returning to their prior levels of service, or even surpassing them.

Yet others continue to struggle. They blame covid for their ongoing issues. And, for the most part, using the covid excuse to justify their shortcomings reached a receptive audience.

But don’t expect the public’s acceptance of covid as the explanation for continued ongoing service problems to last much longer.

Initially, virtually every company was quick to use the covid excuse as justification for everything that went wrong. But as we inched forward, many companies have moved away from blaming the pandemic. And wisely so.

The purpose of call centers is to serve customers and react to prospects. If there’s a service shortfall, regardless of the reason, that’s a bad reflection on the call center and poor customer service. It must be corrected, covid or not.

Provide Excellence

Many call centers initially struggled as they attempted to deal with lockdown restrictions, work-at-home mandates, and employee concerns. Yet they adjusted and adapted. They persisted in holding high their ideals of providing excellent customer service.

And despite having glitches along the way, they soon stopped using the covid excuse and simply assumed responsibility for their service shortfalls.

Not having enough agents working or seeing key performance indicator slip didn’t matter if it was pandemic related or not. Instead, it was something to fix, and they fixed it.

They focused on providing service excellence, pandemic or not.

Use the Covid Excuse

Other operations, however, took the opposite approach. They used the covid excuse whenever they could, and they continue to do so—even when it’s not true. This occurs for understaffing, offering poor customer service, and failing to meet caller needs.

While the pandemic may have initially caused these problems to surface, it’s disingenuous to continue to use the explanation—even if there remains an element of truth to it. The covid excuse is blamed for price increases, service delays, and supply chain issues.

The public is tired of hearing it; they don’t care. They expect service and expect companies to deliver. It’s that simple.

Moving Forward

Every person and every company had to navigate the covid pandemic. While we may never forget it and the long-ranging effects it produced, it is time to move beyond it.

It’s time to focus on serving our clients and not blame circumstances when we failed to deliver.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer ServiceSticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Leadership and Management featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

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Call Center

Artificial Intelligence in the Call Center

3 Responses to Using AI to Serve Customers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Predictions about the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) have been with us for decades. But until recently they only showed up in science fiction books and movies—usually with dire results. Such is the basis for good fiction.

Yet in recent months, advances in artificial intelligence have surged forward, reaching into every industry, including the call center and customer service sphere. With AI, just as with any technological advancement, there are three responses.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Ignore It and Maybe It Will Go Away

The first reaction, which is really a nonreaction, is to dismiss it. Maybe you’re already sick of the hype or maybe you’re not aware of it. Yet assuming a computer algorithm has no place in your call center is not a wise conclusion to make.

The risk of this approach is getting left behind. You will find—likely in short order—your call center operation and your company competing with others who have thoughtfully integrated artificial intelligence into their operation.

They will serve customers in a way you cannot and save money you’re not able to.

Gung Ho Adoption

The second response is the opposite. It’s to go full speed ahead in adopting artificial intelligence technology for the call center. Yet this is also fraught with peril.

The news is filled with artificial intelligence going awry. In recent months, companies have been publicly embarrassed and their stock has taken a hit, not because of human error (at least not directly) but because of computer error.

These occurred from AI applications running unchecked and without restraint.

If you’ve ever used text chat to submit a customer service request, you’ve likely interacted with a chat bot, which is an artificial intelligence application. In my experience they’re unlikely to solve my problem, but usually they collect some preliminary information and route me to a real person who can help.

Yet just recently, a chat bot took me down the wrong path, leaving me with two unacceptable options: agree that the chatbot had solved my problem or pay to upgrade my service. End of discussion. But it wouldn’t allow me to start a new chat session until I concluded the first one by picking either of its two unsatisfactory answers.

I also think artificial intelligence was involved in a recent near-miss with an email support effort. I had submitted a service ticket, but a couple hours later I figured out the solution on my own. I sent a follow up email to cancel the ticket.

The response told me how to cancel my service with the company. This may have been a human error by an agent who scanned and didn’t read my email, but I suspect it was artificial intelligence which responded wrongly to the word cancel.

Fortunately, the AI bot didn’t take the initiative to close my account.

Imagine seeing these examples extended to telephone calls at your call center. Yet it’s already happening.

I recently read a report of artificial intelligence telling human agents how the solve customer problems and what to say. The AI then grades the agent on compliance, penalizing agents who use common sense to override the AI’s bad guidance.

Then the common excuse of “I was just following orders,” becomes “I was just doing what the computer told me to.” May it never be.

Cautious Implementation

The third response—the one I recommend—is a balanced perspective. Investigate the use of artificial intelligence in your call center operation. Make an informed decision as to how to best use it. The wise application is to implement artificial intelligence to better serve customers.

Don’t pursue AI merely to save money, even though this should emerge as an expected outcome.

Seek ways where artificial intelligence can make your agents’ jobs easier. Look for ways where AI can help your human staff better serve your human customers. A guiding principle in this is to keep AI in an advisory capacity.

Give your agents final say. They should be able to control the AI, not have the AI control them.

As you appropriately implement artificial intelligence in your call center, the goal should be to offer better customer service, improve response times, and lower payroll costs. But don’t look for AI to replace your staff anytime soon.

And my advice is to resist the urge to blindly implement AI, lest you end up with a public relations nightmare, lost business, and a decrease in new customer acquisitions, all through AI run amok.

AI Conclusion

A good baseline requirement to guide your use of artificial intelligence in the call center is to empower your agents to control it, not let AI replace the common sense and empathetic problem-solving ability of real people.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

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Call Center

Developing Your Callback Strategy

Design a Callback Strategy That Works for You and Your Callers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Though not every caller will use it, many appreciate the option to have you call them back instead of waiting on hold. As with any technology, your implementation of your callback strategy has probably evolved over time.

If so, look at what you’re currently doing to see if it still makes sense, to ensure it’s the optimum execution to best facilitate communication between you and your callers.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you look at developing your callback strategy. Follow these tips to achieve the best results.

Where Are They in the Queue?

A much-appreciated courtesy you can give callers as they wait to talk to you is to let them know where they are in the queue. In short, how long before they can talk to somebody?

This is vital information for someone to know as they contemplate whether they should accept your offer of receiving a callback.

If they can stay in queue and talk with someone in a minute or two, most people will be happy to wait. But if the delay is much longer, most will opt for a callback.

What about Your Callback Queue?

Once someone asks for a callback, do they go into a separate queue or is it integrated with your new-call queue? Having separate queues, allows for dedicated agents. Most will handle new calls and the rest will handle callbacks.

Alternately you can prioritize callbacks, moving them ahead of new calls. Or you can prioritize new calls, moving callbacks to the end of the queue. There may not be one universally right answer here, but there is a right answer for your operation. Just be sure to make an informed decision.

What Is Your Maximum Callback Time?

Another consideration is if you want to set up a maximum threshold to make the callback.

If you wait too long, your customer may have mentally moved on to something else and isn’t ready to engage with your agent. Yet trying to place callbacks too quickly could jeopardize new-call responsiveness.

Consider what seems reasonable for the caller and doable for your operation.

What If You Can’t Make the Callback the Same Day?

Also develop a policy for what you’ll do if you get to the end of the day and there are still pending callbacks to make. Will you have staff stay late to make sure they happen?

Or will you roll those pending callbacks into the next day? If you do this, consider your customers’ reaction. It may not be good.

What If the Customer Isn’t Available When You Call?

Your customers are busy people, perhaps as busy as your agents. There’s a chance that when you call them back, they won’t be available. What should you do?

The worst reaction is to hang up and forget about them. You could leave a message and let them call you back. Or you could hang up and call them back in a few minutes. Even better would be to leave a message and call them back.

Should You Allow Scheduled Callbacks?

Putting callbacks in a general queue or having a separate callback queue supports optimum call center efficiency. But what about your customers waiting for you to call them back? Though it may be more work for you to let them schedule callbacks, it’s a smart customer-centric move.

Just be sure that someone calls them back when they request it.

Callback Strategy Summary

Offering to call customers back when you get busy is a feature that consumers increasingly expect call centers to offer. If they look for it and you don’t provide it, you’ll disappoint them. Disappoint them too often and they’ll take their business elsewhere.

Instead, follow these suggestions in developing your callback strategy, and you’ll score with your callers who expect you to call them back.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

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Call Center

Going Beyond the Call

Offer Call Backs and Customer Service Options

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

In thinking about going beyond the call, you may assume this is an article about offering web chat, text messaging, and email response in addition to handling phone calls. Though I’m an advocate of these options, thereby turning your call center into a contact center, these are not my focus this time.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Instead, I’m addressing what you can do with the telephone to go beyond the call. Here are some considerations:

Call Backs

Offering to call back the caller instead of having them wait on hold—in queue—is an option call centers can offer.

Some callers like this flexibility and others don’t. Some are skeptical they’ll receive a call back, while a few have tried it and never got the promised call—or it came hours later instead of the few minutes they were led to believe. Yet many delight in this option.

The benefits of a call back for the customer is not having to wait on hold, being able to attend to other activities, and a feeling of greater control.

Benefits to the call center are fewer callers on hold, lower toll-free costs, and agents who have a chance to prepare to engage with the caller before placing the call. Even something as simple as bringing up the customer’s account in advance saves agent time and reduces customer angst.

Abandoned Calls

What do you do with callers who hang up in frustration while on hold? Hope they’ll call back? It might not happen. Be glad for one less call to handle? This is a short-sighted response that misses the reason for the call center in the first place.

What if you took the initiative and called the customer back? “We see that you called us earlier today, but we couldn’t get to your call in time. Is there anything we can help you with now?”

Yes, some customers will have given up, figured it out on their own, or decide to vent their frustrations. But many will be impressed you called to check with them and have heartfelt gratitude you made the effort.

In doing so you can turn around a negative experience and correct it. As you do so, you’ll forge a stronger relationship between your organization and your customers.

Surveys

Some organizations do follow up surveys, either at the conclusion of a call or afterward. If you conduct surveys, what are your goals in doing so?

Is it merely to amass a statistical database of C-Sat (customer satisfaction) scores? There’s nothing wrong with this, but too often the end-of-call surveys try to learn about the effectiveness of the call before the caller knows if the advice they received is correct.

A better reason for follow up surveys is to determine customer service failures, providing a chance to correct your call center’s shortcoming. Then you can work to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one.

Going Beyond the Call

These are ways you can go beyond the call to better serve your customers. And that’s the reason your call center exists.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

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Call Center

Make Chat Availability a Priority

Make Customer Service a Distinguishing Factor for Your Organization

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Companies are increasingly offering chat services as a way for their customers and prospects to reach them. Not only is this an option that more and more people want to use, but many businesses find it’s a cost-effective customer service solution.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

As such, you’d think that customer-focused enterprises would make chat availability a priority. Yet in my experience as a customer, too many do not.

Avoid Turning Chat On and Off

I’ve experienced multiple companies that turn their chat option on and off throughout the day. Though their posted schedule says they’re available during business hours, their practice runs counter to that.

One site indicated that their chat was online. Excited, I begin typing my message, but before I could press enter, the chat availability indication turned from online to offline.

Hopeful it was a momentary glitch, I stared at the screen for the next several minutes, poised to press enter as soon as the chat availability changed back to online.

I got tired of waiting and went on to my next project. This was most frustrating because I needed to reach them, and chat was their only option.

I’ve seen this occur on other websites as well, with chat toggling between online and offline throughout the day. This is no way to serve customers. But it is a way to frustrate them.

Have a Schedule and Follow It

A retail operation would never open and close throughout the day; no self-respecting business would ever do that. When a customer shows up during regular business hours, they expect to come in and make a purchase. The same mentality should apply to chat service.

Make a schedule and staff accordingly to meet that schedule. Yes, when it’s difficult to hire and keep staff, meeting a desired schedule is problematic.

Yet it should be a priority for any company that cares about its customers. And every business that wants to stay in business must put their customers first.

If staffing levels drop too low to support chat in a reasonable time frame, don’t shut it down. Instead note what delay customers may encounter, apologize for the inconvenience, and offer an alternate solution.

One company I deal with boasted 24/7 chat availability. That didn’t last long. They soon scaled back to business hours availability. And a few months after that, they reconfigured their chat window to be a front end to email.

You type in your question is normal, and they tell you they’ll get back with you in a couple of hours. The answer comes by email, even if you leave the chat window open.

Offer Alternatives

In addition to chat, other common customer service options include the telephone and email.

Presumably if a company can’t staff their chat service, they can’t operate their call center either, which carries an even more time-critical expectation than chat. But many companies have cut their telephone support altogether.

That leaves email. Of the three communication options, it’s the most frustrating, with lengthy delays lasting days—or being ignored altogether.

With email, back-and-forth interaction, which happens with ease on chat and phone interaction, is difficult and time consuming. Imagine waiting two days for an email response and receiving a message that says, “What is your account number?”

Yes, there are also self-service options, with many companies offering FAQs, blog posts, and customer forums where users help each other.

FAQs and blog posts seldom address the more specific questions I have. And I try to avoid forums because I have no way of knowing if the help they’re offering is reliable or not. And too often no one ever responds to the questions I post.

Chat Solutions

Offering accessible and prompt customer service is even more critical today than ever before, where a business can lose a customer at the click of a button. Offering chat service is a common and cost-effective way to do this.

But to be successful, do it wisely. This means no turning on and off chat throughout the day, posting and adhering to a realistic schedule of chat availability, and offering customer service alternatives.

And if your staffing levels don’t allow for this to occur, look for a contact center you can outsource this to, either to back you up as needed, according to a set schedule, or around the clock.

This is the perfect solution to providing consistent chat availability to your customers.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer ServiceSticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Leadership and Management featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

Categories
Call Center

Is Your Management Style Hurting Your Call Center?

After Doing All You Can on the Hiring Side, Turn Your Attention to Retention

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

A college friend recently shared his experience working at his part-time job. Several of his coworkers had quit, and he planned to do so as well. His departure would move his employer from drastically short-staffed to critically understaffed.

She begged him to stay and offered him a significant pay bump, moving him to nearly three times minimum wage for his unskilled, entry-level position.

He accepted. But he quickly regretted his decision.

Three weeks later he quit for good. “She was just too hard to work for,” he said, “and no amount of money would get me to stay.”

He found another job right away. Though his new one doesn’t pay as well, he likes his boss and feels appreciated. He now enjoys going to work. As a bonus, the hours don’t interfere with his school schedule or studying.

Times Have Changed

In a different era, his first boss’s management style would have worked. Yes, she would have churned through employees, but hiring a replacement wouldn’t have been an issue.

Times have changed. It seems every business today is in a hiring mode. They’ve upped their pay, improved their compensation plan, and lowered their expectations. But they still have trouble filling open slots, as well as keeping the employees they do have.

And I hear rumblings—and have personally witnessed it—that some of the employees they do have fall short of expectations and are less than the caliber they once hired.

The common solutions to filling open positions in a tight labor market are to pay more, improve benefits, and be more accommodating. These are good solutions, but a better approach may be to re-examine your management style.

Management Style

Quite succinctly, is your management style hurting your call center?

In thinking back to past jobs, I’ve had managers who were patient, and others who were demanding; some were kind, and others were tyrants; some were complimentary, and others were condemning. I liked some and feared others. And when it came to compensation, some were fair, and others were cheap.

For the good jobs with great bosses, I stayed with those companies for a long time, working until my situation or their need for me changed. For the other jobs with less-than-ideal bosses, I moved on as quickly as I could.

Each one of these was a learning opportunity, teaching me what to do and not to do when it came to supervising staff and leading people.

Managerial Impact

When I moved into management, I strived to be a fair boss and treat employees well—to be the kind of employer I wanted to work for.

Though I didn’t always succeed at meeting my goal, I know that most of the time I did. Some employees noticed this and even thanked me for it. And a few told me I was the best boss they ever had.

I’m not sure how my focus on being a desirable boss and worthy employer affected our turnover, but I do know I felt good about myself and the effort I put forth to make the operation a better place to work.

Take Action

If your call center is short-staffed and you can’t find enough qualified employees, despite paying more and offering more, the long-term solution may be to focus on the retention side of the equation.

Look at your management style. Seek changes that will allow you to have a more positive impact on your staff and lead them in a more effective way.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer ServiceSticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Leadership and Management featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.