Thursday, December 30, 2010

Actively asking for feedback is NEVER bad

If the shopper feels like it was poor service, then it was poor service. We are in the customer perception business.
Mark Perrault, Rally Stores

I love this quote – it says it all even if we think we give excellent service and provide the customers with all they could possible need and want. It is only so if the customer agree with us.
So how do we know if the customers think we give good service?  Often when I ask this question the answers are something like “well we do everything…” or “they come back….”.
So you think you do everything a customer could possible want – how can you be sure unless you ask them? And for the “they keep buying” what if they don’t? Is it not much better to figure it out before the customers go somewhere else?
I am always surprised how reluctant people are to ask for feedback from their customers. In the past I asked my team to call the customer up and ask for feedback on how we are doing. In the beginning they did not like it very much –but I believe as long as you realize and communicate that all feedback can be used to improve the service you provide it is one of the most valuable things you can do.
It goes without saying that if an agent has behaved  in an inappropriate manner the feedback could be used as part of disaplinary action – but to be honest if you are a good leader you should never be in a situation where something like this happens (this could be an entire new blog post). Mostly it is about finding out what are the customer missing and what do they like us to do more of. Then it is easy to narrow down, improve and really make a difference. Instead of just guessing……and aiming wide.  
So whatever you do – do not be shy about actively acquiring feedback.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When Customer Care Works!

In my last blog I was writing about customer care when it goes wrong – so I decided this time to concentrate a bit on when it goes right. I am writing this in Frankfurt airport where as I show my boarding card to the security guard he scans it and wishes me a nice trip back to Brussels, at the security-check there is no shouting at people  for not being quick enough  to empty laptops, shoes, handbags, coats and pockets. All over it is “good evening”, “thank you”, “please” and “have a nice flight”.  Realizing that my flight is delayed I decide to have my dinner here, and again I am amazed on how nice and polite everybody is. Normally in an European airport they know you are a captured audience so they can (and will) treat you badly and charge you a fortune without really worrying if you go somewhere else. But here it was different (OK it is still airport prices – but it does not feel so bad if you, at least, get treated nice).
Does this change my travel habits – probably not (I still have to go to Frankfurt airport six times a year whether they are nice or not) but it does make me much more willing to part with some cash if I am not stressed over the lousy treatment I got in the security-check, and I know I can get some decent service with my dinner. And it does make me a much nicer passenger as well. I am more likely to smile and take extra care not to bump into somebody else (I am not even that upset over the 30 min delay) and if I am like this, I believe I am not the only one – so with a bit of courtesy and smile from all the staff, the entire atmosphere in the airport has changed – that is a result for anybody!.
This brings me to when bad service is turned around. In my organization we ask our customers to let us know how the call went. And if the survey is not good we really want to speak to that customer again so we can try to make up for whatever went wrong. These are the customers we have a chance to save, the one who just decide to go elsewhere without telling us why – that is a real waste.
Back to travel, two months ago I stayed with my family in the Maldron hotel in Dublin, it is a place we have been before and like, but since we had been there last it has changed ownership. The hotel is still nice with the amenities we like (swimming-pool, walking distance to town and a proper bed for our young son instead of the usual pull-out).  The staff is most polite and helpful but there were a few hic-cups in the “system” of the hotel: when we told our 11 year old that he could buy a movie the only choice was porn (We are pretty relaxed but sexolympics is not on when you are 11), and the really clever system they have where the vending machine charge your keycard did not work.  On our return I dropped a mail to the hotel pointing out the shortcomings and within hours the manager called me back for more details and to apologies. It was a very nice conversation where I for sure felt he listened and understood my concerns and that some actions would be taken (Ex switch off porn if children are staying in the room), and offered us a free night as a appreciation of the feedback. I was delighted – not so much because of the free night but because he listened and understood. Of course when we are going back next month we will stay a further two nights and we will keep coming back – so by picking up the phone and listening  to me, he now have very loyal customers in our family.  
This is true for all types of customers, so if a customer offers you feedback (of any kind)  please do not turn a blind eye – that communication can change an unsatisfied customer into a loyal advocate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

We do have a choice – we just need to make it!

I just read a very interesting blogpost on lowcost airlines – especially Ryanair, which made me think about the powers we have as consumer.
When I travel privately I must admit we look for value for money – if we spend less on getting there, we can spend more whilst we are there. But it has come to a point where the actual saving has to be really significant before I choose Ryanair over other airlines.
Somehow over the last decade travelling by air has turned into an experience where you have absolute no right to dignity. And whilst I can understand – and live with that in the name of safety (although I still struggle with the airports who want my toiletries in a plastic bag), the way Ryanair ground staff treats their customers is so rude it should be illegal. Just recently we (husband, son and I) where in Italy on holiday- and we travelled Ryanair. First in the Belgian airport (I refuse to call it “Brussels south” as it is 70km outside Brussels), the security staff will when checking your passport and boarding card, they will also check that your hand luggage is not too big. Excuse me, but are those people not there for our national security and safety? What does that have to do with the size of my carry-on. On the other side in Italy there was a ground staffer with a bathroom scale to make sure that we did not carry too much onboard – I mean give me a break…..
But the truth is that even though I hate the way I am being treated, by buying the ticket I allow them to do so.  In almost every other aspect (where I have a choice) if I do not get the service I think I am entitle too (and this is not much) I leave and will not come back. Yet when it comes to buying the flight tickets we look at each other and think if we can save 200 EUR (260$) we can live with the inconvenience. Maybe it is the amount of money that is the decider – or maybe it is because you do not realize just how bad it is going to be when you order the tickets.
But as consumers we need to realize that we do have a choice – and together we have power to turn things around, we can choose not to buy that Ryanair ticket and if enough of us choose not to they will have to change the way they treat us.
But I also know what a lovely meal you can have in Verona for much less than the 200 EUR I saved.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nature or Nurture - what makes a leader?

On LinkedIn the question “what makes a great leader?” was asked … and lots of good and quite some bad answers was provided.
But what indeed makes a good leader? And if you are a good leader in one team/company does it mean that you are a good leader in another team/company ? Is it you or your surroundings … get us back to the age old “nurture or nature”.  My view is that of course it is you who are a great leader but you need to be suited to the culture in the team/company. Of course you can try to swing the culture in the team or even in an entire company – but the bigger the harder it will be. I would compare it to turning and stopping a huge ocean liner – it can be done, but you need to know what to do and it takes a looong time.
As a leader you must stay true to yourself and your values – it is OK to tone some things down and others up – but you lose credibility if you try to pretend liking an idea you hate… be honest about it without dishing the idea.
You need to be consistent and fair in the way you treat your team otherwise nobody will trust you. And if you do not have the teams trust – you have nothing that will even resemble a team.
You need to dig in and do some work as well and your team needs to have different types (some of us do not like the nitty-gritty – but take on some other tasks and make sure you have somebody who likes to do just that – otherwise it will be forgotten and the outcome will probably be less)
Most important you need to maybe not lead the way – but be able to show the team which way they should aim for – in such a way that the team is eager to move ahead.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Positive attitude.

Is it my job as a leader to ensure that my team is happy? No, it is my job to ensure we provide them with the tools they need, a nice work environment and of course – not least a fair salary. But beside that I cannot guarantee the happiness of my team.
Goes without saying that I like it much better when they are happy, but it cannot be my duty to make them happy. What I see and hear people complaining about their job is the salary (granted we would all like to earn more money), but if you are rewarded fairly then extra dosh in the  bank is not going to make you happier or more motivated – except maybe for a short period of time. Or the work hours – but in most businesses there are some standard work hours where we need to be available.
What most of us forget is that unless you life is really in the sh@t you can choose to be happy, you have a choice, Is your glass half empty or half full? That goes for work as well. If you arrive to the office everyday dreading the day ahead of you, you are in the wrong job. If you dread it because you hate the work you do it is time to move on. If the tools are inadequate and your salary not fair for the job you do – it is time to move on (as a company you need to care about your employees enough to ensure this is OK – if not you are not worth working for).
A lot can be done by each individual employee. I am sure we all know those people who “spread gold dust” in the office the smiling happy ones! Yet so many of us seem to focus on the negative. If I tell you my flight was delayed, I am sure you have a story where not only was your flight delayed – you luggage was delayed even longer! I will come back with the time my luggage was lost and I never saw it again.  If I tell you about a colleague who did me wrong – you probably have a story of how he/she did you wrong – just worse! What we would probably not talk about is all the times that person has done right by us (or all the flights that was on time and we got our luggage).
In  the past I have heard a lot of complaint about the atmosphere in the office – what always gets me is that collectively we make up the atmosphere we work in so if so many of us are unhappy – we have it in our power to turn it around.
 In our team we started a project “Positive thinking”. We took a lot of inspiration from “Happy hour is 9 -5” by Alexander Kjerulf on We made some small adjustments and rules.
·         Make sure you build relationships with your colleagues who you do not see very often, call them instead of emailing all the time (so many things can be misunderstood via email). If you have the chance drink a cup of coffee or a beer with them (again it is much easier to be positive towards somebody you have had an informal talk with).
·         When you hear somebody complain about a colleague, customer ect. Listen and acknowledge (we all need to vent once in a while) but also remind them of all the good things this colleague, customer ect . has done. So give them a break.
·         If you feel like writing an angry email, write it – keep it for 24 hours read it again and see if there is still the need to send it.
·         Lead by example!!!   

And although I cannot see a big difference in our employee satisfaction surveys everybody agrees that the office is a much nicer place to be working in and also to visit. I see people much happier to help out and many more smiles as I walk through (but maybe they are just laughing at me).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Setting Expectations

I live in Belgium. A country with many positives - very international, great food, fabulous chocolate, so small that you can get elsewhere in a matter of very few hours (Paris 1 hour, 2 hours to London or Amsterdam). But also home of absolutely the worst customer service I have ever experienced.

More than once have I stood in line at the till, and whilst "serving" me and the people in front and behind me the sales person is on her mobile phone..... Or there is a queue of 5-7 people who wants to pay - only one person at the till whilst another 5 staff are hoovering or chatting on the floor.
Just recently my son got his first mobile phone, he had a certain budget and after having researched a couple of weeks he had his eye set on a specific phone sold by Belgacom - the local telecompany. We visited 8 stores where the phone was on display - but when we wanted to buy it we were told "Ooh we do not have this anymore". Asking if it was possible to order it for we were told "No" no alternative was offered only "try another Belgacom shop". Of course I got slightly annoyed and asked why "do you have the phone on display with a price and everything when you cannot sell it ? Instead of taking it down?" the answer here was "Complain to Belgacom" - which incidentally I thought I was doing. (But obviously there is not much of feeling part of the company if you work on the shop floor).
Visiting store number 9 the clerk says (as the rest of them) "Sorry we do not have that model in store" but wait for it..."If you do not mind waiting a week to ten days I can order it home for you". We almost kissed the guy! He did not only order it home for us - but also called me two hours later to say that he had found the phone in their stockroom - so whenever it suited us we could come and pick it up.
My son was thrilled and he got his phone and on the way home in the car he talked about what a great service this clerk had just given. I whole hearted agreed.

But wait ....hang on a minute.
Everywhere else this kind of service would have been offered in every one of the eight stores we visited (except we would then only have had to visit one), and that would have been the norm. So here we were thrilled about an "outstanding" service which would have been the bare minimum in most other places.

I guess it proves if you set expectations very low - it will be very easy to exceed the expectations and the customer would be happy and come back for more, right? Wrong.
In the case of Belgium I guess we have to get used to it and we are... we wait longer in the cafe to order a cup of coffee, we expect to have a lot of hassle if we want to exchange - or God forbid, our money back for a sweater. But we also go everywhere else to do the shopping when we have the chance (I personally prefer the UK- so go there frequently with a couple of friends for a Saturday shopping - and make a day out of it).

So this will only work if your customers do not have an alternative....

You need to set the expectations at a perfect level. So the customer wants to buy from you, because you meet his needs. But also so it is relatively easy for you to honor these expectations - you cannot "run after", "go all out"  for every single customer - most should be routine and "bread and butter".
Then you have the possibility to “pull all stops” for that particular case which is very tricky and I bet you and your team would love to do that. Because this is really what we live for – these exceptional cases where we call in favors from  everybody… but to do that for every single customer that would just be too exhausting.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The ideal Customer Care Agent Profile

Have you also heard that the ideal Customer Care candidates profile should read something like this:
"Not too young, woman is preferred as we all think women are better at caring, children are good (as long as they are in school) - basically somebody who is happy to have a 9-5 job (or whatever the hours), who is happy to have a job they can combine with Family life (meaning: forget when they go home) and have no major aspirations to grow in the company".

I lead a multinational Customer Care organisation in Europe where we price ourselves on having native speakers of all the 13 languages we supports. We have people from all over Europe in our team (which makes it a fabulous team to work in).

Naturally most of the people we employ are not native to the country we are in. So getting native speakers can be tricky. It is not at all political correct - but the men and women who leave their native country to pursue happiness and fulfilment (privately and professionally) are not your "ideal" CC profile, these people are generally looking for love either new (thanks to Internet dating we see many people here) or more mature (trailing spouses). They would probably never have applied for a CC job in their native country, and they do not fit the profile at all but we hire them anyway.
And what we have discovered is that although these people generally are overqualified for the job, they thrive here. The teams benefit from the International feel and atmosphere and the ideas for improving our service and procedures are never ending.

The only exception to this is the team supporting the country we are based in. Here we have a team that matches the profile for at least 80% of the people. This provides us with a team with many conflicts (I am a woman so I feel OK saying this - "maybe too many women on one team is not cool"). Needless to say the conflicts are rarely work related and incredible personal (sometimes it is almost like living a soap).

OK, for the over qualified men and women on my team we need to keep them happy with more interesting projects, special responsibilities and such, and once in a while (but rarely) do we loose one of them because they find a job in their own field of specialty. So we have to find those projects and special responsibilities... but I think it is a small - and very interesting price to pay, for conflict free teams full of positive energy.

So I have stopped caring for the Ideal Customer Care Agent Profile.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Crazy measurements

If you work in a call center you are most like to have lots of KPIs. Answer rate, max wait time, average call time , average hold time , ring on no answer, I could go on and on… that combined with scripts makes an agents job really limited and frankly not so interesting if you have some brain (which let’s face it most of the customer care agents have).

Whilst a script might be good to lean on if you are new it is very limited in really interacting with your customers. And why is average call time even a measurement anybody sane want to use, is it better to jab through a call in 1.5 minutes and leave a customer unsatisfied and chances are he will call back again or spend that extra 1 min to ensure that customer is happy and understand the next steps? I know what get my vote.

I my ideal world the agents will get enough training for them to feel comfortable to actually talk to the customers and give them good and proper advice/help…..hey let go crazy here and provide some real service!

Let the call take as long as it should….. not a whole lot of things which are worse than if you as a customer feel rushed. I bet you will not only see an improvement in the customer satisfaction but also in the number of issues handled in the first call, and most importantly you will also see a improvement in your employee satisfaction.

I work in Europe; everybody on my team speaks at least two languages fluently but most speaks four or five. Around 85% are not native to the country we work in – but the country we work for. And let’s face it, it is probably the more openminded and indepent ones who move abroad to start a new life long away from friends and family. Most of the team is actually overqualified for the job… and the ones which have the “ideal” profile are the ones who really cause issues, so in my eyes there are no more an ideal profile…… If I ask these super clever people to only tell the customers what is on the script and that they can only spend 1.5 min on the phone, instead of letting them talk to the customer who needs for 5 min and give a service the agent as well as the company can be proud of and the customer can be satisfied with.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is Customer Care an unworthy job?

I am sure we have all read the books - maybe even tried it out in front of the mirror:

I am talking about Self-esteem boosting.

Does it work if you stand in front of the mirror every morning and tell you self that you are strong and beautiful when you know you are not that strong and on the beautiful scale – you probably manage a “pretty enough”. I do not know…. I leave that to others to decide.

What I do know is, if you constantly hear that the job you do is the lowliest of all jobs in an organization – you will believe it.

I work with people who are smart, educated and in every other sense have a very high self esteem. But when it comes to their job as Customer Care agents they are sure the job they do is of little value to the company and they decide to see their job as an unfortunate interlude in an otherwise fabulous career.

That is wrong.

When I go out and meet new people I am always asked “what do you do for a living?” if I answer “I am in Customer Care…” their eyes glaze over and they quickly move on to more pressing subjects such as “where do you live?” or “do you have children?” – if on the other hand I tell them I am responsible for a team of 80 customer facing professional s – I get more questions and “ahh” and “ohhs”.

Why is it that a Customer Service agent is seen as a job not worth doing?

In fact it is one of the most satisfying jobs you can have. Granted it is incredible hard and stressful – it takes a certain kind of person to multitask the entire day, to be given scripts and measurement for everything you do. Not to mention the potential that somebody will listen into or tape the conversations you have with your customers. Not many Sales reps, logistics people, VP’s or even CEO’s, would be able to work under such pressure day after day after day.

And although I am slowly changing the opinion in my team it is like turning a big oceanliner - it takes a long time...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Moving the Company vision from cost to profit

Why is it so difficult for companies to get the treatment of the customer right? Maybe you need to get the company vision right.

First of all most companies are seeing their Customer Service department as a cost center not profit center. I am sure I am not alone when I have been in the situation that the company launches an new customer focused initiative where “we are really going to differentiate ourselves with the great service we provide” - as long as there are no added costs. Albeit not necessarily impossible for a company to improve their customer service without added costs – if you run a somewhat mature department the low-hanging fruit are all gone and you probably need to spend some, to make it happen.

Secondly, Customer service agent is regarded an entry level job (and I am sure if you work in Customer Service, you have seen how quickly the high performers are snatched up by other departments and you have to hire and train again). Of course it is great that Customer service agents can grow and develop in the company, but would it not be wonderful if the rest of the company did see CS as a valued and important link to the customers, gave them the credit and by that actually also improved the job satisfaction of the CS agent.

That is a big part of the issue. The CS agents are not proud and happy with what they do, after being told time and time again how low their job is – I see fine people doing a great job. And they are not proud of their job!!! I believe this is one of the first things that needs to be tackled – Make sure your agents are proud of what they are doing!!!