From Egg Salad to Customer Service

When I am on the receiving side of customer service gone south, I am forced to wonder if the negative experience was a one-off fluke or — and this is what really terrifies me — is this organization consistently falling short of their customer’s expectations?

"Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold - but so does a hard-boiled egg." -Maya Angelou

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I love a well-intentioned employee just as much as I love hard-boiled eggs. I recognize that hard-boiled eggs (and well-intentioned employees) have an undisputed belonging in time and space. An egg salad sandwich, for example, is nothing without the hard-boiled egg. Alternatively, that same hard-boiled egg would not fare well in the summer heat of your locked car. Upon opening your door, the pungent smell would force you in a call to action. It would be difficult to ignore the fact that a change needed to happen. What I have a problem with, however, is when a well-intentioned manager brings a new employee into their organization and then sends them into the workforce ill prepared and under equipped. The employee might be successful or, in most cases, will fester, decay, and eventually become another percentage point on your turnover analysis.

I’ve encountered numerous situations where poor customer service "stinks up" the reputation of a brand with seemingly no call to action. Whether it is confinement to scripting, poor training or most commonly, an attitude of indifference, organizations can unknowingly build poor customer service into their existing policies and procedures. Whether we choose to admit or acknowledge it, we could all probably pinpoint something about our own customer experience that is less than desirable. That begs me to ask the question, "What are you going to do about it?"

Maybe you’ve recognized that your organization struggles with this (that is, after all, the first step) but it doesn’t have to stay that way! Change. Is. Possible. It won't happen overnight and it won't always be easy, but it will be worth it. You can lead the revolution to enhance your organization’s ability to provide amazing service.

Now that I have your intentions in check, let's work on your actions. Here are some easy steps to put you on the road to customer service success:

1.Open the Lines of Communication. For as simplistic as it can be, poor communication can easily become the Achilles heel of any organization – especially the contact center. Communicate honestly through clear objectives, realistic expectations, and actionable feedback. Communicate openly by encouraging two-way dialogue, involvement at all levels, and expressing appreciation publicly. Communicate regularly through multiple channels, ongoing coaching, and proactive awareness of upcoming events.

2. Invest In Training. It is easy to discount the importance of training when phone volume spikes, budgets need cut, or resources grow thin. Organizations that use this approach blow my mind. Effective training could be exactly what your organization needs to combat high phone volume, address and affect budget deficits, and enhance existing resources. Your training program should be a multi-channel/sensory experience that lays a strong foundation for new employees, offers year-round skill enhancement for existing employees, and provides high quality resources for all employees.

3. Hire Passionate People. A great product is important, but it’s not your organization’s greatest asset. A company becomes great because it hires great people. You can train a skill, a computer system, and process, but you can’t make someone be a passionate advocate for your brand. If you’re not satisfied with the type of candidate that you’ve been getting, change your way of getting new candidates. Don’t be afraid to try unconventional, out of the box methods! Sustainable improvement requires a company-wide commitment to recruitment, positioning in roles, rewards, recognizing, and management. Once they’re hired, foster their engagement! Capture the heads, hearts, and souls of your employees to instill an intrinsic desire andPASSION for excellence. (Fleming and Asplund)

4. Promote Empowerment. One the easiest ways to drive a powerful customer experience is also one of the hardest things for some managers to do. Give authority, freedom, and control to your front line staff. You will be amazed at how much your employees appreciate the new level of trust and how quickly and positively your customer’s notice the change. In order for it be successful, however, you need to establish clear boundaries and limitations and build a system for accountability. Provide ongoing coaching and feedback on performance to further reinforce the good choices your employees make or to guide them through appropriate decision making skills in future situations.

5. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. No system is perfect, no plan is foolproof. The needs of your customers, your employees, and your organization will continue to change. What is working today may be ineffective in a matter of weeks, months, or years and you need to be prepared to respond appropriately. It is essential to stay on top of trends in your industry, to prepare and promote employees for growth within your organization, and to be constantly evaluating what’s working, what’s broken, and what’s missing.

So you have a great product. So what? Nothing else matters if you’re not keeping your customers satisfied and your employees engaged. And maybe you’re not willing to do what it takes. That’s OK… I’m sure that one or more of your competitors will be more than happy to step up to the challenge. It’s now up to you, will you turn your next hard-boiled egg into an egg salad sandwich or will you forget about it and let its stink define your brand?

*Fleming, Ph. D, John H. and Jim Asplund. Human Sigma: Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter. New York: Gallup Press, 2007. Print.

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Saurabh Khetrapal — 11:13AM on Jul 19, 2012

Training is so important. Contact center agents deal with your customers day-in and day-out; they are responsible for upholding your brand! If you can invest in them and their training then you are putting your brand at risk.