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Expert's Angle: Great Service… It's Not Rocket Science (It's Tougher!)

Sending a rocket into orbit is difficult, but if you understand calculus, the properties of mass and acceleration, and have studied rocket science, you can predict exactly where a rocket will be at an exact point in time. The same cannot be said about a customer service experience. Just try to predict where a conversation will end five minutes after it starts. There are no known formulas for predicting the path of human conversations. That is why creating a consistently great customer experience is more difficult than rocket science.

Ruth O'Brien at ACCE 2012:

Great Service is Not Rocket Science (It's Tougher!)
In this session, a panel of executives will make the case that operating an effective contact center can be, in fundamental ways, more difficult than rocket science! And why having the right agents, equipped and engaged for what comes their way, makes the difference. Join them as they share best practices in performance management though a fun and engaging discussion on improving the customer experience through agent selection and engagment.

Communication is complex, how do we simplify the process and influence the outcome? How do we make it feel easy for our customers? Since human interactions are unpredictable, the best outcomes can be achieved by ensuring a controlled environment, well-prepared and engaged employees to interact with our customers. There are three specific areas of contact center leadership that have proven to impact the outcome of customer interactions: Employee Selection, Employee Engagement and Performance Management.

Selecting the Best

Organizations with successful recruiting strategies go both wide and deep into their recruiting markets to find the best employees to service their customers.

Going wide means having a sourcing and recruiting strategy that covers your target market, be that a local market for brick and mortar operations or expanding the market by including a work-at-home program. This requires a few key strategies for sourcing:

  • Create brand awareness in target markets. Find ways to get your brand into the market such as local ads, radio, websites, volunteer in local organizations, etc. I have even seen effective branding on the sides of local bus services where potential employees are situated.
  • Make it easy to apply and navigate through the application and interview process. Many companies lose good applicants because it is just too "hard" to navigate the recruiting process.
  • Take advantage of the selection tools available. Companies such as Ideal Dialogue Company and FurstPerson have easy to use, predictive assessment tests that can identify the best employees for your business.

There are now specific tools with highly predictive results for identifying people who will be most successful working at home. Getting it right when hiring saves time, money and customer satisfaction in the long run.

Going deep within a market means seeking non-traditional recruiting sources. For example, Bright House in Florida seeks to hire employees local to the markets they serve which mean they have to go deeper into the market. Angela Bruno, Sr. Director of Customer Service has seen success in their recruiting by getting creative in the sourcing and selection process, "Bright House Networks has developed a great brand in our markets and focuses selection on attributes such as voice and verbal comprehension. We do not compromise on selection, we hire for greatness.” In order to go even deeper into target markets, consider non-traditional sources, such as people with disabilities. Kevin Lynch, president and CEO of National Industries for the Blind (NIB) reports "nearly 70 percent of working age Americans who are blind are not employed. Experience shows that many people who are blind have proven track records of successfully working at contact centers." There are 15 NIB agencies operating high performing contact centers that have seen higher than average performance on critical KPIs and experience much lower attrition than industry averages. NIB agencies help prepare people who are blind for contact center work and provide outsourced contact center services delivering great results for clients.

Engage Employees Early and Often

Companies that get employee engagement right are showing higher customer satisfaction and better employee retention. At Bright House Networks in Florida, every employee is asked to deliver on the Customer Promise. The Promise is used in training to prepare employees to meet this commitment and posted on their internal and external website for high visibility to employees and customers alike. Bright House also has a culture that supports their commitment to customer service and promotes and recognizes employees for delivering a helpful and friendly experience. Angela Bruno reports that Bright House Network's "hello friend" culture exemplifies the commitment to providing that extraordinary service and treating customers as "friends." The question asked, "If we saw friends instead of customers, wouldn’t that change everything?"

Effective Performance Management

Closely related to employee engagement is performance management. The key to effective performance management is meaningful reward and recognition. The Scooter Store has helped over 600,000 people regain their freedom and independence with their power chairs and scooters. Every customer interaction is a chance to improve someone’s life and The Scooter Store maintains high level of employee performance and satisfaction through their reward and recognition programs. The Scooter Store's SVP Call Center Operations, Brian Mullaney shared his philosophy on how to recognize and motivate the team:

  • Drown them in Visuals. Remind them every day why they are so important and how they contribute to the company.
  • Celebrate Everything.
  • Communicate often. How they are doing, why it is important and what it means to the customer engagement.
  • Everything we do is based on our core ideology, Always Do the Right Thing.

The Scooter Store has been repeatedly named a member of the Inc. 500 and has been recognized by FORTUNE Magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Beware of Performance Management Traps

The dark side of performance management is falling into traps that create poor morale, false precision and suboptimal results. A few of the common traps to beware of are:

Beware of Looking in the Mirror. Don't forget to look outward. It is important to ensure compliance with internal standards, but the most important view is about the customer. Lead with customer experience metrics, most of the other metrics will be drivers of this.

Beware of the Law of Averages. Averaging metrics can result in average results. Industries studies show that the "top box" is what predicts customer loyalty. Measuring the best, worst, the deviations AND understanding the reasons s even more important that knowing the average.

Beware of "More is Better." Keep reports short and simple with a timeline to show progress. Everyone has a favorite metric and the metric reports and scorecards can become so long as to be confusing and left unread. Focus on the one or two metrics that report on what is important to your customer and those that drive the customer experience. For your employees, focus on the key metrics they can control. Part of driving employee engagement (which drives customer satisfaction) is a feeling of empowerment. Being measured and recognized on what we control empowers us all to improve.

Service Delivery is growing more complex; customers communicate with us via multiple channels and they let us, and the rest of the world know how we are doing via real-time communication with social media. This creates an imperative to deliver great service each and every chance we get. Since there are no predictive formulas for determining the outcome of customer interactions, the key is to select the best, going wide and deep into your markets, engage employees early and often by creating a vision and enabling employees to deliver great service and by recognizing and rewarding great performance without falling into any traps.