30 Experts in 30 Days – An Interview with Customer Experience Expert Colin Taylor

30 Experts in 30 Days – An Interview with Customer Experience Expert Colin Taylor

Read the interview here or watch the video
Leah M Berry
LEAH: Welcome to 30 Experts in 30 Days where we help entrepreneurs learn how to attract loyal clients and build their businesses by serving smart.
Today, we have Colin Taylor with us. Ever since answering his first customer call more than 35 years ago for a Toronto-based service agency, Colin has blazed a trail of innovation and success through the Customer Interaction industry. As President of Watts Communications (a Toronto based outsource/BPO agency) he grew Company revenues by 800% and expanded internationally.
Since 2003, Colin has led The Taylor Reach Group to success in call center and management consulting working with clients on two continents. Recognized as one of Canada’s leading call center/contact center experts, Colin has received 27 RSVP Awards for excellence. Recently Colin was ranked number five in The Customer Service 100 globally.
He was a founder and past chair of the Contact/Call Center Council and a past Director of the Canadian Marketing Association. He is an author and a frequent speaker on customer service, contact centers, operational innovation, CRM, sales, direct marketing and team building.
Welcome, Colin.

ct 1COLIN: My Goodness. Listening to that, I’m impressed. I can hardly wait to meet me. Sorry, that’s the long bio you used.

LEAH: Collin can you give us a little bit of background beyond that? How did you get involved in customer experience and what led you to become such an expert?

COLIN: I guess the world is full of people with accidental careers, and certainly I’m no different. I took radio and television arts in college and when I left school and moved into the workforce there was no jobs. So I ended of going back to doing what I had been doing previously which was working in call and contact centers. Although in those days we called them telemarketing shops. I started off flogging magazine subscriptions, that’s my entrée into this business. I built my first call center in the early eighties. At one point, I worked for most of the advertising agencies in the country in script writing. And then joined a small service agency, what today we call an outsourcer or a BPO, which had forty staff when I joined it in ’85. It had about a hundred staff when I took over as President and CEO in ’93, and it had with about 2500 staff when I left the company in 2003. So it was a bit of a wild ride. I couldn’t afford the pay cut to go back to radio and television at this point. So it’s a sort of an accidental career.

You really learn a lot by sharing with people

Colin-Taylor-Tips-Infographic-30-Experts-in-30-DaysIn terms of why I’ve been successful, besides my charm and good looks, and immense modesty, I’d say that you really learn a lot by sharing with people. And I’ve always tried to be generous with my time and my advice, not always asked for. But I think that sharing best practices, sharing perspectives, sharing experiences helps build everyone’s knowledge and that’s positive. And I’ve certainly done a lot of that over my career. So the advent and the adoption of social media has been great for sharing, mentoring and communicating.

“Always make new mistakes.”

I also think that there’s always a better way of doing everything. There’s always a better mouse trap, we just need to figure out what it is. And third, I’ve got this sign in my office ‘Always make new mistakes’. Making mistakes isn’t bad, as a matter of fact, there’s some studies that prove that you’ll learn more from your mistakes and what didn’t work, then you’ll ever learn from your successes and what did work. And I think the real key here is that if you always make new mistakes you’re learning. If you’re making the same old mistakes over and over again, then I think you’re falling into Einstein’s trap about doing the same thing and expecting different results. These are some of the beliefs I’ve had and activities that I think that helped me became successful.

Critical Customer Experience (CX) Mistakes to Avoid

LEAH: Now can you describe three of four most critical mistakes made by most businesses related to customer experience.

COLIN: Well I think that our thinking about the customer experience is still sort of new, and somewhat in vogue. It means a lot of different things to different people. To some people, whatever they used to say is customer service, they now say is customer experience and simply by slapping a new label on it, somehow it magically is supposed to be just as easy to run and manage as it was before. I think that there’s a lot of folks who really are unsure what it really means or what it should mean to them or their organization. Without senior management support it is a real challenge. If you’re in the call or contact center, it’s often hard to lead from the middle.

What is the Customer Experience?

You need the customer experience defined and set out really from the senior level. If you’re trying to lead from the middle, in the contact center, trying to define what customer experience should be, the chances are that it would just be a very localized event, which won’t align well within what the organization is doing.

Alignment is key the the Customer Experience

Alignment in and of itself would probably be my second tip. If everyone is not aligned to the same rules and objectives, if marketing interprets the customer experience or the customer journey as something different than the contact center does, or something different than product support and technical support do, the chances are that we’re conveying schizophrenic messages out into the market place, confusing the daylights out of our customers because we’re all pulling in different directions.

So first is the lack of understanding what the Customer Experience is. Secondly, I would suggest it’s a lack of alignment, even if there is a vision, it has to be the same vision. And third, I think it’s a failure to use or leverage all touch points. We interact with customers in numerous different ways. And while the contact center maybe one of the most prevalent, in terms of handling voice calls and emails, chats and SMS’s et cetera. But if marketing is still blasting out tens of thousands of emails and doing social media campaigns as well, you have a problem. You’re going to have the folks in technical support running their products support queues. You’ll have retail stores where you interacting with customers and clerks face to face. Are all of the touch points aligned to deliver the same message? Are all of these touch points capturing the interaction data and feeding it into some central CRM? These are common mistakes which haunt many of us and most organizations to one degree or another.

Aligning the Desired Customer Experience Within Your Company

LEAH: Absolutely. Now you’ve noted that a recent Forrester’ report stated ninety percent of executives said that the customer experience was very important or critical. But only eleven percent consider themselves to be very disciplined in their approach to customer experience. Why do you think there’s such a disparity between the desire and action? And what advise can you share to help companies turn this around?

COLIN: When I do presentations and I use a slide, the graphic that appears opposite that statement is a deer in the headlights. I know to some degree it goes back to the fact that we aren’t sure what Customer Experience is because there’s a lack of experience, and because it’s new. There’s also a lack of confidence in knowing what actions we should be taking. That’s just human nature whenever we deal with anything that is new.

Today everyone is looking for a quick fix for most things and Customer Experience is no different. They’re looking to: ‘Let’s hire a consultant and bring them in’, or ‘let’s go to NPS’, or ‘let’s just implement beacons, and somehow that will fix everything’. It doesn’t work that way. I think that we all recognize the importance of the customer experience. But when we look up to our ability to actually deliver it we find ourselves to be lacking.

Now if you ask the same audience though, to define the customer experience, you’ll get 43 different versions of what it is as well. That is because we have a lack of harmony around what customer experience is from organization to organization, and even from silo to silo within organizations. We’re getting that dichotomy and a lot of noise. We need to understand that everything really is in fact connected. When we understand that all these touch points are interrelated and that the same customer who has a customer experience in retail could be the very same person who phones Customer Service, calls tech support, or tweets about their experience, we can begin to see this connectivity. We have to understand that everything is connected, everything is interrelated. We need to get to the point where we can leverage data within our organizations and within our CRM to get a view, a single perspective, about the customer so that we really understand what the data is telling us. When the data is limited, conflicting or incomplete then we’re paralyzed and we fall into a cycle of analysis paralysis and we don’t really know how to act. Hence, I think we’re very uncomfortable with acting period.

Defining the Customer Experience Within Your Business

LEAH: Absolutely. Well that kind of leads to: we can’t consistently deliver the kind of customer experience we want our customers to have until we define what that customer experience should be like. What are the key elements for defining your customer experience within of business?

COLIN: Well, lets back up a little bit. We need to start the exercise with a few questions: What is the brand? What is the organization? What is the brand message? If you were to characterize the brand, how would you do so? What verbs or adjectives are you going to use to try and create a persona or personality around the brand? And once we sketch that out we’ll begin to get a perspective and an interpretation of what that really means. So we look at the brand, the attributes, and how the company portrays itself.

Then we have to understand: what does a customer of this brand expect when they have an interaction? What are their expectations going forward? And then, how well does the company’s capabilities and services match the customer’s expectations? It’s great to say that we define our customer experience as world class and it’s on a plaque, on the wall, but saying that doesn’t make it so. We have to understand what the brand is, and what the customers expect which we influenced because of what we’ve told them throughout their relationship with the brand through our advertising and promotion.

We have to understand that everything is connected, everything is interrelated

Start with: what is the brand? What is the organization? What is the brand message?
And then look at how we operate in terms of our capabilities, our availability, and see where the gaps are. You often find gaps around policies and procedures. Are our policies built simply to protect us from our own customers? If we’re going to say that our customers are the most valuable asset we have, and our customer experience is going to be to satisfy them at all costs. And then turn around and say, ‘No, you know you can’t have a four dollar credit. That’s against company policy.” We’ve just lost not only the battle, but the war. So we have to understand where the customer
expectations are in conflict with our policies, procedures, or our business as usual. Then we have to determine how far we’re willing to go to give the customer what they want and what they expect, in that interaction. If we can define all of that, we pretty much defined what the customer experience is going to be. Does that make sense?

LEAH: Absolutely. Yes. Thank you. I think that really is the heart of it. Just like what you said before, it’s alignment. It’s alignment in purpose, brand, and in departments.

COLIN: Yes. And again, things often come off the rails when you try and take the same vision and the same set of expectations and go from department to department. The finance group is not aligned necessarily to the customer experience vision. This could be because they are being incented to reduce days outstanding and tech support is being incented to reduce time to close a ticket.
Both of those situations can lead to experiences that maybe less than ideal and less than what the defined customer experience is said to be.

LEAH: Yes. if we don’t define that customer experience, define the brand, define the customer experience and make it a corporate goal across the organization, then like you said, you get situations where each department has central metrics, KPI’s that actually work against the customer experience.

COLIN: Correct. When I speak of alignment, we’ve all got to be pulling in the same direction. We can’t have people sitting at the oars rowing in different directions or we just spin around a lot. That’s the alignment of KPIs and the alignment of measurements and incentives in terms of supporting the attainment of the objective, which is in this case, is attaining the customer experiences that is desired and defined.

LEAH: We all have terms that get popular for a period of time. But I think some of the reasons why customer experience is popular, versus customer service lately, is because customer service – personally I like that term better because I think it is all about service.
We have to understand where the customer expectations are in conflict with our policies, procedures, or our business as usual.
When I speak of alignment, we’ve all got to be pulling in the same direction.

COLIN: Correct.

LEAH: But customer service has become a department, not a way of doing things. And so, often people will say, ‘Well, I’m not in customer service. That’s this department over here. I’m in Marketing. Or I’m in IT.’ And so it has lost its real meaning.

COLIN: So then the danger is, as one of my clients has done, they’ve renamed customer service into the customer experience department.

LEAH: Yes. You know it’s going to happen.

COLIN: Of course it is, and it already has. But customer service or serving the customer, if we want to flip the words around for a bit, Is really everybody’s job in the organization whether they like it or not. I’m a big proponent into putting that line on every single job description for every role in every organization. Because we lose sight of that part of our jobs. Because we live in our silos. As wonderful as the world might be without silos, I’m not sure that’s ever going to actually come to pass. Marketing will be marketing. They will be marketing centric, in everything that they do, and everything they will do while looking through ‘marketing colored glasses’ (instead of rose colored glasses). The same is true for IT, and for finance, and customer service. It’s really understanding how everyone can align to the vision and maybe try and remove those glasses or eliminate that inherent bias that we all create within our silos.

LEAH: Ultimately, I think it behooves upper level management to make sure that they are leading all the departments in serving the customer the best we can do.

The Accuracy of Customer Satisfaction Metrics

LEAH: Related to metrics, what are some of the challenges with measuring and making decisions based upon customer satisfaction metrics?

COLIN: Well, customer satisfaction or quality is what customer says it is, at the end of the day. But depending on where and how we sample the feedback from the customer can influence the results. For example if we do a post call IVR survey and ask them how satisfied they are, we are going to get a much higher score than if we waited two weeks and sampled them then. The reason for this is
because as they hang up the call, they believe a set of activities is going to take place. They don’t know that there’s a risk that those activities might not occur, or that the system won’t accept it, or that it’s over the agent’s limit, or that the product will not be in stock, or that they can’t source the product from another warehouse. So they’re coming out of the call with the agent thinking all is wonderful with the world and they are humming a happy tune. That will be the feedback that they’re going to provide in the CSAT survey. The reality in fact maybe quite different because their initial judgment is influenced based on their expectations of what will transpire, not necessarily what has transpired.

How We Sample CSAT or NPS Can Influence the Results Achieved

Customers are going to judge their satisfaction against their own set of metrics. They have a set of expectations going in, in every interaction, and they don’t necessarily align really well with our NPS or our top-box NPS survey. The Customers want to get done what they want to get done. The agent can have an absolutely perfect call, but if you can’t do what they wanted to do, either because it physically can’t be done or because the organization can’t or won’t do it, Customers are really not going to differentiate all that much between the reasons. If the Customer didn’t get what they wanted there is a good chance that they will be dissatisfied.

Customers will judge us based on their own standards which may or may not be reasonable or achievable. We take that with a grain of salt and know that we’re always going to customers that may have an ‘axe to grind’ or may have an issue. But if we look at data over the fullness of time, and get statistical validity, those anomalies tend to fall out of that process.

Managing Customer Expectations to Improve the Experience for the Customer and Company

LEAH: Are we making progress?

COLIN: Yes. We’re able to leverage that CSAT and NPS data, if we are careful where, when and how we sample. We also need to cognizant of the fact that if we set out a customer experience which promised the Customer the sun, the moon and the stars, then they’re going to expect everything. If we’re a little more transparent in what we actually can and can’t do and set some real expectations early on in the process, then we’re going to end up with more accurate results. Dissatisfaction can be measured as the gap between the height of the customer’s expectations to the low of service actually realized from the customer’s perspective. The more we can narrow down that range, the less volatility we’re going to see in those CSAT scores.

LEAH: And then you always have the opportunity to excel above beyond those expectations by providing even greater service. But they’ll appreciate it when you excel beyond the expectations.

COLIN: Yes. It’s really just a matter of helping Customers understand what you can and can’t do. The analogy I like to use is that the customer service agent or the contact center agent really is the local guide. They’re the person who knows the terrain, they know the trails throughout the organization. They know how to get from point A to point B. They know how the organization really works and how to get things done. They know where the monsters live and how to avoid them. Agents are really there to provide that local knowledge and guidance to the customer as they navigate the treacherous waters that are our own organizations. If we set the expectation of what we can, ‘Yes I can take ownership. Yes I’ll take responsibility. Yes I’m going to shepherd you through this process. But here’s the types of things I can do, and here are the things which I’m not able to help you out with’. Then the customer judges the interaction based on that set of parameters versus the sun, stars, and the moon.

Empowering Employees to Satisfy Customers

LEAH: Yes. Related to that, what do you find to be some of the biggest challenges in helping call center representatives be the best guides they can be?

COLIN: Be all that you can be. It sounds like we have a recruiting ad here. To make things better for the customer, we may need first of all to have a clear understanding of what the customer’s expectation is and then document it in a sort of brand perspective. We need to ensure that we haven’t built roadblocks (policies) that are going to make things more difficult. Do we have policies that are going to create problems where perhaps none had existed before?

A common one is that whenever the average transaction value is, for some reason contact center agents always seem to be empowered to provide a credit whose value is $3 less than the average transaction value. So no matter what it’s likely going to exceed the limit. “I just want one month’s service refunded. That’s all, because you guys messed up and it’s not reasonable.” Even if we agree with the Customer, instead of being able to just do that, there will be some process of escalation: Multiple sign offs, Six other people will touch the file etc. It’s going to cost you thirty times more than what it could have cost just to give them the refund. There is often a concern that empowering the agents will somehow lead them to give away the farm. Every time we have done this, not only does this empowerment allow the agent to more quickly resolve the customer’s issue. It reduces the cost, because now six other people don’t have to sign off on it. It’s not going to take five days or five weeks, as it works its way through the organization. It’s going to be instant. But perhaps most importantly, when agents are empowered to manage money, to manage refunds and credits, they’ll actually give away less money with a higher customer satisfaction level for what they’ve done than the previous escalation process could ever achieve.

So, if we trust our staff, let’s empower them. If we don’t trust them, why did we hire them in the first place? There’s a bit of a mixed message there. We need to look at the policies we have in place. Make sure that they are supporting the customer experience and support the agent’s ability to resolve customer questions and customer issues. Wherever possible err on the side of giving the agent authority to make decisions. One of our clients, a large waste management organization, we did a whole campaign saying, “What would Bob do?”

What Would The CEO Do?

Bob was the CEO. We asked every agent to ask themselves “What would Bob do?”, we even gave them wrist bands saying, “What would Bob do?” We told them if they’re faced with a decision and the customer wants to do something. Ask yourself “What would Bob do?”. After the call, then we’ll sort of if that was the best or most appropriate solution. But if you keep trying to put yourself in the CEO’s shoes, and consider what will make this customer happy or what is required to retain this customer, then you’re probably not going to make many bad decisions. Always favor more empowerment versus less.

The Cost of Not Resolving Issues the First Time

LEAH: Excellent, thank you. Now there are studies that estimate first contact resolution to be no higher than eighty percent. What are the costs of businesses when you don’t resolve the customers issue the first time?

COLIN: There’s a number of soft implications. One, if the customer thinks it’s resolved when it’s not resolved, which goes back to that post call IVR ‘we thought we had it fixed but we didn’t’ situation, then customer satisfaction declines and their loyalty is likely to erode. Their lifetime value probably gets shortened. Of course this can be proven mathematically.

Even on the surface, if we only resolve eight of the ten calls on the first contact, or the second contact, or the third contact, we generally get around to the fifth or sixth round of them contacting us before we have it down to statistically insignificant levels of contact. By this point we will have process 125 calls for every 100 customers or 25 percent more calls. So 25 percent more calls with a bunch of unhappy people is the outcome that is going to play havoc forecasting, scheduling, and service level attainment. It will put further pressure on FCR (first call response) as peoples issues become statistically more difficult to resolve. Many of these will be the same types of issues, either related to the agent skills and/or agent training, which hasn’t magically improved. Or they may be related to policies and procedures that likely haven’t magically changed, or product issues which haven’t magically changed either. So it becomes a bit like a tractor plow and the weight keeps shifting forward and your service quality just keep plowing more and more into the dirt. It’s really hard to get out that vicious cycle. This dysfunctional process is expensive, it is a quality impacting and it’s going to reduce the quality perception of the customer’s satisfaction and likely, over time, put significant pressure on lifetime value retention.

LEAH: I think I’d add that the effect it has in your employees. Because to serve your customers well, you have to have happy employees. And when you have employees that are having to take that call from a customer who’s calling back for the fourth time, who probably is not in a very good mood, that employee is obviously not going to have as good of a day either.

COLIN: Yes. That’s exactly true and that’s one of the points I should have mentioned under empowerment. Empowered agents are happier agents. If they know they actually get to think on the job, they’ll enjoy themselves more and have a higher retention rate. Unhappy customers can lead to unhappy agents, which can be a cancer throughout the organization. If nobody wants to handle that call. you can undermine culture as well. I’ve seen situations where emails are dealt with on a ‘pull’ basis, where the agents all look at the shared mail box and pick the emails they want to deal with. It’s like “oh, oh. There’s Colin again. I’m not picking that one. We’ll leave that.” The problem is that everyone leaves Colin and nobody wants to deal with him. Then the service quality erodes even further and the next email or call is wondering why you haven’t responded to the last email or call. It’s just ugliness all around.

Looking at the Customer Experience Holistically

LEAH: Yes. Absolutely. You’ve stated that few companies today are looking at the customer experience holistically. Can you explain what you mean by this? And I think you touched on it a little bit. And what changes you recommend companies can make to create a more holistic customer experience?

COLIN: Yes, we’ve touched on some of these points already, and to view something holistically is to view all of it. I think we lose sight of the fact that things are really interconnected. I use the analogy sometimes that if a butterfly flaps its wings in marketing, it’s going to have an adverse effect in the call center, and that really is a true example of the chaos theory. We are not disconnected. Marketing is serving the same customers that call center is serving, that are the same customers retail is serving. If we can acknowledge and appreciate that they’re the same, and they’re calling for the same types of issues and that this contact is a continuation of the same interaction process. We’ll actually design better processes to manage it and better track the activities which take place. So this means that we can’t look at the call center processes in isolation. We can’t look at what the IVR does in isolation, we have to look how all of them independently and collectively support the desired customer experience, support the company’s mission statement, values, and ensure we are all pulling in that common direction. Does that make sense?

LEAH: Yes. Absolutely. Because I think ultimately, I was just interviewing someone yesterday they were talking about how one the executives in the company would periodically during his lunch break come down and get on the phones for customer service. In a lot companies you’ve got retail outside of headquarters. The call center often is outside of headquarters and we get very disconnected from one another. Taking the time to really understand, not just have it reported to you, but really understand what’s going on. If you have a retail operation, go visit that retail operation.

COLIN: Yes. Be a customer.

LEAH: Yes. Go be a customer. See what it’s like or go get on that phone if you can learn it quick enough to really hear from that customer and find out what they’re going through.

COLIN: Yes, that is a great point: walk in a mile in their shoes. In a previous life when I was running the BPO, we use to try and get our senior client officers, the VP of this or the President of that to actually go on the phones. I used to actually go on the phones as long as the client would sign a waiver that no matter what stupid thing I said they can’t fire me over it. Being a call center agent is in a lot of ways the toughest job you can do. We sit here and we’ve created an industry where some of the lowest paid employees in the organization have the deepest, most frequent, most meaningful relationships with our customers. That makes you scratch your head a little bit.

LEAH: Absolutely.

COLIN: You have to give them the support, tools, the training, and the ability to truly own that relationship and serve that customer.

Strategies to Help Departments Work Together in Alignment

LEAH: Thank you. What strategies can you share to help departments within a business work together better, to create that holistic customer experience?

COLIN: I think that we have to start with what is the customer experience. And if we define that at a senior organizational level then each department really needs to contribute. How they
refract that view through the prism of their department in terms of how they support it and then how they support other departments to achieve it as well. Because it’s not just a straight step up and down from the CEO through to marketing. It’s going to be marketing to the CEO, but also sideways to customer
service and diagonally to retail and IT is going to have a role in it too. So the communication has got to be not just the vertical up and down but horizontally from silo to silo.

Each department and silo has to state their contribution and how they support other departments and their initiatives. When all of the departments do the same thing we tend to get good alignment up and down the organization. So from the CEO to the front line, we think we’re all pulling for the same objective. But perhaps more invaluably we have defined some few rules of engagement between the silos in terms of how they support each other to attain, and help the organization to attain, that customer experience.

LEAH: Yes. Because this is really dangerous if you don’t have it. You could have marketing creating all these promotions and if they’re not passing along that information to the call center, obviously there’s going to be break downs. If you have a new promotion with marketing and the software isn’t set up within IT to allow the call center to handle that promotion, once again you have a problem.

COLIN: Correct. So again, everything is connected. So it’s very Zen of me, I know. But at some level that’s exactly what it is. All departments are interdependent, and when we understand and can appreciate the inter-dependencies between the departments and processes, we actually can start to design how we do things, the work flows, processes, accountabilities, and the escalations that make sense in the context of the customer experience rather than having an issue or challenge having to climb all the way to one top of one silo to jump over the top of other silo only to then climb all the way back down. That’s time consuming, it’s ineffective, wasteful and frankly usually gets lost halfway down second silo.

How Management Can Support Employees in Creating Great Customer Experiences

LEAH: Absolutely. Now what are some things that management often does that makes it more difficult for call center employees to provide a great experience for customers?

COLIN: Yes. And I spoke of some of these earlier in terms of not having empowerment, not having them policies in place, not having the 360 degree view, not having that promotion from marketing that IT couldn’t load in the system in time, not having the records updated, or not having the marketing database connected to the CRM. All these things that create voids and darks spots within our view of the customer that we want to eliminate. So we can have that high definition view of the customer.

We also need to train the folks in the call center. What’s the first thing people cut when times are tough? They cut training. Most organizations spend more training time on how to use the CRM than how to interact with the customer. So we’ll be really good at the series of SAP screens we need to use to issue a credit, but we won’t have spent twenty minutes on listening skills, how to build rapport, or how to ask probing questions. These are sins of omission rather than commission. So management often fails to properly equip the folks on the frontlines to actually do their jobs as well as they like to be able to do it. It’s very difficult for the agents to try and push through what they want. It really has to be led from the top down in terms of what skills and competencies do we need, what training do we need to provide to deliver that customer experience. So we are back to core of the issue, what is the customer experience, and what do we need to do to be able to deliver that?

LEAH: It’s an interesting chicken and egg thing. Because, one, training ends up being cut short. But I think sometimes there’s a mentality that in a call center there’s high turnover. So is it worth the investment to spend the time doing the training if they’re not staying long? But if you invest in the training and you make it a good experience for call center employees, they’re going to stay longer, most likely. So if you invest in them, it becomes worth it.

COLIN: Yes. if we extrapolate that logic, however, then we would decide not train them at all. This is the cheapest way to go, I am sure with no training program they will leave really, really fast. There’s often an acknowledgment that we need to train. It’s just that systems appear to be difficult and complicated, therefore we train on those.

It’s the soft skills that are going to make the difference. That’s what creates WOW.

Whereas, customer service skills, or soft skills, are presumed to be ‘baked in’ because that’s what we’re hiring for. But it often isn’t what is being hired for. Or we’re using a stand in for true skills such as: ‘he worked at five other contact centers so they must be good’. As opposed to thinking there might be a reason why you’ve been let go by five other contact centers. We have to build the value chain out from what are we hiring for. What are the skills, competencies, and attributes we need to possess to do this job? Let’s hire for those, let’s test for those and make sure that we’re not being deceived here or taken in. Then let’s do the training that actually reinforces and builds upon those skills while teaching the necessary technology skills and interactions. Training needs to be focused on the enabling skills, those soft skills that are going to make the difference. That’s what creates WOW. No one’s ever going to write a kudos note saying, ‘My God, I can’t believe how well Collin navigated the CRM system in handling my problem.’ It’s going to be about how the agents ‘went above and beyond the call. He kept me posted as he went through multiple systems.’ It’s going to be about how he listened or how I was heard. Those are going to be what drives customer satisfaction. Not the speed of cutting and pasting.

Most organizations spend more training time on how to use the CRM than how to interact with the customer.

LEAH: And I think ultimately with it, to your point, we just assume people have those skills. And one of previous interviews I just had, he was taking about how there’s plenty of public speaking courses to learn how to speak well, but there are almost no listening courses out there. And learning how to listen well, how to hear the customer and respond to their needs. Those are skills that one has to develop. And to be honest, we don’t learn them at school. We assume we learn them, but if you are around people who aren’t demonstrating those skills, you’re learning bad habits, not good habits. And so taking the time to train those soft skills can turn a call center around.

COLIN: Yes. We’ve worked with a client. We did a complete overhaul of their entire training program. They’re delivering trainings to a 3rd party agency. We rebuilt everything. We took it out of the classroom so we could incorporate adult learning techniques. We not only shortened the training program, we reduced the speed to competency by 50 percent, which meant they got competent faster, the customers satisfaction scores went up, as more agents were competent or better than ever before, and the first contact resolution rate went up.
We need to focus more on the enabling skills to allow us to serve the customers rather than focusing on the elements which are just ‘table stakes’. You need to know how to use the CRM of course, how to place an order and do a credit. But those should be the ‘table stakes’, those shouldn’t be the advanced

Creating Emotional, Unforgettable Customer Experiences

LEAH: Yes. Absolutely. Now you’ve quoted Maya Angelou who said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” What are some changes management can make to help call centers employees, and maybe we’ve just talked about this, and all employees, to create a positive customers experience that customers will never forget because of how the employees made them feel?

COLIN: This picks nicely from our last discussion around those enabling skills. At the end of the day we’re all emotional beings. People know that emotions can get in our way. I know people that can drive themselves nearly crazy if they have to phone somebody and complain about something.
Because they knows it’s such a struggle, they do everything in their power to make someone make that call. In part because they just doesn’t want to do it, knowing that emotionally she’s going to have a problem. That’s terrible to think we inflict this emotional baggage on our customers. At the end of the day what the customer wants from the customer experience is they want to feel that we treated them like a valuable customer. That we recognize them as an individual. They felt that they spoke to an agent who was professional, courteous, and confident and could help them solve their issues. Customers want to feel they were dealt with in a prompt and curious manner. That they were respected. That they were heard and that we listened and solved their problem quickly and efficiently.

We need to look at these things in emotional terms, we want to make an emotional impact on the customer, so that they feel that. We want them to recognize that. We want them to feel respected, feel heard, and have them evaluating the interaction in those terms. This characterizes interactions which we’ll say are superior, whether it’s in a restaurant or as a retail clerk who takes great care of you or somebody on the phone or in a chat that seems to leap small buildings in a single bound to help you get what you need done. If we’re able to make that emotional connection, the ‘I’m here for you, I’m on your team, we’re going to get this done together’, that’s going to create those WOW feelings. Professional, but distant ‘Yes, Mr. Smith I can certainly help you do that, do you mind if I place you on hold for 8.4 minutes’, probably isn’t going to get that same emotional connection.

Our memories of emotions last longer than our memories of other things.

We remember how we felt about things, and that’s why I felt that what Maya Angelou said resonated very well with the way we need to look at framing that customer experience. We don’t just want to satisfy the customer, we want the customer to feel that we did everything in our power and that we listened, respected and treated them appropriately. That’s the feeling we want customers to have when they hang up the phone or end that interaction.

LEAH: Yes, because the same outcome, depending upon how you treat the customer, they will have much different emotional response leaving that call.

COLIN: Correct.

The Need for the Beginner’s Mind

LEAH: Now to wrap up, I like each individual that I interview to share some hard won wisdom with our guests. What’s one big mistake that you’ve made that has cost you time or money, and what advice can you share with our audience to help them avoid making that same mistake?

COLIN: Well, earlier I mentioned my sign in my office ‘Always make new mistakes’, so you can imagine the mistakes I’ve made. But here is one good example. I’ve been in the business for a number of years and I had been quite successful and had moved to a leadership role with the outsource organization. I was getting to the point where I was beginning to believe that maybe I was just about as smart and as clever as others were telling me. Perhaps I was just a bit little arrogant, but I was almost good as I thought I was. That whole mind set led me to not give proper consideration to other perspectives, proposals and other views, specifically to alternate delivery strategies. This actually cost me business. It cost us money, it cost us margin, it cost us opportunity, and it cost us a client because I was not open to alternatives that I could not conceive of. This this comes describes a concept I’ll call the beginner’s mind.

When you are a beginner at something, or a neophyte at something, there’s a million ways to do everything. When you’re an expert, there’s only one or two, because we just ‘know’ what can and can’t work. As you gain more knowledge and expertise you end up with fewer and fewer options and alternatives open to you. But if can keep that beginner’s mind, if you can continue to try and think outside the box, if you will, if you can give a sound hearing to new and alternative ideas that an expert might say will not work, you’re going to find breakthroughs. That’s where disruption comes from every industry, every company and in every department. If you sit there and say that contact centers can only operate with centralized staff because that’s the way workforce management works and the security risks are too great, then you’re going to say that ‘why would you want to have work at home agents’ and be surprised if somebody actually makes it happen.

Always continue to be open to new ideas and try that beginner’s mind to see those thousands of possibilities

You need to always continue to be open to new ideas and try that beginner’s mind to see those thousands of possibilities. To recognize the fact that we build our own blinders with our experience, that gives us tunnel vision and narrows our field with view. That can be a strength because we can often jump right to the correct action based on a set of circumstances because we do have the experience and knowledge, but it’s also a weakness in that it hinders the rest of that field of view, it blocks it, and stops us from seeing truly innovative ideas that maybe weren’t possible before, but now are possible through changes in technology, process, or environment.

LEAH: Especially nowadays with so much change happening, we have to be open to adapt.

COLIN: Yes, and it’s easy to say and harder to do. I will tell you through personal experience.

LEAH: Absolutely. Thank you so much Colin for your time today, for your expertise and insight, and for sharing your own hard won wisdom.

COLIN: It’s been my pleasure and thank you for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.

All Content – Copyright 2015 – Leah M Berry

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