Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Exceptional Customer Service

One important thing to remember from a Customer Service point of view, is that the last person you speak to (or chat with or email) is also the most likely to buy your service or product in the future. This is obviously not a hard and fast rule, but more an estimation of the impact word of mouth plays with any business!

A repeat customer does not happen by accident. It is something that is only developed (& nurtured) through hard graft and constant work. You need to build relationships and this is where Exceptional Customer Service comes into play.

Communication is key. You have to remember that when a customer first signs up to your service – you should THANK THEM. They didn’t need to bring their service to you as I am sure that regardless of your industry you have competitors. A simple Thank You email will most times suffice. When the scope of the contract is sufficient, ramp it up to a personalized letter or perhaps even a bottle of wine at Christmas time! Now speaking to them when they first sign up is important – granted and mentioned ... how about when they are having a problem???

SPEAK EVEN MORE!!!

The only communication a customer has is with you and the only insight they have into the status of their issue is what you are telling them. There have been many instances where I have been able to “Save” a customer simply by giving them updates. Please note – I have not solved the problem, that still existed, all I have done is told them what we were doing to get their issue resolved, gave them a timeframe to when I expected (hoped and prayed in some cases!) their issues would be resolved, and when I would next communicate with them. One key thing to remember here is if you give a customer a commitment – make sure that you stick to it... Think about it from your point of view and if you were the one experiencing this issue – wouldn’t you like to know what was going on? You probably have customers of your own that you need to inform also! This is something that always seems to be lacking at the lower levels of a CSR team, but should be enforced and driven down. Remember, your staff don’t need to give out sensitive information to satisfy your customers. Most customers know that the people they are speaking to are not the ones who have caused the problem and they are just there to help solve it – for those one’s that don’t, I will discuss handling IRATE customers in depth in later posts.

Give your customer as many ways as possible to get in touch with you. Obviously resource constraints come into play also as you don’t want to offer 24/7 telephone support if you have a staff of 1. But perhaps in addition to email, offer chat as an option. When you get to the size where you can offer telephone support – do it, even if its only on an outbound basis.

The one thing that you must always remember and keep uppermost in your mind whenever you are dealing with a Customer from a Service/Support standpoint, is that the issue they are experiencing which has caused them to contact you – is affecting them and THEIR BUSINESS. The only reason they are doing business with you is so that you can provide a specific service to them. Once you fail in that regards you have not fulfilled your side of the bargain and there are many surveys that point to the fact that when someone has a bad Customer Service experience, they are likely to tell at least 10 other people about it. Think about it this way ... not only could you potentially lose the business and money this one customer is paying you ... you have now lost 10 others also! Word of mouth unfortunately is a lot more prevalent when spreading the bad news than it is about the good service you provide.

Now what do you do if you had an issue (I’m assuming you’ve kept the customer informed throughout the process so that they are not too annoyed with you!) and have only just restored the customers service? Well the first time it happens, you probably don’t need to do anything, aside from a brief apology! Hopefully you’ve got an SLA in place and you’ve not exceeded the terms set out inside them. However in some cases, you might want to consider upgrading a customer to a better package or service – even if only for a limited time – you’d be surprised how often that works with customers and although the cost to you is not incidental ... think about what the cost could potentially be if you had to find another customer!

Exceptional Customer Service matters because retaining existing customers is significantly easier than finding new ones. Customer Churn and Retention are two phrases you might hear bandied about quite a bit depending on the industry you are in and in some – Telecoms for example – there are huge teams and departments created to address just these issues. Their main and only goals are to keep the existing customers that they have with them instead of losing them to other competitors. In a very simple example think about it like this. If you are the industry leader and have 1 million customers and your nearest competitor has only ½ a million, you might think you were doing great. However if you are only growing at the rate of 10% per year (due to the negative press you’ve been receiving) and are churning at 25% per year to that competitor (who in the same timeframe is growing at 50% per year) ... how long do you think you have at the top? Trust me it’s a lot shorter than you think!!

You want your customers to experience Exceptional Customer Service and instead of that 50% growth going to your competition you want it to flow towards your company. This mantra must be believed, understood and LIVED by your Customer Service Representatives and Support Teams. They need to understand that the reason they are getting a paycheque is because those customers are paying for it!

It might be trite and tired and a little bit old but the one phrase that is absolutely true is –


The CUSTOMER is ALWAYS RIGHT!!!!

Love it, believe it and spread it on!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Importance of Exceptional Customer Service

When was the last time you had a coffee?  I don't mean in the office, but in a regular take out joint, one of those ones with a drive through window?  Have you gotten to the window after repeating your order to the "big talking head" only to have it wrong when you get there?

When someone says ... "Can I take your order..." they should be prepared to do just that.  Other distractions and conversations should not take them away from the service they are meant to be providing to you!  Your team needs to learn the importance of this lesson - the Customer comes first and its always the customer that's infront of you that you should be looking after.  Problems with previous customers or planning for future interactions should not impact the service you are providing at that moment in time.  Now some of the blame should definitely be placed at the feet of employers here. 

Your training should always include a Customer Service component and even for staff that might not necessarily be working on the front lines this module is a useful skill ... if for no other reason than they are better able to empathize and prioritze their work to better assist your front line team that is dealing with customers.


Remember - the goal at all times is not just solving the problem ... even Customer Service teams are involved in Sales and the best and easiest sale is one that your existing customers make for you!  This happens through referalls and the only way you will get those is through Exceptional Customer Service.  If your customers know that you will go the extra mile for them and that you are going to be there for them, they will be happy to recommend your company and its product/services to others.  Conversly they will also be the loudest voice denouncing your service if it is not up to the standard that they expect and are paying for!!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Erlang 'C' & Scheduling for Call Centres - IV

The key things you need to remember if you're using Excel or any staffing program is to ensure that your minimum coverage matches your expected call volumes and coverage levels based on the Erlang 'C' formula and tools mentioned earlier.  It ill behooves you to have too many resources at 2am when you're only expecting 1 phone call and your SLA is 2hrs! 


  1. It might pay dividends for you in this instance to use an outsourced party where your call is answered by the equivalent of a 'order taker' so that the customer at least is able to speak to someone and have an incident opened for them and then their issue is actually only addressed when your staff resume regular operations.  Remember the points I've already made about SLA, Tiered Customers and Escalation Matrix'.  This actually brings up another point that's worth discussing and that is 'On Call Coverage' which I will address in further posts.
  2. Scheduling Employees 2000 - a step up from the Excel route is this software package.  Published by Guia International, this application is fairly inexpensive and is extremely easy to use.  It allows you to input details of a single department or team and ensure that you have the appropriate coverage based on time of day.  It has nice print outs and although not fully "web enabled" it is easy enough to ensure that you staff have an up to date copy of the schedule by publishing your schedule online. With the ability to track time and labor costs by the hour and week as you schedule.  And simple drag/drop scheduling that allows you to schedule in 15min increments accounting for breaks.  You are easily able to see at a glance when your staffing levels do not match up with your required coverage.  Now there are a host of other scheduling applications available online and I will try to review some other packages in the coming weeks/months but this one does come highly recommended by me!
  3. When to Work (W2W) - on the high end side and with a host of features, W2W is a very robust application.  It is fully web enabled which means that not only are your staff able to view and access it from anywhere, it simplifies your reporting and control also.  It is very customizable and not only has some very good automated staffing calculators based on Skill Based routing and also allows for staff schedules that are restrictive due to other requirements - ie. someone is not able to work evenings on mon/wed/fri but is available any other day.  You can input these restrictions into the system and then forget about them as the system will then NOT allow you to schedule them for the times they are unavailable.  Notifications are provided to staff whenever a change is made to their shift and you also have the capability of utilizing a company bulletin board - for example, announcing a special schedule due to the staff Christmas Party! - when publishing schedules that impact multiple departments and teams.  One of the best features and most useful of When2Work is the ability to have different schedules by diffferent teams/skills all contained inside the same application.  The ability to drag drop shifts and providing staff the flexibility of trading shifts with similarly skilled employees is also a great feature.  Although significantly more expensive, when you have reached a certain size, having this sort of a tool available to you will prove a definite boon!
I hope that this has been useful information to you - if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to answer you or at least point you in the right direction.

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