The Curse of the "berry"


Are you invaluable?  How about irreplaceable?  Will the world stop turning if you don't pick up the phone or answer that email? No?

OK, so why are you ignoring your family (or friends or yourself??) to pick up the phone?  It's very easy for companies to take advantage of employees & even more so managers who feel a personal responsibility for the performance of the team and department.  Now I'm not talking about those of you who get paid for being "on call" - unfortunately, I've found that Managers rarely get compensated for this - but rather the ones who don't. 

Companies need to understand and realize that employees lives and health are at stake and for some of you (you know who you are) ... their family lives also.  Staff needs time away from work and away from the stresses of the job if for no other reason than to recharge their batteries for the next day.  In addition, if staff members are constantly contacted outside of regular business hours than their staffing and hiring needs to be looked at and examined.  

Management needs to create and have in place a proper escalation plan for customers of course and a Manager should be included in there at the appropriate level.  However a Manager should not be the FINAL point of escalation and if Customers matter (which all companies state, but few actual shows), Senior Management should also form part of that plan and in addition, perhaps appropriate out of hours coverage should be put into place!

Irate Customers

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that you will receive complaints from customers.  Sometimes these are warranted and sometimes not.  Having the skill and patience to deal with these types of issues is what makes (or breaks) an excellent service & help-desk team.


People working the Customer Service and Helpdesk fields are often at the sharp end of having to deal with angry customers.  One the one hand, some of these customers are just looking for fault or being extremely picky or even those (shudder, dread) chronic complainers who just like to hear their own voice.  I'm not going to discuss those types of people in this post, as although they exist, generally, people who complain about a product or service are ones that have NOT received what they have paid for.  Most people don't enjoy complaining and find it a difficult (and to be avoided) process, so keep this in mind when you are speaking to them.  They are NOT trying to just make your life difficult - they DO have a genuine issue that should be looked into and hopefully addressed.

Difficult customers

Come in several varieties including (but not limited to) the following: Angry, Impatient, Intimidating, Talkative, Demanding, Indecisive etc... and any (all) combinations you could think of.  Dealing with these extremes is not easy and shouldn't be considered such, but the key is that they must be dealt with and must be dealt with in a Professional Manner! Just like you cannot change someone else, you cannot control someone else’s behavior  You have control only over yourself and your own actions. You can, however, influence how customers respond to you though, and I hope that my suggestions below give you some ideas.

Realizing the Issue

Remember that the majority of customers in the world are reasonable people. They may get "difficult" from time to time if they feel they've been let down. It's how you handle them that'll determine if they continue to be a problem or if you can turn them around. Difficult customers and situations usually occur because something has gone wrong.  It's what happens then that'll decide whether they deal with us again or bad mouth us to other people.  As I've mentioned in previous (& will be mentioned again in future) posts, is that the problem you are facing is not the one individual on the phone complaining about their problem.  It is the 10 or more customers that have left without speaking to you because they are dissatisfied!  A very good phrase you see advertised frequently - which you should always keep in mind - goes something like this:

If you are happy with our service, please tell your friends.  If you are unhappy with our service - please tell us!


This should be more than just a trite phrase that gets thrown around.  Companies need to actually believe, understand and live this statement.  The only way you are going to ensure that your customers are happy is by talking to them.  While a customer may be berating you, you still have an opportunity to win them over.  I cannot count the number of times that I have been able to do this and not only keep them with my company but transform them into my biggest advocates.  Research indicates that customers who complain are likely to continue doing business with your company if they feel that they were treated properly. It's estimated that as many as 90% of customers who perceive themselves as having been wronged never complain, they just take their business elsewhere. So, angry, complaining customers care enough to talk to you and have not yet decided to take their business to the competition. They are customers worth saving.

Turning Them Around

OK, if I've not scared you away already, here’s what you need to do.  The steps below are laid out in a fairly logical fashion (and you will see that some of them overlap in terms of how they work) and is illustrative of most of the cases and situations you will come across.
  1. Control Yourself
  2. Listen
  3. Empathy
  4. Identify the Problem/Issue
  5. Don’t Blame Someone Else!
  6. Resolve the Issue
Let’s explore each of these in a bit greater depth below.
  • CONTROL - The easiest way to do this is to remember that it’s not YOU!!  When a person complains about something, it’s important to remember that they’re not attacking you personally. It’s the problem they've encountered which is causing the irritation.  This correspondingly maps quite closely to the feedback you should be providing to your staff when they are not performing well and as mentioned in my review of the One Minute Manager.  Never argue with customers when they are angry, displeased or complaining. If you allow a customer to push your buttons and lose control of yourself, you've lost control of the situation. You can lose a good customer if you show boredom, irritation, disdain or displeasure. Remember if a customer is being abusive and difficult, it’s NOT YOU!!  If you can keep this in mind, dealing with them will be significantly easier ... it’s crucial you maintain a respect for the person even if you don’t respect their behavior towards you.  Remember and repeat ... they are NOT mad at YOU!!!  Apologies for the repetition, but this fact is extremely important and more than one Help Desk Manager has gotten flummoxed by the fact that they are taking the issue personally.
  • LISTENING - If an angry customer is explaining the situation to you ... let THEM talk.  Do NOT interrupt them mid-flow to argue a point.  This sounds easier than it actually is as everyone wants to justify themselves or bring up some rationale for a fault ... don’t do it!  Once you've asked the person to explain their problem or issue to you, it’s then crucial that you simply listen without any kind of interruption whatsoever until they've finished. This is the only way that you will get a full picture of the issue from the customers’ point of view.  Remember they are upset and in their eye’s justifiable!  You cannot take that away from them – regardless of what you say.  It's your actions after that will determine how they feel at the end.  More often than not, once the customer has had an initial chance to vent his rage, it's going to die down a little, and that's your opportunity to step in.
Say, "I can tell you're upset..." or, "It sounds like you're angry..." then connect to the customer by apologizing, or empathizing. When you say something like "I'm sorry that happened. If I were you, I'd be frustrated, too." It's amazing how much of a calming effect that can have. 
  • EMPATHY- OK, we've already touched upon this a little bit above, but let’s explore this in a bit more depth here.  Put yourself in the customer's shoes, and try to see the situation from his/her perspective. Don't try and cut him off, don't urge him to calm down. Instead, listen carefully. If someone is angry or upset, it is because that person feels injured in some way. Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively in order to understand the source of that frustration. When you do that, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation.  Often, as the customer comes to realize that you really do care and that you are going to attempt to help him resolve the problem, the customer will calm down on his own, and begin to interact with you in a positive way.   Once they've finished their diatribe, it’s important that you try to look at the situation from their perspective. Having not interrupted their flow and by listening intently, it’s already sent a signal to the person that you have listened and that you care about them and the situation they’re facing.
  • IDENTIFICATION - Sometimes while the angry customer is venting, you'll be able to latch right on to the problem because it's clear-cut. Something is broken. Or late. Or he thinks a promise has been broken.  Once you have identified what the problem is, it’s important that you reiterate it to the customer so that they are sure that you have heard them correctly. If you've assumed correctly, the customer will say ‘yes’ and then you can move on. If not, this is a good place for some specific questions. Ask the customer to give you some details. "What day did he order it, when exactly was it promised. What is his situation at the moment?" These kinds of questions force the customer to think about facts instead of his/her feelings about those facts. So, you interject a more rational kind of conversation.  Eventually, you will get to the heart of the matter and at that point, you should reiterate to them to ensure you've got it right and then you can move on to the next stage.  However ... remember this ... you MUST apologize for the problem caused by the customer and the impact that he has felt.  This is NOT an acknowledgment of fault or wrongdoing, simply another part of empathizing with your customer.
  • BLAME GAME - I don’t know how else to say it but to be frank.  This is NOT the customer’s fault.  NEVER blame them for coming to you with a complaint.  You should be thanking them for giving you an opportunity to excel! This might also not be your companies fault either, but it is still proper and correct for you to apologize. 
  • RESOLUTION - Now it’s time to try to resolve the situation. There is never going to be a successful outcome every time here and what may be a satisfactory resolution for one customer may not appease another but what is important is to go about trying to resolve the problem in the correct manner.   You won't always be able to fix the problem perfectly. And you may need more time than a single phone call. But it's critical to leave the irate customer with the understanding that your goal is to resolve the problem. You may need to say, "I'm going to need to make some phone calls." If you do, give the customer an idea of when you’ll get back to him: "Later this afternoon." Or "First thing in the morning."
Then do it. Whatever your commitment has been to the customer it is IMPERATIVE that you keep it.  If you do not, you will have them angry at YOU for not fulfilling your promise and this time they would be justified!   Even if you don't have all the information you need, call when you said you would and at least let him know what you've done, what you're working on and what your next step will be. Let the customer know that he and his business are important to you, that you understand his frustration, and that you're working hard to get things fixed.

If you are not going to be able to resolve the situation to the customers' satisfaction – as them how they would like it resolved!  There is no harm in asking that simple question, and even if their response is not something you can do, perhaps it is something that could be done at a higher level of the organization. By taking all of these steps, you’ll have done your job to the best of your ability and in a manner which is likely to resolve most issues.

You have the Power!

It is important that you remain calm in the face of your customer's anger.  This will allow you to think rationally and eventually win the customer around.  The moment you start reacting to them is the moment you've lost the plot and the control of the situation.  You will not succeed in your intent if you do this.

The more you encounter difficult customers, the easier it becomes to deal with them and the more you’ll experience satisfactory outcomes. As long as you adopt an approach similar to that above, you’ll win more than you’ll lose.

Nevertheless, always bear in mind that you’re never going to win them all.  Don't get disheartened ... if you have treated them with respect they will REMEMBER and chances are good when you competition causes them grief, they will be back!

What is a Helpdesk?


OK, to start with it's not a desk that helps people! A help desk is a team of individuals (generally support staff) that provide solutions and resolutions to customers experiencing problems. Generally working at the 1st tier of the support model they are responsible for Incident reporting and resolution vs. Problem Management (I shall discuss those terms in greater depth below).

What is an Incident?

Simply put, an Incident is anything related to a customer contact (Incidents are also reported by automatic means via monitoring tools and I will discuss those types of incidents in greater depth in later posts). Incidents related to customers can be anything really – Information requests, Account Updates, Issue reporting are all examples of Incidents. Incidents can also be reported through a variety of different methods – this could include the phone (probably the most common), email (a close 2nd) and even chat. As mentioned previously, automated monitoring tools can also generate incidents.

All of these different Incidents coming from/through different sources would get routed to your Incident Management tool. For smaller teams, this could be something as simple as a spreadsheet but in larger organizations, either in-house customer-built applications or enterprise level tools prevail.

Incident Management (in a nutshell)

Your helpdesk is responsible for reviewing the information in each of these incidents and checking if there is an appropriate solution already available to the customer. For those instances for example where the customer wishes to update their Account Information, the helpdesk would look at the Incident, obtain the correct new information (& assuming that all appropriate security questions had been reviewed) log into the customers account and update the information. Once the information had been updated, they would inform the customer and then close the Incident. This is probably one of the simpler examples of an Incident from start to finish.

If the customer is reporting a problem or an issue, the Helpdesk staff are responsible for updating the Incident with all the relevant details as supplied by the customer. If the customer's issue matches a known fix they are able to inform or supply that fix to the customer, however, if that is not the case they would need to escalate the issue to the Problem Management team. The simplest way to think of the Incident Management (Helpdesk/Tier1) team and the issues they resolve is that if a "band-aid" exists they can apply it. If more drastic attention is required they will need to call the Doctor!

Problem Management

Problem Management is where the interesting work really happens. Incident Management due to its repetitive nature can get tedious and is definitely a drain on the more skilled staff in your organization ... if you have people like that, think about moving them into Problem Management if you have such a team or create one if you don't! Problem Management is more in-depth. It's where more often than not a single Problem is the cause of multiple Incident's from multiple customers ... as such you want your best people at this level. Generally, you would consider this Tier 2 or Tier 3 from an escalation and staffing perspective and dependent on your product or service you would have some very technically oriented people there. Their goal is not to just provide a band-aid, but rather to find out why the problem happened in the first place and fix it. Ideally, they should be looking at ways to fix it in such a way as to ensure that it doesn't happen again!!

KPI's

Now each of these teams would have different metrics in place. Obviously, your Tier1 team (Incident Management/Customer Service/Helpdesk) needs to get back to the customer in a timely manner. Their goal as already mentioned is to fix it, fix it fast and move on. A band-aid will not always reattach the finger though, so it's up to the Tier2 team to ensure that the surgery goes smoothly which obviously takes a lot more time as you don't want the surgeon doing a shoddy job!

Response Time - So with that analogy in mind ... you want to have an aggressive goal set for your Helpdesk – try to work with the 80/20 rule ... 80% of incidents responded to in 20 seconds (If you have the resources, otherwise maybe 20 minutes? Or 20 hours (that's less than 1 day so might still be good – especially if you're doing email support)? Or 20 days ß well that's probably not really worthwhile) but hopefully you get the point? You want to set a specific goal for measuring how quickly your customers are getting a response.

Resolve Time – notice that I have separated these out. As much as you'd like to be able to resolve 100% of issues at that first contact, it's not always going to be possible. However, you can have another measurement in place that tracks this which is the Resolve Time (sometimes called MTTR (Mean Time to Repair)). The Goal here is also to get that band-aid on as quickly as possible so you need to ensure that your Incident Management system has some sort of a knowledge base which helps your staff find the solution to commonly placed issues/questions. If they have the answer every time, then a 100% resolution at 1st contact is achievable! If not, however ... it gets a bit more complicated because all of a sudden your Incident Management team becomes the customer and the team they go to is the Problem Management team. Guess what? They have a different measurement for Response Time and Resolve Time too!

Problem Management Response Time – now as previously mentioned these are generally your more senior staff and as much as you'd like them to be available 24/7 unless you have an extremely large organization this is probably fairly unlikely. So you are going to have built or determine some relevant response times based on their availability. In addition, as these escalated issues are generally issues that cannot easily be resolved, your resolution time is going to be extended also. Pick some appropriate intervals that meet your customers SLAs. Your main goal for this team (in addition to resolving the problem of course) is communication, communication, communication!!! They must inform your customer-facing agents what the issue is, what they are doing to resolve it and when they expect to have it resolved. If they cannot provide an estimated resolution time, they MUST provide your Tier1 team with an estimated update time.

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 doesn’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 ones 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 customer's 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 are 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 that 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!

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 takeout 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 provided to you!  Your team needs to learn the importance of this lesson - the Customer comes first and its always the customer that's in front 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 prioritize 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 referrals 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.  Conversely, 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!!

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 an '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 ensures that you have the appropriate coverage based on time of day.  It has nice printouts and although not fully "web-enabled" it is easy enough to ensure that your 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 your 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.

Job Search & Resume Essentials


Fortunately (and unfortunately) as a Manager you will frequently get involved in the process of hiring new staff.  The unfortunate downside is that as a Manager you will also have to sometimes terminate staff - see my post on PIPs earlier - but this to some extent goes with the territory.  Let's look at the positive aspect first and let's look at it in two parts as it might be you on the other side of that chair at some point!


Selling Yourself

Now the first step in selling yourself is a decently formatted CV/Resume and appropriately detailed and specific cover letter.  There are lots of places that will send you to resume writers and so on, but you have to remember something very important - your resume is really only the 1st step - YOU need to be able to speak to someone about everything that is on there and if you cannot do that, it will not matter whether or not you got an interview.  You WILL NOT get the job!

Now, if you can speak about everything that is on your resume congratulations, that is important as that is what you will be questioned on come interview time.  You need to ensure that you are comfortable with it and to be honest, depending on your experience, you should not be frightened if your initial resume is 10 pages long (just do not send that version out!).

Once you have built a starting resume, the next task is to weed it down to the appropriate keywords that the company is looking for - see why I said 10 pages is OK?  You can use those keywords and the accompanying 'blurbs' to flesh out each of your jobs so that you present yourself in the best possible light.  Most books and companies would state that you should aim to have your formatted resume (the one that the hiring managers see) be approximately 2 pages in length.  Any longer and unfortunately unless the hiring managers are very bored, will be generally disregarded.  Keep in mind in today's economies there are almost always more people applying for a role than there are positions available and correspondingly lots more resume's!

Now, this all might sound a bit dry and factual (although there are lots of different formats and ways of presenting yourself in your resume to make it less so, the end goal to keep in mind is that you are presenting a "Professional" image of yourself.  Where you have an opportunity to be a bit more risqué is in your covering letter.  Although your resume has been tailored towards the job that you are applying for, your experience might not always be an EXACT match and in these instances, you would use your covering letter to explain why you are a suitable candidate for the role being advertised.


A hiring manager uses the data in the cover letter that you have provided and would compare it against the information in your resume to receive a positive or negative impression as well as an initial determination of suitability for the position.  You don't just want to throw keywords into the cover letter in a random order, you need to ensure that the information you are presenting about yourself matches what the company is looking for and also as mentioned earlier, if your resume is not an exact match, why should they talk to you?  Remember, these simple pieces of paper determine who gets seen first and who gets pitched to the side.

Some key things to always include in a cover letter are:
  • Key Accomplishments and Awards (i.e. How did you benefit your last company?  How much money did you save them?  What process improvements did you initiate and how successful were they?)
  • Customer Testimonials - if you are applying for a Customer Service role and your customers are willing to be your advocate that says some really good things about you and the level of Service you are able to provide.
Finally, with regards to your CV/Resume and cover letter, there is probably one really important thing that I have not yet mentioned ... it is extremely important so please pay attention ... studies state that 85% of applicants currently applying for new positions, make this simple elementary error.


PROOFREAD YOUR WORK!!!!!

In today's day and age with the tools we have available, there is no excuse for simple spelling and grammatical errors.  Remember, Hiring Managers are looking for a reason to put you in the NO pile - don't give them an easy out!!  Once you have read it, read it again and then get your wife to read it and your brother and as many other people as you can think off.  Not only will they hopefully find any errors, but they might even be able to add some additional accomplishments that you'd forgotten!  

In addition unless you are in a highly specialized field, you want to ensure that your resume is readable AND understandable by the "lay" person - remember more often than not, the Hiring Manager in HR does not really understand the role that they are hiring for and is really only looking for those keywords I've mentioned before!

I hope that the above has been useful information with regards to CV/Resume creation as well as the cover letter.  In later posts, I will cover the different job boards (for you and your candidates), recruiters as well as the disciplinary and termination process.

Communication and Customer Service


An extremely funny story that demonstrates the importance of listening to your customers.

This is some correspondence which actually occurred between a London hotel's staff and one of its guests. The London hotel involved submitted this to the Sunday Times. No name was mentioned.

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Dear Maid,
Please do not leave any more of those little bars of soap in my bathroom since I have brought my own bath-sized Dial. Please remove the six unopened little bars from the shelf under the medicine chest and another three in the shower soap dish. They are in my way. Thank you,
S. Berman
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Dear Room 238,
I am not your regular maid. She will be back tomorrow, Thursday, from her day off. I took the 3 hotel soaps out of the shower soap dish as you requested. The 6 bars on your shelf I took out of your way and put on top of your Kleenex dispenser in case you should change your mind. This leaves only the 3 bars I left today which my instructions from the management is to leave 3 soaps daily. I hope this is satisfactory.
Kathy, Relief Maid
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Dear Maid -- I hope you are my regular maid.
Apparently Kathy did not tell you about my note to her concerning the little bars of soap. When I got back to my room this evening I found you had added 3 little Camays to the shelf under my medicine cabinet. I am going to be here in the hotel for two weeks and have brought my own bath-size Dial so I won't need those 6 little Camays which are on the shelf. They are in my way when shaving, brushing teeth, etc. Please remove them.
S. Berman

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Dear Mr. Berman,
My day off was last Wed. so the relief maid left 3 hotel soaps which we are instructed by the management. I took the 6 soaps which were in your way on the shelf and put them in the soap dish where your Dial was. I put the Dial in the medicine cabinet for your convenience. I didn't remove the 3 complimentary soaps which are always placed inside the medicine cabinet for all new check-ins and which you did not object to when you checked in last Monday. Please let me know if I can of further assistance.
Your regular maid,
Dotty
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Dear Mr. Berman,
The assistant manager, Mr. Kensedder, informed me this A.M. that you called him last evening and said you were unhappy with your maid service. I have assigned a new girl to your room. I hope you will accept my apologies for any past inconvenience. If you have any future complaints please contact me so I can give it my personal attention. Call extension 1108 between 8AM and 5PM. Thank you.
Elaine Carmen
Housekeeper
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Dear Miss Carmen,
It is impossible to contact you by phone since I leave the hotel for business at 745 AM and don't get back before 530 or 6PM. That's the reason I called Mr. Kensedder last night. You were already off duty. I only asked Mr. Kensedder if he could do anything about those little bars of soap. The new maid you assigned me must have thought I was a new check-in today, since she left another 3 bars of hotel soap in my medicine cabinet along with her regular delivery of 3 bars on the bath-room shelf. In just 5 days here I have accumulated 24 little bars of soap. Why are you doing this to me?
S. Berman
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Dear Mr. Berman,
Your maid, Kathy, has been instructed to stop delivering soap to your room and remove the extra soaps. If I can be of further assistance, please call extension 1108 between 8AM and 5PM. Thank you,
Elaine Carmen,
Housekeeper
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Dear Mr. Kensedder,
My bath-size Dial is missing. Every bar of soap was taken from my room including my own bath-size Dial. I came in late last night and had to call the bellhop to bring me 4 little Cashmere Bouquets.
S. Berman
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Dear Mr. Berman,
I have informed our housekeeper, Elaine Carmen, of your soap problem. I cannot understand why there was no soap in your room since our maids are instructed to leave 3 bars of soap each time they service a room. The situation will be rectified immediately. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience.
Martin L. Kensedder
Assistant Manager
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Dear Mrs. Carmen,
Who the hell left 54 little bars of Camay in my room? I came in last night and found 54 little bars of soap. I don't want 54 little bars of Camay. I want my one damn bar of bath-size Dial. Do you realize I have 54 bars of soap in here. All I want is my bath size Dial. Please give me back my bath-size Dial.
S. Berman
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Dear Mr. Berman,
You complained of too much soap in your room so I had them removed. Then you complained to Mr. Kensedder that all your soap was missing so I personally returned them. The 24 Camays which had been taken and the 3 Camays you are supposed to receive daily (sic). I don't know anything about the 4 Cashmere Bouquets. Obviously your maid, Kathy, did not know I had returned your soaps so she also brought 24 Camays plus the 3 daily Camays. I don't know where you got the idea this hotel issues bath-size Dial. I was able to locate some bath-size Ivory which I left in your room.
Elaine Carmen
Housekeeper

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Dear Mrs. Carmen,
Just a short note to bring you up-to-date on my latest soap inventory. As of today I possess:
  • On shelf under medicine cabinet - 18 Camay in 4 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.
  • On Kleenex dispenser - 11 Camay in 2 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 3.
  • On bedroom dresser - 1 stack of 3 Cashmere Bouquet, 1 stack of 4 hotel-size Ivory, and 8 Camay in 2 stacks of 4.
  • Inside medicine cabinet - 14 Camay in 3 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.
  • In shower soap dish - 6 Camay, very moist.
  • On northeast corner of tub - 1 Cashmere Bouquet, slightly used.
  • On northwest corner of tub - 6 Camays in 2 stacks of 3.
Please ask Kathy when she services my room to make sure the stacks are neatly piled and dusted. Also, please advise her that stacks of more than 4 have a tendency to tip. May I suggest that my bedroom window sill is not in use and will make an excellent spot for future soap deliveries. One more item, I have purchased another bar of bath-sized Dial which I am keeping in the hotel vault in order to avoid further misunderstandings.
S. Berman
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Ok, I know that this seems extremely funny and silly, but think about it from the Customer's perspective.  He has obviously passed the point of frustration.  Do you think he'll be coming back to this establishment?  Will he be recommending them to anyone else?  I think the answer to both of those questions is a resounding - NO!  It is important to remember that you need to "Listen" to your customer - don't just hear them but listen to what they are actually telling you.  More often than not a small problem can be avoided early on by taking this approach.

Internal & External SLA’s


A very important point to remember at all times is that you need to have a more aggressive Internal SLA vs. the one that you are offering to your customers. I know it sounds self-evident doesn't it, but there is no end of organizations that I've dealt with where customers are offered a 4hr SLA on a 24/7 basis and the engineers that can actually fix the problem are either unavailable till the next business day or NOT even on call!!!


Let me state this once again and very clearly so that there is NO CONFUSION ...


If you are offering your customers an SLA of 'X Hours' and your Engineering (or Development or Project Management or ... etc...) team is only offering you an SLA of 'X + Y Hours' ... YOU WILL LOSE MONEY and YOU WILL LOSE CUSTOMERS!!!




It is imperative that your internal SLA be better than the one you are offering to your customers and you need to ensure that your Sales team and Senior Management are both on board with this. 

Remember, also, that this must go all the way up the chain ... your Engineering team has agreed to an internal SLA of 'X – Y Hours' (woohoo!! That will solve 80% of your problems) but the Development team is only offering them an SLA of 'Z' (assume 'Z' is a multiple of 'X + Y') ... for those 20% of customers and problems that cannot be solved by your Tier 2 (Engineering team in this example) group ... you are still going to be in trouble. 


The question, now becomes how much are you & your company willing to invest in protecting yourself from that 20%?


I hope that this gives you the ammunition that you need in your discussions with Senior MGMT. Any help you need or further suggestions, please feel free to contact me using the form on the right side of the page.

Erlang 'C' & Scheduling for Call Centres - III

Skill-Based Routing

Simpler to say than actually execute, SBR is a way of ensuring that your contact reaches the agent best suited to deal with and address their issue.  This assists in first call resolution but is also key when it comes to things like languages and specific technologies.  An easy example is ensuring that a French-speaking customer with a data problem reaches your agent in your call center in Montreal (or France for that matter) vs your agent in an English speaking call center.  

Skill-based routing allows for significant granularity and focus, but it is only as good as the information you know or are supplied with by the customer.  This can either be from an existing customer database or from your initial ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) system where the customer is responsible for determining what problem they have.

Scheduling Tools

There is a multitude of free & paid for scheduling tools available and obviously, you get what you pay for with the ones requiring a monthly/yearly fee offering significantly more tools and services than the free ones.  However, depending on the size of your center and your budget, some of these free tools (reviewed) are extremely effective and useful.  I have provided links to some of the better subscription-based tools also, but have not included a review of them as their websites are fairly descriptive in and of itself.
  • Excel (or other) Spreadsheet - hopefully your budget includes at least one copy of Microsoft Excel, but if not, you can still get access to free spreadsheet applications either through Open Office or even Google Docs or Zoho Docs. Depending on your chosen product/solution, the formula's and look of the product will be slightly different, however, for simple call/support centers any of these will suffice. Your main measurement would be determined by your total required staffing level. You can also build a schedule based on specified Tiers of customers or skillsets. Don't get too complicated with Excel as it would pay you to get a specialized tool to do this right. A sample Tiered schedule is provided below.


The key things to note here are that, there are less Tier2 staff than Tier1 (think about it as a Pyramid shape ... the higher up the Pyramid you get, the more skilled your staff are). And also, the GAP ... this is where you can expect to receive more calls/emails/contacts than your Staff is able to handle. Expect complaints, bad service and abandon calls as well as ... you should expect to start losing Customers! ... unless you can get this to be '0'

One other thing to note is that this is a daily schedule ... see what I mean about specialized tools?  Don't worry I'll be getting to them soon I hope!