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Friday, November 22, 2013

“How’m I doin’?”

The late Ed Koch, New York City’s mayor in the ‘80s, was famous for asking his constituents on the street, “How’m I doin’?”  It was informal, genuine (as genuine we can expect from a politician :)), asking about his performance.

As we’ve moved on 30 years later, I miss that idea.  That feedback can be simple, real, and it doesn’t have to break a person’s ego, if bad. It can certainly improve someone’s performance, engagement, or simply their day when it is good.
Bottom-line is we all need it.  We all want it.  We also get it through formal and informal channels.  But do we seek it?  Do we manage it?  Do we create a culture of feedback?

Feedback – The Delivery
I’ve been teaching a lot of leadership courses lately.   The one thing, I think, that truly separates an average leader from an inspiring leader is the ability to give feedback to anyone.  That means managing up or down, and saying the things that need and should be said.
Every leadership class I teach, we talk about feedback and conceptually create a piece of feedback for someone on their team.  The kicker is I always make them say the words to a practice partner in the room.  It is fascinating to watch extremely intelligent people stumble with lots of ‘umms’, the direct eye contact gets lost, and the words come out all jumbled.  And this is for positive feedback, which we would assume to be easy to say (of course that is the reason we practice in class).

This comes from this world of metrics we created to help us tactically manage all that needs to be done.  But at the end of the day, it is still people who execute all the tactics and we need to let them know how they are doing.

But How are you Doing?
Something else that separates the mediocre from the amazingly effective is the ability to ask for feedback and take it.   This is what will create that informal feedback culture in your work environment.  Humbly ask everyone you work with, “What is working for you, and what could I do better for you?”  Be open to hearing it yourself from not just your leaders, but your employees and peers.    Encourage your team to ask this as well.
The thing with feedback is that it is someone’s opinion, key word OPINION, of your performance.  Also remember it is not a comment on YOU, but your PERFORMANCE.  You are free to agree with it or not, and it is your choice to do something with it.  But always thank someone for telling you their opinion, even if you did not ask for it (Which can be difficult).  It is risky for them to be candid, so appreciate that ability to be vulnerable.
If you are not currently doing this, a change will be difficult.  Human behavior and habits take time to develop.  Like any change, it will be clunky, met with skepticism at first, but eventually it will become natural and a positive expectation of the group.  Let's set realistic expectations, it will take weeks to make this a habit. (Sorry, wish I could say a day. If you've been on a diet you know what I am talking about. :))

So How’m I doing?
I am always open to your feedback on The Customer Service Gurus.  Please let us know what we are doing that works for you, and what we could do better.  I walk the talk.  You?

Season of Gratitude
One final note, as we prepare for Thanksgiving in The States next week.  I am profoundly thankful for this year in business.  I am grateful for anyone who reads my blog (You're out there, right? :)).  I am grateful for the many people I’ve met: formally through client projects, classes I’ve taught, networking, or more informally through LinkedIn or other channels.   I am grateful for the positive energy we’re creating to try to do good things in the world.  You inspire me.  I’m mostly grateful for the power to change and that every day we each have an opportunity to get closer to our full potential and bring it out in others.    That is worth a slice of turkey or two next week!

Be well, safe travels, and we hope you thoroughly enjoy this holiday season.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Lost in Translation

What did you say??

The world is complicated.  I get that.  There is not much that is black and white any more.  Not that anything ever was black and white.  But in current terms, to find out any kind of answer to a question about an insurance policy, a real estate contract, legal, or something else complicated, seems to be walking into the maze of the Minotaur.   It shouldn’t be this way.

Is it really so complicated?

I have a retirement plan still sitting with my former employer.  Recently, my financial guru advised that I move it, as the management fees were probably larger than if I rolled it over to an independent product.
Yep, that makes sense to my novice understanding of retirement plans.  It especially makes sense when I see commercials from multiple financial institutions that are so happy and anxious to help me retire with all the wealth I need.  (Don’t you love the commercial with the dots that asks how old is the oldest person you know?  There is another one with the green line on the ground.  I simply follow the green line, and voila I am a rich old lady!  Woo hoo!)

So I contact via email my current retirement plan administrator with these two questions.

“Where can I find what the current management fees are for my plan?”

“Where can I find how they are being calculated (are they a Flat fee or percentage)?”

Combined, there are 29 words in these questions.   I received a 318(!) word template reply, in technical financial language.  If I could understand the technical financial language, then I would not need to ask the question in the first place.  The worst is it did not answer my question!

What is the real problem?

Companies tend to forget that their customers are not dumb, but they don’t live in their world.  I am not a retirement plan expert, I am a training expert.  If I could understand the answer as it was presented, then I would not need any of their services in the first place (i.e. give them a fee to invest my money).  Customers need simple understanding and help translating complex concepts, products, and services.
Also, companies and experts need to not be afraid to answer the actual question.  If leadership is not clear on the answer or coaches to give vague answers, then the service team will not give a clear answer to the customer.  That starts creating mistrust between customer and company.  This is the antithesis to creating customer loyalty. 

The Gurus’ Solution

Stop relying on templates and FAQs to answer email inquiries.  If service professionals are forced to customize email replies, I believe there is a higher chance the text will actually answer the question. This saves repeated email correspondence or repeat calls, which of course saves operating costs.  It will also show your confidence in your employees, which creates an empowered culture.

If it can’t be answered clearly in an email, then send an email reply to the customer that states, “In order to best help you, please call us.”   This bugs me too because if a business has such a complicated product that most questions can’t be answered typically in an email, then remove the option to email questions in the “Contact Us” area.   Force all customers to call you so you can service them better.

Companies would also do well to remember that customers do not want to contact you.  I certainly have better things to do with my time than contact my retirement plan administrator.  Your customers do too.

Help Wanted:  A Translator

This happens to me all the time. Another example:  I have a pretty clear question about registering my business with the state of Florida, and I have asked no less than five highly educated experienced experts the same question. I have yet to receive a definitive answer or the same answer twice.  What am I to do as a customer when I truly want to do the right thing?

When planning your service strategy, think about what you assume your customers know and what they don’t know about your world.  Then scrap that, and assume they know nothing. Develop a service strategy to respectfully educate customers and instill trust you employees are the experts.  This stops additional calls, and your customers searching the internet for complaints or solutions. 

It's too bad Google Translator doesn't have an option for "Businesese" into "English."  Until then, if customers can’t trust you to be the expert, then what are you in business for?


Friday, July 26, 2013

Blurred Lines

 Every so often I think maybe I am just old school in how people should behave at work.  My first full-time job was at Walt Disney World as a merchandise hostess (Epcot, Centorium -“The Gifts of Future World!”) One concept engrained during my first few days of pixie dusting was the concept of onstage and backstage.

What it meant was anytime a cast member (employee) was anywhere there could possibly be a guest (customer), AKA Onstage, the expectation was to act on-the-job.  The culture was employees were always on best behavior in front of customers, regardless of the circumstance.  When not in front of customers, usually physically behind a door or fence, AKA Backstage, it was more relaxed and informal. 

Sometimes, I miss those days.  There are good things about society become more relaxed and casual (Ask any woman about wearing pantyhose during a humid Florida summer.) But there are blurred lines I wish we could reestablish.  Sometimes I think, “Yuck! I did not need to see or know that!” or “You do know you are at work?”

What Happened
My hubby and I were checking out at a Walmart express lane.  We are third in line.  The customer at the register seems to have a lot of merchandise for an express lane, and there is a problem with his order.  The next person in line is a Walmart employee, presumably on her break as she was buying a cheesecake snack from the deli.   The first transaction is taking longer to resolve, so the Walmart employees opens the cheesecake and starts eating in line while waiting to check out!  I can’t imagine Walmart appreciates this behavior from customers, let alone an employee.

At all types of businesses, I’ve heard personal and inappropriate conversations taking place between employees, this includes managers.  I've heard about the results of doctor’s appointments I never wanted to know about. I know about relationships in ways that make me think, “Too much information!”   When I worked in a call center, even though employees aren’t physically in front of customers, I remember conversations taking place on the floor that made me scratch my head, “You did not just say that!” The other thing is how often smartphones come out at work.   Does everyone realize that they are paid to work, and not check in with their personal life?

When employees are so involved in their personal lives at work, customers are seen as an interruption and not the reason they are paid.   In this context, personal life includes talking to fellow employees.   More importantly from a business perspective, it makes the customers feel unimportant and many times uncomfortable.  I won’t ask an employee for help when I hear a personal conversation, nor do I tend to linger longer. That is lost revenue. 

Clear and Muddy
We spend so much time at work that it is clear many of our co-workers become our friends.  We establish personal bonds because we see our co-workers more than we see our actual families.  That part is good.  Having friends at work typically improves an employee’s satisfaction and engagement.  It’s nice to know our co-workers, share good times, and have a sympathetic ear in bad times.

Where it gets muddy is the idea that the personal relationships are more important than the job itself, or a job is an extension of life outside of work.  When an employee talks to another employee about marriage issues, eats in front of a customer, talks about their children’s book report, or a gazillion other behaviors, it says they made that decision that whatever is happening in their life is more important than what they are getting paid to do.  That is not the type of employee that creates satisfied customers.

How to Solve

The key here is to keep it simple.
  • If the supervisors are doing any of these behaviors, the employees will do it too, as they create the defacto culture.  Find ways to help them manage their behavior.
  • Have this question guide behavior: “If my boss’ boss was standing right in front of me, would I be doing this?” 
  • Put a physical line on the floor and make a sign that says, “Beyond this line it is Game On!” or whatever terminology works for your environment.  It does not have to be formal, but the point needs to be made. 
  • Office environments work a bit differently, so ask your team for their ideas how to manage this behavior.
Help unblur the line for your teams.  Set the expectations, reinforce them, and be a model of the best behavior.  There is a time and place for everything, onstage and backstage.  Define what that is for your world and tell your teams.  Are you ready?  Lights, camera, ACTION!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Lazy makes me Crazy!

There are a few of thing that really irk me beyond sanity when it comes to customer service.  What makes it so frustrating is they are simple to correct and just unnecessary actions of the employees.  The first one is lazy makes me crazy!

As a customer, I am pretty reasonable and easy going (Well, I am in life too).  You will not find someone more empathetic to service employees because I spent so many years there myself.  I know days are tough when people come to you one after another.   With all that said, I cannot tolerate laziness.  I have an expectation if your name tag has the company’s logo on it, then you should be able to answer basic questions about your organization, your immediate physical location, and even if you don’t know, just be pleasant while you, not me, find out. 

The Situation

Poor Carnival Cruise Lines, they can’t seem to get a break lately with dramatic and scary technical problems on their ships, and even worse they seem to handle service recovery just so poorly.  Normally, I would not pick on them because it doesn’t seem fair to kick a man when he’s down, but this experience illustrates best my point about laziness.

In April, my family boarded the Carnival Legend for its first Mediterranean voyage of the summer season.   One thing I enjoy about cruising is a ship’s library and the ability to borrow books.   I am not an e-reader kind of girl, so the ability to check out a hardback book is a nice amenity.   

Disembarkation day I went to the library to get a book.  The books were locked up, and there was a sign that said the library would open at 7:30pm for an hour.   This wasn’t unexpected, as almost all cruise lines control the inventory to avoid books walking off, so I made a mental note to return later.

I went back around 8:00pm, but the bookcases were still locked.  Hmmm?

There is one Carnival crew member in the library, and she is the internet manager according to her name tag.   It’s not unusual for the passenger internet computer stations to be in or near the library.   The total space was probably no bigger than a 20 feet X 20 feet area (For my metric audience, it's about 7 meters x 7 meters). 

I waited while she helped other passengers and when it was my turned I asked, “When does the library open?”  She answered, “I don’t know.”  In my head I thought, “But you are in the library, how could you not know?!”  She clearly had no interest in finding out either, but she told me to check my daily events schedule that should be in my room.   In my room?! She was very short, and I have rarely had someone so non-verbally say to me, “That’s not my job.” 

The Gurus’ Solution

This is such an easy solution, which annoys me all the more.  She should have had a schedule of events with her for any such basic questions, and apologize the library was not open when the sign said it would.  As a customer I don’t care if it was her job or not.  If you are standing in front of the library books, you need to know when the library will be open.   It’s not rocket science.

If she was a proactive type of employee, she would verify the hours on the sign and work with the cruise director team to ensure it was always correct.  This would take literally minutes of her time, and the funny thing is it would save her a world of heartache from whiny passengers.  (Not that I am ever whiny. ;))

The Larger Organization Solution

For organizations, I propose you take every customer service position and think through what are the top 10 questions that employees in that role could get related to the company, their physical location, and other general information.   Some of the top questions will always be where are the restrooms, and what are the hours of operation?

If you can train people to these answers, then you will proactively solve 50% of your customer challenges.  Employees will also feel more confident, which leads to higher job satisfaction.  The trick to train them is as an organization you must know the definitive answers to those common questions.  Sometimes that is not as easy as it sounds.   

Life is a Carnival

Carnival just installed a new CEO, and I hope they are able to turn around their sinking ship to ensure passenger safety and create enjoyable service experiences.   If you are a regular reader of the blog, then you know I love cruising, so I am sure I will give Carnival another opportunity to wow me someday soon. 

Until then, I wish you safe and fun summer travels!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tired of Squeaking

In America we have a saying, “Squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  According to, “When people say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, they mean that the person who complains or protests the loudest attracts attention and service.

If you have worked in any service industry for any length of time, then you know this is true.  You also know it is true as a customer.   As soon as the transaction starts to go bad, the first thing out of our mouths is, “I would like to speak (squeak) to your supervisor.”

I would like to say, unequivocally, that I am tired of squeaking. We should be better than this that this is our default strategy when delivering customer service. 

The Situation
Unfortunately, I have many situations to demonstrate this, but I will highlight two.  One makes me scared and sad, and the other is simply needless.

Situation 1
My friend’s mother has been in the hospital for a few weeks.  Her condition has put her in a great deal of pain, and to help her doctor prescribed morphine.  It is a serious drug, and it is understandably seriously regulated. 

My friend waits in his mom’s room for over an hour for the morphine to be administered.  Nothing.  He goes to the nurses’ station and asks what is the delay.  The nurse replies they are waiting for the pharmacy to fax the prescription due to morphine’s high regulatory procedures.  More waiting.  Mom is still in pain.  My friend returns to the station, upset, and still no fax.  My friend(!) ends up calling the pharmacy, and the pharmacy said they faxed it.  My friend said, “I am standing right at the fax machine and there is no fax.”  Within 3 minutes the fax comes through, and the drug given to his mom.

Situation 2
Every Sunday, the newspaper’s travel section features a column with travelers who have a service recovery issue. They have squeaked through all the proper channels with the company, and out of lack of fair resolution or frustration write to the columnist to tell their story.  The columnist is consumer advocate Christopher Elliot. (Check him out at )

Nine times out of ten, Elliot will talk to the company and reach a settlement.  It is almost always overturns the decision made at the lower levels of the organization and reimburses the travelers for pretty much the entire amount in dispute.

Summing Up
Of course, it is situation one that makes me sad and scared.  What scares me is many patients do not have someone to squeak for them.   I understand staffing is short, and the regulatory practices make it difficult to keep things together, but our population is aging so this is only going to get worse.

The second situation makes me crazy.  Crazy as in it isn’t until the organization receives negative press that they simply fix the issue.  Yes, there are contracts and policies, but there is also doing what is common sense fair for the customer.  They should not have to squeak all the way through negative publicity.   When I put a negative comment on Facebook about service I received within minutes someone from the organization contacts me via email.    And I always go through the proper escalation phone or email channels before I resort to Facebook.

The Guru’s Solution
This applies to all service providers that you have to develop procedures to manage ad hoc request.  The pharmacy not faxing the sheet was probably an innocent mistake, but an individual’s health is at stake.  I am sure there must be an emotional detachment somewhat to keep sane, but I hope health professionals keep just enough of a connection to realize how important it is to follow up with every promise or procedure they make to a patient and their family.   Someday it will be them in that bed.

The second, I would be interested in conducting a cost analysis to see how much money it really takes to solve a customer issue.  For those issues that eventually the consumer feels so strong to contact a third party (legal or otherwise), my guess is several people from the company have worked on the issue, costing labor dollars and resources, so from a cost perspective it is works to benefit the company to do the smart thing sooner than later.  If it does not violate policy or a legal rule and can be done, then just do it.  

Final Thought
Pay just as much attention to those customers not squeaking.  To be a business of integrity and success, do the right thing at all times whether the customer complains loudly or not.  It should not take someone repeatedly complaining to make this occur.  Be compassionate with your customers.  They do not want to yell, but you have conditioned them to think that is the way to receive fair treatment

To quote the great Native American Chief Joseph, "I will fight (squeak) no more, forever."  

Friday, February 15, 2013

To Forgive and Forget, The Art of Service Recovery

One of the most requested training topics at The Customer Service Gurus is Service Recovery.  Service Recovery is the idea that once a customer service transaction goes bad, either through company or customer error, or something like a Force majeure, through the actions of the customer service representative and perhaps adding compensation of some sort, the customer will forgive and more importantly forget when it comes time to complete the important customer service survey. 

I wish I had a magic formula for Service Recovery because I could sell it at a price that would cancel out the nation’s debt!  But Service Recovery, much like Customer Service, is part art and part science.  There is no mathematical formula that if Event A happens + Compensated with B = Customer Forgets at Survey time. 

But it doesn’t mean you cannot do something impactful that solidifies a positive relationship with the customer.  The good news is throwing money at the problem is rarely necessary.  Customers care more about compassionate actions than a key chain.

The Guru’s Experience

During the holidays, my family cruised on Holland America’s ship the Prisendam.  It was a beautiful experience, overall, but we had a maintenance problem at the start of the cruise.  We heard a strange knocking noise in our cabin, which made it difficult to sleep when the boat rocked in heavy seas.

We guessed something was loose in the panel between the closet and the outside hallway, and with the motion of the ship it banged against the wall.  We mentioned this to our cabin steward, who directed us we would get a faster resolution if we went directly to the front desk with our complaint. Complaint is really too strong of a word.  We weren’t upset; we only needed the problem fixed. (That we were directed to take our complaint elsewhere is a blog for another time.)

A concierge comes to our room to inspect the problem.  Yes, she confirms the issue and explained an engineer would come the next morning to fix it.  (It was near 9pm when we went to the desk).  We are happy with this, and she was sincere, friendly and kind.  It would be great to have it fixed now, but we understand engineers do not work at night unless it is an emergency.  It was annoying, but certainly not an emergency.

An engineer arrives the next morning.  He dabbles in the closet, but we are pretty confident he did not fix the problem.  The seas were smoother, so it was difficult to tell.  We could not say 100% that the knock was still there, but we could not say the knock was gone either.  That is the end of the actual transaction, and now comes the attempt at service recovery.

On the Road to Service Recovery

The concierge leaves a voicemail later that day asking if everything was fine, she hoped it was, and we should let her know if we needed additional service.  She truly seemed concerned.  Nice job!

The next day she leaves a second voicemail, similar to the first.   That is similarly a nice touch, but it wasn’t necessary.  We were good, and we appreciated her attention.

She calls the third day and speaks to me.  She asked again about the issue.  I said it seemed OK, but we did not know for sure, but we appreciated she followed-up with us and we would let her know if something changed.  At no point in this situation were we, the customers, upset.

The fourth day, a bottle of wine is delivered to our room with a detailed personalized note regarding the maintenance issue.   It was a lovely gesture, but we weren’t sure the problem was fixed. The kicker is we don’t drink wine. 

The Guru’s Thoughts

In our situation, the wine was certainly gracious, but it was not what I as the customer valued.  Therefore, it needlessly cost the company compensation dollars and labor tied to all the effort to manage the issue. If the team had stopped at the first follow-up call it would have been fine for us. But I recognize for other passengers, they would have even wanted more.

I do not fault the concierge, as I am pretty sure she was following a specific protocol provided by Holland America.

As a service professional, I am on the fence whether it is ever adds value to compensate a guest or customer.  If you do, the greater risk is training them to think every issue will be compensated, and that is a no win scenario for the organization.  They are purchasing your products or services, but life happens.  If it is the organization’s fault, then fix it, apologize for it, but confidently move on that you have helped them.  Compensation is an attempt to manipulate the customer, and people are too fickle for manipulation to be an effective strategy.

It is classic psychology.  You cannot be responsible for how someone responds to your best efforts.  I believe most customers, and more importantly the customers you want to keep, are satisfied with a sincere apology and education how to prevent it in the future.  The key is knowing your staff is trained to do the best they can with the knowledge and tools available to them, and empowering everyone to stop this crazy train of compensation we seem to be on as a society.  Prevent the root cause, and do not just treat the disease.

Final Thoughts

This week the Carnival Triumph was stranded in the Gulf of Mexico and had to be slowly towed to Mobile, Alabama.  As I understand it, there was a fire onboard, and to extinguish the fire there was damage to the ship’s electrical system.  Cabins did not have electricity, food was in limited supply, and the sanitation system could not be fully used (Yuck!).  There are four thousand people on the ship, between passengers and crew, and they were stuck at sea for five days.  It was a nightmarish situation.

Whatever Carnival decides to do for those passengers, my guess is they will never cruise with Carnival again, so what is the point of Carnival compensating them with another cruise?  What is the right gesture to win those customers back to their brand?  Can it happen, ever?

My best advice for service providers is to think through the situation from the customer’s point of view.  Simply ask this question, “If this happened to me, what would I reasonably expect the organization to do?”  Execute the answer to that question, and 95% of the time you will be fine.  The other 5%, let them go bother your competitor.

Bon Voyage! 

Friday, January 25, 2013

IVRs, aka, Irritable Voice Response Syndrome

I have never met a person who likes to call customer service 800-numbers.  Even people working in the contact center industry hate calling other companies because we have no faith the person on the other end can competently help us (I love the irony. :)).

But sometimes there is no way around it. I understand the need for call centers, and I’ve been happily employed at two during my career. But as a customer, the bane of my existence is the IVR!  

If you are not familiar with call center lingo, IVRs are the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems used to route calls.   Most products or services today are complicated, and IVRs route calls to specifically skilled representatives based on the customers interaction with a computer voiced prompt.  The end result is typically some agents are trained to answer some questions, and other agents can answer other questions.

The Problem

The problem with IVRs is they put too much artificial distance between the customer and the service provider.  What begins as a benign situation easily escalates into something else, and it is due to technology that is supposed to help, but it only serves to put up a wall between two people who need each other. That is the antithesis to customer service excellence.

The Typical Situation 

Me:  Places call. I’m in good mood, but I have braced myself for this call.  I know what is coming. You know you have been here too.  

Business:  Call answers with an IVR.  Professional automated voice answers: “Thank you for calling Business ABC.  Most questions can be answered at our website”  IVR has not paused for breath yet.

Me:  Internal dialogue begins. “Don’t thank me yet for my call.  You have no idea what is coming.  If I could have found out the answer through your website, I would have, but your website stinks.”

Business:   IVR continues. “For our office hours, press 1.  For directions to our office, press 2. For our fax number, press 3.” 

Me:  Internal dialogue starts again. “As crummy as your website is, I could have at least got this information.” 

Intermezzo Thought

Here is the dollar impact. So far the call has lasted two minutes and I am no closer to an answer to my question, and my mood is beginning to sour.  This is a real cost because when I finally get the agent, I am going to be ticked and spend at least 3 minutes letting them know I am unhappy.

Business:  IVR continues. “For billing, please press 4.” 

Me:  Internal dialogue continues. “I do not have a billing issue.  I have a kind of in-between issue.”  

Business:  IVR continues. “To schedule service, please press 5.” 

Me:   Internal dialogue again, “Well, that sounds closer, but I have a real problem, not a regular service call.  What do I do?”

Business:  IVR continues, “To repeat this menu, please press 6.”

Me: Internal thought, “ARGGGGG!!!!! I can’t remember what option was what, and what applied to me.” I am returned to the IVR of repetitive destruction! Noooooooooo!

The Saga Continues…

I finally reach a real person to explain my problem.  After the agent takes 2 minutes to verify it is actually me calling about my account, they realize they do not have either the information or the authority to help me.  I am transferred and get thrown back to the IVR! Noooooo!!!

When I reach a second agent, after another 2 minutes verifying it is me again, and another 3 minutes me explaining my issue, they too discover they cannot service my call.  It takes me 30 minutes to find someone who can help me, but when I finally do it takes the agent 5 minutes to explain the answer to my question. 

Even with this final answer, I leave the phone call not very confident that I have the correct information.  I am 80% sure if I went through this entire process again that I would get a different answer from a different agent.  That is not the feeling you want your customers to have after any interaction with your organization.

It’s not as if this happens with one company.  This is something that occurs almost every time I call a company for assistance.  It could be my cable bill, my mortgage company, my bank, or another company I have a relationship with.  Sadly, the list does not seem to end.

The Guru’s Solution

My radical and preferred solution is if you truly desire to deliver superior customer service, then ditch the IVR.  This is a revolutionary idea, but the idea of a human voice answering the phone will immediately demonstrate to your customers you care.  I also just don’t think I could be convinced that the additional minutes in phone cost for misroutes or the aggravation it adds to the customer, which will reflect poorly in service surveys, that it is worth it.  IVRs are expensive to operate and my theory is if your organization answered the phone with a live agent, the reduced minutes in phone calls would easily balance or reduce cost.

What I suggest is make the ‘operator’ role a job to be coveted.  Rotate your best agents in and out of the role, and pay them a slight shift differential to work it.   These agents should be the employees who are your top skilled people, and they are the friendliest of your team.  Being that operator can be a monotonous position, so help it become a role that agents aspire to.  The ‘operator’ shows that the agent is valued for their superior service and expertise.

If you feel you can’t go there, then at least review how to qualify calls and the clarity of your IVR system.  Customers are annoyed to be asked multiple times for verification.  I would advocate no cold transferring either.  Again it is radical, but would your agents think twice about transferring a call? You bet!

In summary, make sure any technology used in your organization enhances the customer experience.  We seem to mistake internal business efficiencies gained by using various technologies as improving the customer service experience. But what benefits the organization does not always benefit your customers. The power of the human voice will always trump computer automation.

As always, if the Gurus can help, please let us know.  Now for our office hours, please press 1.