Thank You For Calling, Good Buddy

When I was at Tommy Hilfiger, I was amazed at the depth of the relationship our customers had with the brand. When a customer had a good experience with the brand, it validated the role Tommy played in their life. When a customer had a less than good experience, (for example if
the colors on a shirt ran in the wash) the problem was much more than simply arranging a returned or exchange. For many customers, a product issue was tantamount to a broken promise, a painful rejections by a trusted friend. When the heartbroken customer would contact us after enduring such an ordeal, we first needed to hear their emotions, acknowledge their pain, and tell them we didn’t mean it, if we hoped to heal the relationship.
But those were the customers who contacted us. What of the thousands of customers, for any brand, who don’t bother to call or email when something goes awry? Aren’t we all more likely to complain to our pals when our phone bill is inaccurate, or our flight has been delayed – again?
Truth is that it’s a whole lot easier to complain to your pals about how you hate Company X than to take your issue directly to Company X. It’s a bit of a pain to pick up the phone, dial a number, wait on hold, only to pick a fight with a customer service agent who may or may not give a flying leap about your situation (Air Canada, this means you!). By the same token, taking the time to draft an email outlining a bad experience is perceived as time wasted. It’s thoroughly easier to shut the brand out of our lives, and encourage our friends to do the same.
So, as a customer experience professional, this scares the crap out of me. And it scares the crap out of a lot of other organizations, too, which is why we invest time, energy, and money to find out just what our customers are saying about us, to take the pulse of that covert communication.
Here’s thought: Wouldn’t it be great to make communication with a brand so gosh darned easy that it becomes as easy as chatting with our friends? That’s like suggesting that we, the “brands,” become the pals our customers think of us. That way, when we screw up, we hear about it! Right away! And when we’re thinking about changing something, we can easily find out how it will be accepted (remember New Coke?). This is kind of the Holy Grail of customer experience management. It’s also what brands absolutely need to pursue if they’re to have true “sticking” power with their consumers. Every brand can have consumers as loyal as Tommy Hilfiger’s if they understand, and respect, the very real and personal role they play in their customers’ lives. If they understand that, to many of us, brands are like our pals.
Take a look at this video from Microgeist.com that demonstrates how an organization uses Twitter to keep in touch with its customer base, to be that “pal,” and to step in when things seem to have gone awry at some point (can you spot the clue?). Also, notice how the brand carefully manages expectations around availabilty. The best part is that adopting such a strategy costs nothing. It’s free. But it ain’t easy…
Comments welcome, of course!

Customer Service Via Twitter from Tom L on Vimeo.

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Outsourcing the Customer Experience

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about outsourcing the contact center function of an organization.  The decision to “go with an outsourcer” is always controversial, and can be disastrous if not handled properly.  Alternatively, a good outsourcer can be an excellent way to deliver a quality experience in a very cost effective, value-added way.  Below are some thoughts about how to ensure your outsourcer is delivering the experience, as well as the efficiency, your customers deserve.
It’s more than the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
KPIs measure efficiency of the organization to perform the tasks it has been contracted to perform.  KPIs do not measure the effectiveness of those tasks.  If an organization only manages success or failure of a contact center based on average handle time (AHT), average speed of answer (ASA), and call abandon rate, then all they are measuring is efficiency, or how cost-effectively calls are being answered.  What they are not measuring is how well those calls are being answered in terms of the customer experience.  That’s like a Formula One car measuring only speed, rpms, and tire erosion, but not paying any attention to where the car is driving.  The result is predictable.   Just as surely as the Formula One car will be racing on the wrong track, the calls will be confusing customers, giving incorrect information, and essentially driving customers away from the brand.  But since the organization is managing the KPIs, at least the customers are being driven away as efficiently as possible.  Yikes!
To overcome this challenge, organizations who rely on outsource contact centers are wise to spend a lot of time actively managing the experience of the call, in addition to the KPIs.  This means ensuring that the quality documentation reflect the experience you want your customers to have.
One way to do this is by taking an active, leadership role in designing the quality monitoring form.  Call centers use this document to rate the “quality” of a call they have monitored, and also use this form as a basis of training, coaching, and rewarding customer service agents.  Often outsourcers will provide a “cookie cutter” quality form they use with all of their clients.  If your brand offers a “cookie cutter” experience, then I guess that’s good enough.  I suspect, however, that your brand offers a unique promise of quality, value, and authenticity.   To ensure this promise finds its way to your customers, spend time with your outsourcer adjusting the quality form to reflect the experience you want your customers to have.   Then work with your outsourcer to implement this form, train to the form, and coach to the form.  Finally, frequently call your toll-free number and “mystery shop” your call center and use the form to measure the quality of experience your customers are having.  Scoring each of these calls and sharing the results with your outsourcer with go a long way in helping your outsourcer deliver the experience you are paying them to deliver.
Next week I’ll talk about how to ensure the “voice of the brand” is present on every call, even if you use an outsource call center.
Thank you for reading.  Comments are always welcome.
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