Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Data-Driven Approach to Re-Engineering Your Call Center





By Ed Ariel

Vice President, Customer Service
ezCater






Many changes have been made over the years in the name of making things easier for the customer: Questions and Answers (Q&A) became Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs),which then morphed into Self Help (no initials, doomed for failure). But did those changes really help the customer? There is a lot of talk nowadays about re-engineering the call center to take better advantage of technology. You can make small changes for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon, or you can take a data and customer-driven approach that positively impacts your organization and your customers. 

At ezCater, we are insanely focused on being insanely helpful to our customers at every touch point. When we discuss implementing a new technology, the critical question is always ‘why?’ Whenever introduce a new technology unless it maintains (at a lower cost) or improves (1) the level of service or (2) the experience for the customer.  

Many companies implement re-engineering plans with the primary goalof reducing costs. Reducing costs without improving the customer experience may provide a short-term benefit, but if customers do not receive the level of service they expect, they will eventually stop using your service.  In that case, short-term gains will be quickly wiped out bya lower customer lifetime value.If you try to offset departures by acquiring customers at a faster rate, you may then end up with another costly repercussion: higher customer acquisition costs.

This is not to say that reducing costsis always detrimental.  Show me a call center without customer chat or a work force management tool and I will show you a call center with some easy opportunities for improvements to the customer experience as well as cost reductions.  

To determine if a new technology will also enhance customer experience, look to the data. This data should come from two main sources:
  1. Your frontline service staff
  2. Conversations with multiple vendors and new technology users
Your Frontline Service Staff

The best companies hire the best people and utilize those people to improve their service.  There is no better way to collect data on features that your customers arerequesting or features that will improve the service experience than from a highly skilled and motivated support team.

Your support people have the most direct interactions with your customers. They hear what your customers like and don’t like, and, maybe most importantly, how your service compares to competitors.

Set the expectation that staff should be acting oncustomer feedback as early as the interview process. The goal of continuous improvement from your service team should be reinforced throughout training and used as an ongoing evaluation metric. The best members of the service team are the people who listen to the customer, probe for additional information, and present well-thought ideas to the management team.

Conversations with Multiple Vendors and New Technology Users 

There is usually a push to move fast once your company has decided to make improvements. This is rarely recommended. The best next step is to start collecting more data.  This data will generally fall into three areas:
  1. Measure what you are trying to improve. Is it length of interactions with a customer, how long an agent takes to complete a task, the level of satisfaction achieved by a customer Figure out what your goal is and how to articulate it. 
  2. Talk to existing partners and industry contacts. The easiest data to collect is from your existing vendor partners. Who do they use to solve this issue or, even better, who do their partners use to solve this issue?
  3. Talk to the solution providers (even if this is internal). This is your opportunity to ask the hard questions: “We see that you, Company B, and Company Care the industry leaders.  What makes you the best choice?” This is a logical question that will immediately give you a list of the differentiating factors for each vendor and quickly eliminate options that will not accomplish your goals.
The process you follow to re-engineer your call center is critical. Once you identify opportunities for improvement, gather as much data as possible from multiple sources, even though it can be a slow process. In the end, the data will reveal better solutions and allow you to focus on the most impactful changes – even if sometimes that data will tell you that no change is necessary.

Ed brings more than 20 years of experience building, implementing and managing comprehensive customer service and business process improvement programs and teams. Ed has a winning record of simultaneously boosting customer satisfaction and company profitability by building and directing great teams and equipping them with top-notch technology. Ed has held leadership roles in customer service, operations and risk management at Fidelity Investment Systems Company, TNCI Operating Company and AT&T. Ed holds an M.B.A. from Bentley University and a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Intuit Site Tour Insights:
The Customer Care Team is the Real Talent





By Patricia Jacoby

Publications Editor
Frost & Sullivan




Introduction

Recently, Customer Engagement Leadership Council members and select Customer Contact West: A Frost & Sullivan MindXchange event attendees had the opportunity to tour Intuit’s innovative Customer Contact Center in Tucson, Arizona. Intuit is a business and financial software company that develops and sells financial, accounting and tax preparation software and related services for small businesses, accountants and individuals.



Intuit has numerous teams generating customer insights that are fed back into their core product teams to eliminate customer pain in their offerings. The organization also has top-notch teams that do frontline care and sales. This interactive site tour showcased Intuit’s people, call center philosophy and dynamic capabilities.

As the physical tour concluded, a group of customer contact industry leaders gathered with hosts Don Yager, Director, Learning, Development, & Quality/Tucson Site Business Leader and Jeffrey Laird, Director, Awesome Help and Service, to explore Intuit’s organizational culture, location, products and more. Here are highlights and key take-aways from their informed discussion:


Intuit Customers Prefer Video


The first insight shared by Don Yager was on the use of video in the contact center.  Intuit had learned that their customers preferred video over other communication channels by more than 20%.

The hosts observed that this was true across all generational lines (not just the millennials, for example) and although they had not yet determined a specific reason why this was true, they planned to continue testing, as is their modus operandi. Intuit stressed the importance of ongoing testing for these kinds of issues and channel questions. Perhaps the fact that Intuit customers of all ages preferred video augurs an age of the technology leading the generations, not the generations leading the technology choices.


Next, the hosts discussed bringing customers into a lab setting to help design Intuit’s mobile User Interface, or UI. They explained how Intuit tested for colors, back-drops and other key components of the customer experience, leading to many “aha” moments, such as the strong customer preference for video.


Another site tour participant asked whether different agent characteristics were required to work with video. The Intuit executive expressed that the most important characteristic was a professional attitude, and that once they got over the initial newness, most agents liked working with video. He did add however, that their agents were not strictly required to be on video, and that if a CS representative was particularly uncomfortable with video, they would find other ways for them to contribute.


The Brand Is King


The discussion moved to the importance of brand management and building the brand, especially as it relates to customer-facing contact center employees. Specifically, one of the touring executives asked how the contact center represented Intuit’s core values. The Intuit executives present expressed that their organization offered intrinsic benefits such as giving every employee 32 hours a year to pursue a passion, and that egalitarian brand values were modeled from the top down, with minimal levels and an overall Intuit style of transparency across the organization that included the contact center.

Further, Don Yager explained that Intuit contact center employees were valued as not only a key part of the organization and it’s branding, but were considered perhaps the most important part of the organization due to their product knowledge and constant interaction with customers. This was clearly summed up when one of the Intuit tour guides stated that the “front line are the experts” and underscored that they know more than any project manager or engineer.  Finally, he noted that the customer care team is regarded as the real talent. 

When one of the customer contact executives inquired about the role of demographics in the Intuit contact center, Intuit indicated that they did not currently approach customer care based on demographics, though that is something they plan to observe and test going forward.


Leveraging “Styles of Influence” for Better Teamwork


The conversation then moved to “Styles of Influence” (SOI) a key training and assessment tool used at Intuit. This measurement tool helps individuals and their co-workers understand key behaviors. Once certain behavioral drivers are determined, this information can be utilized to help others to understand and work with a given style. Style is assessed across cognitive, relational, goal and detail scales. At Intuit, everyone’s SOI is listed in an online directory and SOI’s are used to help identify individual and team strengths and opportunities too. 

Circling back to the brand discussion, one of the final questions asked pertained to how the brand was reflected in Intuit’s external communications. Tour guides Don Yager and Jeffrey Laird both referenced that Intuit’s branding is carried throughout software experience design and partner sites as well.


Finally, it was noted that Intuit’s senior management recently gave the green light for internal funding to improve Intuit’s infrastructure, including their call center, the heart of customer engagement for this organization and for so many others.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Digital Innovation with a Soul







By Hilary Hahn

Vice President, Employee Experience, Culture & Client Strategy
Frontier Communications





It has been said recently that “experience is the new brand.” According to a recent study, by the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.


Our team believes this, and therefore we take the customer approach that “service is the new marketing.” In today’s world, consumers buy products that they expect will simply work, and when they don’t, consumers expect that they will be able to fix the problem by self-help or google; if and when that fails, they reach out to the brand for service and support. This is a defining moment. Sometimes it is the only interaction that occurs between a brand and their consumer. So, service matters.

Our ability to consistently solve complex problems for customers, and to also anticipate their future support needs and solve for these as well, is a highly valuable capability that comes at a relatively high cost. Brands want to engage effortlessly and effectively, yet how do they budget for the high volume of customer needs? One of the best ways is to understand why customers contact them. Looking at these big-bucket trends will most often identify lower-value work that does not require a human being to solve. There is no question that low-value, high-volume, repeat interactions can be accomplished with lower-cost digital solutions. Enter the BOT.

But here is our question: while my email in-box is bombarded every day by companies requesting my time to discuss how their new chat-bots, voice-bots, and messaging-apps are poised to take over the way business interacts and supports customers, there are very few companies who are putting a human experience into the digital ones.

One of our team’s cornerstone values is to be human. We make it our business to bring our humanity and empathy with us every day, because ultimately, we know we are supporting people, not just the products they use. Equally, we believe there is a need to build bots with artificial learning capabilities that are grounded in human empathy.

It was a giddy moment upon checking in at The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas recently, when I was handed a second plastic key card and informed that this was “Rose”. The black card read:“I AM THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION YOU NEVER ASKED.”On the back of the card I was invited to text my inquiries to a phone number.

I ran to my room determined to ask ROSE all the questions about Vegas that I always wanted to know but were afraid to ask! While I will not share the answers here, I will share the experience.

Applause to Simon Petigrew and team who are behind this product/service launch, especially because they have created Rose with an appropriately sexy, chatbot-persona. For example,“she” will send you an emoji lip kiss if you have thanked her.

Some of her responses are also sassy, i.e., “it’s been a pleasure to have you push my buttons. xoxo.” They have some quirks to work out as the responses to actual questions seem to come in rapid fire, feeling robotic versus human, but they are working on the delivery, and the AI bot is in its early learning phase. I am definitely looking forward to my next visit to The Cosmopolitan to see how ROSE is evolving.

Regarding new technology for the contact center, we are fortunate to have engaged with someone whom I believe is part genius, part artist, and part mad scientist!

He has put a human face on artificial intelligence injecting emotional intelligence into the equation. Why? Because when humans interact, we want to get "feedback."

There are a slew of companies offering machine-learning bots today, but none that look, learn and respond in a truly human way yet. This company is building an AI model that is different, not only because of how human “he or she” looks, but primarily because of facial expression. This machine infuses the interactions with a wrinkled nose, a concerned look, a raised eyebrow. And at the right moment, a compassionate smile.

As the creator, Mark Sagar, says, “the face is the mirror of the brain.”

We are excited to think about ways that this technology can transform the customer experience. Our aim is to improve customer retention and loyalty, with a goal to reduce the future need for assisted care with every customer interaction. This involves digital innovation with-a-soul, as much as it requires the cognitive skills that humans offer to solve complex interactions. We are focused on both.

The future is already here.

Hilary Hahn excels in building long-term strategic client relationships by operationalizing stakeholder strategy, and uniquely creating customer-experience consultant partnerships. She was brought into Frontier Communications to develop a lean-startup customer experience concept, that grew from greenfield to $100M annual revenue in 3 years. She helped develop a culture of high engagement that is being leveraged across the Frontier customer service organization, building an inside-out employee-centric approach to generate high customer feedback results. She is a strong believer that human-to-human interactions will remain in servicing for high-value cognitive work, and is an AI enthusiast when empathy is attached to the solution.

Hilary has been a speaker at numerous industry conferences and can be found
publishing and posting opinion surrounding Customer Experience. Follow her at
https://www.linkedin.com/in/hilarystrausshahn and on Twitter @HilaryHahnNow


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Moving Toward an Omni Channel Customer Experience:
Key Insights from the 13th Annual Customer Contact East: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange



By Juan Manuel Gonzalez
Research Director - Connected
Work & Customer Care Industries
 

Frost & Sullivan




The 13th Annual Customer Contact East: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange event took place in Fort Lauderdale during the last days of April and featured informative sessions, individual meetings, and lot of networking for industry experts. The following highlights are just a sampling of several ideas and topics discussed during the presentation of my Bostonian colleague, Stephen Loynd.

Presentation: Customer Engagement & Data Analytics in a World of 
Exponential Change

Frost & Sullivan Global Program Director, Stephen Loynd, explored how technology is imbedding itself into everything, influencing and disrupting our lives in profound ways. Technology is so pervasive and moving so fast that it is altering both business and society. Certainly, this is a time of incredible change. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars the automation of society is next. 

Frost & Sullivan conceptualizes the radical change happening in our world as a swarm of new technologies. Everything from new business models to disruptive technologies is making an impact across business functions, industries and geographies. Each outer ring turns and brushes against the one below it, like tectonic plates.


Nothing less than a new world is emerging, offering immersive technologies and customer experiences. We are immediately frustrated with people and brands incapable of supporting our digital habits and expectations. To achieve a real-time operational tempo, companies must evolve from ‘human time’ to ‘digital time.’ The result: smarter decisions that enable businesses to operate like never before.  One of the biggest challenges enterprises face today is upgrading core IT systems that frequently comprise legacy systems incapable of supporting digital time. 

Also, our adoption of digital technologies produces oceans of data that are changing the competitive landscape. The amount of data we produce doubles every year. In other words: in 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind through 2015. These contain information that reveals how we think and feel. 

As digital interactions proliferate, so also does the volume of real-time data and required analysis. Most people are already at their limit of coping with the deluge of data, so we must now digitally augment our capabilities to handle the massive increases in the volume, speed and the complexity of it.

So, how to deal with this inhuman complexity? In fact, so inhuman, that perhaps it would be better to not have a human, but a bot.  Bots are designed and programmed to react in a prescribed way to data inputs. Data is fed into the artificial intelligence (AI) system within the bot, and the bot responds and takes actions as programmed.  

But, add machine and deep learning, and the bot can learn and make decisions faster and better every nanosecond. A bot can take all possible data inputs needed to analyze and make the best decisions as deep learning systems find patterns and hidden meanings. The more data that it can access and analyze, the more accurately it can predict outcomes.  In other words, these software robots (or ‘bots’) can be developed to analyze vast quantities of data, make decisions based on codified decision trees that humans design, and then act on in milliseconds.




And so times are changing, consumers as well. Are companies changing fast enough to keep up?  Can they deliver a holistic, unified Customer Experience? This is the great question.

Brands today can not only react to customers as they make purchasing decisions but also actively shape those decision journeys. A set of technologies is underpinning this change, allowing companies to design and continuously optimize decision journeys. More important, companies today can use journeys to deliver value to both the customer and the brand. Companies that do this well can radically compress the consideration and evaluation phases—and in some cases even eliminate them—during the purchase process and catapult a consumer right to the loyalty phase of the relationship. The journey itself is becoming the defining source of competitive advantage.

Digital leaders will be those organizations that use business analytics to offer deep insights into customer behaviors, wants and needs, develop new products and services, and ultimately innovate and exploit new business opportunities. Today, algorithms know pretty well what we do, what we think and how we feel—possibly even better than our friends and family or even ourselves. The more that is known about us, the less likely our choices are to be free and not predetermined by others.

The industry is moving toward omni-channel CX – where the Customer Experience is consistent, seamless, and effortless – whether the customer is interacting with the same channel, or moving between channels.  Therein lays the next set of opportunities, but also challenges, for most companies.  The key to delivering a seamless Customer Experience lies in omni-channel marketing.  Effective omni-channel marketing is about taking control of customer interactions by integrating data from all channels (such as the Web, social media, mobile Web, mobile apps, display and search), devices (such as laptops, tablets, smartphones and desktops), and functional applications (such as customer relationship management and content marketing platforms).


Conclusion: Automation & Analytics are keys, but humans are irreplaceable

Automation is a productivity tool, not a replacement, for humans. Automation tools are only effective if leveraged intelligently – by humans.

Or as Beth Comstock, Vice Chairman, GE, explains: “Exponential leaders use technology to their advantage, combining the power of computing and data with human leadership. They must develop collaborations between people and machines, between artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the people operating in their company, their customers and their executives. Teams that don’t do this will be left behind.” 

Juan Manuel González serves as Research Director within Frost & Sullivan's Digital Transformation business unit. He focuses on Contact Centers, Business Process Outsourcing and Unified Communications and Collaboration Solutions areas. González has over 11 years of experience in the industry, and his know-how lies in managing strategic consulting projects and regional market intelligence studies in the Enterprise Communications field, as well as monitoring emerging trends, technologies and market dynamics.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Is Your Omnichannel Strategy Customer-Centric or Self-Centric?




By Raj Sivasubramanian
Director of Customer Experience Services
Verint Systems
 





 


Omnichannel is an area where many organizations have been investing time and money over the last few years. By enabling seamless communication across online and offline channels, omnichannel strategies should equally benefit both companies and their customers. However, a common mistake many organizations make is taking a self-centric approach to the omnichannel versus a customer-centric one. They build their strategy around internal interests like targeted marketing or reducing contact center costs, and fail to consider the customer perspective.

Consider a recent self-centric omnichannel example from this past holiday season. One of the most sought after holiday items was Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition – a miniature version of Nintendo’s original video game console. Supply was limited as Nintendo underestimated demand for this retro device. I really wanted one for my daughter (and my own nostalgia) and prepared for the morning of its release. I checked online stock at several retailers and noticed one particular retailer had a store with more stock than others. This store was an hour away and while other options were closer, the quantity of stock was significant enough to warrant the longer drive as availability dwindled at closer stores. 

On the drive down, I used the retailer’s app to continue to check stock and all looked good. However, once I got to the store, I was disappointed to learn the device sold out several hours earlier. I showed a store manager the app indicating stock was available and was told “those things are never accurate and don’t get updated in real-time.” As I was leaving—disgruntled about wasting over an hour of my time—I  received a notification through that same retailer’s app about the latest deals on other electronics items in that store. 
 

What I learned was the retailer wanted me to use its app to get me into the store. Once I was there, its omnichannel approach sent me a targeted ad. The problem with this is that it only served the retailer’s interests and not mine—and, it didn’t care enough to inquire about my in-store experience. Needless to say… I haven’t been back.
 

Another common, self-centric example of omnichannel is found in customer support, where organizations now provide service through a variety of channels: phone, email, chat, SMS, social media, mobile app, etc. In theory, this should create a better service experience by allowing customers to use the channel they prefer. However, it backfires for self-centric organizations that focus purely on cost-saving aspects. These organizations “offer” every channel, but make their more internally-preferred channels easier to find.

There is nothing more frustrating to me than being unable to locate a customer support phone number when I need it. A close second is attempting to resolve an issue through an online channel, failing to do so, struggling to reach a live agent, and then having to start over once I am able to finally connect with someone. A recent study points out that most customers still prefer human customer service interactions over digital alternatives, and aren’t fans of the companies that avoid posting contact numbers for service and support on their websites.
 

It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game between a company’s internal interests and the customer experience. The most customer-centric organizations are able to use omnichannel to drive revenue and lower costs, while also delivering a better customer experience. How do they do it? It’s actually pretty simple. They view every decision they make through their customers’ eyes and listen to their customers.
 

What leading organizations have in common is their commitment to engaging with customers. They capture feedback from customers across all of their channels which allows them to better tailor their omnichannel approach to the individual needs of their customers. They know what channels their customers prefer to use, are driving great experiences and which need improvement. As a result, they are able to realize all of the great benefits of omnichannel, while still delighting their customers.
 

If the retailer in the example above had asked for my feedback about my experience, not only would I have been more likely to return, but it also would have discovered an easily fixable issue with its omnichannel experience that was likely frustrating other customers as well.
 

Is your omnichannel strategy customer-centric or self-centric? If you’re not capturing feedback from customers across all of your channels, your approach may be more self-centric than you realize. Take that first step toward creating customer-centric experiences by listening to your customers. It may be the start of something amazing.
 

Raj Sivasubramanian is a Director of Customer Experience Consulting Services for Verint Systems.  Prior to his current role, Raj was at eBay where he focused on enhancing Voice of Customer programs by driving a shift from just trending metrics to delivering actionable insights used to improve the customer experience. 

Raj has worked across multiple industries in a variety of sales, marketing, consulting, and customer experience roles and the one constant throughout his career has been his passion for delivering great customer experiences. Raj is a frequent conference speaker and advisor on the topic of customer-centricity, metrics, and customer feedback. Raj holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

CUSTOMER SERVICE EXCELLENCE RECOGNITION PROGRAM DETAILS

Why a recognition program for customer service excellence?

Digital transformation of customer experiences is a major strategic initiative for B2C and B2B organizations across industries.


The Frost & Sullivan Research and Growth Consulting practices have identified five key areas in which best-in-class brands continue to raise the bar for highly personalized and effortless customer experiences. They are:

1. Omni-Channel Customer Experience
2. Artificial Intelligence
3. Web Customer Experience
4. Social Media Customer Engagement
5. Customer Engagement Analytics


Who is Eligible for Nomination?

Any company that is engaged in the goal of delivering a superior customer experience is encouraged to nominate itself for accomplishments in any or multiple categories. Particular attention will be given to companies whose achievements have enabled them to set themselves apart from their competitors and that have delivered compelling value to their customers and the enterprise as a whole.


By recognizing companies who are breaking new ground in customer service excellence, we aim to create a forum for celebrating and sharing best practices in the world of customer service. Winners will also be honored at the annual Frost & Sullivan Customer Contact West, Executive MindXchange in October 2017.

For more information, please contact Matthew McSweegan at
516-255-3812, or email him at Matthew.McSweegan@frost.com.
Or visit www.frost.com/recognition


 

Your Employees: Your Key to Success!


 



By Trudy Croxton
Manager of Client Success, Post-Acute Care
Relias Learning




 



As most companies understand, the cost of retaining customers is quite a bit less than the cost of acquiring them.  Some estimates put the cost of acquiring a customer at five times more than the costs associated with retaining a customer.  With this in mind, companies are always looking for new and better ways to improve customer engagement in an effort to retain customers permanently.  In my opinion, the solution is right in front of you: your employees. Finding  the employees who are the best fit for your organization’s culture, and then investing in them, is the key.  Employees are the most important tool any organization has to improve customer engagement and retention.

First, you must determine what the ideal “employee fit” is for your organization.  A good place to start in determining the right fit is by evaluating your company’s mission statement and then choosing those desired characteristics and traits from this established framework to create a hiring profile. Basing a hiring profile on your company’s mission statement will further help you to select potential employees who should naturally exhibit the desired behavior, which in turn will improve customer loyalty. A good Best Practice is to show existing employees what your company’s characteristics and traits look like in action.  For example, if “passion” is one of your core values, give them specific examples of how a Sales Representative, Implementation Consultant or Client Success Manager might demonstrate that on the job.  

A customer’s loyalty is directly tied to the trust they place in your company and this is built through each interaction they have with your employees.  To effectively build trust, an employee needs to demonstrate to the customer that they have their best interest at heart and will deliver on promises. Furthermore, an employee’s honesty and authenticity needs to be visible in all interactions.  A few ways for employees to show they are putting their customers first is to take a proactive approach. This can be accomplished by  giving the customer a “heads up” if the company’s website will be down due to maintenance, announcing mistakes before the customer discovers them, asking customers for feedback and offering multi-channel customer service outlets in the form of online chat, email and telephone.

Employees also build trust by delivering on promises in a timely manner. For example, with respect to sales they must deliver on their promises and see that all customer expectations are met or exceeded throughout the sales cycle.  Your company can make it a customer service standard to have employees return all email and phone calls within 24 hours.  If an issue needs to be escalated, the customer should be given status updates on a regular basis so that they are not initiating the communication. If a customer has to reach out to you first with a problem, that can become a major issue.

All customer service staff should be trained to use the same language, thereby creating a unified front. The customer will then learn how to better communicate their own needs by using the same vocabulary as your employees. Implement customer service training to include how to handle challenging customers, critical conversations and emotional hijacking. Consider implementing a recovery process to address a service failure.  Another Best Practice is to create a recovery process which will empower employees to resolve a customer’s issue quickly. If you don’t have a recovery process in place, ask a few of your top performers to compose one.   

Employees who effectively exhibit traits of honesty and authenticity will help the company to more effectively earn their customer’s trust.  Customers expect honest communication so be sure employees don’t "gloss over" the truth or give them vague answers.  If the answer to a customer’s request is “no,” instruct employees to give them other alternatives wherever possible. Educate your staff on how to promote these types of conversations by creating a script and regularly conducting role playing exercises.  Also, teach them how to take ownership of a problem without laying blame on the customer or another company representative. Additionally, employees should never over-promise with respect to what your product can do, or pitch a customer an unnecessary add-on. 

Authenticity means not giving your customers canned messages.  Nothing will make an upset customer even angrier than the perception that they have received an insincere apology from a member of your company. When a customer is upset, for whatever reason, they want to be heard and they want to know that an employee sincerely cares about their problem and will help them find a solution. Empathy is a large part of being authentic. Some ways to promote empathy include inviting customers to share their experiences by participating in staff meetings or conferences. Another way to do this is to, have staff members use a product they are selling themselves, thereby becoming even more familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.

Another great way to establish a more personal relationship with customers is to send them a birthday card or work anniversary card, a funny cartoon or a pertinent LinkedIn article. Employees might also send their Enterprise Level customers a questionnaire to complete, featuring such personal questions as what their favorite sports teams are, their hobbies, their favorite place to vacation or what they like best about their job?  These questionnaires should give your employees enough details about a given customer to enable them to initiate and better control the conversation.

 
Lastly, you should train your employees to be able to catch potential problems before they become “pain points” for your customer.  Brainstorm about ways that your support team can become more proactive with your customer base.  Another approach to consider is connecting with customers via social media, a monthly newsletter or regular conference calls.  The newsletter can contain both employee and customer spotlights.

If you want to retain your customers indefinitely, it is important for them to realize how much your company values your relationship with them. Hiring the right employee and teaching them how to build trust and loyalty with customers is of the utmost importance in today's business world. Investing in your employees and offering them top notch training opportunities ultimately shows your customer that you care and that you are providing them with world class service. Properly applied, this formula is sure to bring your company continued success.

Trudy Croxton is Manager of Client Success at Relias Learning, an e-learning company offering training to the healthcare industry.  Previously, she was Executive Director, Sunrise of Cary and Heritage Woods Senior Living Community. Her passion is growing and developing people and she believes that this is the cornerstone for any successful business.

Five Key Customer Engagement Strategies


 


By Cippy Seidler
Director, Consumer Care Center
Banner Health







 

Today’s customers have more ways than ever to purchase services or shop for products. There are also many ways to gain new customers, but the more challenging piece of the puzzle is to engage customers and make them feel like they are a part of your community. To help you meet these goals, I’d like to share my top five customer engagement and community-building strategies:

1. Leverage your Contact Center

In many cases, the contact center is the front door of your organization. This initial experience can determine if the customer makes a purchase or moves forward with your company. It is your first opportunity to engage with your customer. Sharing insights from your contact center with others in the company allows for the customer’s thoughts, concerns and feelings to be heard.

One way to share your customer insights is to create a panel where agents provide information on hot customer topics or customer concerns.  Few people in your organization are on the pulse more than the contact center agents, yet how much do you ask for or use that information?  My organization does surveys to see if the customer enjoyed the agents and had a pleasant and fulfilling experience, which is a critical performance metric, but this needs to be accompanied by the agent experience information. The agents have mountains of information about your customers, your products and the experience.  That can be culled through call recordings and data management.  A veteran agent however, can tell you a great deal more than you can ever get from the data. The key is to ask for or provide a forum where the agents can share. 

One of my favorite contact center experiences involved a company that had quarterly meetings in a casual setting between senior executives and a representative agent panel just to talk about what the agents were hearing.  This was a powerful opportunity for leadership to learn first-hand about the types of feedback the agents were receiving.  

2. Be willing to listen to complaints

Yep, this one hasn’t changed in the last 30 years!  Not listening to your customers or interrupting your customers is a way to actively disengage your customers. They have many choices and that can quickly drive them away.  It is surprising just how many times a customer challenge can be resolved simply by listening.  Sometimes it is a case of allowing the customer to vent, no matter how long that takes.  Listening takes effort and concentration.  It also takes some time, so allow your agents or customer service reps the time without “over metric managing” to complete the interaction.  That little extra time pays for itself in the end with first call resolution, minimizing additional follow up needs, less angry social media rants etc.…   These types of interactions are not limited to the phone or in-person.  More and more are exclusively happening on social channels so you must be prepared to listen wherever the customer is “speaking.”

3. Invite your customers to your social community

Social Media is an amazing gift that companies have been given. The key is taking advantage of it.  Most companies today know the importance of responding to customer posts but there are still many who are missing the vast opportunities that Social Media groups provide. Why not start on-line groups about products or services that are relevant to many of your customers? 

Allow your customers to participate in groups on Facebook or Google, for example. It seems frightening at first to invite this kind of open discourse but as the groups mature and more customers join, the feedback will be more actionable and helpful for your company and your customers.

No matter what industry you are in, customers will provide you with information that you can take action on immediately as well:  Customers sharing information about a defective product or a company store with understaffed return lanes, the clinic with the most responsive and timely call backs, the customer service rep who was consistently rude, or the agent that provided empathy and caring when handling a delicate situation.  This is a way that customers can provide feedback directly to you. There are not many engagement tools more powerful than that. You can help control where that feedback comes from by creating forums for them to share.  Customers want to feel good about their purchase or service and the easiest way to engage them in this arena is to ask them for their feedback and allow them to be a part of your community.

4. Find out about your customers


No one does this better than Amazon since they seem to know what you want before you actually know you want it, but many smaller companies can use basic analytics programs to understand how and when customers are shopping or using their services.  Be sure to tie information together whenever possible. 

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to engage your customers is by asking them.  I was recently at a new dentist’s office.  After the basic information was gathered, they asked me about what times of day and day of the week that I preferred to come in. Since I didn’t have another appointment to schedule, I asked if that was important and they said that they input that information to ensure that they are servicing customers when they need it and when it’s most convenient for them.  (I’m in!)  They also followed up with a brief survey about my experience, which allowed me to provide feedback.  I felt that they were truly interested in me as a customer and in my opinion. I am much more engaged with the office than I would have been had they not asked for my thoughts and I am also more likely to return.

5. Make your content worthwhile

Customers become engaged when they have an opportunity to learn about the product they purchased. For instance, when I bought a new brand of phone, I went to the company website to learn about tips to enhance my user experience.  Accordingly, make sure that your web content is robust and connects your customer to your organization more fully.  For example, if your customer purchases new tires from you, your website could share tips for lengthening tire life or the hours of local free air pressure checks.  If you’re in healthcare, and someone does a search for an obstetrician referral, why not present them with content related to the topic such as OB tours available in their area or a local educational session you are doing on childbirth?

There is an old service saying that to keep a customer demands as much skill as to win one. Engaging the customer in your business, making them part of your community and listening to their feedback are a few ways to add value to your customer experience and keep them coming back.

Cippy Seidler is an enthusiastic and engaged leader focused on providing a high-level customer experience through employee engagement and a commitment to excellence.  In the span of 29 years, Cippy has served in leadership positions with retail organizations such as Liz Claiborne, Allen-Edmonds, and Zayre with a specialized focus on front-end customer engagement and retention, employee training and sales development.

Currently a Director of the Consumer Care Center with Banner Health, one of the largest, nonprofit health care systems in the country, she is responsible for driving performance across multiple service lines.  As a certified Change Agent, Cippy is an advocate for change and is involved in leading and implementing change.  Cippy's business philosophy is to embrace every challenge as an opportunity, approach it with enthusiasm, an open mind and a desire to make a positive difference.