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Customer feedback forms never hold the answers

October 14, 2011 2 comments

Asking for customer feedback is by and large a waste of everybody’s time.  Sometimes the customer may feel valued and special if their opinion is asked for but that’s probably about the only thing of value (albeit transitory) you’ll get from it.

Why?  Because customers don’t always know what they want; because customers don’t always tell the truth and because customer feedback is always historical.  Also there are a few other factors that come into play that further reduce the usefulness of feedback: customers are often irrational, customers who respond to feedback forms are usually either very happy or very unhappy and therefore are not a true reflection of most customers and customer response depends on their mood when they fill in a form – not when they are next thinking of using your service.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my customers, I thank them heartily for paying my mortgage, but I have never sent any of them a feedback form.  And that is my real bone of contention, not the seeking of feedback as such but the lazy delivery of endless feedback forms that serve no useful purpose.  Such forms are not intended to collect data to help drive service improvements but are more likely to be used for some internal, self or department serving purpose.

The use of feedback forms is marketing dressing and the main reason for that is as above: we all know they don’t work but we feel obliged to send them out anyway.

The key to serving customers is get inside their business, their heads, understand how you can help them achieve more.   That old quote from Henry Ford – and much loved by the late Steve Jobs – about his customers just asking for faster horses is a truth.  In fact I was reminded on Twitter how Jobs took that thought further: “Start with the customer experience and work your way back to the technology” he was quoted as saying. (No idea if it’s genuine but it suits my purpose.)  Ignore ‘the technology’ bit and replace it with “how you run your business” and you’re just about there.

Customer feedback does not tell you about the customer experience and their emotional reaction to it.  You should not use data from feedback forms to inform you to how you run your business.   Understand what you could give them and understand how they would react to it and use it and what value it brings.   But don’t ask them to tell you what it is.

Where’s the leadership in customer service management?

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Doing some work for a customer recently I was struck by the use of language in job titles and what meaning and messaging it conveyed.

In their call centre they have Team Leaders who are often managing up to 15 people (far more direct reports than any CEO is expected to have by the way) and their role is to coach, mentor, inspire and lead by example. The Team Leaders report to Line Managers. Their role is to ensure that the teams hit their productivity targets such as average handling time (AHT). More closely their role seemed to be more command and control where they beat the Team Leaders over the head with automatic measurement data.

So here’s the thing: it seems agents need leadership but team leaders only need management. Who leads the leaders? Why don’t they need coaching, mentoring and inspiration as well? No wonder with this “them and us” divide that Team Leaders have little ambition to go into “management”.

Here’s the next thing: where’s the focus on things that make a difference to customers? Was there ever a more irrelevant and potentially damaging measure in a call centre than AHT?

Don’t bother with customer satisfaction surveys – ask about the customer experience

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Measurement is always a keen issue for management not least in deciding what to measure and what weight to put on the findings. The key to good practice is often thought to be having a clear idea of what you will do with the information once you’ve got it – but that will almost certainly lead to the wrong approach when it comes to measuring customer experience.

Asking the question to deliver a longed-for answer is using measurement to justify a predetermined action.   Proper customer experience research is not just about quantifying things like satisfaction.  Customer experience research should be about delivering answers to the questions you didn’t know to ask,  bringing insight and understanding about how your customers feel and think and how this drives what they do.  With that sort of research you can start to define a new strategy.  But if you don’t delve into the unknown then you can’t learn anything.

When dealing with customers this is vitally important. You can’t control them; they do seemingly random and illogical things and they get emotional.  This is even more pertinent to online retailers who may not have any human contact with their customer. So a survey set up just to prove you satisfied your customers is pointless. Maybe you do the survey every couple of months and can see if you’re getting better or worse.   But that is only useful if you know the root causes so you can address them. Far better is to find out what makes them satisfied, what makes them want to come back and what makes them recommend you and then you can do more of it.

Customers don’t care how you organise your business, how much effort went into your creative or the latest software you put in your call centre but most company based research programmes are there to test and measure these sorts of things – to test what you deliver. What is far better is to test what the customer takes away from your site – to measure customer experience across the full range of emotions and not just the very happy and unhappy customers who fill in CSat surveys.

This needs to be done independently of your in-house departments to escape intentional and unintentional prejudice and to be independent of vested interests so it can tell the story from the customer’s perspective.

Sure it is a little harder to do than putting up an online customer satisfaction survey but there are some different research methods out there and ultimately it will be more rewarding for you and for your customers.

Be careful what you ask your customers for

June 10, 2010 2 comments

The new Tory Liberal govt is asking us to share in a consultation exercise on where the public spending cuts should be. In this there are two assumptions – the first assumption is, of course, that there must be cuts while the second is that our views will be listened to and they will make a difference.

I see two takes on this move. As I said it assumes there will be cuts and now we know they will be deep ones. So it could be a PR exercise to warm us up to the severity of cuts and mitigate the public ire because we are sharing the Govt’s pain in having to make these tough decisions. Or it could be a genuine extension of the democratic process engaging us on a micro level as well as the macro level of election time?

But this citizen consultation idea did remind me of those customer service/satisfaction surveys where we ask our customers how we, their supplier, should put things right not just personally but almost how we should run as a business.  

 So I offer a few thoughts and guidelines that should apply equally when consulting with customers and/or citizens  – whether the request for information is an online or offline form, through a call centre or in person.

  • Don’t ask for information unless you intend to do something with it
  • Only ask for information you can do something with
  • Don’t use surveys to abdicate responsibility for decision-making
  • Don’t expect surveys or research to give you all, if indeed any, of the answers
  • Don’t believe your customer can run your company better than you can
  • Don’t believe the customer is always right
  • Ask questions that get you inside the head of the customer about how they felt/feel not what they did
  • Understand the customer experience and how its outcomes affect your business drivers eg propensity to recommend
  • And, finally, whether you do or don’t take any action always give feedback to the customers

Personalising the faceless transaction is key to winning online business

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

There was an interesting statistic last week from the Office for National Statistics that said for the first time more than half of the UK population has bought something online.  Frankly I was a little surprised that by now  it was still only half but then that is probably my fault for living in a tech bubble and forgetting that so many have yet to be touched by the eCommerce revolution. 

However what it also suggests to me is that there is still a huge amount of growth still to be had for eRetailers – above the 15% pa they are currently experiencing – as existing buyers get more confident and more and more people join the party.  So there is a great opportunity but also a great challenge as the honey pot attracts more and more competitors. 

The big question is how do you make yourself stand out on the web – or why will the consumer choose you, keep coming back to you and recommend you to their friends?  The days of technical innovation on a site while not behind us yet are unlikely to make a huge difference so it has to be something else.

No, obviously the answer is around the service you provide and the experience that the customer takes away – pretty much like in store retailing really (and don’t forget price IS a part of the experience).  But unlike store retailing, online the transaction is faceless and impersonal.   Your best customer could be online and you may well have no idea who they are, what drives them, what repels them.  If they stay, great; if they go why? How can you possibly win them back?  In a flash they are gone and you have no understanding why.   Interestingly you also have no idea why those other customers are staying but if you did know why then you could do those right things more often. 

I discussed recently why personalisation is important  over routine “hygiene factors” in making the positive difference to customers but there lies the rub – how can one personalise a service to a customer when you don’t know who they are.    Your analytics and other clever software systems will tell you what they do on your site, not why they do it?  Nor will they tell you what their reaction is to that experience and how that will affect their propensity to repurchase or recommend.  Nor will they tell if the delivery agent was surly, the packaging damaged or any number of things that could go wrong with the fulfilment.  Nor will they tell you when the customer phoned to ask for explanation that the agent in the call centre was considered surly and inattentive.  But now the customer may well have gone for ever even after a successful online experience.  

Will pure play online retailers have to have a high street, bricks and mortar presence as a way of establishing customer relationships and securing brand values?  Possibly not if they can find a way of personalising (and always improving) the online experience.  Will all retailers doing business online need to align their channels so they present a consistent brand and customer experience across all touch points – absolutely certainly they will.

Measuring the customer experience – not easy but worth it

March 25, 2010 3 comments

Measurement is at the heart of management. But what are the vital statistics of a modern service orientated business and how should they be measured? Customer satisfaction is an obvious one and the equally obvious way of doing it is to ask the customers.

Much time and effort is spent on measuring satisfaction but it’s not always particularly profitable and Randy White’s excellent recent discussion on the Silliness of Most Customer Surveys highlights why. The difficulty with measurement is the temptation to go for either the metrics that are the easiest to measure or to measure things that prove your original hypothesis.

Call centres for years have tracked performance on Time to Answer or Average Handling Time because the stats could come straight off the system. Now the wise manager understands it is the quality of the call not its length that’s important. It is important because if you get it right you produce positive emotions.

Things like Time to Answer are what researchers call hygiene factors – do it better but it won’t improve your score, do it badly and watch the score plummet. So why not spend more time measuring the customer experience – the things that make customers go “Wow” – find out what it is you did to deliver that experience and do it again time after time.

I don’t imagine Michelin inspectors go to quality restaurants and score them on the presence of cutlery or chairs and tables (although, of course, they probably would register their absence). It’s the imagination of the menu, the quality of the ingredients and the love that goes into the creation that makes the positive difference – the better customer experience.

So it is the customer’s experience and their emotional, subjective, human response to it that they are effectively measuring. Much more difficult for a customer-orientated business to achieve but ultimately much more rewarding.

How automation can ruin the customer experience

In my local newspaper this week a columnist was telling of his experiences with a hole in the wall cash machine. He described the technology as “arrogant” and having an “offhand manner” when it swallowed his card and asked the next customer to please insert their card.  In doing so he assigned human traits to a machine and reacted emotionally.

Emotional responses to automated routines like this present a real difficulty for service providers. The key reason for this is that most automation goes in to save money and/or increase efficiency not to improve the customer experience (and if it does it is usually an unplanned for by-product). This means the customer is not top of mind when it is being designed and so the experience will usually be less than perfect.

But as we all know the customer experience is vital. We may think it is something to do with inter personal skills face to face, on the phone or even perhaps in an email. But because we humans, particularly men, are very good at assigning emotions and personalities to machines (have you given your car a name?) the customer experience of dealing with a machine must not be overlooked.

Customers have a relationship with a cash machine and any other automation their service providers throw at them. It is one of the reasons we hate the IVR “push button 9” machines in call centres – toneless, cold, impersonal, aloof, abrupt are all emotions I have heard users express about the experience. But it is the web site that I believe presents one of the big challenges to modern business.

How can we personalise the web site or actually to personalityise (sorry for the Bushism) this increasingly major, and in some cases near exclusive, contact point with our customers. If we can it make more like dealing with a human in a shop or on the phone then we have the chance to win them over and make them feel very positive, willing to come again and willing to recommend that site to friends. In essence to gain a competitive edge.

In the short term customers won’t desert if you don’t change but their use will increasingly become begrudging and they will leave to an attractive smiley, friendly web site when one crosses their path. There was some interesting research into web stress  recently that showed people will turn away if sites are too difficult to deal with – just as we would a recalcitrant call centre agent or an uninterested hotel receptionist. I see that as a human emotional reaction to the situation and we should never lose site of the fact that just because we are automating the interface the customer, generally speaking, remains a human being with all their emotional foibles. And those that recognise that and work to generate a positive personality in their web site will produce the better customer experiences.