An Advice Column Only for
Contact Center Managers
Dina Vance, Senior Vice President from Ulysses Learning, takes on our reader’s question this month. She offers several observations and a helpful checklist on best practices that are commonly overlooked in contact centers across the US. According to Dina, these are the among the top of those best practices that can transform your contact center into a customer experience-focused operation that gets high marks.
Q: We have customer service training in place to help our reps deliver a customer experience that’s consistent with our center’s core values. I’d describe our customer satisfaction scores as being average. What recommendations would you share to lift our scores further?
A:Dina Vance, Ulysses Learning
Let me answer your question by first asking another: How confident are you that your reps know how to use “good judgment” when handling customer calls?
If your confidence is low, take note. This could be part of the reason behind your lackluster customer sat scores. Here’s a true story to illustrate what I mean.
After visiting a very nice hotel in Chicago, I received a phone call from one of their call center representatives, “Hello Mrs. Vance, you left a bracelet in your locker. Would you like to come pick it up? We will put it in our safe and have it here for you.”
Three thoughts flooded into my mind. First, I thought it was very kind of them to call. Second, the bracelet I left was clearly not safe-worthy. It was a bangle from a set of three which cost me less than $10 for the entire set. Third, on a good day, I live a full hour out of the city, one way.
“Oh, it’s not worth anything, so don’t worry about it,” I relayed to the rep. “Plus, I live in the suburbs and won’t be back to pick it up.”
“No worries,” she says. “I can mail it to you.”
She confirmed my mailing address and we hung up.
I thought that it was a nice gesture on the company’s part to phone me and then offer to mail me my bangle. Fast forward. The next morning, I received an overnight package with the $3.00 bangle safely tucked inside.
Fast forward again and a few days later I received a bill from the overnight shipping company for a whopping $68.00!
Not only did the hotel representative bill me for the shipping, she selected the most expensive shipping alternative possible.
I phoned her immediately and retold my tale of woe. To which the rep replied “Oh, yes. We did ship that to you. We wanted you to receive it immediately. Is there a problem?”
I took a deep breath. “Yes, there is a problem,” I calmly replied. “You billed me for the shipping.”
To which she replied, “Yes, we did.” And, with that, she locked in her final answer.
So, what went wrong? Simply stated, poor judgment at work.
As a part of my job, I frequently fly from coast to coast to observe contact centers across numerous industries. While each contact center has its unique environment and challenges, I’ve noticed many of them regularly miss a handful of key best practices or opportunities to ensure reps are applying good judgment at work.
Here’s a checklist of my top best practice observations. It’s also worth noting that contact centers with reps who consistently perform these best practices enjoy above average customer satisfaction scores and many are considered to be best-in-class.
Missed Best Practice #1: Reps who know the “what” (with detailed exceptions) AND the “how”. This missed opportunity occurs when we tell our reps “what” we want them to do without details around exceptions AND without showing them or providing training on “how” to do what it is we ask them to do. Back to my story, it appeared the rep had been told “what” to do—offer to ship the customer’s item. But she didn’t demonstrate that she knew what to do or say beyond that. She didn’t share that fees would need to be factored in (doing so would show a fuller understanding of the “what” and the “how”). She didn’t talk about any exceptions that may be helpful to the customer—for example, that shipping may not always make sense (or be a good judgment call) depending on the cost/ value of the item. And she didn’t recommend the best option for shipping (more of the “how”). One way to capitalize on this missed opportunity is to make it a best practice to ensure your reps are fully informed on what you expect them to do and then you take additional steps to show them how to do it.
Missed Best Practice #2: Trust your reps to use good judgement. Your reps, in general, have very good intent. They don’t start their workday saying “I’m going to mess up today by not treating customers well.” In my example, I don’t think the rep purposely wanted to cause me an issue by charging me $68 to ship a $3 item. However, it appeared she did not feel empowered to think critically and/or had not been trained to use good judgement. Most likely she wasn’t trusted to do so. To ensure reps feel empowered to think for themselves, we, as leaders, need to provide guidelines, rather than rules, for those situations where we want reps to use sound judgment. I work with a healthcare company that had a back log of claims (in excess of 180 days). One solution they deployed was to empower each agent to use good judgment on any claim less than $100. The company’s analysis showed that the time spent on these smaller claims accounted for 70% of their team members’ day, while claims that warranted the team’s attention (the other 30% in excess of $500) sat waiting for a response. Within a month, the claims team significantly reduced their back log and saw a reduction in call backs.
Missed Best Practice #3: Reps who give emotionally intelligent responses that lead to good judgment. As I said previously, I strongly believe 98% of the reps in our call centers have good intent. They want to do a good job. However, this does not mean they always know what it means to do a good job and how to do it. This requires a certain level of common sense that comes with a certain level of emotional intelligence. At Ulysses, developing emotional intelligence is how we help reps consistently apply sound judgment. We like to call this “Judgment@Work”. Thankfully, emotional intelligence which leads to good judgment, can be developed like any other muscle in our body. We can exercise it to strengthen it. Think of emotional intelligence like a “brain muscle”. That’s also one of the reasons we advocate computer simulation training. When you use computer simulations, your reps exercise their brain muscles by practicing in a safe environment and getting immediate feedback on their decisions. Practice makes progress in this case and gives your reps the added confidence they need before they flex their strengthened emotional intelligence muscles on customer calls.
Missed Best Practice #4: Reps who have style AND substance. The rep I spoke to at the hotel call center had a perfectly lovely tone and her articulation was clear. She had style. However, the words that came out of her mouth were anything but helpful. She was lacking substance. I often calibrate calls with supervisors across call centers and I hear them say “That was a good call. They sounded nice to the customer.” The reality is this—nice doesn’t really cut it anymore. Sounding nice must be a given, demonstrating that you have substance is what we’re aiming for here. Research shows customers like (and expect) nice but they want (and demand) the correct/ best answer the first time they call and they want it delivered with confidence and professionalism.
Finally, I have a recommendation for you to consider. Next time you listen in on your reps’ calls, use this list of Missed Best Practices to see how your team is doing. Then give me a call. If you’re happy with your results, I’d like to celebrate that with you! If you’re not, then we can talk about ways to close the gaps. Either way, I’d love to hear from you.
This month’s featured expert is….
Dina Vance, Senior Vice President, Managing Director North America, Ulysses Learning
Dina Vance, is a widely-respected thought leader on developing and leading contact center customer service, sales and coaching staff, and a pioneer in optimizing contact center performance through a focus on results, people and process.
In her current capacity with Ulysses Learning, Dina is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and also serves as the chief client relationship executive, working with Fortune 100 clients and other progressive organizations to redefine the way customers are cared for. Under her leadership, Ulysses has become well known for its work in transforming customer service, sales and coaching cultures through the development of emotional intelligence or “EQ” so that Judgment@WorkTM can be confidently, consistently and expertly applied on every call. The company has special expertise in serving the insurance, utilities and financial services industries.
Before joining Ulysses in 1999, Dina was responsible for the ground-level startup of two contact centers which led to her accepting a role as call center lead consultant and division manager for an international bank training organization.
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UlyssesLearningwas founded in 1995 as a joint venture with Northwestern University’s Learning Sciences department and continues to bring clients new, innovative enhancements to its industry-leading training. Contact centers achieve profound business results, ahead of schedule, with Ulysses Learnings’ artful blend of patented simulation-based e-learning, facilitated exercises, coaching and tools, that redefine the way customers are cared for and transform customer service, sales, and coaching cultures. Ulysses has the only training proven to build emotional intelligence or “EQ” so that Judgment@WorkTM can be confidently, consistently, and expertly applied on every call.
Ulysses Learning is the most recent Gold Stevie© Award winner for best contact center customer service training.