Phone calls won’t cut it: customer service in an online age

I have been doing sales in the contact center industry for over 20 years now, and a lot has changed since I first started out. I come from an era of ensuring customer service excellence via phone calls and self-service. Now we’re keeping our customers happy via online communication.

We all need to prepare ourselves for the new era of customer service. One that is quickly-evolving. We are not only concerned with phone call and self-controlled customer service, we have to meet our customers where they are talking about our business: online. If we don’t keep up, we’ll lose valuable time with our customers. We need to stay ahead of our competition.

B&H Photo and Crutchfield Corporation know a thing or two about having the competitive edge on their market. These successful online electronics retailers know how to keep their customers happy via online experiences.  Photo guide writer Ken Rockwell wrote that B&H Photo was far more concerned with keeping customers happy rather than trying to make a quick sale. Crutchfield has an impact with their customer service by earning’s “Circle of Excellence” Award in performance and customer service for 14 years in a row.  These companies manage to remain leaders in their industry, where new electronics evolve more quickly than I can type this sentence.

The bottom line: we have a lot to learn from the stellar customer service delivered by these two companies. That’s why I’m really looking forward to hearing their tips in the upcoming webinar on August 26th at 11:30AM EDT. Did I mention it’s FREE?  I’ll see you there!


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Think you have your head around social media? Think again!

My thoughts on “The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social”

Perhaps thinking I knew the answer in advance, I recently posed the question “What keeps you up at night?” to a contact center executive before one of our meetings.  To my surprise he answered “easy…social media!”

Knowing a bit about my client already, I’d expected something more traditional like gaining more control over agent scheduling or perhaps having a better grip on budgeting for the many peaks and valleys this center encounters in call volume.  But nope…social media was the answer I received.

As it turns out I had just gone to a contact center conference in Indianapolis “Interactions 2014.” One of the keynote speakers was Jay Baer who is noted for his company “Convince & Convert.”

The NOW Revolution Pic (cropped)At the conference I watched Jay deliver some laughs, but I was also floored by some of the amazingly useful information he shared about social media for business.  Here are a few gems I garnered from his talk.

  • “every employee in a potential spokesperson and brand ambassador”
  • “listening in on social media is like answering phone calls, just in a new medium”
  • “Social media can be the canary in the coal mine, your early warning detection system.  With it, you can actually see and hear real issues as they happen and tap into the very platform your customers are using to solve them.”

He shows us that as our business and social worlds become more intertwined, we need to react quickly to our customers via social media.

I came right home and bought his book “The Now Revolution”, and I was hooked. With a healthy dose of humor, he shows us the changing relationship between business and customer. Think you know your social media? You’re probably wrong.

Take this case Jay shared and try to wrap your head around it.  A major hotel chain recently adopted a new way of addressing social media responsiveness by not only answering feedback on their own “brand” but they also began proactively answering people’s travel questions about restaurant, sightseeing and leisure activities in cities they serve and some they don’t.  Here’s the weird part.  They made these recommendations without any expectation that the end user ever make a reservation in one of their properties.  That’s right.,  No sales pitch at all.  Their goal is to be seen as helpful, friendly, knowledgeable and trusted.  What’s your bet that you’d remember that the next time you book travel?

Well you might imagine that after completing the book I was looking for a way to get this to you, my friends in the contact center space. This information is too good to keep to myself.

I’d like to send you a copy of Jay’s book, FREE of charge.

Tweet the link for this post using the hashtag #ServiceMatters and I’ll get you a copy right away!

From one customer service geek to another, I simply want to share with you the useful information I gained from this book.

I look forward to discussing the book with you, and hearing about any of your experiences working with social media or the contact center in the comments below.


** Edit: Giveaway has now ended. Thanks to all that participated!


Fast Service Preferred Over Good Service – Really?

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I encourage you to check out this new study hosted by Interactive Intelligence and performed by Actionable Intelligence that sheds new light on the rapid changes we are experiencing in the world of customer service.  My favorite finding so far – customers prefer fast service over good service! Really?

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Follow-up Is as Important as First Call Resolve

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I was the recent recipient of some amazing customer service from one of the larger US banks as I negotiated the rapids of a refinance. I had low expectations from the outset but was pleasantly surprised with an amazing service experience.

As I think back on the entire process it occurs to me that the most memorable part of it was the follow-up.  It was almost mechanized. I got periodic callbacks from my primary contact as well as from the underwriter.  I could not believe that they were calling me to give me status updates. It sounded like a much more relaxed transaction from both sides of the table.

All these months later this is my strongest memory. The trust built in this process has encouraged me to reach out to this very same bank first in order to address another of my financial needs.

So how do we ensure that excellent customer service goals that we set for our service centers are actually carried out in reality?  This becomes especially difficult when the service process moves beyond our own walls and involves external organizations who are likely not even part of your company (title companies, etc.).

Of course my first thought was that there must be some ubiquitous CRM solution like or a huge back-office system like SAP involved behind the magic curtain.  Perhaps that is the case for this large bank but what about the rest of us?  Is there help out there to help us automate our workflow in order to maintain continuity and prevent tasks from falling through the cracks?

I’ve done some digging and found some guidance for those of us who care about the customer experience that might help us avoid the huge expense of a complete back-office overhaul.

Craig Robinson with BBW (a London based consultancy in the telephony and contact center arena) points out is a recent white paper “Optimizing Content Centric Processes to Improve the Customer Experience” that the potential gains go far beyond just time savings but impact both customer satisfaction and agent retention.  So by making is easier on the customer we also enhance the life of the service rep as well.

Diane Halliwell with Align, LLC in “The Exceptional Customer Experience: It’s All About the Process” points out that as important as technology is in this process that at the end of the day process is about people.  She says “Making existing resources more effective at what they do improves processes and the customer experience. ” 

So there is hope out there and it looks like it’s a mix of people and technology that will be required but that it doesn’t look like we need to turn our world’s upside down to gain the benefit.

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Are Post Call Surveys a Thing of the Past


How quickly things can change.  What was once a staple of customer experience metrics is fast becoming a dinosaur. Contact centers today are realizing that stored recordings are like looking for a needle in a haystack and that they quickly lose their relevance after 24 hours.

Post call surveys have recently been used as a more accurate measure of the state of mind of the caller as they are offered an option to participate in a live or self-service survey just after they complete their transaction.  The only challenge with this is that this is a post call event.  If there was a problem on that call it is already over and done with.  Maybe you’ll capture that caller feedback in the survey or maybe you won’t.

What if you could sit on all of your calls and listen to both sides of the conversation?  It would only take about a billion supervisors but could you imagine all the great opportunities you’d have to jump in and save a call that’s taking a dive or immediately congratulate an agent who has done an exceptional job?

I’ve recently become aware of some new technology that will allow you to automate the listening on both sides of the call (agent and customer) without you having to tap into every call.  You simply set up the system to listen for a set of words or phrases and the systems will listen to all your calls.  It will even provide a score for every call and store it like recording systems have done for ages.  What’s different is that if the real-time score takes a dive your supervisors are alerted as the call is in progress.  I mean right now!

Let’s welcome real-time voice analytics to the world of customer satisfaction.  With this immediate access to the state of the call, supervisors, trainers or managers can decide if they need to intervene to steer a call in another direction.  Agents can also rest assured that you have their backs in the “he said – she said” world of customer service.

No more waiting until the “ship has sailed.”  Immediate action can be taken in making the customer experience outcomes a positive one on every call.

Here are a couple of paths you can take to learn more about real-time speech analytics.

DMG Consulting’s site has a report you can download at:

Interactive Intelligence interviewed MainTrax a leading independent voice analytics consultancy recently.  Here is a link to the white paper that came from those sessions.

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Sometimes Old School Techniques are Required – Square Finds Out the Hard Way

Square in Action
Square in Action

The news is starting to trickle out about one of the hottest technology plays out there.  It’s our friends at Square. You’ve probably seen them if you’ve paid for anything at a small business lately or at your local farmers market.  Lots of these folks are using the little card readers to allow you to swipe your credit/debit card to pay for your purchases.  You definitely know them if you are a small merchant who wants to start accepting electronic payment instead of cash or checks. Square is a real plus and the transaction fees are a fraction of the going rate through your local bank.

What’s challenging though has been the customer service needed when the occasional electronic transaction goes sour.  Square’s current plan is to offer you an e-mail response within 24 hours or you can kick-off a chat session to resolve your case.  Sounds like it might work but I can assure you that if you are one of the unlucky merchants caught with a bad payment or a frustrated customer, there is no time like right now to get things resolved.

At the end of the day, I have to give Square some credit.  I’m guessing they adopted the service model they thought their customers would find most friendly.  After all, the transactions are taking place on smartphones.  A recent Dimension Data report highlights the growing acceptance of texting, chat, and email on these devices, but also shows the persistent reliance on traditional voice technologies. In addition, I think Square failed to realize that when it comes to resolving issues surrounding money you need to stick pretty close to the tried and true service models we see in the banking world.  It doesn’t need to be fancy but your customers do have certain expectations. 

There is talk that Square is considering opening up a contact center in order to quell the noise about their challenging customer service.  I could not agree more.  I’ll bet customers would be happy to tolerate a little wait time.  I’d even goes as far as saying they’d be open to entering an account number so you could pop their account record and last set of transactions.  I’d go further to suggest they wouldn’t mind a bit of hold time if they knew live assistance was on it’s way.  They’d be happy campers once they got connected.

So kudos to Square for considering a contact center approach.  Just make sure that whatever solution you choose acts the same way with mobile devices as it does with traditional phone lines.  Nothing worse than offering a new service method that doesn’t quite take care of business.   

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