Customer Service

Virtually every company touts its commitment to high quality customer service.  Very few actually deliver it consistently.  So why the disconnect?  Its actually pretty straightforward, says Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy at Peppercomm in an article for Harvard Business Review::

“It’s hard for most organizations to come to any real consensus because each part of the company only sees one small sliver of the customer, a sliver that comes with different meanings and measurement: a segmentation profile in marketing, website traffic for the digital team, “call volume” to the customer service team, a “conversion” to the sales team, or an “impression” to the advertising team. The real risk here is that no one sees the customer as an actual human being.”

That’s understating it, in my experience.  I vividly remember helping a colleague years ago with a Director of Customer Service who’s key metric was how quickly a call was picked up.  The fact that the under-trained workers often could not help the customer after picking up the phone was of no concern.  Naturally, screaming customers and escalations to managers were the order of the day.  In response to 92% turnover, the Director admonished my colleague to “hire better people now! ” After looking over the training program, and I use that term in the loosest possible construct, I told my colleague he might as well  issue cigarettes and blindfolds to new customer service employees.  If you want angry and frustrated customers, just give them angry and frustrated employees to talk to and they’ll manufacture as many as you can handle.

He finally got the Director to add a quality measure based upon:  a) the customer’s repose to a 3 question survey or; b) if the customer called back with the same issue within 72 hours.  Further, the quality and the effectiveness of the call carried greater weight than simply picking up in timely fashion.  The training program was changed to involve classroom training followed by mock service calls and then co-location with an experienced customer service rep.  The length of time spent in training depended upon demonstrated mastery of content and quality of responses.  Further, new hires failing to move through training at minimum pace were released.

It took about 6 months to get everything straightened out (mostly because the Director fought HR tooth and nail every inch of the way), with pick-ups happening by third ring, single call solutions at 88% and escalations down to 5%.  Results like these cannot be achieved without dealing with the human side of the equation.