Ep 16: To win, Stop Putting Customers First

I was definitely not my mom’s favorite kid growing up, there were 4 of us and most days I hovered between 3rd and 5th depending on how she felt about the Goldfish at that moment. I am not bitter, I had a good run, 4 consecutive years as an only child is more than most get. Pecking order matters. We all know it.

Like my mom, your organization has stakeholders it loves very much – End consumers, Vendors, Shareholders, Employees – one of them has to be the favorite.

 

On today’s show we take a macro view, and answer the question who comes first? Who do you prioritize? Customers over Employees? Employees over Customers? Is it all about Shareholders. We explore a few examples and come to one clear conclusion.

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Ep 7. Being a Call Center Agent Sucks and how we can fix it

I asked an executive if his son would be considering a job in his own call center from the look on his face, you would think I was suggesting his son take a job with ISIS!

 

He was completely disgusted with the question. I don’t completely blame him, the job sucked when I first did it in the 90s and it hasn’t changed for the better since. It doesn’t have to be this way though.

If it was just because of the low pay and screaming customers it will be one thing, but the bigger issue is the environment we have created for people in these jobs.

For starters, many organizations treat the roles like prostitution with patronizing policies and utter disregard.

You can read my post on that here and feel free to call or text me at 4059288185 if you want to chat some more on that. Today I want to talk about how to improve the day to day experience.

We can not continue talking about the customer experience without devoting the same energy to the Customer-Facing employee experience. 

Executive after executive visits their respective call centers, sit with an agent and walks away with awe, and patronizing remarks like “I can’t do that job, those people are heroes!”

The job doesn’t have to be heroic, it only appears that way because most people in call centers do their job on 25 year old technology, that seemingly moves at the pace of a pregnant whale.

They have to go from screen to screen hunting and pecking around for information, all the while getting yelled at by demanding customers. They buy time by saying “give me a moment, while I look that up.”

I am excited to tell you that there’s a way forward and I plan to lay out what the agent experience should look like over 3 separate podcasts bringing on experts in the field.

On today’s podcast I invited Chris Lawson to talk about what is already happening today with the call center agent desktop technology.

If you are an executive with responsibility for the contact center, heaping encomiums on the call center staff alone is not particularly helpful, so save them and make changes instead.

You can start by listening to today’s show where we talk about 10 year old technology that can be game changing for those heroes.

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Ep 5: What Happened to the Starbucks Experience

My relationship with coffee is non-committal, I’ll drink it if it’s in front of me but my normal wake-up drug of choice is crispy bacon! Starbucks is still my default meeting place to meet a colleague or friend. Not that long ago an old colleague invited me to catch up at a Starbucks of her choosing. We were both shocked to find out the entire place was a drive through and you couldn’t even sit down for coffee – things have changed!

On this week’s episode, I have Jenn Nahrstadt as my guest. She is on the frontline of customer service – she is a  Barista at Starbucks. She is careful about being overly critical but her voice betrays her. She is in the middle of a sea-change, the experience is changing and she doesn’t love it.

Jenn tells a very moving story about the power of relationships with customers involving a customer and his cancer stricken wife. Person to person interactions have legs, they make a difference, I am sold!

Technology is changing this equation dramatically and she’s not sure if it is all good. I press her on this, I basically tell her humans can make mistakes, spell your 4 letter name wrong and occasionally just suck, so maybe more technology is all good…

She articulates the case for the blend of human and technology, after that we solved world hunger.

Please keep the feedback and reviews coming on iTunes, I appreciate it.

 


Ep 4: Why Outsourcing is such a ClusterF%$#

“How is it possible to have a civil war?”

Those were the words of my favorite comic – George Carlin. He thought most euphemisms were Bullsh%#% and I do too.

Unfortunately for me corporate America produces new euphemisms every day, and to be sure, most of them range from mildly annoying to downright infuriating.

Take the term Courtesy Disconnects for example – if you don’t know what that means well let me make your day! It’s the euphemistic way to describe hanging up on your customers because your lines are busy popularized by the bastion of customer experience – the IRS (please don’t audit me!). Calling it “customers can go to hell” would be rude so it’s called Courtesy Disconnects.

I invited Nick Jiwa to my podcast today to talk about outsourcing in Customer experience because for his expertise but especially because he lives in the No BS zone. Halfway through the interview I ask him why outsourcer and client relationships are so dysfunctional and he calls out the charade. He says every client under the sun claims they want a “partner” but some will treat the outsourcers as subservient,  and one client even call them “the hired help!” Then he turned his sights to the outsourcers themselves who sell out to the client only to complain on the back end. Nick is not in the corporate spin business, he lays out the 3 major problems facing this space without the double talk. I ask him about offshoring, I tell him lots of consumers are downright pissed at this practice.

We decide we need to do an undercover boss in the call center, I think we can get a lot of viewers.

 

This episode is like a layered cake, it is entertaining, informative and even emotional.  Nick got really fired up talking about front line reps (I told him their jobs are in jeopardy, he disagrees) – he is an uber successful entrepreneur today but he started his career on the phones. He knows that is where the rubber meets the road, I understood why the “hired help” comment struck a nerve – he remembers his roots.

I enjoyed having Nick on the show, we covered a lot of ground in a short period I even learned the actor Blair Underwood was a call center agent with Nick many years back.

I think you will enjoy this one a lot. Please keep the feedback and reviews coming on iTunes, I appreciate it.

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Ep 3: Customer feedback is NOT a gift

I used to work at a  warehouse many years ago, and let’s just say it was not going well, I was somehow working my hardest and still falling behind. My supervisor pulled me in his office and started his speech with “Amas I want you to know that feedback is a gift” then went on to tell me all the dozen ways I sucked at my job. I remember thinking what contest in hell did I win to receive this crappy gift of Feedback.

 

 

I have since heard that same quote “Feedback is a gift” repeated time and time again throughout my career. So it’s no wonder seemingly every company on earth is collecting customer feedback, and I frankly think it has to stop. On this episode I examine this practice and provide my views on the matter and begin to lay out what the future may look like.

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Ep 1 – Stop Pretending to Care about Customer Experience

I miss the good ole days, the days when baseball had steroids and the game was awesome! Back then I would walk over to my boss’ office with the customer service budget and he will tell me to go slash it by 20% before even looking at the files in my folder.

Back then you had to convince people and organizations to care about the customer, those were the good ole days. Say what you want about the old days, it was clear – Customer facing teams were cost centers that need to be slashed to it’s bare minimum. There were organizations who believed in the power of the customer experience and there were those who proudly did just enough to stay off the Better Business Bureau naughty list.

Now everyone is a friggen believer!

I doubt there is an organization on earth who hasn’t found the religion of Customer Experience.

Hell, I was shocked to find that even the United States Post office even has a banner in their lobby that promotes their focus on the customer. What was worse is that it is positioned right in front of you as you wait for hours for the pleasure of getting the same crappy service they have been providing me all my life.

I guess you can call it progress, we have gone from openly not caring, to everyone pretending to care about the customer experience. I find it all confusing

I think all this pretending to care is a net negative, expectations of customers are rising and the gulf between their expectations and the reality is growing. There is no question there is more talk about improving customer experience today than ever, I just see little evidence of much more than cheap talk.

The movement from pretending to caring about the experience to actually creating a better experience is the next step on this journey, on one aisle will be organizations that actually care about the experience and on the other organizations that claim to.

I don’t have all the answers, but I have a mantra – Customer experience is about intentionality. Leaving no part of the experience to chance is my gospel, this is how we curate experiences we are all proud of and customers love. I also have a microphone and a new podcast.

Please join me on my weekly podcast on iTunes where me and my guests discuss what intentionality in the experience looks like.

 

My Book: The Curated Experience: Engineering Customer Service to Build Loyalty – is now available  (AudioBook, PaperBack, ITunes & KindleBarnes & Noble)

 


Say Goodbye to Your Service Job

Our CEO would frequently refer to our company as a “family” every time he would speak. It always had a stench of bullshit to me, but today it stunk pretty bad. Like every family, a time comes when you have to make tough decisions when the going gets rough. Today was one of those days; we are re-organizing and eliminating redundant jobs. I for one had to fire the “grandma” in the family – maybe the company is the Charles Manson Family.

I told the employee of almost 30 years that she had been replaced by a robot. It wasn’t even a cool robot, it was software written by some punk kid that made her job unnecessary. I hate to break it to you, your boss doesn’t love you – you will be gone as soon as a credible robot can replace you.

The robots are coming for our jobs and the service industry will get it hard – this has been coming for years but the pace is about to increase.

My friend Paul was turning 50, so I took my very first Uber to the party. I thoroughly enjoyed the Uber ride, mostly because of my driver. He turned out to be an engineer during the day and part time Uber driver – I loved the social experience.

Not along after that, the CEO of Uber stated in a Time Magazine interview that the one thing that could make Uber better is firing all of the drivers! His argument is that Uber will be cheaper and better without the expensive drivers.

A local trucking company would often advertise during their truck driving recruitment that the jobs couldn’t be outsourced. It was true that jobs like driving used to be safe, but self driving vehicles will eliminate millions of jobs – taxi drivers and truck drivers will take a huge hit.

The service industry is in for some radical changes, specifically for customer facing people. For all the debate about minimum wage for industries like fast food, I think the final verdict will include massive layoffs. Then maybe the remaining employees may see a pay increase across the board. I don’t think we are far away from completely automated ordering. I can already order and pay without talking to anyone at many restaurants.

What about contact centers or call centers? Well, I do this for a living and I have not met a single service leader who does not want to increase self-service use – they all want to have fewer people.

Organizations generally want to handle customer interactions by balancing costs  versus the customer experience. This is why they will often send calls to their IVR, even if they don’t belong there and even if it causes customer pain.

The only thing standing in the way of millions of additional interactions being sent to automated systems is the fear of customers showing up to corporate with pitchforks.

In other words, most organizations want to send more and more contacts to IVRs, and other self-service options – so they can eliminate more employees. Smart organizations do their best not to cause too much pain while doing this and instead wait for better technology before going further.

Here is the thing in case you haven’t been paying attention; we are now in the era of the IVR 3.0 (The IVR you used to know + Natural Language + Artificial Intelligence). It basically lives in the “middle”, the space between very complex and mindless interactions. These interactions are simple for a human, but don’t make sense for the IVR because it will create too much pain. I have seen this technology in action and it will be a massive job killer! The future will include fewer reps, supervisors, analysts, managers, directors, and even fewer VPs.

My friend Mike who helps companies benefit from this technology for a living, points out that the glass is half full. He argues that the technology will create happier reps, since all the remaining interactions will be high value and more rewarding. “Organizations can just choose not to backfill for attrition”. I agree with him, but call me a cheerful realist because any way that you slice it, there will be fewer people working in customer service. But maybe it is a good thing.

I have some thoughts on what the future may look like, for now I have an Uber driver waiting to take me the airport – hopefully there is actually another Human in the driver’s seat.

 

 

 

 

My Book: The Curated Experience: Engineering Customer Service to Build Loyalty – is now available  (AudioBook, PaperBack, ITunes & KindleBarnes & Noble)

 

 


It’s time to stop interrogating customers Part II

My disdain for customer interrogation is articulated here in an earlier post. There’s almost no value to anyone in these interrogations, if there is still a defense, it is that our security is at stake or is it. What you tell your customers is that interrogations is the only way to authenticate a customer who is on the phone. There is a far better way, to accomplish this task without interrogating customers.

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I am a rewards member at a local store, and I can walk in pick up thousands of dollars in merchandise, go through self check out without as much anyone getting in my way. If I get home and have a need to call that same national retailer, I would be thoroughly interrogated like a common criminal. On the surface knowledge based authentication have a way of making us feel safe, the theory is these are questions only the customer would have answers to. After all 20 years ago know one would know the name of my first pet, but I surely don’t need to convince you that a low level criminal with a dial up connection and a bit of patience can figure out my pet’s names.
There are bad guys trying to gain access to customer accounts via the telephone but burning down the house down solve the mice infestation problem has never been a good idea. Knowledge based authentication is a relic, the information we are verifying has now been made available to criminals by consumers themselves on social media, data breaches and hackers. It appears it doesn’t take a criminal mastermind to pick up the phone and either social engineer your employees to gain access or already have answers to the questions. If interrogations aren’t keeping consumers then what exactly is it doing? It is annoying the heck out of customers, all the while the bad guys are gaming the systems. The financial resources spent in the interrogation is in hard dollars, the top line revenue will suffer as well as customers increasingly pick friction-less experiences in deciding who to do business with.
I think we are not that far away from the day where we authenticate via voice Bios, and retinas but between now and then we can utilize ownership factor authentication — in plain speak there is readily available and affordable technology that can verify seamlessly that your customers are who they say they are without interrogation. Smart organizations including banks today are using technology to do ownership authentication of caller IDs to make sure your caller is who they say they are without any interrogations whatsoever. You should look for ways to move beyond knowledge based authentications because
1. It will actually make customers safer, the fraud prevention outcomes of these authentications are better than verifying things like last 4 of SSN
2. It will save you a lot of Money, calculate how much in hard dollars you spend needlessly interrogating customers and you will find a pot of gold big enough to finance your next Cx initiative.
3. It will create a superior customer experience.
I for one am tired of remembering my childhood pet’s name, I called in to change my address not to be bummed out by the memory of losing my childhood pet.

 

 

 


The Myth of the Empowered Customer

We are supposed to be in the Age of the Empowered Consumer — because the all-powerful consumer is in the driver’s seat. The consumer has unlimited information literally at her fingertips anytime, anywhere – for almost no cost. The almighty consumer will know it all, heck there will even be corporate Edward Snowden-style leaks to further inform the customer. On top of that, the barrier of switching providers is so low that the empowered consumer will ditch your service at the slightest sign of a bad experience. Not only will they defect, they also have a huge megaphone to broadcast your dirty laundry to the world and bring you to your knees. For self-preservation sake, every organization will be so scared that they will be forced to treat customers better.  There will be ongoing one-upmanship in the customer experience space, with everyone trying to “out-experience” the others, all to avoid mass exodus of the empowered consumer.

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I don’t know about you but I sure as heck don’t feel empowered. I still go online to shop at websites that are confusing. I am swiping my own credit card, bagging my own groceries, pumping my own gas all the while paying more for it. Do I have more information about products and services? Yes, a dizzying amount of information – so much information that I am confused and paralyzed. Do I have more choices? Well yes, so many darn choices that it takes me 30 minutes to decide on a box of cereal! Is the barrier of switching lower? Sure, heck I have fantasized about ditching my insurance company for another one for a while because of my experiences with them – they didn’t seem to get the memo that I am empowered. The problem, from what I can figure, is that their competition is actually no better. In fact, it appears they all got together and decided to take blood allegiances to mediocrity. So yes, the barrier of switching is fairly low. But if I switched providers, I would be trading one flavor of crap for another. I am so empowered I can’t call customer service in front of my young son because there is more than a 50/50 chance I might yell obscenities into the poorly-designed IVRs. There are probably more bad IVRs today than there were 10 years ago. Not only is there scant data showing a vast improvement in CX due to consumer empowerment, I don’t know of anyone telling me how great customer experiences are getting across the board.

Clearly, great customer experiences have not become the norm. Truth is, the threat that was supposed to motivate organizations to improve experiences never really materialized for a couple of reasons.

For one thing the so-called megaphone turned out to be the exception not the rule. Sure you can cite examples from Netflix and BOA involving customers being able to drive change. But they continue to be the exception, not the rule. Are organizations generally afraid of social media backlash? Of course. Have they hired more 20 year-old interns to man twitter and Facebook? Yes. Has it raised the bar of customer-centricity? I would say “no”.
The second thing is that all the “empowering information” at our finger tips isn’t making consumers empowered. It is actually making things more confusing and time-consuming. The source of a lot of our information is search, and it is increasingly biased. In an effort to “personalize” your experience, your search results are no longer objective.
In the Age of the Empowered Consumer, there is actually more opportunity to be found instead of playing defense and worrying about what the customer mob might pressure you into doing. The fact is that customer experience will always be a point of differentiation, and it might actually be easier to deliver an exceptional experience today than at any time past. With the sheer amount of data available, the days of guessing why your customer might be contacting you is almost over and you can now very safely anticipate your customer needs and deliver. If you still need to be motivated by fear to deliver great customer experiences, well, here is a little additional fear for you — you probably won’t suffer the fate UNITED did in this video. Your customers will simply defect to your competitor without much fanfare.


In Defense of Automated Systems (IVR)

As a customer I am always looking for the most painless route to get what I need from companies I do business with. While automated systems can get a bad rap, I have argued for years that automated systems (when built correctly) are usually EASIER than interacting with humans for many routine interactions.

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Last Thursday, I drove to the bank right past the available Tellers and instead waited in line to use the ATM to make the withdrawal I needed. Like you I did this because the Automated Machine is superior to a teller in making a withdrawal of $50 from my checking account. One of the best experiences I have had at a fast food chain occurred at an airport, where I could place my order on a touchscreen, pay and simply wait for my food order to be delivered to me. At the heart of these choices lies a need to utilize the most painless route to interact with companies, this yearn is increasingly being met by smart Machines.

Too many automated systems are built solely for the purpose of cost savings or contact deflection for the companies, and they often deliver those cost Savings by frustrating customers. Even among fellow Customer Experience practitioners Automated Systems have a bad reputation.  Which is why to me the only automated systems worth building are ones customers will voluntarily choose over a human.

Here are 3 reasons why you should build Automated systems that customers prefer to Humans:

  1. Because it will actually increase customer Loyalty. I hate to break it to you, but your customers aren’t really dying to talk to you, what they want is to get their issue resolved via the least painful path. So identifying situations where that path involves more machine than human is exactly what your customers want. Customers are loyal to brands that make things easy and not only is smart automation a key part in that journey in many instances it is superior to human interactions.
  2. Because it will save you Money. Automated systems built to the “easier than human” standard actually have the added benefit of saving you more over the long run. Customers will flock to it, utilization will go up, without the pesky side effect of customer defection
  3. Because it will keep your employees happier. The truth is your employees aren’t stimulated by handling the same routine tasks over and over again. They would actually welcome some varieity coupled with empowerment to fully utilize their skills. If your goal becomes resolving customer issues with as little customer effort as possible, you find that in many cases it is all technology, but in most cases it is a blend as is articulated here in this article

Customers want their issues resolved in the most efficient manner, they do not hate automated systems, they hate bad automated systems. In the same way they do not like unhelpful representatives.

 Can you think of other Automated Systems you prefer to Humans?