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The 7Ps of Customer Service

As with many Bloggers and Tweeters, my posts are sometimes prompted by something that happens in my daily life. This week, I question whether or not all companies have really taken the customer perspective with their care centres or are just talking the talk of customer service. I conclude with my suggested 7Ps of customer service to help those who are still struggling with this change.

My recent experience that prompted this post concerns Cablecom, a local Swiss cable company, which is desperately trying to correct a long-term deficit in customer care versus their main competitor Swisscom. Swisscom has made customer service their MSP (main selling point or value proposition) and they are renowned for putting their customers first. Cablecom on the other h and had, until recently, been trying to win customers through aggressive price cutting, but that can only work for a certain time. 

Back to the incident that prompted this post. After a few days of being ignored by Cablecom – my perception at least because my emails and phone calls were not being answered – I resorted to Twitter. 

It has been a year or so since Twitter was first called the new call centre of today. Guy Clapperton, author of “This is Social Media”  wrote an interesting post about this at the end of 2011 and interestingly this idea was questioned at the time. What a lot has changed in just a few months! I would argue it is much, much more than that. Today’s call centres are a frustrating, if sometimes necessary experience for customers to endure. In many cases call centres are automated, with an often long and complex self-selection process of button pushing to arrive at the department one needs. Usually the result of all that effort is just a recording that either states that the department needed is not open at the moment, or that the collaborators are currently busy and to please stay on the line. We are next subjected to music supposedly designed to calm our nerves, interspersed with messages suggesting alternatives to waiting on the line: going to the website to find a solution, to check their available FAQs or to complete a contact form, send an email. And then of course to add insult to injury, we hear the infamous message about our call being important to them.

Edison recently ran some research showing the patience that we have or rather don’t have today, on social media. Convince & Convert published some of the first results in an interesting article; it showed that companies must react immediately to customers using this means of communication. One in five expect an answer within 15 minutes and 42% within the hour. For reference when Guy Clapperton wrote his post in December 2011 the level was almost half that at just 25% within the hour!

Companies that have understood customers’ frustration with help line queues have found alternative solutions, such as arranging a call back, or providing sufficient staff to cover the busiest times, or at least to be available when the customer is most likely to need support.

Today there is no excuse for a CPG company to not be ready to help their users when they need it; for instance:

  • Early morning or late at night for personal care products
  • Breakfast, lunch and evening meal times for food manufacturers.
  • Evenings and weekends for TV and technology products

Whilst in a few cases, there may be customers who use Twitter to jump the call centre queues, in most cases, it is a customer’s final call for help before “going under”.

Taking the customers perspective is the absolute right thing to do for a company, but should we as customers also take the perspective of the company we are reaching out to, or at least to the poor person who gets our wrath at the end of the email or telephone call?

Jimmy N. from UPC-Cablecom, was one of the very best examples of what a customer service advisor should be, that I have come across in all my years of working on both sides of contact centres. What did he do so well and what might we all learn from him, despite his relatively young age? I summarise it as the new 7 Ps of customer care.

  1. Private: He immediately took the conversation offline, asking for my email address and then calling me to speak in person.
  2. Patient: He let me talk first, just listening until I had finished ranting, or stopped to ask a question.
  3. Polite: He never lost his cool, even when I did!
  4. Perceptive: Empathised, knowing when to push forward with the next topic and when to go back to reiterate what had been agreed.
  5. Professional: He was an expert, knew his topic and more importantly knew how to explain its complex details in simple terms.
  6. Pragmatic: Worked with me to find solutions that worked for us both.
  7. Perseverant: He continued to ask and answer questions until he was sure I was happy with everything.

Are these the seven best qualities for call centre advisors, or are there more “Ps” to mention? Let me know, especially you Jimmy, if you read this.

If you need help in optimising your own care centres or customer connections then we would love to support your plans. We know we can help, just tell us where and when. Contact us here and check out our website: https://www.c3centricity.com/home/engage

No Obligation, just INSPIRATION!

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5 Steps to Customer Care Excellence

A few months ago, I took a very early flight with BA out of Geneva International Airport and as on many previous occasions, BA staff demonstrated their excellent customer centricity, which prompted this post.

On that particular morning, it was Lionel who was working in the Club lounge who impressed me, for allowing me to enter and have a quick coffee, even though he had already called the flight and everyone else was on their way out.

The rule in such circumstances is not to admit any passengers once the flight has been called. It was refreshing to be treated as an individual and not as one of the mass of passengers taking the flight that morning. By allowing me to have a quick coffee before dashing to the gate certainly made my morning and my speed in gulping down the much-needed brew, as I had promised, enabled him to empty the lounge as he was required to do without too much delay.

What has this got to do with your own customer centricity you might ask? Well quite a lot in my opinion. As more people move from rural to urban areas, we are all challenged with living in a crowded environment, with little chance of being treated as an individual. This has created an increased value perception of space and service; people desire and actively search for recognition and a little extra personalised service. In the case of Lionel, he apparently saw me as a low risk and that he could trust me to have the quick coffee I so desperately needed at that time of the morning. I felt so special, he made my day and all because of a cup of coffee!

How do you train your own Customer Service Advisors?

Are all your company’s interactions with your customers scripted? Do your metrics of call centre efficiency include time per call, which is targeted down, or calls per advisor, constantly targeted up? If so, then there is little likelihood that you are making your customers feel very special or valued.

A few months ago I shared some information about a CEO who had decided to throw away the scripts that his call centre personnel were using and to trust his advisors to satisfy the callers in the best way possible – for the client! I am sure you can see how satisfaction went way up, for both the advisors and the customers.

If throwing away your call centre scripts is too far for you to go, at least for now, but you know that you could do with improving your care centre operations to make them even more customer centric, I have a few ideas for you:

#1. INVITE: How are you currently inviting your customers to connect with you? Are you putting a (free) telephone number, email or web address on your pack or in your advertising? Is the invitation clearly legible and does it offer your customers a choice of channels that they can use to connect with you? You should encourage as many connections as possible with your customers, so openly invite them wherever they will have a chance of noticing.

Some of you will certainly see this as a risk; more contacts will equal more complaints, no? Well yes – but hopefully at the same proportion as currently – and wouldn’t you rather know if your product or service has any perceived issues so that you can resolve them as quickly as possible? You will also get more chances to be praised on your offering, which means you will get information on what is particularly appreciated by your customers.

#2. LISTEN: Advisors should listen attentively to what the customer has to share: it always amazes me how often they try to interrupt the customer as quickly as possible in their explanation of the reason for their call. Perhaps this has to do with the call / time targets you have set, which I mentioned earlier. Why not replace these metrics by satisfaction targets? Let the customer talk until the reason for calling is fully explained and she feels that the advisor has really listened. Only then should your personnel start to respond with suggestions of possible solutions and actions.

#3. RESPOND: If your care centre is working with scripted responses and you feel too scared to throw them away immediately, at least give your advisors the freedom to go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to satisfy and even surprise the caller. Your customers have taken the time and effort to reach out to you, so don’t disappoint them. Delight them with your response. Don’t just offer them a replacement product or coupons; everyone else does that. What more can you do for your customer, so that they feel special and valued? If they do, then they will certainly be prompted to share their positive experience with friends, family and even the world at large if they are active on social media. One satisfied customer can do a lot for your image, several and your reputation grows significantly.

#4. KEEP LISTENING: Don’t assume that the first thing your customer talks or writes about is the real reason for the call or connection. Sometimes there are other things that would be useful for you to know but you never get the chance to hear them because your advisors are ending the contact too quickly.

Perhaps your customer believes you wouldn’t be interested so never calls you about ideas that they have had or suggestions they would like to make. Why not ask if there is anything else your customer wants to share or talk to you about. More information is better information and more underst anding.

#5. ASK: Only when your customer is fully satisfied with your responses and has no other things they want to share, can you broach the subject of whether or not they would be willing to answer a few questions for you. If they do agree, then keep it short; if they refuse, respect their decision.

And, please don’t go through your full segmentation questionnaire if they do accept t answer a few questions; keep it short, a maximum of about five questions that will help you know her better. You can always complete a further five when she contacts you again – which they will do if they have been treated with interest, respect and openness.

These are my five steps to customer care excellence. Do you have any others you would add? I am sure everyone would be interested in hearing your additions and so would I. 

Why not contact us today to discuss how we can help you optimise your own customer care centers? No obligation, just opportunity!

Find out more about connecting with your own customers on our website: https://www.c3centricity.com/home/engage

This post has been adapted from one which first appeared on C3Centricity Dimensions on December 22nd 2011

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