The covid pandemic clearly highlighted those companies that truly care about their customers and which provide customer service excellence.
If a company claims to be customer centric then it is essential that they don’t just talk the talk, but walk the talk too. The pandemic gave many people more time to review from whom they bought and what services they were getting in return.
A few years ago I was prompted to question my own purchase decision of cable services from the Swiss company UPC-Cablecom. It had been known to have a long-term deficit in customer service excellence versus its main competitor Swisscom. And as recent PWC research shows, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.
Swisscom has made customer service their MSP (main selling point or value proposition) and they were renowned for putting their customers first. UPC-Cablecom, on the other hand, had until then, been trying to win customers through non-stop promotions and aggressive price cutting. In today’s connected world, especially where the internet is concerned, dissatisfied customers will be quickly heard – across the net.
Back to the incident that prompted this post. After a few days of being ignored by UPC-Cablecom – my perception at least, because my emails and phone calls were not being answered – I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I resorted to Twitter.
It is more than five years ago that Twitter was first referred to as today’s customer service centre. Social media usually guarantees a quick response, since contacting customer services through the usual channels often results in no reaction for hours if not days.Social media usually guarantees a quick response, since contacting customer services through the usual channels often results in no reaction for hours if not days. #CustomerSatisfaction #CustomerCare #CallCentre #CRM #CEX Click To Tweet
What makes a great customer care centre?
Customers these days expect a response in minutes or hours rather than days. Research shows that nearly a half of all customers (46%) expect companies to respond faster than 4 hours, and 12% expect a response within 15 minutes or less. And yet the average time to respond to customer service requests is currently 12 hours and 10 minutes! How does your own customer service response times compare? As you enjoy my blog posts I assume they are significantly better.
Most call centres are a frustrating, if sometimes necessary, experience for (often dissatisfied) customers to endure. In many cases, they are automated, with a long and complex self-selection process of button pushing to arrive at the department one needs – if you’re lucky that is!
But too often the result of all that effort is just a recording telling you to call back later as 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 alternative solutions to waiting on the line. Going to the website to find a solution in their available FAQs, or to complete a contact form, or to send an email. This I find insulting since I am sure most people only call after having tried to find a solution online – anything so they don’t have to suffer these long waits!
And then, of course, to add insult to injury, we hear the trite message about our call being important to the company! Really? If so you’re not showing it, you’re not walking the talk.
Some companies that have understood their customers’ frustration with long help-line queues, have found alternative solutions such as offering a callback. Of course, providing sufficient staff to cover the busiest times, or at least to be available when the customer is most likely to need support, would be the simplest and most acceptable solution, no?!
Today there is no excuse for a consumer goods company in particular to not be ready to help their users when they need it the most. For example:
- 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
While in a few cases, a few customers may use Twitter to jump the call centre queues, in most cases, it is only used as a customer’s final cry for help, after being frustrated by long waits on call centre help-lines or self-service selections that led the customer nowhere except around in circles.
What makes a great customer service representative (CSR)?
Taking the customers perspective is the absolute right thing to do for a company. But perhaps we as customers, should also take the company’s perspective when reaching out to them. Or at least that of the poor customer service representative who is subjected to our frustration and anger at the end of our email or phone call.
To illustrate the skills and talents of a great customer services rep, I want to share my experience with UPC-Cablecom. Jimmy N. was one of the very best examples of what a CSR should be, based upon my considerable years of experience 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 (mid twenties)?
I have summarised below what I see as the most important skills of a customer services representative, that he clearly demonstrated. I call them the 7Ps of customer service excellence.
The new 7Ps of customer service excellence
- Private: He immediately took the conversation offline after confirming my mobile number and also asking for my email address. He then called me back to speak in person. This is a win-win for both the company and the customer. It made me feel important as he called me straight back. But it also enabled the company to take my complaints offline and away from the eyes and ears of other current or potential customers.
- Patient: He let me talk first. He just listened attentively until I had finished ranting, or when I stopped to ask a question. Sometimes a good listener is all it takes to defuse a potential issue from escalating. The customer wants to be listened to and understood, and in this case, I felt real empathy from Jimmy as I shared my negative experiences with his company’s services.
3. Polite: He never lost his cool, even when I did! I admit I would not make a good CSR. I am generally calm, but when I do get angry I really explode, especially when I feel I am being treated unfairly or being taken advantage of. Having reps who can remain calm even when the customer is accusing the company or even their call centre personnel of exaggerated shortcomings, is essential to defuse the emotional tension of the connection.
4. Perceptive: Jimmy empathised with me, and connected very well. He recognised when to push forward with the next topic and when to go back to reiterate what had been agreed. He ensured that I understood the information he was sharing and that I was comfortable with his comments, explanations and proposed solution.
5. Professional: He was an expert; he knew his topic and more importantly how to explain its complex details in simple terms. Have you never called for help and found that you knew more about the topic than the company representative? I know I have on several occasions. As a result, instead of feeling supported, I became even more frustrated, as I was forced to explain my problem in different terms, or in more detail until it was understood.
It is vital that care centre reps are knowledgable and are able to explain complex details in simple terms. Don't let the customers get frustrated by knowing more than the person they have turned to for help! #CEX #CRM #CustomerCare… Click To Tweet
6. Pragmatic: Jimmy worked with me to find a solution that worked for us both. Unlike many call centres where the clear objective is to get you to accept the least costly alternative, I really felt that Jimmy was working with me not against me. I was confident that the solution we found together would be the best one for me and my precise situation.
7. Perseverant: He continued to ask and answer questions until he was sure I was happy with everything. Many companies now add a question at the end of the discussion, asking if there is anything else that we need. However, in most cases, it sounds totally artificial, especially when we have already thanked the CSR for their help and getting ready to say goodbye. I can understand why it is important to make sure the customer is fully satisfied before hanging up, but it would be better if the question is adapted to each individual situation.
Are these the seven best qualities for call centre advisors, or are there more “Ps” that you would add? If you have suggestions, then please add them in the comments below, especially you Jimmy if you read this!
Do you believe that your CSRs could do more for your customers? Then we would love to support you. We know we can help, just tell us where and when. Contact us here and check out our website for more information on our services: http://C3centricity.com/training
This article is regularly updated; the original version was posted on C3Centricity in February 2013.