Sunday, December 25, 2011

When Too Much Knowledge is a Bad Thing

In my last post, I talked about how important it is that a company staffs their call center with well-trained and knowledgeable service professionals. But is it possible for a customer service professional to know too much? It's possible, especially if they don't wield their power appropriately. As Peter Parker's uncle said, "with great power comes great responsibility."

The other day I popped into my local car parts store for help with my battery. I am not mechanically-inclined, but I try, and I have a great deal of respect for those who know their way around an automobile engine.

I approached the man behind the counter explaining my problem. He proceeded to bombard me with a series of jargon-riddled questions that I did not understand. In frustration, he finally told me that he couldn't help me without the battery. Fine, I told him, I'll bring it in. I asked if I could borrow a wrench to remove the battery and he asked what size. I told him the truth, that I wasn't sure. He shook his head, mumbled something about 1/4" and brought out a wrench. It was too big.

Honestly, I was afraid to go back in. Is this how your company makes customers feel? Another counter clerk saw my plight and helped me, but he was also a bit rude and stand-offish. I've seen this happen at every company I've worked for - customer service reps who think the customers share the same body of knowledge. Well guess what? They don't.

That's right. Most customers don't know what the power company's billing cycle is, or what PIP covers, or even what an EFT is--and we can't expect them to know this.

Here's what I teach: start with the lowest common denominator and work your way up from there. Your customer will tell you if they know more.

For example, if a customer calls an auto insurance company and asks what physical damage coverage is, an okay answer might be "comp and collision." A better answer would be "that is what covers damage to your vehicle and comes in two different forms: comprehensive and collision. Are you familiar with these terms?" Perfect. Descriptive, short, and most importantly: non-patronizing.

So when you monitor customer transactions look for this patronizing tone of voice and coach your customer service professionals appropriately. In fact, ask them if they've ever been made to feel stupid by someone at another company. Chances are they have.

Tashi Delek!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Knowledge, Knowledge, Knowledge...

I'm reminded of the old axiom that if you give an infinite number of typewriters to an infinite number of monkeys, that an infinite number will bang out the complete works of William Shakespeare. While true, it doesn't mean the monkeys know what they are doing. I'd like to propose another axiom: give a call center rep a script, and they will talk to a large number of customers. But do they really know what they are doing?

I was billed $73 by a satellite radio company that shall remain nameless (that's supposed to be funny since there is only one). I called inquiring about the charge. You see, a few days earlier I had ordered two "free" radios as promotions for switching from one receiver to another. I think the company, who recently merged, is trying to consolidate operations. One radio I can see, but two? I thought it was too good to be true, but the rep assured me that yes, they are giving away two radios to each customer making that switch. I only have to pay for shipping and pay for three months when activating my radios (I wanted one for my daughter for a xmas gift, the other was for me to replace my old non-functioning radio). That's the catch I thought - they probably want to bolster their year-end numbers. Okay by me, I just saved $120 on radios.

When the $73 charge showed up on my bill I thought, "yup, too good to be true -- I was only allowed to have one free one and now they are charging me for the second one." I was upset, having been told two were free and wasn't going to back down. But guess what? I called and the rep could not see what the charge was for. He figured it was "probably additional shipping charges " (for $73? What, were they going to hand deliver the radio?). At that point, I talked to the supervisor who also had trouble finding what the charge was for and put through a request for a refund. It was a very frustrating, and lengthy, phone interaction for all of us.

That brings me to my point: customer care professionals need to know what is going on. You can't sit someone down in front of a teleprompter and expect them to take care of customer problems. When a customer calls, they are calling because there is a problem, and chances are it's complex, otherwise they would have taken care of it on-line.

Training, training, training. I was about ready to cancel my subscription and go HD, but held back. The point is that the company (who I understand is in financial trouble) probably cut their training budget to save money, but how much money are they losing by losing customers? Probably more than it would have cost to properly train their call center reps.

I am still not convinced I'll ever see that refund, but either way the reps I talked to should have been able to find the charge and identify (1) what it was for and (2) whether or not it was valid. Plain and simple.

If you are a customer service manager, what kind of training do you have in place? A good customer service training program should include the following components:

1) Company's customer service standards (how to interact with customers).
2) Extensive systems training (reps should be able to find anything on the computer without asking. A good system training program includes plenty of real-life exercises).
3) Product knowledge (how a satellite radio works, what programs are available, what goes wrong and why).
4) Process knowledge (reps should know how their interactions are tied to other parts of the company and should have access to at least a visual display of their systems).

When I was with the local electric company, our meter changers and testers received all of this training, as did our customer call center reps. Our metering crews knew how a meter worked (and could take one apart and put it back together again), how the meter billing system worked (including who to call in the office if there is a billing problem), how to use the computer system, and how to interact with customers. It was all there. And you know what? The department received consistently high scores on their service skills and there were very few complaints.

So take the time to make sure your training is comprehensive and if you need help (shameless plug coming) drop me a line. I'll be more than happy to work with you in making sure your training meets the needs of your customers because really, that's why we're in business.