Monday, November 5, 2012

Which Pooh Customer Service Rep Are You?

I got to talking to a friend of mine the other day about books that shaped our spiritual beliefs.  One for me was The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff and its companion, The Te of Piglet.  While my copy of the Tao of Pooh is long gone, circling (hopefully) the hands of friends and friends-of-friends, I managed to dig up my old copy of The Te of Piglet.  Looking over the back cover, which characterized the major Pooh characters, I was struck by how they all represented one of the major customer service "archetypes."

For example, there is impulsive Tigger, always jumping off to his next adventure.

Sad and pessimistic Eeyore, never happy with anything.

The wise old owl, who over analyzes everything.

Rabbit, the rules stickler and know-it-all who likes to boss everyone around.

Then there is Pooh, loveable Pooh.  

And, of course, Christopher Robin and Piglet --brave and daring yet very unsure-of-himself Piglet.

Back Cover of Benjamin Hoff's "The Te of Piglet"

Am I right?  Sit around the break room of a call center and tell me I'm wrong.  Off the top of my head, I can think of several former colleagues who fit the description of one of these characters.

There are your Tiggers, who make judgements and decisions before gathering all the information.  They are the ones who know how to fix the problem before they know what it is, often jumping the gun and making matters worse.

Every call center has its Eeyore, i.e. the bellyacher.  The call stats aren't fair, the customers don't like him or her, the supervisor is on their butt too much.

I've met owls before -- on both ends of the phone.  The ones who insist on explaining how mail gets from point A to point B when all the customer wants to know is if the payment was posted.

All offices have the rabbits - the ones who think they're better than everyone else.  If only THEY were in charge, right?  They would know how to fix the call center's -- even the company's -- problems.

While Pooh himself might seem like an idea customer service rep let's face it, Pooh lacks a certain conviction in getting things done.  If you called Pooh about a problem, would you feel confident that it was getting fixed or that you were just getting a nice empathy statement?  I can see it now:

    CUSTOMER: I think you lost my payment.
    POOH: Oh bother.  Have you tried some honey for it?

You get the idea.

Piglet might make for a good customer service rep, but lacks the confidence needed to assure the customer.  These are the reps whose statements are peppered with comments like "maybes" and "shoulds."

That leaves Christopher Robin -- Easy to deal with, delightful to speak with, and willing to help.  In many ways, the ideal customer service rep.

So, which Pooh character are you?  Leave a comment below.  I get lonely sometimes.

Tashi Delek!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A New Way of Looking at Problems

I just finished reading Stephen's Covey's "The Third Alternative."  I've always been a big fan of his and I was sad to hear he had passed away.  His "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" changed my life and how I looked at life's problems.  The habit that really resonated with me was #4: Think Win-Win.  I had always thought life was a matter of winning or losing, but he showed me that with enough hard work and cooperation, both parties can win.  This is the premise of "The Third Alternative" -- that parties can reach an agreement that satisfies both.  When that isn't possible, according to Covey, parties should agree to disagree and part ways.

This is very true in customer service.  So many times when a customer has a problem both parties -- the customer service professional and the customer -- approach the problem as win-lose, as customer vs. customer service professional/company.  But I want to propose another approach.  If you're a customer service professional, why not enlist the aid of the customer in solving the problem?  If you're a customer, why not treat the customer service professional as your ally and not your adversary?  In other words, instead of looking at the problem as customer vs. customer service professional, look at it as customer AND customer service professional vs. the problem. Looking at customer service interactions from this perspective greatly increases the synergy (another Covey gem) between the parties and not only gets the work done, but does so in a way that increases customer loyalty.

How do you do this?  First, if you're a customer service professional, assure the customer that you want to help.  James Kirk, in the classic Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever, told Edith Keeler, played by Joan Collins, that the words "Let me help" would one day replace "I love you" as the three most beloved words in the galaxy.  If you are a customer, start your conversation with "I need your help" instead of "you people."  By the way, "you people" is probably the worst thing you can say to a customer service professional.

Second, work with the customer (or customer service professional) to identify the problem and be open to the fact that you, or the company, could be mistaken.  Remember, it's the customer and customer service professional versus the problem, not customer vs. customer service professional.

Finally, work out an amicable solution.  If that's not possible, as a customer you may decide it's time to take your business elsewhere (or just chalked it up as a "lesson learned") or as a customer service professional, it might be time to escalate the call to someone who can take their time with the customer and who has the authority to bend the rules (although I believe customer service professionals should have great leeway when it comes to bending rules).  Either way, you don't have to count it is a loss to anything but the problem.  And realistically, some problems (and some customers) are insurmountable.  I know we like to think we can solve every problem and make every customer happy, but we can't.  However, taking this approach will greatly increase the number of satisfied -- and loyal -- customers.

Next time you're faced with a problem, either in business or your personal life, try to go for win-win and try to see the problem as customer AND customer service professional (or you and your spouse) vs. the problem, not customer vs. customer service professional.

Tashi Delek!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Zen and the Art of Being Nice

You'd think that being nice would be a common human condition, especially in customer service, but the fact is that "nice" is hard to find these days and it's a shame, because I firmly believe that a "little sugar goes a long way" when it comes to delivering customer service.

For example, the other day I was in a chain hair salon waiting my turn for a hair cut.  It frustrates me that it seems like the stylists always go on break right before my turn (and I believe I'm a decent tipper and a quick cut so I don't think they're trying to avoid me) and this last time was no exception.  Just as it was my turn, she grabbed her cell and headed to the back room. I waited...and waited...and waited.  By the time she returned I was frustrated, had almost walked out, and was determined to leave a poor tip.  But you know what?  She came back, apologized for the delay, and explained the nature of her phone call -- her younger brother, who was supposed to pick up her daughter from day care, was stuck in traffic and may be late picking her up.  I could relate to that.  I've had children in day care before and if you don't pick them up before closing time, the day care charges you extra for the delay and if they don't hear from the parent after a short amount of time, they call the authorities.  It's not pretty and I completely understood.  Total redemption.

Contrast that with a hair stylist who would have come back and, without a word, started to cut my hair.  Big difference isn't it?  And what did the first hair stylist gain by cutting my hair?  A pleasant experience (came to find out her younger brother actually went to school with my daughter and I was facebook friends with her parents!) and a bigger tip.  Good customer service pays.

So in a nutshell, try to take care of your customer right away, but if you can't:

1) Apologize for the delay.
2) Explain, if appropriate, the delay.

Some customer service professionals might scoff at the idea of sharing personal information with customers.  You don't have to go into detail, a simple "Sorry, family emergency" or "Sorry, my boss wanted to speak with me" will suffice and will certainly be better than ignoring the fact you left your customer hanging.  We are all human and we understand.  No, not everyone will. but that's on them, not you.

Tashi Delek!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Is Consistency the Key to Successful Customer Service?

There are a lot of "secrets" to customer service: smiles, asking open-ended questions, paraphrasing what the customer is saying, thanking them for their business, and so on and so forth ad nauseam.  But honestly, without consistency it's all a waste of time.

Imagine this:  A customer late with their cell phone payment calls to make arrangements just as they did three months ago only to be told no, that can't be done. "Have you changed your policy?" the customer asks. "No, it's always been that way," the customer is told.  The customer pushes back, claiming it's done before, but is told that there is no record of that conversation.

How do you think the customer is feeling?  A bit of frustration?  You bet.  Now, there could be many reasons something like this happens -- maybe the customer was wrong, maybe the previous rep explained the policy wrong, or -- more likely -- one of the two representatives is wrong, which is completely unacceptable.  Or, worse yet, maybe both representatives knew the policy but one of them didn't want to apply it -- either the first didn't want to upset the customer by not accepting the late payment or the second knew they could take a late payment, but didn't want to be bothered by the extra work.

I work at a local health club with a very strict guest policy -- ID required and all guests must be accompanied by a member.  However, many of the associates working the front desk do not enforce that policy so where does that leave others?  For those associates trying to enforce the policy they are greeted with more resistance and upset guests -- and members. For the members and guests it means they don't know from one day to the next whether or not they'll be allowed in.  Managers are then forced to reconcile these problems leaving them with, frankly a mess.  A situation in which they either have to uphold the policy or appease the guest.

If a company has a policy it must be enforced -- consistently.  And if exceptions are allowed, the parameters by which exceptions can be made must be made clear to both staff and customers.  Managers and supervisors play a very important role in enforcing these policies but frankly, there are those who, just like the representative who does not wish to enforce the policy on their own, do not want to be bothered by the situation.

Yes, there are many "keys" to successful customer service, but without consistency, nothing else really matters.

Tashi Delek!