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Bringing you news, tips, and trends to help you deliver customer service at the next level.

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Next Level Customer Service Blog

News, tips, and trends to help you reach that next level of customer service.


Why you're training customers to complain via Twitter

An increasing number of companies are starting to do a great job of serving their customers via Twitter. That’s great news for service, right?

Well, it may also be a problem.

Companies that master the art of serving their customers via Twitter may be training their customers to skip traditional service channels like face-to-face, phone, and email so they can do all their complaining in public.

Here are three reasons why:

Broken Channels

Consumers generally want to address customer service issues directly with the company without resorting to Twitter.

A 2012 American Express study found that only 7 percent of customers look to social networking sites such as Twitter as their primary method of contacting customer service. Most customers prefer more traditional channels such as face-to-face, phone, email, or even a company website. Only 17 percent of consumers reported contacting a company via social media at least once in the past year.

Things change when the problem doesn’t get resolved. The SQM group estimates that the average call center fails to resolve 30 percent of problems on the first call. Customers who experience lingering customer service issues may be more likely to vent their frustrations on Twitter.

Executive Attention

I recently attended ICMI’s ACCE conference for call center professionals. Quite a few attendees told me that Twitter has gained prominence in their companies because it’s more visible to executives than other channels. These executives are also understandably worried about the negative word of mouth associated with customers ranting on Twitter.

More executive attention can lead to Twitter complaints getting top priority. This means the Twitter team gets better staffing levels so they can respond faster. They are more empowered so they can be more generous. It also means that fewer resources are devoted to improving other service channels.

Customers catch on quickly.

Elite Service

The first two factors are reinforced by Twitter teams that do a really good job.

I recently Tweeted a complaint to American Airlines after being told it would take 8 weeks to get reimbursed for clothes I had to buy when my suitcase was delayed. Their Twitter team responded almost instantly to request additional information and then promised me they’d get on it.

The American Airlines Twitter team evidently pulled some strings that other customer service reps wouldn't or couldn't pull because my check ended up arriving in just 4 weeks.

Given these results, why wouldn’t I automatically tweet American Airlines the next time I experience a customer service issue of any kind?


Perhaps the solutions seem obvious. Fix broken channels so customers get amazing service no matter how they choose to contact your company. Prioritize problems that cause your customers the biggest headaches, rather than your marketing and PR folks. Fix more problems on the first contact.

I have one additional suggestion: Spread some of that Twitter moxie to other channels.

Companies often infuse their Twitter customer service with a little personality because they know anyone can listen in. What if every call center representative answered the phone like the whole world was listening? Why not write customer service emails that we would be proud to see posted on the internet? 


Have companies defined outstanding customer service?

In his famous book, Built to Last, Jim Collins observed that companies that endure over a long period of time possess “cult-like cultures.” This is certainly true in customer service. Think of the companies best known for outstanding customer service and you’ll almost certainly find a strong, customer-focused culture.

These cultures are anchored by a clear definition of what outstanding customer service should look like. It gives employees, managers, and executives clear direction when making decisions that impact customers. Without a shared definition, it is very difficult for companies to provide consistent service since everyone has their own idea of what's best.

I recently conducted a survey to discover whether companies have created their own unique definition of outstanding customer service. 

Is outstanding service clearly defined?

Only 62 percent of respondents were positive that their organizations have defined outstanding customer service.

Has your organization created its own definition of outstanding customer service?These results indicate employees at a large number of companies may not have clarity when it comes to how they should treat their customers. 

Does company size matter?

Yes. The larger the company, the more likely it is that outstanding service has been clearly defined. The chart below shows the responses from small, medium, and large companies (based on number of employees).

Percentage of companies that have defined outstanding service, arranged by number of employees.

What do you think is the explanation for such a big gap between small and large employers?

Are employees aware of the definition?

Respondents that indicated their company had defined outstanding service were asked to estimate their employees' awareness of this definition on scale of 1 - 5. The responses indicate awareness is generally high when a shared definition exists. There wasn’t any variation among companies of different sizes so I'm showing the aggregrate data.

If your company has a definition of outstanding service, how aware are your employees?

This question was tricky because respondents were asked to estimate their employees’ awareness of their company’s definition of outstanding service. Do you think the results would be different if we actually quizzed employees in each of these companies?

In my own experience, and this is purely anecdotal, leaders tend to overestimate how well their employees know the company's definition of outstanding service. 


If your company doesn't yet have a clear definition of outstanding customer service, I suggest you create one right away. You can use my customer service vision worksheet if you're not sure where to begin.

If your company does have a clear definition of outstanding customer service, you've taken the first step on the journey to a customer-focused culture. You can use this guide to keep your company moving in the right direction.


ASTD 2013 ICE Conference Re-cap

I attended the ASTD 2013 International Conference & Exposition in Dallas, Texas last week. This is the premier conference for Training and Development professionals with an estimated 9,000 people in attendance. This conference is always important to me since training is at the core of what I do to help clients improve customer service.

Attending a conference like this can feel like drinking from a fire hose so I’ve put together a summary of my top take-aways from the conference.

Conference Overview
You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference.

Another great resource is a collection of David Kelley’s curated resources from the ASTD 2013 Backchannel. 

Conference Themes
These are the top three themes I took away from the conference.

Theme #1: Where's the Performance?
The whole point of training should be to help people perform their jobs better. This topic was conspicuously lacking at the conference.

The conference was certainly rich in content. There were wonderful sessions, keynotes, and vendors sharing the latest trends in learning. The place was abuzz with technology. You had to literally run and hide if you wanted to avoid networking with amazing people.

The missing piece was why any of this should matter. How can we do a better job of helping the employees we serve improve their performance?

Theme #2: Problem-centered Learning
Most training courses today are built around a specific collection of content. A problem-centered learning approach builds training around a specific problem. The content is only introduced (or discovered by participants) as they need it to help solve a problem. 

For example, let’s say you wanted to learn about geography. You could take a course that taught you all sorts of geographic facts. Or, you could try playing a round of GeoGuessr where you are shown a random location and must try to locate it on a world map. The game-based approach challenges you to develop your geography skills by examining clues in the picture to narrow down the location. (Warning: this game is addictive, especially if you try to beat my high score of 27,151.)

This theme promised to move us closer to performance if we can build training around real work challenges. For example, a customer service training program could be designed around around finding ways to improve customer satisfaction ratings. This could make the training much more useful than simply providing a set of generic customer service skills.

Theme #3: Technology
ASTD released its newly updated competency model in 2013. One of the biggest changes was the introduction of Learning Technologies as an area of expertise for the Training & Development Profession. This recognizes the growing influence of technology in how we deliver training and support our employees’ performance.

Two big technology themes at the conference were social and mobile learning. Social learning is a broad term, but at the conference it primarily meant using social technology like Twitter to help foster learning. Mobile referred to learning from a mobile device such as a phone or tablet. In many ways, conference attendees were doing both since we could access most of the session materials from a mobile application and many of us were exchanging ideas and resources via Twitter throughout the conference.

Another area where I see technology growing is the use of webinars for training. Most webinars today are delivered in a boring death-by-lecture format, but they can actually be highly engaging and interactive if facilitated correctly.

For example, I recently facilitated a customer service training program entirely via webinar for a call center client. The highly interactive class was split into one-hour sessions so participants could apply what they learned before focusing on a new skill. The sessions were highly rated and, more importantly, they used what they learned to improve customer service.

If you attended the conference, or tuned in via Twitter, what were your take-aways?


Three tools that make training more effective

So you've decided to send your employees to training. Maybe it's customer service training, or a time management workshop, or perhaps it's a life-changing transformational leadership development experience.

Whatever it is, you are probably about to waste a lot of time and money.

The goal of training should be to help people improve performance. Many training programs focus instead on delivering information. In many cases, it may not even be the right information.

Fortunately, a some simple adjustments can change all this. I've assembled a few of my favorite tools to help your next training event deliver results.

Learning Objectives Worksheet
Many training programs fail to achieve their goals because, well, there are no goals. You can fix this by writing goals that target the specific performance areas you are trying to improve. This worksheet uses the classic A-B-C-D model:

  • Audience: Who is being trained?
  • Behavior: What will they be able to do?
  • Condition: Under what conditions will do it?
  • Degree: How well must they do it?

Download the Worksheet

Workshop Planner
Preparation and follow-up are the keys to a successful training program. This tool helps you perform a simple needs analysis and then create an action plan to maximize the training's impact. And, it's all done on one page.

Download the Worksheet

Employee Development Worksheet
Many Individual Development Plans (IDPs) fall short because they focus on activities rather than results. It really doesn't matter how many books you read or conferences you attend or training classes sign up for. What matters is whether you can use those books, conferences, and training classes to improve performance.

The employee development worksheet helps create a targeted IDP that gets results. 

Download the Worksheet


ACCE 2013 Conference Re-cap

I attended ICMI's ACCE 2013 conference in Seattle, WA this week. This was the 10th anniversary edition of the premier global gathering for contact center professionals.

If you are like me, you find it hard to keep track of all the brilliant ideas, inspiring speakers, and helpful contacts you come across at a conference like this. And, it's sometimes just too difficult to choose between going to one session or another! 

With this in mind, I’ve put together a brief re-cap of some of the conference highlights.

Conference Overview
You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference if you didn’t attend.

I owe a special note of thanks to Voiance Language Services for giving out copies of my book, Service Failure. They made me feel like a star. When people asked how to get my book I was able to send them over to Voiance’s booth in the expo hall!

Conference Themes
Three themes really stood out for me.

Theme #1: Multi-channel customer engagement
Contact centers are interacting with customers in more ways than ever before. We’ve moved beyond phone and email to engage customers with chat, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, text, mobile, and other means. Some customer conversations span multiple channels which makes keeping track of everything even more challenging.

Kathy Hutchens from Sharp Rees-Stealy and David McCann from Varolii co-presented an interesting session on this topic. They talked about ways that Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers engaged customers through multiple channels by learning and acting upon customer preferences. Hutchens gave the example that picking the right channel for appointment reminder notices reduced appointment no-shows by 25 percent.

Many participants told me their companies are still struggling to determine who owns some of these channels. I think this Tweet may have said it best:

Theme #2: Technology + People = Success
Technology was a hot topic. It dominated the exhibit hall. Many participants were in search of new technology solutions for their contact centers. It was even a hot topic on the call center tours.

The most successful uses of technology also accounted for the people using it. For example, technology is making it easier than ever before for contact centers to utilize home-based agents. I toured the Starbucks call center where I learned some of their best people practices for making home-based agents successful.

The tour featured a coffee tasting hosted by some of the contact center employees (known as Partners as Starbucks). One of our hosts was a home-based agent who participated via conference call. Their home-based agents regularly participated in these types of events to maintain their connection to the team.

Theme #3: Resource Constraints
Many contact centers don’t have a lot of resources. This puts a lot of technological solutions out of reach, but they still have to find a way to get the job down.

One example came from Tamara Taylor and Dorian Anid at Abbot Vascular. They were part of a session on creative solutions at small call centers. Taylor and Anid used Microsoft Access to create their own CRM system after their request to buy a technology solution was denied. Their homemade system has helped reps work more effectively, but it is also enabling Taylor and Anid to gather data to make a business case for a more robust solution.

I also participated in a roundtable discussion about gathering voice of the customer feedback. The discussion was hosted by Josh Chapman from Chapman’s company employs a lot of sophisticated tools and third-party research firms to gather useful VOC data. This makes sense for, but what about a small contact center with no budget for VOC? The roundtable participants discussed a simple solution where the contact center could leverage their company’s existing Survey Monkey account to start a rudimentary VOC program at no cost. It was a small step, but would still yield data they could use to improve customer satisfaction.

On a side note, Josh Chapman was one of several people honored at ICMI’s Global Call Center Awards Dinner. He won the Customer Service Business Leader of the year award and created a memorable moment where his wife tuned into the ceremony via Facetime to see his acceptance speech. 

If you attended, what were your biggest take-aways?