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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.


Never reward employees for outstanding survey scores

The Westin Portland is one of my favorite hotels. Their warm and attentive associates always make me feel welcome and you can’t beat their location in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. I’ve stayed their many times over the years and have come to feel like the hotel is my home away from home.

When I started writing my customer service book in 2011, I interviewed then General Manager Chris Lorino to learn some of the hotel’s service secrets. One of Lorino’s strongest beliefs was that you should never reward employees for achieving outstanding survey scores. He felt it was important to build a team of people who naturally wanted to serve guests at the highest level. In Lorino's opinion, a reward system would inevitably get in the way.

Both leading research on employee motivation and Lorino’s own success as a General Manager suggest that he is absolutely correct.

Rewards vs. Recognition

It’s important to differentiate between rewards and recognition. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that employees shouldn’t be rewarded for outstanding service, but go ahead and recognize them all you want.

Rewards are if-then propositions. The prize and the criteria for earning the prize are spelled out ahead of time. For example, if you average a certain score on your customer service survey, then you will get a gift card.

Recognition is unexpected reinforcement of results that have already been achieved. An example would be giving an employee a gift card out of the blue to thank them for achieving a high average score on their customer service survey.

Eyes On the Prize

The biggest problem with rewarding employees for good customer service is it takes their attention away from providing outstanding service and re-focuses them on winning the prize.

We’ve probably all seen examples of the behavior changes this can cause:

  • Directly asking customers to provide the top score on a survey
  • Selectively encouraging only highly satisfied customers to complete a survey
  • Submitting phony surveys to bolster scores (yes, this happens)

The Goal is not the Goal

What’s the purpose of conducting a customer service survey?

When employees are rewarded for achieving a certain score they may act as though achieving that score is the ultimate goal. However, most customer service professionals will tell you that the survey is really a tool that can be used for continuous improvement.

Here are a few ways that focusing solely on a survey goal might prevent continuous improvement:

  • Employees may care less about service failures if the average looks good.
  • It lessens the need for analysis to identify customer pain points.
  • Employees may stop trying if they feel there’s nothing left to prove.

Let’s imagine a survey of 100 customers where 90 are satisfied and 10 are unhappy. If my employees are focused on achieving a specific target, they may feel great about a 90% customer satisfaction level. However, they’ll be much more eager to find out how to win over the other 10% if their true focus is continuous improvement.

So, how do I motivate the team?

If you want to learn more about the science behind rewards and employee motivation, check out Daniel Pink’s fascinating book, Drive. Pink's biggest point is that the true motivating factors are purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Let's look at each one in a customer service context:

The very best organizations have a clear and compelling customer service vision that describes the type of service they're hoping to provide. It's amazing what happens when the whole team is unified around a common objective. 

Nobody wants to be micromanaged. Give people the resources, training, and authority to get the job done right and then get out of their way and you'll see people taking responsibility for the results they achieve.

We all want to be good at what we do. Help bring out the best in employees through coaching, training, and continuous feedback and you'll find that people will step up to the challenge of becoming the very best they can be.


Survey: How quickly should people respond to email?

It's time once again for my annual email response time survey. Click this link to access the survey if don't see it on your screen.  


Contact Center Conference Spring 2013 Re-cap

Last week was a real treat. It was the first week this year that I didn't travel, but I still got to attend an amazing conference in my hometown of San Diego.

Here's my re-cap of Contact Center Conference Spring 2013.

Conference Overview
If you didn't attend, you may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference:

Conference Themes
I always look for the topics that people are buzzing about at a conference. There were at least three major themes I encountered at Contact Center Conference Spring 2013.

Theme #1: We can do much more with our quality assurance data
Contact centers generally gather a lot of quality assurance (QA) data from monitoring calls and other interactions, but several speakers made a compelling case for using this data much more wisely.

John Goodman, author of Strategic Customer Service, suggested call centers should take at least 50% of their QA staff away from monitoring calls and refocus them on analyzing the root causes of service failures so they can help prevent problems from happening. 

Rebecca Gibson, a Contact Center Solutions Consultant at Interactive Intelligence, made the case in her session that contact centers should correlate the behaviors we monitor with the results we're trying to achieve. This approach enables the QA function to focus on behaviors that actually contribute to good performance rather than a generic set of standards.

Theme #2: We're still not where we need to be with social media
This is such an interesting topic because the importance of social media is widely recognized, but best practices and standards for contact centers are still in their infancy. 

Kristyn Emenecker, VP of Product Marketing at inContact, cited a FastCompany article that estimated Dave Carroll's viral video about United Airlines breaking his guitar may have cost the airline nearly $180 million. The lesson was that today's unhappy customer has the potential ability to tell thousands or even millions of people about it, but smart companies can proactively use social media to create positive impressions with their customers.

Contact Center Consultant Michael Pace gave a nice overview of how to get started and posted his presentation on SlideShare: 5 Steps to Building a Social Customer Service Team. One particularly interesting stat was that 55% of the top 50 brands don't respond to comments on Facebook and 71% ignore compalints on Twitter. Yikes!

Theme #3: Focus on FCR, not productivity
I spoke with several contact center leaders who were trying to focus their teams on First Call Resolution (FCR) while de-emphasizing more traditional metrics like Average Handle Time (AHT).

This is a theme I've personally championed. See my article: Call Center Metrics that Can Hurt Service.

This type of initiative is not without its challenges. One call center manager told me he wanted to take down the display boards that broadcast metrics like wait times, calls in queue, etc. so his team could focus on one customer at a time. This move was vetoed by an executive who felt they had paid for the displays so they might as well use them. 

If you attended the conference, what was your biggest take-away?


Good people giving poor service at American Airlines

John Goodman noted in his book, Strategic Customer Service, that 60% of service failures are caused by poor products, processes, and marketing messages. My travel experience on American Airlines last week illustrated this concept perfectly.

I flew from San Diego to Washington D.C.’s Reagan International Airport (DCA) with a layover in JFK. There was a tight connection due to some weather-related delays, but I made my flight. I worried about my bag making it too, but the captain assured us that they were able to wait for all passengers and baggage to make it onboard before departing.

Service Failure #1: My bag didn’t make it on to my flight to DCA.

The baggage counter employee told me that my bag was still at JFK and was being routed to DCA on a Delta Airlines flight scheduled to land around 10:30 pm. She told me they could deliver the bag to my hotel at midnight, which was okay since I had until 11:30 am before I needed to meet my client.

Service Failure #2: The clock struck midnight with no sign of my suitcase.

I tried to look up my bag’s status on the American Airlines bag status website, but it was useless:

Next, I called the 1-800 line for lost baggage and spoke with a very kind person named Kimberly. Unfortunately, she couldn’t give much of an update since she her database contained very little information. She did confirm that my suitcase wouldn’t be delivered that night and suggested I check again in the morning.

I called again at 7 am and spoke with another nice person named Bob. He couldn’t tell me when my bag would be delivered either, but he did tell me it had arrived the night before on the Delta flight. He suggested that I go to the airport and pick it up there if I wanted to ensure I received it as quickly as possible.

Service Failure #3: My suitcase never made it to DCA because the Delta Airlines flight from JFK had been cancelled.

It was clear by now that the American Airlines system used to track and retrieve lost and delayed baggage was broken. A broken system is only as good as the weakest link in the chain and will continue to fail until that link is repaired.

Fortunately, Raleigh was working at the baggage counter when I arrived around 7:30 am. He had clearly been around the block a few times and knew that the system wasn’t fully reliable. Raleigh set more reasonable expectations than the other employees, telling me that my suitcase was now scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C. at 10:30 am, and wouldn’t be delivered to my hotel until sometime after noon. He also cautioned me that they wouldn’t know exactly where my suitcase was until Delta handed it back to American since their systems didn’t talk to each other.

Raleigh gave me his direct phone number and assured me he would do everything he could to ensure my bag was found and delivered to my hotel. He was apparently violating some minor policy by giving me the direct line for the baggage counter, but really good customer service employees know when to bend the rules.

It was now only 8 am and the stores at the local mall didn’t open until 10, so I had some time to kill before going out to get new clothes. I was a little stressed since that didn’t leave me much time before my 11:30 am client meeting, but felt I had enough time to make it work.

As I walked through the terminal I saw an oasis - a Jos. A. Banks clothing store, open and ready for business.

Two associates named Fekadu and Alena helped me pick out an outfit for the day. They had everything I needed, all the way down to socks and underwear. Both were incredibly helpful and empathetic to my situation and. I actually felt good as I left the store with my new clothes.

Fortunately, my client meeting went well and my suitcase was in my hotel room when I returned later that evening.

I still have another hurdle or two to cross with American Airlines. I’ll expect them to refund my baggage fee for the delayed bag plus reimburse me for the clothes I purchased. Hopefully, that part of the system isn’t as broken as the baggage and retrieval part was. If it is, I’ll have to give my new friend Raleigh a call and see what he can do.


The impact of great ideas poorly executed

Years ago, I received a handwritten thank you card from someone I had interviewed for a Training Coordinator position. This really stood out for three reasons.

First, I'm a big proponent of using the handwritten note to create more personal relationships with your most important customers. 

Second, very few candidates for this position had bothered to send any form of follow-up correspondence, so the card made this particular candidate even more distinctive.

Third, well, it's better just to show you. Here's the front of the card:

The message inside was the standard "Thank you for interviewing me, I'm very interested in the job." However, it was the post script that really caught my attention:

For my readers who aren't familiar with San Diego, the Hillcrest neighborhood has a large LGBT population. I'll never know why this person felt the need to point this out in a thank you card. However, this comment did make it easy for me to rule out this candidate for the position.

This card also serves as an excellent example that it's sometimes a better idea not to do something at all than to do it poorly.