Tag Archives: Customer Service

A Small Cog in the Works

Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.
Esther 10:3 (NIV)

I found myself working with a small Inside Sales team that was a small cog in the works of a large business silo of a global corporate empire. The fact that we had this gig was a bit of a minor miracle. You see, the corporation they worked for didn’t care about their customers. The corporation didn’t survey their customers because they didn’t want to know. The corporation made it virtually impossible for customers to reach the right people by virtue of a labyrinthine phone system in which you could get lost for days among vague menu choices, endless loops, ignorant operators, and unempowered employees who long ago ceased to care. The corporate system was set up to serve the system itself. Customers were treated as a necessary nuisance.

So, how in the world did I end up there?

There was one front-line manager in charge of this small Inside Sales team. He couldn’t do anything about the corporate empire, the phone system, or any of the other teams, departments, divisions, or silos of the system. He determined, however, that he could control his little cog buried in the systemic works. He hired me and my team to help his little team to apply what I call Customer Service Rule #1: Do the best you can with what you have.

The sheer size and scope of the corporate system working against their efforts made it feel, at times, like we were Quixote tilting at windmills. Still, I had to admire the manager and his team for their courage to make a small difference and do their best to do the right thing for customers in a corporate environment that would never support their efforts, and would only undermine those efforts time and time again.

Over the past weeks on this chapter-a-day journey, I’ve been making my way through what’s known as the exilic books of God’s Message. It was a period of history when the ancient Israelites had been taken into captivity and were ruled by the Assyrian, Babylonian, Median, and Persian empires. Individuals like Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai were strangers in a strange land. They were despised by many and the odds were stacked against them in a myriad of ways. Yet, their stories tell of God using these small individual cogs to accomplish His work in the foreign empirical machines and the often horrific circumstances in which they found themselves.

Today’s final chapter of Esther is simply a brief epilogue that honors Mordecai for his accomplishments. It’s a literary epitaph of sorts and it leaves us with the reminder that Mordecai rose to power because concerned himself with the needs of all his people and worked tirelessly for the welfare of others.

I find myself reminded of two statements this morning. One from Peter’s letter to the believers who, like the Jewish exiles, were scattered by persecution around the Roman world:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
1 Peter 5:6 (NIV)

The other from the prophet Micah:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.
Micah 6:8 (MSG)

The exiles were like the Inside Sales team that I and my team worked with inside their own corporate empire. In many ways, that Inside Sales team was small, impotent, and relatively insignificant in the grand corporate scheme of things. But, they chose to humbly do the best they could each day to serve as best they could with what little power and influence they had. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that along life’s road I will encounter many situations and circumstances that are out of my control. There are so many times when I’m really powerless to make a significant change to large problems. The exiles provide a good example to follow as they, themselves, heeded Micah’s advice. I can do the same. Humbly, quietly, mercifully, faithfully do the best I can each day, in every circumstance, with what I have.

Love in the Ordinary

Do everything in love.
1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV)

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren  reminded me of what I fear is a largely forgotten and much needed truth. In a culture that worships bucket list experiences and adrenaline rushes, it is easy to allow the experience-seeker mentality to skew my spiritual life. I allow the mundane, everyday routines to become disconnected from spirit. In my mind they become the Life-less tasks I must necessarily trudge through to get to the next  mountaintop spiritual experience. Warren brought back into focus for me that in Jesus, everything is connected. Everything is sacred.

Wendy’s and my household is, I assume, like most married households. There are tasks that are my responsibility. The lawn care and snow removal, for example. It’s not that Wendy can’t do these things or assist with them. She grew up on a farm and can chore with the best of them. I just take them on as my responsibility. There are tasks Wendy takes on for herself. The laundry and the kitchen/pantry administration, for example. It’s not that I couldn’t capably do either, but Wendy likes these done a certain way so she just takes them on as her own. And then, there are household tasks that we share.

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, he ends his letter by admonishing them to “do everything in love.” As I mulled over this simple command, I realized that it’s easy for me to apply that “experience seeking” mentality to this simple relational command. It’s also easy to assume that Paul is talking about being loving in all my relationships, to be a Good Samaritan, and to be loving toward outcasts and my enemies.  But, then I looked again. I realized that’s not what he wrote. He didn’t write “Be loving towards everyone” he wrote “Do everything (i.e. Laundry? Lawn care? Making the bed? Fixing supper? Washing the dishes?) in love. All of a sudden, this simple command takes on a whole new layer of meaning.

In my job I assess and train people in the art of giving good customer service. Quite regularly I am working with individuals who are tasked with serving co-workers (a corporate help-desk, for example). Other teams are tasked with serving the same key customers on a daily basis, and they often have very close, very personal relationships with these customers. I commonly have these team members argue that the customer service techniques I teach them “don’t apply” to them.

They’re not customers. They’re co-workers,” the help-desk agent will say to me.

He’s not like a customer. I talk to him on the phone every day. Sometimes it’s multiple times a day. He’s a friend. I don’t need to do all this customer service stuff with him. It would sound silly,” the key account  manager will say to me.

What are these service skills I’m asking of them?

  • Take ownership of a situation, say what you’ll do.
  • If something doesn’t go right, express empathy. Apologize.
  • Make sure you’ve met the need. Ask if they need anything else.
  • Express gratitude.

What these agents are arguing is that the closer you are to another person, you are excused from giving him or her exceptional service. The more intimate you become, the more you are free to just slide and “get by.” These mundane, everyday relationships don’t require good communication of active commitment, empathy, willingness, or gratitude. Wow. No wonder so many relationships are in trouble.

At that point I will usually tell a joke. Imagine if I told Wendy on the day we married, “I told you I love you today in front of everybody. So, now you know. If it ever changes I’ll let you know.” My challenger wife would have a few words of challenge for me.

I argue that the closer the relationship, the more everyday, mundane daily relationship that is shared between two individuals, the more I should want my communication to be a steady stream of commitment, empathy, willingness, gratitude, and love. Of course the words are going to be different and more familiar. Of course it’s going to look and sound more subtle, more intimate, and familiar than with a new acquaintance. Nevertheless, a healthy relationship requires it.

Last week I went out to blow 10 inches of heavy snow off our sidewalks and drive way in the dark while I was sick with a cold. When I walked in the house Wendy thanked me for doing it. She didn’t just thank me because it was hard, or I happened to be sick. She always thanks me. I can’t remember the last time I did the lawn or the driveway and Wendy didn’t immediately thank me when I walked in the house. In the same way, whenever Wendy finishes a day of multiple laundry loads I express my appreciation for it.

When Wendy asks me to do something for her, I always try to respond with what I teach my clients is called an ownership statement. It’s a statement of what you”can” or “will” do for a person that also expresses a positive attitude in doing so. “Sure, babe,” I say, “I’ll be happy to.” There is no one else who does as much for me everyday as Wendy. There is no one who deserves an ownership statement from me as much as she does.

Do  everything” Paul wrote, “in love.” In the quiet of my hotel room this morning I’m really mulling that over. It’s not just the big public actions that every one can see, but the ordinary, repetitive daily actions that hardly anyone sees. What does it mean for me to make coffee in the morning in love? To do my daily chores in love? To mow  the lawn in love? To answer my emails in love?

In order to answer that question, I have to be open to embracing the Liturgy of the Ordinary.

The Power of Expressing “Willingness”

not because you must, but because you are willing
1 Peter 5:2 (NIV)

My company measures service quality (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for quality assurance and training purposes“) and then we train and coach agents how to provide a better customer experience when talking on the phone or other mediums of communication.

I’ve always taught my clients that Rule #1 of Customer Service is “do the best you can with what you have” because every team member at every level of the organization is limited in some way. The problem is that we tend to get mired in the excuses and frustrations of what we can’t do instead of what we can. Front line agents may not be empowered to functionally do everything for the customer they would like to do, but they often underestimate the power they have to positively impact the customer experience simply by what they say and how they say it.

One of the most under utilized skills in customer service is expressing a willingness to help, to listen, to take responsibility, and to serve. In the business world we call it an “ownership statement.”

Here’s what I hear on about 95 percent of the calls I assess:

Customer: I have a question about my account.
Agent: Account number?

That’s an agent doing what they are obligated to do. But when you simply and consistently communicate a positive, willing attitude you improve the customer experience:

Customer: I have a question about my account.
Agent: Sure, Mr. Vander Well. I’ll be happy to help. May I have your account number, please?”

There is so much power in simply communicating a positive, willing spirit. And it goes so much further than customer service business transactions. This is what Peter was getting at in this morning’s chapter when he told the leaders among Jesus’ followers to carry out their responsibilities “not out of obligation but because you are willing.” I can improve how I relate with my friends, family, and loved ones simply by learning to consistently communicate willingness:

Friend: Hey Tom, are you available to help me move a piano?
Me: Happy to help. When do you need me to be there?

Wendy: Tom? Will you carry the laundry to the laundry room?
Me: You got it, my love. Laundry Man is on his way.

Madison: Dad? Can you get me a new insurance card?
Me: I’d love to, sweetie. Let me call our agent and arrange it.

I know it sounds simple because it is. We can positively impact every one of our interpersonal relationship experiences by simply and consistently communicating a little positive willingness. And, my experience is that “what goes around, comes around.” Give a little positive willingness and you just might find that “it will be given unto you.”

I’m going to focus on expressing willingness with every opportunity I’m given today. Will you join me?

An Open Letter to Buffalo Wild Wings

source: mike mozart via flickr
source: mike mozart via flickr

Note: I tried to send this to you privately via your website but 1) the location I visited wasn’t listed on your website and 2) you didn’t give me enough room on your contact form to share my experience.

I am a loyal BWW customer. I travel around the country on business and always seek out BWW because 1) your naked tenders are [relatively] healthy 2) I’m usually alone and your Trivia is a fun way to waste an evening, and 3) I can watch my beloved Cubbies wherever I happen to be in the country.

I’m in San Antonio, Texas tonight and went into your Windcrest location at I-35 and I-410.

Disclaimer: I’m a 20+ year Customer Service consultant, which gives me a lot of empathy for companies and their Customer Service challenges. It also means that I’m very sensitive to customer expectation, customer experience, and customer satisfaction. I also sought out your BWW location and drove 20 minutes in rush hour traffic to get there rather than eating at the Chili’s across the street from my hotel.

I entered about 6:10 p.m. It seems to be a new location for you. The crowd was light. There were more staff members than customers. A manager was parked at a table with a stack of applications or some kind of “new hire” sheets. Cool. Spacious. Clean. I’m impressed.

For the record, I’m a creature of habit. My routine when I’m by myself on the road is to go straight to the bar and order 1) a tall, cold Miller Lite 2) four naked tenders, hot bbq, and fries 3) the Cubs game on just one of the 3 million screens before me. Tonight, I stuck to my routine.

The nice bartender immediately asks for my I.D. I turn 50 next April, and am almost completely gray, but I appreciate the law, am respectful of the request, and am always happy to pull out my I.D. The bartender asks if she can take my Drivers License to show her manager. My immediate reaction was to laugh and think, “Sure! I don’t care. I’ve got nothing to hide.” As she disappeared through the kitchen door, however, I thought to myself: “Wait a minute. I’m in Texas, which is a border state. What if she’s making a photo copy of my license? What if she’s scanning it? Have I suddenly become the victim of identity theft?!” (Disclaimer: My hotel room in Texas was robbed in January, making me a little sensitive and a wee bit cynical.)

The bartender returned a few minutes later, a manger behind her, and gave me back my license. I asked her what the problem was and she told me that she had to have it approved since it was an out of state license. I get it. In retrospect I would have appreciated her asking the manager to come and take a look at it rather than disappearing in the back with my license, but okay.

I settled in. I thought my request for the Cubs on a screen was fulfilled when FoxSports1 did a live look in, but then realized it was just a cameo. I asked again. This time it was a different bartender (the one who took my license seemed to have gone off shift). A few minutes later he asked if the game was up yet. I told him it wasn’t. He asked again.

As at Sam’s Cafe American in Casablanca, “Time Goes By.”

My food arrives. “Is there anything else?” the bartender asks.

Yes, I still don’t have the Cubs on any of these screens.”

He apologizes and leaves to get a manager who comes and says they’ll take care of it. Still no Cubs. Manager comes to check a few minutes later. Nope. No Cubs. They start asking each other what channel.

It’s 665,” I tell them. I’m a fan. I have DirecTV. I’ve been in countless BWWs and I know you all have DirecTV too. They are impressed. Me, less so.

I’m eating. I’m waiting. Into my fourth naked tender the Cubs game appears on three screens.

There you go! Three screens!” I’m told.

Thanks,” I think to myself as I sink my teeth into my final bite of naked tender. It’s 6:45. I’ve been there over a half-hour, and am almost done with my meal.

As a loyal BWW customer, I’m telling you that this experience fell below expectation. However, I feel better having gotten it off my chest. Thanks for listening.

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

QA

Q is for “Quality Assessment.” For twenty years I have spent my days listening to and analyzing recordings of phone calls (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes“). I’ve analyzed the calls of sales people, customer service reps, collectors, credit analysts, tech support reps, receptionists, engineers, bankers, 401k specialists, internal help desk reps, and attorneys (just to name a few). At one point I tried to guesstimate the number of phone calls I’d analyzed in my career but when I realized that it was well into the tens of thousands I simply chose to put it out of my mind.

The analysis we do is methodical, objective and thorough. The goal is to mine “moments of truth” when the customer is interacting with our client’s company so we can unearth opportunities to continuously improve the customer experience both from from a communication standpoint (e.g. What the agent says and how he/she says it) and a systemic standpoint (e.g. What policies/procedures aren’t working for the customer?). Because the data is tracked over time we can quantify improvements and declines. Our data and reports are used in executive strategy sessions, shareholder meetings, as well as in front-line performance management sessions.

Our smallest client is a small manufacturing company that began with one guy answering the phone to take orders and provide customer service. Fifteen years later the company leads their niche industry and that one guy is managing a team of six people. We’re still listening, analyzing, and coaching them. With our largest clients we manage the analysis, reporting, training, and coaching of hundreds of agents from multiple teams in different office locations, even in different countries.

Speaking of which, I better finish this post. I have calls to analyze 🙂

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