Archive for ‘Customer Service Comment’

February 3, 2012

Why the RBS Bonus Furore Should Give All Employers Pause for Thought About Rewards

So ex-RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin is now plain old “Fred the Pleb”, having been stripped of his Knighthood for leading (pushing?) the bank off the economic gang-plank.  And now the current boss, Stephen Hester has been forced to hand back his hefty share bonus after political and media furore in theUK.

Both of them were deprived of their performance-related honorific or financial reward because of a perceived or real mismatch between what they got and what they had actually achieved

Stephen Hester’s reward package was put together when he joined the organisation in 2008, just after the taxpayer bailout of the failing bank and the organisation was desperate to find the right person to get the bank back on track.

But the leaders clearly made a classic reward package error – they failed to align their reward system with the true values of the business.   In other words, the company misjudged the feelings of the new owners – ie, the millions of British taxpayers who through the government now effectively own a majority of shares in the bank..

It’s an easy mistake to make: and one that many other companies commit when creating reward systems for their employees.  Instead of ensuring that employee reward is linked to the values of the business (in this case influenced extensively by the public and the politicians), they look at micro-performance and reward for individual achievements measured in a simplistic quantitative way.

To be fair it is a complicated business. And it’s no easier getting a reward system right for customer service employees than it is for chief executives.  It involves addressing difficult strategic questions like:

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January 20, 2012

Yoo-hoo, Over Here, It’s the Voice of the Customer: Do You Compute?

In a recent article in, Helen Murray laments the plight of call centre agents who have to listen to the same old customer complaints over and over again.

Too true.

Then she goes on to argue that this is because many companies don’t have the processes or solutions to appreciate the customer’s perspective.

Not true.

Many of the points that Helen Murray makes are valid and pertinent to a consideration of how to improve customer service. Listening to the “Voice of the Customer” will reveal invaluable information about how to improve strategy, service and products. Good organisations will use the means at their disposal to gather information from a wide range of sources including social media, call centre calls, forums, and digital and traditional correspondence. Many organisations are not doing this and are missing out on opportunities to learn and advance from a better understanding of what they are doing right and wrong in the eyes of their customers.

But there we part company.

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November 24, 2011

Anatomy of a Service Failure. How to Lose an Online Customer in 3 Easy Steps

Like a great many working parents, I do as much shopping as I can online.  It saves time and effort and reduces my carbon footprint.  Ok, I admit the last point is a happy coincidence and poor relation to the first two motivations, but I am working on it.

The point is that I and people like me are core customers of all the retailers who sell their wares in what everyone knows is a highly competitive marketplace.  However, I seem to have made the basic school-girl error of thinking that retailers understand that and more importantly that this makes me valuable to them and so every once in a while I am brought down to earth with an eye-opening bump. 

A bump that shocks me out of the inertia effect or “loyalty” so depended upon by banks, utility providers and others to keep us unthinkingly buying our services from the same organisations, despite increasing costs and the quiet downward creep of interest rates and value.  A bump which means I vow never to buy from that company again.  Service failure and no more chance of recovery.

For all the PR huff and puff about providing online ordering and delivery to make life easier and cheaper for us “valued” customers, the reality on the ground is rather different.  And it is pretty easy to lose a customer forever.  A recent experience with a big-name value retailer reminded me that there are 3 simple steps to making sure you don’t get another chance with the customer.

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October 13, 2011

Nothing New Under the Human Nature Sun: Why we Already Know How to “Win Friends and Influence People In the Digital Age”

Dale Carnegie’s classic 1936 best-seller “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has had a social media era update.

Taking all the tried and tested methods of Carnegie’s ground-breaking guide to successful personal influence, this new version from the company that bears his name seeks to explore how the age of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin have changed the nature of successful business and other social relationships.

It’s fair to say that, so far, the critics don’t like it.  The New York Times described it as “radically hapless”, suggests it has been composed using “refrigerator magnets stamped with corporate lingo” and expresses relief that we can all pretend the book has never been published, since the original version is thankfully still available in all good bookshops. 

As you would expect from a good literary critic, there is much emphasis on use of language and its failure to engage.  However, there is also passing mention of something much more pertinent to customer service professionals and customers – whether this book tells us something new about our relationships in our vastly different world of digital communication and social media.

What is fascinating is that the answer is no.  But not because it fails to get to grips with what is important or doesn’t offer ways in which we can navigate ourselves to happy and productive relationships using all the new technology we now have. The answer is no simply because Dale Carnegie’s advice of 75 years ago is still as valid and fresh as it was when a letter or a personal call were really the only ways to communicate. 

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September 30, 2011

In the City, You are Never More Than 6 Feet from a Customer Service Employee….

… to borrow from a well-known “ick-factor” myth.   Now whether or not it is true that in a city you are never more than 6 feet from a rat, a new survey from the Institute of Customer Service confirms that we are indeed very likely to be close to a customer service employee, given the dramatic rise in the number of people employed in these roles.

The number of people employed in customer service occupations has tripled since 2002 and now stands at 328, 000 which is 1.5% of the employed adult population. 

This means that there are slightly more customer service employees than accountants, more than twice as many as CIPD-registered Human Resources professionals and almost three times as many customer service employees as the number of practicing lawyers and Gas Safe heating engineers, prompting the Institute of Customer Service (IoCS) to argue for the professionalisation of the role.

It would certainly reflect the importance of the role to the economy, as the IoCS study reports that almost 77% of the UK’s GDP is now service related.  However, given that average earnings for customer service employees are 34% below the national average wage (£14,868 vs £22,568), the appropriateness of the urban myth of the title takes on another nuance.

Could it be that a good many employers are significantly undervaluing their customer service employees and the return on investment they bring? 

Are they concentrating on “putting bums on seats” rather than considering the unique qualities that enable someone to deliver outstanding and engaging brand-specific customer service?

Might they even have a view of the people who fill their critical customer-facing roles that indicates a “lesser species” mentality?

Yes it’s harsh and probably unfair, but let’s face it – the average customer service employee is paid only just over minimum wage, retention rates are expected to be low and at the coal-face individuals often feel eminently expendable and replaceable.  And aren’t customer service employees in contact centres often herded together en-masse in separate buildings to other employees, given highly controlled work to do and subjected to “special” management practices and expectations in order to get them to perform? 

I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that there may be similarities to the conditions of a lab rat. 

But, of course, this isn’t the whole picture. 

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August 25, 2011

A Cautionary Tale: Always Assume Your Next Customer is Famous

Let’s face it – anyone can have an off day.

But it’s a pretty spectacular off-day when a customer you tetchily call a “busybody” turns out to be an internationally known comedian with a show to develop for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

That’s precisely what happened to one hapless Virgin Atlantic employee and now her insult has become the title of comedian Shazia Mirza’s 2011 Edinburgh show, “Busybody”.

To be fair, the show, which has just received a 4-star review from the Scotsman, concerns not just this one incident but a myriad of tales about getting involved in other people’s business.  However, choosing the Virgin Atlantic incident as inspiration for the title of the show means that in the process of promoting her show across the media, Shazia has been asked to explain the origin of the title again and again.  So now, not only the hundreds or thousands of people who have seen her Edinburgh show know that a Virgin Atlantic employee threw an off-hand insult her way, but also the hundreds of thousands who have heard her on recent arts programmes or who have read her reviews. 

Is it fair to judge a company on one super-publicised incident?  Probably not.  But unfortunately for Virgin Atlantic, it’s human nature to form opinions in a less than rational manner. People are likely to “over-weight” this information when evaluating Virgin Atlantic’s care for customers.  Here are just some of the reasons why.

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June 24, 2011

We KNOW You Will Like This: How Businesses Will Be Using Your Personality to Sell You More

Personality tests litter the internet. 

A rare few are legitimate, well-researched and appropriately worded tests that can give a pretty accurate indication of an individual’s tendencies and preferences in theoretically sound areas.  

Most are simply not worth the megabytes they take up – but, hey, if they are a fun diversion, or maybe start the process of informed self-discovery, then what’s not to like?

One online personality test however, based around respected and established research, is available free of charge to the largest social networking site in the world and is currently being used to collect information from any of its 687 million users who complete it and sign the disclaimer allowing it to be used. 

“myPersonality” is in fact a number of personality questionnaires developed for Facebook by graduate psychology researchers David Stillwell and Michal Kosinski.  At their last count, there are currently over a million monthly users of the questionnaire and a significant proportion allow the researchers access to their anonymised data.

In academic terms this is a goldmine – albeit one of a self-selected sample of Facebook users who choose to complete the questionnaire – and Stillwell and Kosinski go to great lengths to make both the data and the platform available to other researchers.  We can expect some fascinating research findings to emerge very soon.

However, Facebook users are customers.  They are targeted by advertisers constantly and they already give away much invaluable personal information that help advertisers target their audiences and send selective messages to those people most likely to buy.  Will big business be able to use the data on someone’s personality to sell to them better?

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May 30, 2011

“Inside the Head of…” A Personal Perspective on Customer Service: Dr Stephen Fletcher

Beginning a new occasional series of Q&As with people involved in customer service, Dr Stephen Fletcher, Director of The OPC, a Business Psychology consultancy, talks about his experiences and insight on achieving outstanding customer service.

Inside the Head of… Dr Stephen Fletcher, Chartered Occupational Psychologist

Dr Stephen Fletcher is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with over 20 years’ experience of working with clients whose customer service has a chequered customer perception.  Here he answers 10 questions that reveal some of his reflections on how to get customer service right, and wrong.

What first interested you in the field of customer service?

A         I had the chance to work closely with a corporate client who wanted to improve levels of front line customer service.  The more involved I became the more it became clear that to understand great service you first have to have a good understanding of the psychology of  people’s needs, and that this extends from the needs of the customer, back to the needs of the front line service providers and then throughout the organisation.  It demonstrated to me and to the client the many varied ways in which psychology can add value to the way organisations organise themselves to deliver customer service.

What has psychology got to offer customer service professionals and organisations?

A         Great customer service is all about giving your genuine self and creating a positive emotional experience for the customer.  Psychology can provide the insights into how and why people experience particular emotions and needs and so can help organisations to understand what they need to do to create these positive outcomes for their customers.

Q  What is the greatest challenge facing customer service organisations today?

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May 11, 2011

The Cost of Broken Promises & Betrayal: What the UK Election Result Can Tell Us About Customer Trust

When the UK’s third largest political party, the Liberal Democrats, lost a devastating 695 seats in the UK local elections on May 5th, it was just a year since they had become the nation’s sweethearts during the 2010 general election campaign.

How had they fallen so far from grace in such as short period of time? 

The answer seems to centre on an overwhelming sense of betrayal felt by their supporters and a desire to express their feelings about broken promises and breached trust:  to let their vote do the talking.

Elections Offer a Unique Perspective on Customer Behaviour

Elections provide an extraordinary opportunity to observe the workings of the relationship between an organisation and its followers or customers, collapsed into a single day. 

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March 10, 2011

Natwest’s Progress Report on their Customer Charter: How much difference has it made?

Natwest’s customers may have been pleased when last June they announced their 14 Customer Commitments designed to make Natwest “Britain’s Most Helpful Bank”.

However, there may also have been some concern that the targets they set were somewhat modest, particularly on the measures to do with how people feel about their dealings with the bank.

For example, aiming for a target of 9 out of 10 customers being very satisfied with how friendly and helpful the service is, should prove far from impossible. Even more modestly, Natwest set themselves a goal of 75% of customers being satisfied in the way that their complaints were handled: that should be achievable surely?

To learn then that Natwest’s first progress report shows that they have not achieved these targets, and that levels of satisfaction with complaint handling is down at 57%, may have been a bit of a let-down.

Of course when dealing with changes in organisational culture, 9 months is not long. Natwest say they have been re-training all their customer service staff in complaint handling and that “we know we have more work to do” on customer satisfaction with the friendliness and helpfulness of staff.

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