Have a Slice of Customer Service PIE

0912-holiday-pie-slices.previewWhile positivity is a strength of mine, I have many a day where I just want to throw in the towel.

  • Something broke again and it’s taking a while to be fixed.
  • A customer gives me a problem that I’ve never worked on before and I have to take extra time to learn what is going on before I can solve it.
  • The people who can fix an issue are not around.
  • The inbox and instant messenger window are filled to the brim with messages that demand answers ASAP.

Overwhelming feelings are part of the gig in customer service. That’s no reason to throw in the towel. It’s what we signed up for! While I’ve been doing this for a long while (wow, I sound so old), this week gave me an opportunity to take off my perfectionist, I-have-to-get-it-all-done-now hat and really see things in an even brighter light. I met up with a customer that I’ve worked with for a few years at a coffee shop in Manhattan on Monday. Both of us with busy jobs, our quick meet up turned into a 2 hour conversation about motivation at work, leadership, inspiration and perspective.

What it comes down to with everything is how you perceive it. If you see the glass half empty, then it is. And it will always be that way. The choice belongs to you.

On Tuesday, I read Doug Sandler’s post titled 24 Seconds That Will Change Your Life about taking just 24 seconds to reach out to family, friends or customers that you may not have talked to in a while. Doug says:

We need to invest our time wisely in order to maximize our day.

Tuesday evening, I went to a Paint Nite in which you are given a blank canvas, brushes and are guided through creating an image.This particular evening we were painting a forest. At one point, the teacher asked us to put down our brushes and walk around to look at the 20 or so other paintings.

You’ll see that not one picture is the same. We all perceive trees differently. And if you’re not liking your art, take a step backward and look at what you’ve created. Things always look different when you stand back and look at the big picture from a distance.

10557222_10101239712632987_4497437557237472297_n

I’m no artist but this sure was fun!

Wednesday, I had an incredible lunch with an awesome coworker who lives his life best summed up with his ordering style:

I go to a restaurant and look at the menu. The item on the menu that I have no idea what it is, that’s what I order.

Then, this Thursday morning on the subway train into the office, I am listening to The Charged Life podcast as Brendan Burchard says:

So, as leaders we have to stand for and demonstrate and show and portray what we are really believing in.

Is it really that I believe in working long hours, pinning my eyes open with toothpicks to stay awake, doing 10,000 things at one time, not looking at the big picture, not making any real connections just to try and get it all done? No. Absolutely not. However, some days, that’s what I seem to portray because it’s what I end up doing. Yes, customer service is a JOB but if you are in a position where you are empowered to call the shots and make the position one that works FOR you–then do it. Work it. Own it. With the universe sending me these messages, I know I must listen. So, the next time you have work piling up on your plate, take a step back and help yourself to some PIE:

P is for Perspective: It’s Your Choice. Choose Positivity Or Chose Negativity. Portray What You Believe In. See The Big Picture. Remember, Everyone Draws Their Trees Differently.

I is for Investment: Invest Your Time Wisely and Align Your Time With Your Values. Prioritize Your Time To Work For You. Maybe It Takes Longer, But Quality Time Over Quantity Of Time Matters Most.

E is for Experience: Take Lessons From Doing What You Don’t Know. Learn From Mistakes If Things Don’t Work Out. Be Thankful For The Experiences You Get. Enjoy The Ride.

So, take a slice of the customer service PIE. Or perhaps it’s another industry. Either way, grab a fork and enjoy it!

Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for Phone.com with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

What CSRs Want Engineers To Understand About Customer Service

Computer-Programming-student-optionsI was recently asked to give a presentation from a customer service perspective to our engineering team at Phone.com.  After about a minute of deep soul searching, I came up with the title What Customer Service Folks Want Engineers and Programmers to Know About Customer Service…and Other Stuff For Kids Who Can’t Read Good.  Please tell me you got the Zoolander reference and that this didn’t come across as a horribly insensitive title.

Sharing Our Service Standards

My presentation had two major components.  First, I set out to share with them our five service standards (caring, quality, choice, accessibility and value) that make up awesome customer service.  I sought to show them how they too could help uphold these standards.  I even dropped a couple amazing quotes on them:

Treat your employees the way you want your customers treated — maybe even better! ~Shep Hyken

If you’re not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is. ~Jan Carlzon

After all, engineers are in fact doing internal customer service every day when they support the customer service team and others within the organization.  Much of their work is also designed for customers to use, which means they have a huge impact on the overall customer experience as well.

The Survey

The second part of my presentation was to share the results of a survey I administered with our customer service team that gauged their expectations of the engineering team in the following areas:

  • Willingness of engineers to speak directly with customers
  • Expectations when approaching engineers for assistance
  • Feelings about approaching engineers for assistance
  • One critical customer service skill they wish engineers possessed
  • The frequency at which they approach an engineer for assistance

Willingness of engineers to speak directly with customers

With 26 total respondents, 44% said that engineers are never willing to speak directly with external customers, with another 24% saying they are rarely willing.  Engineers aren’t expected  to speak with customers so this result was expected.

Expectations when approaching engineers for assistance

36% said they just wanted engineers to fix the problem, 24% wanted them to take ownership of the issue and work directly with the customer, and another 24% wanted to be empowered and trained to understand and fix the issue themselves.

Feelings about approaching engineers for assistance

We found a fairly even distribution between being nervous about being made to feel incompetent, anxious about having to fight for the customer, eagerness to learn, confidence that the issue would be resolved in a timely manner, and frustration that they would likely be blown off.  24% said they were confident and another 24% said they were frustrated.

One critical customer service skill they wish engineers possessed

The customer service skills we emphasize every day with our customer service team are:

  • Empathy
  • Positive Attitude
  • Willingness to Help
  • Desire to Empower and Traing
  • Never Say NO Mentality

33% valued a willingness of engineers to help and another 20% wanted to be empowered and trained.

The frequency at which they approach an engineer for assistance

Finally, we found that 100% of our customer service staff approaches the engineering team for help less than once per day.

Individual Perspectives

At the conclusion of the survey, I gave respondents the opportunity to share any other thoughts they had with the engineering team.  Without going into great detail, the staff wanted the engineering team to understand customer service from their perspective.  Customers can certainly be demanding and impatient and generally would rather have their issues resolved without having to make a ticket or leave a voicemail.

The Discussion

After hammering home the point that we need our engineering team to equip and train our customer service team and illustrating how critical they are to the customer experience, a rich time of discussion ensued.  Some of the key points made by the engineering team included:

  • Time and Focus- Customer service needs to understand that fixing problems takes time and focus.  The more detailed customer service can be in describing the problem, the easier it is to fix.
  • Customer Satisfaction Insight- Engineers want to see some of the feedback from our customer satisfaction and net promoter score survey data for insights into how their work affects those metrics.
  • Why People Call- The engineers want insight into the problems customers call about and the frequency.  They want to know that the projects they are working on are helping to alleviate pain points and helping reduce calls about those issues.
  • Preventing Calls- One engineer made a great point in saying “I do not ever expect to have to call my phone company.  The phone should just work!”  As a VoIP phone company, this is a fantastic perspective for any employee to have.

Conclusion

While the chance to cast vision and share survey data was valuable, the greatest value by far was the open discussion with the engineering team.  To know that our engineering team understands how they affect the customer experience and that they want to know the way in which their work is moving customer satisfaction levels up or down is extremely encouraging.

It is essential within our organizations to have these types of cross-departmental discussions to better realize the ways in which our work is interdependent.  We truly are stronger when we work together!

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at Phone.com with 13+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog. Jeremy ranked #85 on the Top 100 Most Social Customer Service Pros on Twitter by the Huffington Post in 2013. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness

Opportunities for random acts of kindness are everywhere.

Watch this:

One time, I ordered a beverage at a coffee shop and when I arrived at the register to pay, the cashier told me that someone had already covered the tab. I had no clue who did this but it totally made my day. Another time, I was in the parking lot of a supermarket and a disabled woman across the lot was trying to load groceries into her car alone. So, what do I do? Of course I ran over to help her.

There are many ways to brighten someone’s day–whether you know them or not. They could be situations where you are legitimately helping someone who needs it but doesn’t expect it. They could be situations where it’s totally unexpected and unknown.

Random acts of kindness are not about personal praise. 

In fact, sometimes it’s even more fun if it’s a stranger and you’ll never be able to thank them. They are signs from the universe, connecting us and saying, “hey, it’s not all that bad”.

There are so many various random acts of kindness you can do and a ton of resources online. I took the honor of narrowing down some places to go and ideas to share

Random Acts of Kindness Ideas

Bookmark the Kindness Inspiration Station

I’m a fan of buying a coffee for a stranger, taking a homeless person out to eat (totally have done this) and writing inspirational quotes on post its and hanging them in random places.

Give ePraise

You don’t have to be in the same location to surprise someone with an act of kindness. Share a free e-card with an unsuspecting co-worker, friend or family member.

Compliment One Person Every Day

Even if you don’t know them–if you like someone’s shoes, tell them. If you think their shirt is hilarious, tell them. You have no clue if their day has been the worst ever and your kind words may actually make them smile. Tell your coworker that you really totally dig their way of communicating with customers and they inspire you to be better every day.

Put a Flower on Someone’s Desk

Get to work early and put a flower on someone’s desk at work. Or, perhaps a mug with a bag of tea. Or, a $5 and a note that says, “Have a nice lunch!”.

I must admit–while I do random acts of kindness here and there, I most definitely don’t do it often enough.

So–I urge you to do ONE random act of kindness this week. You can tell us in the comments section of this post or don’t tell anyone at all–just pinky promise me you’ll do one.

Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for Phone.com with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Monday Motivation: Beating Negativity

negativityLast week I challenged myself and anyone that read my post to embark on an exercise in positivity.  After a week of journaling about the things I’m grateful for, I’m finding it to be more of a battle against negativity.  In the interest in throwing out some fake statistics, it’s ten times easier to be negative than positive.

As I’ve sat down every evening for the last week to write down three things I’m grateful for, one positive experience, and one random act of kindness, I end up sifting through the negativity and blah to find that which I’m grateful for.  Whether it’s drama on the news, in the office, or at home, negativity seems to stand out much more prominently than the positive.

This is a three week challenge and it’s all about the process of building the habit of positive thinking into my every day life.  The act of reflecting on the past week give us the opportunity to improve and approach it anew for the next week.  Here’s my challenge for the next week in the journey toward positivity:

  1. Begin the day with positivity- Rather than ending my day with positivity, I’m going to lead with it.  I can think of three things I’m grateful for to start the day and that will hopefully help me see the rest of the day through a lens of gratefulness.
  2. Carve out time- I’m pretty good at the exercise component of this but the prayer and meditation part, not so much.  This week, I’m going to set a time on my calendar with a reminder to do that.  It will be something I know I must do that day.
  3. Be intentional about kindness- The random acts of kindness may be the biggest challenge.  I am a terrible gift giver.  I sent a few encouraging texts and emails but want to step it up a bit this week.

That’s where I’m at after one week.  Are you joining me in the challenge?  Where did you excel last week? Where do you need to improve?  Regardless, I am grateful that you took the moment to read this post!  Alright, now to think of two more things I’m grateful for.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at Phone.com with 13+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog. Jeremy ranked #85 on the Top 100 Most Social Customer Service Pros on Twitter by the Huffington Post in 2013. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

And Then The Phone Rang…

We're sparing you the discomfort of having to look at us for 20 minutes on a Google+  Hangout!

We’re sparing you the discomfort of having to look at us for 20 minutes on a Google+ Hangout!

If you are new to CommunicateBetterBlog, one of our favorite things to do is to write discussion or collaboration posts.  In these posts we dialog back and forth about an issue.  We think anyone in customer service will immediately identify with our post today.  Please enjoy and share your thoughts!  Based on the image above, we think you will be happy you’re reading this post instead of watching us on a hangout.

Jeremy- Ahoy Jenny.  In customer service it’s so easy to start a day with well intentioned plans.  The goal is to be balanced.  One might aim to do support tickets for an hour, call a few customers back, take all of their breaks, write an inspiring blog post, and finally head home exactly 8.5 hours later.  That is until the phone rings with the latest crisis, or you uncover a big bug in the system, or something goes down, or sales closes a HUGE deal and the ball lands in your court to make make it a success.  Does this strike a chord with you?

Jenny- Let me get my guitar and strum some chords for you–yes, yes it does! You really have to work hard at prioritizing what you have on your plate to make sure you can help everyone. I become very flustered when this happens–I manage to get everything done but I feel like a frazzled wreck at the end of the day and I look like I stuck my finger in a light socket (see image above). Do you struggle with this too, Jeremy!

Jeremy- Boy do I ever, Jenny.  I hate that feeling of getting that unexpected phone call and then watching meetings and other obligations fly by as I deal with the current emergency.  I think we could both tell story after story about this.  I have a couple thoughts, and keep in mind that this is coming from a guy who is fairly adaptable.  In customer service, this truly is the nature of the beast.  You are there to be interrupted!  Customer service should be approached with a sense of adventure because people are an adventure.  Also, keep in mind that tomorrow is a new day.  Try your plan all over the next day!  What do you think Jenny?  Is that a sustainable approach?

Jenny- Yeah, it definitely is the nature of the beast–we knew what we signed up for! I do think it is sustainable so long as it is done properly. Obviously, frying your brains isn’t going to help anyone in the long run–yourself included! I’ve learned that you have to be realistic and dropping everything for some situations isn’t always the best action to take. I have to think fast and prioritize. I try to ask myself these three questions:

  1. Is the service 100% out of order?
  2. Is this affecting many people?
  3. Is there anything else that can be done in the meantime to put a band-aid on the situation before you can get to it?

If the answer to 1 is “Yes”, then it’s a drop everything sort of situation. If the answer to 1 is “No” but 2 is “Yes”, then it’s another drop everything sorta situation. If the answer to 3 is “Yes”, then I feel the pressure lifting and know I can help soothe the customer’s frazzled nerves temporarily while I work on other large issues that may be 100% out of service. It’s the days when we get more than one drop everything sort of situation that are the hardest to figure out. Do you have a system in place that you try to run when you’re in this situation?

Jeremy- I hide as long as I possibly can.  Just kidding.  I’m actually pretty quick to get sidetracked when these situations arise and think your system is fantastic, Jenny.  Ultimately, my aim is to stay positive and remember that interruptions are a part of the job.  Furthermore, as customer service leaders, there is no better time than in the emergencies to show our teams that we have their back!

Hey reader, if you identify with this situation, we’d love to hear how you handle the interruptions!

The Goodbye Is Just As Important As The Hello In Customer Service

Cat-waving-hi-X36R5H4OCE[1]We love our customers and we love it when customers stay a part of our company for a long time. They rely on us and we rely on them.

There comes a time when a customer needs to leave the service, either for a situation that happened within the company or for reasons beyond their control. You can also think about this from the retail perspective–the customer has to walk in the door and they also have to walk out and leave through the door.

We focus so much on reeling the customer into our service in the first place–welcoming them and creating a positive first impression. But, what about when they leave?

The goodbye is just as important as the hello. 

What is your cancellation policy? Can you customer close their account without a fight? Can you help them quietly close the door on their way out rather than encouraging them to slam it shut out of frustration?

What is your exit route experience in your store? Can a customer easily make their way to the door, with employees genuinely thanking them for their business, as they leave?

The most important part to remember here is that you want to leave a lasting impression on them as they go. Yes, no one likes to lose a customer. Customers remember this experience though–it becomes the most recent memory of your company to them. And, in the future, should they ever desire a service like the one you provide, they are more likely to look your way again if the experience leaving had been positive.

Turn that “goodbye” turn into “hello” rather than into “goodbye forever”.

The most recent example of a negative exit experience is shared by journalist Ryan Block when he called into customer support for Comcast, intending to cancel his service and was given quite a difficult time. If you haven’t listened to this, click here.

What do you think?

Perhaps it’s time to revisit your exit strategy to leave lasting, positive impressions on the customer and make sure we’re all on the same path to enhancing the customer experience, no matter what.

Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for Phone.com with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Thoughts On Remote Work And The Contact Center

remote_frontI was turned on to the wonders of customer service telecommuting several years ago when we installed our first VOIP phone system at the office.  In a small, 24×7 contact center where we could get away with staffing one person during our off hours, it only made sense to allow that person to work from home.  We also allowed our other agents to work a day or so remotely each week.

This didn’t come without challenges.  Telecommuting definitely presents difficulties in managing contact center agents.  It became all too easy for some individuals to become out of sight and out of mind.  I once had an agent work half of his shift without a working telephone before we became aware of what he was doing!

In our contact center at Phone.com, we have approached telecommuting a bit more cautiously, even though we are ideally set up to take calls from just about anywhere.  That’s the beauty of VOIP!

I recently read Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37signals.  In the book they present a compelling argument in favor of telecommuting and I feel challenged to take a closer look at it in our contact center.  Here are a few things that stood out for me.

More Time- Fried and Hansson estimate that we spend three to four hundred hours per year driving to and from work!  Imagine what you could do with that time?  I know I would certainly enjoy more time with my family, exercise more and perhaps take the extra time to make a healthy breakfast each morning.  How many people are already stressed out when they arrive at the office because of the time spent on a crowded freeway?

Managing The Right Things- Traditional managers likely do not know how to manage employees they cannot see.  Fried and Hansson challenge management to evaluate employees on the quality of the work they complete.  If they are effectively able to track this, it doesn’t really matter where employees work from.  They make the point that “if you can’t let your employees work from home out of fear they’ll slack off without your supervision, you’re a babysitter, not a manager.”

Yay For Flexibility- The ability to telecommute offers a ton of flexibility to employees– not to mention companies.  Fried and Hansson point out that employees don’t necessarily have to work at home.  They can work anywhere there is Internet access.  This could be at a coffee shop, a cabin in the woods, or a coworking space in a big city.  This also allows companies to hire and keep the best talent regardless of where they are located in the world.

As is the case with many companies, customer service is critical to the success of the organization and yet customer service professionals are often overworked and under appreciated.  By allowing your customer service staff flexibility in where they work, this potentially reduces their stress and improves their job satisfaction.  Last minute call offs are the enemy of many contact centers.  How many employees would still call off if they knew they could just work at home on a given day?  From experience, the answer is many.

It is also clear that in order to manage remote workers effectively in a contact center, we need to have a clear grasp on what our key performance indicators are and communicate those effectively to our staff.  Regardless of location, they need to know what is expected of them and management needs to know how to measure that.  If everyone understands that and performs as expected, who cares where they work from?

Regardless of where your company is at in regards to telecommuting, Remote is a fantastic resource and worth a read.  Fried and Hansson clearly discuss the pros and cons of telecommuting and quickly put to rest many of the fears you may have.  Ultimately, as business leaders, it’s critical that we find ways to keep our awesome employees engaged in their work.  If you value happy, engaged employees who are more productive, I highly recommend you consider allowing them to work remotely.

To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision ~Sir Richard Branson

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at Phone.com with 13+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog. Jeremy ranked #85 on the Top 100 Most Social Customer Service Pros on Twitter by the Huffington Post in 2013. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Attitude of Gratitude

imagesJeremy kicked off the week with a Monday Motivation challenge. A challenge that will take your day from ordinary to extraordinary. And, I’m not kidding.  Read it here.

But, it’s not easy for most of us. And, as you know in life, it’s the things that are not easy that leave the most impact.

Jeremy shares our challenge, the five steps that Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think, Inc. believes in doing every day:

  1. Journal about three new things you’re grateful for.
  2. Journal about one positive experience you’ve had over the last twenty-four hours.
  3. Exercise thirty minutes each day.
  4. Meditate ten minutes each day.
  5. Send one positive email each day to someone in your social support network or do some other random act of kindness.

I’m going to write about one of these steps in this post:

Journal about three new things you’re grateful for.

Why is this a good idea? Here’s my take on it:

  • Having an “attitude of gratitude” will help you reframe your situations, no matter how negative, into a new light.
  • Your goal with being thankful is to twist your current perspective, perhaps negative, into one that gives us great insight.
  • Recognizing what you are grateful for, even the littlest of things, helps further the healing process through rough times in life.

I find that for me, in order to stick with something, I need to be held accountable. I often use this blog as a way to do that! Thats why, for the next three weeks, I’m going to Tweet 3 things, no matter how small or silly, that I am grateful for every day from my personal Twitter account, @jennysuedempsey. I’ll begin today and end it on August 5th. I’ll use the hashtag #AttitudeOfGratitude.

You should join me in the gratitude adventure!

Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for Phone.com with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Monday Motivation: An Exercise In Positivity Part 1

In this week’s Monday Motivation I want to try something a bit different.  Rather than sharing a random, insightful thought, I want to invite you to join in an exercise.  Are you ready?  Great!

Step one is to read this fantastic Ted Talk from Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think, Inc.

In this talk, Shawn Achor states that “90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by your external world but by the way your brain processes the world.”  He goes on to say that success in our jobs is tied to our level of optimism and ability to view stress as a challenge.  The fact of the matter is that we perform much better when our brains are in a positive state.

Do I have your attention?  Could you stand to have a bit more positivity in your life?  In the high turnover world of customer service and call centers, let’s see what a difference a positive mindset can make.  Join me over the next three weeks in doing the following exercise.  To do this well, you will want to have a document or journal to add to each day.  Here are the five steps Achor challenges us to follow in his talk:

1. Journal about three new things you’re grateful for.

2. Journal about one positive experience you’ve had over the last twenty-four hours.

3. Exercise thirty minutes each day.

4. Meditate ten minutes each day.

5. Send one positive email each day to someone in your social support network or do some other random act of kindness.

Take a few minutes each day to also reflect and write about the difference this is making.  Yes, this is a discipline and therefore it may be difficult at first.  Jenny and I will discussing our progress during our Coffee and Customer Service Hangouts.  If this strikes a chord for you, please join us and leave us a note to let us know how it’s going.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at Phone.com with 13+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog. Jeremy ranked #85 on the Top 100 Most Social Customer Service Pros on Twitter by the Huffington Post in 2013. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Coffee and Customer Service: TGIF!

In this week’s coffee and customer service hangout, Jenny and Jeremy talk about the topics near and dear to their hearts this week.  The cover things like Jenny’s journey with delegation and a customer service topic Jeremy loves to hate.  You don’t want to miss this one!

Jenny is the Customer Success Manager for Phone.com with almost a decade of customer service experience. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Service at Phone.com with 13+ years experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog. Jeremy ranked #85 on the Top 100 Most Social Customer Service Pros on Twitter by the Huffington Post in 2013. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube