Monthly Archives: June 2017

Should email or chat support be paired with call center work?

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It is exhausting and insane to answer phones more than four hours a day. Even four hours is enough to thrive the average person to madness. When I’m on vacation in places that boost my energy, I wake up early and like to do long hours of calling to destinations all over the United States. But, after three days of this in my favorite relaxing desert or forest of choice, I lose my mind!

But, there must be ways for the call center industry to pair call center work with other related and easy to master work. But, what? I know — email support.

The beauty of email interaction with clients is that you can answer the emails in a bunch at a time convenient for you. I typically do emails once or twice per day. I let them stack up and then do them in a bunch. If I am on vacation, I will check in after a few days and then nail off all of my emails. It takes longer when you have a pile of two hundred staring you in the face. But, for call center agents, they are already used to answering questions all day long. Answering them by email doesn’t require a drastically different skill set (other than spelling and typing dexterity) and is much more relaxing than dealing with screaming, anxious clients.

Another way to pair call center work is to pair Australian call center work with American work. That way you can be awake for part of the daylight in the Philippines or India so you don’t lose your mind completely. If you are going to survive in the BPO industry long term, you need a sustainable way to keep sane and healthy which is not easy!

Chat support is another good idea. It is time sensitive, since you have to be online when the client is, but it offers more time flexibility. You can do chat support 24 hours a day while you can only legally call a residence in the United States from 9am to 9pm local time. Pairing chat support with call center work might help agents to get a little much biologically needed sunlight into their system.

Finally, simple data entry tasks are not time sensitive and are how I pair my day with call center activities. I add listings to various databases for my online directories. It is tedious and repetitive boring work, but I am used to it and can handle it two hours a day without banging my head against the wall.

But, what I want to know is — what kind of work pumps you up instead of draining you? For me, it is discussing interesting ideas and meditating on business decisions. I think I should do that once or twice a week to optimize my week. What about you?

Call center service is so poor these days, but why?

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I notice that whenever I interview call center agents, or deal with them on the phone, the quality of the service is never that great. Either their interaction skills are not the best, or their product knowledge is poor. Some people are not so easy to understand on the phone either. So, what is the problem? Is it skills, training, or what?

In my opinion the problem in the call center industry is similar to that in the programming world. There is so much demand for these services that people who are just not that great are able to make a full-time living day after day, and year after year. People also quit so often, or get swallowed up by bigger corporations or larger projects, that good service providers are simply not easily available if you are hiring.

If conditions were different and there were a larger pool of people who wanted call center jobs, but fewer jobs, then companies could raise their educational requirements, have longer contracts (people quit after two months on a whim regularly,) and hire only the ideal candidates.

People outsource work to save money. But, when you read studies and see what the average wage is for a particular job in a particular country, or ask companies what they charge, the rates are deceiving. Knowing average rates doesn’t do you any good. Knowing how much someone you like enough to hire will charge means a lot more. I see that a lot of Filipino companies charge $7 per hour, but I don’t like any of their reps. In Central America it is more like $9 per hour. I have no idea of how good the average Panamanian reps are. India has even cheaper reps, but I am not so satisfied with their language or communication skills unless they are the owner (and that’s only some owners.) Americans seem to have the best communication skills, but are not always so good with understanding technical information. I don’t know if paying more will get me a better agent, or just being lucky. Eventually I want to hire agents to help me out. I wish I knew the secret.

Taking someone with a good personality and teaching them product and technical knowledge seems reasonable. But, can you take someone who is technically good and teach them to have a good personality? The odds seem against you – but, you never know!

Make a customer not a sale

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The job of a salesperson seems to be to make the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time. But, the fuel that keeps companies going in the long run is not short-term cash. It is long term relationships. The faults of the salesperson might be due to their manager who is always pushing them to make more sales. Obviously, they need to make sales. But, planting seeds of trust and admiration that are necessary for a long-term relationship is what really counts.

In real life business, you might get to know a contact for a week, six months, or three years before they actually buy something from you. I have been buying hosting from a guy for three years for a low price. I am finally ready to get programming services from him after thinking about it for three years. In real life, hiring decisions for freelancers and outsourced companies do not come in on schedule. But, if you don’t nurture the relationship correctly they won’t come at all.

The secret is to be personable, knowledgeable and helpful rather than just trying to force a sale down someone’s throat. If you seem like the most wonderful company for the job, people will come to you without you even mentioning the word “contract.”

And after you make your sale, you still need to take care of the customer. Unfortunately, most salespeople are only part of a small piece of the transaction. They are the initial contact for the client or prospect and are out of the picture once the work begins — not very holistic. Maybe it makes more sense for a higher level manager to be in touch with contacts during the whole life of the relationship from initial contact to first job, to three years later. That might be a more realistic way to nurture a customer rather than just a sale.

I said a prayer for the Lakotas to be protected from environmental damage

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On December 14th, after watching several videos on youtube about the protests against the Dakota Pipline, I was very upset. Our government doesn’t seem to understand that you can’t just destroy the land around you and expect human civilization to survive in the long run. Environmental destruction is a slippery slope. It starts out little by little and then you destroy more and more until you have serious problems that creep up on you.

The immediate facts are that:
Native Americans protested the DAPL pipeline.
Native Americans claimed that all pipelines leak, and that it is just a matter of time.
Historical records show that pipelines leak frequently, but that major spills don’t necessarily happen often.
I saw people being abused by cruel police officers at protests with pepper spray, physical violence, arresting people who were not committing crimes, and other abuses.

So, I decided to say a prayer for ten minutes. I prayed that all of the native peoples of the Dakotas would be protected from evil of any sort — internal or external. The very next day there was a huge breakage in a different pipeline, also in North Dakota. That pipeline which was built in 1980 leaked 180,000 gallons into a small stream. Two days later, I saw that Native Americans were negotiating with the Army Corp of Engineers. They were actually being listened to in a positive way!

I don’t know if this major leak was a good thing that will raise consciousness or a bad thing. But, I believe that all pipelines must be taken down as they are too dangerous and destructive to the environment. I don’t know if my prayer caused things to happen or not, but what I saw was a dramatic change of events immediately after my prayer!

We need to end environmentally unsound practices otherwise this planet will not be safe for any of us to live in!

Truth builds trust

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If you are comparing companies to outsource to over a longer period of time and interacting with them regularly, which one do you pick? In my experience, I want to know which company gives me valuable and reliable information. But, that is not good enough. When people are trying, they try to impress you. I want to know how helpful people are when they are not trying. If you get to know a company over a period of six or more months, you get to the point where they are not trying so hard. In my experience, people stop trying after three or four months and then you get to know the real them — at least if you are working on projects with them.

Some salespeople tell you whatever you want to hear. Unfortunately, I’m very sensitive to that. If you promise anything, I doubt that you will keep any of your promises. Unfortunately once again, in my experience, even those that make more reasonable promises don’t fulfill them 95% of the time either. So, in the promises game just like the information game, reliable information wins the game. If you make a promise, there needs to be some way to verify that you keep the promise for your company to get a reliability rating in my book — especially for programmers who are systematically unreliable.

One truthful thing for salespeople to do is to not answer questions right away. If you ask a complicated question, it looks good if you ask a technical manager to get an answer or to help you formulate an answer. It looks like you are doing your homework. Another good thing for a salesperson to do is to make very cautious promises. The idea is that you make sure you can keep the promise otherwise your whole reputation goes downhill. For managers, it makes sense to tape record what salespeople are saying, so you can fire them if they are telling lies — unless you want them to tell lies. But, if you want your company to have a good reputation in the long run, tell the trush — always. Because truth builds trust!

The way to a customer’s heart = much more than loyalty program

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“The way to a customer’s heart is much more than a loyalty program. Making customer evangelists is about creating experiences worth talking about.” – Valeria Maltoni

It is easy to create a loyalty program and promote it. It is not a bad idea as I have developed many long term relationships with companies who provided me with generous loyalty programs. But, those companies also provided me with quality service which is a bigger reason for my loyalty. The loyalty program is the 25% extra — the icing on the cake.

The question is, how can you create experiences worth talking about with your customers? The key is to understand what bothers your customers and to do the opposite.

Some customers are furious that they can never reach a qualified rep on the phone. What if you make it easy to reach someone smart? If not by phone then by email? Or have a few phone hours per day and then email outside of those hours. Customers might like it if you return emails quickly as well with useful answers instead of generic links embedded in the email to long Q&A pages that don’t focus on what they are asking.

Other customers are upset by companies that are always late. What if you deliver early no matter what to that customer. They will love you for life.

What if some customers like touch ups to their work and you are always there to quickly and pleasantly do touch ups.

Some customers want to choose their reps. Do you give them one choice of a bad rep or five choices of great reps?

What about an engineered and customized customer experience? If you interview the customer ahead of time, find out their likes, dislikes, what went wrong in their last work relationship, etc. Then, you can craft a unique customer experience just for them. Even if it costs you more, you will win over their loyalty.

Let’s say you run a hotel and you know that Fred likes to sleep late, get a Wall Street journal, and have breakfast delivered to his room. You can talk to him the night before and ask him to call you the minute he is awake and that you will have his paper and breakfast ready within minutes.

There are many ways to design the perfect customer experience. The idea is that you put some attention into it, and that could help you succeed in a huge way!

10 customer service ideas for call centers

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There are lots of call centers out there, and many operate at affordable rates. You can copy someone’s business model and rates, but you cannot copy their customer service and it is customer service that wins the game. Here are some ideas for call centers to offer the best service.

1. Rep Selection
Many call centers either pick reps for you or give you one or two reps to interview. Basically they are dumping whomever they can’t place on your account which is not flattering. If you want to keep happy customers, give them lots of choices of reps, so that they can find someone they like even if it is a lot more effort for you. The other guys won’t do this, so you can stand out by being the most helpful.

2. Script Writing
When someone hires a call center, they normally have a script or a series of scripts for different purposes. The business owner should supply the call center with the script. But, what if the call center can understand the business model and refine or write their own scripts as a matter of policy? That seems like an excellent customer service idea.

3. Feedback
Many companies just don’t get back to you to let you know how things are going. If you make your employees get back to clients daily or weekly to let them know how things went, that might be very highly appreciated.

4. Contracts
New clients might not want constrictive contracts. They don’t know you and don’t know what to expect. A contract is a tool that guarantees how much monetary inventory the client will give to the call center, but doesn’t guarantee the quality of the service. In this sense contracts are completely unfair in favor of the service provider. If you want to attract smaller and newer clients, try to be very flexible with contracts otherwise you alienate them for no reason.

5. Metrics
Do you decide on metrics or do you meet with the client to decide together? Some clients want to spend a more flexible time with customers while others want the most efficient service possible even if that means cutting conversations short and being in a hurry. Customized metrics are important if you want to please your client.

6. Attrition
If your client likes a rep and then they just quit, that is very frustrating. It is important for a business to know who they are working with. I would not offer good money to anyone new. But, I would offer good money to someone tried and true who has at least six months on my personal account. If your reps quit on schedule every three months, we are not going to get to the six month mark. You might charge a higher rate for reps who have been with you longer. You might consider creating nicer working conditions so people don’t quit much.

7. Phone Lines
When I talk to overseas call centers, their phone lines are often poor quality internet lines. You are specializing in communication, so you should be top notch in all aspects of it.

8. Coaching
Most successful call centers coach their workers. But, how much time do your clients spend coaching your workers who work for them? This is very important and should be a matter of policy that is worked out before you start a work relationship.

9. Communication
How easy is it for your client to talk directly with your workers? It might be difficult as they might be on different time zones. You need to make it easy for communication to take place.

10. Parties
Call centers are famous for having parties. Do you invite your clients to parties regularly even if it is by web cam? Maybe you should. It is fun and builds the bonds of a close relationship. Close relationships last longer than distant ones!

Loyal customers recommend you

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“Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you.” – Chip Bell

Imagine a company that only thinks about making money. They try to squeeze as much as they can out of anyone who calls. They will do well, right? Not really. Now, imagine another company who tries to help every single person who calls as much as possible without trying to make money off them. In real life, a company has services which they charge for, but you can introduce them without focusing exclusively on promoting them.

The fact is that if you offer amazing service that people rave about, they will be loyal to you and introduce their friends. Your business could mushroom quickly and grow out of control.

However, in the real world, most businesses do not offer the most amazing service you’ve ever seen. They offer the minimum for what the customer is paying. They don’t get back to you. They don’t care about the results they are giving. They won’t give good answers to a lot of your questions. Most companies make it difficult to get service out of them. Isn’t the whole point they are in business to give service?

It might be time for us all to take a closer look at how we operate as businesses and try to do a little extra for our clients. You might be surprised at how much extra you get back when you give a little more. It might come back to you ten fold!

10 ways to socialize or interact with your outsourcing clients

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In the world of business, there are different approaches. There is the distant approach with uptight secretaries, sleazy salespeople, and anti-social technical managers. And then there is the more friendly approach. Do you want to do business with strangers, friends or enemies? Think about that!

1. Friendly Reps, Salespeople & Technical Assistance
The friendly approach is to have informative and engaging reps on the phone. You should have technical managers who are a little less uptight and trained to be folksy. I would not expect the same level of sociability from a technical person as from a customer centric person like a CSR, but you can still get them to the 25% level with a little coaching. You can have salespeople who not only deliver reliable information (instead of lying) but who are very nice and interactive.

2. Wine & Dine
It is common for higher level business people to wine and dine each other. But, what is the purpose of this? Isn’t that just a waste of money that is purely for a tax write-off? The write-off doesn’t hurt. But, business relations are smoother and last longer when you go out to eat with each other regularly. The closer the relationship, the better quality work you get out of them and the longer it lasts. In short: wining builds trust; dining builds longevity!

3. Talk more on the phone
It is good to keep in touch with clients. You could even call without a purpose from time to time. It is important not to be intrusive or a bother to them. Most companies only bug you when they want to sell to you. But, good companies keep in touch with their customers in the long run. The Japanese call this “Afta-sawvice” which is their pronunciation for “after-service.”

4. Keep in touch more by email
You can email information about what is going on with their account. You can email graphs, charts, information about what happened with particular customers, or anything else pertinent. The fact that you are communicting useful information on your own initiative matters a lot.

5. Company parties
At Filipino call centers, they are famous for having parties. It raises morale. But, what if you invite your American clients to join via web-cam, or even in person?

6. Newsletters
I have a newsletter with 5000 subscribers. I keep in touch with lots of people and keep the troops together. My newsletter tells people what is going on with us, and in our industry. We have tons of very interesting articles.

7. Loyalty Programs
Loyalty programs are the next best thing after great customer service. They can really keep your customers around longer and have them retain a closer relationships with your company doing a larger quantity of business.

8. Referral Programs
You can reward customers for introducing you to others — but, only if they are completely satisfied with your work otherwise it will backfire.

9. Online Portals
This is an impersonal way of interacting, but if a client can access information about what is going on with his/her account online, many will value this.

10. Office Visits with lots of small talk
If clients come to your office, this is a great way to get to know each other. You can invite people to come when you have a slower day. You can have samosas and chai if in India, or more American snacks if in America. Nothing beats a good snack session at the office to get to know people. You will get to know people walking down the hallway, and get a great sense about the company. Even if it requires an overseas flight, you should really get to know who you are doing business with for a long-term relationship!

What is a holistic customer experience?

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Some companies just want to take your money. Other companies have customer service, but you end up talking to a robot on the phone for twenty minutes before reaching a human. The holistic customer experience is all about giving the customer an all around good experience and meeting all of their needs.

Although meeting all of a customer’s needs is critical, you need to solve their problems in a particular order. Customers who use phone companies complain that they have to wait a long time to talk to a customer service representative. Then, they have to talk to an automated machine that keeps asking questions and claims they didn’t understand the answer. Finally, they can talk to a rep in some foreign country with awkward social graces who accidentally gets disconnected from them on a regular basis.

My question is, is it worth it to give the customer a better experience than this cost-conscious nightmare? The answer is, if the customer is willing to pay for it.

Giving the customer a great experience from their first click to whenever they end their service should be the goal of any holistic customer service approach. And if the service is great, the service might never be terminated in the first place!

My Complaints About Outsourcing Companies
My complaint calling outsourcing companies is similar to the complaints of phone company customers.

1. It is difficult to reach the desired person (or a competent person) by phone
2. If you call, you talk to a bunch of unpolished idiots who accidentally hang up on you.
3. The company has no answering machine and doesn’t answer after hours
4. The website is poorly designed and doesn’t give a clear idea of what the company does, how they do it and who works for them.
5. It is hard to get straight answers out of people.
6. The salespeople will tell you anything to get a sale
7. The rep given is usually low quality and with poor communication skills.
8. Higher quality reps are always working on some other “more important” contract
9. Work is generally sloppy
10. Work is normally delivered long after the due date without an apology.
11. Bills always seem padded
12. It is hard to get touchups to programming or design work without badgering

How helpful are you actually? It just seems like a low-class bunch of incompetent scam artists to me. Not someone I would trust with a critical job. But, I might use them if they offered a dirt-cheap price! And the person doing the effort to get work done is the client, not the company. The company only applies effort while the salesperson is trying to sell. Once the sale is made, effort goes on minimal and you get put on the back burner.

To give a holistic outsourcing experience, you need to work on:
1. An easy line of communication to knowledgeable people — and keep the idiots OFF the phone permanently!
2. Easy access to choosing quality employees with good communication skills to work on assignements even if that means paying a lot more.
3. Meet deadlines every single time or someone gets fired.
4. Salespeople who fact-check before they make promises
5. Honest billing
6. Quick touchups to work and quick answers to questions.

In short — make my life easy and do good work. I will be willing to pay a lot more if you do. Others are wealthier than I am and might reward you in a huge way if you do.

Big companies are organized for efficiency, but not for joy

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It is interesting, that the big companies that deliver joy have become some of the biggest names in the world. Apple, Facebook, Youtube, Starbucks are companies that deliver not only products, but an experience. When I hire a company, I always get an experience, but not always a good one!

People have developed entire lifestyles around these four brands and we can’t live without them. What about your company? Can customers live without you? Do you create an experience for them? Maybe you should. How would you design a customer experience with your service?

If you have a large pool of labor, and can segment your labor pool so that people can choose their rep, that might make life easier. When we engage in outsourcing whether it is programming, web design, call center or data entry, we are working with a particular individual.

What if your company decided to be a cross between Apple and Facebook in how they did their web design? You could have a screen filled with small icons that you could see on an iPhone or desktop. You could browse through reps just like people do when looking for a date online. You could read their description and even interact with them online. Cool! You might need to interface with a manager or salesperson at some point. However, information about their skill level, experience, and levels of availability could be on the app to eliminate any misconceptions.

The idea is that all of your employees would have a little slack in their schedule so that customers could choose them. The more popular ones could be more expensive based on market conditions. You keep adjusting their price so they are available a certain percent of the time if you book in advance.

This way of running your outsourcing house will create an entire experience that nobody else is offering. The interaction is also a huge part of the experience. If you add in inviting them to your parties, newsletter and other socially connecting mediums, that is the icing on the cake. It is hard to create joy and an experience when you are half a world away, but guys like Steve Jobs will be able to find a way. Tap into his type of thinking and you might just win the game, and create a bit of joy in the universe.

What is your metric for creating a personal experience?

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My best call center experience was ten years ago. I remember talking to a lady in Manila. We talked about my flight to India and she said, “Oh, so you flew right over me!” I was actually about two hundred miles North of her, but that is close! I had a nice experience talking to her because she was very sweet, soothing and personal not to mention fun.

There are all types of metrics in the call center business. You can measure how many percentage of calls were resolved without transferring. You can measure customer satisfaction rates. You can measure how long the call took or waiting time for the call to be answered.

To get real customer loyalty to your company, you need to find those agents who you never forget. Unfortunately, there are not so many agents who you will fondly remember, but many who you will wish you could forget!

To put the cart before the horse the way the gurus normally do, part of the battle here is to create an experience for your agents and managers that they will not forget. If you treat your agents like slaves, how can they treat your clients like kings and queens? Think about that! If you pamper your agents and give them amazing working conditions to brag about, they might just feel a lot better about treating your customers well and giving them a great experience.

Training agents to make small talk and little jokes, perhaps a little well placed sarcasm might make a huge difference. Even phone answering robots that are trained to make little remarks about the line to the ladies room for female robots, or how they haven’t been oiled in weeks could create a memorable experience.

You can measure metrics until you are blue in the face. But, what humans want in the stone age or the space age remains the same — we want a personable experience. The question is — do you have it in you to systematically provide those experiences?