Tag Archives: Customer Service Articles

Understanding the Importance of Decision Triggers in Selling to Your Prospects



By Jill J. Johnson

A key component of effective target marketing involves developing deep insight into how the decision-making process influences your prospects to make their purchasing choices. For organizations working with diverse customer needs, moving your prospects from “I’m interested” to “I’ll buy” is a complex process. What’s significant and how this will impact each of your prospects in their buying decisions can vary. These buying decisions may also impact how they view the value of buying additional services or other resources you offer.

Understanding how your target market makes decisions is fundamental to more effectively promoting your products and services. It’s essential for you to understand your prospect’s decision-making process and what triggers their buying decisions to move your sales more quickly to a “yes.” Insight into what triggers your prospects in their decision-making process allows you to adapt your messages to highlight the unique characteristics of concern to them. You want to adapt your sales approach to their needs rather than using a cookie-cutter approach. By tailoring your promotional strategies, you can enhance your opportunities to win the sale or deepen your relationship with your potential customer. You can use this insight to carefully craft your sales approach to meet their unique needs and concerns.

Your goal is to keep them engaged with you and moving forward toward completing the sale and joining your customer ranks Click To Tweet

Each Prospect Has Unique Decision Triggers

Knowing what will move your prospects forward in a sale is just as important as knowing what is holding them back from saying yes. Decision triggers can range from stress about the costs of your product or service and not understanding the value-add you offer to believing they need support for the decision from a trusted member of their leadership team. In your sales approach, you need to utilize probing questions to isolate how they will make their decision about investing in buying a product or service from you. You must also uncover and understand the motives of who else is involved in making the decision.

Do the work to understand what decision triggers are at play with your prospective customers and with the other key stakeholders they rely on for support. Knowing how to activate or neutralize these triggers will provide you with vital insight on how to adjust your sales-messaging tactics. Once you understand their decision triggers, you can determine what you should provide your prospect so they can move forward with their decision to buy from you. 

Navigate the Decision Continuum

As you move your prospective customers through their decision continuum, consider what your goals are each step of the way. If they reach out to you via your website or email, your goal is to get them to talk with you in person. If they ask you for information, determine what information they really need and what you can follow up with if the sale is going to take longer than one interaction. Your goal is to keep them engaged with you and moving forward toward completing the sale and joining your customer ranks, both now and long-term. 

Understanding how to navigate a prospect along their decision continuum requires you to probe carefully about what is important to them and their key stakeholders. In this process, you identify their critical decision triggers while gaining an understanding of how to incorporate this insight into your sales approach. 

All too often when a company or organization has been around a long time, the process of selling to prospects becomes stagnant. Use decision insight to make sure your messaging is fresh, unique, and clearly matched to the evolving needs of your prospect. It might be time to reassess and revise your messaging to ensure you’re hitting the hot buttons of your prospects and matching your approach to what they’re most concerned about. This approach will get them to buy and stay with you beyond the initial sale. 

Decision Triggers Drive Sales and Promotional Strategy

Listen carefully to the words your prospective customers use and how they describe their needs and concerns. This insight can help you shape your sales messaging back to them in ways that mirror their words. As you match your sales messaging to where they are on their decision continuum, you will have a better understanding of how to highlight key product or service features or benefits. This approach leverages the decision triggers to your target market to match what matters most to them. By specifically tailoring your messages to your prospect’s decision triggers, you can significantly increase the potential for achieving the sale. What you offer only matters if it matters to your prospective customers. 

Once you understand the decision triggers driving your sales prospects, you can tie it to the rest of your promotional strategy. You can incorporate your deep customer insight into all your collateral materials, advertising, public relations stories, video clips, website, and social media. These communications messages can reinforce how you want your prospective customers to respond to your sales messages. If there is a disconnect anywhere in the decision continuum, you’re at risk of not achieving the sales success you desire.

Final Thoughts

By incorporating insight about your prospective customer’s decision triggers, you can help your prospect gain confidence that your product or service will truly benefit them and make a difference in their life or business. They will have more confidence in buying from you because you will have tied your presentation to their concerns. 

As a result, your prospective customers receive reassurance that your products or services can and will effectively meet their needs. Using your prospect’s decision triggers will make your sales cycle more efficient. It will result in more sales, help you build superior customer relationships, and boost customer satisfaction when you deliver on what you promised. 

Jill J. Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, an accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the best-selling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than four billion dollars’ worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information, visit www.jcs-usa.com.

The Ten Commandments of Creating Lifetime Customers



By Tra Williams 

Everyone has experienced this scenario at one time or another. What you thought was going to be a simple, everyday transaction for a product or service turned out to be an experience that earned your lifetime loyalty as a customer. Sadly, this doesn’t happen very often—which is exactly why it’s so surprising when it does happen.

Today’s consumer-driven environment focuses intently on instant availability, and for good reason. More than ever, customers want immediate access and lament any speed bumps between them and the conclusion of a transaction. Immediacy has become the golden calf of customer satisfaction. Customers continually worship the quickest solution with frequent patronage, but the results of that lust for instant gratification has come at a painful price. The line between optimization and true innovation has been blurred as the customer experience has been sacrificed on the altar of speed.

Escaping this cult of self-satisfaction, where “likes” pass for loyalty, requires you to rewrite the rules of comparison. Don’t allow the value of your product or service to be determined by an outside metric. Instead, change the game and redefine what the word value means to your customer.

Here are the ten commandments of value creation and earning a customer for life.

1. Reduce Technology

In today’s world of technology immersion, the human touch matters more than ever. Each escalation of technology reduces human interaction. Each reduction of human interaction is a missed opportunity to earn a lifetime customer who judges the value you provide by metrics that you define, not just speed. 

The time, money, and productivity lost on a hire who is inconsistent with a company’s culture is immeasurable. Click To Tweet

When someone takes the time to provide personal enhancements to an individual experience, that’s impressive. You can’t cut through white noise with more white noise. Remember, innovative technology is usually meant to optimize our lives. Therefore, you can purchase service optimization, but not service innovation. Real service innovation comes from the people within an organization, which brings us to commandment number two.

2. Focus on Frontline Staff

Your frontline staff who interact directly with your customers are the most important people in your organization, not the owner or the VP. It’s the frontline employee who is friendly and patient, smiles all the time, and remembers customers’ names and business needs. Ultimately that person will make or break a company. Make sure your culture emphasizes treating your frontline staff with the time and attention they deserve, and they will treat your customers the same way.

3. Pursue Real Relationships with Customers

Recognize that the relationship you have with your customers should not be transactional. Of course it’s important to look for opportunities to make the transaction simpler, easier, and more pleasant for the customer. But it’s also imperative that you add value to their lives in ways that are unrelated to the transaction. Look for ways to be a resource, not just a provider.

4. Develop a Customer-First Culture

Culture is binary. You’re either in or out. It starts with a slow and methodical hiring process. The time, money, and productivity lost on a hire who is inconsistent with a company’s culture is immeasurable. Take your time and hire the right people. Then focus on their development. They in turn will grow the business. Customer loyalty comes through people, not despite them.

5. Cultivate Reciprocity

We are hardwired to do more for those who do things for us. When it rains, Chick-fil-A’s employees wearing ponchos run to people’s cars when they pull in and hold an umbrella over them while they walk inside. And then they escort them back to their cars when they have finished their meal. It’s no wonder their average unit volume is three times the average of most QSRs while only being open six days a week. Cultivate reciprocity.

6. Eliminate Policies

“I’m sorry, ma’am; that’s just our policy.” In business, no one should ever utter those words. They reveal to your customer that your culture values adherence to arbitrary rules more than customer satisfaction. You should have only one policy, which is to do everything within your power to exceed your customers’ expectations.

7. Empower Your Team

If you’ve followed commandments two and four, this one should be easy. Every team member should feel empowered to do what is right in each specific situation. “Let me ask my manager” tells your customer that you don’t trust your employees’ discretion or decision making. And if you don’t trust the people you hire, why should your customers trust that they will have a consistently great experience?

8. Celebrate Everything

Everybody loves a winner, and nobody wants to be on the losing team. Customers want to feel like the money they spend is making the world a better place. Publicly celebrate your wins, your anniversaries, your employee accomplishments (both in and out of work), your growth, your community engagement, your awards, and your achievements. Did one of your employees just get her master’s? Have a baby? Compete in a triathlon? Celebrate it. This commandment has the added advantage of developing both employee and customer loyalty. 

9. Raise the Stakes

Service innovation inherently means that you challenge the assumptions of traditional expectations. On the flip side of this coin is the realization that doing something new is also a new opportunity to fail. Fortunately, studies show that customers value your effort nearly as much as the result. As such, they are incredibly forgiving of failure, providing you made every effort to succeed. So challenge your team and yourself. Raise the stakes. Go big. Consistent yet average is still unimpressive.

10. Have a Mission

People aren’t motivated by what; they’re motivated by why. If your goal is to make tons of money and eventually go public, you’ve missed the point. Where you spend your money is a major part of your identity. Customers align themselves with organizations that mirror who they are, or at least who they’d like to be. Therefore, the motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no why.

Conclusion

Embrace these commandments. Carve them in stone and bring them down from the mountain. When you arrive, if you find your team obsessed with the golden calf of immediacy, tell them this: In today’s world of instant gratification, do not worship speed. When speed becomes the only metric by which you judge service, true service becomes irrelevant. Instead of conjuring up new ways to complete a transaction faster, make the experience so amazing that the customer will never want it to end. 

Tra Williams is a speaker, business consultant, and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra works with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework to sustain it. For more information, visit www.TraWilliams.com.

How to Enhance the Customer Experience



Pursue Big-Picture Solutions, Not Incremental Improvements

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer experience

There’s a lot of talk about customer experience and ways to enhance it. Though this is the right outcome, too often the approach to get there is shortsighted. Making incremental changes to improve one metric may help a bit, but how many metrics must you improve and by how much for the customer to realize an enhanced experience? And how much stress will your frontline staff endure to get there?

Instead of focusing on the minutia of data that call center systems are so good at producing, take a step back and address big-picture issues. These will have the greatest impact on improving customer experience. And the side effect of these changes will make it easier, not harder, for your staff to do their job with excellence.

Integrate Isolated Repositories of Information

How many places do you store customer data and the information your staff needs to serve callers? How easy is it for agents to get all relevant information displayed on a single monitor—or even two?

Ideally you want everything in one place, in a unified database. However, sometimes this isn’t feasible. In those instances, it’s critical to be able to seamlessly move from one to the other. Consider how often customer service representatives give wrong information simply because they aren’t looking in the right place.

Integrating or interconnecting databases for seamless customer experience is something for vendors to accomplish; it’s too complex for end-users to solve. However, investigate whether your implementation of your vendor’s solutions hampers your team from fully using the tools you already have. Sometimes the solution is there, but you can’t tap into its power because of how you deployed it.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business. Click To Tweet

Remove Internal Silos of Control

Many companies operate as a group of disengaged fiefdoms. This occurs in departments such as operations, marketing, sales, accounting, tech support, and so forth. When management measures each department head for that unit’s individual performance, disconnected from the company’s overall objectives, the result is managers doing what is in the best interest of themselves, their job, and their staff. Customer needs and the overall good of the company comes in second. 

To correct this, deemphasize—but don’t eliminate—individual department objectives and performance incentives. Instead elevate company-wide results and the way in which each department plays a role to achieve those objectives. 

For example, companies are in business to make money, regardless of what their corporate vision and mission statement affirm. Look at how each department contributes to this, either directly or indirectly. It comes down to two activities: how much money they spend and what they do to drive revenue. It’s true that there are secondary metrics, often unique to each unit, that affect this. But to remove internal silos of control in your company, downplay the importance of the specific measurements and instead look at overall company metrics.

Empower Agents So They Can Best Serve Customers

Everyone knows to empower frontline people. However, this is easier to say than to do. It’s hard to let entry-level employees make decisions that cost money. Yet prohibiting them from doing so has an even worse result: it costs customers.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business, both now and in the future. Yes, sometimes empowered agents go overboard and make ill-advised decisions. Although undesirable, wouldn’t it be better for them to do that than being prohibited from doing what’s right for the customer, thus losing those customers?

Integrate Communications Channels

With omnichannel, the goal is to provide contact options for customers. Again, this requires sophisticated technology from vendors. Yet as end-users of contact center platforms, make sure that your implementation of the technology doesn’t interfere with your ability to use it to its fullest and enjoy integrated communications channels.

Final Thoughts

These are big-picture considerations. You won’t solve them quickly or easily, but you must pursue them if you want to provide the customer experience that callers expect—a customer experience that will retain them as your customers and not your competitors’.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Why Telephone Triage Nurses Are a Perfect Complement to Telemedicine



By Charu Raheja, PhD

Telehealth model

Telemedicine has been a medical buzzword for several years, and the variety and depth of services provided have grown dramatically during this time. There is little argume

nt that telemedicine is a great way to supplement traditional medical practices.

The advantages are clear: more convenient care for patients, more doctor availability, less driving time, and less waiting-room time. But like any new evolving field, there is still a learning curve and a need for developing a process that makes telemedicine viable and profitable and doesn’t require doctors to work 24/7 to meet patients’ requests.

One of the biggest hurdles for doctors is that their time with patients is limited. In a traditional office setting, nurses start the patient visit. Nurses take vitals, talk to patients, and evaluate their needs before a doctor walks in the room. The same type of process needs to be designed for telephone medicine, with the difference being that the nurse will do her job over telemedicine, just like the doctor.

Some practices have the nurses in their office taking patient calls and scheduling visits with a doctor. When managing these calls, the nurse needs to perform two tasks. First, the nurse must evaluate whether the patient actually needs the doctor or whether the nurse can help the patient over the phone with home care advice. Second, the nurse must document patient symptom information before making an appointment for the patient to speak with a doctor.

This is where having a good platform to document patient calls and ensure standard protocols comes in. This can ensure patient safety and help make the process efficient. Medical protocols—such as Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson’s protocols—ensure a standard care process every time a nurse takes a call. These protocols are also available electronically, making them easier to use than textbooks. Electronic protocols can also allow the care advice to be documented directly on the patient chart for review by the physician during the telehealth visit.

However, not all doctors offering telehealth services have nurses available to answer patient calls when they first come in. An alternative for these doctors is hiring a telephone nurse triage service. This can serve as an extension of the office by providing patients with a trained nurse to evaluate patient symptoms and determine what actions to take.

Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Click To Tweet

What sets a high-quality telephone nurse triage service apart is the ability for the physician to have custom orders and preferences built into the system so the nurses can act as a true extension of the physician. A high-quality nurse triage service is also able to schedule patient appointments when necessary.

Providing patients with access to triage nurses can also be helpful for those doctors who don’t have the ability to provide telehealth services 24/7. If given the appropriate instructions, triage nurses are typically able to resolve over 50 percent of callers’ issues without the need of a doctor.

From a survey of over 35,000 patient phone calls, in over 50 percent of the cases, the nurses were able to resolve the caller’s medical symptoms by giving them home care advice. These nurses were also able to determine which callers required a physical visit to an urgent care or an ER in an event of an emergency (such as symptoms of a potential heart attack).

Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Setting up a nurse triage system where nurses use standardized protocols to answer patient questions increases the productivity and profits for a doctor’s practice.

When nurses use triage protocols, physicians can have confidence that they are asking the right questions and not missing anything. The basic patient information, the protocols used, and the nurse notes can also be used as a quick reference for the physician prior to the telehealth visit—similar to the notes doctors receive when their nurses first see a patient during a physical office visit.

Charu Raheja, PhD, is the CEO of TriageLogic a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive after-hours medical call center software, daytime triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call. Customers include both institutional and private practices. If your hospital or practice is looking for information on setting up a nurse triage service, contact TriageLogic to get a quote or set up a demo.

Channel Surf to Enhance Your Customer’s Journey



Call Centers That Switch between Multiple Channels Enhance Customer Experiences

By Steve Newell

Changing trends to the contact center arena is a response to changes in consumer behavior and not solely the result of changing business strategies. Today’s customers are increasingly savvier about using various digital channels for their day-to-day communication.

Consider the following everyday scenarios where people use multiple channels to communicate:

  • Dad calls his son on his cell. It rings and goes to voicemail. He sends a quick text and gets a reply text immediately.
  • Mom WhatsApps her daughter on vacation overseas. The daughter responds to Mom and then initiates a FaceTime session, both successfully navigating around long-distance tariffs.
  • Dad texts Mom about weekend plans, and they go back and forth discussing various options, sending web pages, and reading reviews. Finally, Dad simply calls Mom to finalize plans.

In each case, these individuals are seamlessly surfing between communication channels, even within the same engagement. So why is it that analysts have determined contact center traffic is still 80 percent voice and email, while only 20 percent of traffic flows through all the other channels (social media, video, chat, Facebook Messenger, etc.) combined?

Surely customers are able and eager to move beyond simply voice and email. Call centers and agents that are able to surf multiple channels alongside their customers and offer “one call, one agent” resolution will truly enhance their customers’ journeys.

Why Do I Need to Provide and Staff Multiple Channels?

Let’s look at those three common scenarios more closely to see how offering many different channels can empower your customers and enhance their experience with your team.

Contact centers will need the ability to cover all the main communication channels because conversations will increasingly move from one channel to another as the engagement deepens Click To Tweet

Chat

When Dad calls his son, the son doesn’t answer, but when Dad texts him, he texts right back. The son is saying, “I don’t want to talk. I want to control this conversation.” As exasperating as that might be for Dad, it’s important to realize that the son is going to comprise the bulk of your customers in the future, and that is how they want to engage.

Though voice calls aren’t at risk of going extinct anytime soon, millennials—who make up an overwhelmingly vast percentage of the mobile phone market—prefer not to have to speak on the phone. To be more exact, they would rather text. According to OpenMarket (May 5, 2016), when given the choice between being able only to text versus call on their mobile phone, a whopping 75 percent of millennials chose texting over talking.

Our goal is to make it easier for our customers to connect with us how and when they want, and chat offers a familiar and comfortable option.

Video

Mom WhatsApps her daughter, and they end up switching channels to have a video call. Why? It is strategic: “I don’t want to pay for an overseas call, especially on a cell phone,” but it’s also emotional. Mom misses her daughter and wants more than a voice connection. She wants to see her. In your contact center, there will be times when the people you serve will want the connection that a video call provides. Video is great when you don’t want to travel, such as for telehealth, or when a picture just won’t do, such as video of car damage after an accident.

“Video chat provides customers with a richer sense of presence, personalized experience helped by coordination of communication and the support of emotional expression, and the real-time sharing of content,” stated Brian Manusama, research director at Gartner. 

It is telling when global business leaders recognize that adding the video component to their services is necessary to provide a more meaningful and personal customer experience.

Voice

In the third scenario, Mom and Dad exchange text messages and website addresses, but in the end, they need to talk to get final resolution. It is empowering for a client to fully control their engagement by surfing a website (no agent engagement), asking questions on the webchat portal (partial agent engagement), and finally picking up the phone to speak with the same live agent to get questions answered and complete the transaction (full agent engagement). There will always be a significant role for voice in the contact center, and combining voice with other channels increases its effectiveness and improves the customer experience.

What Kind of Technology Will I Need?

Contact centers will need the ability to cover all the main communication channels (voice, video, webchat, text, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and so forth) because conversations will increasingly move from one channel to another as the engagement deepens. It is also important to be able to view all these channels inside a single portal so the agent can surf from one channel to another seamlessly, just as the customer does.

Can a Single Agent Handle All These Channels?

With a single view of all these channels, yes. Clients get frustrated when they are handed from agent to agent, having to explain and re-explain their situation to different people, all the while wondering if each channel transition loses significant details. Offering a “one call, one agent” resolution provides an excellent experience for your customers.

Clearly, the way we communicate with each other is evolving rapidly, and all these new, additional channels offer great opportunities to enhance the customer experience. Our challenge is to combine thoughtful planning, intelligent technology, and constant training to deliver exceptional service for our customers.

Steve Newell is a telecommunications veteran of over twenty years, including eleven years in the telephone answering service software field. He currently serves as regional sales director for Cirrus Response, a premier developer of contact center solutions specializing in omnichannel, AI, and translation software.

What Kind of Customer Experience Do You Provide?



Customer Experience Is More Than a Buzzword—It’s the Path to Success

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

People love to share their stories about their experiences when interacting with various companies. They post things online, which can have a far reach and may go viral. They also tell people face-to-face, which doesn’t have the reach but has more impact.

The types of stories they like to share seldom fall in the category of typical. Instead they pick outlier examples to tell others about. These are either interactions that went amazingly well or ones that went shockingly bad. The normal experiences are just too average to warrant much attention.

Instead they want to share extreme examples, which are far more fun to recount.

Enhancing the customer experience isn’t the goal. Delighting customers and winning their loyalty is the objective we must seek. Click To Tweet

Negative Customer Experience

Most of the time, extreme customer experience examples are not positive ones. This may be because companies let us down more than they delight us. Or it could be because bad news garners more attention. If you doubt that, just watch the nightly news. Better yet, don’t watch the news, and take my word for it. Rarely does the news include any feel-good stories, even though they do exist.

The more horrific the customer experience, the more interesting it seems, and the more it resonates with everyone who hears it. Revealing their bad experiences to others results in a shared experience of customer service gone awry. We’ve all been there. We all have our stories. We tell them in person to our friends and families, and even strangers. We post them online, forming a permanent record for all to see of how poorly a company treated us and how badly they wronged us.

When we vent, we feel better. This may be the only redress we’ll ever receive for the wounds inflicted upon us by some company. It doesn’t correct the mistake, but it does lessen the sting—just a bit. Unfortunately, the company who stands as the villain in these stories can suffer much and suffer long, especially when the stories are posted online.

Positive Customer Experience

Much less common is a positive customer experience. Though it’s possible they may not happen as often, it’s more likely that we aren’t so compelled to share them. We gain more traction by sharing our horrors than our delights. Even so, astounding customer experiences happen every day. It’s just that we’re less aware of them, because people are less inclined to take the time to share them.

Yet when shared, these stories serve to create a positive bond between us and the company. These tales create loyalty, and they produce repeat business. This is true for us, and it carries over to positively affect the people who hear them.

Just as negative customer experiences have a harmful impact on the company, positive customer experiences create the opposite.

Enhancing the Customer Experience

The customer service bar continually rises. What consumers considered excellent service five years ago is now the minimum standard. Furthermore, what was the acceptable standard five years ago may have now degraded to unacceptable.

Just to stay even, we must seek to enhance the customer experience. And to gain ground, we must go beyond merely enhancing customers’ experience to overhauling it.

We don’t achieve the needed changes by making incremental improvements. Tracking metrics and seeking to improve them seldom correlates to enhanced customer experiences. Instead, we need to rethink all we do in our customer-facing interactions. This includes knocking down internal silos of information and control, empowering agents to do what’s right to best serve customers, and integrating communication channels.

As we do these things to overhaul our provision of customer service, we will enhance the customer experience. But remember, enhancing the customer experience isn’t the goal. Delighting customers and winning their loyalty is the objective we must seek.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

What Does an Optimal Customer Experience with a Call Center Look Like?



By Daymon Smith

As the healthcare landscape shifts toward a value-based care model, consumers and patients are taking more responsibility for their individual health. The combination of higher premiums, copays, and deductibles mean consumers hold the care they receive to a higher standard. They research competitive pricing, treatment quality, and customer service to make informed decisions.

This shift in focus within the healthcare sector has increased the importance of offering consumers and patients value that goes beyond quality care and treatment options. More specifically, healthcare marketers prioritize personalized engagement on an individual level. They match consumers with the resources, providers, and treatment options that offer the best overall health outcomes and highest customer experience.

In this effort, hospitals and organizations have started to optimize the role call centers play, adopting a variety of capabilities to merge disparate points of contact into one centralized, proactive call center. Also known as an engagement center, these modernized call centers, which work in conjunction with healthcare risk management (HCRM), enable healthcare providers to deliver the level of customer experience and personalization consumers expect.

The ideal customer experience a consumer should receive when engaging with a call center is key. Healthcare providers should strive to deliver this level of customer service through technology and training.

Customer Service Expectations in Healthcare

Today’s consumer expects quality customer service across their health journey, from first point of contact to post-care engagement. Often the first point of communication between a customer and the healthcare organization, call centers face the responsibility of living up to the expectations of modern healthcare consumers. In fact, they handle around 68 percent of all customer communications, further emphasizing why consumers hold the call center customer service they receive to a higher standard.

Consumers expect:  

Personalized Service:When patients and consumers interact with the healthcare call center, they expect insights, resources, and interactions personalized to their unique health journey. Therefore, call center agents must understand each patient’s issues and provide solutions proactively.

Single-Call Resolution:It’s crucial that call center agents tap caller data to provide actionable and individualized recommendations, connect them with doctors and physicians, provide useful and relevant resources, and proactively anticipate consumer needs.

Cross-Channel Capabilities:Traditionalcall center operations exist in operational silos, resulting in a fragmented customer experience. With an HCRM-enabled engagement center, health systems deliver the seamless and personalized experiences customers want across communication channels, including the call center, patient portal, and email.

Facility the Patient Journey: Successful agents move callers forward along the patient journey.Quality customer service within the healthcare sector extends far beyond one phone call. Patients expect guidance and assistance from healthcare organizations throughout their care experience. This includes communication, connecting the consumer with necessary resources and solutions, and ensuring the experience is as convenient as possible.

Here’s an example: At the start of the patient journey, a consumer submits a website form submission requesting information on shoulder pain. After receiving the requested information in an email, the customer is placed in an outbound calling queue for follow-up.

The call center agent provides additional information and offers to connect the customer with a specialist. The call center agent connects them with an orthopedic physician near their home and sends timely reminders before the appointments.

During the appointment, the physician recommends physical therapy. The patient receives a call the same day from the call center to match them with a physical therapist and schedule their first appointment. The patient receives an SMS reminder forty-eight hours before the appointment. Recording each interaction with the organization in the healthcare CRM ensures continuity and enables personalization throughout the patient journey.

A healthcare CRM program serves as the foundation for successful engagement. Click To Tweet

Technology for Optimized Healthcare Customer Service

The customer service consumers expect from healthcare organizations forces call centers to evolve into comprehensive engagement centers. With the goal of serving as a strategic tool for engagement, revenue growth, and greater visibility into return on investment, these call centers combine technology with call center agent training for optimized customer service.

For call centers looking to shift toward becoming an engagement center, a healthcare CRM program serves as the foundation for successful engagement. With an HCRM in place, call centers can provide consistent, unified communications with patients and consumers while connecting disparate points of contact throughout the health system. Additionally, an HCRM provides call center agents with a 360-degree view into the customer data needed to facilitate personalized, efficient consumer interactions.

More specifically, call center agents can take advantage of unique customer profiles—a collection of demographic data, prior interactions with the organization, contact preferences, and appointments and medical history—to ensure they’re using the best method of communication (phone, email, or chat) and delivering relevant health information.

An engagement center should also incorporate marketing automation to send reminders and resources throughout the patient journey. Marketing automation tools help call centers maintain long-term engagement to promote patient acquisition and strengthens patient retention.

Call Center Training for Optimized Customer Service

Like any job, the better the training, the greater the impact. For healthcare call center agents, training is a significant facilitator to outstanding patient and customer service. One of the most important aspects of call center training revolves around the proper use of call center scripts.

By developing scripts to guide agent conversations, healthcare organizations ensure that the call center customer experience aligns with marketing efforts. Additionally, scripts can help call center agents focus on guiding customers toward a pleasant and timely resolution of their queries.

As a good practice, call centers should equip agents with at least one script for each campaign, which they can tailor to the individual customer while reflecting their location within the patient journey.

Another important element to call center training is ensuring that agents can handle any nonclinical queries. Given the high volume of customer interactions call center agents handle each day, it’s crucial that they have a clear understanding of the healthcare organization ecosystem, as well as the capability to handle queries on the fly.

Final Thoughts

Consumers today expect more value from their care providers. Optimizing the traditional healthcare call center into a modern engagement center helps provide the efficiency, personalization, and capabilities that have become synonymous with superior customer service.

To best leverage the potential of call centers and optimize the customer experience within them, healthcare organizations need to incorporate modern marketing technology and comprehensive training into their strategies.

Daymon Smith is the vice president, engagement center practice leader at Evariant. He focuses on leading health systems in their move to a proactive call center model that improves the overall patient experience and generates revenue for the system.

What Is a Great Customer Service Department?



By Tom Cunningham

If you took a random survey of companies across the globe and asked them if they had a great customer service department, what do you think they would say? Many would say they do. But if you took the customers of those same companies and asked them the same question, I bet you would get a different answer.

Most customers do not have what they would consider a great experience. Somehow, as leaders, we might tell ourselves comforting lies to protect ourselves from unpleasant truths. Instead you need to figure out how to close that gap between the goal of excellent customer service with how customers perceive your efforts—which is your company’s true customer experience.If you make your core values a living, breathing culture in your company, you are well on your way to creating a great customer service department that will set you apart from your competition. Click To Tweet

Make Core Values Real

The first thing is to put policies, procedures, and training into place to deliver on your company’s core values. Many times I walk into a customer service department and see strong, powerful words, developed by the company through extensive effort, with the expectation that the department will follow them.

When I ask employees to recite these core values, I usually get a deer-in-the-headlights look. When I dig deeper and ask how the company measures these core values, they either shrug or say, “I don’t know.” If I ask the leaders of the customer service departments the same questions, I get the same response ninety-nine times out of one hundred. The company has put so much time and energy into developing these ideals, only to have them end up being just words on a wall.

Do you want to be more? Do you want to create a great customer service department?

If so, it will take a lot of work, but you will create something that only a few brands have achieved. It hinges on bringing your core values to life within your customer service department. Unless you can support an action or decision by your core values, you do not do it, period. All brands with great customer service departments treat their core values as more than just words on paper. They invest time and resources to ensure each employee has a clear understanding of those values and how they directly interweave with their job.

Ask Key Questions

The second thing is to ask the following questions:

  • What are the typical measurements and response times in your industry?
  • What are your competitors doing about customer service?
  • What level of service are your customers accustomed to?
  • How can your brand continue to delight your customers?

If you can’t answer these questions, you have some work to do. Study your industry, become a secret shopper, and learn the habits and behaviors of your customers. When you approach customer service this way, you establish a differentiator from your peers that will create a great customer service department.

While working with a CEO, I did some secret-shopper tasks on their brand and their competitors. What I found was eye-opening for that executive team. The industry was set up as an omni-channel, which is simply a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience. I took each avenue and tested their brand against their competitors.

They returned social media messages anywhere from twenty-two hours to eleven days later. They answered email messages anywhere from two hours and forty-five minutes to eight hours and eleven minutes later. Both sets of results left me underwhelmed.

Not only was the time between my inquiry and their response subpar, but in most cases, it wasn’t helpful at all or they simply told me to call customer service. The question I asked them was simple: “Why would you offer this channel if you were merely going to tell me to call customer service or not provide me with the information I requested?”

If I were a real customer, I wouldn’t have followed up. When I called each brand, the hold times were either short or I was on hold for over five minutes. However, each call was bland at best and left me, the customer, to do the work after they made their suggestions. The goal is to make the customer effort seamless, and the company did not deliver.

Set Expectations

Finally, with this information, I invited the CEO to consider the following to wow the customer.

  • What channels did they want to use and commit to so they could be most effective: social media, email, chat, or phone?
  • How quickly will they respond to customers on each channel?
  • To close out a request, what turnaround time are they going to communicate to their employees and customers?
  • How will they behave when dealing with customers? Consider tone, language, attitude, empathy, and so forth.
  • Who in the company is responsible for customer service?

These queries are just the first in a series of questions and actions for a brand to consider when a company starts its journey to create a great customer service department. Too many brands settle for just good enough. Is that what you want for your brand, your employees, and your customers? I hope the answer is no.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to create something special—a lasting brand in a competitive market with the needed customer service experience and your success as a company—it all starts with you as the leader. You must be willing—through communication, training, and execution—to hold yourself, your leaders, and your employees up to your core values.

If those values are simply words on paper, your customer service department will never be anything more than a job where people do what they must to collect a paycheck and keep their job. However, if you make your core values a living, breathing culture in your company, you are well on your way to creating a great customer service department that will set you apart from your competition and put you on par with the best in the world.

Tom Cunningham is the North American director of SAAS operations at PerfectServe. Tom has twenty-two years of call center operations management experience. Contact Tom at 865-719-6960 or tcunningham@perfectserve.net.

Need Responsive, Fast-Flex Customer Service?



Get Real with On-Demand, Virtual Contact Center Solutions

By Kim Houlne

Forget real time. Business today runs on get-real time. Enabled by in-the-moment experiences. Catering to rising consumer expectations. To remain relevant, companies require fast-flex service and responsive customer care.

Contact centers operate within this immediacy and expectancy—some with limitations. For instance, brick-and-mortar call centers are restricted by square footage and number of seats. Available talent is confined to local ZIP codes. And at times these centers find themselves in harm’s way when hurricanes or blizzards blow through.

By contrast, virtual contact centers are mobile and move with the business. As demand fluctuates, they turn ever-ready expertise on or off from anywhere, accommodating upticks and downturns. More fluid, these remote resources often are outsourced as stand-alone operations or auxiliary workforces to in-house teams.Extending the brand with qualified customer reps who get it. Got it. And that’s good for clients and their customers. Click To Tweet

Get It? Got it. Good.

With contracted agents on the job and in reserve, work can shift as seasons change, market trends rise and fall, and unforeseen circumstances dictate. By itself, being virtual isn’t enough, however.

Success relies on proven, on-demand processes—from recruiting to onboarding to agent development—and a steady supply of quality reps to sustain performance. Needed are industry-skilled agents who are quick studies and think fast, with rapid-fire service that’s right out of the movies. Like this:

Customer: “I’d like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?”

Agent: “Got it.”

Customer: “Good.”

Get Real

Those lines, taken from the classic Danny Kaye film, Court Jester, exemplify the essence of stellar service: delivered promptly, as expected. For contact center clients, the get it?—got it—good, or G³, approach, is as strategic as it is well-timed for their customers. This means quick-turn solutions supplied by agile agents.

Such an on-demand model reduces overhead, eliminates capital expenses, and elevates service. Unlimited in scope, agents scale up or down for everyday operations, seasonal surges, and long-range projects.

The question is: How does a business achieve such workforce flexibility and responsiveness? One answer: Outsource with an on-demand contact service provider with the wherewithal to get real.

To be sure, this requires due diligence to get, if not guarantee, a good return on investment (ROI). Clients should do vetting up front to ensure that the service provider has the means and motivation to:

  • Recruit and retain remote agents with coveted skills
  • Immerse them in a client’s culture, business, and brand
  • Invest in their ongoing development for long-term ROI

Pay the Price—Now or Later

What it comes down to is whether a service provider looks at agents as an investment in a client’s success or merely sees them as a business expense to be passed on. Whatever the perception, outcomes will reflect the level of commitment and customer satisfaction scores.

Consider this: IBM Watson reports that “the overall turnover rate for the call center industry is between 30–45 percent, and each individual turnover can cost a company upwards of $6,440.” Now, let’s multiply it out, with 100 agents on an account. A 30 to 45 percent attrition rate adds up to $193,200 to $289,800. Gone.

That’s a three-way loss: wasted money, high attrition, and sullied service. The provider, client, and its customers all lose.

An Investment, Not an Expense

Regardless of how much self-service automation occurs, high-quality agents remain core to contact center services. Why? Because customers want to talk with agents to resolve problems too complex for chatbots. So, to avoid double-digit turnover and poor service, doesn’t it make good sense and ROI to value agents?

Virtual contact center operators know that remote agents, as independent contractors, work where they want. Their skills are in demand, just like the on-demand services they provide. That’s a given in the gig economy.

So the best working relationship, then, should be quid quo pro—with benefits shared among the provider, agents, and clients alike.

A high-functioning, on-demand workforce takes three things:

  1. A caring culture to attract the best agent applicants
  2. Know-how to educate and engage agents in a client’s business
  3. Ongoing investment to retain agents and build client relationships

Caring Culture Connects

These days, with record low unemployment and savvy digital workers, a low-scoring workplace—be it virtual or brick-and-mortar—probably is at a loss to find and keep talent. If a company doesn’t care, why even apply, much less stay?

Look no further than the jobsite Glassdoor, where employees and contractors rate companies and their leaders. Not only are those reviews read by job applicants, they’re also scanned by would-be clients wanting contact center services.

Face it: if workers aren’t happy, it’s a good bet they won’t be pleasing a client’s customers. That’s why a worthwhile work environment, especially a remote one, needs intelligence on three levels: emotional intelligence complemented by artificial intelligence and intelligent agents—or I³.

G³ * I³ = (G * I)³

Together they equal customer service, which is essential.

Becoming the Client Brand

When a company outsources, it entrusts not only customer service, but its entire brand to a contact center provider. As such, agents need to be immersed in the culture and business—becoming the brand.

Brick-and-mortar call centers normally have subject-matter experts who onboard agents. That’s okay, within limits. Usually it involves one-way classroom lectures or repetitive webinars. At best, by-rote instruction creates a workforce of automaton agents, whose knowledge extends only as far as the lessons taught.

Interactive by design, a virtual contact center classroom goes further to do more. Here, teaching is led by degreed educators who adapt a client’s training to an online education platform, such as Canvas, a learning management system.

To engage agents, curriculum is broken down into micro-learning (PowToon), interactive experiences (Umu), or gamification (educaplay). The result is agents who role-play real-life, customer situations and don’t parrot canned responses by rote.

Investing for the Long Term

Client services and products continually change. Upgrades occur. New products are introduced. Add to them e-commerce that accelerates every aspect of business. Contact center agents must evolve with these changes, if not anticipate them.

Continuing education, complemented by an agent community website, are essential for ongoing development. Remember that $6,440 turnover cost per agent? Odds are the agents who left were given short shrift or felt adrift after their initial onboarding. And bye-bye is the by-product.

High agent attrition atrophies any business. So, when contracting contact center service providers, ask them: “What’s your retention rate?” Three years is a good average. The best contact service providers have agent tenure ranging up to five, ten, and even fifteen years. Clearly, they invest in agents for the long term.

In the end, outsourcing contact services isn’t about adding bodies—be they brick-and-mortar or remote. It’s about extending the brand with qualified customer reps who get it. Got it. And that’s good for clients and their customers.

Kim Houlne, CEO and president of Working Solutions, pioneered virtual contact center services in 1996.  Before founding the company, she held senior management positions in consulting. A graduate of the University of Georgia, she delivered a 2016 graduation keynote address

The Failure of New Customer Discounts



Companies Focus on New Customer Acquisition and Then Encourage Customers to Leave in Two Years

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

My family just completed our biennial cell phone switch. We’ve been doing this like clockwork for two decades. We pick the company that offers the best price and switch to that one. Two years later our rates jump, and no amount of pleading results in a package we can accept. So we switch carriers.

Of course, the same thing happens with our internet service provider and our cable TV/satellite provider. They also entice us with low introductory rates and then methodically jack up our bill every chance they get. We’re on a two-year cycle with them too.

Loyalty Goes Both Ways

new customer

I’d prefer to find a vendor I can stick with and not change every two years. All they need to do to earn my loyalty is to offer fair prices. But they don’t. They give sweet deals to new customers as they gouge their current ones. They apparently value new business more than existing business. Don’t they know it costs several times more to gain new customers than to simply keep the ones they have? They should, but their actions don’t show it.

They prove their disloyalty to me with their unfair pricing. This causes me to be disloyal to them, and I have no regret about leaving them for a better deal. They’ve trained me to act this way.

The Burden on Customer Service Staff

Each time we switch a provider, we make multiple calls and even visits to each potential vendor, gathering information and looking for potential shortfalls in their service package. Of course, we foolishly start with our existing provider, but they’re not interested in keeping our business—at least not yet.

As we proceed, we take time with our existing provider and then all their competitors, including the one we eventually select. Our existing provider spends time with us to lose our business. Our new provider spends a couple of hours to close the deal and transfer our account. That’s a huge investment of time to obtain an account they won’t keep. In addition, all the other providers waste time with a prospect they won’t land.

The Impact on Customers

As customers, we spend a lot of time analyzing our options. Then we expend more time switching providers. But the biggest investment of our time is programming and learning our new technology, be it our phones, video entertainment, or internet access. Maybe someday I will gladly accept my bill doubling to avoid the agony of switching. Or maybe not.It costs several times more to gain new customers than to simply keep the ones you have. Click To Tweet

Churning Customers Is a Futile Business Model

If companies worked harder to keep the customers they have, there wouldn’t be so much pressure to gain new ones. They wouldn’t have to offer their new-customer incentives, which are likely at or below cost. They wouldn’t have to spend as much money on marketing. And their sales and customer service people could avoid a lot a of needless effort that produces no results.

Too Late to Make a Difference

Most of the time, once we switch providers, our former provider then makes a last-ditch effort to “win back” our business. But they’re too late. We’ve just gone through the agony of considering our options and doing a thorough spreadsheet analysis. We’ve gone through the pain of switching. We have shiny new equipment, which looks promising—once we learn how to use it. And now they think they can keep our business? No way. The only way we’ll do business with them is in two, four, or six years as we go through another cycle of selecting a new provider.

Though these service providers will persist in their insane cycle of customer acquisition and churn, your company doesn’t have to. Make sure you don’t follow their foolish example.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.