How Would You Like us to Contact You?

By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineAfter our basement flooded and the insurance company said, “Sorry, you’re not covered,” I knew it was time to find a new insurer. As I scanned a website for an insurance agent’s phone number, I spotted an information request form. I filled it out, including the customer-centric option: “How should we contact you?”

The five choices were phone, email, text, fax, and mail. While the last three seemed highly unsuitable – text would become cumbersome and fax or mail would take too long – I vacillated between a phone call and an email. I selected email, largely because it would provide a documentation trail of our communication.

I clicked submit.

Soon my phone rang. It was an agent from my prospective insurance company. Normally a phone call would have been fine, even preferable. But why did they ask what I wanted if they weren’t going to do as I requested? We weren’t off to a good start.

I reminded the agent that I preferred email communication, and we switched to email for our subsequent interactions. To the company’s credit, the agent stuck with that channel. As we moved towards finalizing the policy, I had a series of questions more suited to the efficiency of a phone call. This caught the agent off guard, but she answered my questions and confirmed my understanding. I now have insurance through a new company.

This reminds me of the time I looked for a new auto mechanic. The one I picked allowed people to request an appointment online. I filled out the form. They, too, asked how I wanted to be contacted. I selected “text” since I assumed this was the ideal channel for a succinct confirmation message.

They emailed me.

The date I requested was full, and so was my second choice. Obviously their appointment module was a static form and not integrated with their actual schedule. I emailed them back with a third date, and I received a follow up email with a question. We went back and forth with email messages, taking most of the day to set an appointment. A phone call would have been so much more efficient.

Since then I’ve realized that email is their default mode. Though I’ve requested texts to confirm appointments, they’ve never once done so; it’s always email. And when I ask them to call me when my car is ready, they usually don’t bother to communicate at all. The only time they did call me was when they under-billed me. Apparently they thought a phone call was the best way to resolve that.

Considering this, a few thoughts come to mind:

Offering Options Is Good: Letting customers and prospects pick how they prefer to be contacted is a customer-friendly move and a great idea, especially given that customers usually have options of who to do business with and are quick to exercise those options.

Not Honoring Those Options Is Bad: Not using the channel a customer requests is worse than not offering the option in the first place. If you can’t (or won’t) contact customers by the method they request, don’t bother to ask.

Not Responding at All Is Worse: Making no effort to contact customers when they request it is the worst possible mistake. How hard would it be for my mechanic to let me know when my car is ready? He can call, email, or text. Instead I’m left to guess when I can pick up my car.

Know When to Switch Channels: Sometimes a preferred channel bogs down communication. When emails or texts go back and forth without resolution, it’s time to pick up the phone, but before doing so, make that suggestion through the customer’s channel of choice.

Asking how customers want you to contact them is great if you follow through, but if you don’t do as they request, you’re better off not providing this as an option. Conversely know when it’s appropriate to switch channels. Providing excellent customer service relies on excellent communication, whether it’s within the requested channel or outside of it.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from www.authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

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Are You Ready for Customer Service Week?

By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI recently received an email from my friend Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor. For several years Nancy had a regular column in Connections Magazine. I count twenty-eight articles in all, which are still online on ConnectionsMagazine.com for your perusal. For the most part, they are just as relevant now as they were a decade ago. She shared some great advice with us. Go check them out. Just type “By Nancy Friedman” in the search box.

In her email Nancy reminded me that Customer Service Week is coming up, October 5 through 9. I’d like to say this was a personal message from her to me, but it wasn’t. It was a mass mailing. You may have received her email, too. The important thing is that we celebrate Customer Service Week.

To have a successful call center, we need the right equipment, a robust infrastructure, great supervisors, and excellent management. But none of that matters without the right staff. Our agents are our key to success. Without them nothing else counts, and a really great team can even help overcome deficiencies in other areas of our operation, be it technology or leadership.

Yet in the day-to-day grind of running a call center, when we look at the schedule and the payroll, it’s all too easy to see agents as an expense. We can forget they are the backbone of our operation. Without their customer service skills, nothing else matters. Though we should celebrate them daily, at least we can take one week a year to make it all about them.

Consider all they do. First, they interact with customers who are too often at their worst when they call, text, or email. Agents endure a lot of abuse, usually without faltering. Of course we seldom hear about all they do right. It’s only the occasional slipup that gets attention.

Next, consider their schedule. Most people want to work nine to five, Monday through Friday. Call center staff seldom enjoy that luxury. We schedule them at odd times throughout the morning, afternoon, or evening. And there’s weekend work, third shift, and, of course, holidays. There are also short-shifts, split-shifts, unplanned overtime, and an occasional unavoidable double shift. While we try to avoid these inconveniences, sometimes we can’t. We ask much from our loyal staff.

Of course we give them lunch and supper breaks, but these must be staggered because the customers’ needs come first. As a result, few agents can eat lunch at noon or dinner at six. At some centers they never get to eat when the rest of us do because that is often the precise time we need everyone working.

Sometimes we fail to develop the ideal schedule. If we overstaff they’re bored, and their shift drags. When we understaff, they work nonstop with frenzied vigor. They leave work exhausted. If this happens too often, we risk burning them out.

For all this, we pay them as much as we can, and we wish it was more, but we also must balance their compensation with the need to remain viable as a business. We try to do extra things for them when possible, such as provide birthday treats, holiday celebrations, themed events, rewards and special recognition, parties, and food – lots of food. Though we may do these on an ongoing basis, we could likely do more for our staff, the agents who keep everything flowing and our businesses humming.

Let’s make an extra effort this Customer Service Week. Let’s thank our agents and celebrate them. Let’s show our appreciation by words and through actions. We may not say “thank you” often enough, but at least we can attempt to make up for it one week. Nancy Friedman suggests we consider making the week “negative free,” with “no negative words, thoughts, or deeds to anyone.” I like that.

If you want more tips, go to www.csweek.com. They have more ideas than you’ll have time to implement. And you might have so much fun that you decide to carry some of the ideas over to the weeks and months ahead.

Let’s celebrate our staff during Customer Service Week – and all year long.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from www.authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2015]

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Is Being Effective Good Enough?

By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineIt doesn’t matter if a call is answered in a modern contact center or by one person in a small, single-phone office. In both cases customers evaluate them the same way and expect the same outcomes; each call is compared with every other call and judged accordingly, regardless of who took the call or the technology behind it.

Consider three recent experiences I had in calling businesses without a call center.

1) A Husband-and-Wife Team: I needed to have a home inspection. A friend recommended a husband-and-wife team. He handled all the inspection; she handled all the office work. When I called, the quality of our interaction left me in awe. Not only was she professional, personal, and efficient, but she also excelled at high-level traits we value in the call center industry, such as tone, pacing, and pitch. It was as close to a perfect call as I’ve ever experienced.

When I had to call back to reschedule, she had a positive, no-problem attitude. Though I was inconveniencing them, there was no hint of that in her voice. Again the results were impressive. Even more amazing is that she handled this call while in the car on her way to pick up one of her kids. I would have not known had she not apologized.

2) The Small Office: Next I called a local service company. I easily accomplished my objective of scheduling an appointment. Though the person wasn’t skilled at customer service, I was pleased with her quick response.

Later I called back with a time-critical question. It was after hours, and she chastised me for calling in the evening. However, she did answer my question. Again I was happy to have an answer.

The next day I had a follow-up question. This time my query was met with unrestrained impatience. She promised me a return call later that day and then changed it to “within twenty-four hours.” The callback never came, but someone did show up two days later. In the end, my frustration with her was offset by the professional work of her staff.

3) A Family Business: My third call was in response to a postcard sent by a landscaping company. The wife answered the phone. She was friendly, although too casual for my taste. Still we established a rapport despite her lack of professionalism. Her overly familiar demeanor coupled with the absence of a hold button caused me to shake my head. In addition I don’t believe they even had an answering machine, because she always answered the phone regardless of how many times it rang; the record was nine. Often self-deprecating, she was nonetheless helpful on each call. In my many calls, her call handling never changed. I give her high marks for consistency.

Her husband, who handled the landscaping with their kids, was much the same in his conduct, overly friendly to the point of over sharing. Still, the finished product was well done and at a reasonable price.

Being Effective Is Essential: In each case I deem my interactions as effective because I accomplished my desired purpose. Being effective means the caller’s reason for calling is addressed, and the customer is pleased. A rating of “effective” sets the minimal expectations for a call center. Effective is our baseline.

Not Effective: Calls that are not effective are failures: The callers’ objectives weren’t accomplished, and they weren’t satisfied with the results. Too many organizations run call centers that are not effective. Wrong information is given; billing errors are not corrected; callbacks don’t happen; and repeated calls occur, with no movement toward resolution.

Surpassing Effective: Other call centers offer the other extreme, being effective and then offering more: professional, accurate, consistent, and empathetic, with first call resolution.

Whether you have one phone or hundreds of agents, first ensure you are effective in handling calls. Then take things to a higher level by being more than effective; become everything your callers hope for when they contact you.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from www.authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine – July/August 2015]

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Your Service Is Only as Good as Your Weakest Link

By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineThe last few days have been challenging at the DeHaan household. Too much rain in too short of a time produced localized flooding. Coupled with some unusual factors with our house and lot, the result was water gushing into our basement. It took four pumps, several hours of bailing, and the help of family and neighbors to stem the flow and remove the water faster than it entered.

Though things could have been much worse, every room in our lower level sustained water damage. As soon as the crisis was under control and I had gratefully thanked all our rescuers, I turned my attention to the cleanup. I called the local office of a national firm that specializes in such things.

We got off to a good start. They answered their phone quickly and readily comprehended my situation. Though the person I talked to could have treated my disaster with a hint of empathy rather than as a routine scheduling matter, she did accomplish my main objective: confirmation that they knew just what to do to clean up the water. I decided to wait until morning when their rates were lower and I could verify that the problem was completely resolved. After all, there was no sense cleaning up twice.

A few hours later I wondered if I should be doing something to prepare for them in the morning. I called back, assuming I’d reach an after-hours answering service or call center. I did not. I think I reached the same person I talked to earlier. She was not pleased. “This is the emergency line”

“We’re already scheduled for a team to come out at nine tomorrow, and I have a question,” I explained.

“I don’t have your records with me; they’re at the office.”

I wondered why she bothered answering the phone if she wasn’t prepared to help. I pressed forward. “Is there anything I should do before they arrive?”

This seemed like a legitimate question; she apparently felt otherwise. Though we failed to communicate, I did learn they would move furniture as needed. And I gathered that it would be wise for us to move smaller items beforehand. By 11:00 p.m. my wife and I had our living room piled high with items from the basement. We fell into bed exhausted.

The team leader showed up at 8:35 the next morning, thoroughly explaining their procedure. The rest of the team arrived just before nine and went to work. When they finished by 2:00 p.m., we learned the extent of the damage (and that insurance wouldn’t cover a thing).

Before he left, the team leader reiterated that normally someone would come out each day to assess the drying process and make sure there weren’t any issues. However, since they were busy because of the rains, it might not happen every day.

Though I routinely monitored the two industrial dehumidifiers and twenty cyclone-strength fans strategically arranged in my basement, no one from their company did. I waited three days and finally called them.

“Your rep told me someone would check on the fans every day, but it’s been three days and no one…”

“We’re really busy,” the woman I spoke with interjected. “Someone will be out. It might not be today, but they will be out.”

“I have some concerns; it’s getting hot and…”

“It’s supposed to get hot; that’s how it’s designed to work.”

I didn’t ask the rest of my questions; it seemed pointless.

“I’ll make a note you have ‘concerns,’” she said with a hint of sarcasm, “but don’t expect anyone until tomorrow.”

My wife was incensed. “Call them back; demand an answer.”

“I don’t want to make them mad. They might charge us more.”

“Call back during lunch,” she suggested. “Maybe you’ll get someone else.”

I shook my head. “I think they’ve forgotten who the customer is.”

Though the team who cleaned our basement was thorough and professional, with an excellent team leader, their phone staff is their weak link, with their sub-par performance forming my overall impression of their service.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from www.authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine May/June 2015]

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How Long Should a Call Take?

By Peter L DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineMy wife and I recently moved. There were the typical myriad of details to attend to, including arranging for utilities. I had three calls to make: one for natural gas, one for electricity, and one for water.

I called the electric company first, as I assumed this would be the easiest. They had provided us with natural gas at our prior home for a quarter of a century, so we had an existing relationship with them and an excellent payment history. Pulling up our account and tying it to our new location would be easy – or so I reasoned.

After navigating a slew of options on the automated attendant, I was finally routed to a person to begin my quest. One of his first questions seemed most promising: “Have you ever done business with us in the past?”

I was ready. “Yes!” I gave them the address, the dates, and our old account number.

He typed on his computer, mumbled a lot, and finally asked me to repeat the information. The fact that our old service was for natural gas confused him. “We don’t provide natural gas at your new house,” he said.

“I know that, but you do provide electrical service. That’s why I’m calling.”

I’m not sure if he gave up looking for my records or actually found them, but he eventually launched into a string of questions as if he was setting up a new account. I watched the clock as the call dragged on: five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, and climbing. He also put me on hold a few times. As the call reached the twenty-minute mark, he announced he was done.

Whew! I needed to psych myself up before making the next call, one I was sure would be much more involved. Summoning my resolve, I bravely called the natural gas company, one I’d never done business with.

For the gas company, the call started out much the same. There was an IVR tree, and one of the first questions the rep asked was, “Have you used us in the past?”

I braced myself. “No, we haven’t.” I expected to hear a sigh. I did not. She asked my name, address, and social security number. Before I knew what was happening, my account was set up. It only took a couple of minutes.

I then called the township who handles the water. A person answered the phone and transferred me to the “water department.” The person there was out, so I left a voicemail message with my name, address, phone number, and reason for my call. When I didn’t hear back by the next day, I called again. This time he was in. “Oh, I set it up yesterday when I got your message; you’re all set.”

Setting aside the township, my experience with the electric and gas companies are in contrast. Why was it so easy to initiate service with my natural gas provider and so time-consuming with my electricity provider?

Both are large concerns. I’m sure they track the efficiency of their call center reps, including average call length. Though one call took about ten times longer than the other, I’m sure the rep wasn’t ten times more efficient. I’ll place the blame on agent training, the technology infrastructure, and operational processes, all which add up to about ten times less efficient.

Though the rep might be criticized for his long call time, the real blame resides with the call center management and its technology.

Make sure your reps aren’t at a similar disadvantage.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine Mar/Apr 2015]

Call Center Fiasco

By Peter L DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineIt’s Black Friday; Big Box Store advertises smartphones for a dollar. After standing in line for over an hour, we learn that because I have a business plan, they can’t sell us phones. However, all we need to do is change to an individual plan, and they send us to Carrier’s store to do that.

Carrier isn’t offering any deals, so their store is empty. But the staff can’t change my account; only I can do that. I stay in their store and make the call. The agent has to set up my new account first, and I provide the requisite information. Then he has to do a credit check, which requires me repeating the same information. Next he moves the phones over one by one. Each time I must answer the same questions, repeating information I’ve already given. Twenty-five minutes into the call, my new account is set up with three of our five phones. Suddenly the agent starts mumbling something about not being able to switch over the last two. “The system kicks me out every time I try.” His supervisor can’t help. They need second-level tech support to fix it. He promises a resolution within twenty-four hours and tells me I’ll receive a phone call when it’s complete. We leave the Carrier store.

With half my family already in line at Big Box Store, the rest of us join them. When it’s our turn, Big Box Store can’t access my Carrier account. Apparently it takes time for the change to migrate through Carrier’s system. We’ll need to come back on Saturday. Feeling sorry for the hassle and appreciative for our patience, Big Box Store promises to hold the new smartphones for us and even sets up an appointment at 4:00 p.m. so we won’t have to wait in line a third time. Having spent three hours at Carrier and Big Box Store, we leave without our new smartphones.

Twenty-four hours comes and goes with no call from Carrier. I wait a couple of hours more, and then I call them. The agent knows nothing about my ordeal yesterday and can’t comprehend the nonsense I’m spouting. Eventually I convince her to move the last two phones to my new account. She has the same problem. She seeks help, but no one can assist her. I spend nearly an hour on the phone, and she promises to have the problem fixed before our 4:00 p.m. appointment.

Doubtful, I wait an hour and call Carrier again. The problem is still not resolved, and the agent ultimately gives me two options: I can call back Monday and talk with someone from the department that can fix the problem (they don’t work weekends), or I can “escalate” it now, with a promised resolution within seven to ten days.

“That is unacceptable,” I tell the rep. (My wife thinks that’s funny.) The call continues to drag on, and we need to leave for our appointment at Big Box Store. My wife drives as I continue to talk, but Carrier and I make no progress.

Big Box Store is ready for us. With phone number one remaining as is, phones two and three are quickly upgraded – if “quickly” means forty-five minutes. They try in vain to upgrade the last two phones but can’t. Big Box Store reps reach out to their help desk and contacts at Carrier without resolution. We’ll need to wait until Monday.

Two days later, I spend fifty minutes on the phone with Carrier as I drive to a meeting. The rep keeps saying, “I’m almost done – just a little bit longer.”

I say, “But I need to go,” and repeatedly try to arrange a call back. The rep doesn’t comprehend, and eventually I have to hang up. That afternoon, I spend an hour and fifteen minutes on the phone with another Carrier rep during my return trip. That rep can’t resolve the problem either.

By Tuesday, however, Big Box Store can access the last two phones. They update phone number four, but number five takes another day.

This column isn’t a rant about wasting much of my holiday weekend upgrading phones; it’s a lament about a company that spent six hours of agent time trying to fix an internal problem with their computer records.

Now all I need to do is get them to resolve all the billing errors they caused in the process.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

Choose Your Business Partners with Care

By Peter L DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineConference planners sometimes ask me to sit on a panel. The common format is that each panelist makes an initial presentation, followed by a Q&A. Other times the presentations are longer, with no time for questions.

Most of my panel experiences have not been good. For my first one, my fellow panel members dismissed my suggestion to coordinate our presentations. I went last and was alarmed when the first panelist covered some of my planned remarks; the third person addressed most of the rest. I needed to come up with new content at the last minute.

Once, at an early morning panel, one of the panelists stayed up all night partying. Sitting next to me, he smelled like a brewery. His speech was slurred, his judgment impaired, and his humor – some of which was directed at me – was not so funny. I spent the entire time praying he wouldn’t get sick on me. I doubt he realized he made a fool of himself and demeaned the rest of us in the process.

Another time I thought I was safe. Three of us discussed our remarks in advance, but the fourth person was vague, implying he would ad lib something aligned with our presentations. He went just before me. The first two people gave practical advice, as was my plan, but the third guy diverged into high-level theory, giving a well-conceived strategic vision for the future. He outclassed us all – and I had to follow him.

Not surprisingly, I no longer agree to sit on panels. I’m fine with solo presentations, where success or failure sits solely on my shoulders, but keep me away from group presentations.

In business, we often have occasions to partner with others. Like my panel opportunities, these seem easy to do, require less prep, and share risk. The key word is seem.

Here are three areas to consider:

Affiliate Marketing: Affiliate marketing is performance-based promotion, where one entity (a person or an organization) pays another entity for each lead or sale generated from the first entity’s customer base. Often done via email, there is little cost and a potentially high payoff. Bill stuffers is another example. At a basic level, a company allows an ad aggregator to place relevant promotions on its website. The payoff is pay-per-click revenue.

Recently I bought a tutorial from someone I met at a convention. This person added me to his mailing list and began blasting out affiliate marketing pitches on a weekly basis, with multiple messages for each promotion. I grew weary of the hype and eventually unsubscribed, even though I was open to buy future products from him. Because of his implied endorsement of the people he promoted (some who I deemed questionable) and his unrelenting marketing for them, he lost me as a customer.

Strategic Alliances: Sometimes we seek opportunities to better serve clients by working with other businesses to provide a one-stop solution. A basic example is using an interpreting service to communicate with callers in languages not covered by internal call center staff. A more involved example is a telephone triage operation working with a medical answering service to provide a unified experience.

When seamlessly integrated, the caller doesn’t realize the handoff, and interaction occurs flawlessly. But when there’s a problem, the caller sees only the initial call center, blaming it for any shortcomings of its partner. Reselling products or services is another example, as is bundling services provided by other businesses. In all cases, we can succeed and fail based on what our alliance partner does or doesn’t do.

Outsourcing: At times it makes sense to outsource work, such as low-volume third-shift calls or high-volume overflow. Other examples include passing along certain types of work, such as an inbound-only center outsourcing outbound calls, a sales operation outsourcing customer service, or a financial services call center outsourcing other verticals, such as media or telecom. In each instance, our reputation is partially placed in the hands of someone else. Can we risk it?

Whether it’s affiliate marketing, strategic alliances, or outsourcing, we must proceed with care, not allowing someone else to control our reputation or results.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine Nov/Dec 2014]

Customer Service: You Can Do It the Easy Way or the Hard Way

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineMy wife and I recently moved. Some aspects went smoothly, and others were not so good. Part of moving is canceling services and changing mailing addresses. Each one is a customer service opportunity. Some companies excel at this, while others struggle, producing ramifications for both customers and employees.

When my wife called to cancel the garbage service, the rep took the information with ease and the refund check arrived a couple weeks later. (Curiously, they sent the check to our old address.)

The gas utility was likewise easy: One call and done. Our final bill arrived soon after. The jury is still out on the electric company. The phone call went well, but the subsequent bill doesn’t show the service as cancelled. Another phone call is in order. This means double the work for us and them.

I handled the phone cancelations. A large regional carrier provided our home phone. Since friends and family usually email or text, I’ve long advocated that we cancel it, but my wife disagrees. I think she enjoys receiving illegal telemarketing calls and political robo calls. (Remember the two uncles in Secondhand Lions?)

When I called to cancel this number, the rep took my order and left me with a confident feeling. They disconnected it within an hour, but the new-number recording wasn’t activated. A second rep told me that the first one placed the order incorrectly; it would take twelve hours for the change to go through. By the weekend, there was still no recording. After a third call, customer service said the order was still wrong, but they couldn’t fix it because I was no longer a customer; the fourth call, this one to the repair department, resulted in the same story. A fifth call on Monday produced only frustration. After repeated begging, the rep transferred me to a supervisor. A few minutes later, the recording was working. (Not that it mattered – after three weeks the only calls we’ve received on the new number are my test calls.)

That left my business line, which was bundled with Internet access and video, courtesy of a local telco. A small company, these folks know how to service customers. Though their methods aren’t always ideal, they are effective. Placing the cancelation was easy, but they didn’t offer new-number recordings. When I insisted, the rep put me on hold to consult with their head engineer. His response shocked me: Their switch couldn’t do a new-number recording. The solution I eventually settled for was to keep the phone number active and remote call-forward it to my new number until I could notify everyone (by the way, it’s 616-284-1305). This solution took multiple calls, callbacks, and consultations, consuming way too much of my time and theirs.

I could have ported both numbers over to temporary cell phones and then ported the cell phones over to Google Voice, thereby keeping the numbers and saving money. But the process seemed too cumbersome; plus, this would entail another round of customer service calls, which I feared would go poorly.

Changing our address has been the easiest (it’s PO Box 563, Hudsonville, MI 49426). With most individuals and companies, I just emailed them. Changing magazine subscriptions was a time-consuming online process, not always straightforward, so a couple of cases might result in duplicate subscriptions. (Buy the way, if you receive duplicate or unused copies of Connections Magazine, you can cancel or change them at connectionsmagazine.com, or if it’s easier, just email dehaan@connectionsmagazine.com.) For credit card companies, I’m using the “new address” section on their bills. With our credit union, I updated our address online, but our bank didn’t allow that. A call to their main office left me frustrated. I have to go to their nearest branch, now sixty miles away, to fill out a form. (I’m headed there this afternoon.) This isn’t customer service; it’s customer disservice.

In your contact center, look for ways to prevent repeat calls and customer frustrations like those I encountered. Doing so will delight callers, save your staff from extra work and angry follow-up calls, and make everyone happy.

Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from authorpeterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2014]

What’s Your Technology Strategy?

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineWith the situation in Iraq again looming large in the news, I recall Operation Desert Storm, which occurred two-and-a-half decades ago. At the time, most foreign reporters relied on dial-up telephone lines to report the news. This approach was inexpensive, allowed for mobility, and provided flexibility. An alternate method was to install a dedicated line. Although providing higher audio quality and a more stable connection, it was more costly, required advanced planning, and limited reporting to one fixed location. With the exception of CNN, all other news organizations relied on dial-up for their Iraqi-based reporters. CNN defied conventional wisdom and pushed for a dedicated connection.

When the aerial assault began, in order to hamper local communication, early targets were the phone company’s central offices. Unable to process switched calls, the reporters could no longer get their stories out. However, CNN’s dedicated phone line didn’t require switching equipment and remained working, despite the devastated central offices. This resulted in CNN being the only news organization reporting live on the war. People switched channels to hear the latest news – and some never switched back. This catapulted CNN into an esteemed major news network overnight. A strategic technology decision made twenty-five years ago forever changed the status of one company.

While it’s wrong to make direct comparisons, a comparable strategic technology decision exists today for call centers: on-site equipment or cloud-based solutions.

On-site equipment allows for greater control. But with control comes responsibility: maintenance, database backups, software updates, spare parts inventory, disaster recovery, backup power, and IT staff. Financially, on-site software and equipment represents a tangible asset, which are a capitalized purchase and a depreciated line item on the balance sheet. While there are usually some ongoing costs, they are minor in comparison. On-site equipment doesn’t require Internet access to operate – but with the increased prevalence of VoIP and many forms of contact occurring over the Internet, this advantage is diminishing. Although vendor stability is a concern for both options, with on-site installations, there is at least the potential for the call center to continue operating if the vendor fails; this is not so with the alternative.

Cloud-based solutions represent the new way of provisioning a call center. With it, the responsibility to install and maintain equipment is removed, but along with it goes the associated control. There is no capital purchase or depreciation, with the only costs being a predictable, ongoing monthly expense, which is proportionate to actual usage. Cloud-based solutions also offer the flexibility to ramp up and ramp down as needed. Operations may be quickly deployed anywhere there is reliable Internet access, and they can easily accommodate remote agents. However, there are two chief concerns with cloud-based solutions. One is the requirement of a stable Internet connection for the call center or remote agents. Without Internet access, the call center is effectively down. The other concern is with the vendor. Do they provide always-on, fully redundant, carrier-grade stability, with 24/7 tech support and IT staff? Are they financially viable to offer cloud-based service for the long-term? If they stumble or fall, the call center immediately suffers the same fate.

For much of the call center industry’s history, on-site equipment was the only option. Some centers continue to pursue this approach, not because they’ve examined the alternative, but because that’s how it’s always been; they see no point in changing. Equally unacceptable are those call centers that race headlong into cloud solutions, wanting merely to follow the current trend. They dismiss the alternative without consideration simply because it’s the old way of doing things. An unexamined strategy is really no strategy at all.

Neither approach is universally right. Both have merits; both have disadvantages. I recommend a careful look at the pros and cons of each approach. Then you can make a strategic decision on which one is the best for you and your call center. Your future may be at stake.

Peter DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2014]

Don’t Chase Away Shoppers: Turning Prospects into Customers

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI often share customer service stories in this column. While I prefer to pass on examples of excellence, they are harder to spot than service gone awry. Even so, I try not to let these tales become a rant but instead offer helpful information in an interesting way.

As my history teacher said, “If we can learn from history, we will avoid repeating its mistakes.” Contact center managers, then, will benefit by considering my accounts of less-than-ideal customer service. Here are two more that occurred while researching Internet access for a friend.

I entered his address into the website of the most likely provider. Four options came up. I clicked the first, and it said, “Service not available.” I clicked the second, and it said, “Service available.” What perplexed me is that they appeared to be the same basic service, but one had more features. The third was likewise not available, while the fourth one was.

I called the support number, and the rep said, “I’m sorry, but we do not serve your area.” I explained what I found online. He checked again and then a third time, verifying the address with each attempt and muttering as he did. Finally, he said, “I guess my system’s not up-to-date. Let me transfer you to customer service. Even though you’re not a customer, they can help.”

The person in customer service didn’t appreciate me being transferred to her, acted snarky, and assured me that all four options were available. She needed to transfer me to another department, but I never heard what they had to say; I was disconnected during the transfer.

I intended to start all over, but then I considered the company I called. I had a bad encounter with them, a relative had a string of bad experiences, and several friends also complained. I couldn’t recall anyone ever sharing a positive experience about this outfit.

I went on to the second company. Again, four options came up, but there was no indication whether or not they were available in the area. I called the number listed. The closest prompt on the IVR was “To order service, press 1.”

The rep wasn’t pleased that I only wanted information. In less time than it would take to check, she snapped, “Of course it’s available.” Then she tried to sign me up. Despite me saying I didn’t want to order service, she made three attempts, with the last one being for a delayed installation. At each try, she grew more irritated over me wasting her time. When I said no the third time, she hung up.

I’d heard negative things about this company, too, but also some positive things. As the least undesirable option, I’ll recommend this one to my friend. I hope they really do service his area and won’t subject him to frustration by later telling him, “Oops, service isn’t available in your area after all.” I’ve heard stories of that happening.

No self-respecting call center manager wants to hear these types of complaints, yet how can you know for sure? Here’s an idea. Ask some friends to place an order – friends you trust to give you honest feedback. But don’t give them any background about your company or call center; don’t even tell them what number to dial. Just share your company name, and then make them work to find the number, just as a real prospect would. Also, if it’s legal in their area, have them record the call. But don’t merely rely on the recording; ask them to share what happened and their reaction to the experience.

If the report and recording are perfect, you can celebrate your success – but also take steps to make sure every call produces the same level of excellence. However, if your friends uncover glitches or shortfalls, address each problem, starting with the most critical one. If your friends have issues placing orders, prospects are likely suffering the same fate, resulting in lost business.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine May/Jun 2014]