Customer retention and increasing wallet share have become business imperatives. Contact center agents are increasingly expected to play a role in these initiatives. But "the irony in business is that companies' futures are in the hands of the people those organizations have been neglecting for the past 20 years," says Matt McConnell, founder and cochairman of Knowlagent. To help businesses quantify the importance of the customer service organization and the cost of neglecting agents, McConnell has penned Customer Service at a Crossroads: What you do next to improve performance will determine your company's destiny with Jon Anton, Ph.D., director of benchmark research at Purdue University's Center for Customer-Driven Quality.
"People have always transacted with people," McConnell says. "Many companies have let technology become the process."
In a recent conversation with CRM
magazine, McConnell offers some strategies for improving contact center agent performance.
: What are the top three ways to ensure that agents' performance delivers customer satisfaction?
: Simply tell them what to do, show them how to do it, then pay them if they do it. It's the basics; there's no magic in that recipe. But like sales compensation, it needs to be individualized.
: What small performance improvement will have a big impact on results?
: The low-hanging fruit in the customer service center. Most companies are concerned about retention and turning agents into salespeople. The smallest improvement in confidence in being a salesperson makes a huge difference. Role playing is the primary way to build that confidence, so when agents hit an obstacle on a call it isn't the first time they've heard it.
: How do you balance efficiency with service quality?
: There has been an efficiency mindset for so long, it will never go away. Like the manufacturing industry, the number of fridges a plant can make per hour will always matter. But there's an equal focus on how good those fridges are in the first place, because the cost of rework is so high. In business you can't rework a customer relationship.
So efficiency and service quality will balance, but average handle time will always have its place in the call center.
Other Page Turners
The goal of author Francoise Tourniaire's Just Enough CRM
is to provide "just enough" information to jump into a CRM implementation. But don't be fooled, this 370-page tome is packed with advice on such topics as auditing a CRM system (complete with a five-minute quiz), creating a timeline and budget, selecting the right project team, and defining requirements. Just Enough CRM (Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference) also discusses selecting an integrator, implementing CRM, measuring success, and rescuing a failing project. www.phptr.com
Some may say that there are as many ways to satisfy customers are there are customers. Andrew Griffiths has distilled it to 101. In 101 Ways to Really Satisfy Your Customers
(Allen & Unwin), Griffiths offers pragmatic advice and straightforward strategies for pleasing customers. He also suggests 10 common customer service mistakes and offers worksheets and checklists to help managers plan and execute their service strategies. www.allenandunwin.com
In his third edition of Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service
(Best Sellers Publishing), author John Tschohl offers a detailed, step-by-step approach for creating a profitable customer service strategy. Tschohl, president of Service Quality Institute, discusses such topics as how to make money with customer service, how to define service for your organization, how to hire and motivate the right people, and even how to benefit from complaints. www.bestsellerspublishing.com
Every company has customers they would like to escort to the competition, because serving them costs more than what they're ultimately worth. The trick is uncovering them. Angel Customers & Demon Customers: Discover Which is Which and Turbo-Charge Your Stock
(Portfolio), aims to help executives do that. Authors Larry Selden, professor emeritus of finance and economics at Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor at large of Fortune magazine, urge managers to sell not to all customers, but to the right customers. They discuss how to manage customer profitability, find the best way to segment customers, and be truly customer centered--and how to create an action plan to accomplish it all.