I grind my teeth whenever I stumble across any blog that encourages readers to be “social media samurai” or “customer-service ninjas”. I mean, come on, there is absolutely no such things as a social media samurai or a customer service ninja. Just in case this is not already painfully obvious, ninjas and samurai have never been known for their social media or customer service prowess.
Samurais aren’t experts in search engine optimization or online community management. Ninjas don’t wear hands-free headsets and hide in the call center waiting for you to have a problem with your PC, broadband access or satellite TV. No, quite the contrary, ninjas sneak up behind you and slit your throat. Or they throw sharp (usually poisoned) deadly objects from behind trees. That’s not customer service. Or, at least not good customer service. So let’s stop urging people to be customer service ninjas.
Well then, you might ask, if we can’t hire ninjas to save the day and make all of our customer services problems go away, what is a company to do? Well for starters, we can make a concerted effort to suck less. Yes, “sucking less” is a real term; and it’s also a pretty decent business strategy. Sure, it would be great if every business was world class at customer service. But as Will Rodgers once quipped, “We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”
However, just because we can’t all be customer service rock stars like at Ritz Carlton and Nordstrom’s doesn’t mean that we all have to absolutely suck like Bank of America or America Online (AOL). Rather, there is probably a happy medium where our customers don’t absolutely loathe us and might actually recommend us to a friend or relative.
So, with that in mind, here are three ways to suck less without breaking the bank or spending an inordinate amount of effort:
- Benchmark your ‘suckiness’. It is not merely enough to strongly suspect that your company’s service efforts suck. No, you need to know for certain. And more importantly you need to gauge just how truly, madly, deeply your customers dislike you. Do they merely find you annoying and useless, or do they hate you so much that they would stab you with an improvised ‘prison shank’ if they ran into you in the Whole Foods parking lot?
The best way to discern just how much your customers despise you is to benchmark yourself against your worst-in-class peer group via regular satisfaction surveys. There are a lot of good tools on the market that can help you, whether you choose to leverage the survey suite functionality offered by your CRM suite provider or whether you decide to work with one of the industry-leading stand-alone enterprise feedback management (WFM) vendors.
For the most part, many of the survey tools are somewhat similar. Any basic tool should give you the ability to send out satisfaction emails to customers are their service process has been completed, or to ask the customer to stay on the phone to complete a survey after the customer service agent has helped them with their issue. More advanced products might provide tools for including social media channels in your feedback collection efforts.
But even the most entry-level tool is better than what you are probably doing now (i.e., absolutely nothing at all). As long as the survey results get looked at things will likely start improving. As any middle manager who ever took a management training course will proudly recite, “what gets measured, gets managed”.
- Strive to suck a little less each day. Granted, ‘sucking less’ is not the loftiest of goals. But then again, you are not looking to put a customer service rep on the moon for goodness sake. No, your simply want to get to a point where your customer service efforts are like a bland, tasteless meal that satiates the customers hunger without giving them diarrhea or heartburn. Your offerings might not have any Michelin stars or Zagat rating, but at least the customer isn’t going to throw up in the parking lot and call the health department. We’re just aiming for a passing grade here.
If your customer service operations are a complete disaster (i.e., you are any major Telco, Bank, or Insurance company), then obviously you are not going to be able to fix everything overnight. So start with something small, but meaningful. If customers complain that your website or IVR system are utterly unusable, then start with that.
Fire whoever is currently responsible for the crap you’ve got and hire someone who can help re-design the system from a more customer-centric approach. Provide your customers with menu options and features that make it easier for them to accomplish what it is they’re trying to do. Don’t make them sit through numerous up-sell or cross-sell efforts before you let them check their account balance or reschedule an appointment.
If your customer service operations suck, but don’t suck as much a Telco or Bank, then you’re probably either an airline, a consumer electronics retailer, or a home improvement megastore. In any case, you still have plenty of room to improve. Your website and call center might both be providing adequately just-good-enough lukewarm customer service. But the thing you need to understand is that your frontline employees are just as important to how customers perceive your customer service operations.
Just because airline flight attendants and retail branch employees don’t have the words “customer service” anywhere in their official job title doesn’t mean that they are excepted from treating customers with courtesy, respect, and professionalism. These are the people in your organization who customers deal with on a daily basis, and if these front-line employees aren’t aligned with your customer service strategy, it really doesn’t matter how well your website or telephone IVR system work; customers are still going to hate you.
- Create a ‘suck-intolerant’ culture. As surprising as it might sound, most people would rather not completely suck at their job. Very few people wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “let’s go out there today and suck like never before.” To the contrary, event employees who are unmotivated, burned out, or merely going through the motions for a paycheck still would prefer – all other things being equal – to not suck horribly at their jobs. No one wants to fail , and no one enjoys it. The trick is simply giving employees the motivation and the toolset to not suck. We just need to make it easy for people to suck less.
For example, we stack the deck against our own front-line employees and set them up for failure when we first force customers to sit though an annoying IVR phone menu that presents useless options and forces customers to enter the same information several times. When the customer is already pissed off even before reaching a live agent, it’s going to take a spectacular performance from the employee to turn things around.
But unfortunately, most overworked contact center agents are in no mood to deal with angry, disgruntled, antagonistic customers. Working in a high-pressure contact center environment with a supervisor standing over your shoulder and a giant scoreboard keeping track of every second you spend talking on the phone will bring the worst out in anyone. Add to that the repetitive, monotonous nature of contact work and the constant toggling between numerous computer systems and screens and you have a recipie for frustration and failure.
While this isn't any easy problem to resolve, you can get a long way toward a solution by making sure your Website and telephone IVR systems are optimized for end-user ease of use (rather than aligned with your corporate Marketing agenda) and by leveraging modern CRM software to simply and enrich the employees work environment. If your telephony infrastructure and CRM system have been sitting in the basement since the 1970's, it might be time for an upgrade. (Note: hire a good consultant, not a cut-rate social media assassin).
So, to recap. There’s no such thing as social media samurai or customer service ninjas. And while the code of bushido and the deadly art of ninjitsu definitely have many real-world practical applications (e.g., resolving disputes with pesky neighbors or home owners associations), samurai swords and ninja shurikens have no place in contact center or field service operations. No, if your company’s customer service efforts leave room to improve you might want to skip the Craig’s List ninja want ads and just work on trying to suck less.
And in case there was any doubt about the fact that ninjas don't fight fair, watch this video: