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You know what it’s like … the seventh phone call to the support line and the seventh person who’s had to listen to the increasingly long story of woe. Why the need for seven calls to solve one problem? Surely that’s not good for customer satisfaction or efficient in terms of the call centre workload?
Well, I won’t bore you with why I had to make the other six calls to Virgin Media. Call number 7 was different and here’s why.
Ownership, promises and empowerment.
In the seventh call I still was no closer to getting the matter resolved with the urgency I knew it deserved. A six day wait to get my phone line back when they had cut it off was just not acceptable. So I asked to speak to the supervisor for the section and had to recount the story again, but this time the person I spoke to was prepared to take ownership of the issue. She said she personally would phone the manager of the teams out in the field, not just use the computer to find the next free date. She promised to phone back by 4pm at the latest with a progress report – in fact she phoned earlier than that with an update. Best of all, she was prepared to give me her personal mobile number, so I didn’t have to go through all the “Select option 2 to report telephone faults …” and so on, only to talk to a totally new person about my problem. Suddenly I felt more in control of the situation – I could contact someone immediately I needed an update or I had news. That felt really good – I was empowered.
Things then moved very quickly that day … within a few hours everything was sorted. I was able phone my contact, Christina Wright at Virgin Media, and tell her my phone was working!
Well done Ms Wright for the right way of doing things … and it wasn’t a new process or technical advancement that provided the solution. It was three simple steps that we can all take when helping others:
- Taking ownership
- Fulfilling promises made
- Empowering the other person, by giving easy access
Not that difficult to do … but a certain recipe for customer retention and satisfaction.
I’ve always taken out breakdowncover … in fact I’ve been a member of the RAC for more than 20 years. I even returned to the RAC for cover for a second family car after I’d had a “rest period” of three years with the AA, courtesy of a new car that automatically came with cover. So that says a lot about Brand Loyalty … or maybe inertia on my part. To be fair to the RAC, it was more than just inertia, as I’ve always been pleased, sometimes very impressed, with their level of service. So I’ve been a long-standing, loyal and satisfied customer – loyal to the brand, until my renewal came through this year …
So what’s different this year? Well, the cost seemed quite high, particularly as I wanted to change the cover and add my wife (who was no longer covered by the AA arrangement). A family subscription was over £200 … and I just thought that it seemed too much.
So it became a potential breaking point for me in my relationship with the RAC.
Surely there had to be a cheaper alternative? I wanted to cover two cars with any one of three members of my family driving … and that was over £200 a year. The advantage we all have now is that we can research costs, services and competitors on the internet. Ten minutes later I’d done some extensive research and I’d found out that the AA was almost exactly the same cost … but that Tesco offered cover (outsourcing to Green Flag) for £90.30.
Loyalty to the brand?
Or pay less than half the price for basically the same service?
A “no-brainer”, as everyone seems to say nowadays!
So what would it take for you reach breaking point and switch away from a long standing supplier or service provider?
And for your customers? Are your services or products that different that you can expect long term brand loyalty? Or are they going to be reaching ‘breaking point’ this year?
We were filming last week at one of the UK’s largest call centres and as myself and Mark the sound recordist were wandering around a thought struck us. Now that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often so when it does it has to be a real revelation! Standing amidst the hum of a thousand phone conversations Mark asked me how much longer I thought call centres would exist in their current form.
It was a good question, one we debated right through dinner that night. The prediction we came up with could turn the industry on its head.
14,000 people go to work at this call centre every single day. Why? To work as part of a big team? Nope, they are on the phone all day working by themselves. To be with other people socially? Wrong again because most social interaction for a call advisor actually comes from callers themselves. Do they come in because they need a place to work from and the most important tool of their job – a phone? Well yes actually, that’s pretty much all it is!
So wait, let’s think about this. I’m a call advisor, I leave my house every morning and travel x amount of miles to work to sit at a desk with a phone and a computer. Sounds like most office jobs doesn’t it? The difference is the call advisor probably has all the tools they need at home to be able to do the job just as effectively.
In the age of Internet telephony and remote server login do we really need a physical call centre anymore? Why not just work from home?
The problem in recent years has been the cost of running a physical call centre, not so much the cost of the staff which are employed there. The result of this is of course the contraversial move by many organisations to shift their operations to cheaper countries like India.
My suggestion to companies musing over what could be the next generation of call centres is this; ditch the physical call centres and create a virtual one. Create a system which has a hub where all the calls are routed through to advisors in their own homes. Once people log on to the system from their homes it will work like any call centre call-routing system where when a call comes in it searches along the chain to find the next available advisor. Many people would be happier working from home, and possibly more efficient. All every employee would need is a broadband connection and a computer supplied. Then pay them a basic salary (just like now), an allowance for electricity and then the rest of their wage comes from commission (just like now).
Don’t forget a broadband connection is cheap and all the phone calls will go down this connection too.
For many organisations this could cut their costs by more than half. This would mean there would be less need for cheaper “offshore” solutions and much happier customers because they are talking to somebody on the same soil as themselves.
Sounds like a win:win situation to me.
Shall we make bets on when this will happen? I’d say before the end of this year. What do you think?
According to a recent Guardian article there are several trades involved in making a pair of shoes.
The Lastmaker makes the wooden form the shoe is made on
The Clicker who makes the pattern and does the “clicking” (cutting out the leather)
The Closer who sews the leather together, and…
The Shoemaker who puts the pieces together
Caroline Groves, who is a bespoke shoemaker does most of this herself – everything except the lastmaking (although a good “last” is a key requirement). She takes measurements and photos of the clients feet, she develops the style of the shoe with the client and they help select the material. Clients then wear a mock up for a little while to check and refine the fit. This for her is what “bespoke” means. Another interviewee, Peter Schwieger, explains “very often our clients can’t buy ready made shoes because they’ve got foot problems of one sort or another”.
This made me think about shoemaking as an analogy for learning theories and models.
As a training provider we have a stock of materials that we believe are appropriate, resilient and of the best quality. We work in partnership with our clients to find out what their problems are; we find the best possible intervention we can (in line with budget and time) and we then find the best way of creating and delivering this using a range of media rich learning material. Clients are involved throughout this process and they then have the opportunity to test the fit with a pilot.
Two weeks ago I spent the day with Brian, our MD. He was delivering a workshop to a group of Regional Financial Sales Managers from a leading bank. Most of this workshop featured a model called the Managerial Grid which is one of his firm favourites and has been used with many of our clients. It was written over 60 years ago but with some care and attention from our team we had a high impact model with exercises and handouts to work through. This raw material was shaped around the work lives of these managers; sewing the elements together with stories, shared experiences and role playing.
Generic “off the shelf” is for us much less desirable as more effort is required by the learner to make it fit and is therefore more likely to be stored somewhere and never used again. Much like the several pairs of shoes I have that I can’t bear to throw out but I never actually wear.
Julian had an interesting experience on the way into work this morning. Walking up the street he saw a postman cycling towards him, frantically waving his arms to get Julian’s attention. Thinking something was wrong Julian stopped.
It turned out nothing was wrong, the postman just had some mail for Julian that needed signing for.
Amazingly the postman knew who Julian was and even called him by name. Even more amazing is the fact that Julian lives in a block of flats and is rarely seen by the postman.
A postperson’s job mandate doesn’t state they have to work hard at customer satisfaction. As a monopoly the Royal Mail don’t have to think about customer retention for day to day standard deliveries. So when it happens it’s all the more of a pleasant surprise.
Years ago the local postman was a part of the community, everybody knew he and he knew everybody. This is something that has slowly disappeared over the years as communities have grown larger and more faceless.
Soon there will be competition to the Royal Mail and something in their business attitude needs to change if they want to retain customers. Their current line of thinking is to offer as many different services as possible if you were to go into a branch, but this seems to be over diverse.
Maybe a back to basics angle is exactly what is needed, where the postpeople offer that personal touch once again.
Before you ask a Dabbawala isn’t one of the vertically challenged characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Nope. A Dabbawala is a person in the city of Mumbai whose job is to deliver freshly made food in lunch boxes called Dabbas (see image to the left), to office workers.
Over 200,000 lunches are delivered every single day by around 5000 Dabbawalas.
Seth Godin pointed out the other day on his blog that a recent report suggested an error rate for these people is a phenomenal one in six million!
How can this be? Apparently it’s all down to teamwork and time management.
The teams are dedicated and committed and are comprised of a mainly male workforce. It’s an amazing chain of delivery which simply goes from order-takers to deliverers, all overseen by a single layer management team.
Efficiency is powered by pride and each dabbawala is required to supply and maintain their own equipment for the role. Two bicycles each, a wooden crate for the dabbas, and a white pyjama style uniform and cap.
Pride in the role means that nobody wants to get it wrong – what and be the laughing stock of 4,999 other dabbawalas?
So, how’s your customer service doing?
We’ve been talking a lot recently about customer issues and retention so today I thought we’d talk a little about what the Customer Life Cycle is.
There are 3 elements to the Customer Life Cycle, namely acquisition, growth and retention.
Companies are generally very good at the first two steps, and that’s what they focus all of their attention and creativity on but when it comes to retention that is where many of them fall down.
It’s not a case anymore of once you get a customer they are with you for life. Nope. In a market full of choice the Customer Life Cycle is getting much shorter.
Customer acquisition is expensive. Advertising, marketing campaigns, freebies, hooks and glittering prizes are all on offer to draw the potential customer in so is it not cheaper for companies to focus that little bit more effort on the retention end, after all they’ve spent a fortune in the first place to get the customer.
Growth goes hand-in-hand with retention and growth occurs partly because of the relationship that develops between business and customer.
More and more we are now seeing companies offering freebies and the like for customers to stay with them. I recently had an experience with Virgin Media where they bribed me to stay with them by shaving £20 off my monthly bill, upgrading my broadband and give me free phone calls. The problem was that this didn’t happen until I called to make a complaint and now it’s cost them (particularly if every customer is doing the same).
Growth should lead to retention.
A radical idea to extend the life cycle and cost less would be for Virgin Media to call all of their loyal customers and offer them something for their long standing relationship. For example if they’d rang me and offered me a free broadband upgrade for my loyalty, I would have been a very happy customer but because I had to call them it meant I had the upper hand and demanded more because of it.
Even worse for them now I know I can do that there is every chance I will try a similar tactic six months down the line.
It’s time for businesses to take the initiative. Get off your back foot and try moving forwards.
Today I had some good customer service experience and some bad customer experience.
First the bad.
Shortly after Christmas I ordered a new kitchen from a well-known DIY store. At the time of ordering I was a little taken aback by the long delivery wait of 9 weeks but I was told it was due to the post-Christmas sales and the fact it takes a while to get all the components I need together so that everything will be perfect on delivery day.
Note the use of the word “perfect“…
My delivery arrived on the stated day and all was not “perfect“, in fact it was far from it. Things were missing (which they knew about before they turned up), and a worktop was damaged.
To get things moving, I had to source the missing components myself or else wait another 4 weeks! Not a good start for customer service. The damaged worktop I managed to use as I could cut off the bad bits no problem, so even though it shouldn’t have turned up damaged I was OK with using it.
2 weeks down the line I come to looking at the 2nd worktop in more detail and discover that even though it’s still a satin black colour it’s actually a different model!
So back on the phone again today I get past from customer department to the local store as it appeared too much trouble for them to deal with.
Brian from the local store was very helpful but unfortunately told me that the worktop I wanted was a special order and is not found in store but he said “don’t worry, we’re always sorting out the head offices cock-ups for them and so I’ll get right on the case for you, after all it’s the customer that matters“
Brian was right. Being the customer I already knew that, but to hear him say it was like music to my ears.
He did all he could for me and put a new order through but alas his system would only let him book a delivery date 5 weeks down the line, which is no good to me as I was planning on finishing the kitchen this weekend. He told me he’d get the details out immediately and when I received them tomorrow I should call HQ and make a formal complaint about, and I quote Brian here “…their shitty customer service“.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring but it just made my day knowing that a small man in a big organisation is going out of his way to treat me with the respect every customer should get.
The question is, how long before the mother company do something that upsets the Brian’s of this world?
Be warned DIY superstore, you are already on the slippery slopes and it’s people like Brian who are the rocks which stop the avalanche from happening.
A short while back we were asked to film an interview with the head of training at a certain insurance company. This is a regular occurrence for us when a message needs to be sent out across the business.
Normally a person like this has worked their way up through the ranks or come across from a similar company and as a reward they’ve ended up with a swanky office towards the top of a high rise building. This is quite often the location they want to film their message in too, even though we always try to break tradition by suggesting other locations – depending on the project requirements of course.
This person was different. When I was talking on the phone to his PA she suggested the filming should take place in his office, as is the norm. Usually my next line of questioning tries to break that mould a little bit and get them thinking of areas which could be more appropriate by suggesting there could be a problem with filming in the office, something along the lines of the office being too small for us to film in but in this case her answer took me by surprise.
“Oh I think you won’t have a problem there, it’s open plan!”
You see, this particular head of department had snubbed the high rise office and chosen instead to have a desk in amongst his team.
This says a great deal, and we came away with an amazing interview.
In a similar way Seth Godin made a post on his blog recently about a bank manager in the town of Pleasantville aways parking directly outside the branch in a potential customer spot. Not only does this send out a message to the customer, it also sends one out to the staff too.