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The best $380,000 I ever spent

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

“If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”
Adam Grant

In our first year of operation, the company I founded earned a profit of $80,000.  That was in Singapore in 2001.

We had done well with two Customer Service workshops I had written and we’d landed two global Mystery Shopper research programs which were well underway.

Business was off to a great start.

But I knew that what had made us successful so far wasn’t going to necessarily make us successful in the mid to long term.

I hadn’t left working in the corporate world just to find myself having to go back in to that because I hadn’t helped my Clients solve problems.

So I took $40,000 of that first year profit, signed a contract with a consulting firm in California, and flew myself and a Singaporean colleague to live in the isolated mountaintop home of the firm’s founder.

For a month.

 

Why did we spend a month on a mountain top in California? 

It’s a reasonable question.

My colleague and I travelled to the U.S. to receive four weeks of private instruction in Contact Center management directly from the consulting firm’s founder.

I had done my homework before signing on the dotted line and everything went the way it was supposed to go.

It was a superb and intellectually intense month.

Every morning we were up and seated in our Instructor’s home office to start class at 9:00AM.

Our 12:30 – 1:30 lunch consisted of sandwiches that the Instructor made for us in his big kitchen downstairs (which my Asian colleague despaired of at one point saying, “Argh, in Asia we prefer to eat warm food!”).

To highlight how isolated we were, the Instructor had his own small plane and airstrip and he flew himself to most of his engagements.

But aside from those two or three outings, we lived as if we were in boarding school.  And I loved almost every minute.

I was in my element.

Over the four weeks we covered four (4) domains of Contact Center knowledge:

  • Operations Management
  • Leadership & Business Management
  • People Management
  • Customer Relationship Management (for CX folks remember it was 2002)

The deep grounding in know-how I went through in that month, coupled with my real world experience managing Centers, has informed my view of the Customer ecosystem ever since.

Which is essentially this –

I believe that leading & managing in the Customer ecosystem, whether Contact Center Management or Customer Experience Management, is a business discipline.

And as with any business discipline, there is a level of necessary know-how, across multiple domains, that an industry professional needs in order to avoid negative outcomes and achieve great outcomes.

In the Customer industry, as was true in my own case, people don’t typically go to school to learn these things.

Many people in the Customer industry end up in the industry by accident and then end dup learning on the job, which as you’d imagine can be very hit or miss.

I know this because I meet so many of them in our workshops and have the opportunity to listen to their stories.

 

By Year 6, I had signed checks for nearly$380,000 specifically for learning & development

By the sixth year of my company’s operations, I had signed checks totalling nearly $380,000 to cover IP & content rights, long distance travel expenses to join workshops and meetings (the days before Zoom) and to pay for various membership & certification costs.

And it was worth every penny.

By this time, Clients were flying me all over the world to teach their people how to succeed in the Customer ecosystem.

One memorable week I finished a class in Beijing in the evening, went to the airport to board a flight, landed in Delhi the next morning and took the taxi straight to the venue to begin a morning class there.

I also wrote extensive training content of our own and Partners and Clients began to approach us to buy or license our courseware.

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I’m grateful I came up through Finance

I came up through Finance so the concept of a business discipline was natural for me. I had been through the gamut of formal learning required to succeed in the finance discipline.

I have never heard any VP, Finance say that their bosses were fine that they learn how to prepare financial statements on the job.

Of course you learn on the job.

But to get those kinds of senior level Finance jobs I had to have a relevant university degree and relevant industry certifications just to get an interview, much less get the job.

In my last Finance role, I worked at a direct marketing company in the US that sold products nationally via TV commercials and catalogs. We served Customers through our own big Contact Center & Distribution Center based in El Segundo, California.

I’d been preparing the financials and budgets for both the Contact Center & Distribution Center for a few years and knew the numbers inside and out.

Then a remarkable thing happened that changed my life.

The VP, Operations resigned from her post to take another job and an hour later the CEO called me up and offered me her position.

To move from VP, Finance to VP, Contact Centre & Distribution Operations.

I was honored and excited and said yes right away.

Looking back, I think my finance background was one of the key factors the senior team took into account before extending the offer to me.

The fact that I knew the numbers and was able to explain them had earned me face time and trust with very senior people.

I was also fortunate that the former VP, Operations had been so generous with her time, often explaining the art & science of Contact Center Management as we’d have lunch or take long walks around the grounds.

Of course over the next eight years of senior Contact Center positions in the U.S. and Asia I learned a lot on the job.

But let me tell you this.

I flat out knew that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And I was the VP, Operations!

So when I left the corporate world and started my own company, I made the decision to close the gaps in my knowledge as soon as I could.

I mean how could I possibly help Clients solve their problems if I didn’t have the know-how and credibility to do so?

And that’s how I ended up on a mountain top in California.

 

You’ve got to know what you’re talking about

One of the most common feedback comments we get from Participants in our workshops is: “I wish I had taken this course earlier.”

To which I reply with some version of Maya Angelou’s wonderful quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

And no, you don’t have to do what I did. You don’t have to start your own company and spend $380,000.

I know what I did is pretty unique.

But I would say that there is tremendous value in looking in the mirror and saying out loud, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”

And then doing something about it.

What lessons can Contact Centre folks learn from CX folks?

Thank you for reading!

If you’d like to stay up to date on our articles and other information just send me your email or add your details to the contact form on our website.

Daniel Ord

[email protected]

www.omnitouchinternational.com

Daniel Ord teaches the Customer Experience Team at Agoda in Shanghai.

Cover photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

 

 

When good people follow bad Contact Centre process – a story

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I look at an example of how otherwise ‘good’ people follow bad Contact Centre process.

Sitting around our workshop table, one of the Participants – a former Contact Centre Agent from a Philippines-based BPO – shared.

“Dan – it starts like this.

QA walks over to our station and while we’re talking to a Customer they give us the time out sign.  That’s their signal telling us to wrap the call up quickly so they can conduct our side by side coaching session.

That time out sign approach is a little off-putting but you have no choice but to get used to it.  

After they settle in and connect their headset to our phone, they pull out a scorecard.  

And as I log back into the system and receive my next call, they quietly mark their paper while I’m talking.  

When the call is done, I log back out and they talk me through each tick-box they made.

Mostly I just hope that my score is a ‘pass’ because if it isn’t, they can just go on and on about my mistakes. 

So of course while they’re sitting next to me I do everything in my power to achieve a pass.

I never knew that there were ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to do side by side monitoring.  Your course is the first time I heard this.

I only have my own experience to go by.  And it wasn’t a good one.”

There’s a lot that’s wrong in that story

At this point in our workshop, when the story gets shared, we’re talking about the power of the side by side method for monitoring & coaching.

The relationship building, the power of personal connection – the time to build trust.  The opportunity to make the time to spend with the people who work for you.

But in the many years I’ve taught this method – admittedly one of my favorites – I find that very few either practice it (we have no time!) or they practice it in a way that damages the relationship – not strengthens it.

There are a few things wrong in this story – and practices like these are more common than you’d think.

  • Using hand signals to summon people is rude – these should be reserved for animals – not human beings
  • Using a scorecard at a side by side session makes no sense – talk about frightening
  • Everyone’s faking it here – especially the Agent who is put in a no-win situation
  • The entire point of helping someone do ‘better’ has been lost
  • The focus on what went ‘wrong’

But the QA person in this story isn’t the villain

It’s easy to say – oh – the QA person you’re describing is the singular villain in this story.

But you’d be wrong in most cases.  Because what happens is this.

Good people readily conform to and carry out bad processes.

To ‘fit in’, to ‘get the job done’ to ‘show they’ve got the stuff’ for advancement & promotion.

And to be fair –  it may be the only way they know because that’s all they’ve ever experienced or been taught.  I see this a lot in the Contact Centre industry.

Even former Agents – who disliked everything we’ve just talked about – will readily jump in the saddle and carry on a legacy process that’s broken.

The villain in this story is the bad Contact Centre process.  In this case around side by side monitoring & coaching.

 

It’s not so great from a values perspective either

As a side observation to this story there’s an impact on ‘culture’ here too.

It’s likely that this Philippines-based BPO has the word ‘respect’ in their core values and if not ‘respect’ then something similar and equally lofty sounding.

We ‘respect’ each other, we ‘respect’ our Customers’, etc.  The posters are everywhere.  And here are pictures of all of us on our annual Team building showing our respect for each other.

But culture is nurtured through the actual behaviours of people at work.

Especially those in leadership and professional roles.

Summoning people with hand gestures and scoring them when they’re trying to serve a Customer aren’t really brilliant examples of respect.

So if you’re after building a ‘culture’ (and today who isn’t) it’s a worthwhile effort to filter your processes – and they way they’re executed – through the lens of your values.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

Is the Contact Centre industry really that mature?

I once received a comment from a reader who said – “Dan, why do you constantly write about the Contact Centre industry?  It’s a very mature industry already.”

And that comment made me think.  Sure – it’s a mature industry.

But do we always run it in a mature way?

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organizational culture matters more than where you live

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

Organizational culture matters more than where you live.  And blaming ‘national’ characteristics for poor behaviour is just lazy.

That first morning

One of the great things about facilitating workshops across many countries & regions is that you get to see a lot of organizational culture up close and personal.

Whether in Kuala Lumpur, Colombo or Frankfurt, the first morning of a scheduled workshop session is always interesting.

  • Will all the Participants turn up? Will they turn up on time?
  • Will Management turn up? If so, who – and how long will they stay?
  • Does Management all sit together? Or do they integrate into the group at large?
  • What does the energy feel like before the session begins?
  • Do Participants talk to each other or do they stare at their mobile phones?
  • How does management speak to staff? As adults? Or like children?

What I see on that first morning of a session – before introductions have been made – should be the ‘best’ in organizational culture.

Why?  Because it’s not work.

Participants are there to learn and grow.

And because the gap or opportunity is so significant, an external Provider was asked to come in.

On a recent drizzly morning in _____________ (fill in the country).

On a recent drizzly morning session in ________(fill in the country), half the Participants had not arrived by starting time.

The HR Representative leaned over to me and said –

Well you know we _________(fill in nationality here) like to sleep in.”

Or –

“We’re always late in ______(fill in country)” or “When it rains you know how it is in ______(fill in country).”

But over the years I’ve been conducting sessions, I find that what matters most is where you work – not where you live.

Organizational culture matters most

In countries which are notorious for staff absenteeism and tardiness, I’ve worked with organizations where people aren’t late.

In countries with a reputation for staff timidity, I’ve worked with organizations where the folks laugh and chat and catch up with each other.

In countries where a traditional management hierarchy is revered, I’ve worked with organizations where management and staff intermingle and sit together.

Great organizational culture always matters the most.

The way the Employees at Company X carry themselves can be quite different than the way Employees at Company Y carry themselves.

Even when their offices are in the same office building.

Blaming poor behavior on country or national dynamics is just lazy

Of course, there are wonderful examples of national culture that embody happiness, wellbeing and getting things done.  An entire article could be devoted to these examples.

It’s not my style to be negative.

But when HR or management blames poor behavior on country or national dynamics – then it’s unlikely that you’ll see a great culture at that particular organization.

The happenstance of being born in Country X doesn’t guarantee a worklife of tardiness, timidity or futility.

Individuals always have a choice.

A choice to be on time, a choice to speak up and even a choice to find employment with an organization with a better culture.

 

A Culture of Fear & Compliance are poor tools for delivering a great Customer experience

Thank you for reading!

Daniel

Funny things Contact Centre Managers ask their Agents to do

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

This short article provides a humorous and perhaps disturbing look at how Contact Centre Managers ask Agents to do funny things.

Especially in the context of interacting with Customers.

There’s a well understood process

There is a well understood process Organizations use to select which behaviours they want Agents to display during Customer interactions.

Sometimes called KPIs, Performance Standards or CX Standards, management selected behaviors let Agents know what matters most during Customer interactions.

Example behaviours include:

  • Tone of Voice
  • Branded language
  • Empathy
  • Product know-how
  • Objection handling

The potential list is infinite.

And the final selection of these core behaviours is based solidly on the organization’s CX strategy, Corporate strategy and/or Customer Service strategy.

A lot of work goes into selecting the right behaviours, keeping them up to date and making sure everyone understands the ‘why’ behind each one.

But that work pays off in multiples as relevant quality goes up and good things like experience and advocacy happen.

But some Centre Managers choose to circumvent the process

In what I think represents a misguided attempt to deliver ‘a Customer experience’, management sometimes asks Agents to do funny things.

Let’s start with one of my favorite examples.

At an Asian bank, Contact Centre Agents who logged in for the morning shift, were asked to say a version of the following at the end of their first call that morning.

“Mr/Mrs. XX, thank you so much for helping me start my day off so wonderfully.”

Really?

Sometimes it is hard to know where to begin on something as silly as this.

But let’s try.

First point of view – that of the Agent.

How many Agents would you guess supported the use of this behaviour?

Yup – none of them.  It felt odd and inauthentic.

That should have been the first clue that something wasn’t quite right.

It’s called Voice of Employee or VOE and is an important source of Customer understanding.

Secondly, let’s get practical.

What if the first Caller was angry?  Crabby?  Too little coffee intake as of yet?   Does the Agent still have to deliver the behaviour?

Another personal favorite

Another Asian bank – different country.

The Service Quality Team had engaged a ‘Customer Service Expert’ who convinced them that there was an industry standard for a smile.

A proper smile must show 12 teeth.

And they bought it.

And then they Mystery Shopped it.

Can you imagine the training session for the Mystery Shoppers?

“Ok guys – when the Banking Officer smiles at you be sure to count if 12 teeth are showing.”  

And can you imagine the final Mystery Shopper presentation to the Board?

“And ladies & gentlemen, we’ve got a problem – on average less than 7 teeth are showing and let’s not even talk about the  intensive dental work cases that we will report to you separately.”

This story is a little different

This story is a little different as it comes from Mystery Shopper research.

An international mobile handset manufacturer wanted to Mystery Shop their Frontline Agents.

The Mystery Shoppers were to dial in, ask a specific set of questions and record the conversations.

So far so good.

Because to Mystery Shop well you need to select and define the key behaviours to be measured as part of the program.

The Organization had a prepared list of behaviours which they turned over to us.

Behaviour #1 – “Was the Agent prepared and ready to take the call?”

So we asked – “Oh. How would a Mystery Shopper know if the Agent was prepared and ready to take the call?  

To which they replied – “The Mystery Shopper should be able to tell if the Agent was prepared and ready to take the call.  Score it.” 

Ah, ok.

The Customer Experience Mystery Shopper Program – are you on track?

And what’s up with this Small Talk standard?

Depending on your CX Strategy, your Corporate Strategy and your Customer Service Strategy, it may make perfect sense to implement a ‘Small Talk’ behaviour into your Agent set of quality standards.

Typically I see Small Talk expressed as “Have you had your lunch yet sir?” or “How’s the weather in Singapore today?”

An unrelated question added into the conversation with the intention to build rapport.

I’m not disparaging the standard.

If your organization went through the full and proper process of selecting and defining relevant standards and Small Talk presented itself – then by all means implement it.

But the Agents I meet tell me that the Small Talk standard was literally grafted on to their existing set of standards.  They felt they were being asked to do a funny thing.

When done right – appropriate small talk can elevate a conversation.

But when used at the wrong time, or in the wrong way – it sounds at best inauthentic and at worst – irritating.

Making it a compliance behaviour is almost guaranteed to be problematic.

At the end of the day you can’t capture the entirety of the Customer Experience in a single interaction

It’s well understood that the Customer Experience consists of the Customer’s perceptions across their entire experience with an organization.

And that sometimes that experience doesn’t even touch ‘Customer Service’ or the Contact Centre.

Of course, when it does touch Customer Service or the Contact Centre that interaction may have more emotional resonance than other types of interactions.

And that matters.

The management decisions described in this short article were not made by one individual.  A group or committee of smart people sat around a table, decided that these were good ideas and implemented them.

But grafting on Agent behaviours in the hope they deliver a positive Customer Experience shouldn’t involve Agents saying funny things.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel

“Image © Matt Madd/Dentist” https://costculator.com/dentist/

 

 

 

 

 

Terror in the Boardroom – and the impact on your Mystery Shopper research

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

I met up with a friend who works in another Mystery Shopper research firm.

We like to compare notes on Mystery Shopper research and share practices that enable great outcomes.

Over a recent coffee we talked about how senior leadership, and their reactions to Mystery Shopper results, have a direct link to the success of the program.

Terror in the Boardroom

My friend shared this story.

Dan – here’s what happened…most of the Mystery Shopper results were ‘ok’.

Nothing spectacular, but for an organization of their scale, the essential compliance KPIs were being met.

But one of their Customer touchpoints really struggled with their turnaround time commitment.

Rather than receiving a reply within 2 – 3 days, reply time-frames ranged from one week to no reply received within the time-frame promised.

We knew what we were getting into when we took the program.

But even we were taken aback when – after submitting the final results – the Client asked us to edit out the poor results.

And not just once – we had to redo the complete deck and set of reports three times before they were satisfied. 

Later on a Service Quality Manager told us what happened.

The Blame Game

When senior management saw the poor results for turnaround time, they yelled at the Participants and launched into assigning blame.

Of course, the Participants were stunned into silence.

And the unspoken message came across loud and clear.

It’s safer to hide bad results then to risk angering Senior Management.

Clearly a company culture issue.  And one that kills any chance at systemic improvement.

Avoid Terror in the Boardroom

It’s sad to see a viable Mystery Shopper program go down in flames due to fear of Senior Management.

The Mystery Shopper Agreement

I’d suggest is asking Senior Management sign a simple agreement when the Mystery Shopper program is approved.

Perhaps something like this:

The purpose of our Mystery Shopper program is to ________.  It’s likely we will uncover things that we want to hear – and things that we don’t.

We will resist the natural urge to cleanse results to make them look better.

We can only get better if we truly know how we’re doing – and for CX-based Mystery Shopper programs, how our Customers are experiencing us.  

With this in mind, we will take the good with the bad, the great with the not so great, look at results in perspective – and use them to help us move forward. 

Let your Research Partner present findings

Mystery Shopper Research Partner

Your Research Partner is in the best position to share methodology, compare and contrast findings with other organizations and give specific examples of both the good and not so good results with ideas for improvement.

The Research Partner operates outside the politics of the organization.  That brings an important level of objectivity and credibility to the process.

When the Research Partner doesn’t present – it’s left to someone within the organization to share findings

But when findings are presented ‘in-house’, a lot of context, examples and recommendations go missing.

And the politics can be more ‘highly charged’.

We hope these few words on Mystery Shopper research are helpful to you.

Avoid terror in the boardroom!  And thank you for reading,

Daniel