Archives for January 2010

Hard Bodies in Customer Service

I was ecstatic to see a recent post on the Radian6 blog about their relationship with  Why? In short, I’m a big fan of both companies. (note to FTC, FCC, CIA, FBI – neither company is sponsoring this post).  In my opinion, that post gives a good perspective on why Beachbody is one of the more successful direct marketing and sales companies.  The vision of the company’s CEO Carl Daikeler has led the company to fully embrace the spirit of social media, where other direct marketers may be struggling a bit to make the transition. 

That got me thinking about my experiences as a Beachbody customer.  Yes, I admit it.  I’m a Tony Horton disciple.  I took the plunge last March and ordered P90X from one of their ubiquitous t.v. infomercials.  I was skeptical.  But, ten months later and thirty pounds lighter, I AM in the best shape of my life. (Of course that’s all relative. And, no, I’m not showing you my before and after pictures). P90X absolutely lives up to its claims, contrary to many other goofy home fitness products.  Here are some of my favorites:

6 Second Abs
Ab Energizer
The Bean

To my point about customer service, Beachbody does somethings exceptionally well.  And, I also think there is one relic from their roots in direct marketing that may need to be retired along side those Charles Atlas comic book ads.  Let’s take a look.

The Good Stuff

  • Community: long before social media was all the buzz, Beachbody had a keen understanding of the role of community in long term weight loss and fitness success.  So, they have leveraged message boards, chat rooms and forums to build a strong on-line customer network.  The financial benefit?  More people stay engaged longer.  And as a result, at least in my case, continue to buy more products.
  • “No-hassle Returns”  really means no hassle.  I’ve returned two products, not because I was dissatisfied, just because each didn’t quite fit my needs.  Each time, the process went off without a hitch.  
  • The ancillary products such as fitness bands, pull up bars and the dietary supplements are all among the highest quality I’ve found anywhere.  This is not add-on crap at overinflated prices.

My One Complaint

  • While I understand Beachbody is a direct sales company, they really need to back off on the endless up sell/cross sell attempts during the on-line check out process.  Each time I’ve ordered something from the website, I have been blasted with no less than 5 up sell offers before I was allowed to proceed to the check out page.  This was such an annoyance that I dumped out of the ordering process three times during my first transaction.  The only reason I went back was because I kept hearing great stories about friends’ results from P90X.

So here’s the deal Beachbody (lets see how well they’re listening with Radian6).  I love your products.  I love your company.  Relax.  You had me at “Bring It!”

So employee satisfaction doesn’t matter?

Once again, inspiration for a blog post came from an unusual place.  This time, it came to me from two tweets I read from Chris Reaburn during a recent sleepless night.  Chris posted two articles from  One about the best places to work according to employee votes.  The second, was a list of the companies rated lowest by employees.

These articles got me reflecting on a subject about which I’m insanely passionate; that of employee empowerment and satisfaction.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know we’ve connected the dots a few times between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.  That link, in my mind, is indisputable. Some think the impact of employee satisfaction is too squishy and hard to measure.  So, while not a statistical analysis, lets take a look at some of the companies on both lists and see if employee satisfaction makes a difference to the things finance types care about.

The Bad                               Return on Equity
#2 United Airlines                  (2,743.85)
#3 Spherion                                (27.18)
#9 Hertz                                     (54.98)

The Best                              Return on Equity
 #1 Southwest Airlines                  2.97
#12 Kraft Foods                          7.93
#15 NetApp                              17.45
#45 Best Buy                             21.67

One big thing popped out at me in building this list.  If Southwest Airlines and Best Buy can generate these types of returns, in the year of the ‘Great Recession’ and in an industry that I wouldn’t wish on my worst unfriend, how do companies like Radio Shack and Kmart fail to deliver?  Maybe their leadership needs to ask its rank and file.

Oh, and if you still think employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and financial performance are unrelated, check out this list of top companies in customer service.  You’ll see many of the same companies from the Best list according to employees.

So Rewarding

This is the final installment in a series of posts exploring the E-C-R model for performance management in in contact center. If you missed the prior posts, you can find them here: one twothree

There has been no shortage of press coverage over the past year, and most intensely these past two months, about executive compensation.  Even before the AIG, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch bonus hubbub, terms such as ‘performance pay’ and “retention bonus” have become standard in the compensation vernacular.

As I outlined in the first three posts in this series, any effective performance management system that enables sustainable change requires a complete alignment across expectations, capabilities and rewards.  While we can debate the ethical, moral and logical merits of some of these topical compensation practices, when an organization particularly in our case, a customer service organization is embarking on a performance management system to drive continuous improvement, the rewards system is the most critical lever.  Typically, this is the most difficult aspect of the model to change because it involves many functional aspects of the organization and investment in real dollars.

The old adage in business is you manage what you measure.  The flip side to that is that people will chose the to do the work for which they are directly compensated over the work for which they are “measured”, if they identify a misalignment of the two.  Certainly this disconnect appears more often in functions where performance-based compensation is standard.  But, recognition manifests itself in more ways than just monetary compensation.  Perhaps some of these examples are evident in your organization.

  • Recruiting messages focused on employee satisfaction, yet history of subjective promotions 
  • Marketing customer intimacy, yet sales commission plans focused on new logos
  • Customer loyalty expectation in the contact center, yet AHT still predominates the scorecard
  • Drive for IT innovation, yet no white space time allowed for skunk work projects

So, as you take a closer look at your organization, what messages are you sending?  Are those messages consistent with how you are rewarding your people?  Is the current collective behavior of your organization driving you towards your goals?  If the answer is “no” to any of these, time for a visit to the local performance management chiropractor for a little realignment.  

I hope you enjoyed this series as much as I enjoyed exploring this topic.  There is certainly a much deeper level of understanding needed to implement the E-C-R framework.  But, the purpose of this series was not to provide a project plan.  It was to introduce the framework and, hopefully, get some thinking going about areas of misalignment in your organization that are hindering performance improvement.

The Simple Truth

What is this? Click over to The Savvy Capitalist
Art work inspired by Robin Dickinson @ Radsmarts

Everyone’s capable. But of what?

This is the third installment in a four part series of posts where we’ll explore a simple performance management model for customer service called E-C-R: Expectations, Capabilities & Rewards. Parts one and two are here. 

In the context of our model, capabilities are simply the tools, tactics and skills required to achieve a particular strategic objective; thus meeting or exceeding a specific expectation (E).

Organizations, collectively, possess a portfolio of capabilities: design, production, creativity, global reach, technology, cash management….you get the idea.  The challenge in driving sustainable performance improvement within the orgnization, though, is to find or develop a collective set of capabilities that, when applied towards an objective, accomplish it.

Take a topical example, one that many customer service organizations are facing right now; social media in the contact center.  Suppose our strategic objective is to “be everywhere our customers want to be” (forgive me Visa).  This could translate on our strategy map to “providing service and support across the multiple channels through which our customers wish to engage”.

If the organization has traditionally provided service through phone and email channels, it has acquired or developed a particular set of capabilities including CSR skills, telephony infrastructure and even specific physical structures in which to house the contact center.

When we now need to engage with customers through this completely new, still evolving channel, many organizations are finding that those current capabilities are not sufficient to continue to exceed their stated expectations (KPIs) for service delivery.  I’ve witnessed several organizations over the past year attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole, especially in the area of agent skills.  These companies are finding that a rep very skilled at phone-based communication, is often not at all prepared to tweet, moderate an on line community or comment on a blog post.

As my organization embarked on this journey last year, we invested time in first defining the needed skills, creating new job descriptions and roles and then applying Forrester’s social technographics ladder to build a profile of our current capabilities against those skills which we identified as necessary for communication in a Social CRM environment.  The gap analysis that resulted allowed us to then build a linear plan for acquiring the missing capabilities.   

So, when you find your organization suddenly struggling to maintain expected levels of performance, take a step back and inventory what has potentially changed within the context of those expectations.  On the surface, the expectation may seem consistent, but through continuous review, you may discover the environment within which your organization is now trying to achieve its goals may have shifted.

Continuous improvement requires continually reshaping and often breaking the mold.

Want to Improve Customer Service? Your Staff Wants to Help – Really.

Guest Post by Kristina Evey,

Have you ever been in the situation where you know you have been able to do something, have wanted to be able to do it, but there were some “Rules” that prevented you form doing it?  This is how your staff often feels when dealing with customer issues and complaints.  I often find that staff are more than willing to take care of customer issues or complaints, but become frustrated because they need “management approval.” 

Consider the following scenario – I was in a craft store recently to make a return on a $5.00 item.  I waited in line for 10 minutes while the cashier was simultaneously helping the customers in her line, training a new cashier next to her, and was on the phone with another store trying to locate an item. 

Once I was being waited on, I commented to her that it appeared she was wearing many hats.  She just smiled and said that it was better to be busy than bored.  Once my return was entered into the computer, she had to page the manager on the overhead speaker.  I then asked what would happen if the manager was in a meeting or on the phone.  She replied that her hands were tied.  She then said something very powerful –
“I just wish they would let me process returns up to $50.00.  All the manager is going to do is just turn a key in my computer.  He doesn’t even ask any questions about the transactions.  That way, I could help you myself faster and not have to make you wait. If there is a problem, then I could get help from him.”

Another scenario – A medical office billing specialist was frustrated because she would occasionally have a patient who was being billed for a copay that  they were insisting they had paid in cash, but were unable to locate the receipt.  The “policy” in the office was to pull the chart, review the situation with the physician, then have the physician make the determination as to what to do, the office manager would need to sign off on the decision, then the patient would be contacted with the resolution.  Sometimes, although rarely, the patient would be discharged because the physician felt there was a breach of trust.  This entire process would take between 3 hours or 3 days, depending upon workload.

The biller recognized that this issue was a rarity.  She also knew that it hardly ever happened more than once with the same patient.  She knew that there were a few instances where the patient was facing financial hardship and wanted to get them on a payment plan.  But, most importantly, since she was the billing specialist, she wanted to be empowered to resolve this type of situation on her own with some guidelines attached. 

Once the billing specialist was given the opportunity, she came up with the following guidelines – When a patient called in because they were being billed for a copay they claimed to have paid in cash, she would write it off up to $50.  She would then make a note in her system.  Should the same patient call in again with the same situation, she would know that there was something to address.  At that time, she would speak to the physician and the office manager and make her assessment if there was a trust issue or if it could be a case of financial hardship.  That collaboration would then determine if the patient would be discharged or put on a payment plan. 
Once these guidelines were put into place, the billing specialist was able to handle the issue on her own within 15 minutes of the patient call.  She felt a higher level of trust from the physician and the office manager and took more ownership in her responsibilities.  She was also able to work with the few patients who were in financial hardship and put them on payment plans.  Because she was able to make that recommendation, the financial relationship stayed strong between herself and the patient, while the physician was able to focus on the therapeutic relationship.

The point of both of these scenarios is simply this – The staff had the desire, willingness, and capabilities of handling the issues in the best interest of the customer and the company.  They also had the idea of exactly how to do it.

When staff are empowered, the entrepreneurial spirit is awakened within them and they will feel pride and ownership in their responsibilities.  They will make responsible decisions to the best of their abilities.  While some decisions may not always be the best decision, it provides a wonderful learning and training opportunity.  When staff feel that you trust them by allowing them to handle issues, they will then begin to make their decisions as if they owned the company.

Should you find that you have a staff member is not making the best decisions on a repetitive basis, you then either have a training issue or have made an inappropriate hiring decision.  There are necessary steps to be taken quickly in these cases in order to best serve your customers.

For more information and ideas on how to focus on your customers, I invite you to visit  You’ll find articles, products, and a membership site all designed to assist your organization to become more customer centric.  Please also request your copy of 50 Free Customer Service Tips Made Simple and sign up for my free monthly newsletter.

If the customer wants vanilla, give them vanilla

Tucked in a corner of the Parker’s Maple Barn gift shop, which is hidden in a quaint town in Southern New Hampshire, is a sign that says it all…“If the customer wants vanilla, give them vanilla.”  What at first glance appeared like a mere wall decoration, I came to learn it says a lot about this place.  
After first hearing of this place from my friend Michael Ensley over a year ago, I finally got the opportunity to make the trek to get me some fresh maple syrup.  The sojourn quickly turned into one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a long time.  I had never been to Parker’s but had been to a couple of other maple syrup destinations.  Similar to the experience Terry Starbucker recently had in a small produce shop in Paris, from the decor to the owner’s down home Yankee hospitality, everything I observed in the shop made it clear that the sign on the wall was not just decoration, it was a business philosophy.
So, if you find yourself in the neighborhood of Parker’s Maple Barn in Mason, NH, make it a priority to stop in. When you park, put your name in with the restaurant.  Grab a maple donut and a little hot chocolate on your way up to the manufacturing barn and take the tour.  Do the whole thing, eat up this experience. 
Why? Because the slogan on the wall at Parker’s Maple Barn captures what is sometimes lost in the all the noise of our experience economy.  The latest flash, glitz and glitter are not always what’s needed to deliver a superior customer experience.  If you know what your customer wants, and you give him exactly that, no more, no less; mission accomplished.

Who’s expectations are they anyway?

This is the second installment in a four part series of posts where we’ll explore a simple performance management model for customer service called E-C-R: Expectations, Capabilities & Rewards. The introductory post is here.  

The first step in any performance management model is to develop the metrics that accurately reflect your strategic objectives.  I’m not really going out on a limb with that one, right?  So, why then, when we get to KPI development in customer service, does that goal seem to get lost in the woods?  As my friend Chris Reaburn commented about the introductory post in this series “companies with the right service metrics refuse to align them with performance goals because of operational efficiency demands”.  Therein lies the challenge.  How do we break out of the production, manufacturing floor mentality in in customer service and actually hold customer service leaders accountable to the metrics we all claim to be the most critical?  Those that create exceptional customer experiences.   

And where do companies turn to identify the right expectations in order to build those customer-centric KPIs?  Shouldn’t it be our customers?  We already spend countless hours conducting surveys, recording interactions, analyzing call reason codes and other sorts of “voice of the customer” stuff.  So, what better use of this data then as the foundation for your corporate performance management dashboard?  If customer loyalty is your goal and your dash 

In our web 2.0 world, nobody can claim that the information is too hard to access. Heck, lets assume you have no idea where to find your customers.  The web is full of brilliant free insights that can point you in the right direction.  Just open a Twitter account and take a listen.

Develop the customer-driven metrics, then hold everyone in the organization accountable.  Pretty basic, right?

Lastly, while this series are not intended to provide a tactical method for execution, if you’re looking for the cookbook approach to expectation setting, I’ll leave you with one reference that should point you in the right direction.  One of the brightest thinkers I know in the area of strategy management, Michael Ensley, has focused his work on developing customer-centric alignment through the process of strategy mapping.  Here’s the strategy map for his consulting business.  If you start the process defining the foundations of your strategy with goals like build customer loyalty and deliver exceptional customer experiences and come out the other end with operational KPIs like AHT, calls per hour and cost per call, you might want to go back to the drawing board.

Next: Everyone’s capable, but not of everything

Relationship Fracturing Process

I haven’t spent any time here on business to business relationships.  But, this is a topic that came to a head over the past two weeks.

As a consultant and technologist, I’ve responded to countless Requests for Proposal over the years.  And, I’ve even written a few.  The process of writing, issuing and responding to RFPs, at least in my narrow universe, has become an absolute and utter value destroying waste of time for everyone involved.

In Darwinian terms, here’s my view of the evolution of the species over the past 30 years or so

1980s – RFPs were written by business owners.  In my world, this typically meant a collaboration between senior technologists, architects and business process owners.  In this process, detailed strategy, business, functional and technical requirements were gathered and documented.  This was the basis for attempting to clearly articulate what was needed, so the potential partner could respond in kind.

1990s – A cottage industry emerged, consulting and coaching business and technology customers how to game the system and turn the vendor’s sales tactics back on them.  Business figured out that the RFP process was a great vehicle for gathering free advise and intellectual capital to either a) go off and do the project alone or b) provided the information to the existing vendor to improve the potential success of the project

2000s – Procurement, in many cases, has assumed control of the vendor management and RFP process.  Detailed requirements?  No time for those any more.  How much is learned about a potential vendor solution by creating a laundry list and asking the question: “Does your solution do X: Yes/No”?  With the aid of technology, many RFPs are now managed blindly in an on line environment with The Wizard of Oz behind the curtain pulling the puppet strings of the vendors.  The RFP is now a metric by which procurement can check the box saying they got proposals from three vendors.     

As it has evolved into its current form, what does the RFP process do well? It does a fantastic job at creating adversaries before the relationship even gets off the ground.

Value destroying.  Relationship damaging.  Yet we continue to crank them out.  And continue to respond.  Why?

Alignment – the simple key to driving contact center performance

This is the first installment in a series of posts where we’ll explore a simple performance management model for customer service.  The basic premise is that the performance of any function or organization can be dramatically improved through the accurate alignment of Expectations, Capabilities and Rewards.  Thus the model is simply called E-C-R.

The focus isn’t necessarily to explain the tactical implementation of the model, but to try to understand, once the elements are defined in this initial segment, how misalignment of the model’s elements lead to issues that continue to plague many customer service organizations. 

When evaluating improvements in customer service performance management, in general, I think we all do our best to focus on insuring that the metrics and measures are aligned with the corporate strategy. We want to exel in customer intimacy so one of our KPIs is the CSat scores. This is a valid starting point.   But what happens once the ‘right’ metrics are established? KPIs are simply targets.  How then does the organization align itself to those metrics and move them in the right direction?

A simple framework for consideration is the E-C-R model: Expectations, Capabilities and Rewards. Alignment needs to extend across all these components of the operating model. KPIs are expectations – the “E”.  This is what we state is important to the business and will drive our strategy. In order to move those KPIs in the desired direction, the organizational capabilities – the “C” – need to be aligned to those goals.

Everything from human capital skills, technology, plant and equipment and business processes needs to be evaluated and, most likely, retooled. We can’t implement CSat as our KPI and rely on the same call handling processes, training and skills development that leave customers’ issues unresolved, but AHT “optimized”.

Finally, the most critical and most challenging component of the model is the reward systems. From cash compensation to promotions, career pathing, and public recognition, the “R” will ultimately be the driver of change. For example, if the company is in a mature market, with a KPI of customer profitability, then why is the sales comp plan still focused exclusively on new logo acquisition and bookings?

Next: Who’s expectations are they any way?