Archives for February 2010

Hey Boss! Look at all the Stuff I’m Measuring!

Calls offered by half hour
Calls answered by half hour
Abandons by half hour
Busies by half hour
Calls blocked by half hour
Average talk time by half hour
Average not-ready time by half hour
Average handle time by half hour
Service level by half hour
% of calls answered in 10-second increments by half hour
Average speed to answer or delay time by half hour
Call volumes to DNIS


Hey, I got jokes.  At least I think I do.  But this isn’t one of them.  This is an actual list of measures I saw recently on a contact center management dashboard. Oh, and this was not the complete list.  There was more.  But guess what wasn’t there?  Look at the list again.  Not a single indicator of how the customer viewed the experience or how well customer service was doing actually reducing demand for service through the elimination of broken upstream process that drive unnecessary service contact volume.

The indexes above do have have value for workload and resource planning.  You need to insure you have enough people in the seats to handle contacts or that, in turn, will impact the customer experience as well.  But beyond that, they have no place on a customer service scorecard.  Now in fairness, this company does survey its customers.  It is attempting to measure first call resolution.  And, it’s even trying to understand how to extract value from New Promoter queries.  But, none of these indicators appear on the contact center management dashboard.  Nor, are they metrics to which management compensation is directly tied.  

The other issue I have with this list?  Its just too darn long.  One of the first tenants of a performance management system is to develop a set of KPIs that you can actively manage and work towards improving.  Too many numbers leads to diluted effort which usually means nothing (or very little) actually improves in the operation. 

A better approach?

First, focus your management effort on the things customers actually care about.  I’ve yet to see a statistical study that correlates a customer’s willingness to recommend with AHT.

Second, for any organization, contact center or otherwise, there is opportunity to improve understanding of and implementation of a high functioning performance management system.  The first step is to understand the difference between a Measure and a Metric

As you think through the design of a performance management scorecard, spend enough time considering whether each number is a metric that you can proactively manage to or simply an interesting fact.
Richard Snow from Ventana Research, in his recent blog post Have Service Level Stats Outlived their Sell-By Date? conducted a study of the most common metrics use in contact centers.

Why are metrics least relevant to the customer experience the most common?  As Richard accurately concludes: because they’re easy.
Don’t do easy.  Do what makes a difference.

A Tale of Two Surveys

It was the best of stays, it was the worst of stays.  Well ok, not the absolute worst.  There was that motel on Sunset Boulevard back in 2003.  And, no it wasn’t an hourly hotel.  I had my travel agent to thank for booking that one for a business trip.  My business.  Not THAT business.

More recently, I had the chance to experience two diametrically opposite lodging stays.  Because, I’m not here to bash brands, I won’t give up the name of the hotel where I stayed in Reston, VA for Paul Greenberg’s Social CRM Summit (A gratuitous plug.  If you missed it, get to it in Atlanta).  The second was last week at the Sofitel in Beverly Hills.

Without going into the details of the stays, as that’s not the point here, I’ll just say the Virginia hotel was in a state of remodel where the entire lobby was gutted.  I understand this happens.  But without any advance notice and in the midst of a blizzard, there were no food and beverage services.  And, the staff offered no alternative solutions for me and my family.  The Sofitel, on the other hand, delivered an outstanding experience, from decor to the attentive staff that serviced my every need – all for $250 a night – a bargain in Beverly Hills.

When I received the email surveys from each property, I filled them both out completely.  They were strikingly similar in content.  So, I’m assuming perhaps they might even use the same survey firm.  If you’ve been stopping by here occasionally, you might remember I’m on a mission to fill out every survey I receive this year to figure out exactly what companies do with the information.

The Virginia hotel?  So far, I have no idea what they do with it.  But I’m left to assume not much.  Because, if I were the senior executive responsible for this brand, and such a poorly rated survey was submitted by a frequent guest, I would expect it to make it directly to my inbox for action.   

After providing a glowing feedback, from Matthew Bernard, the Director of Guest Services at the Sofitel, I received a follow up letter the next day.  While I’m guessing this might be a form letter, it included the following line:

“I have reviewed your comments and concerns, and I want to assure you that I take them very seriously.”

He reviewed.  He took action.  That is all customers want to hear.  Now, I didn’t have any concerns; except for the fifteen dollar can of cashews from the mini bar.  But, I didn’t include that in the survey.

So, whats the point?

When you survey your customers, you set an expectation, several expectations.   Your customers expect that you’re listening.  That you care.  And that you actually might do something with the information that they took time out of their day to provide.  They expect action.  And most of all, customers expect communication.  Even if the Virginia hotel does take action on my suggestions, how will I ever know?  It’s unlikely that I will every return to that property on my own.  So, without any type of follow up telling me they heard me, how will they incent me to give them another shot?

So, if you don’t intend to follow up and take action, don’t bother with the survey.  A survey delivered to a customer is an invitation to engage in dialog.  If the customer answers, answer him back.  There are plenty of people we meet in life that ask a question yet never stop to listen for the response.  If I wanted a place to just complain for the sake of complaining, I could have done that right here.

“If you could say, with truth, to your own solitary heart, to-night, ‘I have secured to myself the love and attachment, the gratitude or respect, of no human creature; I have won myself a tender place in no regard; I have done nothing good or serviceable to be remembered by!’ your seventy-eight years would be seventy-eight heavy curses; would they not?”  I would say, the hotel in Reston certainly did nothing good nor serviceable.  Memorable?  Yes.  They didn’t listen.  And that’s the unfortunate part.

(photo credit: The Eagles – Hotel California)

Silent Bob finds his voice

I heard the story this morning on NPR (where I get a lot of ideas for this blog).  And, by now you all have heard the story too.  Kevin Smith, one of my all-time favorite directors, took Southwest Airlines to task on Twitter for its big person policy.  I love Kevin for his irreverent story telling in Clerks, Dogma, Chasing Amy and many more but the cynical side of me couldn’t help wondering if this self-proclaimed geek from Jersey is more marketing savvy than he leads on.   For he just happens to have a new movie coming out soon, “Cop Out” with Bruce Willis.  Just check out the live Google News and Twitter stream raging this morning. 

But, that’s not my angle here.  On the surface, this seems like just another example of a company tripping over its own policy to the detriment of customer service and its public persona; and from Southwest, of all companies, a rock star in the customer service hall of fame.  But, the issue runs deeper than that.  The real issue rises from giant companies trying to do what’s best for its customers, all of its customers; balancing the needs of the many with the needs of the individual.

Southwest, and other airlines, didn’t just come up with this butt-too-big-to-fit-in-one-seat policy to stick it to fat people.  Think about a time when you may have been on a plane, sitting next to a larger passenger, fighting for seat space, elbowing each other for arm rest control.  The challenge with any company trying to service a very large, diverse customer base? To accommodate everyone individually.  This is a higher level strategic customer service issue than appears on the surface also.  Can you really service everyone equally?  Or is that always going to end in disaster?  An average full passenger plane carries a couple hundred people of varying sizes and reasons for flying.

In my opinion, the root cause of this issue in the first place?  And my suggestion to all airlines.  If you can’t make money in this business without continually having to cram more and more seats into the same plane, then go do something else.  At the end of the day, airlines brought this upon themselves.  Big people flew 30 years ago.  But, they, and the people around them, had a lot more room to spread their wings…and butts. 

But, since I don’t anticipate a reversal in that trend anytime soon, here’s what’s needed, as Kevin so eloquently stated (subtlety is not one of his strong points).  He wants Southwest to at “least re-train your staff to be a lot more human & a lot less corporate when they pull a poor girl off the plane & shame her.” 
I think Kevin may have a career in customer service, once he stops chasing this silly movie making pipe dream and gets a real job.  Unless, he decides to go over to the dark side of marketing.

Hey Marketing…Take a Listen

Listen first.  This is the key to successful social media engagement for the enterprise.  No argument here.  It makes perfect sense.  How can you deliver the personalized, delightful experience your customer desires, if you don’t first listen for understanding?

I’m just curious why it took the proliferation of social media to give this concept validity.  Marketers have had at their disposal the voice of the customer for, well, as long as there has been a customer with a voice.  Sure, marketers have conducted focus groups.  Surveyed.  Segmented.  Surveyed some more.  From the customer’s point of view however, all that information seems to have historically fallen on deaf ears.  She still feels like she is being shouted at; being told that the company knows best what products she needs.   But, in fairness to marketers, how much can you really learn from assembling a focus group a few times a year consisting of customers that you think may fit the demographic profile you’re after?     

So, along comes the social web where customers and prospects and even non-customers are in a continuous conversation about your company and your brands; their wants, needs and desires.  What a wealth of information!  So, it was decided that the best approach to harnessing this treasure trove was to first shut up and listen.

But what if your customers aren’t there? 

Remember Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz?  If your a budding old codger like me, of course you do.  Dorothy’s problem was she was always looking for greener pastures, somewhere over the rainbow, perhaps in the social web.  When, in fact, all she ever needed and wanted was right there under her nose the whole time. 

If your a marketer feeling like Dorothy, ask someone at your next product strategy meeting where one of your company’s contact centers is located.  Take a trip there.  Sit down in a cubical, put on a head set and take a listen. 

You’ve had a perpetual focus group right here at home all the time. 

More Than Lip Service

Chickens don’t have lips, we all know that (at least I think that’s so).  But walk into any Chick-fil-a restaurant and you’ll quickly realize these chickens aren’t just flapping their gums when it comes to the customer experience.

Chick-fil-a has set the bar for customer experience that transcends its fast food category.  I have two small kids.  And, my wife and I vowed before the first that they would never eat fast food.  If you read my last post, you’ll know I’m kind of a health freak.  So, I don’t touch the stuff.  And we wanted to set that example for our kids.  Well, needless to say, that lofty goal has since gone out the window.  But, if it wasn’t for these crazy cows, our kids might still be fast-food free.  Because, this is the only such place we’ll take them. 

Beside the menu selection that is well balanced between the fried stuff and healthier alternatives, the company focuses on delivering a consistently enjoyable family-friendly experience time after time.  Here’s a few examples:

  • Every store I’ve been in has been by far the cleanest such joint in all aspects (yes, I even checked out all the bathrooms)
  • “My Pleasure” – the two most powerful words in customer service.  Every employee uses them, often and with sincerity.
  • If you eat in the restaurant, they bring your food to your table!
  • A focus on the community.  My local store has a calendar of family events that add to the family vibe.  Just check out the website to see the importance of the community at the corporate level
  • A corporate commitment to childhood education
  • Managers come by my table to ask how things are going more often than at a lot of higher-end places I’ve eaten
  • And not that I’m religious, but its kind of refreshing in a throw back kind of way that every store is closed on Sundays

None of this comes cheaply, however.  If you’ve been to a Chick-fil-a, you know their prices are on the high end of the scale for fast food.  While you won’t find any Dollar Menu or Five Dollar whatever, I assume the company has made a strategic choice to differentiate itself on the experience; recognizing that there is a consumer segment, even in fast food, that will pay for that experience.  Count me as one of them.