Friday, February 19, 2010

A Better Support Experience

Why is it that some call centers have better, or higher, customer satisfaction numbers than others; and, call volume doesn't seem to have a great deal of impact on that satisfaction? You can have high volume and happy customer, just as you can have low call volume and have customers who are happy at all. Why is that?

In my humble opinion it is because of the satisfaction level of the folks working the phones, at these call centers. If your workers are happier with what they are doing it will come through in their attitudes over the phones and thus your customer will feel they are being better taken care of and feel better about why they called in the first place.

"How do you get happier employees?" you might ask. Well, that has to do with the environment you have set up for them; the tools being used; the amount of training they get; and, familiarity with the product they are attempting to support. Let's take those areas, one at a time -

The Environment - You need to keep the temperature at a reasonable level, at about 70 - 72 degrees F (21-22 C), they need to have adequate natural lighting (WINDOWS!) so that they can relax every now and again, and look outside (it really does improve the mood). Air circulation, you want to keep the air moving, so that means you need the AC fans going or a floor fan or two. Their desk and chair need to be set up and comfortable for them, so that they don't end up with back or leg problems and repetitive motion is limited. Now, when they are away from the phones, they should be able to listen to some form of music that is not too loud or intense. They may have particular likes/dislikes but this is where they simply need to listen to something canned that is relaxing (like they use in elevators and doctor's offices). This is the type environment that will save you some money in the long run.

The tools being used. Now the tools are both the ones the person on the phone is using as well as those that are being used by management. You want to make sure their CRM and tracking tool is set up properly so that all the information needed for the call can be obtained quickly and smoothly, and that any of the data bases that it ties into can be accessed quickly and efficiently. Customers calling in with an issue or problem absolutely do not want to be put on hold, because a data base is down or the tracking tool just "hung." There are a number of these tools out there, some are better for the different industries than others, so you need to be sure you have selected the correct one. Along with those type tools you want to have the correct tools on the desk. A note pad (post its work), and a good writing instrument are always nice to have as a back up or jotting down some comment quickly to share. The terminal on the desk needs to have the right network connection, and adequate configuration depending on the type work being done. Obviously if you are doing more graphics or illustrations you're going to need more memory than if you are simply doing text and data entry. On the management side, you want to have good tracking and scheduling software that can help you determine what kind of staffing model you want to use. These help to show when your peaks times come in, and when you have slower times. Again, there are a number of these available on the market and you want to get the one that is best for your industry. You don't need to spend a great deal of money to find out some very valuable information that can save you a great deal in the long run.

The last two areas are effectively tied together through training. Are they getting the correct and adequate training for the products and tools, and have them been given the chance to become familiar with the products they need to support. The training can be done in a variety of ways, with "train the trainer" programs being a very efficient way of getting some of the team up to the "expert" level quickly, and being able to maintain a high knowledge level on the team at all times. If the training has to come from Engineering then send one of your "trainers" to the Engineering folks and have them learn it from them, then have them bring it back to the team to share. You will have a built in expert and reference point. Set up training plans so that everyone on the team can be trained within a time period (1 month, 3 months, etc.) so that they can start taking the calls quickly and efficiently. You also want to have the training done prior to the product being released, so that Engineering doesn't have to provide the support. You want to keep the customer happy, and connecting them to Engineering is not always a good way to do this. Sometimes it works, but frequently it does not. Once the support team is trained and ready to face the customer they can be assigned to a call schedule and EVERYONE will be happier for it.

I have over 20 years of working with Help Desks, Technical Support Teams and Field teams, and have been able to maintain a strong positive relationship with customers. Because of my style of management I have frequently been known as the "go-to" guy with difficult customers and it is rare that I cannot calm an excited customer down, while working with the Technician, showing that person how to bring down the intensity of any given call. Working with people is something I enjoy and hope to continue doing even after I retire and in a volunteer forum. I get great satisfaction of seeing a smiling face or hearing a positive comment. If you follow my advice I am sure you will see the same results. Feel free to contact me if you need some assistance with this, as I do enjoy helping.