Customer Experience Success Story at AT&T

Customers view service relative to their expectations. 

  • Good service meets expectations.
  • Poor service falls short of expectations.
  • Outstanding service exceeds expectations.

Here’s an email I received from my friend Larry. He expected to receive poor service from AT&T, but was pleasantly surprised in several ways.

Hey Jeff,

I wanted to share a GREAT customer service experience with you.

While I was out of town this weekend there was a power outage and I thought I lost my internet modem. I have not always had the best of luck when dealing with AT&T and am quick to say it. But I want to also be quick to point out my good experience.

First, I went to the local store. I got there about 15 min before they opened at noon. The parking lot was packed and there was a line at the door. 

When the door opened at noon, it was an amazing sight…there were a ton of employees inside and everyone who came in the door was immediately greeted and helped. No waiting at all. This caught my attention in a positive way.

I was met by a young lady who took me to a table and I explained my problem. We trouble shot the modem and immediately determined that it wasn’t the modem, but the power cord. We got the cord from another new piece of equipment and everything worked just fine. 

A power supply costs $10. A new modem costs $100. I asked for the $10 option. 

Initially she suggested we order one and I could have it come to my house or to the store and pick it up. She was unable to find the part # for the cord, and went to ask for help finding it. 

After a few minutes, she came back and I asked if there was a cord in the store I could borrow or rent for a few days until it arrived. She didn’t object and tried to order the cord for me. After another couple minutes, she just took my broken power cord and replaced it with the working one from the new modem box without charging me and said they will fix it on their side because she could not order a new one.

This is a great example of a front line employee taking the initiative and going above and beyond to FIX a customer issue. Instead of being without internet for several days or having to unnecessarily purchase a new piece of equipment. I was out of service for a couple hours and left a very satisfied customer who wanted to share that experience.

I am also sharing this on FB.

~ Larry

Notice how expectations played a role in Larry’s experience.

Larry’s initially low expectations made it easier for him to be pleasantly surprised by good service.

He was worried about wait times when he saw the large crowd. Excellent staffing levels allowed Larry to receive service much faster than he expected. 

Larry expected to pay for the repair. The associate took the initiative to find a solution she was empowered to deliver and gave Larry a replacement power cord at no charge.

These pleasant surprises prompted Larry to share his experience with AT&T on Facebook and with me. It all came down to one customer, at one store, served by one associate.

AT&T promises smart, friendly, and fast service at their AT&T stores. It sounds like they delivered. Here's a video describing the promised customer experience:

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How to Engage Your Employees: A Step-by-Step Guide

Let’s get in the Wayback Machine and take a trip to the year 2006.

Reese Witherspoon was nominated for an academy award for her role in a biographic film. The Seattle Seahawks had just earned a spot in the Super Bowl. Employee engagement was a hot topic. 

Fast forward to today and very little has changed.

Reese Witherspoon has once again been nominated for an academy award for her role in a biographic film. The Seahawks are in the Super Bowl. And, employee engagement is still a hot topic.

Back in 2006, businesses were starting to understand the impact of disengagement on productivity, customer service, and profits. Gallup released a study revealing that a whopping 73 percent of employees were not engaged.

Today’s numbers are nearly identical. The latest Gallup engagement report shows that 70 percent of employees are not engaged. 

Companies are still not getting the results they should.

This step-by-step guide to engaging employees can help you change that.

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Step 1: Define Engagement

It’s important to gain clear agreement on the meaning of employee engagement before you go any further.

The question hampers a lot of initiatives. Even leading consulting firms like Gallup and BlessingWhite disagree

  • Is it employee satisfaction?
  • Commitment to the company?
  • An emotional connection to the job?

Here’s the definition we’ll use for the purposes of this guide:

Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee deliberately contributes to organizational success.

This definition incorporates three critical elements:

  1. Employees must know what makes the organization successful.
  2. Employees must know how they personally contribute to organizational success.
  3. Employees must care enough to give discretionary effort.

We’ll come back to these three elements in just a moment. For now, let’s move on two Step 2.

 

Step 2: Identify the Impact

Most failed corporate initiatives suffer from the same problem: executives see the costs but they can’t quantify the benefits. You have to identify the business impact of employee engagement if you want it to become truly important.

Start by identifying key metrics that are likely affected by employee engagement. Examples include:

  • Employee Turnover
  • Productivity
  • Quality
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Revenue

Next, use these metrics to assess the financial impact of employee engagement. 

For example, a hospital decided to focus on employee turnover. Their annual turnover rate for nursing staff was 30 percent compared to an industry average of 20 percent. 

The hospital took the following steps to calculate a hard dollar estimate that their CFO endorsed:

  1. Calculate the hard costs associated with employee turnover using this worksheet.
  2. Multiply that cost by the number of nursing positions refilled in a one year period.
  3. Calculate what the cost would have been at an average turnover rate of 20 percent.

The difference between #2 and #3 was the potential savings associated with improving employee engagement.

For the hospital, that was $100,000 in hard cost savings. 

The hospital’s CFO acknowledged this was a very conservative number. It didn’t account for hard-to-measure soft costs such as improved patient outcomes. By the CFO’s own estimate, the potential soft cost savings were $1,000,000.

You’ll have your executives’ attention if you too can make a compelling business case for improvement.

 

Step 3: Add Missing Pieces

Let’s go back to the three critical elements of employee engagement we examined in Step 1. The first is:

Employees must know what makes the organization successful.

There are three pieces to this puzzle that you must put in place for employees.

  1. Define success. 
  2. Set goals.
  3. Measure success.

The first piece represents your organization’s overarching purpose. It could be your mission statement or customer service vision.

The second piece makes things more specific. For example, if success is “leading your industry in customer service,” how will you know if you’re actually doing that?

This is where it’s helpful to create SMART goals to share with your employees. 

The final piece requires you to measure progress towards your goals and share updates with the team.

This brings us to the next critical element of employee engagement:

Employees must know how they personally contribute to organizational success.

Asking your employees is the best way to assess this element. If they can give a great description, you know they understand. If they’re unclear about their role, it’s a signal that a little coaching and training is required.

Which brings us to the final element:

Employees must care enough to give discretionary effort.

This speaks to motivation, a topic that’s widely misunderstood. Employees don’t join companies and think to themselves, “I’m going to be disengaged.” Their passion somehow gets deflated after they start their new job. 

Managers shouldn’t focus on getting employees to care. Rather, they should make sure employees don’t stop caring. Good managers prevent demotivation.

This is where the basics of good management comes into play:

  • Empower employees to do a good job
  • Help eliminate obstacles that get in their way
  • Let employees know their contributions are valued

 

Step 4: Measure It

Many companies do an annual employee engagement survey. 

If yours does one, stop. It’s a waste of time

Can you imagine measuring anything else that’s so important to your business only once a year?

We look at financials, customer satisfaction ratings, and other metrics at minimum on a monthly basis. Employee engagement needs to be evaluated just as often.

“But, wait!” you exclaim. “There’s no way I’m going to ask my employees to take an engagement survey once a month.”

You don’t want to do that, but here’s what you can do:

  • Divide your employees into twelve random groups. Survey a different group each month.
  • Do an employee engagement assessment.
  • Focus on related metrics like turnover or customer satisfaction.

Want to get really progressive?

Combine your performance management and employee engagement initiatives into one process.

Here are just a few ways these two concepts can overlap:

  • Employees are focused on increasing their contribution to organizational success
  • Managers are focused on helping employees maximize their contributions
  • Annual reviews summarize past performance and layout goals for the next year

 

Step 5: Take Action

This is what a failed employee engagement initiative looks like:

  1. An executive proclaims, “Let’s get serious about employee engagement.”
  2. A survey is implemented.
  3. Results are reported.
  4. Committees are formed.
  5. Nothing changes.

A process like that is nothing but a distraction from real work. Employee engagement can’t be a side project. It has to be the way you do business. 

Let’s go back to the definition of employee engagement:

Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee deliberately contributes to organizational success.

Your ability to engage employees comes down to making three things happen:

  1. Employees know what organizational success looks like. 
  2. They know how they can contribute.
  3. Managers prevent employees from getting demotivated.

Accomplish those three things and watch the magic happen. 

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Five Customer Service Trends Worth Watching

Yesterday, I facilitated a webinar called Customer Service Trends to Watch in 2015. Here’s a re-cap along with links to additional information.

You can watch a replay of the webinar here.

Trend #1: Fixing Broken Systems

Most service failures are caused by broken systems.

It might be a rotten culture, an unfriendly policy, or an underperforming department. These issues go beyond a simple employee error. They can’t be fixed with training. They’re systemic.

The now infamous Comcast cancellation call is a terrific example.

In 2015, I predict we’ll see more companies getting serious about fixing broken systems and making it easy for their employees to provide outstanding service.

 

Trend #2: Preventing Service Failures

Matt Dixon was a keynote speaker at ICMI’s CC Expo conference last May. One of his slides really caught everyone’s attention:

Delighting customers is fine, but service failures are what really impacts loyalty.

This isn’t a new idea. Dixon co-authored a 2010 Harvard Business Review article called “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.” And, he released a book on the subject called The Effortless Experience in 2013.

So, why is this a trend now?

Because companies are starting to realize how badly service failures are costing them. Not just in terms of lost customers and lost business, but in terms of wasted time, increased costs, and lots of unnecessary damage control. 

I expect to see a few more companies get serious about service failure prevention in 2015.

 

Trend #3: Proactive Social Care

My 2014 study on what angry customers Tweet about yielded a surprising result. Waiting is the number one reason angry customers Tweet. The number three reason was no response to a message sent to the company.

In other words, customers send angry tweets because another service channel failed to resolve their problem.

Some smart companies are flipping the script. They’re actively searching for problems they can solve. 

Here’s a great example from cable provider Bright House Networks. The rep happened upon a casual Twitter conversation about cable packages.

 

Trend #4: Fewer Surveys

In my 2014 article on the Salesforce blog, I detailed five signs that a customer service survey is missing the point.

People are getting tired of taking surveys. Even worse, most companies don’t do anything with them!

In 2015, I expect to see more companies fix their broken surveys. Or, better yet, abandon their customer service surveys altogether for one of these alternatives.

 

Trend #5: Employee Motivation

Managers just can’t seem to figure out employee motivation. 

Some try incentives. Others try threats. All too many don’t try.

A few are discovering Daniel Pink’s outstanding book, Drive, where he lays out three keys to motivating knowledge workers (e.g. customer service employees):

  • Purpose
  • Mastery
  • Autonomy

Here’s a synopsis of how these principles work for customer service employees.

 

So, will any of these trends hold true? Only time will tell.

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How to Assess Your Team's Customer Service

Do your 2015 plans include working on customer service?

Many companies have service on their radar. The challenge is knowing where to get started. 

Do send your customer service reps through training? Perhaps you should invest in new technology? Will a new incentive program energize the team?

A great way to begin is by assessing where your team is now.

A good assessment compares your team’s current performance to where you want to be and provides detailed recommendations for closing the gap. It allows you to save time, focus resources, and get better results from your customer service initiatives. 

For example, a call center wanted to reduce the number of calls they sent to an outsourced call center. The third party call center gave them flexibility to handle spikes in contact volume. The trade-off was they could offer better service at a lower cost when they kept calls in-house.

A customer service assessment revealed some low-hanging fruit. Within just one week, the call center was keeping 50 percent more calls in house. 

There are three steps required to conduct a really good customer service assessment:

  1. Define what “good” looks like
  2. Select an approach
  3. Take action

 

Define Good

It’s hard to find something if you don’t know what you’re looking for. That’s why the first step in any assessment is defining what good service should look like. 

On a strategic level, this involves defining outstanding service for your team by creating a customer service vision.  

On a tactical level, this means defining what is supposed to happen for a certain process or interaction. Examples include establishing service standards, procedures, or contact guidelines.

 

Select an Approach

The next step is to select the assessment that best fits your needs. 

Large-scale assessments take several weeks to complete but offer an in-depth review. For example, ICMI offers an operational assessment for contact centers that takes a holistic look at the entire operation including management, employees, and technology. 

The time and expense of a large-scale assessment might be a bit much for many smaller organizations, but there are less-expensive alternatives available that are still very effective.

The Toister Performance Solutions onsite customer service assessment focuses solely on employee performance. It takes less than a day to complete, and you’ll have a detailed written plan the next business day. 

If you prefer to try the do it yourself approach, try using the Customer Service Alignment assessment for a strategic view of your operation. You can also use the Quick Fix Checklist to hone in on the solution to a particular problem. 

 

Take Action

An assessment isn’t worth your time if you don’t take action. 

There are many reasons why companies don’t take action after an assessment. Comfort level with the findings, the strain of other initiatives, and a lack of focus can all play a role.

It’s important to approach customer service assessments with an open mind. After all, why conduct an assessment just to tell you something you already know? The whole point is to look at things from a different angle.

It’s also imperative to conduct the assessment at a time when it will have your full attention. 

Assessments can be a powerful tool for improving customer service. That’s why they’re number three on my list of ways to take service to the next level.

Incidentally, training is all the way down at number seven.

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How Companies Systematically Fail to Weigh Emotional Anchors

Last October 22 was a rough day.

My car broke down in a hotel parking lot while I was heading out to see a client. I had to cab it there, barely making it on time.

I got a call from my Mom while riding in a cab on the way back to the hotel. She told me my Dad had been taken by ambulance to the hospital with chest pain.

My car needed to be towed. I had to trust the internet to find a nearby mechanic with good online reviews. I coordinated this while getting updates about my Dad from my Mom.

The mechanic seemed trustworthy, but it took them a few hours to diagnose the problem. Fortunately, my Dad was stable and feeling okay. 

My car’s diagnosis came in. The clutch slave and master cylinder both needed to be replaced. This is a major repair that requires the mechanic to remove the entire transmission. It’s also an astonishing problem for a car like mine with only 37,000 miles on it.

The mechanic told me the car would be ready the following afternoon. The nice-ish hotel where I was staying was sold out, so I ended up in a dingy motel down the street. 

I spent the night feeling stuck and worried about my Dad.

My car was repaired by mid-afternoon the next day. My Dad was feeling okay, but he was still in the hospital. I made the three hour drive to visit him, worrying throughout the entire drive that my car would break down again.

Companies frequently fail to consider their customers' emotional needs.

Companies frequently fail to consider their customers' emotional needs.

 

The Cold No

I really liked my car before this incident. I had owned it for four years and couldn’t imagine owning another one.

Now, it's hard to drive it without thinking about the huge hassle it caused me. I went from loving the car to feeling like I’d never buy another one from this brand again.

My local dealer wasn't any help. I had bought the car there and take it in for regular service. I contacted them for help. The service advisor flatly told me there was nothing they could do. She delivered the message without the slightest bit of empathy.

I called the manufacturer’s consumer affairs hotline to see if they'd be willing to do something. Anything would do, even a goodwill gesture of some kind. After a bit of back and forth a case manager told me there was nothing they would do.

Just like the dealer, the message was delivered with zero empathy.

 

Emphasizing The Wrong Needs

Customers have two needs: rational and emotional. 

It’s the emotional needs that are often overlooked. Everything is geared towards addressing the rational issue.

Rationally, the dealer was right.

They’re compensated for repairs by the customer or, in the case of warranty issues, by the manufacturer. My repair didn’t fit either circumstance, so there wasn’t any money in it for them.

Rationally, the manufacturer was right.

My car was sold with a warranty that guarantees against these types of problems for a certain period of time. Once that time is passed, those problems are no longer the manufacturer’s responsibility. My car’s warranty had expired.

So, I’m being careful not to call out the brand by name. By the same token, the complete lack of empathy feels cold.

I wasn't expecting to be completely reimbursed for the repair. But nothing? Not even a goodwill gesture? Ouch.

I understand that how I feel about the situation is a mix of both rational and emotional needs. Trust me, emotional needs are far more important than rational ones.

 

It’s the System

What companies should understand is their systems create these emotional disconnects.

  • Companies teach employees to fix problems, not assuage feelings.
  • Companies think in terms of dollars, not goodwill.
  • Companies focus on transactional value, not lifetime value.

Perhaps I should have been more clear. I could have told the dealer and the manufacturer, "I had a terrible experience, and I'd like you to help me feel better about my car."

The problem is customers don't think like that.

They speak in rational terms too. Sometimes, it's hard to understand what you're really feeling in the moment. It seems weird to tell a customer service rep that what you really want is to be emotionally validated. 

Very few employees are trained to decode what customers are really saying. 

I tried to make it clear to the dealer and the manufacturer that I wouldn't buy their brand of car again. They'd both lost my business. I doubt this is tracked.

Most businesses don't have a good system for this. Most employees aren't taught to carefully listen for this information. Very few pass along complaints.

 

Epilogue

Today, my Dad’s feeling great and is in good health. That's what's most important.

My car is driving fine. I think. Something doesn't feel quite right, but I'm not sure whether it's real or imagined. Emotions have a funny way of playing tricks on you like that.

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