Webinar Recap: Your Customer Service Questions Answered

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I recently hosted an "Ask Me Anything" webinar.

The idea was to answer participants' questions about helping customer service employees deliver outstanding service. My new book, Getting Service Right, shares solutions to many customer service challenges, but there are still more to overcome.

This post is a recap of the questions and my responses.

But first, a small confession. The webinar wasn't recorded due to a technical issue. It was configured to record, but the recording didn't take.

IT professionals would consider this a PEBCAC fault. That is, "Problem Exists Between Chair and Computer." In other words, I didn't launch the webinar properly so the recording could be saved.

Title slide for Ask Me Anything webinar.

Q: How do you teach [employees] to focus on the customer at hand and not focus on the volume of calls ringing in?

Employees tend to focus on what their boss focuses their attention on. 

Some contact center agents are still held to a standard for how long their average call can last. Even if they’re not, you’ll likely find a wall board that displays the number of calls in queue and how long they've been on hold. Displaying the queue naturally causes employees to focus on call volume, often at the expense of paying attention to the customer they're currently serving.

The solution? Stop putting the queue in front of employees. Let that be something the manager worries about, and encourage agents to focus on serving one customer at a time.

Q: How do you get people to think deeper about the impact of service when they feel like they're already doing it well?

Thanks to an odd quirk called the Dunning Krueger Effect, people tend to overrate their knowledge and ability. I even shared this example about an employee who loudly tried to blame her coworkers for a failed mystery shop, when she was the one who actually failed.

You can counter this with a dose of reality. 

Start by establishing what great performance looks like. Employees often think they're doing better than they really are because there's no benchmark for great work. 

The next step is to clearly identify the gap between what the employee is doing versus what the employee should be doing. Even better if you can help your employee self-identify this gap.

Finally, invite employees to describe how they can make an even bigger impact in the future.

Q: Are surveys and other feedback methods becoming obsolete since social media gets a quicker response?

Not at all!

There are three things to consider here. First, surveys can be powerful tools if they're used correctly. The challenge is many organizations are using them poorly, which means they deliver very little value. (Tip: I've assembled a survey resource page to help you.)

Second, social media is a terrific way to quickly identify customer sentiment. The challenge is only a small percentage of your customers are sharing feedback on social media. So you'll be missing out on a lot of feedback if you rely on social media alone.

Which brings us to the third consideration. The best customer listening programs include multiple ways of receiving and analyzing customer feedback. The very best source might be the individual interactions you have with customers.

The trick there is finding a way to collect that data in a meaningful way. An easy way to do this is to simply poll frontline employees and ask them to identify the top issues they're hearing. It's not scientific, but their feedback is usually pretty accurate.

Q: How to get internal teams on board with customer service for a shared client(s) when their goal is not service (e.g. production)?

The challenge lies in the question: "their goal is not service."

There will always be tension between customer service and other departments if those departments don't have any goals connected to customers. So the best solution is to create shared customer service goals that everyone can work towards.

That may not always be doable, especially if you aren't in charge of setting goals for those other departments. The alternative is to show those other department leaders how they can achieve their goals by working with you to achieve yours. 

Q: How to handle customer service in a non-profit organization? (less pay for the same work as for profit)

If you're hiring correctly, these employees were willing to accept less money to work for your nonprofit because they cared about the mission. That means the solution is keeping the mission front and center in everything they do.

There's a real risk for nonprofit employees to become transactional in their work, especially if they don't believe what they're doing is making an impact. You can change this by helping them answer three questions:

  1. What is the mission?

  2. What does it mean (in your own words)?

  3. How do you personally contribute?

Q: How do you convince management teams they need lead from the top down?

This is a vexing challenge, and I'll be the first to admit I don't have a foolproof solution.

One approach that does sometimes work is to bring both data and emotion to the conversation. Find hard data to highlight how a different set of decisions or actions can improve results. At the same time, orchestrate ways for leaders to come face-to-face with reality so they can become emotionally invested in the impact of their decisions.

In one of my favorite examples, a client wanted to lease additional office space to accommodate her company's growing employee base. This was a biotech company that spent a great deal of money hiring scientists and medical professionals from around the world. She convinced the CEO to sign off on the new office space by making a solid business case (data) and also having the CEO address a group of new hires who had to cram into a tiny conference room (emotion).

Seeing renowned professionals uncomfortably crammed into a tiny room wasn't the CEO's idea of a great welcome to the company, but she had to experience it herself for the situation to have the appropriate emotional impact.

Lessons Learned from Writing My First Customer Service Book

Note: The following is the preface from my new book, Getting Service Right: Overcoming the Hidden Obstacles to Outstanding Customer Service. It's the second edition of a book called Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It.

The author, Jeff Toister, holding up his first book,  Service Failure .

The original book was published in 2012 and went out of print in 2016. It was my first as an author, and it provided valuable and unexpected customer service lessons that I've since applied to other books I've written, including The Service Culture Handbook and Customer Service Tip of the Week

One lesson was the title itself. 

I wrote the book to help customer service leaders solve a vexing challenge: helping their employees to consistently deliver outstanding service. I imagined a title like Service Failure would instantly resonate with those leaders, and to a large extent, it did. The book sold reasonably well over the four years it was in print and received many positive reviews.

Yet I overlooked something pretty big—my primary customer. Service Failure taught me that the most important customer for a business book is an influencer who shares the book with others. It might be someone who recommends the book to a colleague or uses it to start a book club at work. Or it could be a leader who buys multiple copies and hands them out to their team so everyone can read it and work on the concepts together. 

I soon heard the same feedback again and again: "It's a great read, but there's no way I'm giving someone a book called Service Failure!"

The title that I thought was so catchy actually hurt sales! The experience reminded me that, in customer service, we can't fall too in love with our own ideas. We have to realize that our customers may view things differently, and we need to understand them as best as we can if we want to serve them successfully.

Which brings me to another lesson. 

The original book was literally a service failure. It had a binding problem that caused the pages to fall out as soon as the reader got to page 12! 

I discovered the issue when I received my author's copies from the publisher about six weeks before the official publication date. I quickly alerted my editor, but by then, defective books had already been shipped to retailers. The publisher reprinted the books it still had on hand but decided not to recall the books that had already been distributed. I distinctly remember my publisher saying, "Do you know how much that would cost?!" when he defended the decision not to be more proactive.

The publisher did agree to replace damaged books at no cost if readers contacted the publisher's customer service team directly, but that required the reader to be aware of the offer. So I shared the news as best as I could via my blog, through social media, and with friends and family. My mother-in-law was one of the first people to contact the publisher in an attempt to get a defective book replaced, and she promptly got the run-around from a misinformed customer service representative.

A reader might try to return the book to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but there was a good chance the replacement book would also be defective. I once ordered ten copies of Service Failure from Amazon, and five out of ten were damaged. Amazon promptly sent a replacement order, and three of the five replacements were also defective! These types of repeated problems were a sad irony that made the service failure even worse. 

The situation left me feeling powerless and angry. I know many people decided it just wasn't worth their time to fix the problem. Meanwhile, it was my name, not the publisher's, on the front of the book. I'm sure that created a negative impression for some readers, even though I had no control over the book's printing or distribution.

The experience helped me empathize with what frontline customer service employees go through every day. These employees usually aren't the ones who make defective products, fail to deliver services, or intentionally decide to skimp on quality in an effort to save money. Often under-empowered and under-appreciated, these professionals face their customers' anger and try to make amends.

Getting Service Right represents a second chance to get it right. The new title is more positive, the book-binding issue has been resolved, and I've added new research and insights I discovered after completing the first edition. 

It's often said we never get a second chance to make a first impression. While that's true, we can try to recover from a service failure. And we can learn from each experience, so we can make a great first impression with the next customer we serve. So whether you read the original book and had the pages fall out, or you are discovering this book for the first time, I hope this edition is helpful to you.

The new book, Getting Service Right, is available on Amazon and 800-CEO-READ.