Could Your Service Quality Really Just Be Random Chance?

A customer calls in to customer service, desperate to get his problem solved. He's been a loyal customer for a few years, but lately there have been a few issues. Now he’s on the fence about whether this is the right company to do business with.

Today’s call is a make-or-break situation. 

There are two customer service reps available to take his call, Deron and Amy. If the call gets routed to Deron rather than Amy, the customer has an 11 percent greater chance of being satisfied.

Who will take the call?

The answer is decided by random chance. In this case, it probably goes to the rep who has been waiting the longest to receive a call. And if you're a customer service leader, you might be rolling the dice like this on every single customer contact.

Here's why service quality is so random and what you can do about it.

A pair of red dice, signifying random chance.

Why Service Quality is Random

A customer service team might have an 85 percent satisfaction rating, but that doesn't mean every rep is making 85 percent of their customers happy. There's often a lot of variation.

  • Some reps are consistently better than others.

  • Service agents are human, and have bad days like the rest of us.

  • Every problem is different, and some are very challenging.

I've even uncovered some research that suggest service quality naturally declines in the afternoon.

Here's a hypothetical example. The team's customer satisfaction rating is 85 percent, but the variation among the individual employees is extreme. Any customer who gets Kate will almost certainly be happy. More than one third of customers are dissatisfied when they work with Leo.

Graphic depicting customer satisfaction ratings for several employees.

There are many reasons why service quality among employees could be inconsistent. Let's take a look at three common causes.


Experience

Tenure is one of the most common causes of inconsistent service. 

Nearly every customer service team has a mix of veteran, moderately experienced, and newly hired reps. In the example at the beginning of this post, perhaps Deron had been with the company for several years while Amy had just completed new hire training.

According to data from the Zendesk 2019 Customer Experience Trends Report, the typical customer service rep with four years of experience delivers significantly better service than a newbie.

Source:  Zendesk

Source: Zendesk

A customer service leader recently shared this challenge with me. Other departments frequently hired people from her team, which was good for the company, but it also meant she had to constantly hire and train new people.

The solution to this challenge is to speed up new hire training while simultaneously making it more effective. This may seem like an impossible task, but I've done it. 

More than once, I've been able to reduce new hire training time by 50 percent, using a few simple techniques. One is called scenario-based training, which makes learning more closely mirror the actual job. You can drop me a line and I'd be happy to walk you through it.


Chronic Performance Issues

I've been fortunate to work with a lot of outstanding customer service professionals. The worst one, by far, was Brandon.

Brandon didn't want the job. He didn't care how he performed, and he definitely wasn't open to any feedback. He showed up when he felt like it and left when he wanted to.

He was hired because the CFO, my boss, told me to hire him. Brandon had just graduated high school, had no experience, even less ambition, but he was dating the CFO’s daughter. I think there was some pact between the CFO and Brandon's parents. In any case, I never would have hired him by choice.

Nearly every call was bad. He could barely handle the transactional stuff and any situation that had the slightest degree of difficulty would end in disaster.

Worst of all, I couldn't do anything about it. Brandon was allowed to slide on things no other employee could get away with until the CFO finally gave me the green to address his performance. He immediately quit.

Brandon also upset the rest of the team. They saw him getting preferential treatment. And they often had to handle the aftermath of Brandon’s poor service by taking the call from customers that he let down or was rude to.

Many of us have a Brandon on our team. Maybe not quite as bad, but someone whose service is chronically poor and who exhibits no signs of improvement. And if you don't do something about it, your Brandon will continue upsetting customers.


Situational Performance Issues

Some service problems are very situational.

For example, business-to-business support teams with weekday hours often get slammed on Monday mornings when all the problems that accumulated over the weekend come pouring in. This high volume might cause long wait times, which makes customers extra grouchy.

Any rep working the Monday morning shift might have lower scores than a rep who only works Wednesday through Friday afternoons, which are typically some of the slower periods for many companies. 

Another example is the type of issue. Even experienced employees have their achilles heel. Going back to the example at the beginning of this post, Deron might be very adept at handling the customer's issue, while Amy is generally good but finds that particular issue to be a challenge.


Take Action

Every employee on your team is an individual. So if you want to eliminate the randomness of service quality, you need to take an individual approach.

Let's go back to our hypothetical team:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 7.03.50 AM.png

The starting point is to look at the outliers. These are employees who are performing significantly better or worse than the average.

Kate and Steve are apparently crushing it. If they're on my team, I'd want to know why, so I can share that insight with the rest of the team. The easiest way to do that is to spend some time observing them serve customers.

Leo appears to be struggling. You might be tempted to jump to conclusions, but I'd start by spending time with him, too. Maybe he's new, or he gets all the difficult calls, or perhaps he's just not very good. 

Service quality shouldn't be random. Spend time investigating outliers and you'll learn how to gain confidence that your customers will be happy, no matter if it’s Deron, Amy, or even Leo who takes the call.

You can learn more about investigating performance issues from my course on LinkedIn Learning.


How I Create Scenes for My LinkedIn Learning Courses

Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

One of the great things about training videos is the scenes where actors play out a customer service scenario.

It helps provide viewers with a more concrete example of concepts being shared. 

A common complaint for many training videos is the scenes are unrealistic and cheesy. I've seen plenty of those myself, so this is always in the back of my mind as I work with film producers at LinkedIn Learning to create scenes for my training videos.

Here's how I create scenes for my courses.

Filming a scene for the Customer Service Foundations course.

Step 1: Start With Something Real

My scenes are based on situations that have really happened.

I like to think of examples that highlight the concept I'm trying to share. It could be from my own experience as a customer, the many jobs I've had serving customers, or a story someone else shared with me.

For a segment on identifying customers' emotional needs, I thought back to the time I was a customer service manager for a catalog company that sold collectibles. Some of the angriest customers were people who ordered something as a gift, only to receive an item that was different than what was expected.

So for this movie, I wrote a brief dialogue based on that experience.

[scene: A contact center employee is talking on the phone with a customer. The customer becomes angry when the employee offers to do an exchange.]

Employee: "I'm so sorry to hear we sent the wrong item. I'd be happy to help you do an exchange and send out the color you ordered."

Customer: An exchange?! I was supposed to give it as a gift tonight. I can't do anything with this!

[end scene]

Here's what it looks like on film (the scene starts at :31):

Step 2: Pick a Setting

The setting for a scene can have a tremendous influence on its authenticity. 

Here I start with a few general ideas and then share them with my producer at LinkedIn Learning. The producer works with the production team to create the right set, cast the scene, and ensure everything can be filmed on time and on budget, so there's a lot of collaboration at this point.

Sometimes, my ideas are easy to execute. The contact center set used in the video above was the same one used for my course, Phone-Based Customer Service. (Fast forward to 2:11 of this video and you'll see the same set, shot from a slightly different angle.)

Other times, the producer will make some suggestions to find a setting that's easier to build or perhaps will show up better on video. 

I originally wanted to do a scene at a movie theater snack bar for my course on Working with Upset Customers, because I had seen a customer get unreasonably angry in that setting. The producer I was working with suggested a coffee shop setting instead, because that set was already built. 

It was a great suggestion, especially because I've seen people lose it in coffee shops, too! Here's a video using that set (the scene starts at :59):

Notice the video also focuses on emotional needs, but the scenario is different than the first video I showed you. There are often overlapping topics between my courses, so I try to put a slightly different spin on it each time.

Step 3: Cast the Scene

Good acting can make or break the authenticity of a training video scene.

This step is almost entirely in the hands of the producer I'm working with. As a writer, I like to give my producer a general idea of what each character might be like without getting too specific, since there's a lot of diversity in the customer service world. 

The producers at LinkedIn Learning have extensive experience casting for training videos, and I've really been impressed with the choices they've made. The actors in my training videos are consistently talented and professional, and they do a great job bringing the script to life!

Of course, there are times when our production schedule, budget, or some other factors requires some creative casting. The contact center agent in this scene is actually my producer for the course, Sam.

Filming a customer service training video on a contact center set.

Step 4: Build the Sets

The LinkedIn Learning production team does a terrific job building sets for various scenarios. 

We will sometimes have a conference call or exchange photos of different ideas to make sure we're on the same page, but I've learned to trust the process. Here are behind-the-scenes photos of the four sets we used for scenarios in the Customer Service Foundations course.

Reception Area

Filming a customer service training video on a reception area set.

Retail Store

Filming a customer service training video on a retail store set.

Contact Center

Filming a customer service training video on a contact center set.

Living Room

Filming a customer service training video on a living room set.

Step 5: Film the Scenarios

One of the really fun parts of creating a training video is being on the set when the scenes are filmed.

I've worked with several film directors at LinkedIn Learning and have been really impressed at how they put cameras in just the right place, coach the actors through the scene, and capture just the right moments. 

My role on the set is mainly as an observer, though I'll occasionally provide the actors with some suggestions or clarification around the dialogue. The goal is always to make it come out as realistic as possible.

You can see a few more scenes if you fast forward to 1:47 of this video:


Four Customer Service Skills You Need to Have

LinkedIn Learning has just released a new edition of my Customer Service Foundations course. It's a training video designed to help people learn the fundamentals of service.

Creating a course like this requires some tough decisions:

  • Which skills are most important and must be covered?
  • How in-depth should each skill be addressed?
  • Which skills are useful, but best saved for a separate course?

These decisions are critical. Include too much content and learners can get overwhelmed. Include too little, and learners won't get enough value. It has to be just right.

I based my choices on extensive research, interaction with thousands of customer service professionals, and a bit of trial and error.

Here's a list of the top four skills I think every service professional needs.

On the set filming Customer Service Foundations. From left to right: Jeff (Director), Jeff (me), Sam (Producer), and Rob (Production Lead).

On the set filming Customer Service Foundations. From left to right: Jeff (Director), Jeff (me), Sam (Producer), and Rob (Production Lead).

Vision

If I had to pick just one customer service skill, this one would be it.

Having a vision means understanding and articulating a desired positive outcome for the customers you serve. An IT service desk professional I worked with once described his vision by saying, "I used to say I fixed computers; now I realize what I really do is help people get back to work."

That change of perspective from transactional (fix computers) to a positive vision (help people get back to work) can dramatically alter how you approach service.

I've noticed that people who have a strong customer service vision tend to figure out the other skills they need pretty quickly. Those who don't often find themselves stuck.

It's great if your company already has a customer service vision statement to follow. If not, you can create one by taking the Thank You Letter Challenge.

 

Rapport

Service gets easier when we can build rapport with the people we serve.

It helps us create a connection and develop a sort of shared kinship where we both take responsibility for making the experience a great one. 

In one study, I discovered customers who mentioned an employee by name in a survey were 1.5 to 4 times more likely to give a top score (5 stars, etc.) than a negative one.

Introducing ourselves and sharing our name is a skill you already have. You can add to your rapport toolkit by learning the five question technique. Here's a video explainer:

 

Listening

Most people are pretty good at listening—when they put their mind to it.

The challenge is we often face unseen obstacles that discourage us from using our listening skills. Here are just a few examples:

  • Being in a hurry makes us instinctively want to listen less.
  • Multitasking makes it more difficult to listen.
  • Judging the other person makes harder to truly understand them.

Elite customer service professional prioritize listening to customers. And they don't just listen for the customer's rational needs, they try to uncover the emotions behind it.

One study surveyed airline passengers who experienced a flight delay or cancellation. The single issue that drove the most customer frustration was not the service failure itself, but the way it was handled.

Here's a short video that shows you how to identify emotional needs.

 

Problem Solving

Must of customer service comes down to our ability to solve problems. This gets easier if we've already mastered the first three skills:

  • Vision focuses our desire on a positive outcome for the customer.
  • Rapport makes customers more open to our ideas.
  • Listening helps us better understand what customers really need.

Of course, we've all been frustrated as customers by nagging problems that just can't seem to get solved. Often the missing element is ownership.

Many people confuse ownership for blame. They worry about being responsible for causing the problem, so they try to avoid it.

What ownership really means is taking responsibility for solving the problem. Here's a short video from the course that explains it.

 

Take Action!

Here are a few action items you can implement right now!

  1. Try implementing each of these four skills.
  2. Share which skills are on your Top Four list.
  3. Take the full Customer Service Foundations course.

You can find the course on LinkedIn Learning or Lynda.com. You'll need a subscription, so I've included links to set up a free 30-day trial on either platform:


New Video: How to Design and Deliver Training Programs

The most common question I hear from new trainers is "Where do I get started?"

Breaking into the field of corporate training, adult learning, or workplace performance can be daunting. There's so much information out there it can leave your head spinning.

Managers and supervisors who occasionally train their employees face an even tougher task. They naturally want to be solid, competent trainers but don't have the bandwidth to spend years becoming an expert.

My latest LinkedIn Learning training video aims to solve that problem.

Part of the course was filmed in front of a live class. Photo credit: Samantha Coveleski-Mazur

Part of the course was filmed in front of a live class. Photo credit: Samantha Coveleski-Mazur

Overview

There are a few elements to this course I really like.

It provides all the information you need to design and deliver effective training classes. The entire course clocks in at 1 hour, 29 minutes, but the best part is you can easily skim and scan to watch the segments that are most relevant to you.

Part of the video was filmed in front of a live workshop. This class was a mix of seasoned training professionals and people completely new to workplace learning. The live class gives you a chance to see how other people reacted to the exercises and activities.

There are even a few bonus topics thrown in:

  • Creating an individual development plan
  • Managing breaks effectively
  • Delivering training via webinar

 

Preview

This short preview video provides an overview of the course.

Resources

LinkedIn Premium subscribers can access the course on LinkedIn Learning. You can find the course on Lynda.com if you have a subscription on that platform.

Don't have access to either? You can get a 30 day trial to the entire Lynda library here.

Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps generously allowed me to reference their five step training model in the course. I first discovered this in their class handbook, Telling Ain't Training. I highly recommend this guide for any new or aspiring trainer.

More experienced trainers may also want to dive deeper with these courses:


How To Dramatically Cut Training Costs With Video

Customer service training is a challenge for many companies.

First, there's the cost. It's not just the consultant's fee, it's the labor cost associated with sending employees to training.

There's also a logistical hassle. Most companies can't completely shut down their customer service operation. So they divide employees into groups and stagger shifts or add in some overtime to provide coverage while employees are in training.

Sustainability is probably the biggest issue. If you're going to invest time and money into employee training, you want employees to actually use the skills they learn. A one-time training class probably won't do much to move the needle.

There is a better way: video. It's cheaper, easier to manage logistically, and far more sustainable. Here's why:

Cost Comparison: Classroom vs. Video

You may be a little leery about video's effectiveness. We'll get to that in a moment, but let's first tackle the cost.

The cost savings will get your executives' attention. 

Here's an actual cost-comparison I recently ran for a prospective client. The initial request was for my fundamental Delivering Next Level Service workshop. 

The client wanted live, classroom training for a team of 30 employees. The employees need to be split into two groups for the classroom training so operational coverage could be maintained. The training itself consisted of two half-day sessions.

That same class is available via on-demand video with a run-time of just under two hours.

That's a $18,060 cost savings for sending employees to the same class on video! 

 

The Operational Advantage

Scheduling live training is disruptive.

The client who requested training for 30 employees needed to keep the operation running, so only half the employees could attend at one time. The other half were needed to keep serving customers.

Even then it was tricky. One absent employee or a minor service issue could trigger a chain reaction of other problems that would pose a real challenge to a team running at 50 percent staff. 

Supervisors might need to get pulled out of training, which would be a disaster because its the supervisors who must reinforce the training after the class has ended.

Video is much less of a hassle. 

My Customer Service Fundamentals course on Lynda.com (a.k.a. LinkedIn Learning) is the same content as my live Delivering Next Level Service workshop. The video version is streamed on-demand, so each individual employee could take the class at a time that works for them. 

The total run-time on the video is just under two hours and it's cut into short segments that are 3-5 minutes each. It's designed that way so employees can watch a couple of videos, apply the skills on the job, and then watch a few more segments.

Which leads us to sustainability.

 

How Can Video Be As Effective as Classroom Training?

It's not. Video is more effective.

Traditional classroom training typically faces two problems that hurt learning. The first is work piles up while participants are in training.

Imagine you spend a half-day in training while your colleagues try to serve customers at half-staff. They're going to be relieved when the training is over because they were barely able to keep up without you.

Which means you're going to be really, really busy digging through all that work that piled up while you were in class.

The problem with being really busy is we instinctively work a little faster, take a few short-cuts, and rely on our old habits to get us through. That means that at the very moment we should be practicing new skills we learned in training, we're actually reinforcing our old skills.

It gets worse.

Training is useless unless you apply it on the job. That's tough to make happen with just a one-off training class. Employees need consistent reinforcement to adopt new skills, but how will that realistically happen once the training has ended?

Video, on the other hand, is built for reinforcement.

First, it's not intended to be watched straight through. That's a mistake called popcorn learning, where you sit down and watch the whole thing at once. 

The video should be watched in short segments, which means employees can learn a couple of new skills and then go try them out on the job before learning the next skill. All of my training videos have downloadable worksheets and hands-on exercises for participants to complete, just like they would in a live class.

Here's an example of a simple training plan that uses that approach.

Another advantage of video is participants can re-watch it as often as they like. That's an option that's not available with a live class.

 

Resources to Help You

I have 15 training videos on Lynda.com. There are even more from other authors, giving you a huge library to choose from.

You'll need a subscription to one of two services to access the library. Lynda.com subscriptions are slightly less than LinkedIn Premium, starting at $29.99 per month per person, with discounts available for teams of five or more.

A 30-day trial to is available for Lynda.com. Many professionals have a LinkedIn Premium account, which means you already have access.

You can stack the deck even more in your favor by hiring me to help set up your program. If you're interested, drop me a line and let's talk.

Even with my consulting fees, my prospective client stands to save over $10,000 by using video instead of doing live classroom training. Spending less money to get better results is usually a good move.