Friends tell friends about the good stuff

A majority of Americans  will spend an average of 9% more when they believe a company provides excellent service according to survey findings released in the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, a survey conducted in the U.S. and eleven other countries exploring attitudes and preferences toward customer service.

I like that stat but what I found interesting was how people are most likely to spread the news about their good experiences

Here’s the scoop from the news release:

Good News Travels Fast – Until You Go Online

Importantly, customers are spreading the word willingly and widely when they experience good service. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, customers are more inclined to talk about a positive experience than complain about a negative one. Three-quarters (75%) are very likely to speak positively about a company after a good service experience in contrast with 59% who are very likely to speak negatively about a company after poor service.

Good service experiences also carry more weight than bad ones when Americans make future spending decisions. Consumers are far more likely to give a company repeat business after a good service experience (81%) than they are to never do business with a company again after a poor experience (52%).

In fact, consumers say the three most influential factors when deciding which companies they do business with include personal experience (98%), a company’s reputation or brand (92%), and recommendations from friends and family (88%).

What’s wrong with the way we look at contact center employees?

Which of these statements is true?

Statement 1

Contact center employees are a vital link to the customer.  Through the way they exercise their talents, knowledge, and resources, they are uniquely positioned to influence customer perceptions of the enterprise and build or diminish the brand promise.

Statement 2

Contact center employees are among the most poorly paid and under- appreciated employees in the enterprise.  They have limited career growth opportunities, are measured and evaluated more frequently than any other group of employees, and incur the highest turnover rates.

Of course, both are true in most organizations.

Help me do my job better!Benchmark research from Richard Snow at Ventana Research shows that for phone interactions, “the primary negative experiences for customers are waiting a long time in a queue, navigating through a complex interactive voice response (IVR) system, having to repeat information, talking with an agent who has a bad attitude, being passed from repeatedly from one system or agent to another and most of all, not getting the issue resolved. Conversely, good experiences include talking with a pleasant, knowledge agent and getting the issue resolved at the first contact. Beyond that, excellent experiences include having the agent recognize you, know all about you (including your past interactions regardless of the channel of communication) and personalize the response (such as making a special offer).”

So the role of the agent is a critical cog in the customer experience. Why don’t more contact centers take steps to better equip agents to do a better job/deliver better experiences? And why don’t more organizations elevate and recognize the contact center and its employees for the important role played in customer experience and brand promise delivery? In my opinion, a disproportionate investment is made by marketing in communicating the brand and the brand promise, and not enough is invested in ensuring the contact center employee can deliver the right experience when a customer contacts them. If you invest millions in brand marketing but your employees can’t consistently deliver good, or even great experiences, the marketing investment is worthless. What do you think?

Extreme Experience: Zip-lining and Hocking Hills Ohio

This weekend I went to Hocking Hills OH for a weekend getaway with my 5 siblings and our families. Hocking Hills is a regional treasure in southeast Ohio.

Our first activity was zip-lining.  We booked through Hocking Hills Canopy Tours.

So besides the exhilaration of zooming in, over, and under the canopy of trees and drop-dead gorgeous scenery (thanks to the glaciers stopping 6 miles north of Hocking Hills and dropping off the wide variety of seedlings that eventually contributed to the most diverse plant life in the world besides the rainforests, at least that’s what our guide told us…), here is why I am raving about Hocking Hills Canopy Tours:

Flexible, personal service: We had a pretty large group so we made three group reservations. I wasn’t in charge of this but my sister made numerous calls over the past months finalizing our group and I’m told they were extremely accommodating. I only made one call in advance…. can a kid with an air cast still zip-line? Yes he can! When we ascended on the facility, they were gracious, patient and enthusiastic. And most important – organized!


Extreme Experience - The ladies wait on a platform for the next zip line

They couldn’t control the weather but they sure made us feel good that buckets of water were being dumped on us. Our tours were delayed because the heavens decided to open. Our first group had already started, the second group was about to begin, and the third group – my group – waited it out under the shelter for an hour or so. During that time, our guides managed to convince us that zip-lining in the rain would be so much more fun – faster and cooler – than a warm summer day. “We were so LUCKY! ” they told us. Even as we were being pelted by rain on the drive to the beginning of the course, and started shivering, we were absolutely sure this was a GOOD thing! The good news is that our guides – Chris and Kristen – were right! Zip-lining in the rain was a blast. But here’s where Canopy Tours did it right…. the first group missed out on a couple of zips, so they were invited to do the “SuperZip” at no charge (normally would have cost and additional $20.)

Safety really was first. It’s a little scary flying over the forest at 20-30 mph. Or standing in a tree with no railings 100 feet over a rocky crag. You truly have to put your safety in the hands of your guides and the equipment. Our guides were meticulous about safety.

Spread the knowledge. We didn’t just zip. We learned. Throughout the tour, our guides shared their knowledge of the trees, plants, animals and insects. But it wasn’t boring and canned. Their enthusiasm for this place was contagious.

I give Hocking Hills Canopy Tours an A. Fantastic experience. Good people. Well constructed tour. Beautiful location.

Would I recommend Hocking Hills Canopy Tours to Family and Friends? – Yes, definitely.

Lessons Learned: Bridging to the contact center: There was no contact center involved in this experience. Yes, we made some phone calls to the company but they are small and there is no “contact center.” But that’s not to say we can’t take some lessons to the contact center:

  • Enthusiasm is contagious, (even when it’s raining!). Our guides clearly loved their jobs, loved Hocking Hills, and were having fun (yes, zip-lining is clearly more fun than manning the phone. But that is the challenge… make the contact center a place that employees want to be.) If your agents believe in your products and services, their personal enthusiasm will come through.
  • Confidence is key. Our guides were knowledgeable and well-trained. They made us feel confident and safe. Agents can do the same with a caller. If they are guided to respond to customer inquiries with expert knowledge and recommendations, their confidence will enhance the customer experience.
  • Patience and organization overrule chaos.  Getting through a customer inquiry can take great patience. But if the customer only has to tell her story once, that helps. And if the agent has the tools and resources to get to the resolution quickly (organization) then the chances for a great experience go way up.

Do you have any extreme experiences to share – good or bad? It’s easy to share the bad ones because you are venting and getting back at the blasted company that just ruined your day. But take the time to share the good ones too. It’s a lot more fulfilling. Share them here.

What is the Difference Between Guidance and Scripting?

Bring them to their feet with intelligent guidance

Contact centers have always relied on scripting to lead agents through interactions.  But lately, a new term has joined the contact center lexicon:  intelligent guidance. So what’s the difference?

Think of scripting as a newbie actor reading off of a page in an almost painful, grating manner. This actor simply reads off the script, standing solo on the stage, but doesn’t come across as knowledgeable, believable or engaging.

Guidance is a completely different level of performance. Think of guidance as the brilliant, experienced actor, who—along with an insightful director, a skillful supporting cast, and costumes, make-up, and sets—brings a performance to life in a way that brings the audience to its feet, asking for more. They tell friends and family about the incredible experience. This is what you want customers who interact with your contact center to do. Ideally, you want each experience to be so powerful, so memorable, that customers seek to do more business with you and freely and openly tell others about it as well. We want raving fans.

It is Cincom’s view that every time you interact with a customer, you have an opportunity to either strengthen and build your brand, or destroy it. You simply cannot risk leaving the customer experience to chance. Intelligent and personalized agent guidance helps ensure that the experiences you design are delivered consistently and intentionally.

Intelligent guidance goes well beyond scripting in a number of ways.  First, it not only provides written guidance about what to say to a customer, it overlays the supporting applications used in a conversation so that the agent does not have to weave in and out of multiple applications to get to the appropriate information. The agent can enter or change information within the guidance center, and it automatically updates all appropriate systems and databases.

Second, working behind the scenes are powerful process automation, workflow, and decision modeling so that a great deal of the complexity and time consuming activities that often lead to poor customer experiences are stripped out of the conversation. This equips  the agent with the recommendations, offers, and answers that the customer will truly appreciate and  value. By equipping an average agent to work through complex questions and issues, it minimizes the need to engage knowledge experts in complex calls which results in delays and frustration. The result is a more effective conversation and a better customer experience.

Third, instead of harnessing agents into a specific script, it empowers agents to engage with customers and deliver better experiences. The guidance center not only automates and personalizes each conversation, but it creates a single, unified desktop for an agent to access any and all relevant data about a customer, orders, and products. Agents get fingertip access to the resources they need to work in an efficient and meaningful manner. This greatly reduces agent frustration and we have found that when agent frustration is reduced, job satisfaction and customer experiences go up.

So in the end, it is agent guidance that is critical to ensuring your employees are equipped to deliver experiences that are consistent, intentional, personalized, differentiated, and valuable—all hallmarks of a successful customer experience.

If I could change one thing about the call/contact center industry….

…it would be the culture.

It’s long-overdue for organizations to recognize that a customer-experience-focused contact center will return huge dividends versus a traditional cost-focused business unit.

Often contact centers are too short-sighted.  They focus on efficiency-based metrics instead of customer value.   Let agents talk to the customer for 30 minutes if that’s what it takes! In the long term, you’re developing deeper relationships and more customer value and that is really what’s important.  Otherwise, you could lose them altogether, forever, over a single bad experience.

Part of that change in culture involves compensating agents for what you really need them to do and raising their status in the company.  After all, they hold a powerful role – they’re responsible for delivering the brand. Some companies do this really well.  For example, in her book, Chief Customer Officer, Jeanne Bliss talks about the warm friendly agents at Lands’ End.  Their agents were so pleasant that often insomniacs would call their contact center in the middle the night just to talk to a caring human being.  That’s the culture that Lands’ End founder Gary Cromer has created at this exceptional company.

When asked what she looked for when hiring new agents, the director of customer service at Virgin Mobile Canada  said, “Energy and attitude … and preferably no previous call center experience.”  Why would they not want experience? Because most agents have been trained to keep calls short and efficient and there is no training on how to connect with customers.  That’s what I mean about changing the culture — in other industries you want experienced people because it’s typically considered an asset, not a detriment.

But I believe as more companies begin to differentiate on the experience, “previous call center experience” with a company that does it right will truly be a sought-after attribute.

What do you think needs to change? And do you have any thoughts about looking for employees with “no experience.”

Best practices for guiding employees to deliver on your brand promise

A few thoughts on what you can do to help guide winning customer experiences, again and again.  Do you agree? What is missing?

  • Create a culture where connecting with customer at an emotional level is encouraged, supported and rewarded. Don’t just give it lip service.
  • Don’t leave the customer’s experience to chance. Provide employee guidance, but not stilted scripting. Customers immediately know when an employee is disconnected and reading.
  • Make it super EASY to connect with a live person when desired. Don’t hide your phone number 10 pages in on your web site. Check out It’s pretty clear they want you to call.
  • Provide visibility into the value of the customer and his/her loyalty so that agents can interact accordingly. It makes sense to give special attention to your best customers but if your employees can’t easily identify them, then everyone is treated the same.
  • Lose the silos. Present “ONE” organization regardless of how a customer chooses to connect.

What stops companies from investing in desktop technology in the contact center?

The Customer Experience Management team at Cincom was recently asked this question by Blake Landau, the editor at Customer Management IQ.  Blake was trying to get to the bottom of why some organizations are slower to adopt intelligent desktop technology— technology that is proven to improve customer experience.

Here is our team’s response: First of all, many companies are either just not aware of what’s possible today, or they’re happy with the status quo—they’re just not looking to make transformational improvements.

Also, not everyone places enough importance on the agent and their role in delivering the brand promise.   There really needs to be a strategic focus on customer experience — what is the promise to the customer and how is it delivered?

When the customer picks up the phone, your agent is your brand and possibly the only human interaction with the organization.  But unfortunately, too many organizations put the emphasis on driving costs out of the contact center and steering customers to self-serve, that we’ve forgotten the impact that good, personal service can have on your companies’ image in the marketplace.

That’s not to say that self-serve is bad or not most appropriate for many situations.  But when a customer wants to talk, you need to make it easy to connect to a live, knowledgeable agent that leaves a memorable impression and drives real customer value.

At Cincom, we focus on companies that recognize that it is your people—your customer-facing employees—who represent your brand. These organizations want to make the most of every customer conversation.  By providing a customer-centric desktop with intelligent agent guidance for each specific customer — leveraging all of the information you already have about the customer — you can really deliver winning conversations.