Name: Peggy Carlaw
Bio: Peggy Carlaw is the founder of Impact Learning Systems, a leading training company specializing in improving communications between front-line employees and customers. Peggy is co-author of several books published by McGraw-Hill, including Managing and Motivating Contact Center Employees and The Big Book of Customer Service Training Games.
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- Short IVR surveys asking customers for their experience on the call
- A Customer Contact Resolution metric
- A retention score to determine the likelihood the customer will leave within 5 weeks
- Average handle time
- Cross-selling performance
- Average time on hold (callers don’t like waiting on hold)
- Appropriate escalations (those that will help the call be resolved quicker)
- Call quality scores (assuming your monitoring form includes customer-focused metrics)
- Employee satisfaction (happy employees provide better service)
- Employee turnover (employees with more experience provide better service)
When thinking about who in the organization has the biggest role in creating loyal customers, we typically think of the after-sale service and support teams. But the sales team has a critical role to play as well.
In fact, recent research shows that of four drivers of customer loyalty (company and brand impact, product and service delivery, value-to-price ratio, and sales experience), 53% is related to the sales experience.
What are some of the key components of the sales experience that will drive customer loyalty?
The sales rep offers unique, valuable perspectives on the market
Your sales team needs to be well versed in your targeted industries, not just in your product line, if they’re to create loyal customers. Ideas to help them get there? Start a book club: Subscribe to industry journals, assign pertinent articles, and discuss. Hold a brown bag lunch and invite customers in to talk about industry trends. Send a rep to an industry trade show and have that educate the rest of the team.
The sales rep helps navigate alternatives
In order to help customers navigate alternatives, sales reps need to know how to uncover customers’ unique problems and needs. Reps need to thoroughly understand what each customer wants to fix, accomplish, or avoid, so that they can recommend appropriate solutions and present the pros and cons of each alternative. In-depth sales training provides reps with the tools they need to uncover the customer’s issues and help the customer navigate alternative solutions.
The sales rep helps avoid potential land mines
Employee retention is key here. Sales reps with tenure can help customers navigate potential land mines because they’ve seen other customers weather similar situations. Paying a competitive salary, providing positive coaching and support, and recognizing achievements—both small and large—will all go a long way toward retaining sales reps over the long term.
The sales rep educates on new issues and outcomes
Loyal customers look to their sales rep for new information, either on industry issues or on products and services that will improve their business. Make it easy for your sales team to keep customers up to date. Create email templates and attachments that reps can easily customize for each customer. Create periodic webinars that your sales team can invite customer to for continuing education. Create podcasts with customers who are solving common problems in unique ways. Partner with your marketing department to help create additional ideas on how to continually reach out to customers with new, pertinent information.
The supplier is easy to buy from
Some companies are starting to measure customer effort—how easy or difficult it is to do business with the company. Think about it. Loyal customers are repeat customers. How likely are you to be a repeat customer if you have to wade through an impossible phone tree only to be cut off, if the sales rep doesn’t return your call, if emails aren’t answered promptly, if quotes are incomplete or inaccurate, if billing is incorrect? The easier it is to buy, the more likely customers are to buy again.
The supplier has widespread support across the organization
Depending on what you sell, after-sale service and support may be more important than the product itself. After all, what good is a highly technical piece of diagnostic or production equipment if you can’t receive timely repair when there is a technical issue or defect? In order to build loyalty, it’s important that the sales team provide a proper hand-off to service and support so that the customer feels secure in knowing that any post-sale issues will be addressed in a timely fashion.
April is customer loyalty month. Use these tips to engage your sales team in the process of creating loyal customers. Your company will benefit, and so will your sales team as they enjoy repeat business and referrals from happy, satisfied customers.
It’s long been thought that first call resolution is one of the main drivers of customer satisfaction. SQM’s pioneering research found that for every 1% improvement in first call resolution (FCR), there’s a corresponding 1% increase in customer satisfaction. Studies done by Customer Relationship Metrics reveal that customer satisfaction ratings will be 5–10% lower when a second call is made for the same issue. And it’s logical that the more satisfied customers are, the more loyal they’ll be.
The Business Case for First Call Resolution
Not only does it appear that first call resolution improves customer satisfaction, improving FCR also reduces the cost of operations. So there’s definitely a business case for improving first call resolution, and as a result, many companies are investing heavily in both analytics software and customer service training to measure and improve FCR. In fact an ICMI poll reported that in 2008, a little over half of call centers tracked FCR and by 2011, two out of three centers track FCR. But is focusing primarily on first call resolution sufficient to secure customer loyalty?
First Call Resolution and Customer Loyalty
Probably not. What if you have to wait on hold with unappealing music for 20 minutes before speaking with an agent? What if your call is routed to a poorly trained rep who takes longer than needed to resolve your issue, putting you on hold every few minutes to confer with a supervisor? What if your issue is resolved, but the representative is rude?
A Case for the Balanced Scorecard
Bob Thompson of CustomerThink wrote an excellent post about how ScottishPower uses a balanced scorecard to drive customer service excellence rather than focusing on a single metric like first call resolution. ScottishPower’s scorecard includes:
Other customer-focused metrics that might be included in a balanced scorecard include:
While first call resolution is a key metric that is important to focus on in order to improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs, improving FCR alone is may not be sufficient to increase customer loyalty. If you want to focus on improving customer loyalty, ask a group of loyal customers what is most important to them and where they think you need to improve. Then organize your metrics around those issues and seek improvement there.
Many organizations implement a new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system hoping to make dramatic improvements in sales as well as to improve the customer experience. While a new system can certainly help, many companies find that a CRM system alone isn’t sufficient to meet these goals.
How effective is a new CRM implementation?
Unfortunately, many CRM initiatives fail to reach the goals outlined above. Forrester conducted research on the effectiveness of CRM software and found that 47% of businesses surveyed felt the functionality didn’t match what they were promised by the vendor. They surveyed this same group to understand the problems that were encountered. They found that while 30 to 40 percent of the problems were due to the product, the majority of the problems were related to the company’s employees, the internal processes, and the strategy for executing the implementation. William Band, Forrester Vice President and Analyst says, “We found a lot of people acknowledging that they didn’t have the skills that they needed to implement the solution.”
Software implementation is not enough
Even with a successful implementation, many companies find that their goals are still not achieved. Employees may know how to use the software and have additional information at their fingertips, but what if the sales team doesn’t have the skills needed to close sales? Will new software help them sell better? Will customer service reps have the skills to provide service? Not as a result of purchasing new software.
Success = software + skills
According to Band, author of Forrester’s The Future of CRM in 2013, what’s required to improve sales, service, and the customer's experience is, “…a balance of human and systems support…” To maximize your significant investment in a CRM implementation, you need to pair the functionality of the system with improved customer service and sales skills. As part of your planning process, develop a training schedule to launch following software implementation. In addition to training your direct sales staff, invest in telesales training and customer service training so that all your customer-facing representatives are equipped with the right skills to maximize the new, robust information they’ll have at their fingertips.
Imagine what your employees could do with top of the line software AND best-in-class training. Implement one without the other, and meeting your original purchase objectives becomes difficult.
Call centers can be profit makers or losers, depending on how they’re run and the type of company they’re used for. Commonly, call centers are focused on customer service and used to help customers solve problems or find solutions – which may be great for the brand and product, but this singular purpose can turn a call center into a money pit for the company’s bottom line. A popular solution is simply to combine the call center into a “customer service/sales center,” meaning – just have the reps upsell and we’ll start to make money.
Sounds simple, right?
In theory, yes. However, in practice, companies that attempt to convert their customer service teams into a sales force, without the proper call center sales training, may soon be surprised to see another number as part of their metrics: turnover rates.
The truth is that simply asking call center employees to upsell, cross-sell, or “add on that warranty” during their conversations with disgruntled or confused customers callers is not as simple as it sounds. Selling requires a new paradigm shift and attitude, and it’s likely that the majority of customer service representatives never received proper call center sales training instruction during their initial training, nor were they under the impression during the job hiring process that they were also expected to be salespeople. Call centers that attempt to force quick sales training into the job duties may see staff losses as high as 25%. If this story sounds familiar to you and your management staff, what are you to do?
Call Center Sales Training that Takes the Pressure off of Sales
Call center sales training requires more than fulfilling requests and pitching an additional product or service to the customer. A blanket approach – upselling and cross-selling – during the call may not only jeopardize your staff and their job satisfaction, but it will likely make your customers even more disgruntled (thus obviating any gains made by having customer service reps available for questions). One of the keys, therefore, in call center sales training is to teach your staff to truly listen to the customers’ needs; simply asking your reps to “sell, sell, sell” may drive away the customer if it’s not in response to what the customer needs at the moment. A more effective call center sales training approach focuses on listening closely to the customer’s needs, considers ways to add value for the customer – by providing additional information about the product, for example – and then suggests complementary products or services if it truly will benefit the customer. The point is that upselling and cross-selling becomes a part of the service process, not the goal of the call.
Call Center Sales Training Should Give Your Staff Confidence
A second and crucial component to call center sales training involves boosting your staff’s self-assurance with telephone sales. An important factor in learning to sell involves gaining confidence and positions sales as a natural extension of the customer service role. Proper call center sales training is not simply “training”; it’s an entire learning process that will not only help reps have a new attitude toward sales, but it will help them use skills to overcome buyer resistance in a way that is not overly pushy. When your staff has confidence in their selling ability, they will feel informed about the sales process, feel more eager to sell, and most importantly, be able to increase the customer’s satisfaction because the upselling or cross-selling is done appropriately and knowledgeably.
Turn Your Call Centers into Profitable Sales Centers – Without Losing Your Staff or Customers
If you are ready to convert your call center into one that offers customer service and sales, make sure that you don’t lose any of your staff – or customers – in the process. Asking your staff to upsell and cross-sell requires specialized call center sales training that will result in newfound skills and confidence for your staff, and ideally, more satisfied customers who feel listened to and that they benefited from additional expertise and product offerings. Customer service reps can be wonderful sales people, and your call center can be profitable – all it takes is the right customer service training approach.
The Super Bowl commercials are still a recent memory, and as is the case lately, the blogs, news coverage, and social media world all have a lot to say about the best, the worst, and the funniest spots. However, it’s worth remembering that when millions of dollars are spent on merely seconds of broadcast space, people aren’t, necessarily, watching the commercials looking at the products.
The Super Bowl commercials are more about the brand and the feeling the brand conveys. Funny? Clever? Risqué? Sentimental? Whether or not the actual advertisement results in more sales for the product, the masterminds behind the Super Bowl commercials are attempting to leave audiences with an impression about the brand. Namely, the companies are ultimately after customer loyalty through the brand’s “feeling” or hipness or relevance. The bottom line is that companies would not spend millions of dollars for a 30 second spot if the spots didn’t have any lasting relevance on the brand.
How brands influence customer loyalty is a question worth exploring—at the Super Bowl and beyond. A Fast Company article by Richard S. Levick, entitled “3 Ways to Bring your Company’s Core Values to Customer Service” explores this very relationship between customer loyalty and a company’s brand. In particular, Levick looks at airline brands and how successful airlines, such as Southwest and Jet Blue, improve customer satisfaction when employees enrich the brand through their ownership of it as it applies to customer interactions.
Customer loyalty 101: Marketing department, meet the customer service team
We’re all aware (painfully, maybe) that in an era of nonstop social media postings, YouTube videos, and blogs, customers can immediately post a gripe or bad customer experience online for all the world to see. Marketing departments may cringe when customers take the brand by the reins and are in charge of the message, but it’s the reality in today’s hyper-connected world. It’s therefore notable to see how companies, such as Southwest Airlines, have used their brand to influence their customer service training ideas and enhance customer loyalty.
For example, Southwest Airlines has determined that a passenger’s flying experience should be reflective of Southwest’s brand: warm, approachable, and fun. The popular Southwest blog even contains customer stories (Luv Letters) to brag about the airline's superior customer loyalty. For Southwest, the marketing department’s brand platform is tightly ingrained into how customer service training is conducted and how customer loyalty develops.
If you are looking to enhance customer loyalty, working in tandem with the marketing department’s branding efforts can indeed make a difference; it’s worth taking note of a few customer service training ideas that will help influence how your brand can become a tool for your employees’ behavior.
Brands are not separate from employees.
Levick’s article references an often-overlooked tool in customer service training: Use the brand. Do employees understand what the brand is about? Are they able to give the brand life through their interactions with customers? There must be consistency with what the brand stands for and how employees act; the brand can be a powerful engager for customer loyalty if employees understand what their brand means and how it should translate to a customer’s experience.
Brands are not a script.
Imagine if you’re attempting to train your customer service representatives by only giving them a rote script to go by; they are not given the reasoning behind the script’s message or given latitude to deviate from the script in any way. Do you think a customer is going to have a positive experience with your customer service team? Chances are, no. The customer will probably feel that the experience is robotic and impersonal.
The same principles that apply to core customer service training ideas—listening, problem solving, and flexibility—apply to how your team should be trained with applying the brand to customer loyalty. If your employees learn to live the brand and use the brand’s tenants in every decision they make, chances are, they’ll have much greater success in engendering customer loyalty than if they simply think of the brand as a tagline or logo.
Within an organization, a brand can be flexible. Finally, Levick points out that within organizations, the brand is not a one-size-fits-all static entity for the whole organization. In the same company, different departments may need to apply the brand proposition differently to fit their goals and to help employees infuse the brand into how they treat customers and project the company. The important customer service training idea takeaway is that employees need to take ownership of the brand and apply it to their specific department and job.
Establishing strong customer loyalty is a holistic process
If you are hoping to achieve great customer loyalty, have blogs and social media sites raving about your brand, and have employees that truly “get” what your brand is about—in a way that they can apply it—the process must truly be holistic. When employees are respected, listened to, and given strong customer service skills so that they have confidence in their job, they’ll want to promote your brand, and they'll work to ensure that customers come away with a positive experience.
The bottom line? It doesn’t require a multi-million dollar Super Bowl commercial to inspire a positive feeling and customer loyalty toward your brand. It just takes engaged employees creating consistent, compelling experiences to keep customers coming back.
We were fortunate last fall to have Rebecca Pelke, a senior marketing student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, as our intern. If you're not using social media as part of your customer service strategy, you'll definitely want to read this post which was researched and written by Rebecca.
According to Nielsen, the world spends over 110 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites each month and 80% of all active US Internet users are reached through social media. Social networking sites are a great way for your business to communicate with customers to improve customer service.
More and more organizations are using social technologies for customer service by participating in conversations with customers in order to gather and act on their feedback. Sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are a way for your customers to provide feedback, make suggestions, or even complain about your product or service. You can use this feedback to improve your customer service performance and further develop relationships with your customers.
Customers are quick to voice their disappointment with your level of customer service through social networking channels, which can really hinder your business if ignored. Customers are more likely to become advocates of your brand if they see you have taken steps to remedy these complaints.
Here are some key benefits of engaging in social media sites:
- Gain repeat business. Customers feel special when you notice them and respond to them. And when customers feel special, they’re more likely to become repeat customers and tell their friends and business associates.
- Target customers more effectively. These tools can be used to research consumer wants and needs.
- Determine what competitors are doing. Social media provides a great opportunity to see how competitors are communicating and participating with their consumers and if it’s successful or not.
- Evaluate perception. With Twitter and similar sites, consumers can tag your company or even include hashtags so it is easier for you to evaluate what they are saying about you and your company and quickly improve upon it.
Developing a social plan for customer service should be linked to your business goals, be focused on your customers wants and needs, clearly identify the processes that will be affected, and specify the information and capabilities required.
Social networking sites make it possible for millions of people to share experiences, build relationships, and develop new ways of working. With a well thought-out and executed social media plan, followers become customers, customers become loyal customers, and your business grows like never before!
*Infographic via Fishburn Hedges
Soft skills include character traits like common sense, empathy, and a positive attitude, and interpersonal skills like the ability to communicate well with people. They have more to do with who we are than what we know. The soft skills required for a customer service or sales representative, for example, would be strategic questioning, active listening, empathy, a positive outlook, the ability to build rapport, and the ability to remain unflustered in the face of challenging customers.
How to Improve Soft Skills
Hard skills, or technical skills, can be learned and perfected over time. So can soft skills. But even with training, soft skills are more difficult to acquire and change because they have less to do with what we know, than who we are. Think about it. Your customer service agents have been communicating with other people their entire lives. So attending a half-day training class where they’re told to care about their customers, listen actively, acknowledge customers’ concerns, use positive language, etc. may inspire them, but without practice, they can’t be expected to change a lifetime habit.
3 Keys to Soft Skills Training Success
- Practice Online. Much of soft skills is training offered online. However, asking employees to read pages of text online and take a quiz isn’t sufficient to change behavior. A different methodology is required than most online learning offers. Behavior change needs to begin during online training by having employees practice responding to situations through either writing or speaking their response.
- Practice During Class. While online training is a great method for teaching hard skills, it hasn’t been proven to be sufficient by itself in changing soft skill behavior. If you’re currently providing your employees only online training, create an after-class follow-up session that allows them to practice in customer-specific situations. Drill-and-practice activities, fish bowls, and one-on-one role plays give employees the practice they need to improve their soft skills—and the confidence that they can put their new skills into practice on the job.
- Practice After Class. Learning shouldn’t stop when class is over. In fact, that’s when behavior really starts to change. Without on-the-job activities to remind employees of newly learned skills, it’s easy for them to fall back into habitual patterns of communication. So it’s crucial to provide ongoing reminders and opportunities for employees to practice what they learned online, in class. Create on-the-job activities that review and focus on one skill each day. Have supervisors provide one-on-coaching. Schedule short meetings or brown-bag lunches where employees can share success stories. Remind employees to also practice these skills in their relationships outside of work. Once employees are able to consistently demonstrate basic skills, conduct additional training sessions to help them take their soft skills to a new level.
Telling employees they need to improve their soft skills isn’t sufficient. As that famous saying goes:
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice. Practice. Practice!
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