Impact Learning Systems


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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    Customer Loyalty: Starring the Sales Team

    April 25th, 2013

    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.


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    Does First Call Resolution Lead to Customer Loyalty?

    April 16th, 2013

    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:

    • 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

    Other customer-focused metrics that might be included in a balanced scorecard include:

    • 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)

    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.


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    Successful CRM Implementation Requires Software Plus Skills

    March 19th, 2013

    CRMMany 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.


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    Using Call Center Sales Training to Help Your Team Upsell (Without Losing Your Team in the Process)

    February 28th, 2013

    Call Center Upsell and Cross-sell TrainingCall 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.



    How Social Networking Can Improve Customer Service

    February 5th, 2013

    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:

    1. 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.
    2. Target customers more effectively. These tools can be used to research consumer wants and needs.
    3. 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.
    4. 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


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    Soft Skills Training: 3 Keys to Success

    January 22nd, 2013

    Soft Skills TrainingWhat Are Soft Skills?

    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

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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!






    Be an Attitude Adjuster

    January 15th, 2013

    We post a lot about coaching here at the Impact Blog! One key reason why it’s important to be a great coach is that your actions and approach to coaching can seriously affect your employees’ attitudes and the overall level of morale in the workplace.

    Why is coaching important?

    In contact centers where positive coaching occurs and morale is high, employees approach their work with energy, enthusiasm, and the willingness to succeed. They want to come to work, or at least are enthusiastic about work once they get there. On the other hand, when coaching is always negative or non-existent, morale is low and employees can become bored, discouraged, and lethargic.

    Why else is coaching important?

    It’s not impossible to have high productivity and decent bottom-line results in an environment where morale is low, but it is unlikely. As a coach (or a manager who routinely coaches employees), you should care about how your employees feel, if for no other reason than because it’s the right thing to do. But even if you’re not a convert to that way of thinking and that style of management, here are some other good reasons for you to care about your employees’ morale and apply principles of positive coaching:

    Positive coaching leads to high employee morale. High morale in a contact center environment can lead to:

    • Increased job satisfaction
    • Lower turnover rates
    • Higher productivity
    • Reduced absenteeism
    • Higher ownership of customer concerns
    • Less job-related stress
    • Increased identification with the company’s mission
    • Higher customer satisfaction
    • Increased customer loyalty

    It’s good for you, it’s good for them—and it’s good for the bottom line. In a survey conducted by David H. Master, the author of Practice What You Preach, it was found that happy divisions outperformed unhappy ones by as much as 42 percent.

    It’s easy to make the assumption that the key to higher morale is simply to give the agents what they want. But that isn’t always the case. What they want—or think they want—may be minimal work, lots of play, and plenty of pay. But we’ve found in a number of centers that what really makes employees thrive is a dynamic, positive environment in which agents are continually learning and their performance is continually improving. So how do you make this happen? Good question!

    It’s important for you as the manager or coach to create and foster a climate of enthusiasm, open communication, and active participation. It’s in this kind of environment that agents will be productive and committed to your goals. You’ll find that a little goes a long way: if employees see you—and the organization as a whole—making an effort to meet their needs and treat them well, they’ll be inclined to give you their best efforts.

    On the other hand, if you create a climate of mistrust and uncertainty, your agents will tend to do just enough to get by. And they’ll probably only do that until it becomes more appealing to find employment at some other company. Of course, in almost every organization there are some “get by” people who will always be “get by” people no matter what you do to encourage, inspire, motivate, and transform them. If you’re serious about improving the morale of your team, the time may come when you need to give stern warnings to those agents whose attitudes are weighing down the morale of the group. Then, if they continue to create problems, it may be best to terminate them.

    How do I become a positive coach?

    Here are some tips for becoming a more positive coach:

    And if you need to train your supervisory staff on positive coaching techniques, please take a look at Making It Happen™. This training program, specific to contact centers, includes everything you need to improve the coaching skills of your supervisors and team leaders so you can reap the rewards of a positive work environment and good employee morale.

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