The idiom “rules of engagement” has its roots in military action. It has been applied to business when it comes to codes of conduct, performance standards, and expectations that are designed to facilitate collaboration and goal achievement.
Speaking of rules, have you ever read First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Corporation? If not, you may want to consider it. The overwhelming message of the book is how to be a more effective leader by taking a new and fresh look at what you are trying to accomplish and how you are doing it. This is great stuff and although the book is several years old, I still highly recommend it. First Break All the Rules is primarily focused on leadership; buried within it are findings of 20 years of Gallup research on what customers really want.
The research is the result of surveying over a BILLION people to identify what really matters to them about service. The findings are organized into four categories, labeled as low-level and high-level satisfiers. The low-level satisfiers are Accuracy and Availability. Achieving these “only prevents dissatisfaction.” The high-level satisfiers are Partnership and Advice. The authors state that achieving these are “not easy to do but are difficult to steal” (as in replicate).
“The customer is the most important part of our business.”
I would like to use these findings to stimulate thinking around simplifying the process of understanding, reacting to customer needs, and crafting the “rules of engagement” with your team. These findings serve as a foundation for assessing the operational side of the Customer Experience in the Contact Center; in fact, they apply quite nicely. So, here is my take.
If we begin with low-level satisfiers, we must recognize that there are no “points” earned for achieving Accuracy and Availability. But there are operational elements that assure their achievement.
Customers expect information to be correct. Duh, of course they do! But has anyone called you lately to say thanks for getting it right? I doubt it! It is not enough to simply acknowledge this obvious fact. Here are the elements that the objective of Accuracy requires.
Hiring - Competencies must be very clearly defined. If you don’t intend on teaching basic skills, TEST the candidates to make sure they have them. If your agents will be required to write emails, chats, or edit suggested responses, TEST their writing ability. When Customer Experience is of high importance, TEST their definition. Is it a match? Certain competencies cannot be trained; it is more effective to hire smart than be stuck with someone not right for the position.
Training - Agents must be well trained, and depending on the complexity of the business, also skilled in the area of critical thinking to enhance consistency across the operation. Training is an ongoing process, not just a new-hire requirement. It is important to train agents in the manner in which they will do their jobs. When trainers have access to a “training” or “sandbox” system, they are able to integrate system, product, and customer service into the same module. The result is training that models the actual job and where all functions are utilized and practiced together.
Communication - An effective communication approach must be in place to “move” relevant information to agents in a timely fashion. Contact Centers vary in their approach: knowledge base, manuals, memos, emails, intranet, large plasma screens, ribbons on the desktop, whiteboards, etc. More and more operations today are investing in technology to facilitate communication in the Contact Center. Who is the information gatekeeper? This is critical! We have seen many cases in which supervisors become overwhelmed by information distribution coming from too many places; anyone with a distribution list seems able to send changes or requests to the Contact Center. This is a frustrating situation and challenges Accuracy at its very core.
It is critical to establish a “communication liaison” function to serve as the gatekeeper and to take a good, long, and hard look at the means by which you communicate to the front line. Today’s remote environment places additional demands on management when it comes to communication and clarity.
Think about it. What else contributes to Accuracy in your Contact Center?
The REAL differentiator may just be in the experience.
Availability is another low-level satisfier that must be met before any Customer Experience points are earned. Availability includes these elements.
Hours of Operation - Many companies have had to evaluate whether their hours of operation are an asset or a liability in their market. While most industries have adjusted to extended operating hours, Healthcare continues to struggle to meet the market when it comes to extended hours. Regular business hours for contacting and scheduling provider appointments are the norm for the “traditional.” But emerging competition such as Amazon Health, Urgent Care, and drug store Primary Care are challenging this norm. Competitors are winning market share as a result and forcing more scheduling centralization, paving the way for improved access.
Customer Access Channels - Multiple access channels in Contact Centers offer substantial benefits by enhancing Availability and customer service. These channels encompass phone, email, IVR, chat, bots, and social media. They cater to diverse customer preferences and accommodate varying communication styles and immediacy needs. This diversification reduces customer wait times; it ensures quicker issue resolution and improved satisfaction.
Providing a WOW or a THRILL leads to establishing an emotional connection.
With Partnership and Advice, the Customer Experience becomes a market differentiator. Let’s assume that you have competitors (a relatively safe assumption). Many markets today look to match or beat their competitors in terms of price, services available, promises, etc. But the REAL differentiator may just be in the experience. How easy is it to reach you? How easy is it to access/use your website or app? How easy is it to get helpful answers? Study your contact types; answers will emerge and you will know that it is time to ACT.
When discussing or training staff on Customer Experience, it is critical to assure the understanding that building the relationship IS in fact establishing the Partnership. Relationships are built in many ways and the frontline has a lot to do with it.
A relationship means being able to recognize the customer’s need, not only in specific terms, but on an emotional level. Providing a WOW or a THRILL leads to establishing an emotional connection. When you have customers on the phone, building a Partnership with them is about needs and nuances. It is about being able to fully represent your brand and deepen the relationship. Let’s face it, these days if an issue has risen above all other options to voice, complexity is a factor and agents must be prepared to engage appropriately.
Advice is the ultimate factor in the Customer Experience. Advice about products, services, etc., is often in the hands of the frontline contact. Advice takes the Accuracy and the Partnership elements and translates them to a market differentiator because they yield a positive emotional connection. People like to take Advice from those in whom they have confidence. We all have hung up from a call and called back not only because we may not have “liked” the answer, but because we felt it could be “wrong.”
It is our job every day to make every aspect of the Customer Experience count!
When you consider that it is the Advice function that solves problems and makes additional sales, the concept is easy to embrace. Add-on sale offers are the ultimate in Advice. The frontline advises the customer on other products or services that are available and appropriate. I sat in a bank one day and watched an agent kiss a twenty-thousand-dollar CD goodbye because he didn’t offer anything else to the customer. The bank had a multitude of programs that the customer could have been advised about, but the agent seemed more comfortable explaining how to cash out the CD.
Advice is about confidence, critical thinking, brand knowledge, and of course products and services. No matter how smart we may be, smartness only has value to those with whom we have built a relationship and, in fact, a Partnership.
There are challenges to achieving the high-level satisfiers and they often lie at the low levels. If you cannot achieve Accuracy and Availability, you may never have the opportunity to get to the Partnership and Advice level, no matter how good you are at it. Customers will be frustrated before you can ever get to that height. All of these elements must work together, but somehow in order. We need to view our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It is our job every day to make every aspect of the Customer Experience count!