Lessons from Donald Trump, Pedro Martinez, Harry Houdini and others.
There are three foundational building blocks that need to be optimized to consistently deliver engaging customer experiences over the phone: people, processes and leadership. This article will focus on improving processes within your call center by taking you on a tour with random stops to teach lessons that hopefully will spur new ideas.
Stop #1: Willy’s Widget’s
Welcome to stop No. 1—Willy’s Widgets. Willy’s is a highly regarded manufacturer in its industry due to the ease of doing business with them. When customers call to place orders, they not only get a consistent experience every time, their products are shipped in a timely fashion and 99.99% of the time the products are issue free.
During this tour, we get a quick Q&A with Billy, Willy’s plant manager. We inquire about the secret ingredients that make Willy’s so special. Billy responds, “Obviously, we have really good people working here, but our processes are very streamlined.”
He continues, “A few years ago, Willy’s wasn’t so highly regarded, so we took a step back to map out and revamp the entire customer experience. We even took it a step further and identified the main reasons customers were calling and developed blueprints for these various scenarios. Going through this process provided us with several benefits: We were able to better align the various functions in the organization, improve inefficient processes and, most importantly, deliver consistent and better customer experiences. What’s more, mapping the customer experience has expedited the learning curve for our new-hires. Because of this, customers keep coming back. We even have detailed blueprints for our products to help ensure consistency.”
The key takeaway on this stop is that if a widget manufacturer can develop blueprints to ensure consistency, why don’t most call centers do the same and create journey maps for the most common customer inquiries and transactions?
Stop #2: Donald Trump’s Office
In the midst of a busy presidential campaign, Donald has agreed to invite us to his office for a quick visit. As we walk in, he starts by saying, “I just want to ask you one question… how many of you have employees who never make mistakes? And I’m not talking about repetitive mistakes!” He pauses then sees most of us raise our hands. He shakes his head and turns even more orange than usual. He then yells, “You’re all fired!” Two seconds later, he adds, “And so are those employees!”
At first, you may think this is one of the worst tours you’ve ever experienced. However, you soon realize this stop actually provided a valuable learning lesson in creating a learning environment. The idea of firing employees who never make mistakes may seem extreme, but it was once suggested by management consultant Peter Drucker. Why? Because employees who never make mistakes never do anything interesting.
You see, a big part of creating a learning environment is allowing employees to make mistakes. Admittedly, this is difficult for most managers and leaders. However, while it’s true that mistakes can be costly to a company, mistakes also allow your employees to learn. Plus, if you aren’t making mistakes, you likely aren’t trying enough new things outside your comfort zone, thus limiting innovation.
One way that leading organizations build strong learning cultures is by starting at the top and having executives show a little humility and admit mistakes. Sharing failures encourages employees to be more open. These organizations also don’t look to point fingers when things go wrong—they attempt to gain insights into what went wrong and learn from the situation. Again, this promotes a culture of openness.
Stop #3: Harry Houdini’s Grave
Harry Houdini was a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts. The lesson we take from this stop is about the importance of personalizing experiences. Harry Houdini surprised and delighted his viewers—and that’s exactly what we are suggesting you do with your customers.
While leveraging insights about your customers is a very effective strategy and likely the most impactful, it isn’t mandatory to make an immediate impact and build an emotional connection. For example, reaching out to a customer for an upcoming birthday or company anniversary, or just thanking them for their loyalty are simple ways you can surprise and delight.
One idea is to challenge each representative to write a minimum number of hand-written cards and to call a minimum number of customers (planned follow-ups don’t count) each day. For one tactic, we encouraged a local financial institution to mail hand-written cards to select customers. The result? Anecdotal evidence shows that it was an effective tactic. In one example, after having a few good conversations and later being the recipient of a hand-written thank you card, a customer called an agent to tell her that he’d decided to keep over $500,000 in his account rather than transfer the money to a slightly higher paying bank. The reason? He knew he wouldn’t receive personalized service anywhere else. Imagine this scenario multiplied by hundreds of accounts.
Stop #4: A Baseball Toss With Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez is a hall of fame pitcher who spent most of his prime dominating hitters for the Boston Redsox. After a few tosses, handshakes and pictures, Pedro says that he just has one piece of advice for us to consider, and that’s, “Who’s Your Daddy?” This was a popular chant by New York Yankees fans after the Yankees beat the Redsox in the 2004 American League Championship Series, and Martinez stated: “They beat me. They’re that good right now. They’re that hot. I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.”
The lesson here is to face the facts—no matter how good you are, there is always going to be an organization that delivers customer experiences better than you. What are some customer-oriented organizations you admire? Find them and learn from them.
Have your agents occasionally reach out to other call centers and inquire about more information or even make a purchase. Agents can then share their experiences (good and bad) with the team. Just remember, all you need are just a couple of really good ideas your team could implement and make the initiative worthwhile.
We recently called Zappos and found it pretty interesting that, when ordering, our payment information was captured on a separate system so that when the internal team pulls up recorded calls, payment information isn’t heard. What a great way to protect customer information.
Stop #5: Local Weather Man
We decided to add this stop to our tour so that can gain further insights on creating a learning environment. After a 20-minute lesson on climate change, our local weather forecaster, Sam, encourages us to think about the climates of our team.
Specifically, at minimum, such as every quarter, he says your team should meet and invite at least one member from the executive management team. During this meeting, the team should discus the following topics:
- What the organization does really well
- What the organization can improve upon
- What the team does really well
- What the team can improve upon
After each meeting, create an action plan of to-do items and then start each subsequent meeting with an update from the previous meeting. This helps agents feel that you care and that progress is being made on big issues. The benefit of having an executive involved is to help ensure that key organizational issues get fast-tracked.
And if you’re worried employees won’t speak up when a senior person is in the room, then select another senior person—one that has done a better job of building trust and relationships with staff.
That concludes our tour. We hope that you enjoyed the journey and picked up some new ideas to take back to your center!