NUTTY CONSUMER’S 7TH RANT VS. “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

call-center-cartoon-100-aht aht cartoonTHIS BLOG WILL FOCUS ON THE CALL CENTER EMPLOYEE AND POSSIBLE LEGAL ISSUES.  After doing some research on the subject of call center issues, I have become increasingly concerned about the well being of the employees being part of the “cookie cutter” call system syndrome. To gain further insight, I have  discussed this subject with several current and former call center employees as well as doing  basic research. It is somewhat depressing to picture a professional with a college degree such as an insurance agent or financial advisor, working under this prototype call center environment without any customization to ensure that both the needs of the customer remains a top priority but also that employees are treated with dignity and respect.

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How could agents not suffer some anguish if they felt required to compromise their moral values in order to keep their job?  How would  anyone not be uncomfortable by finding themselves being placed in a position as at Wells Fargo by which you are directed to sell hard on each and every incoming call no matter what the customers’ circumstances. What if the customer is calling in about a serious complaint; is very upset due a recent tragedy and is calling in a claim; they have just lost thousands of dollars due to a poor investment; they have lost out on the purchase of a dream home due to the company’s poor mortgage customer service  etc.? An agent would have to be blessed with a strong stomach to continue in the hard sales role even if pressured by management. It is easy to think that the employee should just quit. However, what if you are the family breadwinner with several children and can’t risk the consequences of just leaving a company during a time when the job market is on a downturn. You could ask why doesn’t the agent protest to management. As one agent advised me, it is management who are enforcing these standards. If you are perceived as not being a team member, your life will be made very unpleasant. You will be  marginalized with a reputation for being a difficult or disgruntled employee; someone who is unstable as well as not being a team player.  An agent from a well established company described to me what typically occurs when an employee dares to challenge the status quo. The offending agent could be subject to excessive monitoring with supervisors listening in at random and excessive surveillance. As time passes the agent will experience extreme discomfort and will eventually leave.

cartoon6760 customer service joke re agent performanceOne agent described how she had worked for a company for seven years and had many plum assignments typically given to top performing agents along with outstanding employee reviews. She was a young, healthy adult with a college degree as well as some previous successful sales experience and management training with a beauty product company. However, at some point while being employed by a company with an excellent reputation, she voiced concerns about the sales tactics being practiced. She eventually ended up with mental health issues and left the company on disability leave after enduring  many weeks of bullying.  She tried returning to work but found that her anger issues were returning as she would still be working for the same supervisor who had harmed her. She didn’t want to live in fear and so she resigned. She had been subject for weeks to a frequently deployed tactic by call center management of excessive surveillance and constant monitoring. This includes the supervisors listening and recording many calls for hours and at random times with the intent to catch the employees making an error. Then the employees are frequently confronted with all their errors, written notices, increased coaching sessions  with the employees’  full knowledge that they are helpless, and even if they get that they are being treated unfairly and unjustly, they have no legitimate, reliable and effective recourse for relief. This is just for starters! These tactics  are also used to set up an employee to be fired.  If companies believe that this pattern of subjecting offending employees to these bullying and mental harassment tactics  designed to separate out an agent, is a way to avoid legal repercussions, please reconsider this stance.  Currently, these systemic practices  may not be sufficient for claimants to legally prevail on the basis of the companies’ managers, intentionally “inflicting extreme emotional distress” on any particular employee.  However, as per an article in the Insurance  Journal, published 3/4/2013, titled “Workplace Bullying Emerging As Major Employment Liability Battleground “by Sam Hananel, “more than a dozen states — including New York and Massachusetts — have considered anti-bullying laws in the past year that would allow litigants to pursue lost wages, benefits and medical expenses and compel employers to prevent an “abusive work place.”  

rhan518l call system customer service issueIn the text  of the “bullyonline.org” website that I mentioned was very popular in the United Kingdom in a previous blog and which has been inundated with calls from call center employees, lists one of the mental illnesses resulting from working in this highly stressful industry as PTSD. My first reaction is that was just too far fetched as no “cookie cutter” call center worker can claim to have been subject to the stress of a war zone. However, according to a standard definition of PTSD, the leap is at least worth consideration. A standard definition is as follows: “Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered when a person sees or is party to a psychologically traumatic event, such as war, a natural disaster, or any situation that invokes feelings of helplessness or Intense fear. While most people eventually adjust to the aftereffects of such events, some people find their symptoms getting worse with time. These worsening symptoms are the product of PTSD.”

Why tempt fate? Perhaps your legal division can look at the bigger picture and ask themselves, how would your company’s reputation be tarnished by having some of these practices being depicted on the front pages of the Washington Post  due to some unforeseen incident?

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Some other methods designed to separate a quality employee from a company are more subtle. One gentleman had an MBA, a strong, successful real estate sales background  and he also had received outstanding reviews, accolade letters from the President’s office, had a track record of surpassing any and all sales goals set by management and was well respected by his peers. He just made the politically incorrect move to question some of the company’s sales tactics and treatment of the clients. As a result, whenever he applied for another position within the same company, he was never successful. There came a time when he needed to be able to work from home because of a difficult family health issue. Other representatives with minimally acceptable employee evaluations were granted this exception but this one gentleman with an exceptional record was not. Consequently, he did resign and another company is reaping the rewards of employing an outstanding worker.

imagesLWJQRJLZDEAR COMPANY, do not allow accountants ( cost cutters) or the legal division to recommend actions intended to avoid negative legal consequences which are counter to your mission statement of providing excellent customer products and service while treating  your clients with exceptional levels of integrity and respect; and which could consequently cost you your business reputation.  Frequently, these divisions view the company’s well being from a limited viewpoint and cannot envision the big picture. Right now I am talking about how an employee described to me how she is strongly discouraged from documenting anything she discusses with a client even if it is important. The reason given for this rule was that the writing of notes on the various accounts over time adds to the average call handling time. I suspect that this directive has more to do with the legal department wishing to prevent future legal claims by not leaving a paper trail.  As per “Do You Know Your Call Center Law?” which was published on 1/21/2014, by Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor, “if an agent hands out faulty advice and it results in an injury, the contact center could be liable.” Their advice is to make sure agents are properly trained to provide directions and advice.

The problem with the plan of not allowing your employees to keep notes to avoid the paper trail is that technology is improving. In time,  a customer will be able to record their conversation with a call center representative. As per federal laws, there cannot be any expectation of privacy as most call centers record calls as well. There are discussions on the blogosphere as how to manage the state laws regarding a consumer being legally able to record a call center call.  As an example, on the blog, The Daily Dot, dated August 12, 2014 , titled “How to Record a Customer Service Call Without Breaking The Law, ” the Author Aaron Sankin writes, “if you decide to start recording your customer service calls, it’s a good idea to ask the customer service rep if it’s okay before hitting the little red button. In this case, it may be better to ask permission than forgiveness. Laws regarding the recording of telephone conversations —typically called “wiretap laws”—fall in to two basic categories: one-party consent, and two-party consent. In many two-party-consent states, all parties on the call must consent. At the moment, 18 states and the District of Columbia have wiretap laws on the books. It’s important to note that the location of the person you’re recording matters when it comes to state laws. Here’s a quick rundown of each state’s law, according to the Digital Media Law Project:

Arizona: One party must consent
California: All parties must consent
Florida: All parties must consent
Georgia: One party must consent
Illinois: Unclear—so get two-party consent to be safe
• Indiana: One party must consent
Massachusetts: Two-party consent; secretly recording calls is illegal
Michigan: All parties likely must consent—but courts are divided
• Missouri: One party must consent
New Jersey: One party must consent
New York: One party must consent
• North Carolina: One party must consent
• Ohio: One party must consent
Pennsylvania: All parties must consent
Tennessee: One party must consent
Texas: One party must consent
Virginia: One party must consent
Washington: All parties must consent
 Washington, D.C.: One party must consent

Mr. Sankin recommends that even if you don’t see your state on this list, make sure to check all applicable state laws before recording anybody. He continues to state, “If you’re calling from a smartphone, you’re going to need a different system and a perfect app for that is called TapeACall. TapeACall, which runs on both iPhone and Android phones, lets users record any conversation at the touch of a button. Those recordings are stored on TapeACall’s servers and can be played back instantaneously on the device. The files can also be exported and saved on the phone or a computer in .mp3 format. The service is free for 60-second clips, but costs $9.99 for a version with unlimited recording time. (Full disclosure: I use TapeACall almost every single day doing reporting and can personally attest that it’s magical).”

Mr. Sankin added the following: “Paul Stockford, research director of the National Association of Call Centers, said he doesn’t think it’s especially commonplace for customers to record their calls with customer service reps. ‟I’ve seen isolated incidents,” he said. ‟But I don’t know about this being any kind of trend.” Recent events indicate that it may soon become one. A few weeks ago, another dissatisfied Comcast customer released a legendarily painful recording of a company rep making every possible excuse to avoid letting him cancel his service. The call went massively viral and became a huge black eye for Comcast, which is in the process of waging a publicity campaign to convince federal regulators to approve its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. In short, your best weapon against bad customer service may be a recorded call. Just be careful before you use it.”

In the end, there will be a paper trail and the company will be forced to increase their training programs and to stress quality control as to the reasonableness and accuracy of information provided by their representative. Why allow your company to be impeded by the accountants and legal experts from investing now in increased training and from implementing a constructive, quality control plan to improve the quality, completeness of detail and accuracy of information provided by your agents?

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There are those who are asking me why am I discussing the employee. These “cookie cutter” call center systems have huge expenditures associated with high employee turnover rates, non planned absentee days; employees out for weeks due to mental health disability leave and the higher health care costs due to the increase in physical health and mental health employee claims because of this work stress. The additional costs alone to train professionals with college degrees to keep up with high turnover rates is astronomical in the insurance, banking and financial advice companies. These jobs can involve complicated thinking and long term learning curves and so there is that hidden problem of having customers interacting too often with inexperienced agents. These are unnecessary costs which can be allocated for example, towards lowering the costs of company’s products, investing in research and development and/ or increasing company revenues. It would be helpful if the “cookie cutter’ call center business analytics included tracking the above mentioned costs.

YES, THERE  ARE MAJOR COMPANIES TREATING THEIR BOTH THEIR CUSTOMERS AND THEIR CALL CENTER EMPLOYEES WELL WHILE ENJOYING TREMENDOUS SUCCESS SUCH AS AMERICAN EXPRESS, JACKSON  AND ZAPPOS. I WILL DISH OUT MORE IN MY FUTURE BLOGS.

RELATED ARTICLES:

1.)How American Express Transformed Its Call CentersHarvard blogs.hbr.org/…/american-express-how-we-tran…

2.) Workplace Stress and Mental Health Issues – Academia.edu www.academia.edu/…/Workplace_Stress_and_Mental_Hea

3.) 15 Effects of Stress on Call Center Agents and the Company blog.talkdesk.com/15-effects-of-stress-on-callcenteragents

4.) For mental health, bad job worse than no job – CNN.comvwww.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/14/unemployment.health/
http://www.mirror.co.uk/…/callcentre-staff-facing-targets-22…
6.) The Last Bullying Frontier | Psychology Today by Guy Winch

NUTTY CONSUMER’S 8TH RANT AGAINST “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

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In my Mad Men Business days, prior to the cell phone and easy access to the internet, successful upper managers were able to obtain reliable information from long term trusted front line employees instantly by maintaining discreet and confidential lines of communication. This is how they were able to uncover serious problems and to verify the accuracy of information provided by other managers. Also many companies instituted in house auditing teams to audit different departments to determine better practices.The various departments did not have a choice but to implement the better recommended procedures. Those who were successful on these teams often were rewarded by management and so there was ample incentive to do well. One did well when people trusted you enough to share information. If someone requested credit for their ideas, then one would make sure to give that person credit both verbally and in writing. If someone did not want credit, then it was presumed that they preferred their privacy. In that case one would describe how a practice could be improved without disclosing any names. If one had a reputation for being an actor and trustworthy and if someone approached that person with crucial information, then that person would always know which upper managers to seek to remedy whatever situation needed fixing without having to mention the source. The informal infrastructure was well established to where there were safe ways for employees to come forward without fear of being harmed.

I talked to several agents with a background of working in call center environments, and I was able to discern several areas which caused them to be morally conflicted. One has to do with a company’s  practices regarding the customer service surveys issue. Recall when I described how an agent when dealing with a customer voicing a complaint, could bar this person from access to the customer service survey via several methods such as not hanging up first, or transferring the call to a different division or their direct manager. I did ask some of the agents if this wasn’t an integrity issue. It was explained to me how the agents who insisted on acting with integrity were treated. I was presented with this example. Some team members witnessed a well respected representative being called to her manager’s desk to explain why she received a less than an excellent survey even though the agent had little control over the call. The customer was complaining that the division he was attempting to contact was not available to conduct business during the same hours of other divisions. This agent informed him that the other division had different working hours and instructed him as to when he could call again. This example was not an isolated event. This same agent refused to compromise on her integrity. However view this case from the perspective of the other agents. It became evident that they would be rewarded for having excellent customer service surveys and censored for receiving anything less than perfect surveys. My opinion is that the company needs this feedback to create ways to prevent others from having a similar experience in the future. This practice does not serve the company’s interests as this feedback is necessary; the customer is not serviced; and the agent is not well serviced by being singled out for a discussion by her direct supervisor. Subtly, this  manager is complicit in creating the culture by which their agents are tempted to compromise their integrity. In addition, the employer of these agents has in their mission statement the words of integrity, honesty and honor. How do their employees deal with this message being so counter to the above described practice?

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The agents detailed another ethical problem with me related to insufficient training and retraining in a work arena where the policies, rules, regulations and practices are frequently updated. For example, one agent described how she was written up by her direct supervisor for making a mistake in pricing a policy. She had to find an underwriter to explain and show her boss the written company policy regarding the particular situation by which she was obligated to price the policy. The supervisor asked why she did not hear this discussion in the phone recording in the last conversation with the client. The agent explained that she simply corrected for the prior agent’s mistake which is the same mishap her supervisor would have made. Also, the  agents were faced with another moral conflict by being asked to write up the errors they detect in order to have them forwarded up to management  for coaching and training opportunities, while also being tracked regarding their average call handling times. The agents tell me that spending time to write up every  blunder would add significant time to this parameter and so, the agents who followed this instruction would definitely not be rewarded. Most said they simply did not have enough time to do this.

Another issue that caused some agents to be squeamish had to do when the product delivery to the client was not in keeping with the company’s mission statement. The company’s brand is that of providing exceptional products and services. However, one agent described how the company did not always live up to it’s brand. She had such a bad experience with a client  who had interacted with the mortgage division that she could not consider making any more referrals to this division and she felt let down by her management. The following example also demonstrates  how not documenting a client’s account can do real harm. Prior to this particular contact, the client had talked to more than one sales agent and a supervisor to make sure he met all the requirements necessary for him to close on a property prior to purchase of his first home. He had just graduated from a top rated law school and had accepted his first job at a top tier law firm. When he finally started the closing process, another agent advised him that he did not qualify. There was no documentation regarding the prior multiple calls. This gentleman said if he had been told this upfront, then he would have done business with another company within the time frame that he needed to successfully close on the home he wanted. Because he had foolishly relied on the prior agents’ instructions, he ended up renting because he needed to settle his family which included his very pregnant wife and to start working before a specific deadline. This client stated that in the future, he would be purchasing a mortgage with Quicken Loans and this company would no longer be his first choice for any of his future business dealings as he had lost trust in their competency and integrity. It seems to me that this company will be loosing a lot of future monies from  someone in the 1% earnings level. How many of these clients can a company afford to lose?

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Remember the sales agent that I mentioned in a previous blog who wrote her CEO that she and her coworkers were being barred from making any outbound calls including promised return calls to clients. As a result, she was permitted to return promised phone calls and to provide her personal extension only if the potential client specifically requested it.

This same agent said she informed upper management even though she was concerned about the possibility of retaliation by her  immediate bosses  if they suspected she was the source. As it turned out, her managers did approach her as to why she sent the email and yes, she was subject to retaliatory measures. It came in the form of bullying tactics frequently deployed by frontline managers in the “cookie cutter” call center culture. For several weeks, she was subject to constant monitoring and excessive surveillance to the point she decided to retire one year short of receiving full benefits in order to preserve her mental health.

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My thinking is that when others   witnessed this treatment of what happens to a team member who attempts to appropriately inform upper management about crucial information, it probably stopped  them from ever taking this step. Supposedly there is  a company policy with zero tolerance against supervisors acting in a retaliatory way against an employee in this instance but if the companies’ leaders are serious about this policy, they have to act upon it.

In addition, this same agent stated for the record that her calls often involved the sale of multiple policies, the sale of products from other lines of business with  customers who had been loyal clients with an alternate company for many years. If she did not close the sale involving thousands of dollars on the first contact, then she was barred from contacting the clients in the future even though she understood full well that this meant she was handing over control of the sale now to the competing insurance company whose agents would not have their hands tied behind their backs and would fight to keep the business. Although some of these clients probably did call back, this agent is convinced that many did not. This agent was very conflicted over not being allowed to competently do her job. This same agent confessed that she called a competitor’s sales division, Amica. The Amica sales agent did not hesitate to offer his extension and to arrange for a follow up call based on their conversation.

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What if your company were questioned as to whether it was burdened with this unhealthy work place as I have been detailing, how would your top officers respond? Would your attitude reflect that exemplified by Mary Barra of GM; General Eric Shinseki of the VA; or the Secret Service Director, Julia Pierson?

If a company suffers from a seriously dysfunctional culture by which your frontline professionals  work in fear as I have been describing, then it is only a matter of time before your company will suffer the inevitable negative  consequences. There will be the typical build up over months and even years, steps to keep employees in line and skeletons buried. Eventually there will be the explosion. If you want to prevent this and /or discover for sure if this is the case with your company, hire an outside company to come in to do an independent audit by which every person queried is assured complete confidentiality and that there is no way that a boss or coworker can have access to what anyone has stated. This includes upper management. If important information is forthcoming, who cares about who the source is. What if you learn that your company is entrenched in this culture? You can then figure out ways for the future to obtain crucial, necessary information in a constructive ways by treating your agents as professionals while empowering them to do their jobs well. If some managers decide to continue their old habits of micromanaging by fear, then they have to be fired. The frontline employees have to know that upper management is serious about altering the work culture to better support the frontline skilled workers to where there is a free flow of information.

Then your company will have to return to basics to increase profits such as coming up with new product lines as in the case with Net Flix, or doing the research to improve your current products and practices to make sure that whatever you do offer is better than the competition. Just cutting and streamlining operating costs while squeezing the last bit of productivity out of your employees are not the only ways of increasing revenues.

RELATED ARTICLES:

1.)22 Problems Only Call Centre Workers Will Understand whatculture.com/…/22problemscallcentre-workers-will-understand.ph…

2.)15 Effects of Stress on Call Center Agents and the Company blog.talkdesk.com/15-effects-of-stress-on-callcenteragents-and-the-co…

3.)For mental health, bad job worse than no job CNN.com www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/14/unemployment.health/

4.)[PDF]Occupational Health Problems of Call Center Workers in India www.bowenpublishing.com/DownLoadPaper.aspx?paperid=14339

5.)In Scandal’s Wake, McKinsey Seeks Culture Shift The New York times-Jan 2014

6.)Mental, physical and social health problems of call centrehttp://www.industrialpsychiatry.org/article.asp?issn=0972…17; issue‎2008

7.)Occupational Health Problems of Call Center Workers in India www.bowenpublishing.com/msp/paperInfo.aspx?paperid=14339

8.)Working conditions in callcenters, the impact on employeelink.springer.com/…/10.1007%2Fs004…‎‎‎

NUTTY CONSUMER’S 9TH RANT AGAINST “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

THERE ARE COMPANIES WHICH ARE SUCCESSFUL AT BOTH OPERATING A CALL CENTER AND PROVIDING EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE WHILE TREATING THEIR EMPLOYEES WITH RESPECT AND DIGNITY.

untitled great customer service w pix w hving client wait until she finishes greeting

One of the agents I talked to as part of my research used to work for American Express in the platinum card section. She described her experience as extremely positive. When she received a call from a client regarding any issue, she was able to follow the client’s case personally from start to finish until any problem was completely solved to the client’s satisfaction. She was able to provide her name and extension to the client in the event the member felt a need to call back. She was not required to talk to the client in a prescribed manner but could actually have a normal conversation with her client. She definitely was able to input notes on the client’s accounts so she could keep track of her work status. She was empowered to spend as much time as was required to take care of the customers’ requests and she also had tremendous power to fix any problems presented to her by any American Express customer. Her superior evaluations were never based on call handling times; how many calls she took on a given day; whether she was 5 minutes late in returning from her lunch time; how she followed a call flow check list; and how many sale referrals she made while attempting to address any customers’ concerns.

toon895 customer service w e peopleA few years ago, American Express made the decision to break from the “cookie cutter” call center tactics. As per a Fortune Magazine article published on April 19, 2012 by Geoff Colvin, titled  How can American Express help you? – Fortune Management , the consumer czar, Jim Bush in 2005  made the executive decision to improve customer satisfaction. The article states that “his basic insight was that breaking with industry orthodoxy by transforming those conversations into less structured, more human engagements would pay off. Instead of evaluating service reps mainly by how quickly they got you off the phone, as many companies still do, he switched to the net promoter score developed by Bain’s Fred Reichheld. It’s based on one question: Would you recommend this company to a friend? AmEx’s score has risen significantly under Bush’s direction, and he was right — it pays off. Customer spending is up, attrition is down.” Mr. Bush explained  “I thought about the opportunity of capitalizing on every interaction and moving away from being a cost of doing business to being an investment in building relationships. Every one of those moments of truth is an opportunity to make a difference to customers in a personalized way. So we moved from being transaction-oriented — the investment and training had been all around how to complete the transaction — to building on the relationship with the customer. We converted from a robotic, scripted environment to a conversational environment that brings the personality to life and brings one-to-one connections, which is what ultimately builds and sustains relationships. According to Mr. Bush there are no scripts for an agent to follow.”

untitled customer service pix for transfersMr. Bush continues to explain. “Information is presented to the care professional — we call them “customer care professionals” because that’s what they are. They’re not service professionals; they take care of customers. We present the profile of who that customer is and other information relevant to that particular interaction. That allows the care professional to be conversant and pull out their personality and match it to the personal needs of the customer. We’ve also modified how we measure performance. We got less focused on productivity as measured by how much time you’re on the phone and freed up our care professionals. We let the customer determine how much time they want to engage. That engagement drives value. We serve customers, not transactions.”

He further discusses how his company changed his company’s culture from the typical “cookie cutter” call center. “We field a survey annually and found that 7% of consumers feel they’re getting good service; 93% are not getting the service they expect. It’s an enormous void. We defined our business system to respect the fact that these are human beings. We unleash the power of personality and hold our people accountable to key objectives as measured by the voice of the customer. It’s a simple concept. It’s the Golden Rule — treat others as you would like to be treated. But that simplicity is often overlooked by other businesses. Think of the power of the voice of the customer now. Verizon (VZ) introduced a $2 fee, the voice of the customer screamed loud, and it turned that around 24 hours later. We need to appreciate customer-centricity and the value it creates.

Mr. Bush states that his customer care agents undergo training which is different from the typical call center operation. he states, “in the past, 75% of it was on how, technically, you complete the transaction. Now it’s on how you create the relationship and build it through humanity, conversation, and engagement.

For those companies still relying on the “cookie cutter” call center system, why not give some consideration to how American Express, Jackson and Zappos improved their business results by turning their companies’ call center culture around to better suit the customers’ best interests and empowering the employees to act as a professional and as human beings, while managing a call center. I discuss the companies Zappos and Jackson in the NUTTY CONSUMER’S 10th RANT VS. “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS.                              

RELATED ARTICLES:

1.)How can American Express help you? – Fortune Management management.fortune.cnn.com/…/american-express-custome..

2.)Jackson Customer Service Achieves “Call Center World  markets.on.nytimes.com/…/press_release.asp?…

3.)In a Mood? Call Center Agents Can Tell – NYTimes.comwww.nytimes.com/…/in-a-mood-callcenter-agents-…

4.)How American Express Transformed Its Call CentersHarvard blogs.hbr.org/…/american-express-how-we-tran…

5.) From Call Center Agent To ZapposLife Coach: This Woman http://www.forbes.com/…/johngreathouse/…/from-callcenteragent-to-z

NUTTY CONSUMER’S 1OTH RANT VS. “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF CASE STUDIES ABOUT COMPANIES WHICH ARE SUCCESSFULLY ACTING IN THE CUSTOMERS’ BEST INTERESTS WHILE TREATING EMPLOYEES WITH DIGNITY. images another planet customer serviceHow would your company like to be able the advertise the following on the front pages of your website. “Zappos Insights is a department within the Zappos Family of Companies created simply to help share the Zappos Culture with the world. Yep, that means YOU!  We are humbled by the attention Zappos has received and all the questions we get about our zany culture and business. We hope to see a day when all organizations realize you CAN have a successful and profitable business where your employees love coming to work, are happy and engaged, and your customers are raving fans. We want to share with YOU how we created our core values, built our culture, and run our business based on them. We want to share this with you so that you can translate it to YOUR unique and amazing company to create a happier and more productive culture and workplace. Whether your business has been around for 100 years, or you are an entrepreneur just starting out, we offer tours of the Zappos Headquarters, Q&A sessions with Zappos leaders, a Zappos Insights membership, and a full Zappos culture immersion with our 3-Day Boot Camp event. We can even create a custom event for YOU if you’d like. Just let us know. “ “At Zappos, we believe that work should be fun. Check us out and learn how we foster an employee-centric culture and have been named to the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 5 years in a row!”

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Could your call center work place imagine this story of a coach? Zappos has coaches that are life coaches. They describe one favorite coach, Augusta. As per a Forbes article published on 2/4/2014 by John Greathouse, this is Zappos description of their coaching practices:

“While CEOs and other executives routinely have accessed to personal coaches, such coaching remains a rarity for the average worker in Corporate America. When such programs do exist, they often focus on making workers more productive, efficient and skilled in their job performance. These programs often indirectly benefit the workers, but their primary goal is the betterment of the company.”

Zappos is renowned for its focus on its customers and employees. The company realizes that fostering personal growth is not only good for each employee, it benefits the entire company. As such, employees are encouraged to pursue goals, irrespective of whether they will have any impact on their ability to excel at their jobs.

For instance, Zappos team members can work with Augusta to lose weight, stop smoking or even get into college.

At Zappos, the Coach’s primary responsibility is to make employees better people, not necessarily better workers. Augusta is rightfully proud of this emphasis, stressing that, “The program wasn’t designed around (job) performance or metrics. It was designed around our culture. How can we assist our employees with whatever it is they want to do. What’s going to make them happy? What are they passionate about? And a lot of times it is within their personal lives. We know that a happy employee in their personal life obviously is going to be a happy employee, even at  work.”                                                                                                                                                                                                 Look at what a call center critic writes about Zappos in comparison to others as in the case of Best Buy. This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community, titled, ” How are Call Centers Bullying Their Employees With Bad Scripts on 6/14/2014 by Aurelie Chazal. She writes the following: ” The number 1 reason why employees actually stick to nonsense scripts isn’t because they find them useful. It’s because it could get them fired if they didn’t! A Best Buy employee complained  few years ago about the fact that failure to adhere to the script could result in termination of employment. Guess what Best Buy replied?

As is common with large corporations such as Best Buy, we do have guidelines for our customer support teams to follow to ensure that our customers receive the highest quality care,” „We have not heard from any of our customers (directly) on this topic and if we did we would of course address each concern individually.” This author continues: “No one wants to loose their job, especially when you need the money to survive. So employees just comply with the rules, complain about them during breaks and go on doing what they’re told because why would they fight the system anyway? I mean, no one makes them feel like their opinion matter. On the contrary, everything is made to make them feel like they DON’T matter and are not so hard to replace. In other words, there’s really no way to shine because of who you are in customer service. Companies are making it perfectly clear that your social skills are not their priority. Basically customer service reps are not here to have nice conversations with customers, they’re here to have as many conversations as possible.

This same author goes on to endow compliments to the company Zappos by stating: “I recently chatted with Zappos and it is clear that their customer service representatives are part of the family. The chat I had felt 100% genuine and it allowed me to connect with the person on the other side of the computer. But one thing that struck me with Zappos is that employees are encouraged to go “off-script” (not that they actually use scripts). What I mean is that the employee I spoke to started to tell me about her trip to Paris and we exhanged few thoughts about the city. This might seem highly unprofessional but it was the best customer experience I ever had. Why? Because Zappos gives their employees the opportunity to really connect with customers. In that particular case, the rep couldn’t solve my problem but I still left happier than ever, and I can promise you I will be a loyal Zappos customer if they ever start shipping to Europe.”

She encourages companies to learn from some of the following actions exhibited by those who work at Zappos:

-” Customer service employees are an important part of the company and are treated as such. Zappos CEO even regularly answers the phones himself!

– They are trained to be friendly and make the customer happy, not to read a script.

– They are allowed to give their personal opinion and that’s how they connect with customers

– They are regularly rewarded and are given lots of reasons to be proud of their job”

She explains: “No one said it was easy to provide excellent  customer service but it’s attainable. It just requires a big change in the way companies think. It’s time they see the value of good customer care and start building an organization.”

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Let’s take a look at another company, Jackson National Life Insurance Company as depicted in a NY Times article, dated March 16, 2014 and titled, “Jackson Customer Service Achieves “Call Center World Class Call Certification” for 2013. This is what the article states: “The Service Quality Measurement Group, Inc. (SQM) has again awarded Jackson National Life Insurance Company® (Jackson®) with “Call Center World Class Call Certification” for 2013. Jackson also received the “Highest Customer Service by Industry” award, achieving the top rating for the financial industry.1 The awards mark the ninth year Jackson has been recognized for its customer service performance in both of these categories.”

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“According to SQM, to achieve Call Center World Class Call Certification, 80 percent or more of the calls must be at the “world class level” for at least three months. SQM’s criteria are based on the customer’s satisfaction with his or her service experience and customer service representative, as well as the resolution of the call. While the financial services industry averages 76 percent of calls receiving the highest possible score, Jackson far exceeded the minimum with 90 percent. Additionally, Jackson’s service representatives were able to resolve 87 percent of issues in one call, which is markedly higher than the industry average of 74 percent.”

“With more than 4 million customers, our Service Center is a critical part of the Jackson experience,” said James Sopha, chief operating officer of Jackson. “Jackson is proud to be recognized for its proven commitment to serving the diverse needs of contract-holders and financial professionals. We are able to answer questions quickly and thoroughly utilizing Jackson’s Genius System — our proprietary technology — which enables our associates to filter in real time through the tens of thousands of different policies, features and benefit combinations we offer.”

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For the companies out there whose executives are not aware of other options besides the “cookie cutter” call center operations, I have presented three outstanding examples of how a company can break away from this constrictive culture and experience tremendous success while treating both their customers and employees with great care.  Ask yourself this question. If you were an outstanding college graduate and potential exceptional employee, which type of company would you prefer to solicit a job?

If you are a company still mired in the “cookie cutter” call center environment, please consider successfully breaking away by following in the steps of these three companies to ensure your company’s viability for the future. As in the case of the  Zappos, why not consider designating your companies’ coaching duties to being more supportive of the frontline employees. If you have business analytics which objectively measure  performance such as tracking the number of sales and monies closed by the sale agents, then your company is in a better position to identify and reward your stars. Please remember that your stars are not the ones who will be dealing with your customers on a daily basis for years. All your frontline workers require great care.

Here are some of the better companies that are not managed as typical “cookie cutter” call center companies. I reviewed many consumer ranking type companies  such as JD Power; Consumer Reports; CNN Money; Forbes and MSN Money to compile this data. The best online banking company is Ally Bank; the best mortgage company is Quicken Loans;  the best financial advice firm is Edward Jones; and the best property and casualty company is Amica.

USAA insurance for the military, ex military and their families is rated better than or equal to Amica by most rating companies; however in 2014, Consumer Reports ranked USAA behind Amica in homeowner’s insurance. Still, USAA has been rated # 1 for many years. The USAA brokerage division received the highest rating for customer satisfaction.  USAA offers many outstanding products including online banking and free financial advice. For anyone who intends to carry a balance over months, the USAA World MasterCard ( plus chip or signature enabled) and their American Express card offer the best interest rates starting at 9.9% along with no annual fees, a flexible reward program and limited travel insurance of up to $1,500. However, you will be charged 1% for any foreign money conversion exchanges.

According to NerdWallet.com, the best credit cards for travel which offer great rewards with no foreign money exchange transaction fees plus chip or signature enabled are the Chase Saphire Preferred card and the Barclay Arrival card. The Barclay Arrival MasterCard has been named a best travel rewards credit card by most travel bloggers and “Best for Travel Rewards” by MONEY Magazine in Oct. 2013. The rewards are great. This no-annual fee card features no foreign transaction fees and pays 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on everything else.  Also, you get 10 percent of your miles back when redeemed for travel.  However both these credit cards charge annual fees which are waived for the first year of usage, higher interest rates starting from 14.99 to 15.99 %. My friends who have done some research state that the Capital One travel credit cards charge lower interest rates. For anyone who has not served in the military and who intends to carry a balance over months,  the Citi Preferred card offers a competitive interest rate starting at 12.99% which is waived for the first year and it charges no annual fees. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has the best benefit of free travel insurance. I looked up this credit card enhancement on their website which advertises, the “TRIP CANCELLATION/TRIP INTERRUPTION INSURANCE,” if your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather and other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels. See the footnote below for a comparison table of various credit cards valid as of 2/2015.

The best free resource to assist military families (this includes ex military) in their retirement planning is the USAA Financial Planning Department.

The best free resource to assist military families in their budgeting can be downloaded from the internet under the title of “Operation Money,” published by NBC on August 25, 2014 by Jene Chatzky. The advertisement states:

“Jean Chatzky, financial editor for NBC’s Today show, is here to help with Operation Money, a mission-based guide that provides detailed resources to prevent money problems before they happen; gives you the tools to manage through a tough situation if you’re already facing one; and empowers you to figure out how best to plan for your future—either in or out of the military—and then assists you in doing so. The chapters throughout focus on saving, debt, credit, buying and financing a home, buying and financing a car, paying for college, protecting the ones you love with insurance and an estate plan, dealing with a relocation, managing money through a deployment, handling a furlough, retirement, divorce, and the financial aspects of caregiving.”

This blog has been updated on 2/11/15.

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2.)How Zappos‘ CEO Turned Las Vegas Into a Startup Wired-Jan 2014

3.)What Happens in Brooklyn Moves to Vegas The New York times-Oct 2012

4.)From Call Center Agent To ZapposLife Coach: This Woman http://www.forbes.com/…/johngreathouse/…/from-callcenteragent-to-z

5.) Jackson Customer Service Achieves “Call Center World  markets.on.nytimes.com/…/press_release.asp?…

6.) Compare credit cards’ trip cancellation, trip interruption …http://www.creditcards.com › Credit Card News Oct 14, 2014 – Are you covered if you have to cut your vacation short or cancel it all together? Before taking out travel insurance, check your credit card …