NUTTY CONSUMER’S 4TH RANT AGAINST CALL CENTER TACTICS

 

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I can’t help but wonder how the employee morale would be for any employee who had to work under the conditions as described in my prior blog. I’m saddened at the thought that employees at GM would be expected to compromise their moral compass by being party to practices like not being up front with their customers about a design problem, known for years which cost a significant number of clients, their lives. Many of the employees who worked for Wells Fargo had to experience reticence in falsifying customer foreclosure documents. I’m betting that a few at the VA Hospital felt sick over falsifying the appointment records of their patients. While I was watching a recent U.S. Congressional hearing regarding the Secret Service, I kept hearing comments along the lines that Congress  had to rely on information from whistle blowers and that the front line professionals seemed to feel safer talking to congressional members versus their direct managers or even upper management.

cartoon-94 lady customer service

I have been trying to figure out why  management would allow this. My best guess is that these “cookie cutter” call centers were originally conceptualized, so those selling them could legitimately promise their customers and businesses significant increase in profits, efficiencies, productivity by streamlining operational activities between the frontline professionals and customers. The thinking of those marketing these systems was that not only could they help a company to earn more revenues but they could easily win the support and buy in of middle management by painting the picture of how much easier it would be to manage the sales force. The call center sales people explained that by measuring standards such as calls per hour and average handling times by agents and by assisting them with standard type sales pitches with tweaks here and there, the sales would follow. The frontline agents would be randomly listened to, audited and coached. Thus, the “cookie cutter” call center marketers almost guaranteed middle managers easily achievable goals of increase in profits as well as the resulting raises, bonuses, and promotions. The “cookie cutter” call center is designed to measure more transactional type of activities versus detailing actual results which means the frontline managers would not be accountable for hard numbers like the quantity of products sold and the amount of revenues produced within a team or department. Altering this status quo would be strongly resisted by middle and frontline management. Over time, supervisors can become complacent and some how they come to justify the steps they take even when they are not acting in a manner consistent with the company’s mission statement which probably includes words like honesty and integrity. These marketers convinced buyers that with their support, training and other assistance, that the customer service satisfaction surveys and the sales results would continue to do well. Now, welcome to planet earth!

great customer service cartoonI can only guess as to how these employees felt about being so micromanaged. I cannot fathom how a reputable company would not feel mortified at creating this type company culture. My guess is that this “cookie cutter call center syndrome” culture has probably evolved over enough time, so that top management may not be aware of how the decrease in employee satisfaction survey ratings; the increase in employee turnover; increase in employee non planned absenteeism; employees out on disability leave due to mental health issues could be associated with the implementation of the typical call center prototype. The employee is not about to step forward to complain even about any serious integrity issue concerns during this current job market downturn. In addition the employees would be so fearful of retaliation; not being assigned plum jobs; not receiving raises; bonuses and decent performance evaluations. In this environment, the employees who do not rock the boat are highly valued as middle management would not want their boat rocked. Those who dare to question or suggest a better way to be productive, will not last. The methods used to accomplish this are discussed extensively in my other blogs. In this culture, any training designed to encourage employees to value the diversity, different thinking styles and the creative input of others is a waste of money as this would be counter to the interests of middle management which would be very much aligned in keeping the status quo. A significant percentage of these employees have to be suffering from work related stress and mental health issues.

imagesLWJQRJLZBully Online is the world’s leading web site on bullying in the workplace and related issues including stress, PTSD and bullying-related suicide. When this web site was started in the United Kingdom, it was inundated with complaints from call center employees. The “cookie cutter” call center is a huge industry in the United Kingdom and Ireland. One of  it’s articles refers to David Oliver, a researcher in Newcastle, northeast England, who reports the following; “the hi-tech software used by most modern call centres allows supervisors to directly compare call length and amount per hour. He states that although this is a useful management tool, it is used by supervisors on the floor of the call center to discuss which staff are better than others. This is discussed openly and meant to induce competitiveness but in reality often leads to undue competition which makes people more stressed when they deal with customers. In many centres there is a poor structure whereby the management (who are mostly competent and well respected) put pressure on the supervisors to increase performance. These supervisors are not professionals; all they do is increase the pressure on the call takers. This increases the stress on the call takers who, due to this stress, underperform. This underperformance is picked up by the managers who again pile on the pressure. It’s this cycle of pressure, David suggests, which leads to unhappiness at all levels and is thus the cause of the high turnover rate.” The site indicates that the turnover rate of these call centers for inbound calls is at a minimum is close to 50%.

THIS IS ALSO HOW THE "COOKIE CUTTER" CALL CENTER CULTURE EVOLVES OVER TIME
THIS IS ALSO HOW THE “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTER CULTURE EVOLVES OVER TIME

As per a Harvard Business Review article, published in May, 2014, titled “Blue Ocean Leadership, the authors describe what future leadership roles in a competitive world  looks like. In one of their leadership programs, they detail the actions of some in the position of frontline leaders.  “In their program study, the future frontline leaders study team called themselves “Cut Through the Crap” which was changed to “Cut Through to Serve Customers.”  “In this profile, frontline leaders did not defer the vast majority of customer queries to middle management and spent less time jumping through procedural hoops. Their time was directed to training frontline personnel to deliver on company promises on the spot, resolve customer problems, quickly help customers in distress, and make meaningful cross sales- leadership acts and activities that fired up the frontline workers, were sure to excite customers, and would have a direct  impact on the company’s bottom line. …Liberate, Coach and Empower” was the tagline for middle management’s to be profile. Here leaders’ time and attention shifted from controlling to supporting employees. This involved eliminating and reducing a range of oversight activities.” This model will make it essential for the competitive successful companies of the future to be able to attract creative, top notch managers and frontline agents. These folks are not likely to be excited about working in the “cookie cutter” call center company which definitely will never be mistaken for the “Blue Ocean Leadership Model of the Future.”

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The succumbing to the quick increase in profits by companies implementing the “cookie cutter” call system without any modification is all fools gold.  As soon as the job market significantly improves, the company’s star employees will leave in droves.  Top rated college students and professionals look at certain websites such as “Glass door” and “Indeed.com” to help them in their decisions as to which companies they would have some interest in pursuing for a job. These websites keep track of how current and previous employees feel about their work environment. Most sites are set up so that employees cannot give a lot of positive input to increase the ratings of a company. For example, there is a provision that allows other readers to agree or disagree with any comments. If a positive comment gets one agree and twenty disagrees, this is telling. I did check these websites for a couple of insurance companies that operate a call center as described above and overall the positive comments had a few agrees but the negative comments had many agrees. There is no way that any company who emulates this “call center cookie cutter syndrome” will receive great ratings which means you will not have top notch potential employees knocking on your door.

This is an example from glassdoor.com:                                                                                                    Not the same company, now cookie cutter just like rest of the call center financial firms in Phoenix.” 

  • Comp & Benefits -Work/Life Balance- Senior Management-

    Culture & Values-Career Opportunities

Former Employee – Anonymous Employee in Phoenix, AZ 

I worked at Charles Schwab full-time (more than 10 years)
Pros

Their insatiable appetite to make decisions based on the bottom line and low level managers being low level across the board forced me to find myself and find a much better way.      CONS                                                                                                                                                                                        Too many to list if you have a soul. Any time spent here will certainly compromise anything positive that you believe in.

Advice to Management

Get a clue….bunch of clowns….people are not stupid or stuck. Leveraging poor job market scare tactics to have their way and think they can make all the rules. Stop hiring people to post all the positive comments on Glassdoor. I’ve been on the inside, I know the truth….it’s a joke but only funny in hindsight. Very sad for the many people that I know still there.                                                                                                                                                                               Doesn’t Recommend                                                                                             Helpful (6)

 imagesN6N5X0WW process issue ..why more customers leaving

In addition, you will not have an inkling as to which agents consistently give out accurate and complete information or who  takes the time required to satisfactorily resolve any issues whenever possible during the initial call. You will not have tracking to be able to detail which agents return promised follow up calls. All of the above examples cost your companies real monies via dissatisfied customers who decide not to purchase your products; start doubting the integrity and branding of the company; start checking out competitors  instead of solely being loyal to your company. Please do not allow your company to be a lemming by continuing to enable these call center marketers without requesting some customization and adjustments as to their business analytics to account for the above described activities.

RELATED ARTICLES:

1.)Does corporate culture drive financial performance? – Forbes www.forbes.com/…/does-corporateculture-drive-financial-perfor…

2.)Stupefying Statements from the CRM Call CenterForbes www.forbes.com/…/5-stupefying-statements-from-the-crm-callce

3.)From Call Center Agent To Zappos’ Life Coach Forbes www.forbes.com/…/from-callcenter-agent-to-zappos-executive-th…

4.)A Story Of Poor Customer Service And How To Fix It – Forbes www.forbes.com/…/a-common-problem-a-story-of-poor-custome

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

NUTTY CONSUMER’S 5TH RANT AGAINST “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

Customer-Satisfaction-Cartoon-286x300 customer service survey

For any business decision maker, I am gifting you with my minimum standard wish list for how I would like to be treated when I contact a call center selling  more sophisticated products such as property and casualty insurance.  My first wish is not to be placed on hold for more than two minutes and to be connected to the right department on my first contact. I do not want to verify my identity more than once. I strongly dislike having to be trans-ferred around and so I shouldn’t have to endure this more than one time. I want to work with a professional who is qualified, competent and empowered to handle whatever issue I plan to discuss during the initial phone call. I would hope the agent is allowed enough time to listen to me as a human being without the agent having to worry if their greeting was correct; that the call flo met the company’s standards and the closing statement matched a script. As a non legal scholar, I should be able to clearly understand any legal compliance disclosures and should not have to listen to the same disclosures repeatedly.  I would like to be able to count on the agent not being so micromanaged, so that there is enough time for the agent to make sure all my problems are resolved even if my issues are complicated or time consuming to fix. If I am calling for customer service or to complain, I do not want to be sold  something not related to my call. I want my issue to be handled!!!  Any information provided to me should be accurate and complete. If my request  or issue cannot be completed during the initial contact, then I would like the first agent to document sufficient notes so that the next agent can assist me without me having to repeat the entire story again. All possible steps should be taken to avoid my having to make a return call. For example, if I need to email or sign a form, another agent could finish up whatever the first agent started and then email or mail me the results. Remember my time is also precious.

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At the end of the call, the agent can then inquire if I have any interest in learning or being sold any of your other company products. If an agent or supervisor has promised to return a phone call on a particular date and time, then I would like the agent to be able to meet their commitment. Whenever possible, I would like the extensions for various divisions to be listed on the company’s website along with the correct hours of service, so that when I call, I can just input the extension and circumvent the voice call system which  never seems to understand me.

Personally, I prefer to use the internet; however, please be aware that many of your more mature clients may not be comfortable using the computer.  Their monies are just as green as your younger clients. If some of your clients are not computer literate, please have marketing materials to mail them along with the CEO’s name; address, phone and fax numbers; a listing of all your products; extensions for the various divisions with their business hours. If your company will treat me as I have described above, then your company will eventually reflect a “customer culture” environment.

customer serviceConsumers, please do not continue to enable your favorite companies to be overtaken by the “COOKIE CUTTER CALL CENTER SYNDROME.” When a company  does not treat you with the dignity, respect and value that you deserve, please write or email the company’s CEO. If you “google” any company’s name, the right side of the screen should list the name of the CEO, the headquarters address and phone numbers. Occasionally, there is an email link.               

Dear Company management, please keep up to date as to improved call center metrics to insure better treatment towards your customers. The following is from a blog  published 10/10/2013 by an insider, Mike Jeffries, ” It is important to take a holistic view when working out what you’re trying to achieve with contact centre performance measurement. For example, if you’re measuring cost per call, it might seem sensible for a centre to finish that call as quickly as possible. However, the more satisfied the customer, the more chance of them becoming brand advocates. The ROI from the call is then probably higher as a long-term relationship is nurtured even if the call has extended slightly beyond answering the initial query. Creating a formula to calculate the ‘time versus value add’ could be beneficial. In fact, as businesses have moved away from viewing contact centres as purely cost centres, and have increasingly acknowledged the value in providing a positive experience to the caller, so metrics such as average call handling time have become outmoded.”

In my opinion, it would be better to track the number of products ( within and outside of one’s division) that an sales agent has sold as well as how much monies they have produced for the company. The referral sales’ transfers should be tracked as to which result in a closed sale. Emphases should always be placed on measuring actual results versus conformity to a set of rules such as following the outline of a script etc. An independent group could monitor the agents’ calls for quality control with the goal being to insure that the sales and/ or customer service agents consistently deliver information and assistance that is accurate, complete and disclose any legal compliance rules.They should not be aware of the identity of the agent or even the results of any previous evaluations to prevent any bias. Then the gifted sales agents would be enabled to handle calls from potential clients as suits them while still maintaining high professional sales and performance standards which are measurable. They would be empowered by having truly objective parameters to compare themselves to their peers and they would have the satisfaction of seeing how they have directly contributed to the profits of their employer. Direct management and any coaching should be of a positive and supportive nature. All customers should have access to a customer satisfaction survey at the end of a call without the agent being able to bar them in any way and the customer should be subject to no more than three questions.They should be offered the option to go on to the company web site to provide input and/ or there should be a well advertised, easily accessible  phone number by which a customer could leave a message regarding their experience. In house team meetings could include brain storming sessions by which the sales agents can share their thinking on how to improve their sales performances and customer experiences. Various levels of management could make time to attend part of these sessions without immediate management present to insure that the infrastructure is well established to allow the agents a safe haven for the free flow of ideas. More research and development could be performed to continuously provide your sale professionals with the most up to date information regarding the competitors’ products and practices in addition to verifying that your products are the best value in the market.

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Again, as per a call center marketer insider on the blog dated July, 25, 2012, Andrew O’ Brien writes: “When cookie cutter centers (CCC’s) spew value propositions on sales calls and in RFP’s, pricing is noted as the predominant competitive advantage. There is substantial cause for this claim: the outsourcer has cut corners at every turn to drive cost down to its lowest levels, and they want to brag about it. Hundreds of these providers mention low cost and high savings as a key competitive advantage. Usually and unfortunately the correlation between cost and quality is clear.” He continues with the following comments: “When agents can track and measure and manage their own performance, their individual effort takes on greater contextual meaning. Culture begins with engagement and engagement begins with finding meaning in your work – no matter what job you are doing. In our contact center world, there is a clear line from transparency, accountability, and meaning at the agent level to a strong, productive culture at the corporate level.”

RELATED ARTICLES:

1.) From Call Center Agent To Zappos’ Life Coach: This Forbes www.forbes.com/…/from-callcenter-agent-to-zappos-executive-th…

 2.)7 Secrets To Get Good Customer Service By Phone – Forbes www.forbes.com/…/7-secrets-to-get-good-customerservice-by-ph

 3.)A Story Of Poor Customer Service And How To Fix It – Forbes www.forbes.com/…/a-common-problem-a-story-of-poor-custome

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

5.)Earn Customer Loyalty Without Losing Your Shirt – Harvard blogs.hbr.org/…/earn-customer-loyalty-without/‎‎

NUTTY CONSUMER’S 6TH RANT VS. “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

karikatur-3 grat 3 pix call center carttoon

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF PROVIDING TIPS TO ASSIST COMPANIES IN BREAKING AWAY FROM THE “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTER SYNDROME.

Is it not feasible to customize these “cookie cutter” call systems to better suit the needs of your customers?

What would it take to make sure the client has access to a customer service survey at the end of each call ( or some legitimate alternative) by which the agent is not able to bar the clients from completing it? Can the client have only 2 survey questions to answer along with an option to voice details? My preferred questions would be: (1.) Based on a score from 1-10 with10 being excellent, was the agent able to take care of all your requested needs that were possible to accomplish during this one call? (2.) Based on a score from 1-10 with 10 being excellent, would you recommend this company to your friends and /or relatives?(3.) Would you like to add any comments which would enable us to better serve you in the future?

images supervisor demands

Make sure your sales and customer service agents really know how to conduct the new buzz term of “relationship sales.” If I invited someone into my house, I do not want to talk or form a relationship with anyone reciting a scripted greeting; ending and a check list of what questions should  be asked during our conversation. I would be horrified if someone I just met started asking me personal questions that I am not likely to share with anyone. Why do some company personnel believe that these norms of courtesy do not apply to a sales agent and a potential client? Over time as I talk to my guest and discover that his/ her history reflects some common interests with me, then the guest could eventually be comfortable enough to start to ask pertinent questions and to share information that would  help me to demonstrate how whatever I am selling would benefit and suit my client’s needs. This is “relationship sales.”

images another planet customer service

One of the major complaints voiced by many call center representatives who are professionals in their fields of business, sales, insurance, banking, and financial planning, etc. is this requirement of being obligated to follow a script no matter what the circumstances. Some agents have told me that their scripts keep being adjusted. In one case, the company management has stated that the agents have to utilize a particular opening and closing statement; follow certain set of steps in the call process; ask a certain amount of questions, and keep the call as short as possible. It is as if the top brass are searching for the magic bullet to standardize the sales procedure to make it easier for agents to sell and for supervisors to be able to manage the sale process. If one searches the internet, there are numerous call center marketers advertising and promoting their perfect script guaranteed to improve anyone’s sales numbers. None would be a good example of developing, the “relationship sales” model. The best “relationship sales” course offered as a basic lesson online that I have found is on SAI Global . Incidentally, there is no magic bullet as you will always be dealing with the client who is not scripted.

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Is your company able to demonstrate an increase in revenues due to increase of both the tenured and newer clients purchasing new products and decrease in tenured clients partially cancelling current lines of business; increase in customer retention rates and increase in customer satisfaction ratings while increasing revenues due to cost cutting measures such as operating a “cookie cutter” call center? Having access to sophisticated business analytics is even more crucial if the business you are managing involves selling to a limited market. Pleasing your customers, being true to your brand and earning your clients’ loyalty over and over again by consistently delivering exceptional products and services can’t afford a c- change in this expectation. A company can’t afford to have their culture compromised by management’s decision to implement the “cookie cutter” call center in order to increase the financial soundness of the business but without the necessary strategic business plan and customization to mitigate the typical unintended problems associated with this type of operation.

images supervisor demands

One of the hidden problems has to do with the call center employee attrition rate approaching 50% for large organizations incurring mostly inbound calls. According to a write up, published in 2012, http://www.trostle.com,”; Managing Hidden Costs of Contact Center Teams In The New Economy, turnover is described as follows: “Turnover is the percentage of the total number of agents leaving the call centre over 12 months, divided by the number of seats during the same 12 months. Turnover can be healthy or unhealthy, functional or dysfunctional, voluntary or involuntary, avoidable and unavoidable. Research from Chris Bracken of Call Me! IQ reports that “Industry data shows large call centers average 49% annual attrition, . . . call centers focused on outbound dialing average more than 60% annual attrition. Turnover costs have a significant impact on the department budget and company profitability. Total costs can range from 60 to 200% of an employee’s annual salary, according to various reports. One study estimated that turnover-related costs represent more than 12% of pre-tax income for the average company and up to 40% for companies in the 75th percentile.”

images2FWR1U0VThe report continues: “There are both tangible and intangible costs associated with turnover. Intangible costs include: low morale; lack of commitment; breakdown of trust; critical skills or knowledge drain; dissatisfied customers; lost intellectual capital; reduced reputation; potential lost customers. Tangible costs (both voluntary and involuntary) include hiring costs associated with replacing an employee: third party recruiter fees; online system and advertising costs; candidate interviews (assessment, testing, and screening fees); new hire bonuses, referral fees, and sign-on incentives; processing and time associated with replacement (HR, management, multiple interviews and departments involved); training new hire costs – on boarding process and associated costs of acclimating a new employee to the environment (mentor or co-worker time) In the case where a replacement cannot be found quickly or it is decided not to replace, there are costs associated with redesigning the work, as existing employees must be retrained to cover the vacancy and overtime must also be paid in order to cover the additional work. In addition, there are lost productivity or business costs – includes the “savings” incurred by not paying wages for the exited employee, and it also includes costs associated with low morale, lost revenue and the performance differential for the new employee as well as costs associated with lost sales.”

If your company wishes to continue to be proud of being an exceptional company which provides outstanding products and customer service,  then do not give into the “fools gold” marketed by the call center systems sales teams without any modification as to how customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction is measured. Do not compromise! It cannot just be how they answer your customer satisfaction surveys and employees respond to employees surveys but how are customers voting with their pocketbooks and is there a reduction in the employee retention rate. Focus on placing the pleasing of your customers first has to be based in reality, and then invest in a healthy work environment which actively encourages the free flow of ideas by your frontline employees; otherwise, over time you will end up compromising your hard earned reputation and branding. YOUR COMPANY WILL REFLECT THE “COST CULTURE!”

RELATED ARTICLES:

1.)Wells Fargo’s pressure-cooker sales culture comes at a cost http://www.latimes.com/…/la-fi-wells-fargo-sale-pressure-20…;

2.)Does corporate culture drive financial performance? – Forbes www.forbes.com/…/does-corporateculture-drive-financial-perfor…

3.)Wells Fargo foreclosure manual under fire – The Washington Postwww.washingtonpost.com/…/wellsfargo…/25cd38…

4.)Call Center Confidential: The Underbelly of Customer Centricity blogs.hbr.org/…/callcenter-confidential-the-u/

5.)The Truth About Customer Experience – Harvard Business Review hbr.org/2013/09/the-truth-about-customer…/‎‎

BELOW ARE TYPICAL CONSUMER COMPLAINTS AGAINST COMPANIES WHICH HAVE THE “COOKIE CUTTER CALL CENTER SYNDROME: 

1.)Called into xxxxx at the end of DEC 2013 to inquire about auto and home insurance. Was disconnected by xxxxx’s “survey request” automated service; and subsequently reconnected to a different agent. Unbeknown to me the 1st agent issued a home policy without my consent.
If that were not enough– xxxxx apparently filters its “member reviews” because my complaint of this practice via the member review method never saw “the light of day” in their system– it was never published. No wonder all that you ever see on their website are glowing reviews of their service and company; with only a minor slight shown now and then to promote a fabricated image of fairness. 259c286        

2.)       Problem #4:  We are in a rental property that requires 60 days written notice that we are planning on moving out.  We simply asked the mortgage representative  what would be a good estimated date she could give us for closing….it was her favorite answer “I don’t know!”  With her continuing to not know anything, giving the 60 days notice too early could leave us homeless or too late could leave us paying rent and a mortgage. Finally, after getting fed up with her enough I spoke to her supervisor and made a complaint but we were still not getting very clear answers on anything.  We spoke with another mortgage company who immediately locked us in a for an interest rate and had much lower closing fees than xxxxx.  They immediately sent an appraiser out and had a report back 2 days later.  This other company is having no issue of meeting our closing date of Jan 17th.              
3.) I have been a xxxxx customer for 16 years and have always spoke highly of them. I have never made a claim until recently. When I called the claims associate, Juanita **, she was extremely rude and could care less about the loss of my property. Juanita did a very poor job with explaining the claims process and interrogated me like I was a criminal. I asked to speak with a supervisor and she refused numerous times until I raised my voice. My claim has not been settled yet but I am already looking for a new insurance provider for my home, auto, property, and valuable item insurance that xxxxx currently has. My experience with xxxxx has been so poor that I am switching companies even if it costs me money.

4.)I do billing and collections for doctors. At one time, I would recommend xxxxx. They conducted business with their policy holders with great care and consideration. It seemed they paid the claims without too much problems such as large reductions. Reductions cost the patient, and they are not legal! I work for doctors who do not want their patients to have to pay any more than what the policy states. So if their policy states that out-of-network, the policy is 80/20, I am there to assure the insurance pays the 80%, not reduce the charge and only pay 65% or less leaving a balance for the patient.

Because insurances are not forced to pay what their obligation is, it has caused the rise in health care. If they would pay as they have promised their clients, hospitals would not need to start a charge for an aspirin at $20.00 in the hope to get the 20 cents. At one time, xxxxx was the best insurance and as a bill-er, I was called often to give referrals. It broke my heart when I had to warn people about xxxxx instead of giving them as my referral.

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.

140303_masterbrand-322x231STAR CUSTOMER SERVICE PIX

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?

customer service cartoon

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?

imagesN6N5X0WW process issue ..why more customers leaving

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 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